Dacey, Philip 1939-
DACEY, Philip 1939-
PERSONAL: Born May 9, 1939, in St. Louis, MO; son of Joseph and Teresa (McGinn) Dacey; married Florence Chard, May 25, 1963 (divorced, 1986); children: Emmett Joseph, Fay Pauline Teresa, Austin Warren.Ethnicity:"Irish/German/Polish." Education: St. Louis University, B.S. (with honors), 1961; Stanford University, M.A., 1967; University of Iowa, M.F. A., 1970.
CAREER: Writer. U.S. Peace Corps, Washington, DC, volunteer high school teacher in eastern Nigeria, 1963-65; Miles College, Birmingham, AL, instructor, 1966; University of Missouri—St. Louis, instructor in English, 1967-68; Southwest State University, Marshall, MN, began as assistant professor, became professor of English and coordinator of creative writing, 1970-90, director of international film series, 1981-82. Wichita State University, Distinguished poet-in-residence, 1985; Fulbright Lecturer in creative writing in Yugoslavia, 1988; Lyon College, faculty member for White River Writers Workshop, 1996; University of Idaho, Distinguished Visiting Writer, 1999; Mankato State University, Eddice Barber visiting writer, 2003. Minnesota Writers' Festival, founder and director, 1978; Marshall Festivals, founder, 1986, and director, 1986, 1989; Minnesota School and Resource Center for the Arts, member of arts review board, 1988; judge for poetry awards. Strong Measures (performance trio with sons Emmett and Austin), member, beginning in 1992; readings given in more than half of the United States and in Mexico, Ireland, and Yugoslavia.
AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson fellowship, 1961-62; Yankee Poetry Prize, 1968; Poet and Critic Prize, 1969; Borestone Mountain Poetry Award, 1974; Discovery Award, 1974; creative writing fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1975, 1980; Minnesota State Arts Board fellowship, 1975, 1983; first prize, Gerald Manley Hopkins Memorial Sonnet Competition, 1977; first prize in poetry, Prairie Schooner, 1977; Bush Foundation fellowship for artists, 1977; Pushcart Prize, 1977, 1982, 2001; first prize in poetry, Kansas Quarterly, 1980; Loft-McKnight fellowship, 1984; Nebraska Review Poetry Award, 1989-90, for "Strip Pachelbel"; Edwin Ford Piper Award, University of Iowa Press, 1990; Carolyn Kizer Prize, Poetry Northwest, 1991, for "Four Men in a Car" and "Chiaroscuro"; Flyway Literary Award for Poetry, Iowa State University, 1997, for "Giving Away Books: A Rhapsody"; Peace Corps Writers Poetry Award, and finalist, Minnesota Book Awards in Poetry, both 2000, both for The Deathbed Playboy; Rosine Offen Memorial Award, Free Lunch, 2001, for "Butterly: Upon Mistyping Butterfly"; International Merit Award, Atlanta Review, 2003, for "From the Front"; Second Prize, Robert Penn Warren Poetry Contest, Cumberland Poetry Review, 2003, for "Llama Days"; and Turning Point Prize, WorldTech Communications (Cincinnati, OH), for The Mystery of Max Schmitt
The Beast with Two Backs (pamphlet), Gunrunner Press, 1969.
(Editor with Gerald Knoll) I Love You All Day: It IsThat Simple (anthology), Abbey Press,1970.
Fish, Sweet Giraffe, the Lion, Snake, and Owl (pamphlet), Back Door (North Edmonds, WA), 1970.
Four Nudes (pamphlet), Morgan Press, 1971.
How I Escaped from the Labyrinth, and Other Poems, Carnegie-Mellon University Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1977.
The Condom Poems, Ox Head Press,1979.
The Boy under the Bed, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1981.
Fives, Spoon River Poetry Press (Peoria, IL), 1984.
(Editor with David Jauss) Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms, Harper (New York, NY), 1985.
The Man with Red Suspenders, Milkweed Editions (Minneapolis, MN), 1986.
The Condom Poems II, Spoon River Poetry Press (Peoria, IL), 1989.
Night Shift at the Crucifix Factory, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1991.
What's Empty Weighs the Most: Twenty-four Sonnets, Black Dirt Press (Elgin, IL), 1997.
The Deathbed Playboy, Eastern Washington University Press (Cheney, WA), 1998.
The Paramour of the Moving Air, Quarterly Review of Literature Book Series, 1999.
The Adventures of Alixa Doom, and Other Love Poems, Snark, 2003.
Mystery of Max Schmitt: Poems on the Life and Work of Thomas Eakins, Turning Point (Cincinnati, OH), 2004.
Contributor of poems to anthologies, including American Poetry Anthology, Avon (New York, NY), 1975; Heartland II: Poets of the Midwest, Northern Illinois University Press (DeKalb, IL), 1975; Ardis Anthology of New American Poetry, Ardis (Ann Arbor, MI), 1977; A Geography of Poets, Bantam (New York, NY), 1979; Walt Whitman, Holy Cow (Minneapolis, MN), 1981; Beowulf to Beatles and Beyond, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1981; Leaving the Bough, International Publishers Co. (New York, NY), 1982; Knock at a Star: A Child's Introduction to Poetry, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1982; Poetspeak, Bradbury (Scarsdale, NY), 1983; Vital Signs: Contemporary American Poetry from the University Presses, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1989; The Best of Crazy Horse, University of Arkansas, 1990; Visiting Walt: Poems Inspired by the Life and Works of Walt Whitman, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 2003; and Words Brushed by Music: Twenty-five Years of the Johns Hopkins Poetry Series, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 2004. Contributor of poems to periodicals, including Antaeus, Esquire, New York Quarterly, Poetry Northwest, Nation, Paris Review, American Review, Partisan Review, Hudson Review, and Shenandoah.
Nurses and War (one-act verse play), performed at Southwest State University, Marshall, MN,1996.
Contributor of articles, essays, and reviews to periodicals and books. Editor, Crazy Horse, 1971-76; contributing editor, Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, 1983—, and Two Cities, 1997—.
ADAPTATIONS: The poem "The Birthday" was set to music by David Sampson for soprano, harp, oboe, and cello, and performed at the Carnegie-Mellon Institute, spring, 1982. The poem "The Musician" was set to music by Elzabeth Alexander for American Master Chorale, performed with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at a church in Madison, WI, 1994.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Choreographing Whitman, a book-length poem; poetry collections Four Victorians, Selected Poems, Vertebrae Rosaries: Fifty Sonnets and Postcard-Sonnets from New York.
SIDELIGHTS: Witty verse and an unmistakably upbeat style characterize the poetry of Philip Dacey. According to an essayist for Contemporary Poets, "Dacey's collections provide a compendium of poetic delights: wit, wisdom, and the full spectrum of feeling. He is equally at home in the natural world and in the realm of meditation. . . . Not only does Dacey craft poems that breathe free of artifice, but he also buoys the spirit as he dramatizes how faith and self-trust are ultimately the same." However, his early work attracted critical attention for what some reviewers considered his tonal inconsistency. Peter Stitt, for example, in a critique of How I Escaped from the Labyrinth and Other Poems for Ohio Review, termed the book a work of a "relatively scattered nature" and insisted that "a poet who adopts too many voices is a poet with no voice of his or her own." Barry Wallenstein, however, found Dacey's variety enlightening; in a review for the American Book Review he wrote, "In The Boy under the Bed . . . we have a true voice that sings in various tones. . . . [Dacey's] adventurous imagination informs the whole."
Despite this early debate on his poetic voice Dacey's positive outlook has persisted since his first volume was published. "How I Escaped from the Labyrinth is an accomplished first book, pulsing with love and affirmation, acceptance and celebration," wrote Ronald Wallace in Chowder Review. "Dacey's voice is healing and compassionate." Vernon Young found Dacey equally upbeat in The Boy under the Bed, noting in a review for Parnassus,"I can think of no other contemporary poet who believes that almost everything is for the best in this best of possible worlds. Dacey writes as if he believed so." In a Tar River Poetry review of Dacey's The Man with Red Suspenders, Joseph B. Wagner elaborated on the poet's ability to impress upon his readers the inspirational attitude with which he approaches writing: "[Much] of Dacey's work in this book (as well as his others) incorporates . . . spiritual agency as a given in the world he creates. It is this . . . that makes effective his joining of usually disparate circumstances and categories."
In Contemporary Poets, the essayist put forward that it was with Night Shift at the Crucifix Factory that "Dacey secures his place as a major voice in contemporary poetry." Like earlier books, the collection is upbeat; it pokes fun at Roman Catholic tradition, but also shows Dacey's serious faith journey. Poems from the volume won several awards, as did Dacey's followi-up collection, The Deathbed Playboy. In this volume Dacey "makes highly accessible poetry from the artifacts of daily life," commented Daniel L. Guillory in his review for Library Journal. Dacey also "reflects upon experiences involving family members and does so lovingly and with clarity and control that evoke deep and resonant feelings," noted the essayist for Contemporary Poets.
Dacey once told CA: "Poetry came into my life uninvited, in my late twenties, at a time when I was stalled, directionless. I had always wanted to be a novelist; poetry interested me minimally at best. It came bubbling up like a spring, continued, grew, and transformed my life, giving it shape and meaning. I am grateful to poetry for doing so and have tried to serve it faithfully for the last twenty-five or so years. I do not believe in writers' block; I believe that if one wants to write one can and does, although there is no guarantee as to the lasting quality of the work one chooses to do on a regular basis."
