On a tailgater and challenge by R. S. Gwynn who said, “Is there a Miltonelle in your future? I hope not!”

Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit
Of man’s first disobedience, its fruit:
God’s ways ain’t for this homeboy to dispute.

That angels tumbled from the fluffy clouds,
From inky darkness and from fluffy clouds
And led to disobedience and its fruit;

Six Shakespearean Tailgaters

 

The Comic’s Complaint

How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
How come you listen but won’t laugh at my gags?

October ninth, 2009, we sent
A rocket off to Luna. We meant to bomb her
Into submission? No, our good intent:
To blow up surface dust to test for ice.
On the same day the Nobel Prize Committee
Amazed the world by bestowing its amity

Award upon a tyro. A calamity,
It seemed to some — an evil precedent
Imposed upon America by committee.
They gave the Peace Prize to Barack Obama!
Many Republicans needed to ask for ice-
Water and Schnapps, or even an oxygen tent.

No one had dreamed an explosion of this extent
Could blow moondust in the face of amity
Around the House and Senate. It wasn’t nice
That those Norse should cause old pols to resent
Explosive love. It was a suicide bomber
NASA sent to ruin comity —

If not around the world, the R. N. C.
At the very least. Gaddafi in his tent
Celebrated Luna’s death. “Embalm her!”
Was his battle cry, his enmity
For global infidelity was sent
To Cocoa, Florida, well-packed in ice.

But NASA said, “It isn’t very nice
To imply we had an impact on the Committee
Rather than the moon! Our bomb was sent
Out into space. We’re not incompetent!”
Meanwhile, a wave of pure tsunamity
Engulfed the Oval Office, and Obama,

Although surprised himself, felt like the balm or
Salve of sweet salvation in a trice
Had rehabilitated amity,
Restored a modicum of comity
To the world at large to some extent,
One could sense the very aloe’s scent.

Barack Obama, the Nobel Committee,
And malcontents hope NASA finds its ice,
But what price amity amid dissent?

Lewis Turco. Well, here it is September, 2010, already, my friend, and your new book, The Gathering of the Elders and Other Poems, is out from www.StarCloudPress.com. It’s your first solo collection since The Airs of Wales back in 1981, if I remember the date correctly.

Wesli Court. That’s right, but you and I did a collaborative book titled The Collected Lyrics of Lewis Turco / Wesli Court 1953-2004 six years ago.  Same press, though.


Turco. Twenty-nine years is a long time to wait for a new collection of your rhymed and metered poems.

Court. Don’t I know it!


Turco. Don’t we both? But this blurb on the jacket by X. J. Kennedy ought to make up some for the wait, shouldn’t it? He wrote, “This major collection by the astonishing Wesli Court is an event calculated to shiver all literary seismographs.  Readers addicted to poetry, but weary of ill-made poems, can latch on to it with joy.  Aspiring poets can seize it as a handbook of models, learning how to write anything from an ode to a sonnenizio, from an epigram to a blues epilogue.  While often striking a wistful, wintery tone of hail-and-farewell, there are notes of infectious cheer and some genuine surprises — even a poem to fulfill an unused title that Wallace Stevens left lying idle. With unique skill, Court shows us what a truly good metrical poem used to be, could be, and (in his able hands) still is.” That ought to make you feel pretty good.

Court. You know it does.


Turco. Here’s another one by Miller Williams — as I recall you and I both contributed poems to his handbook-anthology Patterns of Poetry in 1986: “It’s an increasingly rare pleasure to read poems about the real world in language as clear as it is lyrical, with deep roots in the past and illuminated by carefree rhyme.”

Court. Miller may have meant to say, “careful rhyme” rather than “carefree,” but his computer broke down and he sent the blurb to the publisher, Steven Swerdfeger, written out by hand. Steven couldn’t make out that one word, so he scanned it and emailed it to me for my opinion, but it was a tossup as far as I could tell. I thought “carefree” sounded more raffish than “careful,” so that’s what I voted for.


Turco. You voted for raffish rather than literary?

Court. Was I wrong?


Turco. I don’t know. Did he ever get his computer fixed?

Court. I was afraid to ask.


