Poetry is a habit that is easy to form and hard to break. I began to write the poems on these pages as an exercise in creating traditional feet, lines, stanzas, and rhyme-schemes. I ended by living to make rhythms, to find rhymes, and to load each ten-word line with a weight of ideas which, ultimately, it could not bear. In the end, the struggle defeated me, and I gave it up.
What defeated me was the problem of human violence. I needed to understand it, and poetry helped me merely to confront it, to cry out against it, or to find refuge from it. I reached the end of what poetry could do, at least in my hands, in the summer of 1975, when I wrote an unrhymed sonnet about dog fighting after reading a feature article in the New York Times. The poem ended:
Glared pitiless above me at the street
And cast the bloody shadow of a brute.
Clearly, in my own mind at least, I had reached a dead end. So I gave up poetry, spent ten years searching for understanding of my own species, and turned to the short essay as my primary form.
I am still searching, but in the meantime, the poems here have their own interest and a beauty that, after so much time, surprises me. Many of them arise from a vision of a dying civilization and the sadness that always accompanies transition. Our civilization—the "dying light" of one poem—still lives, but no one living in 1975 could have predicted the shape it now takes. Nor is the survival of our species and many others assured.
The Vietnam War, although it was at the center of my life and that of most Americans from 1969-1975, hardly makes an appearance in these poems. That is intentional. These poems were a refuge from the war. I had not been in combat, so I could not hope to write authentically about it, nor did I need to. I needed a quiet place to go after working in the peace movement all day, which was what I was doing at the time.
Here is that quiet place. That it could not provide refuge from all evil does not make it less valuable. I share it now in the hope that others may find it useful.