Kenneth O. Hanson was a Professor of English and Humanities at Reed College in Portland Oregon where I taught for many years. I didn’t know him well but I was aware of his dedication to teaching and his students throughout the thirty-two years he was at the College.
I also knew that each summer he traveled to Greece which he apparently discovered in 1963 and where he moved to permanently after retiring from the faculty. I was relatively unfamiliar with his poetry, but there is one poem that he wrote that is among my favorites. I have framed one of the few linocut impressions made of it and it always hangs on the wall in the room where I have my desk.
The poem, First of All, conveys much of what I have tried to describe elsewhere in my search for a place. In both Hanson’s and my case, place refers to a geographical and community setting where one feels at home. Hanson found his home in Greece.
Others have found find it in the writing they do as Jhumpa Lahiri has: "I never felt that I had any claim to any place in the world. But, but in my writing, I've found my home, really, in a very basic sense — in a way that I never had one growing up."
Or in books and walking in the woods, as Patrick Kurp, author of the blog Anecdotal Evidence, has: “Most days, I can feel at home in two places -- among books, in a library or shop, and walking in woods and fields. In these settings I know equilibrium, which should not be confused with anything so grand as happiness, contentment or security.”
Or in the very search for a place itself as Zadie Smith suggests: “Our endless and impossible journey towards home is in fact our home.”
In First of All Hanson describes what he is looking for in this search and what it is like in the place where he found his home. The poem is shown as it does in impression that I have framed.
First of All Kenneth O. Hanson
First of all it is necessary
to find yourself a country
--which is not easy.
It takes much looking
after which you must be lucky.
There must be rocks and water
and a sky that is willing
to take itself for granted
without being overbearing.
There should be fresh fish
in the harbor, fresh bread
in the local stores.
The people should know
how to suffer without
being unhappy, and how to be happy
without feeling guilty. The men
should be named Dimitrios
Costa, John or Evangelos
The newspapers should always
lie, which gives you something
to think about. There should be
great gods in the background
and on all the mountaintops.
There should be lesser gods
in the fields, and nymphs
about all the cool fountains
The past should be always
somewhere in the distance
not taken to seriously
but there always giving perspective.
The present should consist of the seven
days of the week forever.
The music should be broken-hearted
without being self-indulgent.
It should be difficult to sing.
Even the birds in the trees should
work for a dangerous living.
When it rains there should be
no doubt about it. The people
should be hard to govern
and not know how to queue up.
They should come from the villages
and go out to sea, and go back
to the villages. There should be
no word in their language
for self-pity. They should
be farmers and sailors, with only
a few poets. The olive trees
and the orange trees and the cypress
will change your life, the rocks
and the lies and the gods
and the strict music. If you go there
you should be prepared to leave
at a moment’s notice, knowing
after all you have been somewhere.