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New Book Alert! The Eclipse I Call Father

April 4, 2019

We were thrilled to debut this new book at AWP 2019 in Portland and excited to share that it is available for purchase online.

Memory, place, and experience intersect in David Axelrod’s new collection of essays, The Eclipse I Call Father. David’s writing is lyrical and observant, reflecting his identity as a poet and traveler. Though he has lived and worked abroad for periods of time, David calls the Northwest home, and home is a central image in the essays of this book. Take a look at an excerpt from the essay “To Live as We Dream”, one of the essays in The Eclipse I Call Father  also featured online at Terrain:

 

 

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My parents’ house, which they built in 1960, was a tiny, white, Modernist tract house constructed from sturdy materials, trimmed in green, with clean, plain lines, and overall an expression of practical, affordable design. Situated at the middle of a crabgrass lot, it fronted the bucolically named Pleasant Place, one lot north of forests and marshes that on summer nights erupted in choruses of frogs. Standing on my bed and looking through the casement window screen (why were windows always placed so high on the walls of houses built in that era?), I looked out into darkness hallucinatory with fireflies and the Milky Way. In a recent dream, I moved back into that house decorated as it was in 1960: sleek Danish-style furniture, Fauvist and Cubist prints, the RCA Victor console stereo with its collection of LPs by Johnny Mathis, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr., and Nat King Cole. The accretions of over fifty intervening years of my life fit comfortably, if improbably, within the dream of that tiny house.

                   

Early in his classic exploration of the home, The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard dwells on the way the intimacy of childhood spaces persists throughout our lives, especially in reveries. Lost in daydreams, we don’t so much inhabit the memory of our childhood home; instead, we live in its absence as we once dreamed in its presence. I’m inclined to agree with this, though it’s the houses not lived in as a child but visited and departed with an unusual feeling of well-being that interest me now.

                   

That tract house my young parents built, and occupied as briefly as their marriage endured, always seemed untidy and cramped, at first full of manias, then a long bleak period of grief. It was quite the opposite of the houses of some of the family and friends we visited. Those houses always seemed aglow with the calm light of a November afternoon just before it begins to snow. Or in the oppressive humidity of an Ohio summer, those rooms remained cool, full of shadows the color of polished oak. Without exception, those were Craftsman houses.

                   

The heavy front doors or foyers of Craftsman houses open into living rooms with large stone hearths, the many-lighted and beveled-glass windows, dark and heavily grained woodwork, built-in cabinets with glass-paneled doors, dining rooms with large bay windows, and the sight-lines of one room opening into another, creating the illusion of spacious luxury. The walls above the wainscoting were often painted in pale green that contrasted with the dark-grained woodwork, intended to harmonize with the natural world. These were houses designed with such a deep sense of spatial balance, intimacy, and structural integrity it’s hard to believe today that they were the typical homes of many working-class and lower-middle-class families in my hometown. That such houses could be purchased as kits and built quickly, often for less than a thousand dollars, is mind-blowing.

                   

After more than a generation of shipping manufacturing jobs overseas, wage stagnation, the destruction of labor unions, and tax redistribution that transfers wealth upwards, today such working- and lower-middle-class families are lucky to be living in trailers or suburban ticky-tacky; lucky, that is, if they aren’t living in their cars, the homeless and dispossessed refugees of post-modernity.

               

Many of these same Craftsman houses now sell for as much as half a million dollars, even during the Great Recession we’re only now coming to the end of. At the height of its popularity, though, such architectural design was an expression of socialist idealism and respect; namely, the belief that all segments of society had access to domestic space that, at least in its design, nurtured the souls of its inhabitants and brought them into greater harmony with the natural world.

                   

That’s a lot of wishful thinking, and it would be folly to imagine such an ahistorical reality existed; but as an ideal, as an aspiration, I’m all for it now, and even as a child, sensed its power. In her survey of social reform aesthetics, “House and Home in the Arts and Crafts Era: Reforms for Simpler Living,” Cheryl Robertson quotes Kate Greenleaf Locke from a 1907 issue of House & Garden: “[Craftsman design] appeals to a wide circle and several classes. . . . there is yet in its atmosphere a delightful flavor of Bohemianism and the liberty and originality that camp life and studio life permits.” Robertson concludes: “the bungalow combined the attributes of taste, rusticity, and economy . . . [and applied them] to the villa, farmhouse, and cottage . . . [a] democratization of domestic architecture [that is] evidenced in ‘classless’ bungalows.” That’s surely a more thoughtful idealism about how we might occupy space and has proven far more durable than most contemporary, postmodern spaces. Many corporate spaces and post-war apartment blocks, by contrast, particularly those remnant examples of Brutalism, compound error upon error and become, in the critique of Christopher Alexander, forbidding “reservoirs” of stress. Such poured concrete, bunker-like buildings seem designed to allow for little else than the possibility of siege.

                   

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In the summer of 2002, I visited a friend in Billings, Montana, who lived in a neighborhood like many in the American West, dating from the 1920s and full of Craftsman houses. His house, located near a corner on a narrow lot along a leafy street was, he stipulated, a “Craftsman cottage.” Inside were two bedrooms in which the original family raised five children. There were a multitude of kitchen cabinets, built-in bookcases in the half-walls between dining and living rooms, and wainscoting and hardwood floors. Filled with his sturdy antique furniture, it felt cozy inside despite the enormity of the Great Plains stretching north, south, and east for a thousand miles beyond the horizons.

                   

During that visit, we rose early one day and drove to the mountains above Red Lodge. The light that July morning in the Rocky Mountains filtered down through lodgepole pines. We slowed as we passed through a cluster of structures, a pre–Great Depression “camp” below the Beartooth Plateau, where we intended to spend our day hiking. Scattered throughout the dense trees above and below the dusty road were a dozen or so tidy cabins and outbuildings constructed from materials available in the surrounding forests: unpeeled pine logs, river cobbles, and mud. The screened windows, porches, and doorways, and the rolled green asbestos roofing, recalled an era deep in the past, the world of my grandfather’s coming of age during the Great Depression. It was a moment when citizens briefly shared a belief in our egalitarian national destiny. Call this again what it is: an ahistorical claim. Nevertheless, it’s the lens through which I was taught to perceive my country’s ideals, if not its reality.

                   

We passed by the camp so quickly, all I can recall with any clarity was a single fastidious cabin just above the road on the passenger side. It seemed more like a playhouse than a cabin. It was so tiny that it would have allowed just enough room for a bunk, maybe a bench, and a small stove on the front porch. Whoever had spent summers living there, I imagined, spent most of their days outdoors. When these cabins were built, only the most rudimentary road or, more likely, trail would have existed. Getting into that canyon would have required a good deal more effort than we made driving there in little more than an hour from Billings. These were very resourceful sojourners. Whoever they were, I immediately assumed I wanted to know them.

                   

That tiny camp in the immensity of a Montana canyon, like my friend’s cottage back in Billings, seemed an unlikely confluence of egalitarian ideals and domestic intimacy, a reservoir of calm and comradeship, at ease with the natural world into which it was unobtrusively tucked away.

 

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The Eclipse I Call Father is available to purchase online here.


DAVID AXELROD is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently The Open Hand and Folly, both from Lost Horse Press, as well as a previous collection of essays, Troubled Intimacies: A Life in the Interior West (Oregon State University Press). He is the editor of Sensational Nightingales: The Collected Poems of Walter Pavlich and the award-winning basalt: a journal of fine and literary arts, as well as the director of Eastern Oregon University’s low-residency MFA in Creative Writing. In the spring of 2019, he joined Lynx House Press as its managing editor.

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