Reflecting on his age, the author wrote: "Fifty is not young but Thomas Hardy did not start publishing poetry—for which he is now considered an English master poet—until he was fifty-five. Thus I hope to have at least another twenty-five years in which to write; the first twenty-five years should act as a good running start for the second twenty-five. I have always been a college teacher but have managed to take many leaves of absence over the years; I intend now to shift the balance even more toward the leaves and become something approaching a part-time teacher, even if it means some financial squeezing. The first fifty years of my life have been a bit of a shakedown cruise; poetry has come through it all in a central place and I want now to renew and even strengthen my commitment to the art."
Dacey more recently commented: "I write in order to have something to read. Sometimes I write to keep myself from crying, sometimes to ease myself into tears. I write for the same reasons others pray. I write to celebrate the language in which I write. I write to connect myself to other people and to myself. I write out of ambition born out of weakness. I write out of ignorance, not knowing why or wherefore. As a male, I write to show colors (in words) to attract females. I write to survive. I write to help me let go."
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY: Philip Dacey contributed the following autobiographical essay to CA:
My earliest memory is that of my parents fighting in bed. I had to have been quite young, as I was standing up in a crib, holding on to the metal guard railing, my face at about the level of the horizontal bar at the top. I was crying as I shouted at them to stop. During my early years, my parents were forced to share their bedroom with me because the apartment, in St. Louis, Missouri, my city of birth, had only one bedroom; my two siblings—an older sister, Joan, and a brother older than she, Owen—slept on a daybed in the dining room and a couch in the living room. I lived in that apartment, which never once as I was growing up seemed to me to be too small, until I went to high school.
Nor do I recall the presence of any books there, except for the ones I borrowed from the nearby Sherman Park branch library. Especially appealing to me was a series of biographies for young people, a distinguishing feature being its illustrations—all of them silhouettes. I felt not deprived of color as I turned the pages but both charmed by the simplicity of the graphics and moved by the drama of the black and white. My father read the newspaper each evening as he lay on the living room couch after his day on the assembly line at the airplane factory. By managing to stay thoroughly conversant with current events, he partially compensated for the fact that his formal education ended when his foster parents—both of his natural parents were dead by the time he was five, his father, an Illinois coal miner, having been killed by black lung disease—pulled him out of grade school in order to use him as a laborer on their farm. To give himself an education into at least the ways of the world, he ran away from home as a teenager and joined the navy during World War I, lying about his age to gain admission.
An insurance salesman by trade, my maternal grandfather, Owen McGinn, who was born in County Cavan, Ireland, regularly wrote sentimental verses and recited them at family gatherings. On one occasion, he chased out of the house and down the street a son who had the audacity to laugh at one of the more maudlin stanzas or perhaps at the grandiloquent delivery of his father. Upon her death at age twenty-one of heart failure, Owen's daughter and my aunt, Eileen, by all accounts a beautiful and kind young woman, left a thick stack of verses as sentimental as her father's. Almost as soon as I could write sentences, I began writing stories and expecting my relatives to read them; I told everyone that I intended to be a writer. My mother, Teresa, a secretary by trade and an inveterate letter-writer at home, always owned a typewriter, and I very early began typing my stories on her machine. I never consciously thought of my grandfather and aunt as models, since writing was not something they pursued as a career; besides, my aunt died before I could know her personally, and my grandfather was a distant figure whose verse meant nothing to me.
My formal education was heavily Catholic, including eight years of grade school with nuns and eight years of high school and undergraduate college with Jesuits. The nuns, members of the Order of the Incarnate Word, required that pupils passing them on the street always greet them with, "Praised be the Incarnate Word, good morning, Sister"—or "afternoon" or "evening," depending on the time. A too hurried or mumbled recitation of the formula would result in detention until the greeting was repeated slowly and clearly. For eight years of my youth, then, and with at best minimal consciousness of what I was saying, I daily praised the word, albeit the word embodied in human flesh and not in sound and syllable. Another daughter of Owen, Margaret, became a nun herself, a Dominican, and my sister entered our aunt's order but only proceeded as far as her noviceship before returning to secular life. Strangely, given my environment, I never seriously considered the priesthood as an option for me; perhaps I thought that a vocation as a writer precluded one as a priest. I served throughout my education, however, as an altar boy, and for a while in college even had a private confessor, to whom I would bravely announce my name before I began confessing. I must have assumed he kept a running, mental account book of my soul's state. I was, I realize now, what was technically known as an overscrupulous Catholic, worried about the smallest or nonexistent infractions; my confessor, unfortunately, was underscrupulous and failed to point out to me that I should relax and enjoy my life at least a little more than I was obviously doing.
By the time I was in high school, my parents were divorced, and my mother could not afford to send me to St. Louis University High School, even though my father faithfully paid child support, which was minimal in those days. She was determined that I be admitted, however, for the sake of the education I would get there, and talked the school's rector—equivalent of superintendent in a public high school—into letting me work off my tuition with a job, which turned out to be that of a switchboard operator on weekends. As the majority of the faculty were Jesuits, all of whom lived on the school grounds, I retain a strong image of black-robed young men standing around the switchboard and chatting informally with each other—entirely in Latin. I studied Latin for four years there (plus one year in college), as well as Greek for a year or two. I consider myself fortunate to have received such a classical education and owe it directly to my mother's assertiveness. One of my English teachers, a Jesuit, who had read some of my essays, once took my mother aside and said, "Your son is going to be a writer." My father, to whom my studies must have seemed as foreign as life on the moon, said to me when I was in college, "No matter how educated you become, don't forget how to talk to ordinary people." I realized years later that the "ordinary" person he most did not want me to lose touch with was of course himself. He is, in this year 1992, ninety-two years old, and we exchange letters weekly.
At St. Louis University—not formally affiliated with St. Louis University High School but also a Jesuit institution—I participated in the cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary through membership in the school's sodality, an organization devoted to devotion to the Mother of Jesus. At the all-male high school, my socio-sexual development was slow or nonexistent; at the coeducational university, that development was accelerated but not dramatically so, given the braking effect of both my membership in Mary's sodality and my insufficiently jolly private confessor. Progress had to wait until I attended graduate school at Stanford; the air of northern California acted to dispel much of what had been circulating in my head for the previous twenty or so years. As an outward sign of the changes effected in me during my stay in that western outpost, I stopped going to church. I do not recall feeling particularly guilty about the development.
While still a student at St. Louis University, I sold my first piece of writing. Although I had published nonfiction features in my high school paper (I was one of the editors, appointed by the paper's Jesuit advisor) and short stories in the college literary magazine, my first professional publication took place in the Sentinel of the Blessed Sacrament, a commercial religious magazine I had seen listed in an annual of literary markets. A piece of fiction I submitted to them brought me a check for $35, an amount that must have seemed surprisingly large in 1960. Mercifully, the name of the story escapes me, but it told of an altar boy who assists at Mass one morning while keeping rolled up in his back pocket what was known in the immediately post-war years as a "girlie magazine." After Mass, while both helping remove the priest's special outer garments—alb and chasuble—worn during Mass and removing his own cassock and surplus, the boy gradually dislodges the magazine until it falls to the floor in view of the priest. A kind but stern lecture from the priest follows, and the story ends with the boy dropping the offending publication into a trash can as he walks home. It was the kind of pious story I had been brought up on, particularly in grade school; miracles, it seemed, were hardly miraculous but cheap and abundant. I was proud of the puerile fiction and of my sale—until I showed the published story to my creative writing instructor, Dr. James Cronin. Expecting to receive praise for what I had done, I eagerly watched him as he read the story, in no way prepared for what he told me upon finishing it: that the story was shamefully bad and I should take no pride in having written or published it. Many years later, I could gratefully appreciate the honesty and accuracy of his response and see him as model of kindness for his refusal to participate in my flattering self-delusions. He was a teacher who deserved the name.
The literature I remember encountering at St. Louis U. High School was the Homeric epics, Virgil's Aeneid, Caesar's Gallic Wars, and Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea, which an English teacher read to us word-for-word out of the issue (or issues) of Life magazine in which it first appeared. My most fortuitous encounter with literature took place, however, at St. Louis U., where I first read Dylan Thomas. His brand of pagan religiosity appealed to me, perhaps especially because I met his work not in class but outside it, through conversations with my peers in the university's honors program, into which I had been placed, without any request from me, as a freshman. In high school I was a loner; at St. Louis U. I enjoyed the community of the honors program for the entirety of my four years there. I had never before encountered excited and exciting intellectuals—I think that's the right term—my own age. Picnics, parties, and field trips forged bonds between members of the program, some of whom—including myself—even for a period made forays into the sewers of St. Louis. Such descents no doubt were a way of declaring our independence from the obsessions of the hoi polloi. They also may have carried Dantesque significance for some of the more feverish Catholic imaginations in our group. I came to see them as a way we so-called "brains" had of maintaining our equilibrium: always in danger of floating off into the stratosphere, we kept ourselves earthbound by exploration of the low, the hidden, the discarded. The sewers of St. Louis were our own version of the "foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart." Savoring our lawlessness, we had to time our entrance through a grating in Forest Park—not too far from the school—to avoid the eyes of policemen cruising at night in their patrol cars.