Turco. Here’s another comment by Rhina Espaillat: “The miraculous thing about all these poems is the way they avoid sentimentality and the temptation to reinvent the past, preferring, instead, a difficult blend of affection and detachment, honesty and regret.” The note says that it’s from a review in The Hollins Critic, but I’m a subscriber and I haven’t seen it there.

Court. I haven’t either, but I’ve seen a copy of the review — She sent a copy. It’s a fine review by a poet and critic I respect, as I do the other two as well, of course. The review will no doubt appear in due time.


Turco. You realize they’re all three friends of mine? Miller was even the director of the University of Arkansas Press which published two of my books.

Court. Certainly I know that, and they’re my friends as well, of course. The books Miller published were your The Shifting Web: New and Selected Poems in 1989 and before that, in 1986, Visions and Revisions of American Poetry, which won the Poetry Society of America’s Melville Cane Award for criticism.


Turco. Miller and I met while we were poetry fellows together at Bread Loaf in 1961, and that prize pleased him almost as much as it pleased me. But how much can one trust blurbs that are written by friends?

Court. Are you going to ask your enemies to supply you with blurbs?


Turco. Point well taken, but I’d trust these three any day. All are themselves fine formal poets.

Court. I don’t think there are any better writing today.


Turco. Well, then, let me ask you the obvious question: Why are you a traditionally formal poet?

Court. What an outrageous question! It’s your fault, and the fault of that Book of Forms of yours. I’m practically your galley slave. You’ve had me chained to the oars writing formal poems you could use in your “Handbook of Forms” actually for decades. You got to retire from teaching in ’96! Did I get to retire from writing sestinas, terzanelles, sonnets, blues…you name it? Not on your life. You could go on writing your nontraditional syllabics, prose poems, experimental stuff…what have you? But did you? Oh, no! You wanted me to pick up speed instead of retiring. Every time you wanted a formal poem, which was often, I had to write it for you!


Turco. To be fair, my book titled The Green Maces of Autumn: Voices in an Old Maine House came out late, in 2002 — it was nothing but quantitative unrhymed syllabic poems, and Fearful Pleasures: The Complete Poems 1959-2008 from Star Cloud had all sorts of nontraditional stuff in it, but I had no idea you objected to writing in forms!

Court. I don’t. I enjoy it. It’s a hoot and a ball. I like it very much. No, I take that back. I love it.


Turco. Then why are you complaining?

Court. Because every time I ask somebody how he’s doing he (or she) sayz, “I can’t complain.” I just wanted to prove that it’s possible to complain any time, even when you’re feeling good.


Turco. That seems perverse.

Court. That’s how I get paid sometimes.


Turco. How you get paid?

Court. Yes, “per verse.”


Turco. That’s an old pun. I should have seen it coming.

Court. I’m sure you did.


Turco. What are you working on these days?


Court. I’ve been writing a year’s worth of Epitaphs for the Poets. I hope I finished last month, August.


Turco. I hope so too. I’ve been posting them on my blog at www.lewisturco.net under the title “Uncle Wesli’s Daily Epitaph.” Who is the first poet in the sequence?

Court. John Gower who was born in the year 1330; he was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, who is the second poet. They were both poets of the royal court, and they knew each other.


Turco. How many have you written to date?

Court. I’m not sure, but the manuscript is nearly 80 pages long, and there are two or three epitaphs per page, depending on how long each is. The shortest are couplets, and the longest one, if I recall correctly, is eleven lines long, a roundelay for Swinburne, who was the inventor of the form. I think the average is three per page.


Turco That would make about 240 epitaphs. That’s a lot of writing. How long have you been working on the set?

Court. Well, I wrote the first two or three many years ago, but I started working at it in earnest last August, which is why I think I may have finished, but every now and then I find another poet I think ought to be included.


Turco. How long does it take to write one of these things?

Court. If I’m lucky, maybe five minutes, but I might tinker with one for years. Would you like me to write one for you right now? I just thought of a poet I like but somehow overlooked:

R.I.P. JOHN MASEFIELD
June 1, 1878 – May 12, 1968

He went down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and the ships,
And that’s where Charon was waiting
For Erato to seal his lips.

Turco. How long did it take you to write that?

Court.  How long were you sitting there waiting?


