“. . . some right to be here and that there is value in it . . .”


I'll sell you this tree.

I’ll sell you this tree.

Ron Padgett is my brother’s age. Three years older than I. He writes poetry. His poetry is mostly of the kind that, when I read it, I say to myself (or out loud), I wish I’d said that. I stumbled upon this one early this morning trying to find a poem (a boring poem compared with Padgett’s) of which I could remember one paltry phrase. Yes, this popped up in a Google search—I did not have it in mind. I own two of Padgett’s collections and have read them, but, as anyone can tell you, I don’t remember such things as poems. (I don’t remember my purpose in going to the Kroger up the street was to buy paper towels when I pass the cheese counter and get sidetracked. “Sidetrack” was the name of a gay bar in Cedar Rapids, IA, when I was in graduate school at the University of Iowa thirty miles away. It was a relatively tacky bar in an old warehouse neighborhood built, yes, beside the railroad tracks.)

There is a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Cedar Rapids. I thought there were a couple, but I can’t find them in a Google search. I’ve seen this one because a professor at the University with whom I had something of a fling was into architecture and took all of his boys to see the Grant House. He was a singer and I was young and thin and recently divorced at that time. For one week I thought the singing professor (the professor of singing) was Him, but it turned out not to be so. He probably didn’t like the fact that I was so appallingly “out” and a drunk.

Oh, yes. I was writing about Ron Padgett. His poetry is the kind that almost anyone can relate to except people who think poetry has to have a regular rhythm and a certain rhyme pattern. I first discovered him when I started to read his memoir of Joe Brainard, his childhood friend who was also, I think, a poet—or a painter. Or some such. They were both part of the “New York School,” I think, but I’m not sure about that since I’m not a literary scholar and don’t know how to categorize poets. At any rate, they grew up together, and when Brainerd died of AIDS, Padgett memorialized him a biography. It’s one of those books I bought and started to read but couldn’t get into enough to finish. It actually wasn’t that long ago, or I wouldn’t remember it so clearly. I have about a thousand books like that. Perhaps if I had finished reading more of them, I would be a literary scholar. Who knows?

Joe Brainard loved pansies

Joe Brainard loved pansies

The Memoir of Joe Brainard is apparently one of those books I got rid of in my “great book give-away” last year.

At any rate, when I discovered the Memoir of Joe Brainard, I looked Padgett’s poetry up and bought a volume or two. The one I see on my shelf at the moment is How Long. I think there are some of his poems in the Norton Anthology of Post-Modern American Poetry, which is, of course, at my office helping me to pretend to look like a literary scholar. I guess my pretense has finally caught up with me because, as I may have mentioned in this blog before, SMU is putting me out to pasture at the end of this academic year. Oh well.

When I was in high school, I was a poet. That is, I wrote poetry. I entered one poem in a contest (probably the National Council of Teachers of English). It was called “Swinging Sam’s Sexy Sister,” and it was a direct result, I think, of my having read Ginsberg’s Howl or some other work of some other “beat” poet. The poem came back from the contest without a mark on it except some silly judge had scrawled across the top, “Plagiarized from e.e. cummings?”  Of whom I had never heard. So Mr. Simpson loaned me a collection of cummings’ poetry, and I immediately fell in love with “anyone lived in a pretty how town.” I used to be able to recite it from memory, not because I “understood” it (which I still don’t) but because I think it sounds yummy, scrumptious, lovely, beautiful. cummings is my brother’s favorite poet, which is why I mentioned my brother at the beginning of this writing. And if you believe that, I have pecan tree up on Preston Avenue at the entrance to University Park that I’ll sell you for less than a million dollars.

So now, if you’re still reading, you know perhaps why like Ron Padgett’s poem so much. Because I love the way it sounds, and because I do have “the sense that [I] have some right to be here and that there is value in it” even though I have definitely lost my god(s). My cats aren’t quite as humanoid as Padgett’s dog, but they do get to play with me –on their own terms. The poem:

Lost and Found
by Ron Padgett

Man has lost his gods.
If he loses his dignity,
it’s all over.

I said that.

What did I mean?
First, that the belief
in divinity has almost

By dignity
I meant mutual
self-respect, the sense
that we have some right
to be here and that
there is value in it.
(Values are where
the gods went
when they died.)

My dog Susie doesn’t seem
to have any values, but she does
have Pat and me, gods
she gets to play with and bark at.

About this poem:
“In the pile of miscellaneous papers always on my desk I found a scrap that contained the words in this poem’s epigraph, and I vaguely remembered having scribbled them down. That triggered the poem’s beginning: ‘I said that.’ I liked the unusual idea of quoting oneself in an epigraph. By the way, the corny play on god/dog was unintentional.” ––Ron Padgett

e.e. cummings explained here

e.e. cummings explained here

About Harold Knight
Retired English prof, SMU. Old man. Musician. Passionate about justice, equality, freedom. Therefore, I am a fervent supporter of and advocate for the Palestinian People as they struggle to survive genocide. That also means, of course, I have no use for US 45.

5 Responses to “. . . some right to be here and that there is value in it . . .”

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