Monday, March 7, 2016

LIFE OF A POET - STEVE KING

We have such an interesting feature for you today, my friends. We are heading to Albany, New York, to visit Steve King, who writes at Excursions and Diversions. I am certain we are in for an interesting time, and it turns out Steve is a talented photographer as well, so keep an eye out for some wonderful scenery! Pour yourself a cup of tea, and draw up a chair. I know this is going to be interesting!

Excursions and Diversions







Me at the starting line of the Erie Canal Tour
(the Buffalo to Albany route)


Sherry: Steve, set the scene for us, wont you? Give us a snapshot of the poet at home.

Steve: First of all, Sherry, thanks so much for including me in your interview series.  I try to keep up with the others you’ve highlighted, and it's an honor to be part of that group.

My wife, Margaret, and I have lived in Albany, New York for many years.  She’s a retired school teacher and has deep roots here in the community.  She’s still very active here and has worked in many volunteer capacities.  She’s very involved in local theater, being president of one of the City’s leading troupes.  She’s also volunteered at Habitat for Humanity.  I think she shows her true greatness of character by putting up with all of my idiosyncracies. 

Sherry: Margaret sounds like a wonderful woman, Steve. Habitat for Humanity changes lives.





Margaret and Dolly,
one of our earlier rescues


I’m retired from a career in New York State government, where I ended up managing a medium sized state agency.  My education was in liberal arts and history, and I had no thought or intention of getting into the things that I ended up doing, but sometimes that happens.

A large part of what I did professionally involved writing.  Many of the documents that went out from my agency crossed my desk for review, and I was responsible for a many of the policy and technical narratives that are the life-blood of bureaucracies.  I also did most of the advocacy writing at budget time. 

Coincidentally, Joseph Hesch, whose name many here will recognize, was a professional colleague for about twenty-five years.  Joe did a lot of writing for us—more than me, thank goodness—and we became good personal friends.  And still are.

We presently share our home with an older rescue dog. In her prior life, she spent a lot of time outdoors, so now she’s quite content to relax indoors and sleep.  They call it a dog’s life…




Addie, a twelve year old, our current rescue dog


Sherry: It sounds like perhaps you wound up in the right job, after all! And I love it that you and your wife adopt rescue dogs. Bless you both!

Steve: Since retiring, I’ve gotten involved in charitable and not-for-profit work.  I serve on various community boards and for a little while longer I’ll be head of a charitable foundation that supports programs for people who are vision impaired.  I’m also the board treasurer of the Robert R Livingston Masonic Library and Museum, a research institution headquartered in the Chelsea District of New York City.  It’s probably considered tiny in a city where the main Public Library Branch takes up several square blocks of prime real estate off 42nd Street, but within its niche, The Livingston Library is one of the leading facilities in the world.

Sherry: It sounds like a wonderfully busy and fulfilling life, Steve. Both you and your wife are involved in very meaningful volunteer work. 

Now let’s go back.....where did you grow up? Did you write as a child, or did you come to writing later, as an adult? What was it that caused you to write that first poem? And why a poem rather than prose?

Steve: I grew up in a rural/suburban setting not too many miles from where I live now, and have been fortunate to maintain connections with lots of old friends.

I’ve always been close to the written word, but when I was younger that interest morphed into stage acting.  I dabbled a bit with writing over the years, but early on I didn’t do it systematically or with any sense of commitment or urgency.  I started being more serious about it twenty-five years or so ago, and a good many of the works on the blog had their genesis, though not their final forms, from that period.

I really can’t say why I use poetry rather than prose.  It just seems to be the natural way for me to get the most out of my particular words.  Were I to focus on a different genre for any reason, it would probably be writing plays. 





Here’s a photo of my desk, hot off the presses.  
No, I don’t use two Macs—the one on the right 
replaces the jalopy on the left.  
I just haven’t gotten all the files transferred and converted yet.  
Hmmmm…I notice a magnifying glass.  Oh, well.  
A  sign of the times (my times), I suppose. 


Sherry: I always love peeking at a writer's desk. They all seem to be neater than mine, though! Especially now that I need so many notes to remind me what I am supposed to be doing Next. Smiles. Are you a voracious reader, like most writers? Favorite books?

