THE SOUL OF THE LONE STAR STATE OF TEXAS

 

(travelogue)

 

 

==================================

Stephen Gill

==================================

 

 

The Canada Council sponsored my literary tour to Texas, USA,  in 1990. I was in Austin in October on the invitation of Poetry in the Arts, Inc. and  stayed with Peggy and Major General Edmund Lynch, the founders of this organization.

 

I met Peggy Zuleika Lynch,  a soul of the Lone Star State of Texas, a little before 1990  when she visited New York for her readings. On behalf of  Writer’s  Lifeline, a literary publication,  I invited her to visit Canada.

 

She presented her poetry at several high schools, in a gathering that was arranged for her through  the City of Cornwall, at another gathering   in Ottawa, and before  a group of  writers at the house of Asoka Weerasinghe, a prominent Canadian poet.   People still remember her for her poetic maturity  and the way she presented herself.  I noticed she had the skills to make friends  easily.

 

After meeting her in Cornwall, I planned a special  issue of  Writer’s  Lifeline on  poets of  Texas. Peggy agreed to be its guest editor. I rushed to bring out this special issue to take with me to Texas when I came to know that  the Canada Council  was going to  sponsor my literary tour.  Poems started  pouring in.   Because of the limited space and short time, we decided to select one poem from each poet.  We selected twenty poets.  This special issue was off the press a week before I left for Texas.

 

Peggy sent me a tentative schedule  before she left  for Malta to receive the honor of  Knighthood. The schedule included an autograph party, four  readings, one talk, appearance on a  provincial  radio station and visits  to  historical places. When I  reached Texas, the list began to grow longer. The places where I had literary activities included Austin, Houstin, St. Antonio, Dallas and Galveston.   My stay in Galveston was longer than the other cities, except Austin.  Both cities will remain alive in the cave of my memory.

 

My first impression about Texas was  it is a spot that is bathed in the beauty of nature. Its capital, Austin,  welcomed  me with its clean broad roads covered with tall trees,  houses  covered with greenery,   its soothing  silence, abundance of smiles and an easy-going life.  I found Austin  a city of   impressive university  buildings, colleges, and libraries. There were groups of writers,  poetry contests, talks, seminars and readings. Writers were enthusiastic to meet other writers. Austin had its own publications and book publishers.

 

I  met  poets  who  had been   published  in more than two hundred  publications. An average poet had  appeared in thirty to forty publications. Most of these publications were either local  or  state-wide.  I  also discovered that several US poets who  were known in Canada were not known in Texas. I was surprised to know that it was easy for a published author,  and even for those who appear in  magazines,  to get invited by local groups, libraries and bookstores to present poetry.  There was no help for writers and literary groups. However, educational institutions like universities had extensive means  to promote the arts.   The  literary  life of Texas was an experience for me. Wherever I went, I found life, and that too in abundance. It was  contrary to the literary scene in Canada.

 

Texas was full of small presses. Many of them  had published two or three titles.  Interestingly,  most  of  these  presses  had  produced  attractive books with pleasing covers.  The quality of  poetry differed. Some poems  could be classified   as questionable in quality. However  there was  enough    material for  Texans to be  proud of.

 

It  was to my utter surprise that Texans love spicy  food, unlike Canadians and other Americans. They ate  food that was hotter than an average East Indian  would,  almost at hot as I eat. Their only competitors could be Ethiopians.

 

My first  ever sail in a ship  was here in Texas. Professor John Gorman,  a prominent poet and  teacher of American Literature at the University of Houston, arranged our visit to the launching of  Ellisa.  A handful of  people  were invited for this event on October 28th. Ellisa,  a ship   built over a hundred  years ago,  was  restored by extensive repairs. Complimentary breakfast was served before the ship was set to sail.

