quinta-feira, 21 de agosto de 2008

As Vozes Únicas de Edward Steinhardt

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Standing Pelican: Key West Poems & Stories, Foreword by John Hemingway, A REVIEW

For this, my second blog, I tender what may be one of the last reviews Charles Guenther ever wrote, written just a few months ago. This will complete the introduction of edward steinhardt into blogdom...

The Unique Voices of Edward Steinhardt

A Review by Charles Guenther

Many if not most writers have more than one voice—lyric, dramatic or narrative. Few have succeeded in all three, but it’s always a joy to find such an emerging talent. Edward Steinhardt is an experienced poet, editor and journalist, with just the background to write well in any voice. Standing Pelican: Key West Poems & Stories shows a talent unique in its many modulations in poetry, fiction and drama (or docu-drama).

The opening section of Standing Pelican contains a dozen poems, most with Key West settings, and all strikingly different. Steinhardt’s poetry celebrates today’s Key West in Narrative imagery and dialogue. The lines are spare, cinematic, on themes of a Tarot reader, urban bars, and Key West settings. Emotion is tempered, unlike that of modernist Wallace Stevens in whose "Farewell to Florida" (a century ago) "Key West sank downward under massive clouds," and who "hated the weathery yawl" and "the vivid blooms" of that city.

Contrast also Steven’s "The Idea of Order at Key West" which begins with a singing woman (the Sea) and ends almost romantically by summoning a fisherman (Ramon Hernandez). Steinhardt’s "On the Pier at Key West" sings a real man and woman who "Methodically cast/ Their blind lines into the sea."

Steinhardt excels in the short story, with eight delightful examples. In his prize-winning "A Square Green Patch of Earth," are surprising transitions in the narrative, about an elderly couple and the stark, subtle symbolism of a dark ibis. The plot is quiet in tone and flow, and beginning and end are skillfully joined together.

The next story, "Julian," has crisp images of Key West, with intense personal observation and subtle characterization. Its plot involves fresh, moving memories and affectionate relationships of mind and heart.

The next tale is set in the Hemingway House; it is totally different, with almost continuous dialogue and authentic present-day exchanges on the old and new. Still another story unwinds with fascinating contrasts in age and youth, an old man and a young boy.

"The Rooming House" resembles Tennessee Williams’ style in a series of ruminations and musings on rooming house life and characters, reminiscent of Williams’ life in St. Louis and Key West.

The next story, "Johnny Bible" has an aura of mystery, with strong suspense and character contrasts. The plot revolves around an eccentric protagonist and a long-awaited letter—and an unusual ending.

The final story, "The Trials of January Jones," is longer and more intricate. ("January" is a woman.) The leading character’s trials are numerous, credible; yet she endures a life of sadness among the customers in her diner. The revelation of her secret past life will surprise readers.

Standing Pelican closes with a strikingly original one-act play, or docu-drama—a 45-page conversation with Tennessee Williams. Here, too, Steinhardt is a consumate craftsman as an interviewer of Williams, who vacationed in Key West in his youth and bought a house there in 1949. The play is titled "A Summer Place," a setting found in a number of Williams’ works. Steinhardt provides an enlightening introduction, with a cast of ten strongly delineated characters. Steinhardt is particularly well-grounded in this work, since he lived in both Central West St. Louis and Key West where Williams spent most of his life.

Altogether Edward Steinhardt’s Standing Pelican is a thoroughly entertaining, well-written collection, highly original in its scope and style. Steinhardt "reads" much better than many, if not most writers—even (at least to this reviewer) better than Faulkner.

Fathers and Sons... And for the Remembering...

It's August now. And it's fall, at least in most places. Except for Key West where it is perpetually summer...

I am also reminded of the years. And age. And aging. And friends. And the remembering...

We have no guarantee of tomorrow. Perhaps the only guarantee is that there is a yesterday. And memories. All that is recorded and retained in the thing called the soul...

Friends enable and embolden us. The best friends make such a good difference in our lives it might even be said we become noble.

If one is lucky enough, one might be privileged to have a mentor. Or more than one.

A mentor is like another father. They are morally supportive. You always have their vote. They're behind you 150 per cent.

They also do what you do, or what you're trying to do. And they take the time to show you the ropes, or at least show you the direction in which you should go. It is a spiritual dance between the Greater and the Lessor. One bestows, the other learns.

It is a Teacher and Student arrangement. It is an old Greek way. It is a Roman way. And, given the right formula of time, place and literary ingredients, sometimes also the American way.

Charles Guenther has for me been one such friend, or Father of Letters. And fortunate for me, he sought me out.

I had had one other literary father, Howard Nemerov. He was my first influence, my first initial mentor or infrequent sounding-board.

Coming out of my teens I had promise in poetry, certainly. But the first poems were not necessarily good ones. Some, being born, could barely walk. The balance of those early poems would probably fall under the category of what Howard would later call "a very low form of literary life."

By the time my first book came out (The Painting Birds, Westphalia Press, 1988) my poems were doing better. Or rather I was getting better at my craft. Either Fr. William Barnaby Faherty or Sharon Kinney Hanson had relayed a copy of my first book to Charles Guenther. And Charles wrote me from St. Louis how he like my book and my style of writing.

That was the beginning of an incredible 20 year period of collaborative projects, correspondence and friendship. Charles, in the choosing, had chosen a poet who was eager to learn, to become better at versifying. After all, in the symbiotic dance between Teacher and Student, it's always about one thing (especially if it's about choosing a mentor); learning from someone who is a heck of a lot smarter than you are. After all, you want to achieve or become what they are, or do what they do.

Last month, right before this—the August of our year—Charles died. And a great grief came upon me, one in which I had not been visited with since Howard died in 1991. The depth of grief in this case was so great, it defies explanation. I think this quality of sadness can only be understood by other writers or artists, for they alone know the intrinsic strands of soul that bind one artist to another. Especially if such knowledge has been imparted or exchanged in the mentor/student dynamic...

My sadness is compounded by the fact that Charles died before I, as publisher, was unable to get his last book (Guardian of Grief: Poems of Giacomo Leopardi) into his hands before the cancer, so quickly announced, would also expeditiously overtake him.

It is equally amazing (knowing now in retrospect) what a difference of 15 or 30 days can be. In just a week or two Charles' latest book will be available to the public, a remarkable offering of some of the best poems by the Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi.

In characteristic Guenther style, Charles says in his introduction to his book of translations, "I hope they (the poems) may bring a renewed interest in, and appreciation of, Leopardi, his life, his times and his work."

Again, it was about a master teacher, critic, reviewer, poet and translator sharing his enthusiasm for the printed word. It was about being so enthused about something so subtely incredible (knowledge) that Charles dared not hide it under a bushel basket. Because he couldn't. And wouldn't...

Tangibly, I will miss our monthly correspondence, his counsel (to me, an avowed workaholic): "Pace yourself, don't work too hard," and his frequent praise. Most of all, I will miss our friendship. And for his care, his wisdom and perfect craftsmanship. And for his example...

* * *

Special tribute remarks submitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, at that newspaper's kind request:

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