Andrew Rosen (foreground) at a Poets in the Park event in Portland in 1993. Photo by Peter Hurley, courtesy of Ken Rosen.

Last month I was reading in and out of a couple of books sent to me by my longtime friend Ken Rosen, when by some kind of synchronicity, or mere cruel coincidence, a strange, dreamlike, unutterably sad assemblage of events ensued.

Ken’s book “Gomorrah” (2017) is a series of poems that riff on some mildly disturbing erotic paintings by Richard Wilson. In it you find vintage Rosen, his truly lush expressions, his sense of cheerful irony, a certain eroticism, and occasional philosophic wistfulness. “Absence is my shadow, my companion, being something / Left out, nowhere, not together, not alone!” The other book, “Homo Politico” (2006), takes his delightful sense of sometimes offensive irony to world personages. The book is dedicated to his kids, Ingrid and Andrew, “who have always refreshed my interest in mischief and in holding strong opinions, and in the world’s miracles of unexpected kindness, beauty and courage.”

While I was reading these books, I received a message from Ken conveying the heart-rending news that Andrew had died suddenly at the age of 53 in Everett, Massachusetts. Chilling, because just days earlier my wife, Bonnie, and I had been wondering where Andrew was. I knew him when he was a teenage poet in Portland. We crossed paths again in the 1990s when he was a grad student at the University of Maine and a classmate of Bonnie and SF writer Alex Irvine. Alex told me Andrew used to explicate German transcendental philosophy while they played chess in their office.

In the ’90s, Andrew was a founder of UMaine’s long-running “Stolen Island Review.” His own underground literary magazine, “Technology of the Sun,” got distributed in Bangor and in Portland, where he collaborated with “Cafe Review” editors on the Poets in the Park reading series. He edited two publications based on those energies: “Poets in the Park: An Anthology of Live Performance, Tommy’s Park and Congress Square 1992-93” and “Poets & Portraits:

The cover of “Poets & Portraits” published in 2000 by Andrew Rosen’s Technology of the Sun and the Cafe Review. Photo courtesy of Steve Luttrell

Poets in the Park II” in 2000, including works by Steve Luttrell, Pat Murphy, Annie Seikonia and others.

Eventually Andrew took “Technology of the Sun” to Massachusetts, where it “morphed with mysterious earnestness into Felt Sun,” as Ken described it, the eighth issue of which was published in 2018. Andrew’s own chapbooks included “Everett on the Fly” (2016), “Bodily Fodder,” “Ruin Is Their Doing,” “The Place of Joy in Control & Discipline” (2006), “Gluing Together the Pieces” (2008) and “Surface Level” (2010), to name some with characteristically quirky titles.

Ken’s word “earnestness” rang with dreamlike synchronicity. Days earlier, I had described Andrew as “an earnest, ebullient fellow” to friends. He was one of those off-radar literary figures without whom there is no depth to literary culture, only superficial crust. I was replying to Bruce Holsapple’s message, received days after Ken’s news about Andrew, letting us know that Virginia Nees-Hatlen had died.

Virginia was a well-loved English professor at UMaine Orono, married to professor Burton Hatlen. Another figure of largely off-the-radar literary influence, Virginia, with Burt, was the perspicacious friend of many Maine writers. As Burt’s literary executor following his death in 2008, she selected and edited his posthumous collection of poetry, “Elegies and Valedictions.”  And she had worked, during her declining health, with Holsapple on a collection of Burt’s prose writings, “Open Form in American Poetry” (expected to be published by the end of this year by UMaine Press).

And then, like an endlessly extruding bad dream, came news of the death of Lee Sharkey,  a beacon on Maine’s literary radar. I first met her during the early foundational meetings of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance in 1975. Later we were colleagues teaching literature and giving readings at Unity College. Eventually she found a permanent place at the University of Maine at Farmington, where she shaped her standing as one of Maine’s most visible poets of social justice. Lately she helped Holsapple and me during preparation of “Quarry: The Collected Poems of Peter Kilgore.”

The three departures came like darkly connected sequences in a bad dream. The psychologist Carl Jung called meaningful coincidences like this “synchronicity.” The areas of your mind where synchronicity lives are usually dark woods at best. In my construction of reality, poetry is a way to open up those dark places. They are not much like the daylight of your waking mind, but sometimes they spill into it. The resulting experience is often strange, sometimes inspiring, and sometimes unutterably sad.

“Absence is my shadow” might be the name of the psychic Back Forty where all this dwells. “Left out, nowhere, not together, not alone.”

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first and third Thursdays of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at [email protected].

 

 

 

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