Steve: I do read a lot and always have, and that makes it difficult for me to single out any one work.  My reading has always been a mixed bag of fiction and nonfiction.  There’s also a sprinkling of cops-and-robbers in there.  Lately I’ve been catching up on a list of novels and authors that I skated over—or avoided completely—during my generally undistinguished undergraduate career.  The latest of these was Madame Bovary. I have a couple of thousand pages of others waiting in line.  There’s also a copy of Finnegan’s Wake in my bookcase that I look at a lot.  By that, I mean I just stare at the spine these days.  I don’t think I’m going to succeed with that one.




I don’t recall having a favorite book as a child, but I still have the first real book that was ever given to me.  It’s “Engine No. 9,” by Edith Thacher Hurd, who was a well known children’s author.  It was from my Kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Evelyn Hapgood.  I reread it while I was preparing for this answer.  It’s complex for a young child’s book, dealing with the evolution of a new steam engine as he prepares to go out into the world.  It seems like there’s a fairly large vocabulary, too, and it deals with the technology of steam trains.  An interesting choice for a five-year old.  I have no idea if she made a habit of presenting gifts to all the kids or if others may have gotten the same book.  It’s in fairly good shape, even with a fragile cardboard cover and a threadbare binding.

Sherry: How wonderful that you still have it, Steve!

Steve: If I had to single out only one work as a favorite now, it would be Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, which I read more than 40 years ago.  Generally, I don’t read political books unless it’s a history, but this book is really a tale of the classic struggle of the individual against the power of an overwhelming state, using Stalinist Russia as the necessary backdrop.  Koestler had been a communist and had an insider’s view of many of the ideological machinations in Europe during the 1930s and 40s.  The ending is as fine a piece of writing as you will find.  It also translated well to the stage.

Sherry: It sounds intriguing, for certain. Who is your favorite well known poet and what do you love about his or her work?

Steve: That’s a hard one to answer.  I confess that I don’t read a lot of contemporary poetry except for what I encounter on the blogs.  I suppose the ones I’m most familiar with would be T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, simply because I spent a lot of time in college writing papers about them.  What I take from Eliot is a desire to have a natural and transparent seeming voice and vocabulary.  That’s a continuing struggle. 

Pound is more difficult for me to pin down.  So much of his work seems obscure.  As is true for most of us, I’m not fluent in Greek or Latin or Dante’s Italian. Many of the references he throws into his work are lost on me unless I leave the poem and consult some other text.  But he has an inspired sense of meter and a powerful and effortless way of using words.  There are moments in Pound where you know no one else could have possibly imagined or said anything in any better way.   Even sections of The Cantos that are for me otherwise opaque retain moments of power and forcefulness and grandeur that carry you along, even if you aren’t really getting to the very bottom of what he intends.

I admire those two as stylists, but I don’t think I’ve been influenced by them—at least not on a conscious level—in terms of subject matter or content.  To the extent I’ve been able to address my topics adequately, I guess it must be as a result of my general reading about what goes on in the world, or through my own personal experiences. 

Pound attended Hamilton College, which is only about 100 miles from where I live.  He probably didn’t want to deal with upstate New York winters.

The most recent poetry books I’ve bought are a translation of Sappho and a larger compendium of Wallace Stevens. I admire the airy grace of Sappho, even the fragments.  Far too little of her work has been recovered.  I’m always hopeful some lucky explorer will uncover a couple of lost scrolls.




A particularly distinctive sunrise over a hazy Cranberry Lake 
in the Adirondack Mountains.


Sherry: I am enjoying your very scholarly reviews, Steve! (And your spectacular photographs!) Thank you. You have been blogging since 2011.  What impact has blogging had on your work?

Steve: There’s has been an evolving impact.  I first found my way to the poetry blogosphere when Joe Hesch shared a link to his blog, A Thing For Words, which I recommend highly.  I followed the comments back and ended up at a dVerse Open Link Night.

I started posting and, in the beginning, contributed several times a month.  Looking back at the output, I think I should have been a little less determined to post that often.  A number of the pieces, especially the lengthy ones, would have benefited from longer marination.  What it boiled down to was that I learned I don’t do my best work at speed.  I don’t have the gift of spontaneity in writing that many others demonstrate.  

