Rodney Nelson



I watched from hiding on Norwegian’s ranch north of bay, a curtain of pittosporum tween me and opiate Sonoma July, grave suburban quiet over onetime cow field chicken land, wrote antique poem and narrative legend had translated Oskar Loerke at hest of editor not wanted to then

solicited by a small press publ. in Alamo, Ca. Everyone liked the Loerke translations

I put in notebook nineteen seventy-six, the name Holmgangers Press a twitch to me who Norwegian Swede from Dakota had taken northen loring to own work as magic contra the blatant Mexico San Francisco Germany that had dinned me into retreat and knowing what holmganga meant, head to death-duel on ilot, thought it unbefitted lexicon of any

West Coast editor for SNOWY EGRET


wondered if you’d have something for us. Say in particular, a piece on Loerke, Lehmannn, or some more general view of German nature poetry (or Norse!)?


chapbook mss, for the Holmgang, for this year

and signed him

klahowya! Gary Elder

I might have met in all that foregone parahippie time, maybe he had taken rune as well, I had heard of not read him a tory editor I had known in Dakota having raked


as too

look, Ma, it’s contemporary!

had been withdrawing from action myself read Jeffers written like Winters, watched him drive into tidy ranch yard a man of height that stetson and shitkicker added to, vault out of truck as onto stage of happy fray, run with dog to meet Norwegian’s huge mild malamute the both tail-up, Gary had theater in him had accepted poems of mine was en route to north coast where he wife Jeane were at work on new home, thought me viking a poet better than I thought I was who did not know a way to take him but enjoyed the lowkey chat over wine had inkled this cowboy beatnik mountain man of

scratching this off to you at 4 am—another Big Cat tearing at the Longship—Gene Detro pointed out just t’other day that I am kind of writing, by making a poem out of me and my letters—a strangely lifting thought/&/gesture—the man IS a shaman—one who’s been thru Hel &, I pray to god, Odin, the hawks, come back

and other livewire written word would come on genteel unmouthy in person, that he had ridden in at a right or wrong or anyhow fraught moment I did not yet know, was having to break cover return to action needed acknowledgement, would next see him when he wife Jeane overnighted on like errand in spring, note the talk the mien of him turn grumly toward wine’s late end the dark

have I offended someone here

with which he left our cabin to join wife in guest hut, my Norwegian inlaw awatch if awake in main house over the yard, have to drunken assure my own wife she had done no wrong might have laughed at a holy favorite word so we did not rise to their departing knock were we aware of it in ay-em read thank-you note he had tucked in screen on further way to build Longship name of new home would learn the man did not grudge, that from eastern Oregon in early sixties he had been

drawn to the cultural ferment of the San Francisco Bay Area where he has lived since, between periodic “rejuicing” journeys to the Sierras, the Southwest, and back to Oregon

with titles

Making Touch
Grosser Fagot Fugit
The Far Side of the Storm

in print none of which I read then in toto my rearward mind amayed at wild word use arrangement I had known in city, typography jinks, idiolect even idioglossia one had to adopt or be shut out yet I got charmed infected would have to hang with a man who wanted to publish me, not have foretold a coming in some time to like his gift the manner of it too, the prose narrative

Rabbit Dance

an own tale he had edited into

The Far Side of the Storm: New Ranges of Western Fiction

already an omen, this

day there was no sky. Air rattled like tents, then the wind slapped itself and flitted in sheets actual as canvas. East, the Blue Mountains lay down to their feet in clouds

and the passagework he did tween sections exempli gratia

we haunt our own center. Are we the stuff or the spectre; and would we know? We must have been there near some dawn to feel such loss toward sunset. There is evidence: shreds of the ripped epic like faint women over the swirling prairie or the electric charge rearing up the Bitter-root, Wasatch, Sawtooth Rockies

were writing I could hold to, can, would have common footing with him on Jeffers the West, idiom not idiolect, now and right along, May seventy-seven I heard him perform in bookshop in Walnut Creek a Holmgang reading to which he coda’d some Elder a Dylan Thomas in modulated baritone, Gary wife Jeane having everyone to Alamo later, the home at foot of Las Trampas Peak looked east toward high right Mount Diablo though tree hid view, San Ramon Valley a humming suburbia not quiet ranchero county O’Neill had dwelt in that the not only