 

During the two hour sail, Dr.  Gorman told me  about  the  literary activities in Texas. The ship was anchored at 12:30.  During our drive back to Galveston, Dr.  Gorman told me  about the buildings, which attracted me  vastly. He told me that most of the architecture was  Spanish. The Spanish people   borrowed their designs from the  Arabs during the days of the crusades when  the Arabs ruled Spain. Modern developers  use their own imagination as well.  Many  of the old buildings were Victorian in design.

 

My  visit  to the cottage of   Joyce Hardy   in  Galveston  was  memorable.  The houses  on the bank of  the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston  were  built seven to eight feet above the ground, supported by  pillars that were  about fifteen feet underground. These houses were made with wood.  This  type  of  house provided protection from the floods and hurricanes, which are frequent even now. Most of  these people  still  remember  the great hurricane of the nineties that claimed thousands of lives  as a result of collapsing  houses. Other hurricanes, that  were  almost equally devastating, came in the thirties and   the sixties. The people expect more hurricanes and tornadoes, but less devastation due to the advancement in technology. The houses  are now  structured  to meet    government codes. Moreover, the government keeps  an eye on the impeding dangers. 

 

We reached the cottage of Joyce Hardy around six o clock  in the evening. While enjoying the beauty of  nature,  relaxing on the deck of the cottage,  Peggy suggested  we  try Renga, a Japanese form in which more than one poet participate in  completing a poem. I  looked  for reasons to be excused. Dr. John Gorman wrote three  good lines using 5-7-5 syllable.I  had  never tried this type before.   To come out of that group, I joked that I needed something strong to go inside of me to  get out anything in the form of poetry. My poetry was sailing inside of me on the stream of my blood. I needed a bait to catch those creatures through the rod of my pen. Peggy quickly fixed Chives Regal. Dr. Gorman refused because he had to drive back shortly.  I did not want to participate still.  I used that as a strategy  to divert  the attention of the group to something else. I failed.  Peggy  brought us back to Renga. She gave a try that involved everyone making suggestions for modifications.


 

Before supper, Peggy  started another poetry session. We all read one by one. Joyce read clearly  and  distinctly. Before leaving, Dr.  Gorman invited me to his class of Ph.D. students the next day. They were going to discuss Alice Walker, a black American writer. Dr.  Gorman and I agreed  that the literature produced by new citizens or immigrants enriches the culture  of the country, because it is based on the unique experience of the writer.

 

 After Dr.  Gorman left, Joyce proposed to go out for a ride in her small boat. Once on  the waters, I held to the rope because I was not a swimmer. I knew that  swimmers  are the ones  who   normally drown because those who do not know how to swim would not dare  go into  in the water. Here I was in the Gulf of Mexico without knowing  how to swim. I held to the rope most of the time, fearing a strong  sudden jolt could throw me in the waters.  I  covered my fear by  joking that   it gave me  the feeling of a ride on the back of a horse. This anecdote remained a source  of  laughter  for  everyone  with whom Joyce shared the incident. 

 

It was so good to be in the open waters  while the sun had gone.  I could hear  the  quietness of the waves.   Stars and the  rising  moon  were peeping through their windows from the waves. Cottages were sleeping in silence. A few gulls were sailing either in the clear sky or they were moving from  place to place. The invigorating breeze was  touching me  gently all over.   I thought of the people who lived there breathing fresh air day in and day out,  eating nourishing food from the hands of the mother  sea. They were close to the water that signifies  eternity. They cannot die easily because eternity itself takes care of these people.

 

Next day, Joyce Hardy drove us to  one hundred year old restaurant called Gaido that was  run  by the same family.  Dr. Gorman  joined us  there.  After having snacks,  Dr. Gorman took me to his class at the Galveston campus of the University of Houston.

 

Nearly all the students were teachers in their thirties and forties. They introduced themselves one by one.  They were to discuss Alice Walker=s novel Meridian  that  is about the slaves and the problems of the black  community of the United States. I  compared  my novel Immigrant to Meridian.  Both make their readers aware of the problems of the ethnic groups. I also discussed my novel Why. I pointed out that novelists build parallel worlds to illustrate their own views or philosophy or whatever one may call it.

