Desert call­ing

Poet John Brandi reads from Into the Dream Maze

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jen­nifer Levin The New Mex­i­can

“The desert has to call you into it. You can­not eas­ily make it your own. If I pick apart the rea­sons for load­ing up an old pickup and mov­ing to New Mex­ico forty-five years ago, log­i­cal ones like want­ing to live where the air is bright and the space wide open, my mind strays,” John Brandi writes in the ti­tle poem of his new book, Into the Dream Maze, pub­lished in a lim­ited edi­tion in De­cem­ber 2015 by the Press at the Palace of the Gov­er­nors. Just 35 copies were printed on a let­ter­press and then Brandi, who is also a painter, hand- col­ored his own sim­ple black-and­white il­lus­tra­tions.

Brandi writes about the nat­u­ral world with in­sight and re­spect. He of­fers more than a recita­tion of places he’s been or a call to honor the en­vi­ron­ment: He con­nects the reader to the ex­te­rior and in­te­rior aspects of his ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence as wit­ness to na­ture. He puts no dis­tance be­tween reader and sub­ject mat­ter, so you are not just read­ing about the crick­ets he heard chirp­ing and the frogs that an­swered back — you are lis­ten­ing with him. The writ­ing is honed and com­pressed, re­vised nu­mer­ous times aloud. “You can’t re­vise silently. The eye will miss what the ear will hear as a mis­take,” Brandi told Pasatiempo. “If there was any­thing that brought the mu­sic down or caused it to sag, it had to be elim­i­nated.”

The land­scapes about which he writes are ren­dered with such in­ti­mate fa­mil­iar­ity it’s as though both the words and the scenery they de­scribe spring from the same place in­side of him. “A cliff edge rises be­fore me, breathes with elec­trons, ebbs with tidal waltz. What’s solid isn’t stone, only a sev­ered win­dow of sky where we find hold. The body is brit­tle air, sun­light, and blood. The uni­verse a frag­ile em­pire dis­solved on the tongue, a pet­ro­glyph carved in min­eral-var­nished stone,” he writes in “Wiji,” about the an­ces­tral Pue­bloan great house and arche­o­log­i­cal site in Chaco Canyon. It’s a poem the press’s cu­ra­tor, Tom Leech, pointed to when telling Pasatiempo about the type­set­ting and print­ing process of Into the Dream

Maze. Plac­ing all those lower-case i’s and j’s in a row and mak­ing it pleas­ing to the eye took some fi­nesse, and plenty of dis­cus­sion with the type­set­ter, J. B. Bryan of Al­bu­querque. “I’ve never printed some­thing like that,” Leech said, ap­pre­cia­tive of the chal­lenge.

The press, also known as the Palace Print Shop and Bindery, is lo­cated off the court­yard at the Palace of the Gov­er­nors. The press prints sev­eral po­etry broad­sides and keep­sakes each year, but it doesn’t com­mit to many full-length books be­cause the work­ing print shop is also a liv­ing his­tory ex­hibit. Peo­ple wan­der in and out all day, and talk­ing to mu­seum vis­i­tors about the his­tory of lit­er­a­ture and print­ing in New Mex­ico is a pri­or­ity for the cu­ra­tor. Leech is in charge of choos­ing book projects that fit the press’s mis­sion, which is to pre­serve the lit­er­ary her­itage of New Mex­ico. He takes such great care with the en­tire process that each pro­ject can take up to five years from start to fin­ish.

“You can’t un­print a book,” he said. “I don’t want to send things out into the world that are full of mis­takes. We do take our time.” When writ­ers come ask­ing about the pos­si­bil­ity of pub­lish­ing a book with the press, he ad­mits, his first an­swer is usu­ally no. “I took this on be­cause John is such a good writer,” he said. De­spite the book’s $400 price tag, all copies of Into the Dream Maze were snapped up within a month by col­lec­tors, mu­se­ums, and univer­si­ties. The fore­word is writ­ten by au­thor John Ni­chols, and each book is a work of art, with ex­quis­ite type­set­ting, hand­made end­pa­pers, and ex­cru­ci­at­ing at­ten­tion to de­tail. The process was a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween sev­eral ar­ti­sans over­seen by Leech. To cel­e­brate the pub­li­ca­tion — and sub­se­quent pop­u­lar­ity — of Brandi’s book, the poet reads from his man­u­script on Sun­day, Jan. 31, at the New Mex­ico His­tory Mu­seum.

