Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Meditation: on student deaths (& depression)


It was probably this time of year, albeit in a different season. Probably a bit later, as I don't remember leaves on the trees in New Haven, Connecticut. I do remember cold and damp, though pathetic fallacy has likely intervened over the course of 35 odd years. I lived in Berkeley College, right across the street from Sterling Library, a cathedral-sized and gothic-styled building that featured an enormous front door; above the door was a shelf; on the shelf were statues. Here is what memory has dimmed, and what better weather brightens.


As I walked out toward Cross Campus one morning and looked toward Sterling, I noticed that one of the statues--one very hard to get to--was wrapped in what looked to be a bloody toga. Red paint, no doubt, but the effect was eerie. I was told that someone had cut his own throat in the 7th floor bathroom of the library stacks the day before. So the bloody toga memorialized (as it were) that student's suicide. The bloody toga remained around the statue for days, became a keen focus for my attention. I was subject, myself, to long and very painful bouts of depression, and was beginning to realize that each time they happened--approximately every two years--the illness grew more severe. That statue in the toga taunted me. It seemed to represent the hard face of a world that refused to see others' pain, that mocked it.

I somehow stumbled through my late teens and early to mid-20s; I consider myself a student of memory, but even now I try to change lanes when those years come up. My junior year, I tried the counseling center at Yale, but they would have me wait for weeks. By the time an appointment was available, I'd lost interest. Besides, the psychologist had asked me the wrong questions and I didn't like the look of him. Mostly I remember I was wearing a blue and white striped French sweater when I saw him. The vagaries. I wandered the streets of New Haven thinking about going to the main hospital, checking myself in. Did not. I called my mother, who came to help, but she did not. Later that summer, I saw a psychologist in Maryland, who said she considered medication but decided against it. It was not until my next major depression, my second year of graduate school, that I was given meds, meds that worked, and saw a therapist about everything that had been torn apart (or had not happened at all, like normal life) during my years of depression.

The meds were not a simple fix. When they began to work, I felt betrayed. How could the swallowing of a pill make me feel better? What about all those years of crawling under covers, of walking miles a day because there was nothing else I could do, what about all those years of not living a normal life either because I was depressed or I feared that taking risk would make me so? How could the pill change me? Who was I, then, the depressed or the undepressed me? (That was already a question, but was brought into crisis by the medication.) The only time I felt in danger of suicide was during the few weeks it took for the medication to work full-time. At first, it would only work for a few minutes or an hour a day, before I was dropped back into the vat of bad feeling. Agitated by anxiety, I walked for hours, thinking about highway overpasses and the other wanderers who occasionally crossed my path. It was those sudden shifts in and out of pain that were hardest. Somehow, I could deal with consistent awfulness, but not the move from brightness to darkness, and then back the next day for however long. The strategy I took was to wait expectantly for 4 p.m., which launched the good hour, and then to rest inside of it. But I think of the equation of meds with suicide and suspect that the link is not because the meds do harm, but because they are doing only a very limited kind of good at first.

So when a student earlier this semester asked me to speak to him outside class, and when he said he had not only lost a friend the previous weekend to a drunk driver, but had also witnessed a student falling to his death at the UHM dorms the night before, I instinctively knew what to do. I had him gather up his backpack and I walked him to the counseling center. It turns out he had to wait four days to see someone. But he did. My next class of that day included a young woman whose sister was a friend of the deceased; she could not find her sister that late morning. At this point, my feeling of compassion arrived at an intersection with my anger. Why had I not been told that my students might be traumatized that morning, that they might need help, that a member of their community had fallen to his death within sight of a large number of them?

I wrote to administrators; I called the head of counseling; I talked to my students. I wrote to a large email list devoted to resisting the current budget cuts and mysterious hirings and firings by admin at Manoa. Several graduate students responded actively, some very busy faculty members less so. Most of us have had direct experience of mental illness and/or its effects. Most of us have experienced the effects of someone's death on our living. One graduate student had wondered what had happened to a UHM graduate student who died hiking; he found answers only from her undergraduate institution on-line. He'd written a letter; the response was oblique, sounded unfeeling. We formed a small group. We made an agenda, which you can find here. I created a hand-out that featured good protocols from other universities; suggestions from colleagues; articles on people (including a woman I found in my Yale Alumni Mag) trying to prevent suicide, other websites devoted to preventing college suicides. We had a meeting with the Dean of Students, the Head of Housing, and the Head of the Counseling Center at UHM. Except the Head of Counseling never showed up. We were told that this incident was complicated: was it suicide or drug-related? He'd not died on the scene and the police department does not report to the university, so could admin in fact assume that he had died, and so on. After all, it would be embarrassing to announce a death that had not happened.

