Last week I went to a memorial reading for poet, novelist and teacher Allen Hoey. Allen died of a heart attack the week before, and this reading, at a library in Newtown, was in fact supposed to be his reading to promote his new selected poems Stricter Means.
Allen was a teacher for many years at Bucks County Community College, which is where I met him in the early 90s when I was an adjunct there teaching composition and intro to lit. Between classes I’d sometimes sit with him in his office, talking about poems, looking over books, listening to recordings (I particularly remember getting excited at his recording of Richard Hugo—for some reason it’s hard to find fellow Hugo fans these days).
Later he contributed to a literary journal I was involved in and read with me at one of the journal’s launch readings. Long after I left teaching Allen and I stayed in touch, mostly via email and later, Facebook, to which we were both addicted.
The event, held in an old, small-town library filled as much with regional historical artifacts as books, was overflowing with celebrants (mourners is not the right word here). Christopher Bursk, Allen’s colleague from BCCC organized and ran the event in which friends and associates read selections of Allen’s poems to a somber but appreciative crowd. I read a poem Allen wrote about an experience with his son when he was a child, an undertaking made more difficult because his now-adult son was sitting 10 feet in front of me.
To say it was a sad event is hardly accurate. Poignant comes closer, but not quite right either. The gathered understood as one the tragedy of the loss, yet I think Allen would recognize that every loss is a tragedy. This one was made more significant by the intensity of his investment into other people and into his work and therefore, into some future.
In Allen’s poem What Persists, a poem about the death of a student, he suggests that what continues after we’ve passed is not our memory so much but what we’ve invested of ourselves in others, almost (though he doesn’t quite say that) as if we intentionally diminish ourselves by our contributions to others. I’m guessing that it’s both a voluntary and involuntary investment, though poets (and other artists) work a bit harder at it than most people.
Anyway, the memorial was the most perfect send off for a poet and teacher. The assembled included teachers, poets, students and friends. There were as many smiles as damp eyes in that library, both at the same time as if the two completed a yin and yang symbol. We read his poems to each other, shared his beautiful contributions, talked and then moved into our own separate evenings. All attendees signed a copy of his latest book as a gift to his family, something to help them remember the magnetism of this man and to ensure something persists.
Here’s a translation of a Georg Trakl poem Allen did in a small collection called Transfigured Autumn. The table is readied…
A Winter Evening
When snow falls against the window,
The evening bell tolls long,
For many the table is readied
And the house well-provided.
Many in their wanderings
Come to the door from dark paths.
The tree of graces blooms golden
With the earth’s cool sap.
Wanderer steps softly within;
Pain has petrified the threshold.
Then in pure brilliance gleams
On the table bread and wine.
I am full of grief, but the sorrow I feel is not for Allen, he is beyond that now, rather it is for myself, being left behind to deal with a void that can never be filled. I take some comfort in knowing that he hasn’t really left, because we are all part of each other, and so he lives on in me as I pass on with him. Another turn of the wheel.
Celebrate his life, therefore, instead of mourning his journey.
Today, for the first time in years, I will sit in my backyard and meditate and listen for him in the rustle of the leaves and the busy buzz of the insects, and feel him in the warmth of the sun on my face.
Not goodbye, Allen, but Good Luck with your journey.
You are truly a Bodhisattva, and I know you are patiently waiting for us to catch up.
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