One of my favorite poets, David Budbill has been dealing with rapidly declining health lately and while the conversations I’ve had with him over the years have been marked by a striking optimism, the challenges of being a writer who is losing the physical ability to write are becoming too much for even the most optimistic and zen of mountain recluse poets. Here’s a recent conversation between Budbill and longtime friend, David French. HIt the link for the full conversation, http://www.davidbudbill.com/1500/a-conversation-with-david-budbill
David French’s questions and comments are in italics. Unless otherwise indicated, all the poems are David Budbill’s.
But let’s talk about what’s happening in your life right now.
The major thing that I’m dealing with is my Parkinson’s disease, my rare form of Parkinson’s disease. It has incapacitated me and made me incapable of all the things I used to love to do: I would cut wood and garden and mow, and I can’t do any of those anymore. So I’ve had to revise my life completely. So far I haven’t revised my life; I’ve just cancelled it, dropped out.
Now that’s not entirely true, because before I dropped out, I was able to finish a novel and a short story and a collection of poems, and they’re all coming out in the next year. So I did that before I cancelled my life.
The last time I was here, you said all this happened a year ago, when you moved to Montpelier.
Up until then, you’d still been working on your novel and your stories and your poem.
I suppose, yeah.
There recently was a song cycle of your poems at the Elley-Long Music Center. One song was about doing things for the last time. It was beautiful, but with an ache to it. You must have done a lot of that leaving Wolcott, walking around, looking around, knowing that was the last time you’d cut this wood or stack it or put it in the stove.
It was. Yeah, it was heartbreaking, because that was my identity, and now it’s no longer that. Which is no doubt one of the reasons I’m in limbo now.
So you’re not writing now.
No, I’m not.
You’re not making music.
Another theme that keeps coming up in your poetry, sometimes in very funny ways, is the lament over not having been a major voice in the poetry world. You wrote about the life of “genteel poverty and meditation” you lead:
…which gives me lots of time
to gnash my teeth and worry over
how I want to be known and read
by everyone and have admirers
everywhere and lots of money!
Is that something you would still write a poem about at this point, or is that an old theme that isn’t something you think about anymore?
I certainly think about it.
You still do?
You would like to be higher on whatever the poetry best-seller list is?
And have more money from it, recognition.
Yeah. Of course, who wouldn’t?
When I came to Judevine Mountain
all my troubles would cease,
but I brought… my ambition –
so now, still,
all I know is grief.
Well, that’s true. I have this thing about ambition. I can’t live with it, and I can’t live without it.