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John Skoyles

John Skoyles

John Skoyles met Tom in Iowa City in 1971, and their friendship continued over the next 46 years: they taught together at Sarah Lawrence, Warren Wilson, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and the Cranbrook Writers Retreat. They shared an apartment in Waltham, Massachusetts when Tom was at Sarah Lawrence and John moved to Emerson, where Tom received an honorary doctorate in 2003. John's most recent books are Suddenly, It's Evening and Inside Job. His fiction/nonfiction hybrid, The Nut File, is forthcoming from Quale Press.  

Skoyles Remembering

     Tom always saw to it that everyone was included in a conversation, an invitation, the community, even if the latter meant a seat in the humble booth of The Shamrock in Iowa City, the bar he favored in our student days over those frequented by poets and writers.  He was more at home with the insurance salesmen, truck drivers and carpenters. After Tom left the Workshop, (without his degree—he didn't care) and published his first book, Memory's Handgrenade, one of the guys there said to me, "How much did Lux make on that book? Forty thou?"  Tom loved that—an absurd notion that amused him no end.
     I recall countless instances of his paying for students at restaurants, bars and clubs.  In Black Mountain, a group of Warren Wilson faculty and students arrived at McDibbs, a music house, to find a steep cover charge.  The line was out the door, with students trying to scrape up the money and others having to leave, when a voice at the entrance announced that ten students could enter.  Paid for by Tom, of course, with all his ready cash, a gesture that continued again and again throughout his life.
     His work on Bill Knott's selected poems exemplifies another dimension of the natural generosity of his character.  I spoke with him when he was very ill; he called to be sure the AWP and Emerson College tribute panels to Bill would go on as planned.  I was heartened by our talk; his voice was frail but his spirit was strong.  I was optimistic about his recovery.  But a few days later, his wife, Jenny, told me that the Knott book was what kept him going; he had told her, "it was the best thing I've ever done."  
     This was typical of Tom: to put himself second and to summon all of his strength to see that his friend would be remembered.
     In this short space, I'll have to let that stand for the kind of person Tom was: a strong man, and a kind one.

The People of the Other Village

hate the people of this village
and would nail our hats
to our heads for refusing in their presence to remove them
or staple our hands to our foreheads
for refusing to salute them
if we did not hurt them first: mail them packages of rats,
mix their flour at night with broken glass.
We do this, they do that.
They peel the larynx from one of our brothers' throats.
We devein one of their sisters.
The quicksand pits they built were good.
Our amputation teams were better.
We trained some birds to steal their wheat.
They sent to us exploding ambassadors of peace.
They do this, we do that.
We canceled our sheep imports.
They no longer bought our blankets.
We mocked their greatest poet
and when that had no effect
we parodied the way they dance
which did cause pain, so they, in turn, said our God
was leprous, hairless.
We do this, they do that.
Ten thousand (10,000) years, ten thousand
(10,000) brutal, beautiful years.

 

 

 

from Split Horizon, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994

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