Sunday, April 21, 2013

Albert Huffstickler Green Dedication

The following comes from John Paul Moore: an announcement of the Huff's Corner Dedication with details, including some poems (one by David Jewell and the last known poem by the man himself). Most importantly, John conveys the feel of how loved Huff is and how dedicated the people are who have been determined, over the 11 long years since his death, to make sure that his memory remains in the collective mind. I will be there in spirit and hope to eventually make the pilgrimage myself sometime in the not too distant future.


Huffstickler Green Dedication

 The dedication of Huffstickler Green, honoring the Bard of Hyde Park, Albert Huffstickler (1929-2002), will be 10:30 Saturday morning, May 4.

The Green, already becoming known in the historic Hyde Park and Hancock neighborhoods as Huff's Corner, now freshly landscaped with a low sitting wall, oak trees and crepe myrtles, is on the prominent northeast corner of 38th and Duval, now marked with a temporary banner created by neighbor Mark Fishman.

The spot marks the convergence of the Hyde Park, Hancock and North University neighborhoods, and was created with help of neighbors in all three, working with the City of Austin Public Works Department.

With the enthusiastic participation in both the creation of the Green and the planning of the dedication event, Huff's friends and fellow poets, including an astounding number who Huff directly inspired to become poets themselves, we look forward to sharing and hearing Huff's own words as well as the poems and stories of those whose lives he touched.

Few neighborhoods have their own poet laureate. Kathy Lawrence, who is leading HPNA's dedication effort, reached out to mutual friend and Huff's one-time neighbor David Jewell, who contributed his own poem, "Huff walking to mail a poem,"* to this commemoration, one that aptly captures the image of Huff, the neighbor so many of us knew. And what did Huff think of Hyde Park? In his words, plucked from the seemingly bottomless well of verse that is Huff's legacy, this:
"Whether you are sitting in front of the bakery drinking coffee or walking the evening or standing on your front porch watching the night come in, you’re surrounded by this deep sense of place, of being in a neighborhood, of being spoken to, recognized when you walk down the street, of meeting faces that lack that closed city look that is part of so many areas as crime and distrust grow.  People still recognize and greet each other here and give each other the benefit of the doubt because we’re all part of the neighborhood.  You can’t put a price on that, not in these times."

Albert Huffstickler


*Huff walking to mail a poem

by David Jewell

he walks back and forth to the mailbox
to the store   to the post office
to the coffee shop
and he gets coffee
and he smokes and he
writes and he draws
and he doesn't really know it
or feel it   but
he is a sort of saint
or as much of a saint
as i am likely to meet
because he has no pretensions,
and compassion for everyone. . . .
not smarmy syrupy stupid
he's not afraid to mention it
if someone is acting like an idiot,
but he doesn't really blame them,
he just sort of laughs, and
he writes and he draws and people love him
in a million ways
like he has become everyone's grandfather
like he is an artistic santa claus
and he walks and walks on legs
that look at times
not so sturdy
like he is maybe being helped
by the angels


The Story of Huff's Corner

Albert Huffstickler was a familiar figure in Hyde Park.
It was a short half-block commute from his apartment at 43rd and Avenue H to his favorite table outside Quack's, under the tree that once shaded that little corner by the alley.

We all knew that our neighbor Huff was a poet. If you engaged him, he might write a verse or draw a picture for you on the spot and give it to you. It was only after his death in 2002 that some of us fully realized just how much of a poet he was. In the words of Austin Poetry Society president Elzy Cogswell, Huff was "the Willie Nelson of poetry." He may also have been the most widely published, in hundreds of the little journals and chapbooks published across the world by people more interested in poetry than money.

Just as the sculptor Elisabet Ney a century before him, Huff came to Hyde Park to live out the last days of his life and, like Ney, did some of his best work here.

His late work, written at that table at Quack's, and the others outside Dulce Vita and Julio's, often ponders the intimations of impending mortality.

"Knowing there is only so much time, / I don't rejoice less, but more," Huff wrote in "Don't Ask the Angels How They Fly" on his 69th birthday, in 1996.

In 1997, Huff was honored with a special tribute by the Austin International Poetry Festival and, though some of this recognition was growing among other poets and readers, Huff remained as open and yet self-contained as he had always been, to us, his neighbors.

After his death in 2002, there were more tributes amid the dawning recognition of his unique place among American writers. The Austin Poetry Society continues a tradition that began with Huff at open mikes for poets every fourth Thursday at NewWorld Deli and Huff's poems are often included in the Pecan Press by poetry editor Charlotte Herzele, but except for the mural on the side of Fresh Plus with a button inscribed "Long live Huff" in one corner, there was no other outward memorial to remember our own Hyde Park Poet Laureate.

Later, when Austin Energy awarded "visual mitigation" funds to make up for the towering rust-colored transmission-line posts that run along 38th street, neighbors Wanda Penn and Lindsay Nakashima walked the stretch with Judy Fowler of AE, scouting places where we could plant new trees with the funds. This was in 2006, four years after Huff's death and now seven years ago.