Enter Dylan Thomas, himself hardly law-abiding. At an honors gathering, I first learned of the Welsh poet when someone, no doubt one of the upperclassmen, read aloud the whole of A Child's Christmas in Wales. The charm worked instantaneously. In those days, other books by other authors competed with the Thomas work for the allegiance of the honors students—particularly Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, to name one, although the writings of French thinkers like Gabriel Marcel and Jacques Maritain were also highly valued in the late fifties at a Catholic university—but I proved loyal to the famous boyhood memoir and soon began to read the author's poetry. Thomas himself, of course, had died about five years earlier as he was touring America. His fame had posthumously peaked during my undergraduate years. Soon, however, his connection to me was to take a more personal turn.
A St. Louis U. English professor and mentor to many of the honors students, Dr. Albert Montesi, had begun organizing during my time at the university annual evenings devoted to poetry and music, usually jazz. The linkage of jazz and poetry was experiencing considerable national popularity in those years, and I was then a devotee of West Coast jazz musicians Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, proponents of "cool" as opposed to "bop." At one of the earlier annual events sponsored by Montesi, having been allowed or asked to perform, I did so quite poorly, though no Dr. Cronin seemed to be around to tell me so at that time—the poem I wrote and read was no doubt not a poem, and I am afraid I acted out, foolishly, a kind of parody of a hipster as I read the words from a conspicuous sheet of paper, evidence of my place among the brotherhood (this was the fifties, before personhood) of writers. In short, neither the poem nor the performance was genuine. Leading up to jazz-poetry night the following year, however, I conceived the notion of putting Dylan Thomas's poem "Fern Hill" to music, specifically for a small choir of voices, accompanied by a piano. I set about writing the piece and, largely because I was ignorant of just how ignorant of music I was, finished it in time to begin looking for a choir to perform it at the upcoming show. I wanted eight singers, two female sopranos, two female altos, two male tenors, and two male basses, and posted a notice to that effect in the music building.
The point of this story of musical folly is that Florence Chard, the future mother of my three children but a young woman at the time little known to me—although a member in the honors program, she was a sophomore, while I was a senior, eyes forward—was one of the eight who, betraying an innocence equal to my own, signed up to perform the number. We rehearsed for weeks, I conducting the eight as if I knew what I was doing. A piano had always been present in the one-bedroom apartment I grew up in, as if in absolute defiance of the dictates of common sense: since there was already not enough room for the five people there, why worry about taking up more space with something as big as a bed? After all, wasn't the piano an upright? My mother loved to give parties for lots of people, nor did it take many people to fill the rooms where we lived. My most vivid memory from those parties is that of my mother at the piano, playing and singing current hits as well as old favorites—including, naturally, sentimental Irish standbys—as a small crowd of friends forming a semicircle around her sang along. I had taken piano lessons—"You'll be popular at parties if you do," I was told—but did not persist. Nevertheless, for years after quitting lessons, I entertained myself by sitting down and improvising or by employing a method of trial and error to play recognizable songs. Thus I had composed the music for "Fern Hill" on the omnipresent piano—it followed my divorced mother and me (my siblings were now gone off into their independent lives) when we moved from my first home at 5210 Northland Avenue into another rented apartment, this one with a separate bedroom, amazingly, for each of us.
My musical setting for "Fern Hill" was overlong, especially considering that during the performance I interspersed between sung stanzas of the poem lengthy, incompetently rendered improvisations by me. They must have seemed interminable to the audience, a large one that with the collective patience of a saint did not boo me. The only part of the score I can still remember and sing is that for stanza four, which begins, "And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer." I got lucky and developed a lyrical, singable line that I can still, in weak moments, bring myself to inflict upon people. Not long after the performance I asked Florence Chard out to dinner with me. Before bringing her back to the women's residence hall after our evening together I recited to her another poem by the poet who had connected us, "In My Craft or Sullen Art." During the next two years, after an engagement, a broken engagement, and a re-engagement, we were married in May 1963. In 1965, as part of a longer trip, we made a pilgrimage to Wales, including visits to Swansea, where Thomas was born, and Laugherne, where he lived the final years of his life. Near Laugherne, we picked fern from a hill apparently the inspiration for "Fern Hill." That fern remains pressed behind glass in my possession to this day and, along with a bust of Dylan Thomas recently acquired, will be passed down to my children to remind them of the power of poetry generally to create community through language and of one poet specifically to engender, by means of comings together of one sort or another, beauties such as the three of them.
It was at St. Louis U. that I attended my first reading devoted solely and seriously to poetry, not counting the special musical and poetic bacchanais annually overseen by Montesi. The reader was John Logan, whose visit would have been blessed by not only Montesi but also two other writers associated with the school at that time, the poets John Knoepfle and Pete Simpson. If St. Louis had a literary Mafia in the late fifties, these three were members in good standing. I, however, outside of my regard for Thomas, had little interest in poetry and attended the reading only because it was required; my dream was still to be a writer of prose fiction: short stories first and then novels, including The Great American Novel (my version of it would define and embody some form of domestic love—my knowledge of which probably vied with my knowledge of music).
With the auditorium full of students, I had to stand at the back. Logan onstage in my memory is small and uncommanding, but his appearance obviously had no bearing on the impact he made on me, or the impact his words made on me, for what I remember most strongly or solely from that hour more than thirty years ago is Logan's presentation of a particular passage of a dozen lines or so. And that one passage is enough.
I no doubt had heard in a class of mine before the reading that Logan was a preeminent Catholic poet. Anyone who could bring national attention to Mother Cabrini, as Logan had done through his first book, was a cultural hero at St. Louis University during this anesthetized decade. The universal validation of our parochial icons validated us as well.
But it is not anything about Mother Cabrini that I remember. Rather, what I can still see is Logan saying the passage from "To a Young Poet Who Fled" about "the gift of the poet's jaw." The words spoke to me beyond my knowing; I heard them and then forgot them, or forgot I knew them. He reached across space, literally and figuratively, to give me a gift—a poem, himself, himself in the form of a poem, something spiritual that obviously stayed with me.
I don't know what to make of the importance to me of that experience. I know I don't wish to make too much of it. It's tempting, for example, to say that Logan called me to poetry, although my sixteen years of Catholic education, besides guaranteeing much talk of calls to service, also created considerable skepticism in the face of what's tempting. Anyway, if it was a call, it was certainly a delayed one, suggesting that if "God works in strange ways," so does, or did, Logan. Maybe that reading was a kind of secular Mass: like a priest holding up the Host at the Offertory, Logan was in some way holding up an ideal, and, as far back as I was in that auditorium, I could see it.*
But the call I answered most immediately was President Kennedy's. After graduating from St. Louis U. in 1961 and working toward an advanced degree in English at Stanford for a year, I joined the Peace Corps, with my bride of about one month, and was sent off in 1963 to teach English as one of the first volunteers in eastern Nigeria. In those early years of the new administration's brainchild, the idealism was not always matched by an appropriate level of bureaucratic competence—for example, volunteers fluent in French were just as likely to be sent to a Spanish-speaking country as not—and as a result, the failure of certain medicine to arrive at the right place at the right time meant I contracted malaria soon after landing in the country. I spent the first couple of weeks in a hospital in the bush, near the town of Ikot Ekpene, where we were stationed. Two years later I weighed considerably less than I did when I arrived in the country. To go newly married may not have been the best idea: one can adjust to just so much at one time. The teaching was draining, partly because of the weather. When we first arrived, an Irish priest working in the area told us that we should take a nap each afternoon in order to preserve our strength in the face of the constant and intense heat and humidity. We two Americans, aged twenty-four and twenty-two, refused, convinced that such literal lying down on the job was not only a sign of weakness but also an expression of the dregs of colonialism—refused, that is, for about a month or two, until we began to appreciate the wisdom of that retreat practiced by not only the Irish father but also all of our students and the villagers in the compounds surrounding our house. We accomplished no revolution; we aimed at preparing secondary school students to take, in their final year, the national exams, administered by the Ministry of Education in Lagos, the passing of which meant jobs and the improvement of living standards. The system of external exams, based on the British educational pattern, satisfyingly united the teacher and student against the distant, impersonal examiner in a way I had not experienced in the United States. Retrograde tribalism was supposed to wither away under the strong light of education and training based on information and skills, although in January of 1966, just a few months after our departure, the Biafran War bloodied that place which had impressed us upon first flying in and last flying out as the greenest we had ever seen.
The rains, when they came during the season named for them, were beautiful. The house we lived in had a tin roof upon which the spectacularly heavy rains drummed to make one of the most memorable sounds of my entire life. I have said more than once since then that to hear that sound again—to fall asleep to that thunderous and oddly soothing rattling—would be reason enough to go back to West Africa. I survived an attack by soldier ants one night, though I had to strip from the waist down to pick the nibblers all off of me. I still regret the many praying mantises I killed needlessly: as I read by oil lamp near an open window, they would fly in and land in my hair, from which I frantically plucked them before throwing them to the floor and stomping on them. (Nothing was wasted in the bush: insects who lived in our house's foundation would sense the presence of the larger, dead insect and come out, dismantle its entire carcass, then carry it away in little pieces into their holes, leaving the floor exactly as it had been minutes earlier.) We took the presence of deadly snakes for granted: I recall a dinner party where a group of us sat talking casually about the day's events as we watched a poisonous green mamba a few feet away writhe on a window screen that was the only thing separating him from us. The dinner plate-sized spider I found and killed in our bathtub may have grown an inch or two over the years, but maybe not. And I loved to see the brightly dyed wash of our next-door neighbors as they spread it out to dry on the grass between their compound and our house: they, like all Nigerians, daily wore a rainbow of primary colors. We felt a little drab.
