Monday, August 15, 2011

Gary Gildner, Poet - Fictioneer - Memoirist

Gary Gildner
Winside, Nebraska, 1986

Gary Gildner is a nationally esteemed writer.  His debut collection of poems, First Practice, was extraordinary with rare lyric virility... and sure impressed a trainload of young poets, a lot of whom were studying in MFA programs.  Curiously, or not so curiously, Gildner's academic credentials were outside the pretentious grad student creative writing play rooms.  Gildner, athletically gifted, trained to be a sports journalist at Michigan State University... where his pals included poets Dave Kelly and Jim Harrison.

Gildner has published nineteen books of poetry, fiction, memoir, and an anthology of Iowa poets.  Among those works, new Gildner readers might start with:

The Crush (short stories), The Ecco Press, 1983
Blue Like the Heavens: New & Selected Poems,
     University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984
A Week in South Dakota (short stories), Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1987
The Second Bridge (novel), Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1987
The Warsaw Sparks (memoir), University of Iowa Press, 1990
Somewhere Geese Are Flying: New and Selected Stories,
     Michigan State University Press, 2004

Gildner has been the recipent of the National Magazine Award for Fiction, Pushcart Prizes in Fiction and in Non-Fiction, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the William Carlos Williams Poetry Prize, the Theodore Roethke Poetry Prize, and the Iowa Poetry Prize.

He has been a Senior Fulbright Lecturer to Poland and to Czechoslovakia. 

Do they still play baseball in Poland?  Gildner, while on his 1987 Fulbright to Poland, became one of the pioneers of Polish baseball, coaching the brand new Warsaw Sparks.  His memoir at that experience is beautiful, hilarious, insightful, and moving.

Gary Gildner (powder-blue sweat pants and bat)
with his Warsaw Sparks, 1987

I met Gary Gildner in late 1974, thanks to poet Dave Kelly.  A selfless true friend to many writers, Gary is the kind of  guy who, if he's in the car with you on a freeway, and a tire blows... well, Gary will insist on changing the tire. 

He goes to bat for other writers... works to get them published, to gain recognition for them.  Gary has enjoyed more of a mainstream, Literati, Eastern Lit. Establishment Career than I have. A few times he's tried to get me into the good graces of editors of some prominent journals that, gosh, with the exception of work by Gildner and a handful of other writers, published, and still publish, tweed-twit and feminist anal leakage.  He repeatedly, though I did not ask for it, nominated poems of mine for the Pushcart Prize, which is, at bedrock, re-publication of the nominated piece in a perennial series of horridly boring anthologies. Each year, upon receiving Gildner-inspired nomination, for over two damned decades, I was compelled to write savage letters to that pile of dung's chief editor.  All that help aside, I have deeply appreciated Gary's kindness and good will, particularly when he got poems of mine into magazines where my work would never, under common circumstances, never appear. 

Gary is a writer of pure, intense, enduring focus.  No distractions.  If it's not about getting the work done, Gary is disinterested... no silly distractions allowed.  Back in the late 1980's, Gary got a hell of a grand academic gig somewhere.  He gets a lot of those.  At the time he was teaching at Drake University in Des Moines.  Somehow Gary conned his colleagues at Drake into hiring me as his one-semester replacement... and we (girlfriend and kids) got to live in his magnificent house in Des Moines, Iowa.  Gary's home was so large, at least compared to the ranch houses we were used to, that he warned us to keep the temperature in the house no higher than 59-degrees... or our heat bill would bankrupt us.  January and February are rather cold in Des Moines.  At some point during our tenure in his home, Gary returned for a snappy visit.  We had, golly, damaged a few items.  Our young boy, Luke, spilled an entire bottle of India ink on Gary's bed... and stained the high class mattress.  We showed Gary, with apologies, and told him we'd get him a new mattress.  Amazingly, Gary looked down at the enormous black Rorschach, stared for at least a minute, then smiled, That's always been there.  My girlfriend and I looked at each other, our four kids looked at each other, What?   Then we toured his lovely, spacious backyard.  When Gary had decamped in early January for his residency, he left behind three brand new, never-used, spotless (you could cook large animals in them) aluminum garbage cans.  On some days there wasn't anything better than to have a couple brews and go outside and practice my roping skills... and one can was roped many a time... and jerked around by the imaginary saddle horn on my imaginary Des Moines cow pony.  Gary looked it, said, when we told him we would buy a new replacement can, That's the way it's been... think a car hit it on a garbage pick-up day.  No distractions from whatever Gary has on his mind... toward writing.

Gary Gildner and Red Shuttleworth
west of Norfolk, Nebraska, 1983

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