3 posts from Intros to the Collections

Author's Note to 2005 Blog Edition:

This book takes its title from a remark my friend Jeff Monseau made about the punitively lengthy letters I used to airdrop on him; "…characters come out, your haunts and geography."

He and I began writing each other in fall of 1987. If I remember right, it all came about as the result of one depraved night in Boulder when I mistakenly purchased the Collected Letters of Lew Welch—drunkenly mistaking them for a book of poems. Thousand of miles and some stories later, holed up and too broke to hit the road, I was starving for words. I picked up the book of letters, expecting little. Instead, I found the raw transcripts of Welch and his peers learning their chops and eventually even making a durable mark on literature.

I scrawled off an impassioned note to Jeff, saying "quick! Now! We gotta get this all down before we know anything, so there'll be a record of our innocence some day, and a map for others to follow on the road to knowing..." At last count, the total correspondence weighed in at roughly 1,800 pages, typed and single spaced, and I'm sure there's more than enough evidence to damn us both on multiple charges of knowing either too much, too little or too late. But I guess that's all grist for the biographers, now...

Because we never had any stamps and I moved around a lot, the letters got longer and longer until we jokingly referred to them as "novels." A number of these poems had their beginning in those letters, some in a very different form and some almost exactly as they appear here.

Another factor shaping these poems was Stone Circle, a forum for the oral tradition run by poet Terry Wooten. Learning to speak poetry from memory had an enormous effect on my use of language, teaching me how to make music of words and how to hear the music in everyday speech.

There is a place in Michigan
where words still live,
spoken live over a fire
in the center of three great rounds of boulders,
arranged to mark the stars.
Rolling out in echoes,
sometimes magic happens there.

Author's Note to 2004 Blog Edition:

My first published work, 1992. Although the overall series strikes me now as ridiculously ambitious, there are still a lot of good poems here.

12 years have gone by since I wrote this book.

A year ago, I found a copy in a used book store in Grand rapids, MI and thought a moment about how much has changed in the world since then. On the other hand, some things hadn't changed all that much. At the time I wrote this book I was a "wandering poet," throwing my soul around like some kind of trick lassoo that might just snare me the horse of my dreams. And when I found that used book, I was homeless again, but a sculptor this time. Maybe only the dreams had changed.

A year later, I've traded art for land, home and a studio, and I begin to suspect the game can change. Perhaps that soul was a better lassoo than I thought. But what really matters, for the purpose of this intro, is the poems... Have the poems changed with time?

Well, I think the answer is yes and no. I wrote these from a deep core of mythology that I felt would always speak to the people of tomorrow, and I think they've held up pretty well so far. I'm maybe a little embarrassed by the staggering ambition of the book now, but then, what's youth good for anyway if not a blinder to the foolishness of taking on insurmountable tasks? Looking at the work today, there's stuff I'd do differently but I think on the whole there are a lot of good poems here. Skip on down the page and see how you feel.

Author's Note to the 1992 Print Edition

The Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny Suite takes its name from a theory proposed by Ernst Haekel in the 19th century. An anatomist, Haekel believed he had found evidence that individuals passed through all prior stages of evolution in the course of fetal development. The poems are intended as a symphonic fugue for language. There are four movements within the scope of the whole, corresponding to the four major epochs of civilization as I have experienced them: Tribal Nomadic Hunter-Gatherer, Sedentary Agrarian, Iron Age/Industrial Revolution & the current Information Age. Each movement or section examines variations on central themes from a different perspective, making the work similar to a musical fugue.

Poetry began with the delight of the tongue. It was a magic in itself, rooted in invocation and evocation, origin or by-product of our first stab at religion. In all my work I strive to strike what my friend Zeebie calls the "monkey Nerve," the sense of awe and wonder that has dogged our species since its inception. these poems are written to be spoken, incanted; to enchant, bespell, entrance. Their tune is the music of the snake charmer.

John T. Unger poet

I'm best known as an artist and designer. Relaxing makes me tense, so I tend to put in a lot of hours on diverse projects.

Before becoming a visual artist, I spent 15 years as a poet. I studied poetry at Interlochen Arts Academy, Naropa, Stone Circle and on the streets. I performed my work for years at Stone Circle, solo shows, poetry readings, and at Lollapalooza in 1996.

I still write poems, but only if I can make them fit the constraints ofTwitter.

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