I try my best to be just like I am
But everybody wants you to be just like them
They say sing while you slave and I jus’ get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
A man named Harold Slovic passed away in March 2021. He met his death in much the same manner as he had lived his life: with profound intelligence, understanding, dignity, and gratitude for having been brought into existence, gifted with sentience, and, above all else, granted the power to give and receive love.
Hal had been my close friend. We first met thirty-odd years ago when he served as a member of a delegation from Aichi-Gakusen University in Toyota City, Japan that visited our small liberal arts college in Henniker, New Hampshire. He and his colleagues were exploring with several institutions in the United States the possibility of creating an educational and cultural exchange program.
This was one of Hal’s major abilities and missions. He visioned connections. He sought collaborations, he convened them, and, as mildly as you possibly can imagine, he led them.
He built wonderful educational and community cooperation programs, unpretentious, focused in scale and scope, yet sweeping in their objectives. He was a nearly imperceptible but extremely effective change agent.
Hal’s talents were copious and disparate. This was a manifestation of his civic instinction and his ardor for cross-cultural interchange. One of the ways in which he chose to enact his intense respect for civilization: our species’ grand experiment in collective elevation.
He did much for society and the world. But he also felt intensely aware of his own psyche and spirit, and morally obligated to their competencies and callings.
Hal possessed consummate skills in engineering, electronics, mechanics, the sciences, philosophy, and literature. He felt primarily defined and most passionately fulfilled by his aesthetic and artistic endowments.
These were substantive and significant. He loved artistry and he loved making art, which he conceived explicitly and exuberantly as making love to life.
Hal was a prolific and multifarious artist. He drew. He painted. He crafted with wood and metals. He wrought epically imaginative sculptures from innocuous household objects and discarded ephemera. He fashioned astonishing arrays of sinuous light in serpentine strings and meticulously wrought boxes.
And he wrote poems. A startlingly large number of poems, wildly contrasting in their purposes and styles.
During his final days he asked if I would write an Introduction for a collection of his poems that his cherished friendship circle was assembling with his guidance. This was our final conversation. I wept. He did not.
I offer this Preface to Harold Slovic’s literature with reverence for my friend, and for his wish that his family, his friends, and the generations of their descendants may remember him for his thought, his art, and his love.
Hal’s poems explore numerous topics. They conduct bold experiments with form. In most of his poems, most of the time, he talks with us about Light.
Hal saw light everywhere. He relished it, he thrilled to it, and he made art about it.
I believe he knew that in his person as in his craft, he emanated a luminescence of his own. A luster cast forth from his innermost identity: capacious, unimpeded, confident, and exultant.
Hal’s poems teach us that we all are born of this light, are defined by it, and project it, each in our own way, uniquely, potently, preciously. Not just people. Every substance and every thing that exists: person, creature, plant, rock, wind, water, sky.
In all cultures and in all languages, the light we embody and from which we issue has many names. In the western culture and the English language, we may speak of this light as our Soul.
Hal considered poetry a sacred art, and the making of it a spiritual activity.
Passion of this magnitude can inhibit our undertakings. Certainly it blocks most of us from even attempting to write poems. We feel threatened by the complexity of the poetic vocation, thwarted by the convolution of its techniques, daunted by its classical predecessors’ illustrious standards.
Not Hal. He always wrote with acute concern for his works’ consequence and quality, but he never let himself feel anxious about professional practitioners’ and professorial critics’ learned reactions. Although a supremely humble man, he did not permit fear of critique to stifle his impulses or sterilize his voice. He happily authored a great many poems ebulliently eclectic in subject matter, mode, and mood.
Especially in mood. Sometimes he was serious. Pensive, ruminative, somber. Sometimes he was jovial. Frolicsome, having fun, silly. Always he was a craftsman, and always he conceived of his craft as his calling.
An accomplished musicologist and musician, he was particularly skillful with his compositions’ aural components. He understood and reveled in the timbres and rhythms of coordinated lexical sound.
He liked syntax, too. He was not a trained grammatologist, but he felt fascinated by the structures and systems of language, the ingenious and infinitely adjustable ways it engineers and orchestrates semantic dynamism. His poems are highly diverse in their investigations of and delight with syntax.
He knew how to versify. His versifications are sometimes simple (deceptively). Sometimes they are elaborate. Sometimes they are quiescent, serene, and soothing. Sometimes they dash about, and throb. Never are they imitative of anyone else’s compositional work, or iterative of themselves.
Hal did not make clamorous demands upon the public. He did not hunger for honorifics. He did not attach highfalutin titles to his name. Label, rank, and status meant nothing to him.
He never spoke much about it, but he was a fine, innovative, intriguing poet. I hope that someday a wide audience will discover him, rejoice with him, and learn from him.
James Joyce’s Stephan Dedalus, a belligerent fellow, famously decreed that every artist, “like the God of the creation, [must remain] within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.”
Not Hal. No matter what its thesis, temperament, or tempo we always sense him hovering palpably within every syllable of every work he wrote.
Those of us who knew him do not merely sense him in some abstract, inchoate fashion. We hear him, and we see him.
Join us. [A link to a collection of Harold’s poems appears at the end of this essay.]
Hear his voice, never obtrusive, never grating, never arrogating. A soft voice, gracious, graceful. Suggestive, supple, spilling over with wisdom and knowledge. A safe, sweet sound, and a very safe place.
