Weekly Poem: Ron Padgett reads ‘Spots’

BY Arts Desk  January 6, 2014 at 1:56 PM EDT

Spots
And so once again
Father Time and said to Mother Nature,
“Mother, put a few more of those brown spots
on him, please,” and so she did,
dutifully and without malice she placed them
here and there
among the others she had left before
as gentle reminders, though if
you’ve ever looked in the mirror
and noticed several there weren’t there
the night before … I lose
my train of thought, it was on Herrengracht
the cobblestones were irregular
for pedestrian feet such as mine
so I kept looking down when I most wanted
to look straight ahead and around.
“The Earth is a cobblestone,”
said Father Time to Mother Nature,
but she made no reply
for she did not like fancy allusions
to her cousin Mother Earth. The kitchen became edgy
for a moment and then it passed,
the edginess, that is
along with the moment: both
were moved along to the area
of Past Experiences and form there
shunted into The Forgotten.But I remember it was my birthday
and my mother is large with me
and her mind is full of ironing
like music you can’t stop hearing in your head,
the music of ironing, and so
me, first a spot, then a boy
with a dog named Spot,
and now a man on whom more spots
are arriving in the night,
when Mother Nature makes her rounds
and Father Time keeps the watch.

Before Ron Padgett read “Spots” during a phone call with Art Beat in December, he called it “another geezer poem.”

“That poem is about becoming an old person and getting liver spots on you. You don’t write those poems when you’re 19. It doesn’t seem like a very interesting subject.”

Padgett recently published his collected poems, works he has written from the age of 19 all the way to his more recent compositions from the last decade. More than 50 years of poems that span a lifetime and, as indicated by “Spots,” the changing interests that come with getting older.

Padgett wrote the poem in a way that he wouldn’t have if he were in another mood, he said. “I put it into this kind of fairy tale-like setting. I have these characters, Father Time and Mother Nature.”

“Spots” is almost an autobiographical poem, both in terms of his life and in terms of his experience composing it.

Starting at the beginning when Padgett reads, “if / you’ve ever looked in the mirror / and noticed several there weren’t there / the night before … I lose / my train of thought, it was on Herrengracht / the cobblestones were irregular”

“Right in the middle, I actually did lose my train of thought writing this and I decided to put that in … I kind of followed what was happening at the moment of composition, even if it meant an interruption to the poem.”

And so, Padgett lands on a large street in Amsterdam, when Father Time makes a pronouncement and brings him back to his original thought.

That’s when we learn some Padgett family history.

“When my mother was nine months pregnant and she got the internal signal that she was ready to have me, she was in fact ironing and she was listening to the radio … Every weekday there was a live 15 min program that was MC-ed and run by great country and western legend, Bob Wills, … That became part of the family lore, when my mother realized she was going to have me, she was at that moment ironing and listening to Bob Wills on the radio.”

Padgett did also have a dog named Spot as a child.

“I didn’t think all this stuff up. It just happened. I wrote this poem; I didn’t change hardly a word from the first draft of this.”

For Padgett, that happens more often when he writes short poems, because, for him, they are easier to write.

“Every once in a while … you can get lucky and come out with something fully formed like Athena springing from Zeus’s head as a full-blown goddess she was perfect, she just — boom — she just popped out. And sometimes poems will do that, they just roll right out and you think well that came out okay and you look at it later and you go, ‘By golly it did come out okay, there is not a word I want to add or subtract from this.’”

Curating the poems for his “Collected Poems” was not as easy. “It’s fairly rare when living poets have their collected poems published. It’s the kind of thing that most poets would die for. It’s such an honor.”

But once Padgett got his a first copy of the book, which he says looked exactly how he wanted it too, he didn’t feel quite as he expected. In fact, he says he found it depressing.

“I looked down on it and I thought, it’s a little cube of paper, and I thought I’ve spent my whole life and little chunk of my soul, let’s call it, working on this project and it comes out to be a little cube of paper that I can hold in one hand. I thought maybe I could have done something a little more productive or helpful to the world.”

Padgett’s wife wouldn’t let those feelings last long. He describes her as his best and most perceptive critic of his work and he attributed snapping out of his depression to her.

“Now I feel good about it. I’m glad I did and I’m glad I got through that little depressed phase and I’m looking forward to writing new things.”

“Spot” is reprinted by permission from Collected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2013). Copyright © 2013 by Ron Padgett.

Photo by John Sarsgard/Coffee House Press

Photo by John Sarsgard/Coffee House Press

Ron Padgett is an American poet, essayist, fiction writer, translator and member of the New York School. The son of a bootlegger, growing up in Tulsa, Okla., Padgett began writing at 13. Since then he attended Columbia University in New York City while also traveling around North America, Eastern Europe and Asia. He is the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship from the America Academy of Arts and Letters, the Shelley Memorial Award from the National Endowment for the Arts and was a 2012 Pulitzer Prize finalist in poetry. His latest book “Collected Poems” is a compilation of his works from 1960-2004 including 11 previous publications and dozens of uncollected poems.