 

Towards the end, I was asked to read my poems. Students liked    The World of Poetry the most.  I wrote this poem , using   the technique that  Robindernath Tagore  used for  Gitanjali  that helped  him  to win the Nobel Prize. After reading Gitanjali,  I felt  that  I  also could  write poetry like that.  I felt that the poet   made  Gitanjali  a sort of enigma,  by piling images upon images. That is what  The World of Poetry”  does. It is all images. Students  admired this  poem enormously. They decided to discuss my poetry in the next class a week after. With my permission, Dr. John Gorman made enough copies of my new poems for  his students.

 

Peggy and Joyce picked me from the cafeteria of the campus. The rest of the evening  was  spent  discussing poetry, novels and other aspects of writing.  Joyce appeared to be worried  about  having  to select poems from a heap of submissions for a magazine called  Touchstone.  She had to meet   her deadline.  This  is important  to be successful  in any field, including  writing. We went back to Galveston. I passed most of  my  night   writing  my day’s  experiences,   particularly with  Dr. Gorman’s  class.

 

I came back to Austin the next day.  I looked  at Austin, capital of Texas, closely.  It was  different from any city in North America, including the other nations that I have visited.  I am not a student of architecture. Yet, difference is apparent. It seemed to be a combination of Greek, Egyptian, Roman and modern designs.  I came to know that The University of  Texas  was one of  the richest educational  institutions in the United States,  and perhaps  in the world.  Austin  had been  the  home of scholars and artists like Elizabeth Ney and her husband Dr. Edmund D. Montgomery.


 

Richness  was   blessing Texas in its journey,  particularly in the area of poetry. One person who  contributed  to  this richness in  her own ways  was Peggy Lynch. With her  husband, Major General Edmund Lynch,  she was able  to  establish Poetry in the Arts, Inc. in 1983.  Since  then  it  has carved  its name in the niche of  literary circles.  The  goal of Poetry in the Arts, Inc., an  international organization, is  to help and encourage poets through  the sharing  of  ideas. It provides a forum for practicing poets to demonstrate their versatility and to discuss various aspects of writing poetry from their personal view. Programs are held at Austin History Center, 810 Guadalupe Street, Austin, Texas, USA.

 

Major General Lynch, himself  a writer,  told me that during earlier years Texas had mostly newspapers. Nearly all of them had poets= corners. That tradition died out when the dailies took over the weeklies. The same old tradition was being revised. 

 

Major General Edmund Lynch loved to talk if  it was    to give information.  He was adept in giving life to the dry bones of the past. Ask one question and then be ready to listen to a  long  story  filled with  interesting  details. He had a vivid mathematical mind that was  full of  facts. He enjoyed his evenings with  Bourbon,  an American whiskey, while reading in his personal library. During those hours he used to appear  calm and composed.  It was a joy to be with him at that time for a  pleasant conversation  about  history or  the literary activities of Texas.

 

I  noticed  Peggy Lynch  was  dedicated  more to the muse than her husband was. She used  to  become the spirit of  any group of writers.  She  was not the same person when she was  in front of a microphone.  At home she  was down to earth and liked  to entertain her guests. When she was behind a podium, she  was completely  transformed into a  fluent  self-confident speaker,  full of energy. One afternoon I was with her in her office that is cluttered with books,  files and magazines. I was  sipping from  a  cup of warm  tea  while talking about markets for poetry. The phone rang. Her granddaughter told her  about a  bad dream  she had that night.   She dreamt all were dead.  Peggy changed all of a sudden. She spoke softly,  giving advice frequently. Peggy was a kind grandmother to Carolyn, a daughter of her daughter who  was a lawyer.  Peggy often spoke fondly about her son,  John,  who is a famous novelist.  At that time, he was with the  military on a special mission to Saudi Arabia.

 

Peggy is involved with various groups of writers.  I find  her  helpful  to poets in  several unique ways. She is a mine of   practical suggestions. She knows how to encourage  the  shy and those who need assurance.  I myself  have learned   immensely  from her.    Often  when  I phone her,  she is either away  in other part of the United States,  or  the world, either  to present  her poetry or participate in a conference of writers.

