Often, as poets, when we do interviews we approach them in a journalistic fashion, even as Ezra Pound reminds us, “poetry is news that stays news.” Over the next few months, I wanted to see what would happen if Minnesota poets were interviewed as poet to poet, through the forms we work in the most. To that end, John C. Rezmerski has agreed to be the first poet for me to interview for this series.
Writer, editor, and storyteller John Calvin Rezmerski grew up in Pennsylvania and has lived in Minnesota since 1967. His poems, stories, and articles have appeared in many magazines and books, from literary journals to business and popular magazines and anthologies. His books include The Frederick Manfred Reader, Counting Sheep, What Do I Know? New and Selected Poems, and Breaking the Rules: Starting with Ghazals.
His readings and storytelling have entertained hundreds of audiences in schools, theaters, churches, community and fraternal organizations, professional associations, and business and civic groups, and has organized numerous literary reading series, conferences, and workshops. Editor of several poetry anthologies, he has also judged many literary contests.
For 35 years at Gustavus Adolphus College, he taught creative writing, journalism, storytelling, science fiction, and linguistics. Honors he has received include a National
Foundation for the Arts fellowship, the Rhysling Award for science fiction poetry, the Devins Award for poetry, and a term as Poet Laureate of the League of Minnesota Poets.
Words take flight, flapping. Like Icarus or Wright?
To whom, or from whom? The Other is filled with questions.
It has been my fortune that ravens
have often warned me against the sea hags,
embodying words, lifting my vicarious vision,
twisting on the wing to summon new truths
and useful lies, croaking encouragement to seek
grace and pursue airborne and undine beauties.
Every movement is a question,
every pause a mission,
every statement a path through sheer dare.
Among the ravens, I puzzle out
why the possibility of bright baubles
lures me to make play the order of the day,
why mind-food can only nourish
by requiring deaths both great and little,
both ignorant and personal.
Such entertaining instruction, such
teeming seas of delightful danger
and disinhibited safety!
Reflected the road, “Student of ink, child of stars yet growing,
Enigmas remain beneath a candelabra of opportunities and song,
Zones of notes and queries with a mayfly’s priorities. Surely, all end in Why?”
There must be some Why in all my What’s Where and When,
and for certain, struggle with How Now and How Then.
But Why? Is that Why of motive, or Why of consequence,
or Why of necessity? Can I help doing what I do,
can I help being what I am? That’s where the Who comes in,
not the Who I Am, that elusive population of a sea of mirrors,
but the Who I Have Been in my memory or others’,
the Who I Have Wished to Be, practically or fantastically,
and the Who I Am Becoming, purposefully or by accident.
Perhaps I will end in Why, but unlike the theologians’
god, I do not find my essence in my existence.
Motive is not effective enough to explain a moment’s
momentum, let alone to map my path
through the territory I know is wider than what I know.
The Puzzle is to Puzzle Out why I Puzzle Myself.
Enough philosophy, enough perambulatory scramble!
As I perpetrate, I perpetuate, so do my best to penetrate
the fog, the forest, the words of ordinary intercourse,
the wilds of galaxies exceeding in range my eyes’ reach,
exceeding in number the cells in my brain,
exceeding in interest the complexity
of my most material and ethereal stimuli and intuitions.
Enigmas, enigmae, enigmatoses, enigmatorial
dementias of uncountable dimensions:
breadth, height, width, time, mass, interest, worth,
wholeness, spin, scatter, density, uniqueness,
affinity, symmetry, separability, extensiveness itself—
too much to follow, too hard to grasp, too evanescent—
all this abstract construction is an obstruction
to experience, but worth the stumbling over.
So Why winds up reducing to So What.
Everything is temporary, but forever
in a working memory and sputtering ambition.
I suppose my first priorities were shaped
by being a fed and cuddled infant.
Somehow my parents must have known
that to tell me no one can know everything
was to issue a challenge.
Somehow I must have come to the conclusion
that to be confronted by something I could not do
was an insult, and my schooling was such
that when immediate persistence did not work,
that sensible deferral was an option: Someday
I will go to the stars. Meanwhile they will send
occasional ideas to examine at a distance.
Meanwhile I was supposed to eat my broccoli,
and develop a sensible appreciation for beer,
because that way I would prepare myself
for tofu, absinthe, and the thousands of
uses of eggs and permutations of pickled peppers.
I learned also to use the alphabet
as food, as medicine, as heat and light,
as a bridge to everything I could not
imagine on my own, to every mind
full of new things to mind, to learn
the various tickles and consequences
of sex that socially sanctioned experience
would not explain, much less allow.
That every love for every new person
was a love unique.
That every sadness was important,
and none permanently disastrous.
That for some others, all disasters
and disappointments were permanent.
That some sink so deeply in depression
that merely to breathe is an accomplishment.
That I was fortunate not to be one of them.
That sympathy and antipathy
are both forms of generosity.
That to be a person is to be open and aware
of the idiosyncrasies, vices, and genius of others.
That there are minds stronger and nimbler
than my own, and that most offer appreciation
and encouragement to the rest of us,
and that they inspire emulation
and do not require us to copy them.
That each of us chooses our models and masters,
but that we are never slaves to them.
For me, Walt Whitman epitomizes wisdom,
but I need not hold his words as gospel.
That to ask is primary, to study is importantly secondary,
to invent is a necessary expedient, and to use
is the fullest expression of understanding;
that life is an open road where we may cut new pathways,
and that our senses are implements to be kept sharp.
That there is a time to shut up and proceed.
I remember a wise young man who,
when required by a college teacher
to write an essay on Whether Man Is Inherently Good
or Inherently Evil,
wrote a single sentence:
Man Is Inherently Hungry.