Originally published in Willow Springs 77
From the author
Notes on “First Publication”
“First Publication” began from a somewhat meta-poetic impulse to write a poem about a bizarre event that began when I, an unpublished poet, sent poems out to The Quarterly in 1990, a journal edited by Gordon Lish for Random House. I submitted there on a lark— a friend of mine had submitted and was astonished by how quickly Lish responded, and as I was about to leave for my annual military duty at Camp Shelby in South Mississippi, I thought a rejection from Lish might at least punctuate the boredom of my Army drills. When I received an unexpected acceptance from Lish, he also sent stamps, requesting more work.
Naturally, I neglected my military duties, hot on the trail of new poems for Gordon Lish. One night, after lights-out in the barracks, I fled to the latrine and sat on the toilet writing until about 3 a.m. when I heard my platoon sergeant summoning everyone to the training field for our annual fitness test, an event I’d completely forgotten, flush as I was with my newfound literary success. After doing my sit-ups and push-ups, I lost consciousness and was rushed to the hospital at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, and that’s where “First Publication” picks up. I wrote most of the poem in one sitting then revised it over a period of weeks, weeding, changing things, changing things back.
Muse Manor and Sergeant Laughter are true details, a case in which experience provided facts so strange that I found myself wanting to tone things down for the sake of believability, an impulse that I was, alas, able to resist.
Music, Food, Booze, Tattoos, Kittens, etc.
I have no tattoos and generally choose coffee over food or alcohol.
I do, however, have a new dog, Tallulah, a one-eyed miniature pinscher / Chihuahua puppy that may well have been a cockatoo in a previous life. She was picked up by the pound after wandering the streets of Tallahassee with her sibling and remained at the shelter when her original owner arrived to retrieve his runaways, opting to leave Tallulah behind because of the eye she was born without. How could a person give a dog such a beautiful name, only to abandon the dog for cosmetic reasons? My wife found Tallulah online and fell in love. “But we already have three dogs,” I protested. Of course, once I saw Tallulah, I was a goner.
Now Tallulah has become the star of the show around here, shadowing our movements, wrecking my day with longing every time I leave the house. She’s tiny, maybe five pounds, and likes to climb up and lick my face, somehow managing to stay there even when I’m walking around, like a cockatoo perched on a pirate’s shoulder.
Maybe it’s the wisdom of blind Tiresias, or the empathy I’ve always felt for Homer’s Cyclops, an underdog if there ever was one, or maybe it’s blind Homer himself, or the abundance of gifted blind musicians, but I’ve always associated blindness, visual deficits of any kind, with a certain brand of seeing that imparts more wisdom than image, more knowing than witnessing.
I wouldn’t want to burden Tallulah with my own associations, but her sweetness is good counsel, and her carefree nature sets the right tone for my days lately. I feel an Ode to Tallulah coming on.
A dog might wish for a better poet, but no poet could wish for a better dog.
About James Kimbrell
James Kimbrell was born in Jackson, Mississippi. He has published two previous volumes of poetry, The Gatehouse Heaven, and My Psychic, and was co-translator of Three Poets of Modern Korea: Yi Sang, Hahm Dong-Seon, and Choi Young-Mi. His work has appeared in magazines such as Poetry, The Cincinnati Review, Ploughshares, Field, The New Guard, and Best American Poetry, 2012. He has been the recipient of the Discovery / The Nation Award, a Whiting Writers’ Award, the Ruth Lilly Fellowship, the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine, and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently resides in Tallahassee where he teaches in the creative writing program at Florida State University.