Old Introductions: C. S. Giscombe & Jon Thompson
5. “Give witness,” writes Jon Thompson in his poem “Absolution,” “Give witness to those things beyond the eye / that define the complexion of each day / the vast tissue of connections / that decides each act.” The poems in Thompson’s just published first collection of poetry seek and give shape to that “vast tissue of connections.” His poems reveal, as he writes in “Under Water”, “a tale of tiered temples and cloistered beauty / on the very brush-stroke of cruelty.”
6. Fortunately for us, Jon lives and teaches just down the road in Raleigh. He teaches 20th century British and American literature at NC State, and during his tenure, has mentored some of the best young contemporary poets, including Aaron McCollough, Todd Sandvik, Tim Botta, and Jon Minton.
7. He also serves as the editor of the literary magazine Free Verse which consistently features thought provoking work in a range of aesthetics. He was also recently named the editor of Parlor Press’s Free Verse Editions Poetry Series.
8. Tonight we are celebrating the publication of his first volume of poetry The Book of the Floating World published in October.
9. The poems in The Book of the Floating World revolve around a series of photos of Japan during the US’s post WWII occupation taken by Thompson’s father. From these touching off points, Thompson writes of history and the world and “the unnatural musical light … breaking / in waves / over a future which is unaware.” Thompson’s poems circle our pervasive lack of awareness, our inability to see sideways in time the way a poem or a photograph can.
10. This sideways view pervades the poems in this first collection. He writes in “Double Exposure,” a poem that begins watching a man rummage in garbage, he writes, “he knows he is just in time to witness the art / by which he becomes the eater of trash / the user of refuse one of the lucky ones / and his only response is the leaden impassivity of his face / this accident he knows / but he is unaware of the accident of double exposure / whereby suddenly he is standing in a radiant field / that stretches for days / to reach some steeply-wooded mountains.”
11. In the end these poems evoke the impenetrable, unspeakable moments that cause the present. Thompson’s task – to speak the unspeakable – is impossible, but this task is met with a worthy eloquence. He writes in “Thresholds”, “the story of ascending smoke which is his story / a story in which he does not exist / a story in which the photographer of the photographer does not exist / a story in which the I that writes these lines / does not exist / a story in which the photo fades with the smoking tree / a story in which the story gets in the way / of the story that cannot be told.”
12. Please welcome Jon Thompson.
13. “I have no complaints loud or soft but know // that ceremony gets complicated out past the gates // to the city, in those integers out there it gets // uneven (meaning connected, factual, // chancy & unconnected) // hardly a blessing.”
14. Cecil Giscombe is the author of the poetry collections Here, Giscome Road, Inland, and At Large. His first non-fiction book, Into and Out of Dislocation, is a record of his search in British Columbia, the far far north, for a man who may have been a relative. His second non-fiction book, Traveling Public, is forthcoming from Coffee House Press.
15. “to be at odds w/ nothing in my life / at loggerheads w/ no man or woman / to have no ritual, no quantity of value here / or over there / no gift / at something or for / anyone // but approaching as if from / close in / as if from far away, either one / (visible”
16. He is a professor at Penn State University and organizer of the Mixed Blood Reading series. He has won a Fullbright Scholarship, a fellowship from the NEA, a Pushcart award, and was selected by Adrienne Rich for the Best of American Poetry Anthology.
17. “culture was more than indefinites, it was an archipelago // of colonies, all names / had fled from memory & from the map both, // I saw typescript loose in the air all around our location when we spoke / in the dream, // the sentences disembodied but readable”
18. Born in Dayton, Ohio, he received degrees from SUNY Albany and Cornell. He has ridden his bike close to 70,000 miles in the last 25 years, waded through Penn’s Creek with his bike on his back, and shipped his bike by plane and train into and out of several different countries.
19. “To me, image is any value in the exchange. Pleasure’s accidental. In any event, it’s hard to measure and harder still to memorize, pleasure. Image stands in. To me, voice is that which gets stuck in the head, effected voice, or in between the teeth, the hiss of love.”
20. Cecil is my dear friend, mentor, and poetic compass.
21. “Having wanted to drive out to the edge, right out // to the mutest edge out there, // the mutest edge, the emptiest soundstage, // out to the invisibility there, out // to all that “up” there in Canada that took place up there-- // Giscome, B.C. all unincorporated now up // on the Upper Fraser Rd.”
22. Please welcome Cecil Giscombe.