I can’t make any claims to have known Glenn McKee, or to even have corresponded with him. I’m not even sure who it was that sent us his four MP3s, from the CD, Lester’s Calling, that we’re featuring this week at Rattle.com–it was Dory Hudspeth, a former Rattle contributer herself, who is acting as his literary executor; I don’t remember if she’s a family member of Glenn’s, or a friend. All I know about Glenn McKee is that he appeared more often in Rattle than anyone–twelve poems and an essay, by my count–and that when he passed away from cancer in 2004, former editor Stellasue Lee cried. But after reading his poetry, had I known him, I think I would have cried a little, too.
Here’s the last of those twelve poems, which appeared posthumously in issue #23:
My glass regardless of its contents
is full of Now–so full of Now
I can drink my fill without fear
of Now going out of business.
When unable to bend an elbow,
I take my Now through a straw.
One of the important things poetry can do, I think, is to make us more fully appreciate life, both the good and the bad. They remind us what’s worth noticing. This is where Glenn McKee excelled, translating his passion for the moment onto the page. Read this poem and your glass of ice water won’t taste the same.
This weekend I googled Glenn, so I could write a little blurb for his feature. Other than mentions in the back-issues of various literary journals, the most detailed information I could find was an obituary, preserved by the Oberlin High Alumni website. It turns out that he wasn’t only our most frequent contributor–he might also have been our most ideal.
Glenn McKee wasn’t the kind of poet who got an MFA with an assistantship from some university. He didn’t publish a book or list his credits in a CV. He didn’t have a flock of former students or, I assume, make the annual flight to the AWP. Instead, he “engaged in a long and varied work history, including careers as a Unitarian Universalist minister with parishes in both Maine and New Hampshire; as a newspaperman in Massachusetts; and as a human services administrator in Augusta.” It was only upon retirement that he finally focused on his “first and last love.”
I would never want to claim that poets shouldn’t be career poets, or that the best poets appear, somehow, outside of academia. The truth is, most of the great contemporary poets are professors–if you love poetry that much, and our society allows it, why not work in poetry full-time? What I do want to claim, though, and what I think Glenn McKee exemplifies, is that, while most of the great poets these days are professors, they don’t have to be. It doesn’t take a scholar to be moved by the written word, and it doesn’t take a scholar to move others with it. Great poetry is great poetry; it’s mine, it’s ours, it’s yours, it’s Glenn’s.
So here’s a Tuesday morning toast to a poet I wish I could have known. You can listen to Glenn reading four of his poems in our audio archive.