May 132016
Key West Poet Laureate Kirby Congdon (Photo by Richard Watherwax)

Key West Poet Laureate Kirby Congdon (Photo by Richard Watherwax)

by Kirby Congdon.......

The Curator and Librarian of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library, Elspeth Healey, at the University of Kansas asked me, after I had sent her an early manuscript that had gotten misplaced among my own papers, how do I approach old work like that? Do I have difficulty making editorial changes or is the text considered, preferably, as a final one?

The passage of time does give one a fresh view of old work. One’s ideas change. My reply to Ms. Healey is that I try to finish a poem the first time around, give or take a gestation period that may be a few days or even years, but I like to avoid embarrassment even if the poem has not seen print. Any change I may have decided on lies in three different areas. If a poem attempts to repeat a truism, if it gives tutorial advice about anything, my reaction is that I have inadvertently fallen into the trap of preaching. This trap is an easy one to fall into because it is satisfying to teach what one is finding out for oneself. But if you sound superior, the reader can be alienated. This reservation about teaching morals, behavior or whatever, has persuaded me that a poem succeeds more easily if we do not dictate what that poem is going to say. Independent ideas crop up and reconciling them with the text one already has tempts one, as it were, to listen to what the poem is trying to tell you. This suggests unexpected conflicts that arise but the poem can survive the confusion and frequently is the better for it. This is a satisfaction too.

Another category is the poem that has a particular subject to consider. In it the narrator, once more, faces the challenge of keeping the treatment of that subject an interesting one by avoiding pat references and unoriginal statements. A sense of concern or curiosity underlies a poem’s life. Writing to order is not recommended.

A final category is the poem that is promoted by chance. It does not know where it is going, has no program and needs cohesion. The narrator and the poet himself are handmaidens to whatever comes forward. This can be a complex situation. It is one of the most demanding situations and the attempt to handle it can easily collapse. Yet it can be, when successful, the kind of poem that the writer can’t predict but which can be his own work at its best. The term, the gift of having a talent, becomes evident and that is its own reward. The writer feels his time has been used well and he himself feels useful in being creative, the reward of almost any human activity.

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Kirby Congdon
Kirby Congdon found his calling in the time of the Beat Movement, his poems being published by the New York Times, The New York Herald Tribune and the Christian Science Monitor as well as countless small-press outlets. While influenced by the assertive stance of a new generation in literature, he preferred to set aside the spontaneous approach of his friends and use his work as an exploratory tool in establishing the new identity of his times as well as that of his own maturation. This search was incorporated in 300 works which were compiled in a bibliography by a Dean of the English Department at Long Island University in his retirement and made available in hard-back with an extensive addenda by the literary activists of Presa Press through their skills achieved from the University of Michigan and their own experience which commands a movement in itself of contemporary literary action.

Congdon’s work in poetry covers innumerable treatments of countless subjects in single poems, long treatments on a subject, and many collections of both serious thought and imagination through not only the poetry but through essays, plays and ruminations. Named the first poet laureate of Key West, he received a standing ovation for his reading honoring this position and was the featured poet in a festival celebrating Frank O’Hara in the New York region. He was also asked to read his work as well as give a talk on the country’s national poet laureate, Richard Wilbur, at a seminar honoring that man. Currently, Congdon is working on an autobiography and a collection of complete poems.
 May 13, 2016  Posted by at 12:30 am Issue #166, Kirby Congdon  Add comments

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