That’s part of John Knoepfle’s e-mail address – “old poet” – and that’s a fitting introduction to his poem, “thinking back these eighty eight years,” which I discovered in the current issue of New Letters.
I’m neither a poet nor qualified to review poetry, but I fell so deeply in love with this poem that I’ve been thrusting it into other writers’ hands, commanding them to read it.
Perhaps I love it because I’m from the Midwest, and one of John’s awards is the Mark Twain Award for Contributions to Midwestern Literature.
Or perhaps because “thinking back” is written the way memory works – “what do you remember old fox . . . what else quarterback sacked punt blocked/failed promises factory work” – and I write about memory and identity.
Or perhaps because he is a witness to history in this long, six-page poem – “and one sundays awesome silence/steaming the straits of solomon . . .I can tell you about shrapnel/how it drowns you in your own blood” – and I tell members of my Over-50 Writing Workshop that they must record, and pass on, the history they witnessed.
On his web site, John says, “I try to reflect a common quality that I have found in persons . . . This quality does not reveal the aesthetically beautiful or the diamond-like intellectual fireworks that man is capable of, but it does reveal something basic and handsome about him.” In “thinking back” he reflects that quality in an old pastor, a clairvoyant, a hindu surgeon, the woman in selma, the kennedys, doctor king, the bus driver, and many more.
I would, if I could, thrust the entire poem into your hands. If you can’t find a copy of New Letters, let’s hope that “thinking back these eighty eight years” will appear in John Knoepfle’s 21st book of poetry.