Several years ago, I lost count of how many poetry books I have (can you ever have enough?). But there’s absolutely no doubt which are my favorites collections.
They are always the signed copies. Sometimes I get lucky enough to stumble into a used bookstore and find one for cheap. This was the case once when I walked into Powell’s City of Books in Portland and found a signed copy of Robert Bly’s Winged Energy of Delight for about eight bucks. I also managed a nice signed copy of Charles Levendosky’s Circle of Light in one of my favorite Wyoming used bookstores called Ye Olde Book Nook in Sheridan. Levendosky was a lesser-known poet nationally, but former Wyoming Poet Laureate.
The real gems, however, are the inscripted copies. My two favorites are from legendary poets John Haines and Williams Stafford. Here are the covers of the books:
For Alaska-poet Haines, The Stone Harp (1971) was his second collection of poems. It includes one of my favorite poems entitled “Moon.” For Haines, the poem is both typical (in image) and not-so-typical (in subject):
There are moons like continents,
diminishing to a white stone
in a fog-bound ocean.
immense rainbarrels spilling
their yellow water.
Moons like eyes turned inward,
hard and bulging
on the blue cheek of eternity.
And moons half broken
eaten by eagle shadows…
But the moon of the poet
is soiled and scratched, its seas
are flowing with dust.
And other moons are rising
swollen like boils–
in their bloodshot depths
the warfare of planets
silently drips and festers.
For Oregon/Kansas-poet Stafford, The Rescued Year (1965) was his third book. It includes the now-famous poem “At The Bomb Testing Site:”
At the Bomb Testing Site
At noon in the desert a panting lizard
waited for history, its elbows tense,
watching the curve of a particular road
as if something might happen.
It was looking at something farther off
than people could see, an important scene
acted in stone for little selves
at the flute end of consequences.
There was just a continent without much on it
under a sky that never cared less.
Ready for a change, the elbows waited.
The hands gripped hard on the desert.
Both poems are anti-war, but Stafford’s poem is more overt, and although Stafford’s poem is more well-known, I’d say Haines’ poem is equally good, if not better.
The two books, interestingly enough, came out within six years of one another.
Now–here are the photos of the inscriptions:
The inscription from Haines, which is a little hard to decipher, reads: “From John Haines. Nice to know that people still buy and read this book.”
The inscription from Stafford reads: “All the best from Bill! –Bill Stafford, Jan ’70.”
Sometimes when I get writer’s block, I take these books off the shelf. I imagine these masters are still alive, writing the inscriptions to me. And after a few minutes, I get back to work.