Monday, February 22, 2016

Hooked on Dirt

Recently I introduced Dr. Randall Horton at a NYSWI event at SUNY Albany. The text follows bellow.

"For this occasion, I have written a letter to Dr. Horton that I am going to read now…. He has not read this.

'Dear Randall,

I’m happy you’re here. I am also so very thankful to have known you before I read your books. Had I not, I likely would have sent you embarrassing fan mail of the kind I may or may not have sent (in no particular order) to Neil Gaiman, Junot Diaz, Anne Carson, Roxanne Gay and/or Margaret Atwood. Since I *do* know you, I instead have the privilege of reading my most personal and heartfelt sentiments to you. And a room full of people. [and now the interwebs]

If I were to have written you a letter I would not recount your personal and professional accomplishments, such as: B.A. in English, from University of the District of Columbia, an M.F.A., in Poetry from Chicago State University, a Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing, from SUNY Albany. And now your position at University of New Haven.

I would not recount these things, because you already know about them.

Instead, my letter would largely be about the words you’ve taught me. I would begin with the first word you ever taught me—ekphrastic! Poetry written about works of art, and describing in vivid detail. You taught me this word in the context of a poem about compost.

While reading Pitch Dark Anarchy you taught me more words.

First, “roseate.” Yes, as in the color. But also as a bird—a seabird, a tern, related to seagulls. They can exhibit kleptoparasitic behavior! That means sometimes they steal fish from other birds! They aren’t highly defensive of their nests, instead relying on the colony and the conditions of their surroundings to protect their eggs.

Second word: “Brogans.” Shoes, boots, originating in 16th century Scotland, used in the American Civil War and up through WWII. One of their nicknames is “little tanks.”

Third Word: “Palmate.” A leaf with lobes of more than three, almost shaped like a hand. Think a horse chestnut or maple leaf.

In The Definition of Place you taught me words, yes. But you taught me about how they move together. As in,

              “both of them walking across hell on a spider web” or

“So I emulate his defiance practicing in front of full length mirrors anywhere I can; perfect my own variation of the lean until it feels natural and I can express my entire belief system in a walk.”

And now, Randall, in Hook, you open with “Location only matters because of conditions that create location.” Here, you taught me about what happens when words get stuck.

Stuck on our tongues before we know what words are, stuck in our blood, in our throats. Stuck in books, in sanitized documents, in our constructs, in trusting our readers. In the glue that keeps us from slipping into fragments. In telling someone they belong and that They Are Loved. In erasure. In blue prints. In the entire scope of American Letters.

When I return to your writing it is out of a need to feel words make movement.

A need to see the vivid recreation of these little tanks flying to hide eggs under a palmate cover. A need to walk my own belief system across a spider web, to a place where I can see words made new.

Thank you, Randall, for these places.

All my love,


Everyone, Dr. Randall Horton'."
I'm, begging you like a soup hound. Read.

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