Poems for Just a Few Children

I read two short books this morning. One is very short: Frank J. Anderson’s Birds on My Mind. Anderson, the proprietor of Kitemaug Press in Spartenburg, South Carolina, did the woodcuts, the typesetting, and the printing, “on a 5×8 Pearl treadle press.” He printed fifty copies, of which I now own number 23. This example didn’t scan clearly, so the text is below.

Pajaro Raro

You’re a rare old bird. Where did I find you?
I’ve got your name (but without data) on my Audobon life list.
Was it a meadow, moor, or jungle where I found you?
Do you whistle, trill or screech?
Do you exist, or did I find you in the bottom of a bottle?

Between the hardback, handmade covers are exactly seven poems. Is this too few to justify making a book? Not at all. Consider, for example, Avraham Ben Yitzhak. Among the first and most influential poets to write in modern Hebrew, his entire published output adds up to eleven poems, which have been collected along with much serious commentary in a book larger than it should be.

A poet who has written seven poems! A painter who has finished seven paintings! An architect who has built seven homes (one of these a treehouse, say). Let us praise those who begin and those who finish.

And let us praise them for adding to, rather than drawing from, what exists in the world. Here I take a cue from Peter Lunenfeld’s book, The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading. Lunenfeld argues that we must struggle against technology’s propensity to suppress active creativity in favor of passive absorption. Published in 2011, Lunenfeld’s essay appeared just a couple of years before the phrase “binge watching” became widespread.

Lunenfeld’s manifesto urges us all to write, to perform, to build. And that’s what Frank Anderson was doing back in 1971. His seven little poems, intended for no more than friends and family, are like berries grown in a backyard plot. They taste better because they’re made by a neighbor’s mind, eye, hand, and skill.

May Frank Anderson’s birds fly over all that each of us do.

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