Sunday, November 29, 2009

Way of the Wyeths (I)

Like thousands of other kids of the 1940's and '50's, I grew up reading the wonderful black-cloth-and-color-plate editions known as Scribner Illustrated Classics--Treasure Island, Robin Hood, The Last of the Mohicans, Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe, The Black Arrow, and many other familiar titles. Most of the Scribner books were blessed with glorious color illustrations by New Englander N.C. Wyeth. I didn't pay much attention to his name back then--I was just responding to the obvious drama and power of the pictures--but as I got older and became a book collector and then fan of illustration work and visual design, I learned more about Wyeth and his amazing family.

Newell Convers Wyeth was a big man, full of even bigger enthusiasms, for painting and teaching, for Nature and Thoreau, for steady domesticity and a rollicking but directed family life. N.C. and his gentle wife Carolyn settled in Chadds Ford, in the Brandywine River Valley not far from Wilmington, Delaware (where he had studied the art of illustration with late 19th century master Howard Pyle). The Wyeths had five children, and three of them--Henriette, Carolyn and, of course, Andrew--became famous painters themselves, partly as a result of the concentrated tutoring, arts home-schooling, and costumed play-acting they experienced almost daily as children. (Third daughter Ann, a classical music composer, married painter John W. McCoy, and older son Nathaniel became a design engineer with many patents including one for the first plastic bottle intended for water and the like.)

Carrying the story further, all the way into this century in fact, Henriette in 1930 married Western painter Peter Hurd--a student of N.C.'s and older good friend of Andrew--and their youngest son Michael gradually has become a well-known Southwest artist as well as director of the family's Hurd/Wyeth gallery. Similarly, Andy married Betsy James, and their son Jamie's slightly edgy portraits and gently comical paintings of animals and denizen tourists have made him a well-scrutinized success since his late teens. (In 1991, a Wyeth biographer noted that 12 of the 13 surviving grandchildren of N.C. either painted or worked in the arts more generally, but I am choosing to stop with the earlier generation.)

There was a time when Andrew's watercolors and egg tempera paintings--each one a study in painstakingly detailed, beautifully crafted realism, usually with some odd secret backstory, or suggestion of bleak rural menace and barely suppressed violence, but occasionally a sly, unexpected moment of comedy too--made him the most famous illustrative painter in America, positioned a step further along the fine arts spectrum than, say, Norman Rockwell. In the last decade or two, however, while his paintings have ascended into the million-dollar price range, his reputation among critics has declined (again), too much Andy Wyeth publicity irritating their fine minds, I guess. (Fans of figurative art like me wonder why abstracts and weird collages and three-dimensional constructs, all heavily dosed with post-modern irony these days, are routinely valued more highly than illustration skills. I've always subscribed to the notion that one should first learn to draw before abandoning the whole history of art.)

Of the other children, Henriette made a specialty of canny portraits and lush floral still lifes, while Carolyn is still something of a mystery, a fragile, skittish figure who slowly paints haunted, haunting scenes of... whatever she chooses. Ann's quiet husband John McCoy studied with N.C. for a year, then went his own way, focused mostly on the rugged Maine seacoast. And Peter Hurd, following his time with N.C., returned to the Ruidoso area of New Mexico, and eventually persuaded Henriette to make the move too--the only Wyeth to break free of her Eastern roots. The rest of the family continued their annual migration (in terms of place and subject matter both) back and forth between Cushing, Maine and Chadds Ford.

N.C. died relatively young (in 1945), he and a grandson, when a train collided with his car, but he had lived long enough by then to see all five of his artist children or best students beginning to acquire their own individual reputations. (Andy in particular was well on his way to the astonishing fame and financial security--all carefully managed by Betsy--that lasted for 60-some years until his death less than a year ago.) But N.C. had for several decades been torn between the illustration work that maintained the well-to-do life for all, and his poorly stifled impulse to prove himself in the fine arts. He actually painted scores of landscapes and rural or sea scenes over 40 years time. But the world mostly ignored them, and the era of book illustration was ending too. As N.C. slowly became known more as Andrew's father than as the great Golden Age illustrator, some of his comments seemed slightly envious of Andy's painterly skills and burgeoning reputation. (The great indispensable source for such family stories and lore is The Wyeths: The Intimate Correspondence of N.C. Wyeth 1901-1945, 850 pages brilliantly edited by Betsy.)