cultural ferment of the San Francisco Bay Area

had overrun as it had Petaluma the ranch my wife grew up on at west edge mere hemmed-in cell, Jeane had put fine fixins on table, came no last of wine that day, were we a gathering of suburbia or anti, were he the rest and I suburbian poets or an outlaw few emerged to mix with habitanos in private, my question only today nor did I think as I broke retreat the yard of others’ dream a quick cruel break that he might head on into deeper one, I had much to do in June with new woman return to action a job in psychiatry scut had no time for what Gary heart-wrote

do not blame Elle

defending my rejected mate yet I sent him a wry-bred novel a viking vaquero in it had had no word come winter and must have written enstelig goosey to him to judge the

I have BOOTS on as one of HP’s major projects for the year, & I thot you knew

reply dated Longship one five seventy-eight which led into

now, I’m not gonna crank up the verbiage over the upsetting parts of yr note; I just relly wonder what exactly you mean poking that “altruism is horseshit” line at me


if no editorial values or judgements were involved, you’d sure as HELL do better to pub yr own work


the carrying on of a smallpress is ASSHOLE altruistic. SO is the work of art


another Big Cat sother winding up. Let’s see you up here & carry on

just what I might have shat at him I do not know who kept no notebook that asshole year of mine, memory the true coyote, the man did not grudge, I drove with young sagehen north on redwood road and narrow other that bangtailed up over mountain arriving Longship end of afternoon to clean January light, in view all the Pacific, they had tree-shorn the King Range flank to allow backcountry development and Elder home looked west down a more than thousand feet to Point Delgada the cove, sat at head of Dead Man’s Gulch its windowed prow right into whatkin storm might rush it eye level to crew, no big cat ahunt during visit, taped music everywhere, whale jazz, and wined rich-fed we met at hearth to talk on novel I had written nineteen seventy-two ere he had ridden in, my viking vaquero a seeming fit to Holmgang were mad kid Boots more Wyndham Lewis’ than my own or not, Gary had not much

too bad epic has to be comedy now

to demure had flagged one part as in


style to which I bade


in relief, he nodded at that was nothing but good to my companion who quite the live dictionary wanted us to make the thing

an underground classic

had been so to Elle would be to another, Jeane the same, they had not yet finished house-hull or quite moved out of Alamo but leaving them at sea-song height I deemed him Arnulf in place, the jarl arrived, did not take in heed what else I had whiffed a medicine that had to do with lovely cove itself not him, bad, not that I knew or thought, might have had some raw perception of chthonian weakness the country’s smile could not hide or of a remnant unwritten Sinkyone Indian tragedy that had put pall on it warning man not move in, I would not have lived there was out of the brush anyway on return to Sonoma a job in mad ward no time or want to write, a


my calico needed to


now, to Dakota alone awaiting publication that next winter whence I took the novel on road touring Oregon the Newport Waldport it had been set in would visit a store tote sample copy show how to order, stay with man in Portland whom Elder knew from antient college time who greeted him

hello Big Fighter

when he called, Oregon chilly wet unattractive though warm toward book, no he would not mind if I lay over in Alamo awhile, I had winded run out of money would have to seek work in California my nut-trade license good only there, I rode bus south in hemicoma until a quick drop from rain land to Mendocino County winter sun woke me to what of the lime-green Petaluma January I had known was moving through now I missed, the trip

like coming home. Arrival at the Elders’

I wrote in notebook, welcomed to a privacy not mine wherein I would drink eat well have talk that often ran into swag mid job-hunt round bay even night-drive with him to remote smoky mother lode to meet the downright Len Fulton who had published


nineteen seventy bringing out new edition, get many a chance to hire on in San Mateo Walnut Creek the city but did not know lacked urge it seemed the return having woken more than appreciation of landscape a sense what I had done to mate the enormity not knowing what I ought or wanted to do, was mainly away on the high lope but sometime rain would keep me in where Gary needed whole house to stride and write, awkward man he had not asked to intrude underfoot, meant by week three’s end my cinch was getting frayed that I would accept their plan to watch the home while they vacationed at Longship not tarry to see them back, I would do it take a job then shirk down to San Diego have one hurt talk with Elle end up in Dakota yet not lose track of him
who wrote

