Saturday Apr 13

Tony Piccione was, perhaps, as important a mentor to me as anyone, although—as is frequently the case with mentors—his influence doesn’t much show itself in most of my published poetry.  In fact, I had to unlearn his devout adherence to Deep Image poetics, and it took me years.  But I remember his gruff though nurturing way of teaching.  I remember the A- paper that came with a comment: “Er, conclusions are nice, too.  Where’s yours?”  I remember that he’d bring a jug of cheap wine to our evening poetry workshops (some of us, even in those days when the drinking age was 18, were too young to legally drink), insisting that a real poet needed to drink red wine.  I remember his zen-like calmness and impatience with injustice.
Anthony Piccione was born in Sheffield, Alabama, and raised on Long Island.  He died on November 18th, 2001 after a brief battle with cancer.  He is author of four collections of poetry from BOA Editions, Ltd., the publishing house founded by his colleague and friend, A. Poulin, Jr. His first book, Anchor Dragging, was chosen by Archibald MacLeish for BOA's New Poets of America series. His poetry also appeared widely in journals like American Poetry Review, Ohio Review, The Literary Review, Coffee House, and Web del Sol.  He earned a doctorate in English from Ohio University (his thesis was on the poetry and poetics of Robert Bly) and taught at my undergraduate Alma mater, the State University of New York College at Brockport, from 1970 until his retirement in 1995.  In 2000, he founded Upright Hall, a residence retreat for poets on his farm in the hills near Prattsburgh, New York.
One odd thing that I’ve meant to put in a poem is that his ashes were divided between his farm and a family plot near Brockport.  I sometimes think of this, how his ashes may be trying to gather and reassemble in a wondrous homecoming.  Maybe they have.  Maybe this is as great a metaphor for poetry as I’ve heard; isn’t it true that the act of writing a poem is remarkably akin to the striving for wholeness and a sort of metaphysical integrity?  Isn’t it true, when all is said and done, as I near my 52nd birthday, feeling old and tired already, that I anticipate my own ashes, and the smoke, my own growing into a new form that approaches something like completeness?
Anchor Dragging
Falling backward before sleep
the last thing we see
is the tiny lamp
leaping into blackness.
Eyelids close over the universe.
How easily we give ourselves
to its depths.
The particle scientist
is more or less
happy. He has no home.
All his ladders
go straight down
and claim the nameless