My honors research class is reading Timothy Denevi's book HYPER, both a memoir of his life with ADHD and a non-fiction treatise on the history of the condition. I know Tim, who earned an MA from us several years ago, but mostly as a fellow baseball fan and writer. The book opens his life up in all its tenderness and confusion: he was a violent, impulsive kid for whom early treatment with meds caused suicidal thoughts; he was bullied and he bullied others; he entered into zones of seeing no color, losing perspective; he lost friends to drugs and accidents. My students love the book, and they enjoyed meeting Tim on skype. ("He doesn't seem violent," one said sheepishly.) I wanted years ago to write a book on my depressions, the anxiety disorder that triggered and accompanied them like one bad clown dancing with another bad clown. But I never did. Even now, sitting down to write this brief post renders me awkward, uncomfortable, bruised. I remember after my last major depression going to an Ash Wednesday service and bursting into tears. I sobbed through the entire service while a friend stood next to me patiently. I remember an overwhelming restlessness, the desire to make up for lost, spent time. "Did you feel different after your depression?" a doctor once asked me. "Yes, I discovered my sense of humor during my depression," I responded. In retrospect, the depressions freed me. But they may have only freed me from their own handcuffs.

Tim Denevi's book is amazing in many ways, but his self-awareness is excruciating and beautiful. My students are stunned about how well he knew himself at an early age, even when that knowing had no power to stop his impulsive behavior. When I asked the simple question, "Who is Tim Denevi?" and followed up with "is he a stable identity?" they knew to answer that his identity was a wave, not a line. I worry about them. Many of them know so little of all this, at least in relation to those of us who are older, who have survived, whether through self-awareness or lucky blundering. At the mention of waves, I remember the blue bus I took to the mental hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia, the way it went up and down, its shocks soft, until it arrived at the low building where I had my appointment. I often sat quietly, unable to say anything, but pleased to be with someone else. There was a next time, too, downtown, in a warren of offices that I remember as being underground. Were they, or did it only seem so? I ask myself the question Tim poses near the end of his book: "Is survival the same as being healed?" The question is clearly rhetorical, as there can be no certain answer. At its most basic level, the literal, the answer goes like this: in order to be healed, we need to survive. If my university and others do not work hard at helping their students survive, there is nothing but a lovely memorial service and--if you're very lucky--a kind notice in the newspaper or a posthumous degree.

This post has turned into one more about suicide than about student deaths. While suicide is a huge problem on campuses, the lack of acknowledgment of any death (except perhaps those of athletes) is a severe on mine. And it's those who are left behind who then deal with the pain. So let me end by saying that a fundamental need is for acknowledgment, for awareness, for attention to. Pay attention.

Here are some resources I've found that might help your institution or your students out:


 --Suicide Prevention Resource Center

--The Jed Foundation

--Active Minds

Our meeting of October 20, 2014

More on student deaths: a meeting with the Dean of Students. My minutes.

Several of us met with Dean I and with Mark K, the head of student housing, this morning. The head of counseling was a no-show.

We talked at length about several issues:

--Notification of the community of a student death, on the level of the department and the university (there are problems on both levels);

--Reasons why such communication is difficult; because UHM has no police force, HPD does all the investigations and never reports back to admin. "We still don't know if the young man died or not," was the Dean's dry remark. She's hoping that a campus police force will ameliorate communication in the future.

--Productive reactions to deaths at other institutions. The packet of materials that I handed out included materials from Indiana University of PA (a protocol for dealing with deaths, and a letter sent out to announce a student death) and Duke UP (an article from their magazine on two students who died recently, which showed how much they had contributed to the community).

--The need to "clear the desks" at counseling when an emergency happens. Unless a student says, "I witnessed a traumatic event last night," he or she will not be given an immediate appointment. But of course students do not know this, and make appointments for a week or more in advance.