I kept a journal of my two years there but burned it before I left because I believed, probably correctly, that it was sophomoric and badly written. I also produced about fifty pages of a novel that shamelessly imitated William Faulkner. Those pages also suffered, even more deservingly, the fate of the journal. For the next twenty years or more, until the late eighties, I made occasional forays into the world of prose fiction, attempting to claim some territory there; each such attempt resulted in frustration and abortive work. Finally, in 1988 or 1989, I made a vow to myself, as solemnly as I could, never to try to write prose fiction again. I therefore entered into my sixth decade free of the elusive and illusory dream that had nagged me since boyhood. I attribute some of my happiness in recent years to the firm keeping of that vow.
In retrospect, I see as a kind of coda to the years in the Peace Corps the teaching Florence and I did for about six months in Birmingham, Alabama, at Miles College during 1966. Dr. Lucius Pitts, the president of the school, which served primarily or exclusively students who were black, was at the time trying to solve his institution's financial problems by hiring teachers who were willing to work as volunteers in exchange for room and board. We had apparently heard of the school through some network of service organizations and decided to spend the time between our return from overseas late in 1965 and my return to graduate school at Stanford in the fall of 1966 living and working in the city made notorious two years earlier—on September 15, 1963—when a bomb exploded during Sunday school at the 16th Street Baptist Church and killed four children while injuring fourteen others.
Birmingham in 1966 was witnessing conspicuous and frequent protest marches, in which Florence and I participated; in that place at that time, the sight of whites and blacks riding in the same automobile was the occasion for jeers and shouts from white youths in other cars or on street corners. I don't believe we felt our physical safety was threatened, but we knew that our behavior—the marching, the teaching at Miles—was a social anomaly and, as such, a reason for us to feel generally conspicuous. We had been outsiders in Nigeria and were, though closer to home, outsiders still in Birmingham. Our experience in the Deep South recalled to me some of the racism that was part of my early years: a little African-American boy's expulsion from my childhood backyard by a next-door neighbor shouting ugly racial epithets at him (he had wandered in to play with me while his mother apparently cleaned the house of someone in the neighborhood, which, lower middle-class at best, must have had its pretensions and needed to reassure itself of its superiority); and, many years later, while I chatted with a younger, black Peace Corps volunteer I had just met, the shock of recognition and moral confusion I felt when, upon learning that he had grown up not only in St. Louis, as I had, but also on my block and just a house or two away from the one in which I had grown up. I began to exclaim happily of the coincidence until I quickly realized that it was he, or his family, or other families of his color, from whom my family had moved away in order for us to escape from a neighborhood changing from white to black. (While no doubt fully understanding the social significance of the intersection—or non-intersection—of our local histories, he graciously chose to make nothing of it, and we continued chatting of our current life as overseas representatives—representatives, indeed; more so, for better or worse, than we had at first thought—of our native land.)
It was at Stanford, in 1966, that I wrote the poem with which my career as a professional poet began. Somewhere in the middle of the fall quarter of that year I dropped out of graduate school, gave up my teaching assistantship and pursuit of the Ph.D., and took a menial job in the library to help me make ends meet while I tried to salvage my academic future by aiming to pick up a master's degree the following June. A Woodrow Wilson fellow at Stanford in 1961, I was now both a promising scholar—H. Bruce Franklin had recommended a paper of mine on Nathaniel Hawthorne be published—and, to my dismay and puzzlement, a miserably unhappy person, so much so that I suffered a crisis of confidence and felt I could not continue with my teaching of undergraduates or my studies. The sudden move precipitated fear in my wife; I was a confused person, too confused to understand what was happening to me. Florence continued her own work toward a master's degree in education while I shelved books in the library—I wanted a simple task, and my humiliation was real and serious when I found myself picking up after students who just a week or two before had been my charges in the classroom—and consulted a psychiatrist at the university's medical school. I saw a documentary film about a new poet named Anne Sexton, who had emerged from a tunnel of mental illness as a poet, and was unable to explain why the film affected me so strongly. I began writing a master's thesis—on James Dickey; I had accidentally stumbled upon his work while I was shelving books and immediately loved it, unaware that Life magazine had already discovered him—under the direction of Diane Middlebrook. (Only in the early nineties, when Middlebrook published her biography of Sexton, did I realize that God, if she exists, must be the ultimate contriver of improbable plots.) And then one day, with my dream of writing prose fiction more than likely stronger than ever, with the idea of writing poetry nowhere in sight, I wrote a poem.
I was sitting at my desk in the library, looking through a stack of books I needed to process in some way. One of the books I was handling fell open to reveal a picture, a medieval woodcut, of King Mark killing Tristan in the presence of Ysolt. A triangle. Violence. (Only now, writing long afterwards, do I recognize the congruence of the woodcut and my first memory as indicated at the beginning of this autobiography.) The rendering was quaint, delicate, oddly out of sync with the content of the picture. I was moved. And I was further moved to pick up a pen and write down some words to describe the picture. The words fell into lines, twenty-five of them, and I discovered I had written what looked like a poem, which I unimaginatively called, "After a Fifteenth Century Miniature Showing King Mark Stabbing Tristan in the Presence of Ysolt." I knew of the Beloit Poetry Journal and within a few days had sent the poem off to that little magazine's editors. After a few weeks an acceptance letter came back; in the summer of 1967 the poem was published. (Early in 1992, I was both shaken—I was getting old—and pleased—I was approaching a milestone—to notice that the twenty-fifth anniversary of my first published poem was fast approaching. I sent off a few poems to the still-going-strong Beloit Poetry Journal, without indicating in my cover letter that I was offering them with an ulterior motive in mind. "Recorded Message" was thereafter accepted and appeared in the fall 1992 issue. The fiftieth anniversary will roll around when I am seventy-eight. I'm aiming to celebrate it as I celebrated the twenty-fifth.)
Another poem followed a week or so later, then another a few days after that, and by spring I found myself regularly engaged with the writing of poetry. The myth I have created to explain what happened to me at Stanford that year goes like this: the picture of King Mark et al. appealed to me because it told my story; I had been wounded—that is to say, I had suffered some pathological development of a radically private nature—and, in the same way that the blood of Tristan fell with some charm and grace from his side, words arose out of my wound and took the form of a poem; the stream of words was like a little miracle, water (blood; there's that Mass again) from dry ground (Ingmar Bergman's film Virgin Spring, more violent wounding). In the weeks following that initial appearance, I began to tend and husband my little natural force, clearing away the ground in order to strengthen the flow, directing it, over the years building beside the waterway that came to develop there a large-scale, consistently productive, and rationally organized waterworks, all the while hoping never to fail to honor the original personal ignorance and modesty with which the undertaking began at that desk in the Stanford University library as I was wondering what had become of my life.
The lesson of those days for me was the opposite of the lesson in Field of Dreams: if you tear everything down, She will come. In a "hard time," as Roethke puts it in "The Lost Son," poetry, unasked, rescued me. And as far as I knew I had done nothing to deserve the rescue. My later poem "How I Escaped from the Labyrinth" must have been looking back to this period: "It was easy. I kept losing my way." I have therefore carried with me for the last twenty-five years a sense of gratitude toward poetry for giving me the life I have had; I see that life as a gift, an unpredictable outpouring of good news. My vow never to try to write prose fiction again was a rededication of myself to my benefactor/-tress.
After a year of teaching at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, a kind of interim period during which I was building a whole new frame of reference by which to understand my journey after the simultaneous debacle and renewal that took place at Stanford—I had taken a course from Wallace Stegner there but not from Yvor Winters, as if to prove my failure to appreciate my needs—I was admitted to the University of Iowa's program in creative writing. To say that the high point of my stay there was the birth of my first son, Emmett, is not to indulge in a fashionable put-down of the Mother of All Workshops but to define my life in accordance with my major joys. Iowa treated me well. The curricular experience that has remained most strongly with me over the years was Jon Silkin's seminar in British World War I poetry. The course occupied ground that merged both moral and literary concerns, as when Silkin taught me to distrust irony if it blunts outrage at human injustice.
I may have learned from Iowa that the literary world was breachable; that, if these teachers and students represented "the best and the brightest," I could hold my own. I may also have learned that that world was not as attractive, now that I was seeing it up close, as I had originally thought, or even that that world was a fiction, a mutually agreed upon—believed in—social construct that carried less weight than any single writer sitting at any desk anywhere writing anything. So when in 1970 I moved to southwestern Minnesota to teach and write, I could feel that I was not withdrawing from a matrix that mattered (I think, unwillingly, of Jeffers's "thickening center") but moving toward a space free of distracting voices. In fact, many years after publishing my first book of poems in 1977 I was surprised to realize that the book contains poems written before and after going to Iowa but none while there. Upon further reflection I began to see the logic of the fact: at Iowa I was trying on hats, writing a New York School poem one week (Ted Berrigan was one of my teachers) and a W. S. Merwinesque poem the next, with the end result being that my two years there were negatively instructive: I learned who I was not. Finally in Minnesota, I may have felt, not entirely consciously, "Well, I've done that, checked out the competition, or paid a few dues to the union, or had a good time for a while with some folks afflicted by a madness similar to my own, but now it's time for me to get back to work, and I have the isolation—it's not easy to get to Marshall, Minnesota—to allow me to do so."
