Monday, September 15, 2003

Richard Tillinghast - Ann Arbor, MI

Writers work everywhere. Poets can scribble on notebooks in planes and in hotel rooms. Some use every part of their homes, the study, the bedroom, even porches.

But Richard Tillinghast is the winner of the porch sweepstakes. While rain threatens from the southern skies, Richard and I sit on either end of a large, bulky sofa. Richard is surrounded by books, notepads, and a set of homemade flash cards from which he is apparently learning Turkish grammar for an upcoming trip to his beloved Istanbul.

Richard loves a lot of places, western Tennesse, Memphis, Ireland - where he goes every year as part of his work with The Poet's House - and Istanbul.

He shows me some great photos from his travels, and we go through how his geographical wanderings have informed his writing over a long and productive career. He tells me of first reading John Crowe Ramson, another southerner, and the freedom those poems gave him - one can be from the south and be a writer, is what it meant to Richard. One didnt have to be from New York, or Paris, or New England. You could be from Tennessee.

While we talk, his neighbors go by out front, seemingly everyone with one or two dogs. This quiet street, mosty free of traffic, has a never-ending parade of people. We're in the middle of Ann Arbor, a college town where professors and students live near each other and their shared home - the university.

But Richard is on leave right now. He's just come back from upstate New York where he was a featured instructor at a conference. Soon he'll be back in Istanbul, where he will meet and talk with Turkish writers - and use his improving language skills.

I wonder about this porch. Who will keep it running in his absence?