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JOHN BING

Image by Moriah Wolfe

An Old Man Looks out his Bedroom Window at the Desert Beyond

Each morning the old man looks out the window
at the waving grass
and feels the boat move into the wind.

He moves not.  Yet he feels the motion.

A ship rising and falling in the desert winds—
The wind drives the waves of grass
and his little boat farther from the past into an unknown sea
Where his little boat may founder
to sink into the desert sands.

Each day brings him closer to the reefs
or to the monsters that lie beneath the planks of his boat.

Yet it is only the desert and desert winds and grasses.
He should fear nothing.

Sometimes he sees coyotes move through the grass, and once a large cat.
This reassures him that what he sees is the desert.
Yet he feels the motion and the tidal pull.

He looks, every morning, at the same scene and wonders.

The Spectator

The Old Man looked out his window and saw
a circus parade
with elephants, strung trunk to tail,
clowns with large shoes,
barkers barking, and
beautiful ladies in sparkly tights

with a brass band
led by a strutting
trumpeter.
The sounds of the band
filled the old man’s bedroom.

He had an impulse to join the parade but
realized, at his age, he was and would always from then on
be a spectator.

As the parade disappeared, the music faded,
the old man closed the blinds and
fell on his bed, exhausted.  He reached for his oxygen leads and
noticed that his large floppy slippers were still next to his bed.

Snow Arrives to Chill

The old man looked out his window and saw
blankness, nothingness, as the snow, still falling
after a night of cold and wind, covered all.

The white crept through the closed window,
chilled him to the bone.  Winter had arrived
early.  The desert wind whipped the snow

against piñons, junipers, anything of height.  A bleak scene.
But in the desert, he knew, the sun would soon overcome
the clouds, and the snow would sink into the soft sand

To be welcomed by dormant seeds.
He was acutely aware of the seasons now.
He hoped he’d be around to see the desert bloom again.

Still, it seemed a long time until Spring,
and he wondered what late Winter would bring.

Seasonal changes: A Sonnet

The old man looked out his window and saw
summer stopped.  And fall fumbling—chased
by clouds, cold winds, and flakes of winter.

How quickly the seasons can turn in the desert, he thought.
Just a few days ago he had harvested beans and green tomatoes
from his vegetable garden.

The chard might survive, but not much else.
He wondered if he would be able to plant next spring
or if he would even be there to harvest.

The thought was as chilling as the weather.
But he remained committed to his garden,
his friends, his partner, his life.

He knew that the garden kept him alive.
But only if he worked it himself so both could thrive.

Q&A with poet John Bing

Describe your “writer Self” in three words.

Learner, listener, seeker

I am still interested in learning about poetry, nature, art, music and cultures.  In order to engage learning, I seek out new forms of art and music, and books by new poets.

What is the most challenging aspect about writing for you?

Use images, not thoughts

I am an avid reader. I enjoy conversations about current issues and books while walking with friends in the nearby mountains (the Sangre de Cristo mountains above Santa Fe). These conversations often require my moving out of my comfort zone. When I write poetry, I need to remind myself that images are best to convey emotion and sense of place, which is also outside my comfort zone.

Where, when and how are you inspired to write?

In solitude, anytime, anywhere

I carry a small notebook in my pocket which allows me to jot down ideas anywhere. I have found ideas gazing out the windows of our home in New Mexico. In the desert and quiet, there are sounds and scenes that attract my poetic sense. There is also solitude in a doctor’s waiting room, or listening to a new piece of “current, contemporary music” or a concerto by Mozart.

What are you reading right now

Bloom’s Best Poetry of the English language while quite traditional, is also very insightful.

Pinsky’s The Sound of Poetry, A Brief Guide, Pinsky, whom I once briefly met, is my best guide to contemporary poetry.

Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker CreekDillard is a master of metaphor.

Ian Bostridge, Schubert’s Winter Journey:  Anatomy of an Obsession.  This book memorably yokes music and poetry.

Best piece of writing advice you’ve received? 

Describe what you see, not what you think.

For several years I took a poetry class, sometimes online, from the poet Anna Evans, in order to learn more about how to structure poems. My poetry is often “poetry of place” about where we live and how the desert is a kind of muse. Now I work with two other poets who are very different in background and poetic practice.  We work with each other a couple of times a month. We share our work, discuss individual poems, and make suggestions on how to improve them. Because their approaches are so different and they are so skilled, they have helped me understand how to better describe what I intend to convey and how better to convey these thoughts.

If you could tell your younger writer-self anything, what would it be?

You have less time than you think. Get to it!

I started writing poetry in high school. One of my teachers encouraged me but I did not continue writing. Now that I am in my 80’s I realize that I could have re-started writing poetry many years ago and although I am grateful for the chance to write now, I wish I had started sooner.

Which poet or character from a book/movie would you invite to dinner and why?

For the past five years I have been involved in a Shakespeare reading group. We work though a play doing a “slow read” to pull apart the language, the historic environment, and the characters’ intentions, after which we do a fast read. Shakespeare created so many real and durable characters, I would love to discuss how he did it. I am especially interested in the character of Falstaff.  I’d also like to meet Jericho Brown, who has invented new poetic forms and is an amazingly accomplished poet.

What does the old man of your poems mean to you?

The first line of the poems (“the old man looked out his window and saw”) is actually a prompt. I find it useful as this old man is a bit of an alter-ego who has visions, quite different from the writer’s more ordinary life.  The old man is free to imagine wild thoughts.

What one experience in your life had the biggest influence on your work?

My father was a German immigrant whose family was steeped in the European tradition of art and music. He and my mother were both musicians, although not professionals. My mother studied with Nadia Boulanger and my father would have been a professional pianist/composer had he not become a cardiologist. When I was growing up, my father used to invite me into his study to just listen to classical music.  That taught me focus and listening skills.  Although I have a degree in English literature I was not focused on poetry when I was young. Taking the local poetry class to learn more about poetic structure and meter really got me restarted writing poetry.  Now, my two poetry partners are the strongest influence on my work.

John Bing recently retired from his work as a cross-cultural trainer and consultant and founder of a firm called ITAP International.  He and his wife retired to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he has enjoyed climbing in the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the desert surrounding his home.  The geography of the area and his retirement inspired him to write his first book of poetry, titled Time Signatures, with sections dealing with the Southwest, Afghanistan (where he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer more than sixty years ago), and his family.  

“Poetry has enabled me to engage with myself and my life as no other art form could do,” he remarked recently. 

10 Comments

  1. Stuart mclaughlin

    Four great poems: congratulations to John Bing!

    Reply
  2. Bill

    I’ve read much of my brother’s poetry. I think he’s one of the great poets of our time.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    Thank you John. When this old man looks out his window he smiles knowing you are just up the road.

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    John Bing, you are one of the most cultured and complete people I have ever met. Your knowledge is only surpassed by your generosity and kindness. “The old man” has been an exquisite poem, as is a delicacy for those who know what to eat.

    Reply
  5. Nico

    John Bing, you are one of the most cultured and complete people I have ever met. Your knowledge is only surpassed by your generosity and kindness. “The old man” has been an exquisite poem, as is a delicacy for those who know how to eat.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    John, your poems are deeply moving, and they cohere in what I hope will be a continuing series. Their subject is important. They are clear, and you have such mastery of tone – from serious, to whimsical, to sober reflection, and to the near-elegiac (I say “near” because the “old man” remains fervently attached to life but through the lens of what comes after). Beautiful work.

    Reply
  7. edie

    John, your perspective has an effect on my perception!!!

    Thank you for sharing such inward experiencing so beautifully.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    Enjoyed these beautiful poems, John.

    Reply

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