Turco. I don’t think it was even five minutes. You managed to do a little research on-line, I noticed, and you looked up one of his best-known poems — to paraphrase, almost to quote in your first two lines, but the actual writing took maybe three minutes including those classical references to Charon, the ferryman on the River Styx in Hades, and Erato, the muse of lyric poetry.

Court. Sometimes I write one in my head while I’m lying sleepless in bed in the wee hours, or taking a shower. The problem is remembering it long enough to get it down on paper.


Turco. Does that happen often?

Court. Not often, but sometimes. On occasion a little poem will pop into my head without any effort at all. Once in a huge while I’ve even dreamt a poem.


Turco. And remembered it?

Court. Yes.


Turco. Any examples you can give me?

Court. This mote:

LINES TO BE EDCHED ON A WINDOW
In memory of Donald Justice

Clearly, you may see clear through me,
As though I were not here.

Turco. What is it you like so much about writing in meters and formal lines and stanzas?

Court. I love to see the language dance and hear it chime. I love to make it do what I want it to do and make it seem easy. I want to make it soar and dive deep into the human situation. I want to be able to do anything at all I wish to do with language.


Turco. That’s not easy, is it?

Court. Maybe not at first, when you’re young and learning how to write, but it gets easier and more fun the more you learn the craft and the more you practice the trade.


Turco. “Practice”? “Trade”? What are you, an artisan or an artist?

Court. Both. If you want to be a concert pianist, you’d better learn how to read music, play the piano, and practice unending hours.


Turco. There are many poets who think that poetry is inspiration, a gift of the gods, a swig from the springs of Helicon.

Court. Maybe it is, but if you’re going to be inspired someday, you’d better be ready for it, like every other artist — if you want to dance, you’d better learn all there is to know about your body and train it; if a sculptor, you better know all about stone and carving; if a painter, knowing how to draw would help — unless, of course, you’re an “abstract expressionist,” in which case anything goes. As far as I can tell it’s only poets who think they don’t have to know how to write. Neither you nor I ever felt that way.


Turco. You are so right. On the other hand, X. J. Kennedy once wrote a poem titled “Ars Poetica” that goes, “The goose that laid the golden egg / Died looking up its crotch / To find out how its sphincter worked. / Would you lay well? Don’t watch.” He’s a formal poet. Do you think he believes that?

Court. Maybe, maybe not, but he surely believes in the pun of his title. Unless I’m sadly mistaken (and I’m not), you would say anything to pull off a pun like that. At any rate, have you ever seen a concert pianist watching his hands as he plays? Joe, as Shakespeare did, just sits down and writes because long ago he taught himself how to do it, he committed what he learned to memory, and now it’s just second nature. It’s the same thing as instinct at this point.


Turco. You seem pretty blasé about the whole thing.

Court. You taught me that.


John

By Lewis Turco

Poem

I. John’s Telescope

The fireflies that limpid summer night
   called to one another silently,
moving beneath the sky as though they were
stars set free among their frozen siblings.

Our nephew John set up his telescope
   on the lawn among the fireflies
and aimed it at a planet — probably
Saturn, perhaps, or Mars — one of those gods

the Greeks invented not so long ago
   to replace the Titans and prepare
the way for Jaweh. Johnny let me peer
through the lens into the brilliant dark

that I recalled from childhood when I lay
   on my back beneath the summer sky
and let the weight of all that mystery
settle upon me till I was absorbed

into the nothingness that I could see
   and the rest of nothing I could not.
Terror absorbed me. I could feel the grass
dewy beneath me, hear the piping frogs

down by the brook ratcheting on of love,
   or sex at least, calling to their kind
to come and carry on for who knows why?
I could have been a star myself, shooting

into the void we now know can’t exist,
   filled with quarks and quasars, sheets of gas
the Hubbell has turned into veils of light
swaling through space like the sails of cosmic

ships, dark matter filling the abyss, black
   holes swallowing worlds and suns, novae
flaring and creating worlds and light. Who
can compass it? The paltry gods of Earth

were never meant to handle such immense
   phantasmagoria as these, were
never meant to represent these Powers,
Thrones, Dominions, eidolons of the mind

   of man, these firefly mysteries.


