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Visiting with George Kalamaras

by Claire Guyton

What inspired “I Make Easy Emptiness” and/or “The Antelope Tree”?

Photo of the antelope tree by my friend, poet Ray Gonzalez, July 2011

I remember well my inspiration for “The Antelope Tree.” I was walking in the early evening on an old gravel road in Colorado a couple years ago when I came upon this pine tree containing the leg bone of what appeared to be a deer. Not five minutes before, I’d seen a lone doe grazing on Sheep Mountain Road. As soon as I saw the discarded leg, I thought, mountain lion. I later heard from my friend, Sue, that sometimes the big cats will cache a bone in a tree. I feared for the deer I’d just seen—any deer—and as I continued my walk this poem began to unfold.

I couldn’t tell if we were one day before or after a full moon. I saw the moon, large, luminous, missing some small speck of itself, so I knew we were very near either its fullness or had just entered its dissolution. This, of course, worked its way into the poem, as that metaphor moved me deeply, especially in relation to both the live and dead deer.

One change I made to the poem’s narrative early on was to make the dead deer an antelope, as I didn’t want the connection to be too close, and, thus, unbelievable.

I normally walk several miles, and, as a result of this poem coming on me at that time, I had to hold each line in my head until I completed my walk. When I got home, I rushed to my desk and got it down, almost verbatim, making a few changes here and there.

Over the months, I saw that more bones were added to the tree. Our friend Sue also said that sometimes people will pick up the discarded leg bones of animals and place them in trees so that pets won’t get hold of them. So whether a big cat actually cached all the bones—or even the original one I saw that night—the place still feels holy to me. I’ve made it a sort of shrine to the slain deer, always pausing each time I pass and focusing on the animals that now “feed” it.

Bootsie, photo by Jim Whitcraft

Tell us about your writing process—either generally or specifically with regard to the birth and development of these poems.

I normally write either in a notebook or at the computer. The process of writing “The Antelope Tree” was different, as I relate above, since I was on a long walk without pen and paper. Normally, though, whether I’m sitting on the sofa scribbling into a notebook or banging on the computer at my desk, Bootsie, our adorable beagle (and before her, our other beagle, Barney), always assists with great, relaxed sleep at my side, and with occasional great, big, calming beagle sighs.

With a new friend....

If you painted this piece, what colors would you use?

If I were to paint this poem, I’d use the color “luminous dusk.” I wouldn’t know whether to find it among other colors, though, alphabetized under the letters L and D or under the phrase just this side of life.

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What books have had the most impact on your writing?

This is a difficult question. Everything I’ve read has had an influence, from the young adult novels I read as a child, like Jim Kjelgaard’s Big Red series about Irish Setters, to mature reading about North and South Pole exploration, books I still devour. I also continuously read a lot of books on science, nature, and animal behavior, as I am always curious about how the world fits together. People are sometimes surprised to see the diversity in my personal library.

But the most important book for me has been Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahansa Yogananda, a most remarkable account of the spiritual quest. And the second most important book is a gathering of poems by my literary hero, César Vallejo—The Complete Posthumous Poetry (translated by Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia). The poems of the great poets of the Chinese T’ang Dynasty have also been highly influential, especially the work of Wang Wei, Tu Fu, Li Po, Han Shan, Li Ho, and Meng Chiao. And how could I possibly not mention Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space or the ancient Hindu scriptures, the Upanishads?


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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

LaRea Slater January 10, 2014 at 8:06 am

George,
Congratulations on being named the Indiana Poet Laureate!
We would like to invite you to the Fourth Annual Barton Rees Pogue Poetry and Arts Festival to be held at various locations in Upland, Indiana, and on Taylor University Campus, on April 11,12. It includes poetry readings, original poetry writing competitions for all ages, poetry interpretive readings and local art exhibits. Karen Kovacik was keynote speaker in 2012 and came to read in 2013. University writing professors, Mark Neely, Ball State, and Dan Bowman, Taylor, both published poets, judged our 2013 festival. Please let me know if you would be interested.
LaRea Slater, 765-661-6990
BRP Festival Director

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