Edited by poet—and good friend of Tim's—David Trinidad, this collection belongs on a shelf with the collected poems of Frank O'Hara, James Schuyler, Ted Berrigan and the handful of others whose collected poems I find essential to my library (and anyone else's in my opinion).
Tim was a dear friend of mine. We met in 1972 at a poetry reading the late Ed Cox and I were giving at Catholic University, at which we read poems about being "gay"—Ed because he was and had just "come out"—an amazingly brave action for anyone to take at the time but especially in their home town (Ed was a native of DC) and in solidarity with him and for other "politically correct"(a new term and not at the time a confining cliche) reasons I read poems about me being "gay" too.
Afterwards, this bespectacled, conventionally dressed, young man (I was probably in the platform pimp shoes I was partial to at the time) came up to us and told us we were his new heroes. Naturally we became the best of friends and remained so throughout his too short life (he died in 1990 at age forty).
But back then he was just beginning an independent life after entering his twenties and I was a married man with two children just entering my thirties and was sure I was light years ahead of Tim, who told us he wrote poems too. Then I saw the poems and knew he already was good enough to publish.
The small press I had at the time with my wife, Lee, and close friends like Ed and Terence Winch, was called Some Of Us Press and published Tim's first book of poems, HIGH THERE, the following year. (These memories are backed up by the chronology Trinidad provides at the beginning of this collection, an invaluable guidline to Tim's life—but in fact, if I ever find the letters Tim began sending me when we met and he was still living in Philadelphia, I suspect Tim approached me and introduced himself before the reading with Ed but it was his "heroes" remark at that reading that resonated in my mind ever after, because Tim continued to remind me that I was his "hero" during periods when I was facing challenges that left me feeling like a failure.)
So I always dug Tim's poems and cherished our friendship, but this past Wednesday evening, at a reading at The Poetry Project at St. Mark's in "the East Village" to celebrate the publication of this book, listening to different poets and friends and new fans of Tim's poetry read selections from the book, I was overwhelmed with how seminally important and unique and immortal his work really is.
Not only does his work display his poetic virtuosity, but the combination of familiar poems that I was around when Tim wrote and first shared with me, and/or were published and shared with the world, along with unpublished poems including some I wasn't even aware of, creates not just the panorama of a life well (and sometimes not so well) lived while being recorded in poems that expressed that life's originality as well as dailiness, but transcends a mere life to become something that lives on well beyond it and in fact becomes something for the ages.
Listening to folks I hadn't in some cases seen in many years, some even decades, interpret Tim's words through their own personalities (like Jamie Manrique, Cheri Fein, Brad Gooch, et. al.) or others I'd seen more recently (David Trinidad, Terence Winch, Eileen Myles, Tom Carey, et. al.)—or others I knew and didn't who may have known Tim or didn't (Anselm Berrigan, CA Conrad, Stacy Szymaszek, Chip Livingston, et. al.)—embody their own sense of what was great about Tim and his writing, I was overwhelmed with the reality that Tim was no longer this younger guy who I always felt older and more experienced than, nor even my old dear friend who often ended up giving me the comfort and wisdom of experience I was used to doling out to him, but had become an ageless intelligence and sensibility that existed beyond any concept of age or experience or even wisdom.
I hope that doesn't sound too over the top because it didn't feel that way at the time, it felt like a genuinely right sized response to the gift Tim's work offers to anyone willing to accept it. I cannot recommend this book too highly to anyone who cares about poetry, or to those who just appreciate discovering new voices and perspectives through books.
I only wish Tim could have been there to witness how much he is still loved and missed and honored by his friends, including the new ones who never knew him when he was alive but have discovered him through his poems.
I'm afraid any poem I reproduce here will seem less than the whole of this book or the experience of the reading, but I'll risk it with the same spirit Tim brought to his poems by sharing a very short poem that was one of the two of Tim's read by Terence Winch:
I take incredible
risks with my poems,
which is why they
always turn out
And one a little longer and among his last (as he was heading toward his death from AIDS, which he wrote honestly and most originally about in two late classics: "G9" and "D.O.A.") and which I read at the reading and isn't formally as typical as most of his work is (usually more seemingly loose and conversational/notational than this one) but displays his formal skills beautifully (in an almost Audenesque way, though I prefer Dlugos-esque):
SLEEP LIKE SPOONS
There is a bed on 83rd
which like a Gileadic balm
can sooth the soul. I lay me down
to sleep there, and to find the calm
that lives within your shoulder blade,
beneath the cool and freckled skin
that makes my midnights white as those
in settings Scandinavian
where cry of loon and forest sighs
not car alarms and salsa beat
drift upward through the window cracks
and mitigate the summer heat.
No way to mute the blaring horns,
nor open hearts that don't discern
the trove of tenderness within
the tangled postures lovers learn
in sex and rest, limbs juxtaposed,
exhaustion mingled with delight.
We close our eyes and sleep like spoons
inside the silverchest of night.
And echoing the often stated sentiments of the evening, many thanks again to David Trinidad for the labor of love his editing obviously was, and to Stephen Motika, the publisher of this book (Nightboat Books): A FAST LIFE: THE COLLECTED POEMS OF TIM DLUGOS.