II. John’s Microscope

         John shuttled between the sublime
         and the infinitesimal,
       novas to microbes, and he wound up
   with the smallest of the small – he became
a microentomologist.
                                  But there are smaller still,

         uncertain in principle, like
         muons, baryons, leptons, mesons;
      the unobserved antiparticle
   or the graviton; the photon, which is
its own antiparticle. Each has its own spin, its own

         spin doctor studying bosons
         and fermions interacting:
      creating and annihilating
   with force, adding electrons or dropping
protons, keeping nuclei intact

         perhaps, while particles enter
         or leave twice at the same time, while
      neither matter nor energy may
   be destroyed, only transformed, one into
the other, the sum of their parts forever a constant

         whole resting, it may be, upon
         a bed of vibrating super
      strings, all of them playing the music
   composed by Pythagoras long ago,
the constant music of the ineffable cosmic spheres.


WESLI COURT: Well, Lewis, it’s been a while since last I interviewed you.

LEWIS TURCO:  It has, indeed! The interview was titled, “Interview with a Split Personality,” and it took place on two dates: July of 1960 and November of 1968.  It was published in the New England Review, Vol. I, No. 5, April-May 1970, and during that same summer it was videotaped for a classroom television course, “The Nature of Poetry,” at the State University of New York College at Oswego.


I recall it well. By literary sleight-of-hand, the two dates on which that interview took place were telescoped. I sat in a room with Lewis Turco, aged twenty-six, on my left hand, and Lewis Turco, aged thirty-four, on my right. At that time my own name was a pseudonym — and it still is, I might add, a pen-name that is an anagram of your own name.

Exactly, so there were really three of us sitting in that TV studio: a younger me, an older me, and you.


Yes, What I was attempting to do was to confront the elder you — who had passed beyond the pale of your thirtieth year and, by the terms of that period, was no longer to be trusted — with the Young Turk, an infinitely more likely candidate for the laurels of verity. I limited the younger man to remarks he made, upon the publication of his First Poems in 1960, in an interview conducted by Lydia Atkinson and published in the pages of your hometown newspaper, the Morning Record of Meriden, Connecticut, on July 13th, 1960, and on the dust jacket of your First Poems which had just been published.

I then confronted the older poet — who was the author of a poetry chapbook titled, The Sketches of Lewis Turco and Livevil: A Mask (1962), a second book of poems, Awaken, Bells Falling: Poems 1959-1967 (1968), and of The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics (1968) — and asked him to respond.  It was my intention to trap the older poet with the wisdom of his youth.  The viewers of the videotape watched you squirm in the toils of compromises you made while you grew older and sold out. What has changed since then?

Quite a lot, actually. That last volume you mentioned, The Book of Forms, set in motion a series of events that led to a movement which, in 1983, I began calling “Neoformalism” in the pages of the Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook where I was doing an annual roundup of poetry books.


What became of the Neoformalist movement?

It still exists, except now most people call it The New Formalism. It has its own annual poets’ gathering, The West Chester University Poetry Conference, founded in 1995 and co-directed by Michael Peich and Dana Gioia, who during the Bush Administration chaired the National Endowment for the Arts. Mike Peich just retired from West Chester University this year.


How did you happen to write The Book of Forms?

Apparently, I was born a formalist. I’ve always been interested in all aspects of language art, and when I say “formalist” I don’t mean, as people assume, that all I’m interested in is poetry in traditional forms. Every element of language is a form of some kind. The letters of the alphabet are forms, conventions upon which the members of a culture have agreed in order to communicate; so are words, phrases, clauses, and sentences, whether spoken or written. I’m interested in all of these things, and I’m interested in other kinds of writing besides poetry: I started out as a fiction writer when I was very young — my first short story was published when I was fifteen in 1949 — and I’ve probably published more nonfiction than anything else. I deeply resented it when, in the 1950s, the so-called “Beat Generation” was in the process of consolidating its anti-intellectual stranglehold on a generation, and the self-righteous, self-indulgent decade of the 1960s loomed ahead.