with high regard
to Avatar Egil
in new Arnulf, the man did not grudge, no I came to reread him liking both parlando

        watershoots from a dying tree
we grow on sheer nervous futility through the wasted twist
of our youth to an acarpous state of suspended vegetation
& grow & grow; never mature

and sung

        this would be my city
bright slice of gullwing
casting the radiant stone
of my sky, your sky
my hand, look, & close
your eyes
        this is my city

he would write

for Rodney & Ann Nelson
—a taste
after such a long dry spell

in copy of nineteen eighty book

Eyes On the Land

that I was pleased to review did not know he had been in drought, paraphrase of Gene Detro on

making a poem out of me and my letters

he had written me time ago might have hinted at that, I told him the next new wife and I would be stopping on trip from Alaska Canada which visit he had encouraged forgiven my overstay, their one home Longship good come to now in bright warm end of summer eighty-two to line our flue have wine on sundeck or what a neighbor might bring, many one old in the cove I thought, retirement ocean view, Gary forty-three but half drunk toward sunset among them, Texas country day or evening music fare in the wired hull, yet he did not overween remained in even mood kept easy rein on tongue enjoyed Ann’s drawing of him nor did the cove seem to omen, not that I detected had none too keen a nose that trip in throe of bottle fever myself who heard him rivet on marijuana harvest government planes and found it right a man that voted in eden should have to do with immediate local materia with time to work when aged company left, had made a home where I would not have dreamed or dared to, Len Fulton’s take on him

in my last visit to Shelter Cove, more than twenty years ago now, he was restless, drinking, and somewhat paranoid

in recent letter to me unlike my own though he had come to Longship then too, I had a sort of home in pogonip Dakota gone back to which I heard from wrote to him and reckoned him well in hootowl retirement hollow, once he had put

cultural ferment

behind the writing had taken a turn I approved toward nature, deemed him in review of western poets to be the

one to watch

a remark he would quote in print, I liked the story collection anew, he had made anthology an art from the dedication

klahowya kahpho leloo
        skookum tumtum

to reverent ending cadence

        upon the land and how we know it.
That would be the marvel and the way

which latter I rode in body myself again, deep on to mountain Arizona, wrote him when I would the replies slow to come and I thought he had hit cover gone buck nun all out whom world had shocked too much, fixing to written contemn it no more even taunt it in coyote yarm, I seemed meant to hang and rattle in such world but approved who had done as I might have, he wife Jeane did travel Finland Leningrad one time but

naw, I ain’t been writing. Nothin. I no longer see even a ghost in the mirror. I cannot even speak the edge of despair & waste in me—the words, when I feel some wonder of a hawkflight, profane

the gist I heard, I told him then of medicine whiffed at cove had warned me away that he ought to move but knew he could not too late to listen, then got word he was

stove up

cirrhotic that I should

watch the sauce

or take a like hard hit, in would have been ninety-one or -two, that had brought

edema ascites

he did not add what all on with, I tried to hearty him up on his term in the

bed wagon

joke him to want to vault out of it yet knew someway that haven had turned entropic, poet secluded become invalid shut in, soul-hurt reached flesh, that time had the deadwood on him who might not unlike Patchen come through, and intending a visit to north of bay anyhow I thought to lie over at cove half week or so which got me invited a word of caution on the


I would find, Jeane adding travel data that went to use at Oakland airport wet January ninety-six whence in rented car I made a

foggy night dash to Shelter Cove. GE, once 6’3”, has become Richard III in stature. I had a hell night at the Elders’, trying to keep their cat off. Decided not to stay longer

I would write next day too dead terse in notebook, memory of hospital ship too live, its hold a vacuum of weary illness effluvia wherein their dog had maddened while winter salt wind cried without, had known I should not have come, any visit to trouble a troubling, having done it though at that waned evening hour at long dim road’s end I had for then to stay the


himself no appal to me who in sideline of work had known worse blighted, the man now queased to three-quarter lank met me seated a can of water beer in hand talking in warm attenuated voice of who had been or gone or written what, laid high praise on Jeane,
she had

saved my life

more than one time and way, I saw the truth in that, Miriam Patchen no more devoted, much of tired worry aura not from him, and they roomed me with cat in rank bed a demon that pissed it would not leave alone so fatigued awake come morning night I wrote them a note I needed sleep had gone to motel would return, met told Jeane in kitchen instead then rode down to cove the light on grey beach sand took leave of whatever malign or not indwelt but did not return or call would write

