Peaks and Valleys

“I live in the only east-west valley in North America.” — Dan
Gerber, in conversation SPEED WRITER: The factoid above is the sort
of thing a poet would want to know: Dan Gerber and wife Debbie, a
prize-winning horsewoman, have settled in a valley near Santa Ynez
unlike any other. An honorary Santa Barbaran, Dan has read at our
Museum of Art, at the Contemporary Arts Forum, at UCSB, and in
various April Poetry Month celebrations in town. A man as
distinguished as his valley, he’s one of the most admired and
honored poets in our area. A writer with the calm slowness of
manner befitting long Zen training, Gerber is also used to
traveling at 200 miles per hour. A professional racecar driver as a
young guy — and author of a book-length history of the Indianapolis
500 — he gave up speed after a disastrous racing accident some 30
years ago, but has recently taken the sport up again. He also makes
frequent speed trips to Santa Barbara gunning his slick bike, a
Ducati. He has published five collections of poems along with three
novels, a book of stories, and a smattering of essays, with
individual works appearing in The Nation, the New Yorker, Poetry,
the Georgia Review, and numerous anthologies. Among his many honors
was his winning of Forward magazine’s Gold Medal Book of the Year
Award for poetry in 1999 and the prestigious Mark Twain Award in
2001. His next gathering of poems arrives from Copper Canyon Press
in spring 2007. Here’s a brief sampler of recent Gerber poems, work
modest in voice, spiritually oriented, releasing a mysteriously
koan-ic energy. The first followed a long series of visitations
from a fox who’d stare at the poet: Revenant When I looked up again
I could see the fox from my window, watching as she would every day
on my walk, from her cover of mullein and snakeweed, barking her
curt, raucous bark till I scanned the hillside and our eyes met, as
if, by some pact, made back in the primordial when our trails first
crossed, we had agreed on this still, shrouded, morning in June to
question these two of our ten thousand lives. This wry way of
delving for mystery in the Gerber voice is familiar to Zenists, as
is the self-aware teasing in the poem below: At Any Moment This
anger sneaks back in like the thought of a white horse I’m
determined to ignore, my heart on fire with intolerance of
intolerance, the wars I fight against the wars in me. I have come
to regret being right about anything. In a last example, with an
S.B. setting, the poet again sounds the note of ironic
self-knowledge. Most readers won’t need to be told that the title
refers to a person committed to relieving the pain and forwarding
the happiness of others. Bodhisattva When the young man on State
Street approached as if to ask directions, saying “Can you help me
out a little here?” and I, though I already knew, said “Help you
out how, exactly?” “A dollar or two if you can,” he said, and I
took a deep breath, holding in what I might’ve held out, hearing.
When someone asks, you give what you can, from my bank of training
in the ways of compassion, and though I didn’t want to, opened my
wallet, and with the munificence of a toad, pulled out a five and
bought him off.


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