I had always wanted a good reference book on poetics, and when I was in grad school at the Writers’ Workshop of the University of Iowa I discovered that there simply wasn’t one around. With the blessing of my friend and professor Don Justice I decided to write my own. Heedlessly, I plunged forward.  Within two years I had a manuscript, a volume that I titled Contemporary Poetry: The Book of Forms built on the skeleton of the “four levels of poetry” that I had invented in a review I wrote as an undergraduate in 1959 (but published in the periodical Voices, No. 171, in 1960). I projected it as a combined reference and anthology with descriptions and diagrams of verse forms together with examples of those forms from modern poetry. I needed decently written specimens, and often I couldn’t find them, especially in contemporary language, which meant that I had to write them myself in many cases.

For instance, when I was in college, before I had conceived of The Book of Forms, I had discovered that there was absolutely no example of a good chant royal in English literature. I set myself the challenge to fill the gap, and I wrote a short series titled “Poems for an Old Professor” (my Milton professor at UConn) consisting of a chant royal and three sonnets. I remember that, up to then, the lead poem was the hardest project of my literary life, but when I was through with it, I was sure it was well-written.


Is this where I begin to come into the picture?

Just about. You show up in Cleveland where I had my first job at what’s now Cleveland State University beginning in 1960. “Wesli Court” was published for the first time as a reviewer in the “Accent on Fenn College” issue of Loring Williams’ magazine American Weave, the autumn-winter issue of 1962. Why a reviewer? My thinking was that I might publish under a nom-de-plume and tell the truth with impunity, without making a lot of enemies. No one, of course, or almost no one, told the truth when they reviewed a book, because one never knew when one would need a favor from someone whose poetry one despised. That practice stopped almost immediately, for I found that the person I despised most was myself for hiding behind a mask just to avoid someone’s animus.


I remember that! What became of me after that? As I recall, I went to sleep again for a while.

Yes, but I went on leading a double life. In the summer of 1959, during a stint at the artists’s colony Yaddo, between college at UConn and grad school at Iowa, I had begun writing quantitative syllabic verse regularly rather than poems in traditional forms, and that became my regular practice. Nevertheless, between 1961 and 1967 I revised my forms manuscript over and over again, searching for obscure verse forms that had at some time in history appeared in English literature, sending for books to Europe, rewriting whole sections, paging through volumes of contemporary poetry for examples of poems in the forms and adding them to the volume.

Whenever I submitted some version of my manuscript to a publishing house the verdict was ever the same: Although it was a good book, there was no market for it.  I always argued that the book might not sell big, but it would sell steadily, and it would eventually help to create its own market. I was always disregarded.


It turned out that you were right.

But nobody had a Ouija board. In 1967, after many fruitless efforts to find a home for the volume, I deleted the poems in order to shorten the book and limit its reprint permissions costs so that a potential publisher might find it more attractive, for the examples I’d chosen were all by living poets, none of them were by you at the time. I added a bibliography of the missing poems so that people who were interested might search them out.


What a shame.

But my luck was about to change. By a fluke — quite literally by accident, and after more frustrations — E. P. Dutton accepted The Book of Forms in its non-anthology format.  Then I discovered that Cyril I. Nelson, the Dutton paperbacks and poetry editor, would have been happy to have the poems as part of the manuscript. It would have taken forever and a small fortune to get permissions for all those copyrighted poems. I wanted the book published without further delay, and so it was, in 1968.  Although it did share a full-page ad in The New York Times Book Review when it appeared, it was reviewed only once, by my colleague at the S.U.N.Y. College at Oswego, Prof. Frank Hulme, in the local newspaper, The Oswego Palladium-Times; nevertheless, it began to sell, strictly by word-of-mouth.


But…!

In 1970 you reappeared in print at last, this time as the moderator for that television interview — we used three cameras for it, as I recall.


That’s right! One for me when I talked, one for the younger you when he talked, and one for the older you. It worked pretty well, as I recall. But then I disappeared again.

True. My goal, however, was one day to bring out an edition if The Book of Forms with examples in it, examples in many cases that did not exist in contemporary language, that I had to write myself. I worked on those examples for the next decade and a half. Or perhaps I should say that you did.


At last! I know what happened after that, but our readers don’t, so I’ll ask.

What happened is that while I went on writing syllabic poems, accentual poems, prose poems and so forth, you began to provide me with, first, many of your own poems in the traditional forms, especially the ones I needed. I also set you to work on the Welsh and Irish Bardic forms which had never appeared in any other handbook. What my alter-ego did (my dad was a minister, so I like to say my altar ego) was to look up English translations of Medieval poems, and then to write contemporary versions of those poems cast into the forms I needed; they were not necessarily the forms in which the poems were in fact originally written.