--The need to publicize the counseling center better, to be pro-active, because "this will happen again," as Dean Ideta put it.

--The need to train administration and faculty about mental illness and suicide. Also how to deal with an unexpected death in a class. Faculty are often in the dark about what to do in the face of such events. Some training and open communication would help greatly.

The packet I handed out, as well as the letter V brought to the Dean, included protocols, notes from faculty about what they would like to see happen, articles about productive responses to suicide, and webpages by Active Minds, JED Foundation, and a group at the U of Washington that is working to prevent suicide (and to create protocols).

We offered to do what we can to help. A ended the meeting with a "what's next?" We will keep at Dean I and others, and I will send an email to the head of the Counseling Center that includes our agenda (I did leave a packet for her with the Dean, too).

My sense is that the meeting was effective as a communication between students & faculty and the Dean, but I don't know that any immediate benefit will come of it. We will need to keep pushing at the door.

Thanks to those of you who came, and also to those of you who did not but who send me encouraging emails from time to time. Much appreciated.
all best, Susan











Sunday, October 19, 2014

Agenda for Monday's meeting with Dean of Students & others about student deaths on (and off) campus


Monday, October 23rd meeting with Dr. Lori Ideta, Dr. Allyson Tanouye, Mr. Michael Kaptik
Some issues and suggestions about student deaths



--Issues:

Student deaths and the trauma that follows. Announcing deaths to the faculty of the student who died but not to other faculty is not effective, especially when a death occurs in a public space, like a dorm. Students are part of various communities, and not acknowledging the death of a member of our community does harm to those left behind. First, it puts the burden of notification on those closest to the deceased, which is unnecessary and cruel. Secondly it complicates grieving when close friends of the deceased are affected, but the broader community is unaware of what is happening and trying to deal with the affected persons who are distant, non-responsive, and show signs of unexplained depression.

--Suggestions:

Write a protocol for campus death announcements to be made easily accessible on-line. Try, so far as possible, to be transparent: announce student deaths early on. There's no need to say how they died, just that they did, write a letter to the larger community about that student's contribution to UHM, and be sure to write to parents and close friends of the student. Without a general announcement from administration (not simply from Ka Leo), or a memorial service of some kind, grieving by students affected by the death is rendered more difficult.

--Issue:

After a death on campus, students who were close to the deceased or who witnessed the death will be traumatized and need help.

--Suggestions:

Provide counselors on a “clear the desk” basis and make such assistance public, via UHM email, that counseling is immediately available. In addition, post flyers across campus throughout the year advertising the Counseling Center, and what they offer to students.

--Issue:

Because suicide is a major cause of death in college and graduate-school age students, create a pro-active response. Instead of fearing “suicide contagion,” announce (apart from any specific instance) that suicide is a problem, create a public list of symptoms of suicidal ideation (obsession with suicide), and act to prevent suicide. Train faculty, staff, and students, making them aware of the problem and especially of how to react to it. Beyond that, act proactively to intervene with students exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, or other traumatic life events such as death, disability, or divorce,

--What we can do:

As a small hui of concerned university citizens, we are willing to lobby administrators, legislators, and student groups. If a concrete proposal is offered to us to help in any of the ways we've mentioned, we have a financial backer. We are willing to serve on a committee to create the protocols. We are willing, in our daily lives, to treat our students with compassion and to educate our colleagues who lack experience with these issues.

Signed: Susan M. Schultz, Aurora Kagawa-Viviani, Victor Ruthig, Michelle Tigchelaar, Marguerite Butler, Peter Hoffenberg, George Willkens, Rebecca Evans, Philippe Busse

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Fall, 2014 courses

I confess this is to make them easier for me to access them! But the courses are Honors research 101 and Introduction to Creative Writing (Documentary Poetry & Personal Essay).

