Wednesday, September 7, 2016

"Proust's Madeleine" - Kenneth Rexroth

"Proust's Madeleine"
Kenneth Rexroth 

Somebody has given my
Baby daughter a box of
Old poker chips to play with.
Today she hands me one while
I am sitting with my tired
Brain at my desk. It is red.
On it is a picture of
An elk's head and the letters
B.P.O.E.—a chip from
A small town Elks' Club. I flip
It idly in the air and
Catch it and do a coin trick
To amuse my little girl.
Suddenly everything slips aside.
I see my father
Doing the very same thing,
Whistling ``Beautiful Dreamer,''
His breath smelling richly
Of whiskey and cigars. I can
Hear him coming home drunk
From the Elks' Club in Elkhart
Indiana, bumping the 
Chairs in the dark. I can see
Him dying of cirrhosis
Of the liver and stomach
Ulcers and pneumonia,
Or, as he said on his deathbed, of
Crooked cards and straight whiskey,
Slow horses and fast women.

Kenneth Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905. Jonathan Williams [who often called the irascible poet "Daddy Waxwroth"] wrote this note in 2005, and it was subsequently posted on The Jargon Society webpage

I want you to offer a toast to Kenneth. It is by far the best I know. Its provenance is worth a brief telling.

One wet, dark, winter’s afternoon in the 1970s, Basil Bunting, Tom Meyer, and I found ourselves in the small town of Langholm, on the River Esk, in the Borders of Scotland. Langholm is noted for being the home of one of the four or five best tweed mills in the world. And for being the birthplace of Hugh MacDiarmid, a great reprobate of a poet if there ever was one. Curiously, the town fathers had offered him “The Freedom of the Town,” a modest ceremony to allow a little extra drinking to take place. We had driven from Bellingham on the North Tyne to join in.

We found the great man at a table in the corner of the pub, surrounded by friendly mill workers, plying him with drams of Gren Fiddich single malt whisky and pints of bitter beer. MacDiarmid came to his feet when he saw Basil Bunting. “Now then, Mr. Bunting, may I propose a toast in your honour? It is from the ancient Gaelic Scots, in a new translation by me:


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