"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

11 April 2017


An Alfresco Poem is a tribute, a lingual parallel to a landscape that somehow sets off a response in the writer, the way a certain configuration and light might flag down a painter. From that point, the words, with whatever life of their own you can muster, take over. Conceivable ratios of "information conveyed" to "pleasures of the text" extend from a Chevrolet owner's manual at one extreme, all the way to Mallarme at the other.

But if you think of writing as an offering, what is trustworthy over and over is the fascination with, gratitude for, what a writer notices --t hat they notice at all!--what they value, catch, and are compelled to raise up: a Pollen, in the end, gathered to the would-be Commons.

I've been visiting the southern Appalachians often of late. They are such different mountains than the Rockies: old, wise, wizened, weathered. I crave the deep forests there, "the greatest mesophytic forests on earth", the endless speciation and fruiting bodies. In part I believe it amounts to reconnecting with the eastern part of the continent, the broadleaf terrain I grew up with, imprinted on. 

I've been writing short poems back there that have at least one foot in the Tang. Primary-color, scatter-rhymed stanzas that bring me the same exact pleasure I found in writing poems at eighteen or twenty, with no one looking over my shoulder except perhaps Po Chu-i on occasion. A million trees within eyeshot, cool, secretive streams. But it's a return, certainly, in some ways. Those mountains have great spaces too, but they are softer, homier, with less horizontal suction. It was no accident that, on finishing Magpie Rising and feeling in the mood to do another prose book, I set to work on the Appalachian Sketches, Burnt House to Paw Paw.

Not long ago I made a sortie through the backcountry of West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, saw some new mountain roads. It reinforced recent musings on small-road driving as a form of thought--finding one's way as water finds its. It is not easy making notes at the wheel with the likely possibility of a monster coal truck swinging around the next curve, but I brought home a few short poems.

A portfolio of Great Plains landscape drawings on grocery bag paper titled "Distant Rivers" is in production from a small press in Iowa. I would love to get back to writing stories before long. I've circulated pretty regularly among poetry, essays, and short fiction over the past twenty years, moving on as I grow tired of my own voice in the different genres. Stories are a great pleasure for me, when I can dream them up. Conjuring a small world without Yours Truly much in it.

Merrill Gilfillan

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