Intro to CW

Honors 101: Research

Hope to commence blogging again soon--


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My latest post to admin about mental health issues

16 September 2014
Dear Vice Chancellor for Students:

I'm writing to follow up on my emails of last week about the aftermath of a student's tragic death on campus. I'm hoping that you've met with the head of the counseling center to brainstorm a way to make more information available to faculty and to students. What you term the "wonderful resource" of the counseling center is not wonderful unless students know it's there. Here are some suggestions I've come up with:
--I've been told that professors of the student were informed of his death the next morning and told to let students know about counseling. But many of us who were not his professor had students who were, and probably remain, traumatized by the event of last Tuesday. We are informed about stolen bikes and sexual assaults, so why are we not informed of sudden deaths on campus?
--One of my students said that those most deeply affected were told by the counseling center that they would have to wait for an appointment. She added that her parents had called the center to ask for more immediate help. In the event of such a tragedy, allow for walk-ins. And do more than put a notice in _Ka Leo_ two days later, on-line, to say that counseling is available. (I was glad at least to see it there, but my students say they don't read the student newspaper.)

--When a tragic death happens in the dorms, send counselors to the dorms rather than waiting for students to find the counseling center on campus.
--Put up lots of flyers all over campus to alert students to the existence and location of the center.
--Given that there are protocols about privacy, such knowledge could be disseminated without assigning a cause of death or injury. In any case, hard to keep that knowledge from students who saw the event or heard about it from their friends.
--Do more open education about depression and other mental illnesses and address the problem of suicide by publicizing ways to prevent it, rather than simply hiding from public view. I don't know if this young man's death was an accident or suicide, but there have been many suicides on and off campus over the years. I'm told that one person dies by suicide every two days in Hawai`i. Hiding the problem certainly isn't fixing it.
When I spoke to Dr. X last week, she said there would be meeting on Monday at which she'd bring this issue up. The only response I got to my email to your office was one with no human signature. I would appreciate hearing more from you in person. And I would be happy to come to your office to talk, as well.
aloha, Susan


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

"His name was Abel."

"His name was Abel," my student said as I walked him from our classroom to the counseling center. "He was Abel." Another friend killed by a drunk driver over the weekend. He had a name too, but I forgot. He wanted to check in himself, so I went back. The class was writing. I opened Donovan Kuhio Colleps's Proposed Additions, to "A List of Unwritten Stories About You." Number 1: "When you lived in Kailua as a young man, drinking with your pals, Papa Abel, your father, swiped the beer bottles off the table in the yard . . ." I put the book down. Opened a novel that arrived in the mail yesterday. The Story of Forgetting, by Stefan Merrill Block. I turned to chapter 1. "Abel: Once, I Fell in Love with Everything."


Note: http://www.bartleby.com/108/01/4.html




Here is an exchange of emails I had with admin. I do not find the unsigned response adequate. I also called someone at the Counseling Center and expressed my concerns that students were traumatized yesterday and, because faculty were unaware of a death on campus, we had no idea what we were walking into. She says she'll bring the matter up in a meeting . . .

Aloha--

A student in my 9:30 class asked to talk to me outside the class, so I went. He not only lost a friend this past weekend in a car crash, but he witnessed the death of a student yesterday at the dorms. When I mentioned the death to my second class, one student said he was a friend of her sister's and she hadn't heard from her.

I took the first young man to counseling myself. But it seems to me that all privacy rules aside, professors and instructors should know that they might have traumatized students in their classes after an event like this. They should be notified that counseling is available. I'm frankly a bit horrified that there has been no official word about this event.

Susan


Susan M. Schultz
Professor of English
University of Hawai`i-Mānoa
Editor, Tinfish Press

tinfishpress.com
http://tinfisheditor.blogspot.com

_Dementia Blog_, _Memory Cards:
2010-2011 Series_ &
_"She's Welcome to Her Disease":
Dementia Blog, Vol. 2_, available from
singinghorsepress.com & spdbooks.org

Vice Chancellor for Students

6:53 AM (2 hours ago)


to me
Dear Dr. Schultz: Thank you for reaching out and and informing our office of your positive actions in support of one of our students. We deeply appreciate your efforts and thank you for helping us spread the word about the wonderful resource, Counseling and Student Development Center, on campus.


Office of the Vice Chancellor for Students

and my next email to them:


Dear Office of the Vice Chancellor--
My point was not to show that I had done a good deed, but to ask that you let us on the front line know better what we're facing in our classrooms. I've spoken with the head of the Counseling Center, who says she'll bring the issue up in a meeting. I hope you think of something--

aloha, Susan

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Norman Hindley (1944-2014) RIP





Several short weeks ago, Joe Tsujimoto put a late poem by Norman Hindley on his facebook page. The word "late" rang hard, as it was--at least to me--also a death announcement. I had not seen him since the late 90s, around the time of my marriage, but hold to some vivid memories of him.

