Introduction

i.

I read lines by Greg Keeler before I even knew they were his. In Gary Snyder’s book The
Practice of the Wild
, which I read in college in the mid-90s, there appears an odd little
unattributed couplet in the opening pages—I can quote it by memory: “What’s that dark
thing in the water? / Is it not an oil-soaked otter?” This curio stuck with me, as it seemed
to recklessly collide Romantic nature imagery with all the ambient terror of postmodern
hyperobjects. Several years later I met Greg, when I was a graduate student at Montana
State University where I took a fiction workshop with him. Greg would leave comments
on the back pages of our stories, handscrawled koans mixing observation, reading
recommendations, advice, and encouragement. I have my pile of those stories, with
Greg’s priceless commentary, stashed in a box under my desk today.

Zooming down Highway 90 on our way to a secret fishing hole near the Missouri
River headwaters, Greg told me that the otter couplet in Snyder’s book came from him,
that he’d sung them jokingly to Snyder on one of their outings decades prior; Snyder had
mentally cataloged the earwormy-lines and repurposed them in his book to make a point
about how humans had messed up the planet—horribly, but also with attendant beauty.

Greg’s sonnets, which he has been writing each morning for over twenty years,
still contain earworms. They continue to bore away at the puzzles of living and aging in a
world that’s on the steep end of a J-curve. The planet is warming, waters are rising; the
drones must be flying. And the birds that are left still sing—like Greg’s sonnets in my
inbox at dawn, arriving again and again, against increasing odds.

—Christopher Schaberg

ii.

Chris first sent me one of Greg’s sonnets six or seven years ago. I read it, liked it, and we
published it at New Orleans Review, the magazine I was editing at the time. Although the
poem, titled “No One,” likely made little stir in the world, I kept thinking about it. And
then Chris would periodically forward me more sonnets; Greg was writing one a day as
well as voice-recording them. The poems made me seek out his other writing—poems
and prose—books with titles such as Trash Fish: A Life, Epiphany at Goofy’s Gas, Spring
Catch, American Falls: Poems,
and Waltzing with the Captain, a book of nonfiction
stories about his friend, the literary eccentric Richard Brautigan. The more I read of
Greg’s writing, the more I appreciated the fine body of work. But it was the sonnets that
Chris continued sending that kept me enthralled. They enacted, and still enact, what I’ve
always loved about poems: the sustained meaning of serious play.

Greg’s sonnets reflect and recollect in the way that late/old age seems to demand
of a person, perhaps particularly a poet. That is, even in their younger years poets often
relish projecting into a future in which they’ve attained a certain degree of experience;
“old before one’s years” is often a label stuck upon the auspicious.

I’ve casted those sentences with full knowledge that Greg might very well reply
with something like Oh bullshit, you just write what you write, auspicious, inauspicious,
young, old, it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters now like I thought it would matter. And
everything matters in a way one couldn’t have expected.

Maybe Greg wouldn’t reply that way; after all, I only “know” him through his
writing. But one thing I know is that his sonnets continually defy and upend my
expectations. A poem at first may seem casual, using a piece of received language or a
well-traveled notion, then at some point, an image, a line, a fresh turn of thought will stun
me—not in a shocking way, but subtly, in a way that, dare I say it, comes from having
lived a long time in the world. These poems aren’t exactly “songs of experience”; they
hold too much backhanded optimism for that. They are poems that play with our idea of
what counts for experience, and what we think we know about the ins and outs of our
day-to-day lives.

As you read the sonnets, you will sense all the lived experience behind them. Or
maybe you won’t. Instead, you’ll get caught up in the play of gravitas and comedy. If you
do nothing else, enjoy his poem about the moon written, I believe, for those of us who
have a profound distaste for poems about the moon.

—Mark Yakich

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