- The End of Dreams, and: Not God
Thoreau's experiment of living at Walden Pond taught him-and us-the difference between being "lonely" and being alone. Floyd Skloot's "experiment" of moving to a small, round house in the Oregon woods differs from Thoreau's in many respects: for one, Skloot did not as self-consciously make his way to Amity, Oregon, as did Thoreau to Walden Pond; for another, Skloot stayed longer, much longer, because unlike Thoreau at Walden Pond, this is where he intends to live. And there is this important difference: Skloot shares his relatively isolated living arrangement with his wife, Beverly, an Impressionist painter who provides the cover for The End of Dreams. Nonetheless, Skloot and Thoreau share a deep-seated conviction that alone amid the ever-changing natural landscape is not at all what most people know as "loneliness."
In a recent telephone interview, Skloot told me that he "doesn't get around much"-partly because he still suffers the effects of a brain virus [End Page 200] he discussed in a handful of personal essays and two books of memoir, and partly because Skloot is not only modest but downright self-effacing.
In truth, Skloot "gets around" a good deal-coming East to see his daughter, the writer Rebecca Skloot, to give readings and workshops, and most recently, to accept an honorary degree from his alma mater, Franklin and Marshall College. Skloot has also sipped from exotic watering holes overseas, including a stint as a Fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio, Italy.
The thirty-three poems collected in The End of Dreams return Skloot to his first love: largely formal, lyric poetry. This, despite the fact that he is widely known (perhaps a bit too widely known) for his memoirs about illness. Skloot tells me that the poems under consideration were finished in 2001 and accepted by Louisiana University Press in 2002, but there was a four-year wait during which he published another collection of poems, Approximately Paradise, written after the ones in The End of Dreams. Such are the vagaries of writing poetry in America. Many another poet, impatient to see his or her work in print, might have succumbed to despair, but not Skloot; he has survived far worse and he knows to his bones that what matters are the poems, not when they are published.
Since truth in advertising demands that I come clean about my relationship with Mr. Skloot, let me simply say that he walked into my verse-writing workshop at Franklin and Marshall College during the early 1970s. I did not know him as a freshman but Floyd (allow me to call him "Floyd," at least for the next few paragraphs) tells me that his focus then was entirely on making the college baseball team. An interest in writing poetry blossomed later, and his talent and seriousness were clear from the beginning.
I remember especially a poem Floyd wrote to a young Louise Gluck who was scheduled to visit our class in a few weeks. Floyd was smitten, and his poem showed it. I mention this piece of juvenilia not because the poem was at all distinguished but because it was later printed in the college literary magazine. My hunch is that Floyd would pay serious money if he could buy back all the copies and burn them in a backyard bonfire.
Floyd went on to a PhD program at Southern Illinois University, where he soon became a willing disciple of the Irish poet, Thomas Kinsella. Floyd soon tired of graduate courses in English literature, but he thrived in Kinsella's workshop and his poems grew ever stronger. After dropping out of the PhD program Floyd became, of all things for an English major, a budget officer for the state of Illinois. The work may have been tedious (how could it not have been?) but his large salary allowed him to make frequent trips to Chicago where he would buy $500-600 worth of new poetry books at a clip...