Austin was born in 1972, three years after Emmett. He was born at home, by design, in Florence's and my bedroom, with an old country physician, Dr. Borgeson, who had no qualms about house calls and home deliveries, by his side. Even in the 1970s Borgeson was a rare bird. I phoned him prematurely and he came immediately, showing nothing but calm and goodwill as we sat and talked for a few hours, drinking coffee, before the process of parturition had actually gotten under way. Emmett stayed with a neighbor, lest any unforeseen complication in the birth cause him anxiety. But things went smoothly and I wish now we had let Emmett watch; maybe his earliest memory would be that of his guitarist brother's first stage entrance. Cottonwood then was a town of 600 people, thirteen miles north of the school where I taught, Southwest Minnesota State College (later changed to Southwest State U.). But, as if we were sailors who knew that progress required tacking against the prevailing wind, the family of us four, just as we were settling into our corner of Minnesota, decided to take to the road.
I took the first of my many leaves from the college in Marshall, and we headed for Spain for a stay of six months, three in Cordoba, inland, and three in Altea, on the coast. The professional justification for the leave—a quite genuine justification I did not have to manufacture—was the need to complete a writing project that required considerable uninterrupted time and had grown out of my developing sense of something missing from my—well, not training, but, rather—education at Iowa. In fact, it was precisely training of a certain sort I began to feel I could have used more of in Iowa City.
Gone several years from the place that acted to confirm or help to confirm my idea of myself as a writer, I nevertheless began to develop quite deliberately the idea of myself as an apprentice; the very word "apprentice" appealed to me, perhaps suggesting an earlier world in which highly valued skills and workmanship of quality were nurtured and communicated. I saw quite clearly that for centuries traditional form—meter and rhyme, for example, and certain fixed structures for poems—had been the sine qua non of almost all achievement in poetry. Yet the subject of the uses of such form never came up once during my two years there, from 1968 to 1970, neither in nor out of class, at least not that I could recall. Free verse versus traditional form was not an issue, and all the poems on the worksheets had favored the former rather than the latter. I began, thinking back, to feel cheated. Even quite different moderns such as Stevens and Frost, not to mention more recent poets like Plath and Roethke, had absorbed and reshaped and put to their own uses the formal practices of a long line of earlier poets. Before leaving for Spain, then, I made a list of various forms I wanted to experience as a poet. My joke to myself was, "If it was good enough for poets X, Y, and Z, it's good enough for me"; I figured they knew something I didn't know, something they had learned from submitting their talents to a certain kind of discipline, and I wanted to find out what it was. The list was a way for me to further my apprenticeship, or possibly even pass out of it.
I wrote myself through almost all of the listed forms by working just about every morning during our six-month visit; in the afternoons, I joined my wife and sons in simply enjoying where we were. I considered the project a success at the time, and the years since then have strengthened the conviction that those six months provided me with an experience of considerable significance to me as poet. As a rule, anywhere between a fourth and a third of the poems in each of my books embody traditional forms. The percentage of such poems in the book devoted to Gerard Manley Hopkins, in fact, is nearly one hundred. I am pleased to say that more than once poems of mine in traditional forms have passed as free verse among even discerning readers, including the editor of a widely circulated poetry textbook that shall here remain nameless.
Naturally, for the first several years after those six months, I tended to notice and appreciate poems by my contemporaries that used traditional forms in handsome ways. During the late seventies, however, Robert Bly and Galway Kinnell, among others, regularly took cheap shots at meter and rhyme, Kinnell, for example, recommending to young poets "no external guide at all, only your impulse to go on." I belatedly began to learn of Yvor Winters's skepticism in the face of various Romantic principles that too frequently received unquestioning loyalty. I regretted, while understanding, my decision not to take a class from him at Stanford, but tried to make up for my immaturity by learning from his writings what I could during this later period. My frequent discoveries of fine contemporary poetry that continued to honor, in fresh ways, traditional ways of writing which I had begun to value made me realize that while the bully boys got the headlines with their crowd-pleasing put-downs of anything not in lockstep with their notions of literary truth, many poets—young and not so young, but all excellent, not versifiers and poetasters—were quietly extending a long tradition, almost heroically keeping alive in their own underground what the poetry power brokers were mocking as they promoted themselves as The Real Thing. I think the Deep Image set and certain other adherents to the need for radical literary change at the time tended to transfer the moral superiority of their position vis-à-vis the United States government's conduct in Vietnam to their position vis-à-vis aesthetics other than their own.
By the early eighties, I began to notice how often people asked me, "Why don't poets use rhyme and meter anymore?" I had to answer, of course, that the perception behind the question was wrong, that in fact many poets still used them, although perhaps in a fashion that tended to downplay rather than highlight the formal qualities, but that those poets tended to go unsung by prevailing critical voices when they did. I realized that Bly and company had won the battle over principles of form not in fact but through propaganda. What bothered me was both the overshadowing of so much praiseworthy achievement and the consequent deprivation of the young, who did not know what they were missing, either as readers or, perhaps more importantly, as writers. Somebody needed to put together an anthology that would highlight contemporary traditional-form poems, gathering into one book a sampling of the poets at work in the underground I had observed, even though in this case, inverting the usual order of such things, the traditionalists were the underground while the self-styled rebels were the establishment.
In the spring of 1982 I taught at my school an advanced poetry workshop that featured the practice of traditional forms. A look now at the syllabus for that course provides a startling reminder that no textbook or anthology existed at that time that promoted exclusively and emphatically the work of living poets who had not abandoned traditional forms. Teaching that course, I sharply felt the need for such a book.
Earlier, from 1974 to 1977, one of my colleagues in Marshall had been David Jauss, a student of mine in 1970 who had come back to his alma mater to teach between stints in graduate school at Syracuse and Iowa. Even as early as the mid-seventies, after my time in Spain, I had speculated with David on the possibility of an anthology of current poems in traditional forms, and we had started collecting ones we liked. By the early eighties, given the existing vacuum we could hardly help but fill, the possibility had become a commitment. Thus, in 1986, about a decade after David's and my first talk on the subject, Harper & Row published our Strong Measures: Contemporary American Poetry in Traditional Forms. I was lucky that Jauss happened to be in my vicinity at the right time. I could not or would not have taken on and completed the project by myself, and no one could have been a better partner than Jauss; in fact, I'm sure few could have been as good a one, and I don't know who those few are. He carried the lion's share of the arduous task, and equally importantly beyond that, made such contributions to the ongoing and difficult decision-making process that the shape and character of the book owe much to his sound, informed judgment, his combination of sophistication and good sense.
Since the publication of that book, something called the New Formalism has emerged and struck a dominant pose on the poetry scene. Strong Measures has been associated with that movement in the eyes of some readers and critics. But Jauss and I took great pains in our jointly authored introduction to distance ourselves from any reactionary and exclusivistic evaluation of traditional forms. We knew the clock could not be turned back, nor did we wish to do so. The achievements of so-called free verse were there for everyone to see, and were glorious. Our aim was only to bring forward something forgotten or neglected, obscured by buffeting in the literary wars. We pointedly were not seeking the inauguration of a new movement of formalism, precisely for the reason that it was our contention that the practice of formalism had not stopped, had just gone underground because of the unfavorable climate, and was now due for a dose of tolerance or even encouragement. Some of those who chose to be known as New Formalists, however, had in effect taken up the bully-clubs from the weakened grips of the earlier reigning regime. Authoritarian regimes in one country after another fall to the liberators, who themselves turn into authoritarian regimes, and the literary world, mistakenly thought by many to be a removed and protected enclave of the effete, repeats the pattern.
In Spain, beginning my explorations of a tradition I longed to get inside, I never imagined the ultimate fruition of that trip would be the book that has fulfilled or perhaps even exceeded the expectations Jauss and I entertained for it.
A post-Spain baby, Fay Dacey was born in 1975, shortly after a kind neighbor drove Florence and me to the Marshall hospital in the middle of the night in his four-wheel-drive pickup truck through a storm against which the Minnesota State Patrol had been advising no travel. There was no longer a Dr. Borgeson alive to assist at a home delivery of our third and last child. The name Storm temporarily appealed to the infant's parents; a blessedly strong and independent seventeen-year-old girl today suggests that that name would not have been inappropriate.
The arrival of Fay began the decade from 1975 to 1985 on the highest possible note, followed soon by a celebratory trip of the now five-member Dacey family to Mexico for several months; but personal loss brought the decade to a close with the death of my sister in 1983 and the end of twenty-two years of marriage for Florence and me in January 1986.
My sister had worked overseas for several years as embassy secretary to United States ambassadors in Oslo, Norway, and Dublin, Ireland. Her wanderlust satisfied, she returned to St. Louis around 1970 to continue working for the federal government, this time as secretary to army generals posted to a supply depot at the edge of the city. Meanwhile, my brother had begun a thirty-year career as a policeman in St. Louis, from 1958 to 1988. During half of those years, from 1962 to 1977, Owen became famous as the Dancing Policeman of St. Louis, featured on Candid Camera as well as in various other television shows and even in a short movie called Pop Cop. As part of a three-man team, he had been assigned in 1962 to North Broadway and Grand, a notoriously bad corner at which to direct traffic. Prior to the assignment, various systems of expensive lights had failed to untangle the traffic caused by several streets angling in to one place as well as by entrance and exit ramps for a nearby highway and a number of factories disgorging large numbers of workers and cars in the late afternoon. On the fateful day my brother's two partners called in sick, Owen's station chief, in desperation, assigned Owen by himself to the impossible corner, expecting nothing. And nothing was what he got: no jam, no honking horns, no cursing drivers. Like an understudy long waiting for the time the star would take ill, Owen stepped into the role he seemed to have been waiting his whole life to fill. By an extraordinary and graceful display of body movements, including pointing or whirling arms, a jabbing head, swinging hips, and legs constantly bending and shifting, he moved the traffic as smoothly as if the cars were skaters on ice. His fame quickly spread. Crowds would gather to watch, thereby increasing the local traffic, which he handled with his usual style and command. He was indeed in charge: drivers who did not want to follow his benign directorial signals quickly chose to rethink their stubbornness. Candid Camera filmed him with a musical soundtrack that revealed an almost balletic flow. When twice he was hit by cars (like a great bullfighter working close to the bulls, Owen worked close to the cars), his times in the hospital were big news and his return to his corner—his corner—was greeted by a steady stream of welcoming honks and slaps on his back from passing motorists.
