Poetry mentor: Ariel Dawson

Adrian Owles. That was her anagrammed alias. She used that name for things like electric and phone company bills when her real name set off “overdue payment” notices, resulting in her inability to get services. She did, in her youth, have a conniver’s sense of how to skive and get away with it. To some degree. She learned the skills from her father, a brilliant alcoholic from a once-wealthy family. From her mother, she learned poetry and an idealistic, romantic outlook on life…but also that she should be independent and never rely on men to take care of her or keep their promises.

Well, maybe she learned that last part from her father. Her parents never divorced, but her father was an absentee dad. That’s the picture she supplied to me. I suspect it was true, but I know only a tiny part of her story. Ariel Dawson, my poetry mentor, was a year younger than I but so well-read, aware of the “poetry scene,” reading craft essays and books before I knew such things existed–and taking reasoned issue with some of the writers, too, in ways it never would have occurred to me to do. Question such recognized authority? I would not have dared.

What is a mentor? A kind of teacher or model of behavior? Ariel’s behavior was far from conventional, which did appeal to me. We hitchhiked from Michigan to NYC and back. We stayed up almost until dawn and drank wine and talked about poetry. We ganged up on the poor man teaching a creative writing class at our college by questioning his pronouncements and asking about poets and poetry he had not specialized in. We sneaked into bars without paying the cover charge or having our IDs checked (Michigan had a liquor law that permitted 18-year-olds to drink, but Ariel was only 17). I kept wondering quietly to myself: Is this how poets behave? Is unconventionality necessary to the craft?

Well, yes and no. A certain aspect of the unconventional probably helps writers of any kind, but risky antics are not required. An individual perspective on heartbreak or trauma can be useful. Some of Ariel’s stories made me fear for her, feel heartbreak for her; if I never knew how factually true they were, I sensed a fundamental truth in what she told me. One example is her “love affair” when she was 13. She believed she was having an affair with a man in his early 30s who was from Pittsburgh, which she thought was an eastern seaboard town (so much for Detroit’s 1970s educational system as far as American geography goes). He disappeared one day, and she set off by herself to find him in Pittsburgh, where the police eventually located her. They sent her home to her mother. Now I look at this story as grooming by a pederast, but at the time she considered it oddly romantic of her. What makes trauma, if the victim doesn’t feel traumatized? If she can imagine the experience into something naive and…sort of like love?

Ariel’s poems appeared mostly in the early 1980s in print magazines; she taught creative writing at a couple of universities, but eventually her love of dreams and the mythic led her to pursue Jungian scholarship. Last I heard, she was working as an analyst in New York state. Perhaps unfortunately, she remains best known for a letter she wrote to the Writer’s Chronicle/AWP Newsletter in which she took a stance against New Formalism. She always did love a controversy.

My book Strange Ladies is dedicated to her memory. For a whole bunch of reasons and for a number of Ariel stories I can’t even begin to relate here. But most of all, because she urged me to write. And to revise. And to read as many poets and as many craft books as I possibly could. And never stop learning, and keep on writing. She got me to give poetry readings aloud to an audience. She kept me laughing. She was wild and lovely, and I am sorry she is no longer among us.

Meanwhile, here is the link to register for an upcoming Zoom reading by some strange ladies, including yours truly:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZArdOypqj4iG9KaR7UrcoyJzPS3YYLcNCLA

~

In memoriam

Ariel Dawson, 1959-2013

I recently learned that a friend who was hugely significant in my life once, but with whom I had lost touch for 15 years, no longer walks the same earth that I do; in fact, Ariel Dawson died in 2013, unbeknownst to  me.

Ariel Verlaine Dawson

Ariel Verlaine Dawson

It is hard to lose friends, but losing the friends of one’s youth–those intense, passionate friendships that teach human beings how to navigate the world of human relationships–that loss cuts in a different way. For Ariel is perhaps the reason I am a writer. No–I would have become a writer. She is the reason I decided it was possible to be a poet. She amazed me with her vocabulary, her insights, her evaluative reading, her positively voracious and precocious reading, her charm, her gentle goofiness, her forthrightness, her neurosis; she seemed to fear nothing (but that wasn’t true); she had published poetry in real journals before she was 17 years old; she read Rilke and Yeats; had affairs with well-known poets; spent years fathoming Jung. In 1994, she wrote an opinion piece for what is now AWP’s Writer’s Chronicle responding indignantly to Dana Gioia’s article “Can Poetry Matter?”–a piece that started quite a dust-up among defenders of what has been termed “new formalism.”

Ariel had always been the sort of person who chose to disappear and then to reappear, to my joy, months or years later to take up the friendship without pause–and often without explanation for her absence. She had her reasons, and I respected that; but I missed her.

Ariel, 1977 or 78

Ariel, 1977 or 78

~

In the early 1980s, my (also late) friend David Dunn and I were publishing chapbooks under the small-press name LiMbo bar&grill Books. We approached Ariel for our second-ever chapbook: Poems for the Kazan Astrologer. She was, at the time, teaching creative writing at Old Dominion University. We were very happy with the outcome, but we had no good method of distributing the books. I may still have a box of 25 or so of these books somewhere in my attic.

Then Ariel became more intensely interested in Jungian psychology, though it had long been a passion of hers.

In subsequent years, she wrote less and less poetry and stopped submitting her work for publication. The response to her Writer’s Chronicle opinion was, I think, a bit shocking to her, though I know she stood by her opinion. She just decided, perhaps, that she felt more at home in the world of Jung and his followers.

During the past decade I have often tried tracking her down, imagining the internet would find her. My job at the college has made me a rather adept online researcher, but all that ever showed up was a listing for her psychotherapy practice in New York City. The number was incorrect.

Then, my father became very ill and other issues crowded my mind. Searching for a friend who clearly wanted to remain anonymous in an electronic era was not a priority.

Besides, I always assumed that Ariel would suddenly re-emerge, call me–my phone number remains the same as it was last time I saw her–and mention she was going to be in the area, and could she stop by? That’s how it had been before. And I’d be thrilled to see her, and we’d talk about poetry and art, and politics and pets, cheese, philosophy, psychology, parents, wine…

I assumed incorrectly. That’s what happens with assumptions. Just this past week, when I finally found myself with some spare time, I tried an internet search again. And found her “electronic obit” online, and the fact that she’d died in February of 2013.

~

I have no words to express how this information feels to me.

And also–

~

Arthur Cadieux, 1943-2015

Arthur Cadieux in 1978, a photo taken by Jim Terkeurst.

Arthur Cadieux in 1978, a photo taken by Jim Terkeurst.

 

 

279519_2290955317647_6522544_o

Arthur 2011, Eastport, Main

Arthur in 2015. Photo Elizabeth Ostrander.

Arthur in 2015. Photo Elizabeth Ostrander.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~

Arthur Cadieux was my art teacher at Thomas Jefferson College in the late 1970s. He and his wife, Helene, were exceptionally kind to young adults who had an interest in art and in observing the world around them. We had dinner at their house in Michigan and at their loft apartment in New York City. Years later, after Helene’s tragically early death, and after Arthur had moved back to Maine, he let me stay at their cottage on Leighton Point (he lived in a smaller house in town) so that I could have a personal “writing retreat.” He deeply understood the creative person’s need for reflection, evaluation, thought, imagination, boredom, and occasional moments of lively talk.  The universe needs people like Arthur Cadieux, talented and generous, who are constantly pushing their own boundaries. Many of us who benefited from his friendship will miss him. Arthur’s paintings can be found at his website, arthurcadieux.org.

~

May they be free from suffering and causes of suffering.
May they never be separated from the happiness that is free from suffering.