It would be fun to respond constructively to daily prompts, but I just can’t seem to get things turned around in a reasonable time frame.  I have to compose and recompose.  So it’s nice to know there’s an open link day at Poets United that I can use, if not in a particular week, then the next or the next.  It’s proven to be a comfortable home for my work.  Needless to say, the commenters have all been merciful.

Sherry: We are fortunate you found your way to us, Steve. 

Steve: Looking at the record, I’m lucky to average one or two finished works a month.  Sometimes it’s less frequent than that, especially if I get distracted by outside activities, which happens with regularity. 

Sherry: It is hard to keep up the pace, I know. I find myself slowing down recently, as well. Would you like to choose three of your poems to include here? and would you tell us something about each one?

Steve: A pleasure.  With your permission, I’ll pick several that readers might not be recently familiar with.  The first one is a shorter piece called “The Sea is Always With Me.” I didn’t have any great ideas for it when I began composing this—probably only a word or a phrase had come to mind.  Now it seems almost like one of those horrible creative writing exercises many of us have had to sit through:  ‘How many marine metaphors can one stuff into a brief instant of human contemplation?’  But making up all those figures and having them work together is part of the fun.

The Sea Is Always With Me
©  Steve King
All rights reserved

The sea is always with me when I think of you:
great tides rolling—my thoughts endue me
with that sense of moment,
each surge carried near or away,
drawn afar, then covering back,
all at motion, never rest.

And unfathomed currents, too,
running to some fancied depth;
running, as if there might be escape
from the call of the one moon.
As if those tides might be displaced
by whimsical contrary things.

They say we are all come of the sea.
In these instants I would sure agree,
each dying wave, each rising storm,
resonant of every life within.

And so I carry you with me,
feeling ever that old pull,
grateful for each coming wave,
lifting always as the great tides will.


Sherry: This is beautiful, Steve. I feel the depths, and the lifting, of both tide and emotion in this beautiful poem. I especially love your closing lines, which are perfection.

Steve: The next piece is from my pre-blog existence, though I did eventually post it.  I enjoy Homer.  I had it in mind to take a few snippets and give them a modern psychological framework.  "Helen’s Dream" was one of those attempts.  I didn’t try to mimic his epic meter, or even to give much sense of the larger story.  I’ve since used that approach with other bits of classics, not to rewrite what’s already been written superbly, but just to amplify some facet that the author chose not to explore.  The story here takes place some time after Menelaus has won back his prize and returned with her to Sparta from the war.

Helen’s Dream
by Steve King
© 2003

All rights reserved


For years after,
she served pomegranates and wine
in the keep of her new/old lord.
The wine would soften their laughs for a time,
until the war stories
and then the war games,
and the names of the dead,
and their dead memories;
‘til death took hold of their wine-filled mornings,
took hold of their morning wine-dreams.

She never saw the sea again from a boat,
though in her dreams she watched the waves,
heard them o’ertopping
along the reach of some far safe harbor,
felt again the unrelenting pull
of sea on yielding shore.

Not for adventure.
Not now.
Not again for love, nor vanity.
Not now.
There wasn’t time enough, she thought,
to nurture a new race of memories.

Nights, she heard winds sing through olive trees,
remembering the other-world scents,
wondering how it all had come to pass,
wondered at its passing.

Yet she remained, and must remain:
Her beauty was part of their wine-dreams, too,
though they hardly talked of her now.


Sherry: I love that you take a classic, a legendary woman, make her human, and allow us a glimpse of her later on in life. Cool! I love the "wine-dreams". 

Steve: The next piece is very early.  Sections of it date from the 1970s, and it must have come together finally over the 80s and 90s, though I have no idea when I gave it the final punctuation.  I did tell you I had a penchant for working slowly.  I think the narrative speaks for itself.   The war was one of the dominant cultural/political events during the years many of us were coming to adulthood. 

Fragments from the Vietnam Era
© Steve King
All rights reserved

1

Thursday was the day
the numbers would disrupt
the cartoon screens
with dead, wounded, MIA,
and body counts (theirs)
to balance the equation.

As if sacrifice
was a matter of numbers
and not a matter of the heart.

As if the measured sacrifice
was not, too, a measure
of some diminished heart.