The point of this seeming digression from my sister's fate is that, although in 1977 Owen moved inside to a desk at the precinct station, requiring the city to redesign the streets at his old corner in order to achieve some semblance of the harmony he had achieved, he seemed to me to resume his place at a difficult crossroads when he became my sister's primary caregiver during her final days in 1983 as a victim of cancer. Knowing she had months or weeks in which to live, Joan chose to come out of the hospital and die at home. Owen took a leave of indeterminate length from his job in order to be with Joan as much as possible in her apartment and do for her what she could not do for herself. I was able to come down from Minnesota for some of her final days, during which I observed Owen's devotion. She died one morning in his arms. The example of his devotion was equalled only by the example of her courage: she had made peace with her approaching death in a way none of her family or friends had, and she spent the last month or so of her life consoling those around her, caring for the feelings of us, who had arrived to care for hers. My life is not the lives of my brother and sister, but I was given by my sister the gift of a lesson in how to die well and by my brother the gift of a lesson in compassion and tender solicitousness, this latter from a "tough cop" who knew how to keep things moving.
Even he, however, if he had tried, could not have kept moving the marriage of mine that ended in the mid-eighties. Nor could I tell, if I wanted to, the story of that end; more than twenty years of intimacy naturally created such thickly entwined, even grafted-together lives that the process of dissolution was complicated and obscure beyond the ability of my intelligence to grasp it. An unfortunate and wrenching disagreement over the custody of the three children, a disagreement that had to be adjudicated, was the final guarantee that the end of the marriage would be an unhappy one, with senses of violation on both sides that were slow to heal. Fay, who had given the ten-year period such a promiseful start, because she was the youngest of us five, perhaps suffered the most. Her journey during the course of about the next five years from low-spirited pre-teenager to vibrant high school cheerleader, instilling spirit, gave further evidence that our lives are being authored by someone not above manipulating the plot toward improbably pat ends. The boys found a new spiritual family temporarily in a local fundamentalist Christian church—their world shattered, they clung to a handy coherent one that seemed to provide answers to every question. Long after they outgrew what gave them comfort for a while, they carried with them a certain legacy which their church must be given credit for having nurtured in them—their music-making.
In retrospect, my own response to the dissolution of the family as we had known it, and perhaps of our idea of family, too, seems to have been one of fairly constant motion, as if I thought that whatever pain and bewilderment I was subject to at that time could be lessened by packing and unpacking suitcases.
The travelling binge began in 1984; Joan had been dead a year and the marriage had begun seriously to unravel. I went with Emmett to Ireland, where we caught up with my mother (one generation from Ireland and a great lover of that troubled but beautiful land, she travelled there a total of about fifteen summers until the trip became too much for her aging frame) and where I read from my book of poems about Gerard Manley Hopkins at a conference in Dublin to honor the English priest. (Travelling home from Nigeria, Florence and I had visited Ireland and my Irish relatives, as well as England, Germany, France, and Italy in the course of a four-month trip we awarded ourselves for the purpose of decompressing after our two years in the bush—and also, I seem to remember, as a way of putting off the expected culture shock of our return to the United States, a shock that did in fact materialize.) In the summer of 1985, I took Austin and Fay to Ireland, again for a couple of weeks, with no professional obligation this time. In the fall of 1985, I spent a month in Wichita, Kansas, as the annual writer-in-residence sponsored by the English department at Wichita State University.
My perhaps somewhat driven mobility was climaxed by the three months I spent in the spring of 1988 as a Fulbright Lecturer in creative writing in what was then Yugoslavia. Aside from Ireland, which I cannot see straight because of my sentimental ties to it, and aside of course from my own native land, Yugoslavia was the most interesting country I have ever lived in. The city, in fact, that drew me back three times to it was Sarajevo, now reduced apparently to barely habitable near-rubble. The Adriatic coast cast a spell over me like no other. Part of the appeal of the country was its checkered nature. Hopkins might have called Yugoslavia "dappled," an example of "pied beauty." But—here's that clever Author again—the checkered nature which gave it such beauty is the very source of its fatal tensions. While in Yugoslavia, I began work on a series of between twelve and fifteen poems to be called Cycle for Yugoslavia (John Logan's first book was Cycle for Mother Cabrini), completing and publishing about half of them before the political and social situation in the country—or, more accurately, what had been a single country—became so bad that I had to shelve plans to return and finish the cycle. History has been too quick for me, and the half-finished cycle is now about a ghost, though it did not begin as such.
I stayed in motion locally also; during the years from 1985 to 1990 I had five different residences and obviously was engaged in some kind of search, a search precipitated by the changes in the family structure. All this motion, inside the country, outside it, and locally, came to an end in March of 1990 when I bought a home in the country near Lynd, Minnesota, not far from Camden State Park, a park whose first name derives from the last of the homes of Walt Whitman, the city in New Jersey. The move to the rural acreage definitely ended one period in my life and began another, one still extending itselfand showing no sign of coming to some kind of closure.
The purchase and move to end all moves occurred during the second half of a full sabbatical for the academic year 1989-90, the nine months actually extending to fifteen because of a free summer at each end. At the completion of the sabbatical period, knowing I loved the wooded and secluded place in which I had come to live—my nearest neighbors were three horses in the pasture next to my property—and loved even the trains that ran atop the hill behind my house, and having accomplished a great deal of writing that I was pleased with, I was encouraged by my circumstances and most recent experience of productivity to make what seemed to me to be the momentous decision to resign from full-time teaching at the school which had hired me twenty years earlier. I arranged with the administration to teach a maximum of six months a year, usually fall and winter quarters, in order to have available to me a minimum of six months each year in which to write poetry, with the understanding that if I chose to teach still less than the maximum arranged for, I could do so, by taking further leaves of absence. The arrangement proved suitable to me, and the department benefitted by its ability now to bring in a guest teacher each year with funding provided by some of the salary I was choosing no longer to draw. That arrangement continues to the present. Five members of the current English department were on staff in 1970 when I was hired: Leo Dangel, Jack and Mary Hickerson, Perry Lueders, and Eileen Thomas. These, along with Carol Hirmer, our secretary all these years, constitute a kind of second family for me, more than coworkers only and something like brothers and sisters after twenty years of close cooperation and shared experiences. My decision to begin to reduce my teaching time in the department brought home freshly to me the importance of these people in my life, the continuity and support of their presence.
Making possible the success of my new arrangement was a physical environment that seemed designed to encourage work. Always steadily prolific—probably to a fault—I now began to devote even more, and more regular, time to writing. (One of my fundamental beliefs is that there's no such thing as a writer's block, that the concept is a cover used by writers who choose not to write.) I brought no television into the house and discovered in that place, in one of the few valleys in southwestern Minnesota, one in fact visited in the nineteenth century by the painter George Catlin after he had heard of its beauty, an experience of solitude I had never before known. I began to think of the house, with its openness, its airy and light spaces, and its fertile and spacious grounds that included a stream along one side, as a kind of secular monastery. While there I continued to work on my series of poems about Walt Whitman and began writing another series about Florence Nightingale. I was struck to notice that, along with my earlier subject Hopkins, the three historical figures I have written most about chose to live lives of productive singleness, each maintaining if not isolation then at least independence in the face of various social pressures. That I would both be drawn to these three people and begin to thrive in a special, new way at what one of my children called "Dad's Lynd Hermitage," I took to be no coincidence. Turning fifty in 1989, I predicted to myself and friends that my sixth decade would be, all told, the best one yet, and that prediction has so far been proven true.
That my new situation and arrangement agreed with me and was not a retreat from a full life—I had asked myself when I moved to the country if in fact I was engaged in a kind of wounded withdrawal—became clear to everyone in 1992 when I formed, with Emmett as percussionist and Austin as guitarist and keyboardist, the successful music and poetry performance trio called Strong Measures.
Among the roots of the concept were no doubt the days of jazz and poetry with Dr. Montesi. Later, as a faculty member at Southwest State University, I organized within about a ten-year period three week-long literary festivals, at the last of which, in 1989, I hired The Swoon, the rock and roll band of whose four members two were my sons, to play music behind certain selected poets as they read poems pre-chosen and prepared for by the band. As organizer, I did not participate in the event, which climaxed the week on Friday night and drew enthusiastic praise, but harbored a wish to have my own work so given a musical context. In the fall of 1991, I approached the boys with the idea of a trio—their band by coincidence happened to be breaking up at that time, after a life of seven years, a good span for a group of quite young musicians—that would consist of their music, written and performed by them, and my poetry, along with the work of a few other poets. I was afraid they would laugh, call me sentimental, and suggest I "get a life." Instead they were taken by the idea and we began planning and rehearsing immediately.
