Bill Hedrington

Poet Bill Hedrington, my friend and college classmate, died in a crash toward the end of his twenty-fourth year. Eight years ago, I helped Michael Smith and Bruce Cleary publish Bill’s poems on the web:

Bill’s poems have been subsequently published by Shambling Gate Press and can be ordered from Book Clearing House, among others.

Taken together, the poetry of William Hedrington and the biographical introduction by Michael Smith make On the Downhill Side a compelling story of both a promising life cut tragically short and the brief flowering of a brilliant poetic talent.

“Any reader whose senses have been even slightly dulled by the drone of much contemporary poetry will be shaken into alertness by the vivid and fresh language of William Hedrington. What a pleasure to be awakened to the daylight of this imaginative and highly compelling poet.”
— Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States



The dead litter so,
leave clothes in drawers,
old photographs, everything,
and go.

They are as thoughtless as children,
who will get up with the sun,
take an apple,
and set out for the world’s end.

— William Hedrington

William Matthews

Did you hear Scott Simon’s interview with Edward Hirsch this morning (NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday)? The occasion was the publication of Hirsch’s book Poet’s Choice, based (I’m assuming) on Hirsch’s WaPo column of the same name, later taken over by Robert Pinsky.

William Matthews had pride of place in the interview, with a reading of his short poem “Grief”, and an antiphonal reading (sometimes I wish Simon would just shut up) of Matthews’ “short but comprehensive summary of subjects for lyric poetry”.

1. I went out into the woods today, and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.

2. We’re not getting any younger.

3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey.

4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case the coin is too soon spent, and on what we know not what.

Matthews observes (“Dull Subjects”), “It is not, of course, the subject that is or isn’t dull, but the quality of attention we do or do not pay to it, and the strength of our will to transform. Dull subjects are those we have failed.”

Hirsch’s original column, complete with “Grief” and the four (well, five, really, or maybe six) subjects, is online, as is a nice collection of Matthews’ poetry, and a review of Matthews’ Search Party, by Edward Byrne.

The most persistent theme in Matthews’s poetry becomes that of temporality, the unyielding progression of time as it weakens one’s abilities and eventually ends one’s life, especially in dramatic or tragic instances where mortality shuts down the gifted artist.

#2, of course.


“lies and legends made flesh”

It’s World Series time, enough of a nudge for me to post a note I’ve been procrastinating about for too long.

A while back I listened to Michael Chabon reading his Summerland. Chabon does a wonderful job with the reading, and having browsed a few reviews of the book, I suspect that listening to him might be better than reading the book for yourself (which I have not).

Neil Gaiman gets it right.

Coyote, whenever he appears, which is too seldom, steals scenes with ease and aplomb. He’s Coyote, sure, and he’s Loki and Prometheus and probably Bugs Bunny and the Squire of Gothos as well: a force unto himself, who is having too much fun trying to bring about Ragnarok — delightfully Hobson-Jobsoned by Chabon into “Ragged Rock.”

Standout sequences include a magnificently gory chapter involving some unfortunate werewolves and the queen of the shaggurts — frost giants with “appetites vast and bloody” — and a storyline set within the tall-tale tradition, when Ethan and his team meet the Big Liars of Old Cat Landing, the tall-tale people, all “lies and legends made flesh . . . [who] hung around Old Cat landing, haunting its bars and brothels,” now sadly shrunken by time and disbelief: Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan and John Henry, Annie Christmas and the rest of them. It’s the place where Chabon comes closest to a genuine American mythopoeia, and it is very fine indeed.

Give Summerland a listen.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore

“All Texans do not agree with all Texans”

Jimmie Dale Gilmore played last night at the Palms Playhouse in Winters.

[Digression: this was the first time either I or JDG had been to the new Palms. It’s not bad, and you can get dinner around the corner, but it’s not the old Palms. Sigh.]

Jimmie’s son Colin opened, joined later by Rob Gjersoe, who stuck around for Jimmie’s set.

If you know Gilmore, I don’t have to say much about the concert. A mix of new & old stuff, along with some characteristic digressions. Bertrand Russell on the nature of reality, elliptical political commentary (“All Texans do not agree with all Texans”), Jimmie as a reductionist rationalist, paranoid mystic, west-Texas folk singer. I’m sorry you missed it, but probably no sorrier than you.

If you don’t know Gilmore, you have a treat in store for you if you have the sense to pick up one or three or five of his CDs.

My first exposure to Gilmore was about 14 years ago after the release of After Awhile. I heard an extended review on NPR. I no longer remember which clips they played, but I do remember their quoting Gilmore quoting Ezra Pound: “the poem fails when it strays too far from the song, and the song fails when it strays too far from the dance.” Ezra Pound meets Lubbock, Texas.

Gilmore’s CDs are individually unique, and I can’t possibly point to a favorite. You can’t go wrong with Spinning Around the Sun, or One Endless Night, or Braver Newer World. His new CD, Come on Back, is his roots album, with covers of pieces by Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Ray Price and others.

On his other CDs, besides his own songs, you’ll find Butch Hancock, Al Strehli, Brecht/Weill, Townes Van Zandt, Jerry Garcia, … you get the idea.

Gilmore is an American treasure. He’s a really good songwriter, and an excellent guitarist, but his sensibility and his exquisite instrument of a voice are what shine through. Go listen.