Monday, February 12, 2007


Through thrilled and empty space

I recently finished reading Way Out There: Lyrical Essays by Michael Daley (published 2007 by Aequitas, an imprint of Pleasure Boat Studio). I first read the poetry and essays of Michael Daley in the early 1980's, when he was publishing the literary magazine Dalmo'ma, and Empty Bowl, a small press publisher of poetry books, based in Port Townsend, Washington. I've loved his writing since I first read any of it. The essays in Way Out There offer an effective self-portrait of the Daley's long connection with poetry and literature, and his engagement with the human struggle toward an ethical and political life in the world.

A couple of short excerpts here, to suggest a sense of the voice and range of the work in this collection:

Now I was alone. There was wind and the soft brush of dead weed. The scrape of my skates. I went liesurely and slowly, studying how the shape of my shadow lengthened as a man whose arms and feet could bend deliberately and evenly, fluid with care. A man of purpose. I brooded over the image. As a priest that's what I would be, yet the image was appalling. A week ago a girl was skating beside me, laughing in a unique way. Marie, my cousin. At the beginning she said something I've heard only once or twice since, in bars or at parties. We were skating near small clusters of people on the bank, near a building. Someone fell on the ice and they joked to make him feel better. He was tall and wore a flamboyant scarf. His accent from the Deep South would have been enough of an anomaly, but his skates were unusual too--black figure skates, the kind hardly anyone wore; no one at school anyway had anything but hockey skates, stout and scuffed. "What time of year is it?" they asked. He was holding the back of his head. He looked up at the sky with a grimace and said "Yule," at which they all laughed. My cousin took my arm and led me back to skating. She said very seriously, "Tell me a lie." I looked at her, but her face was turned down at the ice. They with a grin to cover what I might have taken as precociousness, she was a girl again: "I'm Al Capone's granddaughter." We both laughed.
That's from the essay "For the One Among Us Who Will Be the First to Die," an account of Daley's (often harrowing) experiences as a student in Roman Catholic seminary for several years during his youth, before ultimately turning away from the priesthood and the church.

And this:
When we came down from the high elevation of the timber industry's clear-cuts and looked for ways to spend money, many of us went to artists to crafted with precious stones, feathers, and junk. I have a peregrine falcon in silver with a garnet for an eye. Once I had a money clip made of Mexican silver the shape of a quetzal bird and snake; such magic shapes required self-regulation. Recognizing a vision of the world, the artist captures those who hear without effort, who excuse no imperfection, who act without self-interest or false humility. Blindness and self-importance trap the fruits of a climate within the lines of real estate. If everything could be seen to be alive, or have a spirit, as James Hillman says, we would live within abundance; everything we exchange, the price we shell out for solitude within sheetrock walls, a vital currency. Land and climate create wealth and nothing else. The very notion of a deed which allows us to do anything we want to our property impoverishes the entitled. Yet ownership is temporal, and mortgages, investment, the credit system itself, the last potlatch. We outdo in spending beyond limits and drive the market beyond its capacity to enrich. Credit is a lifetime of angry giving with embossed gold.
(From the essay
"Climate & Currency.")

Michael Daley and I corresponded by paper mail for a few years during the early 1980's, then dropped out of touch. He recently found me and we've been back in touch recently. It was a great delight when Way Out There showed up in the mail last month.

One of the essays from the collection, "Running on Empty"--chronicling Daley's small press publishing work with Empty Bowl and Dalmo'ma--can be found in its entirety in the Pleasure Boat Studio website, here. Some of his wonderful books of poems are also available (some in limited supply) from Pleasure Boat--click on the link in the first paragraph, above, and then follow the links to their catalog and ordering page

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?