They both lived at the time in St. Paul, Minnesota, while I lived close to three hours away, on the opposite side of the state. For six months, every other Sunday, I arose at 4 A.M. in order to be ready to leave my house at 5 A.M., so as to arrive at the boys' apartment at 8 A.M., in order to rouse them for a day of rehearsal at a basement music studio we rented, after which I would leave at 5 P.M. so as to arrive back in Lynd at 8 P.M., in time to begin to get ready for the upcoming school week. We rehearsed intensively for six months—about one month developing generally what we wanted to be up to, two or three months creating the numbers, and another two or three months drilling over and over, with an eye toward public performance, what we had created—for we wanted to avoid any taint of amateur night, or anything that smacked embarrassingly of horsing around that should have been kept in the family rec room. We knew the combination of father and sons would play a part in the audience's response, but we also knew we wanted in no way to exploit that combination and therefore never chose poems I had written about the children, although such poems were legion. We also knew of a history of excruciatingly bad combinations of some form of music and poetry, and very much wanted to avoid the various pitfalls typical of the association.
Early in rehearsal I realized that my plan to read from a book or sheaf of poems throughout each hour-long performance would guarantee a certain artsiness, and that I had no choice—if I wanted the hour to achieve a special success, and I did, as much for the boys' sake as my own—but to memorize an hour of poetry. I panicked and then submitted. The decision was a salutary one. The most salutary element in the whole mix, however, was Emmett and Austin's music, which seemed to fit the poetry—mine, as well as Walt Whitman's, Theodore Roethke's, and Leo Dangel's— seamlessly. It was impossible to tell if the music was arising from the words or if the words were arising from the music, so intimately were the two media wed. The audience response was gratifying, to say the least. An opening performance at an art gallery in Duluth, Minnesota, in March 1992, inspired a standing ovation that seemed more like a kind of eruption. Three subsequent performances with their attendant word-of-mouth advertising drew bigger and bigger crowds—up to two and three hundred people—and equally enthusiastic responses from audiences. Asked by many people even after our first show for audiocassettes of our work, we produced such a tape in the summer of 1992 so that it was available at performances the following fall.
Audiences attest to compelling entertainment, an unexpected intensity that issues in both laughter and tears, and it has occurred to me that one explanation behind the audience's experience is a kind of hidden agenda for the boys and me, one that pervades and colors everything we do onstage. The custody dispute in 1985 resulted in a considerable loss of time shared by the three children and me. The recognition of that fact, a recognition not entirely unconscious in Emmett and Austin, nor, of course, in me, gives to our work together, at some level, the sense of a reunion as well as an affirmation or reaffirmation of a strong connection.
When, at a performance of Strong Measures one day after Fay's seventeenth birthday, we dedicated the show to her, the affirming nature of the band's hidden agenda was complete.
I believe that with Strong Measures, the band, I climbed, with my sons, a kind of mountain. At the moment, I am at a loss for an encore, for a project to commit myself to equal in challenge and significance to the one recently realized.
Early in my sixth decade, I have told many people, quite sincerely, that I believe I am living a charmed life. The charm extends to my mother and father, ninety-two and eighty-seven, both of whom are enjoying remarkably alert and active lives. My father's second wife, Rose, and her daughter, Joan Jackson, have brought him much happiness during the latter half of his life. I consider myself fortunate to have more friends than I can easily keep current with. Poetry has provided me with considerable opportunities to travel and enrich my life accordingly, particularly through the new people I meet that way. The manuscript for my sixth book of poems, tentatively called Death and Television, is presently under review by publishers, and the manuscript for a seventh book, tentatively called Florence Nightingale's Rat, is taking shape. Finally, I enjoy my time in the classroom more, and probably do better work there, than ever before. Unlike most English professors anywhere with my seniority, I take special pleasure in teaching freshman composition and choose to teach a greater share of such classes than I am expected to, as I agree with Joe David Bellamy that, "If our citizens become dead to language, it is not healthy for our democracy."
Philip Dacey contributed the following update to CA in 2005:
2004 marked the end of an era for me. In that year I retired from teaching, sold my house and acreage in the country outside the little southwestern Minnesota town of Lynd, near which I had taught at Southwest Minnesota State University for decades (increasingly less and less, to allow more time for writing), and moved—made the big leap in December—to Manhattan's Upper West Side. The change was not so drastic as some people thought, as I had grown up in small apartments in St. Louis, Missouri, not owning a car till I was twenty and using public transportation all the while. Therefore, with plans to sell my trusty Ford Festiva, rent a small one-bedroom New York apartment, and get around the city by subways and buses and foot (what my Irish relatives referred to as "shank's mare"), I was actually returning to a version of my youth. Add to that situation the facts that my mother was born in New York City and that I spent many summer days walking the streets of her birthplace with her on our trips back from St. Louis by Greyhound bus to visit relatives, and it becomes clear that my big leap was maybe not so big at all but a kind of going home.
The fifteen years—1989-2004—in my country house were blessed ones. I felt I turned truly and finally adult there, post-divorce, taking my life into my own hands in a serious way for the first time, acknowledging my responsibility for it, not putting the burden of establishing and maintaining my happiness on anyone's shoulders other than my own. The house near Lynd and Camden State Park came to seem a magical place, where I entered as one person and emerged as a very different one. And it was a perfect place to work—quiet, spacious, sunny. I had no TV or computer or washing machine. The house, as beautiful as were its high and wide southern exposure and two skylights and loft, had something of a monastic feel, simple but elegant and liberating. I wrote and wrote there. I've never been a believer in writer's block, feeling instead that if one wants to write, one can, by taking a pen and paper in hand and putting down the first words that come to mind and then following their lead to the next ones, and so on. Accused of being prolific, I confess my guilt. Three new full-length books appeared while I was there, including other smaller collections, and I wrote and published far more poems than ultimately appeared in any of those volumes.
The New York adventure is seen by me as a time of maximum commitment to poetry, a time to deepen my knowledge and experience as a poet—forty years of publishing poetry and still no mastery, only what is apparently a permanent apprenticeship. Yehudi Menuhin reports that Ernest Bloch, when he was in his fifties, started studying counterpoint all over again, four or five hours a day, like any conservatory student, writing exercises. I admire Bloch's doing that and see myself becoming a secular Manhattan monk in my literary cell on the thirteenth (top) floor of an apartment building across the street from the American Museum of Natural History and a block from Central Park, where I run my daily miles. The windows on three sides of my apartment, an unusual feature, give it a brightness, here in the heart of Manhattan, oddly reminiscent of my home in the Minnesota countryside.
Part of that deepening commitment involves my impersonation, with a twist, of medieval scribes: now on my home computer (with a school office no longer to rely on, I created an office in one corner of my apartment, my first electronic home office), I type every day a different classic poem I have long known or one I want to know better and then, posthaste, delete it, the deletion being the aforementioned twist. Why save what's already available elsewhere? The purpose of each typing is to increase my intimacy with the poem, slowing down the articulation of it to the speed of my fingers, almost reenacting the writing of the work. The exercise is a way, to borrow a concept from Walter Pater, of expanding my remaining interval, increasing its pulsations.
Occasionally, of course, there's time off for good behavior—to work out at the West Side Y, a short walk away; read in the New York Public Library's Reading Room, that sacred place for the bookish; or take in one of the city's many dance performances, the latter treat feeding into a current project, a book-length poem connecting Walt Whitman and professional dance (easy enough to do, since Isadora Duncan, the queen of American dance, was greatly influenced by him). I also break my routine by reunions with Alixa Doom, ex-CIA agent. And that's another whole story.
I had known Alixa casually and minimally in the eighties but we met again in April of 2001 and quickly became a romantic twosome. In the fall of 2003 we broke up but then, thanks to the intervention of a mutual friend of ours, resumed our relationship, much smarter this second time around, in the spring of 2004. During our first attempt at partnership, I produced a chapbook of poems called The Adventures of Alixa Doom and Other Love Poems. During this our second and much more successful attempt, I've been developing an expanded edition of the chapbook, a full-length book to be called The Adventures of Alixa Doom: A Love Story in Poems. The book will consist of three parts forming a kind of Hegelian dialectic of passion: union, rupture, reunion.
Surprised by our reunion, I was also surprised to discover in recent years the bifurcation of my reputation as a poet: although the anthology Strong Measures, which I co-edited in the eighties with Dave Jauss, continues to sell and appear on lists of recommended books about the contemporary use of traditional forms, I was also cited by Charles Harper Webb, the editor of Stand up Poetry: An Expanded Anthology (Iowa, 2002) as a leading practitioner in the Midwest during the seventies of so-called stand up poetry, which accommodates performance easily and often employs humor as a means of communication. In fact for quite a few years my poetry readings were in effect stand up routines, with no books, no prompt sheets, no mention even of poetry, but a steady stream of talk into which was seamlessly woven the texts of my poems; where poems began and ended audiences were often hard-pressed to tell. I like the bifurcation, proud to be seen as both a formalist and a comedian.
