The Final Edition
Richard Gillman Has the Last Word
By Edward Shanahan
The mail brought a thick envelope the other day from Winslow, Maine, containing a collection of poems by the late Richard Gillman, who died in 2004.
Edited by his wife Karen, the book of poems quickly reignited memories I savor of visiting with Richard in my Florence bookstore during his visits to Northampton, his hometown and where his father Butler and stepmother Marion still lived at the time.
I have written about Richard on downstreet.net previously, in the wake of his death from the ruinous consequences of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Richard and I had a shared interest in newspapers, because when he was a young man he had toiled as an underpaid reporter at the Daily Hampshire Gazette where I later worked as editor for a number of years. And so we spent hours swapping yarns about the local newspaper scene and those who practiced that craft here.
We also had a common interest in books and literature and he enjoyed recalling his personal encounters with such Amherst men of letters as poets Robert Frost and Robert Francis. Richard also had engaged in his own scholarly work, editing the letters of noted poet and translator Rolfe Humphries .
While Richard’s professional life was spent as a college administrator at such institutions as Brandeis University and the State University of New York, his passion was poetry.
He was only 19 years old when in 1948 as associate editor he published a pamphlet entitled “Northampton Poets.” From that time forward, Northampton poet Richard Gillman wrote poetry without cease; his work appeared in countless poetry journals, and a number of other collections of his poems are on my shelves.
One imagines this is Richard’s final work, and, as lovingly edited and published by Karen, it is a credit to his life and his poetical impulses. It is a fine legacy Richard has left.
When the book was in progress, I read the 100-plus pages of poems non-stop and one poem, in particular, which resonated with me for obvious reasons, was the following:
His bicycle chain rubbing
Against his guard,
Every cycle with a clink,
he comes by streetlight,
from capitol after capitol
of the unexpected loss,
tentative triumph here and there.
Small, he seems too small and young
to bear, over his shoulder, in this sea of dark,
a bag that weighs him down
beyond the reach of his understanding
and of a light to read by, who
has never seen one city burn,
one man running, his mind on fire,
or one boy, as very young as himself,
trying to set his sights on a future
which may, Hooray! Be just ahead of him,
whatever it looks like, whatever it means,
however dark and inexplicable.
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