Electronic Computer and Stub Pencil: Poetry and the Writing-in of Ralph Salisbury
The merest glance at Ralph Salisbury’s So Far, So Good (2013) would leave little margin of doubt as to a life of striking eventfulness.
His rural Iowa upbringing had him raised at the edge of poverty within an Irish-Cherokee heritage. Food, shelter, survival would come to feature on the barest of terms. World War II service in the US air force exposed him to the ravages of gun and bomb in Germany. An adulthood in peace activism has further put him on the line time and again.
His move into authorship after teacher training and during a university teaching life clearly has signified far more than passing career move. Time and again, in his poetry and autobiography, he quite explicitly averts to the figure of the writer as necessary voice through which to take possession of a deeply contrary life. This has not been some mere exercise in self-reflexivity, thought there is a seam of self-reflexivity involved. Rather it is Salisbury’s mode of “authoring” the circumstances, time and place, that have so authored him. The process is to be met with in the very first page of So Far, So Good:
Bullet-shattered glass clattering onto my baby bed. I awake and cry, into darkness, for help.
Do I remember this? Or do I remember being told? I will feel it, whichever ever it is. I will feel it, chill bomb-bay wind buffeting my eighteen-year-old body, a mile above an old volcano’s jagged debris; feel it, seeing photos of Jewish concentration camp children. huddled together for warmth, photos of Korean orphans, huddled together, homeless in blizzard after American bombing – bombing in which, twenty-five, I had refused an order to join.
If the self-interrogations given here point to the author creating the voice of his own measure, the same -- if anything more so – holds for his poetry.
It is to be met in verse like “For Years and Years,” “Slitting the Tongue, So That Crow Should be Parrot,” “Caring for The Soon to be Born,” and “Words Concerned with Words.” These and like compositions invite careful scrutiny for how they reflect Salisbury’s imaginative taking possession of the life he has led.
This essay explores the figura of Salisbury as the writer behind, and within, his own body of texts.
Copyright (c) 2020 A. Robert Lee
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