Even be­fore he could write, Brandi was record­ing im­pres­sions of his trav­els in na­ture at the be­hest of his par­ents. From the time he was very young, they took him on road trips to nat­u­ral sites all over Cal­i­for­nia, where he grew up. His father, an ac­coun­tant for the Los An­ge­les Ex­am­iner, brought home sheets of un­used newsprint from the print­ing presses, and when­ever

they would re­turn from a trip — to the Mo­jave Desert, Mal­ibu, Catalina Is­land, Yosemite Na­tional Park, or the Sierra Ne­vada Moun­tains, among many other des­ti­na­tions — his father would tell him to draw a pic­ture of some­thing he re­mem­bered about their time away. “It could be walk­ing around the gi­ant se­quoia, look­ing at a tide pool, or col­lect­ing rocks in the desert,” Brandi re­called. His mother taught him to read and write be­fore he started school, and once he had that skill down, she asked him to add a few sen­tences of de­scrip­tion to his draw­ings. He re­turned to this ap­proach as a vol­un­teer with the Peace Corps in the 1960s, in­spired by Mat­suo Basho’s 117th- cen­tury hai­buns, in which a tightly wrought prose para­graph is fol­lowed by a haiku. Th­ese ap­pear iin Basho’s The Nar­row Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches, which were first pub­lished in English around the same time he was set­ting off for two years in the An­des.

“The book awak­ened me to the idea that this could be a lit­er­ary jour­ney, too. My sur­round­ings could in­form my po­etry. It wasn’t pri­mar­ily why I was there, bbut it was hap­pen­ing, and I had a new form to write iin,” he said. “I didn’t have to imitate Basho, but I could imitate the form and get back to that time in my life when my par­ents showed me how to walk in na­ture aand record the things that stood out.”

Each of the 15 po­ems in Into the Dream Maze is in the Ja­panese hai­bun form. In the poem “Bor­rowed Scenery,” he adapts the Ja­panese de­sign con­cept of work­ing what is far away into what is near, such as com­pos­ing two trees in a gar­den around a view of a dis­tant moun­tain, to con­vey the sense of a nev­erend­ing field of vi­sion in New Mex­ico. In Brandi’s ver­sion, wild grasses, prim­rose, and vine-wrapped posts frame the an­cient Tewa vil­lage known as Sa­pawe: Pink-Below-Place. “The gar­den steps slowly up to those ragged hills — buf­falo gourd, chamisa, salt­bush merg­ing with prickly-pear and piñon on their slopes. In turn, the slopes, bright with In­dian paint­brush and flow­er­ing cholla, step down into the fields, through the gate, up to the pur­ple pen­ste­mon at my feet,” he writes.

Brandi has pub­lished more than a dozen books with small presses since the 1960s. He has also op­er­ated his own press, Tooth of Time Books. Though he has stud­ied and writ­ten ex­ten­sively in the haiku and hai­bun forms, Brandi doesn’t con­sider him­self pri­mar­ily a haiku poet. He prefers to let the ex­pe­ri­ence he’s writ­ing about de­ter­mine his form. When talk­ing about his life with Pasatiempo, he re­ferred to it in time­bound sec­tions. His first 10 years in New Mex­ico, he lived with his first wife and two chil­dren in a lit­tle cabin with­out elec­tric­ity in a canyon in Mora. “It was pretty dif­fi­cult on the kids,” he said. His in­come came from teach­ing po­etry in the schools, and res­i­den­cies and lec­tures around the state, which of­ten re­quired him to be away from home for weeks or months at a time. Even­tu­ally, af­ter he and his wife di­vorced, he moved to Cor­rales, where he stayed for 15 years. He mar­ried poet Renée Gre­go­rio dur­ing that time. She had lived north of Taos ear­lier in her life, and “We were both pin­ing for North­ern New Mex­ico, so we moved to El Rito in 2000, or maybe it was 2001,” he said.

He’s been com­ing into Santa Fe reg­u­larly to visit Leech at the Palace Press and to work with a trans­la­tor in the Air­port Road area on a new pro­ject of Masaoka Shiki’s haiku po­etry. “It’s re­ally busy over there,” he said, sound­ing im­pressed by, if some­what sus­pi­cious of, the city’s sprawl. He adds that though he some­times longs for the Cal­i­for­nia coast­line he came from, and vis­its it reg­u­larly, he knows he can never give up his ru­ral high- desert life­style. “I’m too used to the open space, the sky, the chang­ing weather.”

John Brandi, left to right: The Un­reach­able Pin­na­cle; Stum­bling Off Trail; op­po­site page, left to right, A Cer­e­mo­nial Thread; Ar­royos; all ink and wa­ter­color; im­ages cour­tesy The Palace Press

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.