After a while you and I had all these poems lying around doing nothing, so we decided to start sending them out to periodicals in the middle-to-late 1970’s, sometimes under my name, but most of the time under your name. To my amazement, magazines began to accept them. In fact, you began to have more luck with your rhyming and metered poems than I was having with my syllabic poems! What was going on? I thought I knew. The worm was beginning to turn again, and there was a big pile of younger poets who had been using The Book of Forms for almost a decade, writing in the old forms, experimenting with the Bardic forms, publishing in the little magazines, and even beginning new periodicals that published what they were interested in.


You keep mentioning your Book of Forms as though it were the only book available for these people.

There were some old, out-of-print books available in used book shops, such as Helen Louise Cohen’s Lyric Forms from France, published in 1922; Louis Untermeyer’s The Forms of Poetry, published in 1926; Clement Wood’s Poets’ Handbook, published in 1940, and Mary J. J. Wrinn’s The Hollow Reed, published in 1935 — I listed them all in my book’s bibliography, but in fact The Book of Forms was the only book of its kind in print, and it was a paperback original, so it was available almost everywhere. This was the era of the “paperback revolution,” so people could pick up a copy even in grocery stores and pharmacies. There was simply no book like it easily available, and it contained many more verse forms than any other book of its kind that had been published anywhere. Furthermore, no other book in history had contained schematic diagrams of the forms so that a reader could see clearly at a glance how the poem should be constructed. I had invented the system of the diagrams, but Miller Williams copied it in his book later on.


You’ve got to be kidding. Aren’t you overstating the case just a bit?

Don’t curl your lip like that. I’m not bragging, I’m just stating facts. There was no other book remotely like it until Alex Preminger published the expensive and ponderous tome titled the Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics in 1965. My book was cheap, and it could fit into your back pocket. There are still hundreds of copies of the original edition floating around. It had no competition in the field until John Hollander published his Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse thirteen years later, in 1981, also a paperback, but nowhere near as complete a listing of verse forms.


I concede the point. I was pretty busy during this period, as I recall.

You certainly were. In 1977 some things began to happen that required you to step forward. I sent a chapbook manuscript of some of our poems, under my name, to Song magazine, and it was accepted. Titled Curses and Laments, that’s just what it was, a series of alternating curses and laments, some of them against the president of the college where I was teaching.

At about the same time, my friend and former student, the great jazz band leader and composer of the ‘20s and ‘30s Charlie Davis decided to start a publishing company. He drafted me as his editor and asked me to name the firm. I suggested The Mathom Publishing Company. When he asked me what the word “Mathom” meant, I told him it was old English via Tolkien for “useless treasure.” I assumed that’s what we’d be publishing. Charlie agreed.


The Charlie Davis?  The composer of “Copenhagen?”

None other. Unfortunately, the first useless treasure that Charlie wanted to publish was a collection of my poems. Not wishing to tell my elderly friend that it wasn’t meet for a company to publish its own editor’s work, I hemmed a bit and then said, “Well, how about publishing a book of poems by Wesli Court?” “Who’s he?” “Me.”  “Okay.” So I gathered another bunch of our rhyming and metering poems and put them together in a manuscript that I decided to call Courses in Lambents. I wrote Richard Behm at Song and asked him to change the author’s name of his book to “Wesli Court” also.


So suddenly I had two books coming out! Why do they have titles that could easily be mistaken for one-another”?

This was my reasoning: If someone told my president about the curses I had written for her and she called me into her office to confront me with, “Did you write a book titled Curses and Laments? I could reply, “Why, yes, I did write a book titled Courses in Lambents, and here’s a copy, my gift to you.” When she examined it she would find no curses against her, and she would be forced to the conclusion that her informant was either misinformed or a trouble-maker. Meanwhile, I would be out the door scart free. (A scart is an obsolete word meaning “small scratch”; a Scot is a big Celt. People in Maine would pronounce the word “scart” as “scot.” Maybe the dictionary etymologies are wrong?) This scenario never took place.


