I need a Ghost-Companion, seventh on Andrei Codrescu‘s list of ten tools of poetry in The Poetry Lesson. As the narrator explains to his “Introduction to Poetry Class”:
[A Ghost-Companion] is a poet, dead or alive from this big poetry book, whose last name begins with the same letter as yours. This is a poet that you will study all semester, read deeply, understand well, google till you’re satisfied, and call on when you feel some difficulty. Any difficulty. Your Ghost-Companion will be a great and generous soul, who will come to your aid not just for assignments, but also in other situations that neither you nor I can now imagine.
My needs are different. I don’t plan to write poetry anytime soon. I wrote plenty of adolescent angst-inspired poetry, and was sufficiently mortified to unearth one when clearing out some boxes recently. But I do want to extend my poetry reading beyond my favourites. Discovering Anne Carson’s work last year was thrilling. I need to discover a new poet, a Ghost-Companion.
Who to choose?
I abide by Codrescu’s criteria, the narrator offers me, “Bachmann, Balestrini, Baraka, Beckett, Bei Dao, Bernstein, Berrigan, Blackburn, Brecht, Breton, Burroughs and more Bs than that. An embarrassment of riches.” Tempted by Brecht, scared of Burroughs, I remember spotting a Bei Dao book at the wonderful Nonsuch Book blog. Inspired by a moment’s serendipity I select Bei Dao. I have my Ghost-Companion.
First it’s the wind from home
the father like a bird flying
over a river of drowsy haze
suddenly changes course
but you’re already sunk in the fog
supposing memory wakes
like the night sky in an observatory
you clip your fingernails
close the door open the door
friends are hard to recognize
until letters from the old days
completely lose their shadows
at sunset you listen closely
to a new city
built by a string quartet