Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Aimless Reading: The E's, Part 11 (Theodore Enslin)

Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Enslin, Theodore

I bought this at Talking Leaves...Books in 2004 after returning from the Poetry of the 40's Conference in Orono, Maine.

Ted Enslin was one of the featured poets of the conference, being of the generation that began writing in the 40's and also being a resident of the state of Maine. I recall that on the first night of the conference he participated in a round table discussion about Louis Zukofsky that also featured Robert Creeley, Mark Scroggins, Barret Watten, Lyn Hejinian and Bob Perelman.

Enslin told of studying music with Nadia Boulanger, who eventually told him to give up music in favor of writing. He complied, eventually seeking out Conrad Aiken as a mentor. Aiken, he said, taught him only how to drink. He then discovered Zukofsky and began sending him his poems, which eventually developed into a kind of correspondence course in poetry. Not a bad way to learn, I suppose.

On the second to last day of the conference, Jonathan Skinner suggested that Matthew Cooperman and I skip out of the conference to go visit Ted at his farm in rural Maine, a suggestion to which we happily agreed. We drove up the coast about an hour and then inland slightly to arrive a ways down a very secluded road at his house, which is about 250 years old, if not older.

Ted came downstairs and welcomed us and we all sat in his living room talking about poetry and so forth. He then took us out for a walk and showed us his property. As we walked toward the woods he pointed to a small house, which he said was his wife's potting shed. Further on into the woods we came upon a clearing, in which were planted, quite a ways apart from one another, 8-10 different varieties of young trees. He explained that this was a kind of literary arbor he had been cultivating, meaning that each variety of tree was chosen because it had made an appearance in some literary work that was important to him -- for example, he had planted a lotus blossom in honor of William Carlos Williams.

Deeper into the woods he brought us to a little A-frame house, which was where he wrote. Inside resembled a loft, with a small kitchen and living room on the first floor and a desk and office in the loft area above. I remember he had a vast collection of classical music CD's and hundreds of books on the shelves, including, as I recall, the entire set of Samuel Pepys' diaries. Jonathan was very impressed by this and asked if Ted had read them all. "Oh, yes, of course," he said.

Up in his loft he showed us where he wrote at a little desk by the window. The loft was crammed with old steamer trunks. We asked what they contained and he told us they were all filled with manuscripts, most of them unpublished. Given how much he has published in his life, which is a lot to say the least, it was astonishing to see physical evidence of at least an equal quantity of writing lying dormant in his home.

I think we went back to the house after that. I remember it was raining and everything was very green and wet and that there were lots of mosquitoes buzzing in humid summer air. I think we briefly met his wife before heading back to the conference.

On the last day of the conference, at least I think it was the last day, Ted returned and gave one of the featured readings. This book was just out and I believe he read from it. His work bears the mark of his musical studies and is a great pleasure to hear read aloud.


Mindful mindful of quality
the quality of moritura of need
of the need to die that all dying
dying out of the need the need
to die the quality of moritura
of quality moritura in dying
need to of need in the mores
that all is mortal is mortaly
wounded the mind is a wound mindful
mindful quality quality of dying
die into moritura a quality of
moritura mortal the dying mores
of need of the would of needing to die
in the wound in the quality of dying
the need to need in the dying
the moritura of quality of need
to enter the dying dying in need
in the entering mindful mindful

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