I was pissed at the cat and the cat-piss bed. You’ll understand

once in Arizona, thank them willy-nilly had had a good evening, I should have called would not have word from him again, too late to undo, working in hither Ukiah ninety-seven I tried with a card no reply, might well have friended him had I lived in state the which in twenty years I had not done but that one summer, to late to redo, March two thousand he died, in months I chanced to mention him in note to Len Fulton who told me of it, regretting the


that had opened tween Gary and him

because we were once close, but I think he became harder and harder on himself and everyone around

so I wrote to Jeane then Gerald Kaminski, he had published Gary’s

Hold Fire
Tending the Dream

lived on bay or immediate north region the

only writer/friend who stayed in close contact during the last years

according to Jeane, written a mourning poem attended Longship wake, thought many there seemed not to know

he had been a poet

which has brought retirement ocean view to memory, clink of glass on denture, the

words, when I feel some wonder of a hawkflight, profane

unkept, how much he might have done I do not know but like to think of the much he did, recount his time, I too went from hinterland into midsixty


not drawn to it though, unaware, dwelt in San Francisco but rode over bridge to read on kay-pee-eff-ay the station he ever in Berkeley would have listened to, we might have met at Vietnam Day march a libreria North Beach or Telegraph Avenue not the theater reading of Arnulf that he directed in seventy-two, I was wrangling my viking vaquero by then no want to go out, would take to suburban adytum right when he did who self-declaring him

not an avant gardist. & I avow poetry as necessarily the most conservative art, in its most animal root thrust

turned eye to out beyond the San Ramon with an

ultimate selfdestructing vision of Ragnarok (nuclear annihilation), the dark lyricbrutal nobility of Norse character (and the humor)

warding affrighting him both, while I the heir to remote vik past did not have yet to
get the

prophetically pertinent to American experience

he saw in it, the tradition to me a family trunk I could raid, not origin of

the vacuum of violence I feel in this country

the need to be

down out

of which had driven Arnulf, I would more look to Rome or Rome for that, no matter, he made a good long poem, my own myth may blind me to his, that Kaminski would put

alongside such milestones as The Wasteland and Howl. It has fallen by the wayside, probably because it is so difficult but also because Gary was so reclusive

and devoted the most of him to what he had not written, editing publishing, nineteen seventy-five and on which meant eat shit to go unthanked but do job well in spite of the

little respect authors and poets give the publishers, who sacrifice and suffer their own time and craft to develop the work that solely benefits others

Art Coelho wrote had learnt that too, aitch-pee becoming a home to him to

Gene Detro
Dean Phelps
Ernest Tedlock

mong worthy in print to now, they made a good list, too late to undo, nor have Arnulf the rest of oeuvre fallen by way altogether, remain in print, have to be read, I want to recount his time the every lead to whom had meaning, think of a wee book

Norske kjærlighets digte

that Elin og Svein had written in to Gurre

en god Jul 1945

I received from

scotch cousin Arnulf McIntosh 8.1.81

the mild poetry Wagnerian nordic twilight no wring of auld skald in it, get joke that who did not have the lingo had intended unwitting, mere prospect of whom await in envelope or at end of kinked road enough to heighten me, whatso moment winy awkward or rapt in chin music with whom I remember as if I had known even then in the act I would, too late to redo, the good is done, too late to undo redo is time to do again, write



I recall going over to Alamo, the other side of the Berkeley hills—always exotic territory for me—in 1976, I think. Gary published a book of mine in 1977, Root, Route, and Range. We sat—I bet it was late spring or summer—in his back yard. He had a loquat tree. I’d never seen one. A true person and an easy man to know. “Nature’s gentlemen” they used to call such nice guys when I was a kid. After Gary and Jeane moved north, we sort of drifted into different orbits, I having more and more responsibilities for parent and siblings’ health, Gary more silent with his health concerns. He and I were on the same track with poetry. I liked him and trusted his ear/eye/heart/head
.                                                                                                                                                                                         —Edward Mycue

