I met the poet Louis McKee at the Greyhound Bus Station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, back in July 1987, a full four years before I moved here. The occasion was a weekend reading at Hemingway's Bar, a meeting of small press folk from the Northeast, and at least in part a launching for Lou's chapbook No Matter, published by Harry Calhoun's "Pig in a Poke Press." Many of the clan were gathered; besides Lou, Harry, and myself, there was Lou's traveling buddy, Al Masarik, Lonnie Sherman and Ron Androla from Erie, Cheryl Townsend from Ohio, Pat and Andrea McKinnon from Michigan, John Elsberg, Rich Peabody, and Ken "Zen" Sutherland from the greater DC area and Pittsburgh's own Bart Solarzyck.
It was a bit of a wild, slightly insane weekend. There were many fine poets, Lou being one of the finest of all. Lou was a lyric poet, a romantic, really, a poet of memory and incident, a poet who took narrative verse to the heights that it deserves: revelation. He wrestled with the past, he wrestled with demons, but it was always a clean fight and, at least on paper, he always won. Which was, by way of saying, he admitted he'd lost, came to terms with it, and elevated pain and loss to a thing of great beauty.
He was a big man with a big vision.
Over the years, I published quite a few of his poems, considering that Lou was usually just getting started, hitting his stride, when he got to line 10, which is the cutoff point for Lillie. We reconnected this year, and I received a couple of emails from him that I cherish for their generosity and glorious memories.
There is a broadside issue #21 of Lilliput Review entitled "Angelus" and it is a suite of short poems by Louis McKee. Anyone who would like a copy, just send me a SASE to the Lilliput address (282 Main Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201) and I'll send it along free of charge.
I have a number of books and broadsides of Lou's, including No Matter, Schulylkill County, Marginalia: Poems from the Old Irish, River Architecture, Oranges, and Jamming. In a recent email, Lou told me that, unbeknownst to him, a friend had submitted No Matter to a chapbook reprint contest and, as a result, it was reprinted by Seven Kitchens Press. I've just now discovered that Lou died the day it came out. It appears to be his one of a few of his books currently available and is $7.00 (with $1.50 shipping). It may be purchased at the link in this paragraph. I highly recommend it.
Here are handful of poems from Lou.
When you lie back, your head
tilted like that, your hair
hanging loose, away from your neck,
shaking it out over the grass,
yes, like that,
all of those who have ever loved you
stir, their thoughts cloud
for that moment. The air shivers
with a soft chill like music.
You sing softly under your breath.
In a Yellow State
When I was a boy
I had a puzzle, a map
of the states, forty-eight
plastic pieces that fit
together into a frame,
each piece a different color.
Arizona was yellow.
I remember that tonight
as I address a letter
I hope will find you there
and settle some of the problems
we couldn't work out
face to face in Pennsylvania,
which, by the way, was blue.
What I leave
behind is little
more than the blues
skies, a river moving
so fast or so slow
it seems to be still,
the water tank
shedding its paint
and the town's name
chipped away and backward
in the rearview mirror.
from Lilliput Review, #98
is the haunting
voice of father,
what he didn't say,
how I keep hearing it.
-- for Etheridge Knight
We can never be sure
what might be
on the other side of the door.
So many hours, so many beers,
anything might have happened.
But together we can swell
to the size of ten men, brave men,
and face the cold darkness,
walk into it perfectly
drunk, our heads high, trying
to recall the rhyme
that ended a sonnet or the beginning
of a song not on the jukebox anymore
but standing tall, straight,
arm on arm, and still
among the living, my friend
Finally here's an interview with Lou. In addition, the links to Lou's name in the opening paragraph will give you an overview of Lou and his work with Painted Bride Quarterly and Mad Poets.
Cheers, old friend. You remain now permanently in your most cherished place of all: memory.
bonfires for the dead
sputter and die...
a flood of memories
translated by David G. Lanoue
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Go to the LitRock web site for a list of all 127 songs
Sounds like a great guy. Great poetry for sure. Out of pain comes art.
Indeed, Charles, a great guy and a formidable poet.
Thanks for letting me know, Don, old friend. I am so saddened by Lou's passing and so proud to have published his work in the chapbook No Matter and to have corresponded with him until quite recently. Also, those who follow the link to Pig in a Poke magazine can read some of Lou's recent work -- he was in all three of the issues of the magazine that were published online last year. A great loss for all of us. The poem "A Yellow State" and I believe one of the others that Don featured here are from the chapbook No Matter, originally published on Pig in a Poke Press back in 1987. I encourage everyone to purchase a copy of the reprint now available in Lou's memory. A fitting tribute to a wonderful man and an incredibly talented poet.
Yes, Harry, this is so sad, indeed. The link to the online "Pig in a Poke" archives of recent work by Lou is right here.
I believe Lou loved that chapbook, "No Matter," Harry - any number of the works there appeared in subsequent volume, a tribute to both their lasting quality and your fine editorial eye.
Raising a glass in memory.
I've read some of his poems here and there and remember liking them, though I can't recall which ones they were. "The Past" is very good. Sad to hear of his passing.
Don, so sorry for the grief that goes with the recent string of poet and publishers passing on. We know it's just a life passage and yet it is painful. Our tribes shrink as we age and yet and yet... (thank you Issa). How lucky are we that we have our work/poetry/art to sustain and follow us? Thank you for posting this. I do like the poems you posted and will check out his other work. We all share the early loss.
"When you lie back, your head
tilted like that, your hair...."
The evening they took John on his last admission to the hospital he was so good looking...his flowing white mane ... Louis captured more than his features in this poem. Many thanks. Merrill
Thanks very much, Tom. He is in memory, as we have been talking about so recently.
There are 25 poems posted on Lou's website. Perhaps, you've seen some of these and, if not, enjoy.
Yes, the world of dew is the world of dew ... you are, Issa is, so "right" here. The shared community of thought is very helpful, indeed.
Of thought and word ....
"you sing softly under your breath"
Don, When a poet can capture in his poems what Louis did... there are no words... I am in your debt. Merrill
"this is how we come to elegy, and for a moment..." by Louis McKee from "Empathy"... And for a moment he leads you right to it!
Yes, this is what Lou ... so tender, so said, so elegant.
That gathering in 87 was the only time I met Louis & heard him read. He was passionate about his poetry & had a resonant voice. I've enjoyed his poems over the years.
Bart, yes, that was the only time I ever met Lou also, though we corresponded on and off over the years. Solid poet, good guy.
An excellent tribute, Don. I enjoyed fdeading about the friendship and dedicatkon to poetry that you shared with him.
A tip of the hat to Lou. I'll never forget walking into the Greyhound station downtown, seeing him sitting alone on a bench, waiting.
If I was a sketch artist ...
Apologies for those errors! Am using a phone. Don, your tributes are much gentler than Berryman's. :-)
No apologies necessary, Theresa ...typos are a way of life. Don
I, too, remember meeting Louis for the first time that night. Wild, crazy drunken times into the Pittsburgh night.
I will raise a glass in memory of Louis.
Yes, indeed, Zen - to Lou.
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