The years my wife and I had a bookstore overlapped with the latest color-improved reissue of those N.C.-enriched Scribner books, and seeing the powerful color plates reawakened my interest in illustration. We began travelling to book shows and collecting Wyeth editions, gradually expanding to samples of N.C.'s children's work as well.

My wife's first mother-in-law, another Betsy--the first husband died young, as did Sandra's own mother, so Betsy became her replacement "Mom"--lived out on the Mainline west of Philadelphia. When visiting, we made a point of also traveling to the Brandywine Valley, to the Wyeth family sites and museum. We brought back a beautiful print of N.C.'s 1944 painting titled Springhouse, which became our fireplace mantle centerpiece for many years (our island home has springfed water too).

Then a year or two later, our son Michael took an Academy-prep year at the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell. We visited him, of course, and then journeyed west to the Hurd-Wyeth ranch near San Patricio; we stayed at the ranch guesthouse for a night, marveled at the works on display in the gallery, and bought some minor items representing Henriette and Peter. But we also discovered that the nearby John Meigs Gallery was closing and selling off a whole library of books, plus Wyeth-related artworks... so we bought prints personally signed to "Johnny" (Meigs) by Jamie and by John McCoy and books signed by Peter, but the special find was a rare Forties print of a lovely, little-known Maine lobstering scene painted by N.C., in a gorgeous old hand-colored frame. (Re-selling the Meigs books we bought helped pay for those multiple-edition pieces!)

Over the next decade we dealt with the closing of our store, the death of parents, growing grandchildren... life. Collecting was less important. And among the Wyeths, Carolyn passed on in 1994, and Henriette in 1997; Peter Hurd and John McCoy had already died during the preceding decade. Only indomitable Andrew and genial Jamie and the other grand- children carried on.

In 2007 Sandra and I decided we needed to see New England and the fall foliage. Starting from Long Island, we drove up the seacoast as far as Boothbay, Maine. Then, looking for the local sights, we discovered that by accident, without planning, we had come to Wyeth country, sort of the Downeast portion, with the family's "Eight Bells" summer home, the Olson House (where Andrew painted Christina's World), the Wyeth-supported Farnsworth Museum, and other pertinent places all nearby. And so we visited and marveled once again, especially at the museum's show of "Andrew Wyeth at 90." Then, gulping, we convinced ourselves we could afford to buy two more signed prints--one, Andy's peaceful and lovely watercolor Around the Corner; the other, Jamie's strange and slightly eerie work, The Red House.

Since then we have refrained from further madness. Andrew kept painting and then finally died, at age 91, just this past January. The world took notice but didn't seem to mourn all that much. I hope the surviving Wyeths are well and carrying on not only the name, but the astonishing artistic legacy of N.C. and his students and children. It's a cliche but this time true: The world will not see their like again...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Progress On-Air Only

When the campaign "season" began for the 2008 election... (Wait, was that really almost two years earlier, 20-some months before the actual voting?) Well, sometime around then I started listening regularly to "Lefty" Progressive radio--"Air America" and other independent stations--and wound up a fan of Seattle's AM 1090. Now I try to catch a little each day from three of the best "Progressive Talk" folk: Stephanie Miller, Thom Hartmann, and Ed Schultz. But don't imagine them as the jolly, one-for-all "Three Musketeers." I don't know what competitive issues exist, but you aren't likely to hear any one of the three offer praise or promotional support to the other two (though a listener might stumble on an AM 1090 station ad doing just that).

Aided instead by a couple of voice-talent/standup-comic guys, Stephanie Miller, for example, dispenses wild talk and weird humor in the early a.m. "drive-time" slot. Her mile-a-minute program takes some getting used to, but that off-the-wall outrageousness does often make cooking breakfast and driving to work more enjoyable--with pearls of Progressive-politics truth suddenly bobbing up amidst the swine troughs and fart jokes. Though Ms. Miller is a distant cousin of my wife Sandra--both of them raised in upstate New York; yes, we admit to some Batavia-to-Buffalo bias--a more intriguing fact is that she is the daughter of Congressman Bill Miller, who was Barry Goldwater's running mate back in the 1964 Presidential contest. Clearly this particular "nut" fell farther from the family-tree branch!

