Introducing Tim’s poetry

When you read Tim’s poetry*, it helps if you know several languages–English, Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Russian, and Chinese at least–and have a good grasp of the classics and mythology.

It also helps if you know what has happened in Tim’s life because otherwise some of his references are pretty cryptic. To understand the poems in Que, for instance, it might help if you know that during the 2 October, 1968 massacre in Colonia Tlatelolco of  “several hundred Mexican citizens by the Diaz-Ordaz administration, some of them in their own living rooms,” one of those shot through his window died in Tim’s arms.

Here’s a poem taken from his own experience, written for his son Anthony:

his top, a thing big as his
head. Under a
clear plastic bubble his blue
train hoots and hoots over a
painted tin land-
scape, a tuft of cotton at
the stack for smoke. Nothing stirs
in his stopped world.

I got a lot more out of this poem when Tim scribbled an explanatory note below the poem in my copy of Halflife. It reads “Anthony 2 or 3 years old–one of his gifts was the AST USA T-shirt + another was the top.”

Tim wrote me a poem, too, in his book Ryoanji:


For Jessica

is outmoded, not precisely indicative
of wind velocity, and so found
only in obsolete nautical textbooks.
It retains, however, a primal significance:
as calibrator of heart’s weather it is sound.
CALM it classifies as that spellbound timeless
long afternoon when sparrows
chitter like old wagon wheels and “smoke
goes straight up”; “smoke drifts” in a LIGHT AIR.
“leaves rustle”. A GENTLE BREEZE
sets “leaves and small twigs. . . in motion”.
In a MODERATE BREEZE “dust flies; and paper;
small branches move”. Then, in a FRESH BREEZE, “small trees
sway,” we note “wavelets on water”.
“large branches move; umbrellas are blown”.
“Whole trees move; walking is difficult” in a HIGH WIND.
“Twigs break off” in a GALE.
Following these
come the STRONG GALE (“loose shingles and chimneys go”),
WHOLE GALE (“trees may be uprooted”), STORM
(“damage is widespread”) and last the HURRICANE,
when “anything may go”.
When everything is gone,
the mast-stripped battered mariner heart may find
at the embattled winds’ eye, waters’ center, CALM.

He dedicated his book Slocum to Dad and the title poem is striking. I quote from it in my novel New Every Morning:

“Let him have another one,” Craig urged. “His prodigal son is home. He’s celebrating. Oh. . .” He leaned over to unzip the shoulder bag on the floor beside him and reached into it, pulling out a slim hard-cover book. “I have more ‘drunken garbage’ out, Wendell.”

“Drunken garbage?”

“That’s what you called my poetry.” He tossed the volume carelessly on the coffee table, where his feet were resting. “This one’s dedicated to you.”

“To me? Well, let me see it.” Wendell studied the cover. “Slocum. That’s all it says. Slocum.” He looked up, smiling.

“Autographed and everything.”

“You wrote it?”

Craig just sipped his wine.

Wendell was leafing through the book, reading snatches aloud. “. . . the rigging’s perpetual saddle-creak. That’s good! Caulked with his flesh and ballasted with his bone. . . This is beautiful!

“They did a nice job with it.”

“No, I mean the poems. They’re really good.” He looked at Craig from under bushy brows, his blue eyes filling. Their eyes met and Craig looked away as if in confusion. “I’m so proud of you. Gee!” Wendell studied the cover again.

“Well, tomorrow’s Father’s Day. I thought I should bring you something. . .”

*Tim Reynolds had seven books of poetry published: — Ryoanji (NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1964), Halflife (Cambridge: Pym-Randall Press, 1964), Catfish Goodbye (San Francisco: Anubis, 1967), Slocum (Santa Barbara: Unicorn Press, 1967), Que (Cambridge: Halty-Ferguson, 1971), The Women Poem (NY: Phoenix Book Shop, 1973), and Dawn Chorus (NY: Ithaca House, 1980), and two plays produced: — “The Tightwad” (translation of ‘La”Avare’ by Moliere, produced in Yellow Springs, Ohio, 1978) and “Peace” (published in The Tenth Muse: Classical Drama in Translation, edited by Charles Doria, Swallow Press, 1980)… and poems in 54 magazines, among them The Antioch Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, The Nation, Poetry and Saturday Review.


About Jessica Renshaw
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One Response to Introducing Tim’s poetry

  1. Chris M says:

    I think most poetry would be more appreciated and understood if it came with scribbled background explanations from the authors. I enjoyed both these poems of Tim’s, as they created great word pictures, and I tend to be a visual reader. Thanks for sharing them!

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