I love the sounds of the night here at Montalvo. A deep plush dark night. I have especially loved this sound, but didn’t know what it was:
I was happy to learn that these are looncalls because I’ve been thinking about loons after finding a slip of paper with a note abt. how Stanley’s mother called him and Roethke “two loons.” As in “When are you two loons coming down for breakfast?”
I’ve been sorting through files of little fragments I’ve kept and just gathering them in one place to explore their resonance, a wall essay, or an altar of a sort. These have been in random files and it’s been a very useful process to just gather all those files in one place and select specific items to put on the wall, and see how they relate to each other, etc.
I heard this story from Stanley several times and pictured this scene of his mother making breakfast while they slept late, no doubt having stayed up most of the night. But I realized that I have no idea where it’s set. Did Roethke and Stanley visit Stanley’s mother in Worcester? Did she come to his farmhouse in Bucks County? Wherever it is, it speaks of a kind of ease that rarely attends his stories of his mother. Teasing is only possible when there’s an easy exchange in place.
I think I’ve kept this scrap of paper because of that way it fills out the way we can see Stanley’s mother, and also for what it represents about friendship and how inextricably friendship is tied to the work we do. Here’s Stanley describing when he and Roethke first met:
The image that never left me was of a blond, smooth, shambling giant, irrevocably Teutonic, whose even-featured countenance seemed ready to be touched by time, waiting to be transfigured, with a few subtle lines, into a tragic mask. He had come to talk about poetry, and talk we did, over a jug, grandly and vehemently all through the night. There were occasions in the years that followed when I could swear that I hadn’t been to bed since we first met.
–from Stanley Kunitz on Theodore Roethke, originally published in PSA Crossroads, 2002.
And thinking of his mother calling them two loons evokes this and many other scenes of them staying up talking about poems deep into the night, testing each other with arcane prosody games and reading each other’s work.
A game that Ted and I invented was designed to test how much we really knew about the poetry of the past. We would try to stump each other by reading aloud the most obscure poem from another century that we could find. If the identity of the author escaped us, the alternative requirement was to guess the date. We became so adept at the game that we were scarcely ever more than ten years off. Indeed, style and prosody are such sensitive variables that every poet, without realizing it, stamps a dateline on his work.
Stanley often told the story of how he and Roethke one day noticed that no one had invited them to give a reading, and so they decided to schedule one themselves and found someone to host it in their living room. It felt a little like a Ren and Stimpy episode, the way he described going around the town and tacking up flyers about their reading.