Thom Hartmann, in contrast, comes across as cocksure; well-spoken and outspoken; a determinedly-Left intellectual who seems to know something useful about almost every development in politics, social justice, economics, history, science, and world affairs. His guests tend to be quite serious, usually with their own agendas or books to promote, but Thom uses his steel-trap memory and razor-sharp debating skills to argue them into submission, or at least a draw--and occasionally to boost a visitor he actually agrees with. One of his few regular guests is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, and one of the last great statesmen at work inside the damned Beltway. (I'd certainly vote Sanders for President... shoot, I'd even happily campaign for him.) Anyway, I'd say one listens to Hartmann to be enlightened rather than simply entertained, as he rails--convincingly--against a do-nothing Congress, "banksters," corporate schmucks, warmongers, tax-cuts for the wealthy, union-busting Republicans, and present-day American-system stupidity in general. As Tom exhorts us at sign-off time, "Democracy begins with you! Get out there... tag, you're it."

Ed Schultz sits somewhere between Cousin Stephanie and, er, Uncle Thom, a suitable spot for an ex-jock, ex-Midwest Conservative. Redhead Ed, "Big Eddie," saw the Liberal light a decade ago when a new love entered his life (wife Wendy is now his producer) and educated him to the downside of American society; and he's been a tireless Progressive convert ever since--an inspirational, "man of the people" spokesman. Schultz shows a hefty profile and cuts a broad swathe as the Left-spectrum counterweight to the man he calls "The Drugster," meaning Rush Limbaugh, voice of the Right Wing crazies. (In a nice irony the two men actually look and even sound a bit alike!) Ed holds to his Midwest roots, operating in part out of Fargo, North Dakota, and he's still a gun-toting hunter and sportsman; but nowadays he broadcasts from New York City and D.C. too, with a one-hour cable television program on MSNBC weekdays in addition to his three-hour radio shift. Schultz's populist proselytizing is focussed on public option/single payer Health Care Reform, union-backed jobs creation, Republican obstructionism, and cheap money now for small businesses rather than Wall Street.

One thing that unites all three radio hosts, willingly or not, and shakes the core foundation beliefs of many Left-leaning citizens these days, is this: what the hell has happened to President Obama's campaign promises for big changes, a new day in Washington and America? It's been almost a year, and he seems less and less an activist and more and more just another charming figurehead hemmed in by corporate power, Congressional resistance, well-funded lobbyists, and the damned military industrial complex. The talkers explore this daily, and Big Ed also recently brought a "town hall" version of his program to Seattle, which my wife and I attended hoping for enlightenment. Like all such events, we were alternately inspired and disenheartened and came away still confused. Is once-decent, hard-working, yes, even capitalist, America just doomed?

No answers here. But before the event I was so revved up that I designed a "Buffalo Nickel" t-shirt, which my older son Glenn produced in an edition of ten. Then I wrote a supporting political statement to flesh out the simple slogan on the shirt. (The statement is reproduced below; our shirt appears up top.)

Meanwhile, may we all find answers and new hope... and if anyone reading this wants a t-shirt, I have several left--proudly Left--that I'm offering at cost!


First the Great Depression, then Republican recessions... and now we're trapped in this Grim Regression, praying for a Progressive President to arise--an F.D.R. full of spirit, a leader burning with the fire of M.L.K. and the hardwood grit of L.B.J., active and involved rather than aloof and above the fray; a scrapper who'll kick ass rather than kiss it, who'll chop the neo-cons and con-man Re-Pubs and publicity-seeking blue-dogs off at the knees.

Over the past 30 years, Reaganomics and misbegotten, corporation-funded administrations have ruined manufacturing, devastated the unions, outsourced the nation, and decimated the middle class. And that's why we voted for real change, not nickel-and-diming!

It's time. No more pharmaceutical liars, and Goldman Sachs cheats, and "the best Congress money can buy." Down with banksters and Wall Streeters and free trade! Up with health care and fair wages and real jobs for real people!

Yes, we backed a brilliant orator who brought us this far, but now we need an arm-twister and do-er. We're liberals and Democrats and independents and Progressives, and we deserve--we DEMAND--a President who stands with us and for us!

LATE DEVELOPMENTS: Evidently I overstated the case regarding rivalry among the talk shows hosts. Ms. Miller has now moved to NYC, creating (as she is wont to say), her "BI... ((long pause)) Coastal show." The move also allows her to appear occasionally on the Ed Schultz TV program. Politics does make strange... er, bedfellows.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Mulligan Overmatched?

