Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An Extraordinary, Undiscovered Poet

If you love to read wonderful poetry, meet Arthur Mampel
by Charlie Leck
[23 April 2007]

Some nights I awaken in a fright caused by a recurring dream. I’ve dreamt that a great writer has been neglected and passed over and never discovered. Damn! It would be like no one with connections to the big leagues ever seeing Mickey Mantle play, so Mickey just winds down his youth playing town ball. He becomes a drunk and dies too early, but no one ever knows about it. Thousands and thousands who later fell in love with his game – maybe millions – never got to see him play! Can you imagine? Or what if none of Vonnegut’s books ever fell into the correct hands? A great author never gets read.

That’s about to happen in America. A really fine poet is going undiscovered. I sometimes lose sleep over it because I don’t know what to do about it. He’s got hot-shot friends who do know how to ‘market’ someone like this, but they won’t be moved. I paid quite a bit of money a number of years ago to have one of his books printed and published; however, there was never a marketing effort behind it even though I was told there would be.

Arthur Mampel is every bit as good as Billy Collins. He actually writes with a greater sense of the paradoxes and absurdities that exist in the world. He occasionally writes about the simplest of life’s beauty – that which exists closest to him – such as a grandchild.

Sudsy water now awaits
With wind-up frog and rubber duck,
That warm and ready bedtime date
When Claire jumps down, then splashes up,
That time before she goes to bed,
Before her Mommy lays her down,
Before this gentle word is said,
“Goodnight sweet Claire, may dreams abound.”

Mampel is better than Coleman Barks, the writer from Tennessee who has a small but loyal following. Don’t get me wrong, Barks is danged good. It’s just that Mampel is better. I’ve never met a person who has read Mampel’s poem, Come to Me at an Inconvenient Time, who hasn’t gasped at its beauty. A couple of really good contemporary music composers have put the poem to music.

So why does Mampel remain a virtual unknown poet? Why does he have this loyal following of several dozen who eagerly await each of his poems? Why aren’t hundreds of thousands awaiting his work? Do such important things come down to marketing? Mampel has no connections to a major, significant university. He certainly has a strong circle of friends who are leaders in the arts, however. That’s not good enough, I guess.

I’ve tried! Marketing poetry isn’t any easy task. Sometimes I awaken at night soaked in my own sweat, worrying about it and how I’ve failed. How can such a good poet slip away unnoticed and unacclaimed? One of the essential problems is that Mampel has no single ounce of desire to market himself. Somehow it doesn’t fit into or within the life of a real poet.

Thousands of copies of Ted Kooser’s books have sold. Kooser was National Poet Laureate in 2004. I don’t begrudge him the sales or the honors. I just know that Arthur Mampel is just as good a poet and should have been traveling America doing readings and signing copies of his work. I awake at night, thinking it is my fault!

Recently I read an article by Mampel: The Value of Poetry. It was published at the end of the year in a little intellectual/spiritual rag call Pietisten. Of course, Mampel begins the piece is his usual misplaced humility – claiming that he may not be adequate to the task of accepting the position of Poetry Editor at the Pietisten. [ ]

“How do you convey reality to people by the use of mere words? Well, I for one think we need to keep our speech lean and bare and meaningful – stripped of needless adjectives.”

That’s no different than the advice Mampel had for me 40 years ago as we sat around, sipping coffee and reading each other’s writing. I worked mainly in prose and he produced poetry almost exclusively. Way back then he wrote things that all of those who appreciate poetry should have been reading! Thousands and thousands should have read it. Probably, a hundred or so have!

my blood came to a halt
when it was said of her
that she was frequent
i found her rare
none like her among human variety

not one other dips
the hand to talk with words
or flings the head
to illustrate a mood
just so

This a poem that has left some of its readers stunned by its simple beauty. That’s just the first verse. (This blog won't allow me to space and line it as the poet did!) I wish I could produce the entire work for you here, but I can’t get such permission – or perhaps it’s just a marketing ploy on my part to get you to ask about Mampel’s books. I read that poem over coffee – maybe 35 years ago or more – and looked over at the waitress who had just filled my cup. It was of her that Mampel had written. She should have been made famous by these words. Mampel, in words so simple, had captured the mysterious smile of a Mona Lisa.

“When we communicate in a language of surprise, there is life! But when we communicate with clich├ęs and tired language we communicate nothing fresh.” [Arthur Mampel]

Oh, the poetry of Arthur Mampel. It is filled with surprise. It is filled with life! I wish thousands – hundreds of thousands – could read the quiet, sensitive, surprising and bright words by this old man. He writes as young as he ever did! Like he, his writing is still as agile as youth. He writes like a poet who is in great shape, keenly alive and totally in touch.

What can I say to get you to read this wonderful poetry? Perhaps I can quote Saint Francis of Assisi, as Mampel enjoys doing: “Lift up your eyes, my friends, look at the moon!”

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