May 2008 - Dedication: Reninger
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"Celtic Cross"
Dallas J. Bryant - 2008

PRE-view: an editorial essay
Eve Anthony Hanninen

                            Substitutes for Grief
  A dedication to Tom Reninger (Feb. 27, 1950 – April 22, 2008)

                                            "A poem begins with a lump in the throat;
                                                    a homesickness or a love-sickness.”

                                                                                  ~Robert Frost

        When I came up with the “To Be or Not . . . On Spring Creation, Resurrection, Reincarnation and Nihilism” theme over a year ago, the inspiration was based mainly on seasonal motifs: geneses of spring births and flowerings, romance of “Spring Fever,” variations of religious resurrection, afterlife or lack thereof. Moving beyond simplistic recognitions of these doctrines (as individual aspects) required planting what is known in horticulture as a “wild seed garden” — a handful (or bucketful) of mixed perennial and annual seeds sown with sand to cover a large area, typically with random and natural results. I wanted this wild, spontaneous effect for May’s issue, rather than the formal feel that a singular theme — like a solo floral species in rowed flowerbeds — conveys. And I wanted as much of the entire evolution of life cycles and human perceptions of those cycles to be represented as possible, especially those beliefs (and questions) which went beyond simple acceptance of biological cycles as we presently understand them in science.

        What I couldn’t know last year was that, very near to the end of preparations for this issue, I’d learn that a friend, a poet who’s been a major influence on my perspective of the craft — and so, indirectly, on my writing career — was dying. He died yesterday morning, Earth Day, and as I write this, it strikes me that I am eye to eye with my own beliefs about death and afterlife.

        Besides the practices of poetry and fiction, among the many conversations Tom Reninger and I shared over the past ten years was the discovery of our joint belief in and practice of shamanism. This mystical commonality imbued our relationship with an implicit understanding of one another’s spiritual / philosophical leanings, and made a quiet-but-solid association that interlinked us during times of personal disconnection, as in recent years. This connection assures me we are still united, even — especially now — as the shamanic realms we explored together, emotionally and cerebrally, embrace him.

        Tom expressed his less-than-traditional, spiritual ideas in his poetry on a regular basis. He couldn’t help the manifestations, really, for they were his personality. Inseparable from his outlook on life, on love, on pain, on death: “Let the dead interpret us. / God has no use / for theology” (substitutes for grief). And from one of his poems in the cycle, this coil . . . will end in tears, we hear firsthand of his attempts to break with the boundaries of his physical existence:

                "i am looking for life in the margin.
                my concepts atrophy.
                i am trying to stop being a man.
                i risk like a lunatic."

        He enjoyed, perhaps almost perversely at times, his cryptic poetic dalliances with the subject of his long-term disease, Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma, a rare form of skin cancer. He was also a notorious romantic who wove earthy, hedonistic desires into poems bearing, paradoxically, both worshipful and aweless statements about love and sexuality. Sometimes these poems were addressed passionately to his disease, a cruel and sadistic goddess; other times, the verses were remembrances of, regrets over, or confessions to the many women in his life, past and present, caught in his webs of adoration or rejection. It was hard to know how many of these women existed historically (Tom was mum on this), and how many were fabrications, devices and symbols. From part 4 of the monsters of love:

                "in the end
                what was our breath
                but a prank played
                by the passing time?
                i think only by falling
                was i able to find where
                i belonged."

        Tom had an active, anonymous presence on the internet, usually introducing himself as “Artaud” (named after Antonin Artaud [1896-1948], a French surrealistic poet and playwright famous for his auditory “Theatre of Cruelty,” who’d suffered from lifelong physical and mental illnesses and finally died from intestinal cancer). The many of us online who met and had writing relationships with Tom came to admire and love our contemporary “Artaud.”

        Among these writers is our mutual friend (also a poet and playwright), Ken Whitmore. Ken and Tom both hosted writing forums online. The two often exchanged spirited conversations about poetry, intrigued one another with writing challenges and brought different groups of writers and thinkers together. Indeed, Ken’s humorous but emblematic poem, A Brief History of Western Philosophy, sums the many nights and early mornings Tom and I (and others) spent discussing “poetic meaning” and cryptic symbolism vs. metaphoric imagery:

                “I think
                I have insomnia.”

        And despite my belief in the astral and otherworldly permanence of Tom’s spirited energy, it’s still hard for me to grasp that he’s gone for good from this world. I’d often find myself feeling edgy and somewhat lost when he’d take his periodic dives into social withdrawal while particularly ill or stressed. One time after reemerging into public contact, he wrote me a letter remarking on my temporarily-mentorless condition, pointing out, "You get kind of grumpy when I'm not around."

        Yes, Tom. Yes, I do. I wonder how long I’ll be grumpy this time?

                “when you sleep
                with your back towards me
                i start my dreams
                in a shipwreck.”

                                ~Tom Reninger, from when you search in my eyes

A selection of Tom Reninger’s poems can be found in this issue of The Centrifugal Eye (permissions to publish given by his wife, Connie).

Eve Anthony Hanninen
The Centrifugal Eye

Medieval Device, ca. 1400s

Eve Anthony Hanninen, unwilling to be a one-note song, is happy only when crooning to multi-media symphonies. This American poet, writer, editor, artist and composer resides in a pastoral valley ringed completely by mountains in B.C., Canada. Her observations of how environment impacts human experience results in a poetic style she dubs "psycho-atmospheric."

Recent poems have appeared in Sein und Werden (online), Moondance, Sein und Werden (print), Wicked Alice, Origami Condom, Shit Creek Review, The Barefoot Muse, The HyperTexts, and Mannequin Envy.

Several poems will appear in an anthology edited by Lynn Strongin, Crazed by the Sun (2008); another appeared in Trim: The Mannequin Envy Anthology (2007). New bookjacket illustrations adorn Ellaraine Lockie's Blue Ribbons at the County Fair, and Patrick Carrington's Hard Blessings. Artwork was also contributed to Lana Ayers' Late Blooms Postcard Series.

“Death most resembles a prophet who is without honor in his own land or a poet who is a stranger among his people.”     ~Khalil Gibran

Contemporary Poetry With An Eye Towards Resistance

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