It felt really good to me to be able to breathe freely at last.

It happened that Courses appeared before Curses, in 1977, and the latter appeared the following year — I took very good care to make sure no copies appeared on campus for seven years, at which point I figured the statute of limitation on curses ran out. I then donated a copy to the College library. Meanwhile, Charlie wanted a children’s book for his list, so he attempted to negotiate with a member of our Writing Arts staff, Helen Buckley Simkiewicz, a well-known juveniles writer, but she was under contract, so he turned to you again.


I take it that the same strictures against publishing the work of an editor applied here, too!

Yes. I had been making up stories and poems and telling or singing them to my schoolboy friends and my children for decades. One of them was about a pair of caterpillars who spun cocoons, but only one of whom, Mabel, emerged with wings. Murgatroyd instead grew a propeller. I hadn’t written the story down at first, but eventually I’d done so, and it had been rejected by major houses on the grounds that children didn’t like, or at least shouldn’t read, stories about physical distortions (like a flying elephant with ears that were wings, or a little girl who falls down a rabbit hole where her neck grows longer and shorter, or dancing hippos wearing tutus, etc., etc.). Charlie didn’t see anything wrong with such distortions, so in 1977 he brought out Murgatroyd and Mabel by “Wesli Court,” with illustrations by my late neighbor Bob Sullins.


Did anybody like my latest book?

Both before and after it was published. My children did, and my grandchildren, grandnieces and grandnephews still do. Over these few years you had also been publishing your modern versions of Medieval poems in the traditional forms here and there, and in 1981 the Poetry Newsletter of Temple University brought out a chapbook special issue devoted to The Airs of Wales, poems you had written in some of the twenty-four official meters of the Welsh bards.


So by 1981 I’d published three collections of poems and a children’s book.

Yes, and that was it until 2004 when Star Cloud Press brought out our collaborative volume, The Collected Lyrics of Lewis Turco / Wesli Court 1953-2004. However, in 1986 I used a lot of your poems in The New Book of Forms, and Miller Williams used some in his Patterns of Poetry that same year. I used them in the Third Edition of The Book of Forms of 2000 as well, and some have appeared in anthologies here and there.


How did the later editions of your Book of Forms come about?

I told you about the poetry round-up reviews I was doing for The Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbooks from 1983-1986 In which I discussed the fact that there was beginning to be a renewed interest in formal poetry, and I documented the movement with the books I was reviewing. Ironically, it was during this period that Dutton, for no known reason since it was selling as well as ever, decided to drop The Book of Forms from its list.

Dutton’s move gave me the opportunity to revise, expand, and update the book, and because of its reputation as “the poet’s bible” I had no trouble in placing the manuscript as The New Book of Forms with the University Press of New England which published it in 1986 with many of your examples included. (In fact more than one publisher, including Iowa, wanted to bring it out.)

It was an immediate success despite the fact that during the same year, for the first time in almost two decades, other formalist books were published including Miller Williams’ Patterns of Poetry and Strong Measures, edited by Phillip Dacey and David Jauss, which contained some of my own poems. The following year, when I passed my annual poetry roundup reviewing chore on to Sam Gwynn, another book devoted to formal poetics, Ecstatic Occasions, Expedient Forms, edited by David Lehman appeared. The drought was over and young people were learning craft again.


The New Formalists must be grateful for all the work you’ve done in the field.

Not so much. Although almost every one of them cut his or her poetic eyeteeth on The Book of Forms, they forgot to include it in their New Formalist bibliographies.


You’ve got to be kidding.

I’m not. You can check.


Good Grief! That must have put a crimp in your ego.

Not even in my “altar ego.” I haven’t written fifty books (both yours and mine) over fifty years and not run into this sort of thing before many times. I persist because I’m still deeply interested in what I do and what I continue to study.


What are you doing these days?

Writing more books including fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and blogging. I have two Typepad blogs, “Poetics and Ruminations” and “Odd and Invented Forms” at lewisturco.net. People can download a freed e-chapbook of my most recent non-traditional poems titled Attic, Shed, and Barn, from Ahadada Books, and you have a new book coming out at last.


I know, and I’m looking forward to September first of this year when The Gathering of the Elders and Other Poems will be published by StarCloudPress.com.

Me, too.