I was always struck by the unflagging and positive energy that Gary showed, particularly in regard to reading and editing and publishing my work. He did three books of mine, but, sad to say, they did not sell enough to pay back his faith in them. I remember well our discussions via letters about the West and if there was really a western writing apart from the L.A. and Frisco scene that would stand up and cast its own shadow. There was and is, but major pubs showed little interest and the college presses were content, as most of them are now, to do one another favors and thus barter credentials and connections. It was Bill Hotchkiss and Gerald Haslam and Gary who reminded me that there were actually several “wests,” all worth exploring, and we could all fit under that big sky if we chose. Gary had an innate understanding of what I felt was important and was willing to take a chance on publishing an unknown writer who dealt with the reality and the shadowy spaces we pass through in attempting to come to terms with an area as an integral part of human existence in the swirling problem of history. If the story or poem is worth reading, then it should be read on its own terms, and Gary gave many of us a chance at being read. The memories are good.

—Dean Phelps

Gary was a big man in many ways. We met through poetry. Len Fulton at Dustbooks published works of ours in his longpoem series, and we met through him. But we probably touched more through music and and concern for Native Americans and the environment. We both were into jazz and experimental music. My favorite memories are of Gary pacing his high-ceilinged living room while Jeane cooked and cooked for hours past the scheduled time for eating. Music would be playing loudly, and we would be shouting ideas at each other and drinking wine by the gallon.

—Wally Depew

Poet Gary Elder has left us a small treasure trove of finely crafted, perhaps even visionary stories, an extensive list of books by various authors from his Holmgangers Press, and a body of poetry both intense and idiosyncratic and bearing the distinct mark of genius. He was a man who valued literature and who was fascinated by the western terrain and comprehended the impact of that terrain upon the consciousness and the creative process of his generation. Elder’s work must be kept available for those who come after us. I’m proud to say that Gary was my friend, just as I am sad that we fell out of contact during the last few years of his life, a time, I suspect, when he was most in need of friends. It was late summer of 1977 when Gary and Jeane Elder arrived at my place among the low hills near Newcastle, California—a few acres of dying pear trees, much brush and rocks, and a pond beside which poetry readings were conducted from time to time. Also present was the former Brother Antoninus, Bill Everson. This was the first meeting of Elder and Everson. By the time the summer sun had set and bullfrogs were booming around the pond, the audience had begun to arrive. Elder, who admitted that he often became quite nervous at readings, led off, explaining to the audience that it would be necessary for him to face away from them. Against a backdrop of splashing water and the groanings of frogs, Elder read from Eyes on the Land and his masterwork, Arnulfsaga, a foreshortening of the longpoem, as though he were fearful the audience might become restive. A short and intense silence followed the reading, then came the applause. In the morning we all ate breakfast together and spoke of meeting again at Everson’s Kingfisher Flat on the occasion of the older poet’s birthday in September.

—Bill Hotchkiss

Gary Elder is one of those people in small press I wish I’d met, he was so good to me. In ’79 I’d just started publishing books after many years of seeing individual poems and stories appear in magazines. I’ve forgotten how I got in touch with Gary. He was in California and I was in Arizona, and in the course of sharing some letters and work I mentioned that I’d written some one-act plays but nobody seemed to be interested in them. He wrote back and asked to see some. From that came an offer to publish a book, The Self-Mutilation of an Aged Apple Woman, that came out in 1980. He did a beautiful job. Gary was the nicest person I’ve ever known in small press. He’d go out on a limb for a writer he liked and publish material that might never sell but that he thought was innovative and interesting enough to put out to the reading public. He sure went out on a limb for me.

-Laurel Speer

I knew Gary Elder for about twenty years. We were pretty close, but about ten years ago he suddenly, without explanation, cut off all communication. He embodied a great notion of place: the West. Not the West of western civilization but rather the North American West. When I think about Gary, I often picture in my mind not the physical him but the view from the deck of his home on the Lost Coast, the panorama of mountains, ocean, and sky. I see Gary’s spirit in that mythic vista. His love of literature was impassioned and generous. Literature was a calling for him. He ran Holmgangers Press with a sense of mission that seemed to spring from the core of his being. I remember his laughter. Whenever I hear that phrase “roaring with laughter,” I think of Gary. That was Gary Elder, laughing-roaring, like a delighted lion.

-Robert Several