2

Some conflicts still exist
in the sheen of the soul’s night:

the memory of random death
and fast retreat;
the muffled howl
of strategic assassination,
silent feet gliding
through dead paddies;
garrotes, punji,
roaring green dragons, gunlit
falling out of the blood moon…



3

“If they would just obey the damned Accords…”

or:

“If only we had taken the Yalu…”

All things pointed backward
and away.

Away.


4

Out of the eastern war they streamed,
out of polyglot hell,
away from the sting of death,
reprisal and reprimand, they thought,
away from the mute approbation
of the new
unburied
unbagged
dead…


The dead,
unencumbered
by command and choice.

The dead:
seed of ‘scholarly misapprehension

within a dispassionate framework.’

The dead,
defining the moral question,
each moral question,
each side brandishing the dead
like tattered banners
hammering the dead
like broken drums,
each in their own manner
to remake the dead,
each in their own fashion
to explain…


The dead,
cause enough
justifying one thing
…or any other.

The dead,
framing expeditious analysis
in dead resolution;
giving new meaning
to the phrase ‘dead reckoning.’

The dead,
as ever before,
no need now
for the love of words,
yet the one last measure
of all words.


5

Boxed between four walls
ceiling and floor,
inside a pretty house
within the perfect yard
abutting on a quiet lane,
they shuttered tight the windows
that squandered precious light
upon the darkness;
and on the very worst of days,
they hearkened to distant thunder
sensing, first and foremost,
only the distance,
knew thereby
the parameters
of a perfect safety.


Sherry: This poem takes me back to those days. I can see them, walking out of the jungle, ghost-haunted, and trying to find some measure of safety and normalcy back home, after all they had endured. Well done, Steve. I can see this is a poem that would evolve over time, as one grows in comprehension of what happened then. 

What other activities might we find you engaged in when you aren’t writing?

Steve: I’m a determined, though not gifted, bicyclist and runner.  In recent summers, I’ve done bicycle tours that take in most of New York State:  either the Erie Canal Tour that retraces the route of the old canal from Buffalo to Albany, or a very challenging tour that works its way through the Finger Lakes, including their many hills and ridges.




A very neat scene, paddling on the Bog River Flow toward Low’s Lake 
in the Adirondack Mountains in mid-September.


Steve: Every September I make a paddling trip to the Adirondack Mountains with three other former professional colleagues.  The trip itself has been going on for more than thirty years.  I’ve participated only in the last twenty years or so. We used to launch into the back country and lose ourselves.  Now we tend to find a single campsite and use that as a base from which to take a variety of excursions.  I think our collective age, which is approaching a quarter of a millennium, has something to do with that.

I’ve also found my way back to stage acting, though not to the extent or frequency I devoted to it in the old days.




A photographer could keep very busy 
in the Scottish Highlands.


The biggest departure for me in recent years is that I’ve decided to travel a bit.  Last year it was a trip to Scotland.  This year I’ll be in Dublin for a week or so.  I hope to visit Yeats’ Abbey Theater a couple of times and perhaps do a Ulysses tour if one is available.  For the most part, I’m going to be walking around with my camera.  And of course visiting some eating and drinking establishments.

My wife and I also have a cabin in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains.  We love spending time there doing not much of anything. 



Loch Lomond scene on a typical overcast day


Sherry: It's a wonderful life, Steve.  Your photographs are truly gorgeous. I am especially blown away by the autumn glory of Bog River Flow. Wow! I do hope you'll share some of your future travels with us. We have been enjoying your glorious photos in the Pantry recently.

In wrapping up,  is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Steve: Just that everyone should keep up the good work.  Some remarkable work comes out of the collective effort.  It’s always an enjoyment to see the names posting there, some of whom have been virtual acquaintances for many years.  And will be, I hope, for many more.

Thanks again for making space for me. 


Sherry: Thank you, Steve, for this wonderful visit. It is good to get to know you better. We look forward to reading your work in the months and years to come.

Each week, the most wonderful journey! Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!




24 comments:

  1. I hope you enjoy getting to know Steve better, my friends. I certainly did. Thanks, Steve, for this wonderful look into your life. Your poems are wonderful and your photography is breathtaking. Thanks for starting our week off so wonderfully.

