Harvey Goldner (1942-2007), known in Seattle as “The Bard of Belltown,” died early the morning of July 4th. He had been diagnosed with cancer in his mouth and tongue. In May he went into the hospital to have a tumor removed from his tongue, and in doing so, the doctors had to remove most of his tongue. The surgery and illness took a great toll on Harvey and he wasn’t able to really recover.
Harvey lived in poverty, a conscious decision, because his “real job” was his poetry and the intellectual pursuits appended to that vocation. On Sundays he drove cab to keep body and soul together. To do this, he said once, he had to transform himself into a R.A.T. The rest of the week he was himself—underground poet, intellectual and curmudgeon who was mapping out the narrow perilous road to immortality on the internet. He was a constant presence at the Seattle Library where he commandeered a computer.
You never heard of Harvey Goldner? Why should you? Harvey was a poet neglectorino in the classic sense, more comfortable with his outsider artist and poet friends than he was with the results of creative writing programs and academia. His poems rise up ghostly clouds—mocking, bitter, surreal—out of this stupid Republicanized America. Lucky for us he grew up in Memphis and remembered the 1950 Memphis dreams that Little Richard, Gandhi, Jimmy Reed and Elvis promised us all. The imagined mythos of his growing up became the river of his poetry.
Harvey grew up with Cinco Puntos co-publisher Bobby Byrd in Memphis, Tennessee. You can read about their friendship and the evolution of his collection of poetry at Bobby’s blog.
Check out this interview with Harvey by Sean Kilpatrick on his blog! You’ll find Harvey’s humor and wit isn’t just confined to his poetry.
Here’s a poem Harvey wrote in memory of his friend Bert Ringold who in his troubled 1970s schizophrenic sadness went home one morning and shot himself dead with his father’s hunting rifle:
The Resurrection of Bert Ringold
There is a time to dig, there is a time
to dig up the dead, a time to cut away
the surface—the sweet green grass
and the pink and white flowers
finicky in the fresh morning breeze.
There is a time to get down, to hack
at the clay with a pick, to lift the
backaching dirt with a rusty shovel,
to lift big rocks—barehanded, fingers
bleeding—a time to chop through the
roots of trees with a Boy Scout hatchet.
Salt sweat stings your eyes and
the air smells bad, dead.
At sunset your pick hits the casket.
The sound is final, dead.
It’s going to be a nightmare in there.
You imagine the worst: bones
smirking through rotten flesh, busy
But you go on anyway
because you can’t turn back.
With a childish prayer and a crowbar
you pry open the lid of the casket.
Inside, a nice surprise: inside there is nothing
but a diamond, a crystal as big
as a Civil War cannonball.
It shines from within, it dazzles your eyes
like late afternoon sunshine blazing
on the Mississippi River, once upon a time
between Memphis and Natchez.
It must be worth millions.
You carry it home in a brown paper sack.
It sits somewhat dull on your desk
while you imagine the things that you’ll buy
as soon as you’ve sold it: a car, a condo,
the Caribbean, a big bunch of girls.
Then the diamond as big as a Civil War cannonball
lights up and sings; it lights up and sings
English folk songs from the Southern Appalachians.
It sings them as sweetly as starlight
and you know in your heart that you’ll keep it
for as long as you possibly can.
Copyright © 2007 by Harvey Goldner. All rights reserved. No part of this poem or book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in case of brief quotations for reviews.
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