Half Drunk Muse Poetry


Review of Klyd Watkins’s 5 Speed by Charles Ries

Well regarded small press editor, publisher and poet, Charles Potts doesn’t publish just anyone. So why did he publish a guy named Klyd Watkins from Nashville, Tennessee? He told me, “I published Klyd Watkins’ 5 Speed because it is poetry that deserves a wider audience and more attention than his work has hitherto received. It has some things in common with the work of other poets I’ve published. For instance the absence of formal requirements other than musicality and pertinence allows the poet to focus on the substance and a style will innately be established. I promote poetry that has intellectual rigor, emotional resonance, and high artistic intent.” Over half the poems in this collection are either about or mention Watkins favorite place for poetic reflection, Radnor Lake, Tennessee. About this Potts notes, “More particularly I have learned the value of re-considering the same location, scene, or set of circumstances, under different or slightly altered conditions, from Klyd Watkins. Different time of day, different season of the year, different frame of mind, yield mutually supporting but distinguishable results, completing the view or poet’s vision.”

Here are two examples of Watkins reflections at Radnor Lake. This a concluding excerpt from his poem “Radnor Lake, Second Observation Deck January 9 2000”: “I think I am thinking this to justify / a description of the maple on the water / because reflection rules / here again today like it did / the time the waves flipped my image and showed me / to the clouds. / Again my horizontal maple’s / gone aggressive—leafless / this time—bobbing on the water. It’s folded / wave whipped shape bounces hard as if / the waves are trying to throw form off the water / into flight / like some kind giant last cousin / to a water spider thrashing to spring free / of maple mambo on the water and rise / into dissipation’s multiplication of light”

And this poem entitled “Radnor Lake, Otter Creek Road February 6 2000”:

They fly so low—the buffle head ducks—
    their shadows race them across the waves
        the speed inverts my eyes
                        and it seems those shadows
cast the whispering wings up off the water
into shallow air instead of the other
way round

I asked Watkins to tell me about his writing process, in particular his reason for spreading copy. He told me, “I like to be free to try any notion that enters my mind. In doing that, I destroy the previous draft, and since a lot of my impulses toward change turn out to be wrong, I need to be able to backtrack. Since word processing files take so little space, virtually none, I save, or “save as,” all the drafts. I’m one of those poets that fights with punctuation. If I’m going for momentum, and often I am, a comma (in verse, not in prose) seems a conflict of interest, but you can’t get rid of all of them. Despite all my revision, I agree that, when the muse is generous, the first thought is the best thought. I definitely write long segments that I know better than to change.” About his spreading copy he says, “Pace is important to me. And when I get to rolling I tend to use complex syntax. I find that with complex syntax I can use very simple diction that works, and plays, really hard. I use lines, partial lines, the sweep of the eye, multiple margins, to control pace, and use pace (or attempt to) to help the reader thru the complex syntax. If the reader is hearing the words inside her mind at the right speed, the sentences may be involved but they are not hard to understand, I hope.” This technique is used well in his exceptional eight page poem entitled “December 31, 1999”. Here is an excerpt from that poem:

Oh indeed there shall be
discoveries   Sure   not because
it’s the millennium   because awe
        at nature yielding her secret’s
        part of what’s
                always there   but
                should scientists
        soon   perhaps among
                        the winking of coincidence
        I hear
                        fascinates some of the now   but
        the acrobatic mimes in scientists minds
will detect
something new   let’s say
                a force or effect
                                counter to entropy   which indicates
the universe may be not winding down after all   that maybe
        the big bang was a big sneeze clearing a breath way

There is a wise, whimsical center to these well crafted poems. It is apparent that Watkins not only has a natural grace for words, but is also well schooled in their use. He told me he received a BA and MA from Vanderbilt in English in the late ‘60’s. I wondered whether he felt his schooling helped or hindered his progress as a writer. “I don’t know for sure. I suppose if I had been completely independent I should have dropped out of college to read and write full time on my own, supporting myself with simple, part time work. I had two sons by the time I was twenty-two and prepared myself to support them. I not only studied, I taught. A decade at a community college in Kentucky. The classroom can be a wonderful place to read poetry. When you have three, five, a dozen, good readers going over a text together—John Dunne or William Carlos Williams or Chaucer—and they all get to putting their insights on the table, and the jocks or whoever may be there only for credit begin to glean that there is really something there of a value so energetic it goes beyond getting a grade, what’s wrong with that? I had to turn down a fellowship to Iowa Writer’s Workshop when I was twenty-four and had three sons. If I had been able to go to Iowa, would I now be even better or even worse?”

These poems exude kindness and compassion—wisdom. I noted that many of his poems are reflections, meditations on life—the moments before our gaze. I suggested that he sounded a bit like a southern philosopher, and he told me, “I am not particularly well read in philosophy (or anything else, except perhaps poetry). It is kind of you to pose that as a neutral statement, even a bit of a compliment possibly. When my friend Hugh Fox states a similar opinion it sounds like an accusation; he says I “turn into a combination of Richard Morris, Kant and St. Thomas Aquinas,” and most of my poet friends hold the aesthetic position that it is incorrect for a poet to be philosophical, a position that is itself either philosophical or unconscious. Since I became aware, as a teenager I guess, that we have the freedom and the duty to craft our own lifestyle, not take it ready made from anyone, I have wanted to be both free and responsible. Perhaps the tension between freedom and responsibility forced me to become somewhat systematically thoughtful.”

This depth of thought and rigor of thought is evident in each poem in 5 Speed. Here is a wonderful example of his ability to take a common moment and raise it to philosophical reflections. It is entitled “June day at the Y”: “All the tanning young mommies // and that’s not even the same / lifeguard / lord there are too many goddesses // and I myself tho I am most surely / a mortal man // that is not all I am, that is not even / what I am. My eyes squint / to climb / sun splashes over the red bathing suit / and phenomenal legs and arms of the lifeguard / knowing in my head there is / something higher something / we climb /inward into something whose / unending beauty / we / in our doomed flesh reflect.”

I want to thank Charles Potts and editors like him who bring us voices like Klyd Watkins. He’s a wonderful writer and southern gentleman whose poetry is precise, lyrical and luminous.

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Paper, 49 Pages
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First published in Mastodon Dentist.

View bio for Charles Ries Published in Spring and Summer 2005

About HDM

Half Drunk Muse was one of the first poetry ezines. It was founded in 1999 and ceased publication in 2006.

Questions/comments? Email samiller@halfdrunkmuse.com.