His searching, sparkling eyes. His wry smile. Not quite a smile, a twitching at the edges whilst noting surreptitiously if we are enjoying his drollery. Checking clandestinely to determine if we are appreciating our interaction with his vast intellect, sharing his cosmic pleasure in the boundless bounty of mind and its workings.
Hal is everywhere to be heard and seen in all his poems. However, you will not by afflicted by a riotous ego running rampant. He was a magnificent person, radically gifted. He knew that. But he was devoid of conceit, modest, compassionating, and always and ever tender and earnest.
Surely not even Stephen Dedalus would want this greatly good man to isolate himself from his art or exile himself from his communions with us. Who could desire that Hal would clip his nails rather than converse with us, inspire our hearts, stretch our thought, kid around with us, laugh with us – and, every moment, invite us to share his rapture and his gratitude for the blessing of living life in this gloriously abundant surround that we call the universe.
Every day of our lives we pass by hundreds of human beings. They are our sisters and our brothers, but only rarely do we notice any of them. If by chance we do, we register a scarcely considered impression, a momentary pulse of affect.
Were you one day to have passed by Hal, you likely would have taken no account of him. He made no claim on superficial impression. He was not conventionally handsome. He dressed dully. He did not pose. He did not prance. He was not at all charismatic.
Unless you paid him heed. Unless you looked into his eyes with some care, for some time. Unless you listened to his voice with some care, for some time.
If you looked, if you listened, you would find in this unassuming man a calm, composed, exquisitely centered visionary. You would find immense learning, exceptional decency, a stimulating quester, a breathtaking intellect. A trustworthy incarnation and communicant of consecration.
You would find Soul.
In his poetry as in his life, Hal teaches us that we ought to look long, always and everywhere, and we ought to listen deeply. We ought to allow ourselves to see and to hear that within every person, no matter how nondescript, as within every other entity that lives, there shines a shimmering light. There exists a sanctified soul.
A soul alive, distinctive, lambent, perhaps divinely wrought, certainly holy – and wholly worth knowing and honoring. A soul we never shall discern and never shall learn from if idly we pass it by, mindlessly mistake its seeming invisibility for nonvalidity, and insensately consign it to nonentity.
The universality, singularity, and sacrality of Soul is the truth and the force that in his verses Hal so often identifies as light. The immanence of Light is the overarching theme and predominant characteristic of his literature and his life.
Hal’s soul shone incandescently within him. Light of precisely that nature and source shines equally uniquely, equally brightly, and equally beautifully within you, within everyone, and within all that exists.
During a single span of eighteen months, Bob Dylan, a poet whom no one can fail to hear and see, published three of the greatest albums of poetry ever written. One of their most brilliant, haunting, and freeing cantos has lived in the forefront of my mind throughout the decades that Hal and I knew one another.
I try my best to be just like I am
But everybody wants you to be just like them
They say sing while you slave and I jus’ get bored
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more
I shall close this elegy for the friend I admired so much by inviting you to read some or all of the poems that his family and friends have compiled for you.
In every one of the poems in the compendium, you will hear that Hal tried his best to be just like he was. You will see that he never consented to the imperious societal and intrapsychical pressures that want each of us to become just like everyone else.
The summons to selfhood was hallowed to him, and he fulfilled it. His poems will teach you that he embraced the entirety of who he was. They will reveal to you that in his ideas, sentiments, and deeds he was like no one else.
He did not wearily or grudgingly accept who he was. His poems will teach you that he loved who he was. He tried his best to explore and evolve who he was. And he tried his best to declare who he was. To express himself in all of his essences authentically, lucidly, fearlessly, jubilantly.
I call all this heroic, and I call Hal a hero.
This was much for a poet and for a bunch of poems to do. But there was more. Hal also wanted his poetry to help us demand, long for, and accomplish our own emancipation.
Maybe it is true that “everybody wants you to be just like them.” Hal wanted his poems to show us that, like him, we must and we can say No to that.
Like him, we can choose without trepidation to explore the completeness and holism of our personhood. We can elect joyfully to express our individualness, all of it, all of its modalities and moods, exactly as they are, as they were born to be, as they need to be, free of regret, free of apology.
He wanted his poems – they all are very visual – to help us See.
He wanted to help us see that, like him, we can love our own soul. We can liberate our own mind. We need not work on Maggie’s farm.
Hal never slaved, and he never got bored. He never worked on Maggie’s farm. His poetry’s fondest wish is that we all will choose to join him in the Elysium of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-expression that we all inwardly crave and that he ecstatically created.
This surely is also the wish of The Divine. All of Life’s creator, Hal’s creator, and ours.
First and foremost, Harold G. Slovic loved. He loved his birth family. He loved his friendships. He loved his collegiums. And he flat out adored his dear wife, Yasue Kambe, who shortly preceded him in passing from life.
Hal frequently told me that he could not have been who he was, he could not have loved life anywhere near as much as he did, and he could not have made anything like the body of work he achieved without Yasue’s nurturing love, gestating support, radiant goodness, wondrous inventiveness, and extraordinary wisdom.
Many times she spoke similarly to me about Hal’s impact upon her, her appreciation of his goodness and his genius, and her joyous gratitude to him.
If you like Hal’s poems and if you learn from them, please know that behind and within each of them, co-authoring each of them, there shines the sublime soul of a sublime human being who was named Yasue Kambe, and who during her distinguished lifetime created a multitude of stunning love and stunning art all her own.
Link to The Selected Poems of Harold G. Slovic: