A Paradise of Poets: In celebration of Keith Wilson by Bobby Byrd

Posted by Lidya Endzo Kun iLLa On 4:31 PM


[On Sunday June 15th] the Duende Poetry Series in Placitas, NM, hosted a tribute for the poet Keith Wilson. Keith, now 80 years old, is frail and in poor health, following a series of strokes. He understands what others are saying but is not capable of making simple sentences or even words without enormous struggle. It's a terrible sickness for a poet. And to make matters worse, the day before the event he had to begin using a walker. The hosts were kind enough to ask me to introduce the event. I was honored. Below is my tribute to Keith that I wrote for the occasion.

A TRIBUTE TO KEITH WILSON

Duende Poetry Series

Placitas, New Mexico

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Welcome, as Jerome Rothenberg would say, to the Paradise of Poets. Welcome, as Gertrude Stein might say, to the continuous now of poetry. We are here today to honor poet Keith Wilson, and by our presence, the radiant beast of poetry survives. We nourish her by making our poems, we nourish her by reading the poems of others, by hearing aloud the poems of others, by buying books of poems and by sharing these poems and talking about these poems and the poetics that we discover in these poems.

It’s a peculiar idea, thinking of poetry as a creature of biology, an ethereal animal made of words and ideas and rhythms of language and culture. An animal that was birthed in the chants and drumbeats of our collective pre-history and which continues to breathe the air of our contemporary wanderings through, and experiments with, our language. I began learning about this idea when I was in school at the University of Arizona in Tucson, 1963 to 1965. Keith and Heloise Wilson were kind enough to invite me into their home and there I discovered a household of poetry. It was a unique place. The idea of poetry and art as community and as a continuous thread of understanding seeped into my mind and heart. In Tucson that community of poetry was centered in the Wilson household. I met Bob Creeley, Gary Snyder, Robert Sward, Barney Childs, Paul Malanga, Drummond Hadley, Diana Hadley, George Bowering and so many others. We talked about poetry, especially about the poetry that rooted itself in Walt Whitman, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Charles Olson--the New American Poetry as anthologized by Donald Allen. Keith was a role model. He always had at his side his notebook where he was working on his poems. I listened to Keith’s early work in manuscript and saw him rejoice when Gino Sky and Drew Wagnon, editors of the mimeographed little magazine Wild Dog, decided to publish a poem, his first publication. I remember Keith being enthralled with Jack Spicer’s work. He borrowed books and typed them up, duplicating the format of the book and creating his own librito, doing a mockup of the cover. The practice he told me was to feel the words and to learn how and why Spicer broke his lines the way he did. He typed other poems and books he admired. He was obsessed with his writing, and his obsession was contagious. He was, for so many of us, a role model of what a poet is. It was a wonderful time, and I learned so much, being in that community which was so much created by the presence of Keith and Heloise. In the 70s, when Jerome Rothenberg began to publish his anthologies and theorizing about the life of poetry, I knew immediately what he was talking about. It made perfect sense.

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