Robert McDowell, a guest lecturer at University of California at Santa Cruz, is editor and publisher of The Reaper magazine as well as Story Line Press, both devoted to poetry. The author/editor/translator of ten books of poetry and prose, McDowell has led workshops at Esalen, Kripalu, Pine Manor Retreat Center, California Poets-in-the-Schools, and many universities and writing conferences here and abroad. He created the community outreach program, The Rural Readers Project, and was co-founder of Story Line Press, which he led as director and editor for twenty-two years.
A book-length poem that brilliantly reinvents narrative poetry, The Diviners is a single poem divided into five chapters, each a different decade. McDowell relates the most crucial developments in each decade spanning from the 1950s through 1990s, of the shared lives of Al, Eleanor, and their son, Tom. The Diviners records in blank verse the family’s beginnings, their growth, their problems, their separation, and their ultimate reunion. The events that follow the intertwined lives of the characters illustrate the endless capacity for human empathy.
Robert McDowell is a genuine poetic innovator, and Quiet Money is his first collection. Rezoning an honored old form—narrative verse—McDowell’s poems read almost like short stories, yet there is nothing prose like about his manner of expression. Here you will find careful craft and the presence of what Pound called “luminous detail.” In the long title poem, “Quiet Money,” a man flies solo across the Atlantic before Lindbergh, but can’t crow about it because he was merely a flying bootlegger picking up gin in Norway. Full of humor and desperation, these are poems from the middle-class world. “The Liberated Bowler” tells of a woman who can’t find a man able to cope with her talent. There is even a wicket parody of Robert Service, the man who gave narrative poetry such a bad name. As the poet Mark Jarman has written, “With Quiet Money Robert McDowell joins the big three of American narrative poetry—Robinson, Frost, and Jeffers. His is an important contribution, not only to poetry but to fiction as well.”