Our dear friend Quinton Duval died last week at the age of 61, and the world lost a most generous soul and a marvelous poet. Q, as we called him, was a quiet person and a quiet poet, thus he was little known outside of Sacramento. I regret that I could not afford to publish an elegant volume of the collected poems of Quinton Duval while Q was still alive, but it’s at the top of my list of Things I’ll Do If I Ever Strike It Rich.
There is a funny story by Mark Twain entitled Captain Stormfield’s Visit To Heaven in which a Twain-like explorer hitches a ride on Haley’s Comet to heaven and reports on what he finds there. At the height of Stormfield’s visit, excitement ensues as word spreads that the greatest writer of all time has just died and will soon be arriving at the pearly gates. Indeed, so paramount is this writer that luminaries such as Shakespeare and Homer, not seen among the common angels for hundreds of years, descend from their places on high to greet this unsurpassed genius.
Captain Stormfield, a cultured man, wonders who among the most famous writers on earth has died; but the incomparable genius turns out to be an unknown young fellow who only managed to write a poem or two before he was tarred and feathered and murdered by an ignorant mob who found him intolerably odd.
Quinton’s death reminds me of this story, not because I think Q was the greatest poet who ever lived, but because he was, in my estimation, deserving of a much larger audience than he was able to achieve through the careful crafting of his beautiful poems.
You have undoubtedly heard of Poetry Slams. They are all the rage these days among pseudo-educators and extremely extroverted wannabe poets. Slams are poetry competitions (a deeply repugnant idea) in which so-called poets try to upstage and beat their opponents by outrageous dress, comportment, choreography, and vocal pyrotechnics. The poems themselves are largely irrelevant to the proceedings, though the more shocking and nasty and shoutable the lines, the better the chances the so-called poet has of winning the contest. Yuck. If you are a lover of poetry, a lover of the words themselves, a lover of the tender truth of a good poem, do not attend a poetry slam. When teenagers slam, the experience is merely pathetic. When older folks undertake such travesties, it is repulsive.
I think of Q’s poems as diamonds in the sludge of our American-Idolized culture, everything become a contest, a special effect, a showy narcissistic puff of nothing, and I want to stop people on the street and say, “Turn off your cell phones and listen to this. A poem by the late great much missed Quinton Duval.”
* * *
The things in this dish have each been touched
by your fingers. The dough has marks in it
where you shaped it out round and white
and rising slowly. I remember all this
as I begin to eat. It is exciting
in the light given off by the oil lamp
on the table. I smell the kerosene,
your perfume, and the scent of the food you made.
I am touched by the wonder of it all. I mean
your hands are in my mouth even as I eat
what you have made, like other things you make.
After dinner your lips open quietly to the dark
passage down inside you. What is all this,
this odd food we give away? We eat each other’s
love and feel amazed and full.
(Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com.)