Chuck Tripi has lived a life of poetry and study since a medical catastrophe suddenly ended his flying career in 1998. After his poem "Crack-Up" was published in HFR's 47th issue, he struck up a correspondence with Managing Editor Beth Staples. His epistolary perspective on writing and the writing life has been so valuable to Beth, she wanted to share some of his notes here. He writes from Sussex County. See all of Chuck's letters here.
I started writing poetry because of David Rosenthal, who won the Weekly Reader poetry contest in 1960 or ‘61 with his poem “Vicious Dog,” a poem so utterly significant and cool I still do it at readings.
And that’s the thing, poetry is cool, and you can take shelter in its eccentricities and social asymmetry; you can find a place in it.
I was in a pretty square business for most of my working life, and found divertissement, for instance, during a sort of extended poetry adolescence, in writing poems on cocktail napkins and setting them on fire, a kind of bar-trick exotica in the workaday world, like darts, maybe, pinball, a little nerdy flirtiness.
How they struck me, then, sitting on my zafu at Zen Mountain Monastery in another iteration of my life to come, these words of the abbot there, John Daido Loori Roshi:
I see your little half-smiles, the way you walk around here zombie-like, a thousand miles away from it, wake-up! Enlightenment is hard—you need to practice like your hair is on fire. Go deeper!
It’s hard to give up on a poem; it’s hard not to give up on a poem. Pictures of cake do not satisfy hunger—pictures of cake do. Poetry requires ease, poetry requires struggle; it’s pleasure and work, it’s going deeper.
Vicious dog, you squint
From behind a high lacy fence on Hudson Street,
And the moon is a pale bowl of exhaustion.
Your eyes glint with a wan, listless albumin.
What is meant by your muscular, angry pose?
In the liquid night, someone is playing Bach on a trumpet.
Hysterical at two cops passing your square domain:
You’re a million years too late.
— David Rosenthal, 1960