In his mixed salad days, collegiate-looking Gerry Mulligan was happy to arrange for small group, concert band, or big band alike, but he was even happier to blow--to haul out his hefty baritone and jam with whomever was on the stand at the moment. This willingness no doubt helped shape his innovative, counterpoint-rich playing (and polyphonic arrangements) and provided additional opportunities to meet and hang, which may in turn have paved the way for the famous series of casual dual meets issued by Verve and other labels, of Mulligan plus... Johnny Hodges... or Stan Getz... or, at other times, Chet Baker, Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Dave Brubeck, et al. The Verve LPs were built around reedsmen, but Mulligan worked closely with pianists, trumpeters, and trombonists too.

I'd like to commend to anyone reading this posting three of those albums as particular diamonds among the many Mulligan gems released over a long career: his diverse encounters, up close and personal, with Ben Webster, Paul Desmond, and--wait for it--Thelonious Monk. The Webster is an acknowledged classic; my Desmond choice more arguable maybe but a personal favorite; and Mulligan Meets Monk, condemned originally by some critics as a fascinating failure, still nonetheless worthy of a listen or three, especially as offered on one Eighties reissue.

The Webster seems to have been one of Mulligan's own favorites, Ben and Gerry (hmm... that's got a familiar ring) a better fit than some other dreamed-up meet-cutes. Over the years the album has been issued in at least three different versions--six tracks on the original LP, then expanded by five more selections for the CD reissue (unused numbers, not alternate takes, approved by the always-demanding Mulligan), and finally in a deluxe two-CD set that adds alternate takes, false starts, studio dialogue, and more, chronologically presenting nearly every note from the month-apart sessions. And being a fly on the wall with these guys--the rhythm section swingers are genius accompanist Jimmy Rowles, walk-the-bass master Leroy Vinnegar, and versatile drum-power Mel Lewis--is worth the few bucks extra.

Besides the necessary technical discussion, there's plenty of comradely banter and audible (albeit X-rated) good humor to be heard, the five sounding like working chums rather than a studio pick-up group. In a 1990 interview Mulligan reinforced that notion, explaining that (1) he'd played with Ben on the classic 1957 TV special The Sound of Jazz; (2) Rowles and Webster kept each other musical company frequently; and (3) some or all of the guys had played together at the Monterey Jazz Festival and Hollywood's Renaissance Club during that late-1959 stretch, even backing up resurgent Jimmy Witherspoon on one jazz-blues LP. As Mulligan stated, "Ben and I were a focused, near-functioning little band."

Working with ex-Ellingtonian Ben the Brute also meant a blues-based direction for the tunes, of course, from Duke's "In a Mellow Tone" to the tenor's own cheery "Blues in B-Flat," allowing Gerry to take the laid-back low end and Ben to blow as gently and breathily as he chose. Webster had already shown--recording with flash-fingers Art Tatum--that he just wouldn't be hurried, holding to his own imperturbable pace. So even the upbeat numbers here like "The Cat Walk" (originally titled "Ben There"), "Sunday," and "Fajista" seem to stroll and linger awhile. And impassioned passages fill slower tunes "Chelsea Bridge" and "Tell Me More" so completely (Webster delivering regally unrushed solos, Mulligan in soft support and frequent counterpoint everywhere) that all five finally choose to walk it off a bit with "Go Home." Though the two-CD outtakes and extra bits don't really add much of significance, they do provide a more-complete record of this memorable historical encounter, expanding to a couple of hours the lucky listener's jazzily genial visit with Ben and Gerry.

An earlier dual meet paired fire-and-ice Gerry with martini-toned Paul Desmond. The few times I heard that late-1957 Verve release left me oddly dissatisfied. (To my uneducated ears it still sounds clever and skillful, but too abstract, lacking warmth.) Yet the artists and their record labels decided a sequel was in order and in 1962, Paul and Gerry met for a series of sessions in New York, the best tracks subsequently issued by RCA as Two of a Mind...

Go figure. I loved it at first listen, and it's been one of my desert-island discs ever since!

The two sax greats and their changing rhythm sections (Connie Kay, Joe Benjamin, Mel Lewis among others) caught lightning in a bottle again and again, with the airy alto and bouncing bari bobbing and weaving and bracing each other telepathically. Granted that the tunes selected called for fresh takes on some warhorse standards ("All the Things You Are," "The Way You Look Tonight," "Out of Nowhere"), but I challenge anyone to name more cheerfully compelling versions. Brubeck's "strange meadowlark" Paul here barn-swallows his way around Gerry (lightly lumbering barn-owl), and the two of them feint and parry and pursue each other over the bars and down the dancing lines to every finish.