Here are two:

The early 90s, when slam poetry was just inventing itself, and the local scene was just imagining what it might be. At the Lizard Loft on Kapahulu I went to a competitive reading of page poems, as it would later seem, and witnessed a face-off between Joe and Norman, who both taught at Punahou. Joe read a poem including drunkenness, and Norman an episode of domestic terror where the speaker was hunted down by his wife and shut in a freezer locker. Punahou may mostly be for rich kids, but there's some rawness in the faculty.

Then my friend Diana S., who also taught at Punahou, became Norman's partner for a time. It was her birthday and so Bryant and I (as yet unmarried) went to their townhouse for a party. I was sitting minding my own business when I heard the clarion call of Hindley: "SCHULTZY!!! You MUST try my noodle dish." Like a meek friend who wanted only to please, I began to eat the dish until I started to feel flush, asthmatic, ill. Staring down my boyfriend, I realized I had eaten peanuts (turned out it was Thai noodle with peanut butter, to which I am--literally--deathly allergic). Bryant caught the horrible glare from me and we left. We ended up in the ER that night. "I DIDN'T MEAN TO KILL YOU, SCHULTZY," was the later response. 

It seemed at the time that Norman's best poetry was behind him. He had published Winter Eel through Frank Stewart's Petronium Press in 1984. The cover design is by Steve Shrader, whose posthumous work Tinfish published last year. (The image of barbed wire across an ocean vista is appropriate to Hindley's work, as to Shrader's, however different their poetics.) It was perhaps the high water mark of Euro-American poetry on O`ahu, the 1970s and early 1980s. I wasn't to arrive here until 1990, so I can't know for sure. But I edited and published a book of Euro-American poetry from Hawai`i last year because it's considered outsider work; I regret not asking Norman for poems. His poems are not "Tinfish poems," but they are very very good. Apparently there are some four volumes of Norman's poetry yet to be published. Joe said that there was a pile of manuscripts at Norman's house that went up to his waist. The poems that comprise his first book, the one I have on my desk as I write, are few but stern. Solid, sharp objects, like the knives that appear in them, there do not need to be many to reflect the poet's anger, his reticence, and his stark rhetoric.

The poems in Winter Eel are violent and loving in equal measure. What is loved is earth's details, curt words slotted into measured, chiseled lines. Many of the poems are about a family romance gone desperately wrong: a violent father who could not be pleased; a wandering mother who "snapped one day"; a son locked in Oedipal desire (there's a poem about him looking at her looking at herself in the mirror); sexual abuse at the hands of an uncle and of a man of the cloth. As childhood violence abates, another kind of violence erupts. This is the violence of the hunt for muskrat, for fish, for sharks, and an aborted hunt for men who stole from him. A woman is murdered by a stranger and cut into tiny parts. The book itself seems to teeter on that moment when the poet nearly murdered the men who violated him. It is also, as so many poet's first books are, a book about writing, about art, about the way in which art only partially comes to redeem a life. Let me dip into the book, write through some of these poems. (I'm doing some of this after reading the comments sent to an earlier version of the post; so many people knew Norman, yet not perhaps his poems.)

I turn to "You Pour into the Audi like Mud," from the 1984 collection. This poem, like the others in this slim volume, is in free verse, each line commencing with a capital letter, an odd schism between formal verse and informal reportage. Like other poems in this style--why am I thinking James Wright?--the poem tells a straightforward story, though there's a catch at the end. The language is simple, as are the lines, though their simplicity packs a punch. The story is of a man who films his own mother's funeral in ways that are disturbing to the speaker, whose anger against the subject accumulates with the poem's line. Consider the tight, angry language:

The Ford that's been riding my ass

then:

And your body went riding into the furnace
For burning
And your tendons tightened like strapping
Making you bend a bit at the waist
As if to rise

As it turns out, the man who filmed his dead mother in near pornographic terms and who has himself died was the poet's uncle. We don't find that out until the end, but we already know that the uncle showed the strange film to anyone who would watch--boys, including the poet--which raises the specter of other kinds of violence, other intimate intrusions.

