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"Sentence"

Brian Clements Presents a Poem by Morton Marcus

The First Laugh 

The first laugh was God creating the universe. That guffaw is still exploding in all directions, hollowing out and filling the farthest reaches of space.

What could have been so funny? The idea of light and sound after all that darkness and silence? After the eons of brooding and grumbling?

It must have been something bigger than we can imagine, something that elicited more than a cackle, a chortle, a chuckle or giggle, a snicker or titter.

Something say as big as a billion chandeliers of stars, millions of spinning galaxies with super nova popping like flashbulbs inside them.

Or maybe not. Maybe something as small as an ocean or a mountain, a whale or an elephant, or even us.
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About 18 months ago, when Morton Marcus knew that he was terminally ill and was preparing the manuscript for his phenomenal final book, The Dark Figure in the Doorway (White Pine Press), Mort sent me a batch of poems that he wanted to include in Sentence, which he had so generously supported with his work, his money, and his good will. Because I have always admired Mort’s humor, intelligence, humility, and reaching after “something bigger than we can imagine,” it was my pleasure and my honor to be able to include some of Mort’s final work as a tribute to a long and various career, which included not only poems and prose poems (see his excellent Pursuing the Dream Bone from Quale Press) but film criticism and a public radio interview show in California. One of his many guests on that show was Christopher Buckley, who says of Mort:

I was always impressed with his poems, and equally with his writing on poetry—clear, direct, accessible, specific, accurate, historical, all in service of poetry rather than the poet himself—whether in interviews, informal or formal critical evaluation/appreciation. But the great energy and character of the man was the thing. I found that especially evident in the prose poems, but regardless of form, what I always found was a generosity and a wide-ranging embrace of experience of life on the planet.

Near the end, when the diagnosis was bad, but before he was feeling the worst effects, he sat down and wrote up his essay, “My Life with Weldon Kees”, for the anthology in homage to Kees that Christopher Howell and I were editing. He worked hard and consistently and sent me a hard copy with a disc and a note saying he wanted to get this done before he was done—he was dedicated to the work, to contributing to the larger project of poetry. Mort always worked hard, on his own work and on appreciating the work of others. I recall the radio interview I did with Mort for his NPR radio show from Santa Cruz —I was amazed and a little embarrassed that he had invested so much time and attention on my new book, was so supportive. He always made time for you and let you know he was focused on you, something I am sure his students appreciated for over thirty years. Mort had the great character it takes to make great poems. He is missed by many.

Morton Marcus passed away at his home in Santa Cruz in October, 2009.
-- Brian Clements

from the archive; first posted October 3, 2010.


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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly

Radio

I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark


from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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