My work with (reading, writing about) Walt Whitman had led me into the work and life of his friend Thomas Eakins, and in the late nineties I became aware of the possibilities for a full-length book about the American painter. After considerable research (I read virtually every article and book available about him at the time), including trips to major holdings of his paintings in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and Ft. Worth, I began writing a series of related but autonomous poems that eventually became The Mystery of Max Schmitt: Poems on the Life and Work of Thomas Eakins, which won the 2003 Turning Point Prize. (Interesting note: the painting of Max Schmitt hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a short walk across the Park from me, so in a sense he has become a neighbor of mine I can visit from time to time. Who could have predicted, when I began the book, that my journey would take me into his neighborhood as a resident?) Before leaving Minnesota, I launched the book by a series of eight readings in four upper Midwestern states, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and, of course, Minnesota. Eakins therefore has become the fourth Victorian about which I've written extensively, the others being Whitman, Florence Nightingale, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, about whom I wrote an earlier book—like the Eakins, a kind of critical-biography in verse—Gerard Manley Hopkins Meets Walt Whitman in Heaven and Other Poems. I plan someday to make a selection from my writings about those four and collect them together in one volume called Four Victorians. Two Americans and two Brits. All directly or circuitously connected: Hopkins knew of Whitman, who shared Nightingale's interest in the victims of war and counted Eakins among his friends. Maybe I was born a hundred years too late. Victorianism—life as a Darwinian struggle, earnestness, etc.—appeals to me.
Sometimes I bring my Victorian subjects into the same poems to meet each other (a "lost" letter from Hopkins to Whitman that I "found," for example). I particularly enjoyed introducing Florence Nightingale and Walt Whitman to each other in a one-act play, Nurses and War, a readers' theatre dialogue between the two when they meet in the dream of a dying young soldier wounded in either—deliberate ambiguity—the Crimean or the American Civil War. The play was performed at my Minnesota college by my colleague Beth Weatherby as Florence Nightingale and me as Walt Whitman.
I much appreciated the validation of my work on Whitman that came from the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review in the summer of 2001 when that periodical ran a group of my new Whitman poems and an interview with me. The accompanying note by the editor, Ed Folsom, said, "Hundreds of poets have evoked, addressed, described, argued with, imitated, and parodied Walt Whitman for well over a century, but few poets have more frequently, more successfully, and more imaginatively engaged him than has Dacey." In the spring of 2005, I was invited to read poems of mine about Whitman at a conference on "Whitman and Place" on the Camden campus of Rutgers.
My work with Whitman and Nightingale vis-à-vis the work of nurses with young men dying in war led me to realize in 1994 that I needed to visit the Vietnam Veterans' War Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., needed in fact to make what turned into a three-day pilgrimage there and to record my experience somehow in at least one poem. The war was, in a way, my war, or my time's war; my service to my country in the sixties took place in Nigeria, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer for two years, nearly dying of malaria shortly after I arrived, but I felt I owed something to those names on the wall. I eventually wrote a total of nine poems based on my time there. One of them, a found sonnet constructed of remarks I overhead spoken by other visitors to the wall, prompted a letter after the poem's appearance in print in Louis McKee's Philadelphia magazine One Trick Pony. The letter asked if I'd be willing to let the writer reproduce the poem on a broadside and was signed "Mike Casey." I wrote back, saying yes and asking if by any chance the letter writer was the Michael Casey who in the seventies, about thirty years earlier, had won the Yale Younger Poets award for his book of Vietnam poems, Obscenities. He indeed was, and my pleasure at his request was immediately doubled.
The pilgrimage then set up a trip in 1995 to Vietnam for two weeks with various students and teachers from my college, including several veterans, two of whom had served in Vietnam. Based on the trip I produced a series of postcard-sonnets that appeared in a limited edition. Prior to the Vietnam trip, I had said my favorite city in the world (outside the United States) was London, which I had visited three times; but after the trip London had fallen to third and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) and Hanoi were now tied for first. The beauty of the Vietnamese people—energetic, hardworking, kind and welcoming to the visiting Americans despite our history—was stunning. The streets were unbroken rivers of bicycles flowing beside and past each other, their riders managing great burdens on their backs or vehicles or both with consummate grace. I remember thinking incredulously, "These were our enemies?"
Important family matters: my parents died during my years in the Minnesota countryside, my father in 1997 at ninety-seven—his sharp mind still all there but his body simply tuckered out—and my mother in 1999 at ninety-four—her aging less sanguine than his, but overall her life an exemplarily vital one. And they account for two important components of my Manhattan apartment. My desk is one my father gave me when I was in high school, and it has travelled miraculously whole and undamaged from place to place with me for the last fifty years or so. On one of my bookcases in the center of a central shelf, my mother's old Underwood typewriter sits, no longer useful but a handsome objet d'art, reminding me that no doubt one reason I'm a writer is the fact I spent years growing up watching my mother, a secretary, type long letters to her many friends at breakneck speed. Life in front of a keyboard was normal. And I began the twenty-first century proud of my children's accomplishment: Emmett, thirty-six, an economist, is an associate with the Law & Economics Consulting Group of Los Angeles, where his wife, Barb, is a public relations executive with Nestle; Austin, thirty-three, a Ph.D. in applied philosophy, is chairman of the Center for Inquiry, Metro branch (New York), a secular humanist think tank; and Fay, thirty, a recent M.F.A., teaches at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, while writing stories and novels that her father is sure will result in best sellers and movie offers. Coincidentally, my own (not-too-serious) dream has always been to write a sonnet that's made into a movie.
Two emphatically non-writing experiences were among the highlights of those years from 1989 to 2004, both requiring considerable physical exertion and prowess. The first was a canoe trip to Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area with three of my best friends, Doug Johnson, Gary Rust, and Terry Bernhardt. The first two had been my students in the early seventies, and I'd camped several times with Doug. I'd also camped with Terry but hadn't gotten the three of them together. The trip required eight portages in to our campsite, a grueling experience. The eight portages out were equally grueling but at least I knew then no more portages were awaiting me. I told my three buddies that I would never make such a trip again—not because I didn't enjoy it, as I had enjoyed it very much, particularly because of their excellent company, but because now I had proven to myself I could so such a worthy thing and didn't need to do it again.25
The second of these two highlights also tested me: my first half-marathon. I'd run countless competitive ten kilometer races and wanted to graduate up. I trained a lot and ran the thirteen miles faster than I had expected, averaging under ten minutes a mile. Bad for the pros but great for me. No injuries resulted from either of the physical challenges to myself. I'd played racquetball for thirty years, and the exercise it provided left me in a condition good enough to accomplish the two endurance feats. Still, I have chosen to give up racquetball since coming to New York; my network of racquetballers in Minnesota would be difficult to replace here and I'd hate to injure a knee twisting for a ball and not be able to run, as running is the sport I'm primarily committed to—I frequently compose lines while I run, the motion and Zen-like focus being good for that. A critic recently referred to me as a poet as "a long-distance runner," not meaning it literally, instead meaning to refer to my staying power as a writer, but of course I was delighted to see how two of my passions, running and writing, had come together by serendipity.
Besides the Eakins book, I published two other books in recent years, The Deathbed Playboy (Eastern Washington University Press, 1999) and The Paramour of the Moving Air (Quarterly Review of Literature Book Series, 1999). Chapbooks included What's EmptyWeighs the Most: 24 Sonnets (Black Dirt Press, 1997) and Notes of an Ancient Chinese Poet (Loonfeather Press, 1995).
I've come to see my New York stay as a kind of spiritual retreat. At sixty-five, such a retreat is not a bad idea, a time to step back and assess: where have I been, where am I going, or—better—where do I choose to go at this point in my life, with this amount of time left? The discipline of stripping my household of belongings down to fit a small apartment became itself a kind of spiritual exercise. Those Jesuits, who taught me for eight years, and their mentor, St. Ignatius of Loyola, would be proud of me. Every item was considered; many were found wanting. The process in particular of pruning my library was an act of self-identifying, self-reinventing. I cried quite a bit during my first days here; when I'm tired—the preparation for and logistics of the leap were at least a little grueling, like the portaging and the half-marathon—I get closer to my feelings and don't have defenses against them. The tears indicated happiness to be here, but also a kind of grieving that is in keeping with the notion of a spiritual retreat, though grieving what is lost is the reverse side of celebrating what remains. My bookcases are full of the great dead, and below my windows the living conduct their pageant. Poetry shall be one of the primary means for opening myself to the richness of the experience now available to me in my new location.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 51, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989.
Contemporary Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 7th edition, 2001.
Academic Medicine, March, 1999.
American Book Review,Volume 4, number 6, 1982, Barry Wallenstein, review of The Boy under the Bed; August, 1992.
Chowder Review, number 9, 1977, Ronald Wallace, review of How I Escaped from the Labyrinth.
Great River Review, fall, 1977.
Hudson Review, December, 1977.
Library Journal, July, 1999, Daniel L. Guillory, review of The Deathbed Playboy, p. 94.
Mankato Free Press, February 19, 2003.
Minnesota Daily, August 8, 1977; June 16, 1981
Ohio Review, Volume 19, number 2, 1978, Peter Stitt, review of How I Escaped from the Labyrinth, and Other Poems.
One Trick Pony, 2002.
Parnassus, fall/winter, 1978; Volume 9, number 2, 1981, Vernon Young, review of The Boy under the Bed.
Poet Lore, fall, 1979; winter, 1981-82.
Shenandoah, winter, 1971; spring-summer, 2003.
Tar River Poetry, spring, 1979, Joseph B. Wagner, review of The Man with Red Suspenders; spring, 1987.
Voices, April-May, 1979, interview with Dacey.
Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, summer, 1997.