Shall I offer another anthropomorphic image? Mulligan supplies a tune he calls "Blight of the Fumble Bee" (well, actually, his fiancee Judy Holliday named it) which is a stinger of a fast blues that jigs and zags and will leave you buzzing. (Enough already!) Whereas Paul's line, "Two of a Mind" is a perfect synonymous phrase for the duo's flowing-counterpoint creativity--not to mention a fine follow-up to the haunting version of "Stardust" that has both soloists tiptoeing around the never-stated melody for eight minutes plus. But "Two of a Mind" retains its own mystery too, the chugging chase of it obscuring source tune and changes even more completely than "Stardust."

The silver lining in all of this disguising and rearranging is six bright and breezy tunes that, taken together, exceed even the liner notes hype: "A classic-to-be collaboration by two of the greatest soloists of modern jazz."

Meanwhile, five years earlier, in the midst of recording his first LP with Desmond, Mulligan also shared studio time with the pianist these days considered the very shuffle-and-step-it spirit of post-bop modern jazz--meaning Thelonious Monk. And the two sessions seemed to become partly a lesson in humility for cock-of-the-walk Gerry, all those odd fingerstrikes and stop-and-start moments occasionally leaving his baritone hung out to dry or fly. But should anyone have expected a miraculous mixing of such water and oil? Did some a&r guy really believe that Mulligan's open-eared Mainstream swing would blend easily with Monk's stubbornly angular conception, his stuttering, mutated Harlem stride?

At any rate, the original Riverside LP offered a half dozen tunes, and a couple of those ("Rhythm-a-Ning," maybe "Straight, No Chaser") sounded a bit tentative or, conversely, overly busy as Gerry tried his dab hand and wieldy sax at Monkish squibs and stabs. Then came the Seventies "twofer" issue (Milestone M-47067) adding several more outtakes--plus a special surprise mentioned below--which allowed fans to catch Monk slyly prodding Gerry to get with the program, gentling him along in "I Mean You" and elsewhere by means of spiky interjections and pointed chords rather than words.

Still and all, Mulligan learned fast; a few run-throughs and he was acquitting himself admirably. "Decidedly" is Gerry's own tune revisiting "Undecided," and after several takes both gents manage that quick-swing stance. And finally Mulligan has no trouble bubbling under old standard "Sweet and Lovely," or drifting and dreaming through "'Round Midnight," his baritone sounding rich and planted sure, the mellow complement of Monk's deep tune.

...which brings us to the unheralded highlight of the twofer reissue--a sidelong tape from April 1957 of Monk alone in the studio developing his definitive version of "'Round Midnight." First recorded back in the early Forties by Cootie Williams, who consequently claimed a piece of the copyright, that lovely ballad had become Monk's signature tune and source of royalties, even in the lean years when he wasn't getting many gigs. But working it up in a longer version for the Thelonious Himself solo album gave Monk the opportunity to add and polish and perfect. We hear all of this as he begins, breaks off, restarts, turns and returns, pushes on again and again, smoothing here, reshaping there, playing the tune several times through before he finally signals he's ready to record for real. But clever Orrin Keepnews had been recording all along, and interested fans get the unexpected treat of hearing Monk woodshed, contemplate, toy, and finally triumph...

Just post a sign, "Genius at Work," and shift focus back to the main business--Thelonious monkeying with Mulligan--and give credit to willing jam-sessioner Gerry for his Irish chutzpah and impervious self-confidence. With Webster and Desmond he came, saw and, like some Jazz-us Caesar, swung his own. With Monk on the other hand, he took the blows and stayed upright, swaying, bruised, but never hitting the canvas.

(Several photos copyright the late, great William Claxton--a couple of them borrowed from Take Five, the fine bio of Paul Desmond by Doug Ramsey of Rifftides)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Robert Sund: Lost Harvest

I live near Seattle, on an island in Puget Sound, the salt body of water--arm of the Pacific Ocean--that sneaks into the middle of Western Washington, bordered by the Cascade Mountains (including Mount Rainier) to the east and the Olympics in the west. As most folks know, the climate tends to be wet, but that also means lots of flowing rivers available year-'round for irrigation and hydroelectric power.