The uncle is burned, and his urn put "as close to your mother / As allowed." "Dignified."

But what I'll tell you uncle
That left ot me
You'd of been thrown down a hole
In a can
No flowers, no mother
No black Fairlane to ride.

I'm not sure where the Audi of the title comes in, as the poem is all black Fairlane, a word that stands in stark contrast to the unfair boundary-less presence of the uncle. But the poem is strong.

Starker yet is "Sinner," addressed to a "Reverend" who abused boys in South America, and then abused the poet as an 11-year old child. "His hand-picked boy." For three years. The poet writing the poem is now 36, and feels himself hardened by the abuse:

It's for the shot of ice you left in me
Which I can and do turn on others,
For the deadlands in my heart 
That are windy
Empty as any March.

March may be a poetic month (consider Stevens's and Bishop's poems, just for starters, about that early spring month), but it's crueler than cruel April in this poem. The brash machismo of the poetic surfaces--language hard, unemotional--comes to unveil (as through dense rust) hurt as powerful as the anger that attempts to defeat it.

The betrayals of these poems--son by mother, mother by father, boy by priest--are alchemized later in a poem about sharks, "Sharks in Shapes of 8." In this poem, the poet fills a gallon bottle with bull's blood and goes out onto the reef with a gun. He will attract a shark, kill the shark, then watch the other sharks attack. It's a gruesome act, told in beautiful language:

Converging currents carried the blood in carnations,
It shawled through the coral like dinner bells,
Some would tongue outward,
And I'd stand with the Winchester and wait
For the white tips, the hammerheads, the occasional tiger
To swim in from their blue vaults,
To cruise the reef,
Picturing wounds, fresh meat.

Then, like an abuser of substance or person or other being, the poet announces, "I've quit." Not because he puts himself in danger out on the reef, blooming in the bought blood, but because, "I was ashamed of deceiving, killing / These long swimmers, these survivors / Of ice, of cataclysm." A final stanza to this poem stands in excess, relates his desire to join the sharks, whom he watches on a camping trip. There's a generalization to that last stanza that doesn't bite as hard as what came before. We already recognized that love in his abnegation. He has not given up on violence, but his violence will now be direct, honest. He will not cheat.

There are also poems about poetry, art. The third poem in the book is "Painting by Numbers." The poem tells the first person story of someone who paints by numbers, "stayed inside the borders, / Faithful to paint, the commandment of numbers." He loses that organization, begins to lose control of his paints, gets closer to memory than to schooled artistry. He is taken back to a Massachusetts winter when a young woman plays Mozart on the piano (this takes us outside image, leads us into the porches of the ear):

But there are no numbers for Mozart.
The canvas hangs like ice, violet,
It is the amethyst of winter.
Or the still life with pears.

When first I became obsessed with Wallace Stevens, dog-earing A Palm at the End of the Mind even before its pages turned brown with age and tropical air, there were two poems I most loved. The first was "Mozart, 1935," and the second was "A Study of Two Pears."  Hindley's poem weaves on, taking in people enjoying a good meal, a man in Oakland who feeds a toad he never sees, a self-portrait that is nothing but spilled quicksilver, then ends on a note of hidden greyness, not bright paint. Like Stevens, Hindley pares (sic) away summer foliage and ends up with a mind of winter, free of metaphor, free to be, "that wintry sound"

As of the great wind howling,
By which sorrow is released,
Dismissed, absolved
In a starry placating.

Another of Hindley's poems about art is "Keyboard," about a young pianist whose mother pushes her, causes her to hate the instrument, "like shit in bed." The girl turns to visual art, frequenting the Boston Museum when she was supposed to be rehearsing. She is poor, knows the poet (and nurses him back from sickness) because they lived "in opposite rat holes." She paints with Dutch Boy until she runs out, then works with any material at hand. She cannot stop making things. As the poem ends, we learn that her mother is still alive--"she's 200 or so"--and trots out the early recital program.  She "doesn't know that you've been an instrument / For 50 years, a violin of lines and form, / She doesn't give a goddamn that you will go on always, / Covering canvas after canvas with exquisite women / Alone in powerful, warm rooms."

