by Nat Frothingham
Much honored Montpelier poet, playwright, novelist, teacher and World War II U.S. Army Air Corps veteran James Facos visited Kellogg-Hubbard Library on Thursday evening, Oct. 6 and read from his “Collected Lyrics.”
Facos is a traditionalist who has little interest in the ramblings of so-called modern poets whose poems — he criticizes — as not poems at all — but prose.
Elaborating on this theme, Facos said, “It had taken over 800 years to produce one Robert Frost – and 800 years to develop the techniques of poetry — techniques like the measured line (vital to verbal music) and various forms, shaping the music of the lines, to give the reader — or listener — the joy of experiencing poetry through word-music and meaning.”
“But, of course,” he continued, that is in the past. To some modern poets, poetry reeked too much of the past, especially by its imposing on them those very techniques. They flinched at being shackled so. They wanted freedom, freedom from the past, freedom to be themselves, in their own time — unchained. So, as Frost had once predicted, ‘They let down the nets.’”
Given his strong convictions of what poetry is or ought to be, and often is not, it was no surprise that Facos opened his presentation by reading aloud from the introduction to the “Pocket Book of Verse” by M.E. Speare. That passage follows here.
A lyric is a subjective poem of intense personal emotions whose principal quality is its musical form. It is the special function of lyrical poetry to give pleasure through the musical quality no less than through the contemplation of the beauty it inspires: beauty of thought, of feeling, of expression and of technical skill.”
“In these (words),” said Facos, “I found my anchor as a poet.”
For the first poem of evening — Facos chose a lyric titled, “This Moment, Now: Lines Before Combat.”
Facos told his library audience that he wrote this poem in a penny notebook in March 1943. At the time, he was on a troop train that was taking him from Miami, Florida to Buckley Field near Denver, Colorado for training to become an aerial gunner with the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Facos was 18 years old when he enlisted and said, he wanted to experience combat, to find out, in his words, “Who I was and what life was all about.”
Facos was soon in England serving as a ball turret gunner on a B-17 with bombing missions that took him over wartime Europe including Nazi Germany.
About the hazards of flying as a ball turret gunner with the B-17 bombing missions from a base in England, he said, “I’m not being melodramatic, but facing reality.
“Once you survived 11 missions, you were “living on borrowed time.”
“This Moment, Now” that follows here is a meditation on life and death in a time of war.
This Moment, Now
Lines Before Combat
Were I to see another spring,
The lilac tree alive with rain,
Or only hear the orioles sing
Their songs again another year,
I would go by and never know
The orioles’ low, melodious sway
Along the sky, nor pause to see
A single bough, a single spray
Of lilac tree — as I do now.
“I, Too, Miss Dickinson” is another poem that Facos read at the library event. It recalls a day in October 1959 when Facos, his wife Cleo and first-born daughter, Tina, came to Vermont as Facos took up his duties as an English teacher at Vermont College.
As he recalled that moment, Facos told his audience, “The hills then were aflame with color, the foliage alive and shimmering.” And the poem that follows remembers that October day.
I, Too, Miss Dickinson
Magnificence in magniture
Stunned the narrow heart
It shattered periphery
And tore design apart.
It burst like Revelation,
Dimensional as pain,
With splendor that forbade the heart
Its boundary again.
In a “good news” part of the evening, Facos said that his highly regarded novel “The Silver Lady” (Atheneum Publishers, 1972) is being brought out again, this time by Merriam Press in Hoosic Falls, N.Y. and can be ordered through Bear Pond Books.
Facos is the recipient of this country’s Distinguished Flying Cross and a number of other honors, including this past summer his installation by French President Francoise Holland as a “chevalier” (or knight) of that country’s Legion of Honor.
In an Associated Press story on July 3, 2016 — AP reporter David Gram said that in a letter that notified James Facos of his selection for the French honor, Valery Freland, France’s consul general in Boston, wrote that the award “is a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the United States’ decisive role in the liberation of our country in World War II.”