The northeast corner of 38th and Duval presented the best place to plant what will one day be grand trees, unthreatened by overhead wires. Better, this was city property, the remains of a single house lot that had been condemned to make room for a left-turn lane for westbound 38th Street traffic to turn south on Duval, toward the University of Texas.

They say success has many fathers and many neighbors contributed to the creation of this little green space in Huff's honor. These include Judy Fowler of Austin Energy, who on her last day before retiring, saw to the transfer of the mitigation funds to an account established for the Green; Huff's friend and neighbor, the late Joel Cryer, who recruited his own next door neighbor Michael Biechlin to design the landscape; Mary Ingle of NUNA, our own Wanda Penn and Lisa Harris, who kept the pressure on the city while leading us through the bureaucratic maze; Michael Hirsch and Carolyn Palaima of HNA; John Eastman of City Public Works who brought Biechlin's plans, largely intact, to fruition; and Elzy Cogswell.

Elzy knew both Huff and Margret Hofmann. When the proposal to name the grove of oaks across Cesar Chavez from City Hall for Hofmann, Austin's beloved "Tree Lady," came to the City Council in 2010, the APS members made a convincing case for naming it after Huff, but Elzy graciously assented to Hyde Park's proposal to name our corner for Huff, in the face of sentiment from what he referred to, tongue in cheek, as Austin's "powerful tree lobby."

Cogswell wrote at
our effort was successful, in no small part,"because poets are also tree people."

As Don Wentworth of Issa's Untidy Hut, the Lilliput Review's blog, put it, "...though the tribute is in some ways humble, a tribute it is. "

In the seven years it took to realize this tribute, the corner had become something of an eyesore, an illegal parking lot where refuse containers sat all week, where big dogs left evidence their owners cared too little about this shabby place to pick up after them.

This spring, as the fine new oak trees, crepe myrtles and grass take hold, the low limestone sitting walls will attract those who wish to muse, as Huff did, on the passing of the number 7 bus, the students walking and cycling between homes here and the University, no longer an eyesore but a point of pride for all of us.

What remains is for us to involve all who share our love of Albert Huffstickler and the work he left behind. There is much of Huff's poetry online; the trick is choosing the right words for this memorial. The Lilliput Review (linked above) is a great place to start, but be warned, it can be addictive and there is always another Huff verse to be Googled or stumbled upon, or found in boxes and file cabinets in Hyde Park as many other places.

Appropriately enough, most of the planning for the May 4 dedication that hasn't been conducted online has been accomplished at the tables outside Quack's.
Dian Donnell sat at one of Huff's favorite tables in front of Quack's, and reminisced about her longtime friend. She mentioned the table that had Huff's name on it around the corner at Dolce Vita, where the baristas would delight him by having his coffee ready when he arrived. One of his most available books is entitled Why I Write in Coffee Houses and Diners. It was at these tables that Huff spoke with and came to know so many of us.
Dian, who would go on to found the iconic Vulcan Video, knew few people when she arrived at UT in 1967. Huff was a neighbor on 22nd Street, took his coffee and talked and smoked and wrote in those days in the Chuckwagon in the UT Union.

They became friends and remained so for the rest of Huff's life. What was her strongest, most lasting impression of Huff, after all those years of friendship, 11 years after his death?
Dian replied: "Most people will let you talk and just be waiting for their turn, but Huff really listened."

As so many others, Dian would find pieces, objects, fleeting references to things she had told him among his many verses. She would not be alone in pondering these glimpses, "Was that what I mentioned to him? Was that me?

Elzy Cogswell came to Quack's to share the planning and some of his Huff stories, ones that bear repeating. On a sunny beautiful April day under the new palapas, Elzy counseled no haste to create a permanent memorial marking Huff's Corner, but to let such take shape in the minds and imagination of those who want to create something meaningful, who want to be a part of this.

For her part, Dian Donnell believes that what Huff would most want to last, more than his own name, would be his words, his work.  Dian, Elzy and others had a suggestion, and she recited lines from Huff's last poem, written in the hospital on Sunday, February 24, 2002:

"Tired of being loved,
Tired of being left alone.
Tired of being loved,
Tired of being left alone.
Gonna find myself a place
Where all I feel is at home."

Albert Huffstickler

I, for one, believe Huff would approve, but I also want to hear the thoughts and hearts of others.

John Paul Moore


Sometimes all that
memory can hold is this:
the sound a door makes
opening as someone enters,
closing as someone leaves.
Albert Huffstickler


to saintly eyes
they are bodhisattvas...
cherry blossoms
translated by David G. Lanoue


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Constance said...

All so lovely. Wishing I could be there in the flesh on May 4th, but I will go there soon, I know. Thanks, Don, for posting this.

LoneStarLibrarian said...

Bravo! Great post, great poems. Wish I could be there on May 4, but I will be visiting my mother who is in home hospice care. This was a warm story to read as an antidote to all the violence last week....