 

Peggy is  restless,  like Ulysses in Alfred Lord Tennyson=s poem by the same name.  The Greek hero says: AI will drink life to the lees./  Toward the end of the poem Ulysses adds: “Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will/ To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

These lines of Ullyses  epitomize the soul of Peggy Lynch. She illustrates this philosophy of her life  in her poem  “A True Texan”   where she says:

 

the people who are truly Texan vie and defy

the rugged tornadoes, the demolishing floods,

the burning droughts, the inexplicable crime.

 


In her poem  Evolving”   Peggy appears as a philosopher, like the famous French existentialist Albert Camus.  In his works, Camus analyses human=s moral position in the world. Camus believes  life is absurd because human is born free, toils and then dies. Camus portrays  this  non-ending cycle of  life in  his  work The Myth of Sisyphus. In the Greek legend, Sisyphus tried to cheat death for which he was punished by gods. He was condemned to push a heavy rock to the top of a hill. As he would  reach  the  top, the heavy stone would  fall  back  to the bottom of the hill again. Sisyphus would  repeatedly come down  to push the stone back to the top. That was his non-ending punishment. It is an absurd situation. Camus believed that Sisyphus symbolizes humankind. Humans always  struggle to roll that  proverbial stone to the top, but  it  keeps   coming back  down again. This is what life is. That is what Peggy Zuleika Lynch illustrates in “Evolving” :

 

Sea up-chucks

its debris.

In turn

we return

our debris

to the sea.

Its turn;

our turn.

Where is                               

the ending?

 

Poetry comes  to Peggy  Lynch  as  leaves come to a tree.   Her poetry is   the flow of  a stream that meanders through the woods. Peggy  Lynch is  an  admirable poet as well as an admirable speaker. On top of all this, she is an  admirable friend with the generosity of spirit.  Kahlil  Gibran  perhaps had a person like Peggy Lynch in mind when he wrote in The Prophet  AThey give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.”

 

Peggy  Lynch has  degrees in science and fine arts. She has been published in the United States, Canada, Italy, India and Africa. Her honors include a knighthood from Malta, the Houston Poetry Fest Literary Arts Award, the Poetry Society of Texas Hilton Ross Greer Outstanding service Award, and Stephen Gill International Peace Award for Poetry. She has authored and coauthored several collections of poems, and has edited and co edited anthologies. She edits an e-magazine for poets and critics, and  is included in  who=s who titles of the world.

 

Peggy’s  son, John, is a  famous  writer. His work has been translated into other languages. Her daughter is a  successful attorney. Peggy’s grandchildren are on their way to  make their marks in life. Obviously, Peggy Lynch is blessed in  several ways

 

I  am going to meet this soul of the Lone Star again in 2002 at the 10th Austin International Poetry Festival (AIPF) to be held from April 18 to April 21. The Canada Council sponsored my   literary tour of 1990. The Austin International Poetry Festival  is sponsoring  my  literary tour of 2002. My  experience  is going to be  different from my previous one because  of the  active presence  of  prominent poets from the United States, as well as from other countries.  The festival  is  going to be held   throughout  the city of Austin in galleries, book stores, coffee houses and meeting halls. The main purpose of the festival  is  Ato bring together poets from  diverse  locals, cultures, ages, backgrounds, styles  and stature to transcend  boundaries and to foster tolerance, friendship and understanding through poetry,@ said prominent poet and Venue Coordinator Stazja McFadyen. I expected this visit to be  much more exciting and enriching.

 

This  is going to be my second literary tour in the valley of the seven flags, where poetic breeze saunters in a festive gown of spring and where literary feasts are simmered on the mystic stove of creativity.

 

=======================================

 

(c) Copyright Stephen Gill. The article can be                

reproduced or quoted without permission if the

due credit is given, mentioning the source and

the name of the author.