Saturday, August 2, 2008

long post about a book you cant buy...yet

In the fall of 2007, I unearthed a chapbook at Milwaukee’s Renaissance Books. The author, Mike Balisle, a great son of the upper Midwest, channels similarly to BH Fairchild, Ander Monson and Richard Hugo, with stark observation and desperate longing to understand his own place among the “white axes of winter”, middle-of-nowhere taverns and menial labor jobs. His poetry and prose disappeared for twenty-five years and come again, for me, so recently. After I posted the blog in which I publicly lost my mind in adoration, a friend of his, from way back when, from Balisle’s days traveling the Carolinas emailed me:

I read your post on Mike Balisle's Bonesteel with interest and fascination. I knew Mike back in the early 70's in Columbia, South Carolina. We used to hang out together and go fishing while he was studying at University of South Carolina. He moved with his family to Madison Wis. and went to University of Wisconsin, Whitewater to major in forestry. During the summer of 1972 (I think) we traveled together across Canada to the parks above Banf and then down into Montana and Wyoming. We visited his grandparents in Daniel, Wyoming, then looped back to Madison. I don't know any more about what became of him after that, but you might be able to track him through his sister. He is a unique personality.

This person, who may or may not be old man Lebowski (the friend and the actor have the same name), really inspired, what before had been, an unrealistic desire to collect the writings of Mr. Balisle. After months grappling with an acceptable format for an email to the sister, I went ahead:

Hello, Ms. Balisle. I am a student at the University of Wisconsin:Milwaukee and bookseller at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops. I am emailing for what may, to you, be a peculiar reason. Last fall I was rummaging through a box at a local used bookstore and stumbled upon a copy of your brother, Mike Balisle's chapbook, Bonesteel. It quickly became a favorite and I wrote a glowing review of it on our bookstore blog. A strange turn of events came when I recieved an e-mail from a David Huddleston in South Carolina, a man who knew Mike back in the seventies. He had somehow come upon our bookblog. He forwarded me your website and now here I am, sending you this message. Basically, I hope to get in to touch with Mike, so as to inquire about the existence of any other books or writings he may have out there. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

A speedy response:

You have made my day and I hope my brother's. He is alive and well after many years of strife and doing good, and is a substitute teacher. He has many other works, some self published, some published in outdoor magazines, some plagiarized by others along the way. He used to give quite a few readings at various places, and often paid for meals and rides on the road with his poetry books or poem reading. You may not know this but Mike got a Master's Degree in Creative Writing at UW Milwaukee in the late seventies. He graduated from undergrad at UW Steven's Point. I think Bonesteel was related to getting his Master's degree but he could tell you more about that. Right now we are focused on our mother. I am there now, but I'm sure Mike will want to get in touch with you. Thank you for putting this out there and tracking me down. It's good to hear that Dave Huddleston is alive and kicking. He was a good friend to Mike when we lived in South Carolina. Good luck in your work as well.

I really couldn’t believe that these wheels were still turning. I felt I was traveling along “lake-tossed highways” right with Balisle. Come June, my fiancé, the esteemed Dr. Godsave, pulls out of his backpack one of the first issues of the Cream City Review, which he reveals to me contains a poem by Balisle.

Fast forward to July 10th. Sarah Marine strolls into work, prepared for some speed-shelving and picking on Jordan…it really was going to be a great day. Approaching the register, a grinning Carl Hoffman points to a package resting against the counter. Excuse my generic response: OMG. There it is, a large envelope addressed to me, from Mike Balisle. Fan Girl City, my friends. Some squeeling and fast walking to the office and I’m ripping open the package and inside: a small chapbook- “In the Least Populated County of Wyoming”, a photocopied poem “Recycling Tragedy” from Alaska Fisherman’s Journal and charming correspondence between Mike and Gary Snyder, whom he counted among his great influences. Finally, the inscription in the chapbook, a perfect representation of my idea of the man:


Thanks for the kind words upon that there internet…if’n ye boost my literary self-esteem too much I might be dangerous----up until now I reckon I’ve been avoiding “papyrus-razzi”---

Mike Balisle


jordan said...

and you hadn't told me about this yet? shame.

Anonymous said...

Doing a little research on what poets from the early volumes of Cream City Review (Particularly vol. 3 no.1 from Fall, 1977) are still writing, and am charmed by the articles on this lovely littel website. Thanks for sharing this! Caitlin Taylor, poetry student at UW-Milwaukee, 2012

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