Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


My photo
Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Saskatchewan, Larry Levis, Walt Whitman, and book plug.

If you have been following Autoliterate, you may have noticed a strong Saskatchewan trope bending our aesthetic. We are fortunate to have a group of Saskatchewan correspondents, all of them with clear eyes, decent cameras, strong senses of composition, passionate aesthetic sensibilities, and a curious admiration for old metal, especially in the shape of trucks. Today we feature  machines from opposite ends of the province--north and south--and from different centuries. 
     But our Saskatchewan thing goes deeper than that.  Politically the province has always been a dynamic place: The Dirty Thirties hit there as hard as anywhere, and Saskatchewan became part of the great North American Dustbowl. Partly in response, Saskathewan elected North America's first social-democrat government, back in 1944. 
                       "Elevators, Woodrow, Sask."   Alex Emond ©2011 

     Autoliterate loves to drive, and prefers empty western roads, big skies, powerful light, and towns you've never heard of. We've mentioned it before, but Hwy 13 across south Saskatchewan, "The Redcoat Trail" is one of our favorite motor trips in the world. Don't do it unless you like huge skies and rolling grassland. And bring along Wallace Stegner's Wolf Willow; also, novelist Sharon Butala's nonfiction picture book, Old Man on His Back, done with photographer Courtney Milne. Butala writes about The Old Man On His Back Prairie and Heritage Conservation Area (OMB)  a 13,OOO-acre grasslands preserve established by the Nature Conservancy in cooperation with a number of partners, among them the land donors, Peter and Sharon Butala.  Make sure you stop at Woodrow, Sask., artist Graeme Patterson's home town, and the inspiration for his Woodrow installation. 
              When we were last there, a few years back, Jack's Cafe in Eastend, Sask was  a wonderful place for breakfast: several notches above average road food. Motoring across this sort of wide-open country, we usually like to pull over at some point, get out, and run a few miles. And we usually pack a picnic lunch to eat by the side of the (empty) road. Love the noise of the wind out there. Which reminds us of a line ("the thin whine of Montana fence wire") in a poem, "Whitman", by Larry Levis, one of the late great American poets (died in 1996, aged 49) and included in his astonishing collection Winter Stars.

   “I say we had better look our nation searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease.” 
-Democratic Vistas

“Look for me under your bootsoles.”

On Long Island, they moved my clapboard house
Across a turnpike, & then felt so guilty they
Named a shopping center after me!

Now that I’m required reading in your high schools,
Teenagers call me a fool.
Now what I sang stops breathing.

And yet
It was only when everyone stopped believing in me
That I began to live again—
First in the thin whine of Montana fence wire,
Then in the transparent, cast-off garments hung
In the windows of the poorest families,
Then in the glad music of Charlie Parker.
At time now,
I even come back t watch you
From the eyes of a taciturn boy at Malibu.
Across the counter at the beach concession stand,
I see you hot dogs, Pepsis, cigarettes-
My blond hair long, greasy, & swept back
In a vain old ducktail, deliciously
Out of style. And no one notices.
Once I even came back as me,
An aging homosexual who the Tilt-a-Whirl
At county fairs, the chilled paint on each gondola
Changing color as it picked up speed,
And a Mardi Gras tattoo on my left shoulder.
A few of you must have seen my photographs,
For when I looked back,
I thought you caught the meaning of my stare:

Still water,

A Kosmos. One of the roughs.

And Charlie Parker’s grave outside Kansas City
Covered with weeds.

Leave me alone.
A father who’s outlived his only child.

To find me now will cost you everything.

               If Autoliterate helps a few more readers discover the work of this American poet--well, we're delighted.
              And now, 2 truck photos. First from our man in South Saskatchewan, Alex Emond of Ponteix, who found this pair of Jimmies near Pennant, Sask.
                                                      photo Alex Emond ©2011

    And from the other end of the province--where the trees and lakes are--Ragnar Robinson of La Ronge just bought this machine--looks like a late 90's GMC?-- for his firewood business. First truck, I believe? Firewood is $220/cord in downeast Maine this year: maple mixed with some birch. I expect a bit cheaper in north Saskatchewan. 
                                                   photo Hilary Johnstone ©2011
Finally, Autoliterate must mention that Peter Behrens' new novel, The O'Briens, is just out in Canada, from House of Anansi Press,  and available at bookstores across the country, or online at or Chapters/Indigo. (Some of our favorite indie Canadian stores: Greenwoods (Edmonton);  McNally Robinson (Winnipeg, Saskatoon); Bolen Books (Victoria);  and Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON.) The US edition (from Pantheon Books) won't be out until March 2012. PB will be book-touring around Canada this summer and fall (see events schedule) and in the US in the spring, and looks forward to meeting Autoliterals along the way.  


1 comment:

  1. Whitman seems more contemporary than ever - believe me when I say it's just as important to remind people of Whitman as to introduce them to Larry Levis these days. Thanks for both poets and the fantastic trucks - when I was a kid, we had International Harvesters that looked suspiciously like those GMCs (for obvious reasons).