To the Point

There comes a time in every epoch when pragmatism simply evolves into extreme acquiescence and surrender to the forces of apathy and do-nothingness, a guarantor of the status quo in all of its easy, democratic criminality--its fortress of greed. You could line up all the pols in the U.S. in a straight row and examine them head to toe and not find a single man or woman capable of admitting, never mind ending, the corruption of their vocation--Buddy Dooley

Friday, October 11, 2013

Act Three

(Coming Oct. 26)

It is fitting that the prelude in Portland author Charles Deemer's new book of poems for RBP is a six-part homage to his last best friend, his rat terrier, Sketch.

Mr. Deemer, 73, is in his seventeenth and final year of teaching screenwriting at Portland State University. He is of that age when most men, and particularly writers, begin to look back to assess what has happened over the course of their lives and careers.

It is then usually, if he is still working, that the writer's utterances begin to flow from a source that in earlier decades could not have been considered, except on those occasions when his contemplation was forced to achieve a literary purpose by answering a fundamental problem of creativity. 

How does a young writer suppose to know anything at all about growing old? 

For a young writer those truths, if they can be called that, are resultant of observation and educated guesswork. The thought of becoming a septuagenarian is an abstraction, something hoped-for perhaps--given all the possible ways a life may end early--even planned-for, but nonetheless it is centered in a condition that can best be described as dreamlike--the imagination unleashed toward survival.

And so we speak of the three stages of a good life well-spent, or the acts in a good drama, for there are ways in which the imagination and reality reflect and mimic each other.  The artist seeks out and delineates those reflections. 

Beginning some two decades ago, Mr. Deemer's focus switched from writing for the stage to screenwriting. The period happened to roughly coincide with his mid-career switch from drinker to abstainer, a calculated decision to live longer in order to complete the body of work that hadn't a chance otherwise--his second act ended and his third commenced with Deemer hospitalized, forced into a reckoning.

He came out with literary guns blazing, remarried, settled down, comported with a number of true friends who have not survived him, and started teaching again--really teaching, developing an analysis of screenplay composition that put him in the academic vanguard.  He'd succeeded by optioning numerous screenplays, some repeatedly, but had never seen one of his works find the screen.  That didn't stop PSU from coming to him with an offer to teach the craft of screenwriting to its students based on his development of one of the first online screenwriting courses in cyberspace.  Industry insiders praised the course and Deemer's approach to screenwriting and the class took off, becoming one of the most popular in PSU's English department.   

Understand that we are speaking here of a prodigious amount of work over a long career, and it has sprawled in varied expressions and forms over the years, but before he began to concentrate on writing for the stage, the Deemer in act one had published short stories and journalism in a variety of publications, from nationally recognized literary magazines to business journals.  His second act, or mid-career, could be said to center on the stage works that gave him regional notoriety, while act three can be loosely regarded as the post-drinking, screenwriting guru phase, which would evolve into the novel-writing and poetry phase of the past decade and the present.

In 2011, the poems that became In My Old Age began to appear at Deemer's online journal, Writing Life II (recently mothballed as Deemer contemplates retirement and "downsizing" his workload).  I approached the writer with an offer I wasn't at all sure he'd be interested in.  Would he be willing to allow me the opportunity to publish them through Round Bend Press, as I sought to expand this platform beyond my own self-published offerings?  Much to my delight, Deemer said yes.

I had one advantage; I'd helped K.C. Bacon bring out Deemer's Ten Sonnets through Bacon's Irvington Press way back in 1994, so I guess the poet believed, at least in part, that I might have something to offer in the way of treating his material with the appropriate care a book of poems deserves.  

Then the author had another idea (he is not short on those).  Would I be interested in his new novel, Sodom, Gomorrah & Jones?   We published SG&J in 2012.  Along with another of the author's best novels, Kerouac's Scroll,  it is among my favorite works by Mr. Deemer.

On Oct. 26, Deemer's 74th birthday, we will publish his fifth book for RBP, A Majority of One, which begins with these Sketch poems. In the third act, before the curtain falls, some important discoveries are made and announced in them, and a career, while not yet over, is certainly given yet another stamp of meaning.  

The Order of the Universe

Tossing and turning in the gray morning,
unable to sleep, not ready to rise,
it is Sketch who jumps on the bed
and decides the day has begun.
I get up without argument,
let him out, and when he returns
I am at one end of the couch,
reading the paper on my Fire.
Sketch jumps up on the other end
and goes back to sleep, which
always makes me smile. This
is our reveille for a new day.

The World According To Sketch

Since I know nothing
about almost everything
I take great pleasure in
understanding the significance
of Sketch's dance at the door
and the dire consequences
if I ignore it.

Letting him out
to do his business
is the closest I come
to finding purpose
in the universe.

Sketch Wins

Often around 3 a.m.
Sketch rattles his collar
to inform me he wants to go out
and when we come back in
we both return to bed.

But sometimes, like this morning,
he'll soon jump onto the bed
and get in my face
as if to say, Hey
I have more to do.

This is Sketch at his best
following his natural energy
a persistent teacher, reminding
me of the first law of existence:
Nature wins.

When Sketch Sleeps

Watching our rat terrier
curled up against a pillow
on a chair in the bedroom
I am overwhelmed by
a sense of stillness, silence,

My species has
made an art form of
disrupting harmony.
Sketch, happily
oblivious, simply gets
comfortable, closes his eyes,
and brings me and
the world the gift
of tranquility.


Since this dog
Kindred spirit
Entered my life,
The world is
Charged with
Humorous comfort


I used to think that writing
is the best thing that I do

until I decided that teaching
is the best thing that I do

but lately I've been thinking
the best thing that I do is

feeding the dog.

What else suggests such
order in the universe?


No comments:

Post a Comment