A poet friend of mine named Robert Sund many years ago stated some of those facts more elegantly. (Sund consciously modelled his work and his life on the live-simple, subtly intellectual, boisterous-with-drink poets of ancient China; he studied calligraphy and often wrote his crisp, direct poems out longhand using some trusty ink bottle and favored pen or brush.)

"Ish River"--
like breath,
like mist rising from a hillside.
Duwamish, Snohomish, Stillaguamish, Samish,
Skokomish, Skykomish... all the ish rivers.

I live in the Ish River country
between two mountain ranges where
many rivers
run down to an inland sea.

Robert died several years ago, and his subsequent collected poems volume inherited the title Poems from Ish River Country. We were pals way back in the late Sixties and early Seventies when I was actively writing poetry too. But to make a living I was also writing for King Screen, a company which had won several Emmys and Academy Awards for its documentary movies; since these weren't bringing in much money, the company sought to continue by producing educational films as well.

One of my first suggestions--a film I've carried in my head unproduced for four decades now--was to show something like "a day in the life of the vast and beautiful wheat fields of Eastern Washington during harvest season." Dawn to dusk, the big combines turning, the grain elevators filling, wind rippling the stalks, birds bursting up, dust swirling everywhere, the men at work and at rest, and so on. I knew the dust-filtered light would approximate a whole film shot during Hollywood's beloved "golden time" (that gorgeous, refracted light ahead of sunset), the action and machinery would be powerful, the contrasting peaceful moments equally compelling, and a judicious choice of music and natural sounds would enhance it all. And to add a welcome, unexpected touch, the soundtrack would replace pedantic narration with a selection of poems from Sund's rich and graceful book Bunch Grass, his multi-part account memorializing one such wheat harvest experienced firsthand.

Just the other day I bought a copy of Robert's collected poems at last, and the whole scenario came sweeping back. I had written a solid treatment back then, and his poems enriched the text greatly; the King Screen bosses were interested and tried to make the sale. But no sponsoring company or television network (no PBS back then) or AID agency person would commit any financial backing, so the idea finally died.

In Robert's memory now, I want to quote a few of his brief harvest poems, so calm and precise and easily absorbed, to convey a bit of what we had hoped to present to the world 40 years ago...

Dark leaves lift in light wind.
At dawn, dew
slips away from hidden cloisters in the grass.
Near a bed of lupine
the meadowlark sees his shadow
wakening beside him.
among the lavender blue spires
surely upon the light blossom of wonder,
he tries to remember
but can recall
only part of a song he must have once
known fully,
and he sings again....

First there is silence; then,
farther on,
at the edge of a field,
the riddled song of a cricket. Beyond that,
And still beyond, barely audible,
the hum of a combine
going uphill through rows of wheat.
No wind at all.
The sky is a sailboat,
scarcely moving....

America is a strange man
lying in a wheat field.
are coming in the distance,
gearing down
to take the hill.
will stop them.
Working fourteen hours a day,
three weeks now
without a day's rest, the combine men
are tired, and praying
for rain.
Lying in the wheat,
the strange man
turns over on his side.
In his hand
a clod of dirt

Just outside the elevator
in the hot sun,
you hear
the slow lament of flies.
Listening closely,
you hear also,
just under them--
it might be miles away--
the wind,
and steady.
It's lunchtime in the fields.
Combines are cooling off....

with just enough of a breeze for him to ride it
lazily, a hawk
sails stiff-winged
up the slope of a stubble-covered hill,
so low
he nearly
touches his shadow....

Let these poems be like bunch grass,
in ground winds,
flash floods, and sunlight,
holding together
while one cricket sheltered here
sings his single song....

Sharp lines
soften in the reflected light
as the sun falls lower and lower.
slowly lift the fields.
Coming from somewhere unseen,
a barn swallow shoots up into the bright sky,
dips down into
the shadows, sweeps
back up,
brilliant and sunlit,
in an old, unformulated language
the single word for

My compressed edit can't convey the complexity and simplicity and beauty of Robert's 54 individual harvest poems, nor the rich, golden-time visuals awaiting some camera somewhere in wheat country, from vast fields rippling in the wind, to clattering-machine excitement, to dust-streaked elevator workers collapsed in exhaustion at sunset, to the bird-haunted onset of night, with all the big machines poised for a new day. But perhaps even this much suggests what we had hoped and what some filmmaker still could achieve.

(Both photos of Sund are the work of photographer Mary Randlett.)