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  2. Thanks again, Sherry. I so appreciate the effort you made in pulling this all together. And to do it week after week...we all owe you a debt of gratitude.
    Steve

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    1. It is truly my pleasure, Steve. I have always loved hearing peoples' stories, each one so unique, and I certainly enjoyed putting this together with you. Thanks again.

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  3. You caused a whole memory to flood in, of being read Peter Rabbit in kindergarten and how tense I was when Peter couldn't find the gate. Now I see what a theme that story brought out in me and how what we emotionally moved by is by some design a line up.

    Your poem Helen's Dream gave me shivers, Steve. I saw her more as a modern lover though.

    I enjoyed reading about your life. I've been attracted to biographies and memoirs for as far back as I can remember. I love to see how lives unfold and seem mixed with destiny and something else more random.

    Thanks for sharing, Steve, and thanks Sherry for doing these interviews that I've only recently discovered.

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  4. A wonderful interview! We have led very different lives, but Steve and I share some of the same reading tastes and have lived through some of the same times, so I read this with much fellow-feeling. Great to read the poems, too. I love the ocean, the idea of Helen (a mysterious figure on whom we all project our own interpretations) – and the Vietnam war had such devastating impact in Australia too. (We also sent conscripts and imprisoned draft-dodgers, etc. etc.) I don't share the taste for Homer (I think it's a very male preference, all about battles) but I do love Sappho, and the description of her 'airy grace'. Thank you both, Sherry and Steve, for starting my day with a real treat of a read,.

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    1. Thanks for visiting, Rosemary. Always fun to get your reactions.
      Steve

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  5. What a wonderful interview! Steve, I have really enjoyed your poetry & your photos, so it is nice to learn more about you. Sherry, you always do such a great job. Kudos to you!

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    1. It's all the poets, who share their wonderful stories.......I just type them down, smiles..........

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  6. Great to go on an excursion and learn more about you Steve - thank you both..the pomegranates and wine captivated me too..there is a progression in the poems you've shared with us here but a sense also of those mythic stories marinating in the core ;)

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  7. Steve, the first stanza of "Fragments from the Vietnam Era" brought back memories. Not of Vietnam, of course. But of updating the numbers while I worked at Marine Corps Casualty. There was a sort of horror that filled the heart every time a new name had to be added. It was difficult not to think of their spouses, their children... The idea of seeing this as a child, on TV, and on real time...

    Thank you for this glimpse into Steve's life, Sherry. As always, you rock. ♥

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    1. Thanks for stopping, Magaly. I appreciate your commentary.
      Steve

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  8. It's a wonderful read Steve and Sherry. Enjoyed the poems and the photos are breathtaking. Thank you both.

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  9. interesting man, phenomenal photographer, extraordinary poet- so glad to be 'introduced' to Steve and agree with his comment above Sherry "we all owe you a debt of gratitude."

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  10. Ah, thank you, kiddo......I am happy to serve up these lovely features every Monday!!!!!

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  11. Steve thanks for sharing your work with us. The Adirondacks holds such beauty and inspiration - enjoy your full days.

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    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment and visit.

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  12. What a great interview Sherry and Steve....and you are only about 2 hours east of me down the Thruway, along the Erie Canal.

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  13. Your poem about the Vietnam war touched and moved me deeply! Very trying times especially at the age that we were! Thank you for sharing your talent and your wonderful life with us and Sherry, you know just where to go with every writer!

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  14. Thank you for featuring Steve. I have always enjoyed his poetry and now I delighted in reading more about him.

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    1. Thanks so much for visiting, Ayala!

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  15. Steve, nice to know more about you and your poetry!
    loved your vietnam era poem. it's both powerful and touching.

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  16. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

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  17. I've saved this for a free morning and today I read it with much pleasure. These three poems have become my favorites of yours. I have written about Helen, too, in three chapters of my novel-in-process, and the part of me that identifies with her lives in your poem--though I used her in performance art in a much more feminist interpretation. And Vietnam. Perfect. And then the rhythms and meter of love and life! Keep working slowly my friend, nurtured by friendship and love and animals and the wide Adirondacks! (Maybe I'll see you up there some time when I visit my folks in Coxsackie.)

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