July 25, 2017

Finger and Myers Share Beauty and Inventiveness in New Books

Guest Post

Lou Lipsitz

On August 30, 2016, in Raleigh, Bennett Myers and Bill Finger, long-time members of The Men’s Council, introduced their new books to the community of men’s groups that have supported both of them for many years. The Men’s Council and the Triangle Mankind Project (MKP) sponsored the event, part of a monthly meeting series to provide a venue for men to meet and celebrate camaraderie and connection. Women were invited to this event. About 45 people attended. Lou Lipsitz (shown above), long involved in The Men’s Council, introduced them. A widely published poet, Lou won the 2010 Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry; for more, go to http://www.loulipsitzpoetry.com/. Below is Lou’s introduction and his summary of Bennett and Bill’s presentations.

The evening with Bennett and Bill presenting their books was special. We heard from two men who have been through intense struggles, who have gone deeply along, what Robert Bly calls “the road of ashes, descent and grief.” Such a passage is not done easily or quickly. We know that even as boys, men are often steered away from the path of emotional honesty. Better to be tough than vulnerable. Better to hide our wounds and hope somehow they will heal. Often they do not. We cannot microwave our losses into some quick transformation. Instead, it is more like the work of miners and archeologists – the hard sweaty work of digging and digging, and at the same time, the careful discovery of invaluable artifacts that must be treated with tenderness. Such a passage is not done easily or quickly.

Fortunately, Bill and Bennett were not entirely alone in their journeys, in their struggles to find meaning and to be able to express the sense of joy and connection they have been able to create. I have known each of them for many years. Many of those in the room have been able to count on one another for twenty or more years as we individually came to grips with our roads of ashes. The men’s movement (so-called) that began developing here in the late 1980s gave us the sense of belonging that we needed. It guided us toward greater emotional honesty, releasing us from the stale grip of a rigid masculinity. In terms of Robert Bly’s well-known book, Iron John, I would say that both Bill and Bennett have been able to unlock the Wild Man energy in themselves. They have been able to bring that energy to all of us, sharing their new beauty and inventiveness. I feel this evening, listening to these men, that all of us in this room are what Michael Meade would call “sudden brothers and sisters.”

Bennett read first from his new book of poems, Across Time. His poems were charming, witty, tender and quirky. Bennett’s style is very much his own. He explained that he began writing poetry during a men’s retreat at Brevard, NC in 1991 where a workshop with Coleman Barks (famous translator of Rumi) stimulated his first efforts. He has been writing steadily since. Bennett’s poems included such subjects as visiting an inmate at Central Prison, the “last shade-tree mechanic,” pick-up trucks and their particular “language,” the creation of the world by a cat, how dogs smile as the wind blows their faces, the funeral he wishes to have, a blue table made in New Hampshire (where Bennett and family lived for 11 years) – the exact table being described was present in the room and was displayed to the audience by Bennett’s son Peter. It is not possible to convey in a short commentary the poignant, funny and moving sense Bennett is able to make happen. As in all good poetry, a few words, or lines can suggest vast territories of thought and feeling. Bennett has plans for a second book of poems which he is currently working on and somewhere after that, a third book. The poems are, for the most part, already written. Bennett’s book includes paintings and drawings by his wife, Mary Alice.

After a break for refreshments, the evening resumed with Bill Finger reading from and discussing his new book, The Crane Dance.

Bill described the book as a memoir, covering the period 1988-99; a time when Bill was moving into middle-age and was struggling with issues such as unemployment, life priorities, and depression. Bill discussed the issue of how to construct a memoir; the need to find ways to select which past events were most significant and the idea that the past was “ever morphing” as we come to understand the arc of our lives. Men’s work played a significant role in Bill’s ability to find himself. He related the experience of a canoe trip with his men’s support group. At some point Bill discovered dance (or, more generally, “movement”). It was out of his experiences with Liz Lerman and creative movement groups in Raleigh that he began to develop his own style, related to his own body and what felt suitable for him, a slender, long-armed person; hence, the “crane dance.” He recalled that in the late 1980s the subject of depression became much more widely discussed. William Styron’s memoir Darkness Visible helped to open up the subject and reduce the shame attached to even mentioning it. Many people, including many doctors became convinced that depression was a brain disease and the solution was chemical treatment of the brain – prozac at first and then a host of other anti-depressant drugs. Bill recalled his discomfort with a doctor who saw depression that way. For Bill, the issues were much more complicated. Bill described something of an epiphany he had as he visited the Metropolitan Museum in NYC. He stood in front of a Renoir painting and found himself transported. When he read about the painting, Renoir explained that he was seeking to capture what he called “an everyday eternity.” For Bill that helped to make clearer what he was seeking in his own life: a deeper appreciation of the moment which, in its way, helps set us free.

 

A book signing followed.