American poetry, like American culture, so often sets art up against the practical world. "I've got a fight going," a student said to me just yesterday, "between my passions and more practical matters." Less frequently do poets set one art form up against another as a way to explore family conflict, artistic ambivalence. But the woman who becomes the art instrument her mother does not recognize is, in its own way, just as powerful a conceit for the situation of art. Forced to choose between sound and image, this woman ends up destitute in a cold studio, unloved by her sole family member. The poet, who chooses both, knows the anguish of losing one to the other. There's an allegory here that cannot be neatly unpacked; this makes the poem more powerful than it would have been had he chosen one or the other vehicle. But it's about making choices and suffering through the redemption they offer us.

If I needed to categorize Hindley's poetry, I'd put it in the box on which is scrawled "post-Romanticism." Emerson lives in these poems, but he's lost his arms and legs. Thoreau is stationed at an outpost in Hindley's mind, but he's steeped in violence, not peaceful resistance. Dickinson is present, a solitary maker in a cold room with an unsympathetic family, but her transcendent language has been put down for boards and planks and fishing poles and Winchesters. There is desire for heroism, but recognition that heroism isn't what it used to be. In "Water Born," written for his brother, Hindley recounts a near death experience diving in sea, when he thought his brother was drowning. At the last minute, Norman releases himself into the current (becomes an instrument of it) and his brother, too, emerges alive, his catch intact. "We headed back, / Renewed, heroic, or as close as we'd ever get." So much in that or (rhymes with "oar"). Renewal is not heroism, though it is survival. These are the poems of a survivor who knows a kind of heroism that cannot be bruited about. It must remain stoic, because it covers over so many silences: abuse, violence, anti-social desire. The poems, in their honesty, give us access to heroism, even as we recoil from the gunshots.

While most of the poems are set in the New England of the poet's difficult youth, there are Hawai`i poems, poems about fishing, about the natural (if not friendly) world. Hindley lived for many decades on Moloka'i and O'ahu, came slowly--as do many Euro-American poets--to write about it. I hope that that there are many more set here in the poems that remain in manuscript . For one of my purposes in writing this is to acknowledge the contribution of this outsider/insider poet to Hawai`i's literature. A tense departmental meeting in the spring featured a colleague's guffaw at the menetion of "white poets in Hawai`i," a laugh I will not long forget. (The laugher was white, which is perhaps not a surprise. My anger is not at the speaker but at the symptom.) In response, I can hear a kind of dark laughter from Norman Hindley, who would have understood the deep ambivalences of his position in this vexed tradition.

___________________________


Diana sent me a link to a reading Norman gave at Punahou a few years ago. I had forgotten his strong New England accent (he was originally from Pawtucket, RI). And, while the poems remind me more of Wright and Bly perhaps, the accent brings into play the inheritance from Frost, for whom the outside world--whether farming or, in Norman's case, hunting and fishing--was an inevitable allegory for the cruelties of the human heart. Here is the YouTube video from 2008. "A Note for Amy" is worth listening to for the taut "t" sounds alone. Beauty's spit / ting image.




Let me copy the poem I mentioned at the outset, the one posted by Joe Tsujimoto on facebook, and lineate it as best I can, using facebook's lineation and my own guess work. I have Chris Hindley's permission to do so.


hill Mary
a song of heaven


behind the orchard
a pathway winds
enchanted as a wand
rising in graceful increments
toward the balm of proclaimed lands


fields 
of vigorous grass effect
a well-abounding yellow-green
they preen and ripple
on a threadbare breeze
an inland sea of radiant hay


abiding orphic
to the native ear
its compass points 
implied by titanic trees
their august leaves
stupendous green


registered on these are
destinations dates e.t.a.'s
of ships of men of rank and names
stark delphic inklings of solar
winds that scorch the seas auroral
vaults in arctic freeze
scribed by prescient sailors
onto trunks limbs stumps
and skins on concentric rings
of transcendent trees


From "hill Mary" on, this poem brings Hindley's keen eye for the world together with a spiritual impulse that seems absent from the 1984 book. "Hill Mary" may not be hailed, but perhaps offers some grace to the aging poet. He still recognizes the orphic, violated, fragments in his own voice, but ends with "transcendent trees" and no punctuation, rather than with an empty March, and a period. From March to Mary, from blood in the water to "a well-abounding yellow-green" is quite a voyage. I look forward to seeing more of how he got there.