THE POETRY OF GAR BETHEL
It's raining & in the 40s
but leaves & blossoms are out more & more
everyday. And Ed just left today
for 2 weeks in Key West to lie
in the sun & work on his poetry. He's
been so busy this term that no
responsibilities for awhile will be
All my pansies came
-Spring Church Book Company
...a secret light that must have been studied
for many years before the anxious and disciplined
craftsman could achieve the necessary balance
between courage and skill to stroke the strange
stone and take the one chance he would ever have
to bring that secret to light.
What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it,
Each moment a culmination:
the poetry of Gar Bethel
Gar Bethel is the unofficial poet laureate of the city of Winfield, of Southwestern College, and of the Bridges Conference. He has supported the conference with poetry and readings from its inception. He has for decades supported himself as a poet by doing poet-in-the-schools projects in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Georgia, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Kansas. In conjuction with visual artists, he has exhibited his work in Dallas, Little Rock, Pittsburg, and the Smithsonian Institute. He has also served as a member of several faculties including Oklahoma University, University of Pittsburg, a high school in Maryland, Southwestern College, and the Oklahoma Prison system.
In the poetry that follows, Gar works a bit closer to the bone-literally and figuratively. "The First Step" describes struggle and discovery in the daily effort the speaker undertakes to place one foot in front of the other. As usual in Gar’s work, the result is a fusion of grace, dignity, and grit. Professionals call this “confessional poetry” but always in the poetry the personal and the public unite to transcend simple and simplistic categories.
"A Small Boy, A Mouse, and the Universe" returns us to the poet’s relationship with his young friend, Joseph. The dialogue is about life and death. We are reminded not only of our mortality but also of the origin of wonder and of science in a child’s questions. I recall once asking why John Conway invited a young child to the stage at Nat Friedman’s conference in Albany, New York. I asked the mathematician I was with why Conway thought a child could solve an intricate problem in knot theory. “We never know where solutions will come from,” was the answer. “Children sometimes see things older mathematicians can’t see.”
Joseph appears again in "Four-and-a-Half To Sixty-Four." The way things work is again the subject as the simple acts of a child are transmuted into speculations on time and space, the evocation of the Lascaux Caves in France, and the duo’s satisfaction at the end of a single, shared day of mystery and routine.
I am pleased that we can offer to another conference gathering a small sample of Gar’s poetry. The conference sponsors hope that you too will join with us in discovering in Gar a friend and a colleague.