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The Passing of a Poet

By Larry Leonard

So long to a crazy giant named Pintarich

October, 2011 — In September, an Oregon poet named Paul Pintarich died after injuries received in what the local paper called a “kitchen fire.”

Paul was an early contributor to this incarnation of Oregon Magazine. His poetry still resides in that section. Some of his journalism may be found in our cover classics section, where we store work which for one reason or another strikes us as important. Pintarich was a big, good-looking fellow. In the U.S. Marines, his job was “corpsman.” BHO pronounces it “corpse-man,” which capitalizes his ignorance of military things. But, Pintarich probably voted for Obama, and would have forgiven the Commander in Chief for the verbal screwup.

When you hear the actors in a war movie calling, “Medic !!!” what they want is the services of a corpsman. (Pronounced kor-man, it’s the designation for a combat unit male nurse they often call “Doc.” They are not doctors, but my guess is that they’ve saved more lives than all the civilian medical doctors in history, combined. Without question, they’ve seen more death than all the civilian medical doctors in history, combined. The Civil War numbers alone would see to that.  If Paul Pintarich ever served in combat, he did not mention it to me.

Good old Joe Bianco

For men of that era, we talked quite often. Our friendship had very few downs. It was mostly ups, and persisted over decades, beginning back in the Sixties when I first wrote a piece for Northwest Magazine, which was a tabloid Sunday supplement inserted into the Oregonian.

Back in that day, when there were yet citizens who could recall seeing a covered wagon next to the barn on their grandparent’s farm, the Oregonian was the top newspaper dog in this state. The Sunday edition was so large and had so many pages that you could insulate an entire fifty foot trailer home by glueing a single edition to the inside walls. My contributions to Northwest Magazine would insulate a couple of those traliers. Here’s one of them:

Black Holes

The editor was a grumpy mafia type named Joe. His assistant during those early days was the gentle giant Marine male nurse known as Pintarich. Paul’s career at the Oregonian began years before that, on the police beat. Why he ended up as the paper’s official book reviewer, poetry editor and assistant sunday supplement boss is not known to me. One does not connect gigantic U.S. Marine medics with writers who usually use three names. Percy Bysshe Shelley. Alfred Lord Tennyson. That sort of thing. (Oddly similar to usage common to serial killers — who also are usually known by three names. Poets and serial butchers. Very strange people.)

So, Pintarich drifted with ease between the worlds of cops and their bad guys, and poets and their gentle bowers. Hate and soft reflection. Frozen death in the dark and spring blossoms on Japanese cherry trees. Jack the Ripper or Joe Bianco, they were all interesting to Pintarich. (It is your job to guess which of the last two comparatives represents the villain and which the cherry blossoms.)

Joe Bianco as of this writing runs a publishing house somewhere in Portland. Bianco Publications or Bianco Press, maybe. He did an anthology of the best from the old Sunday NW Mag days, and published at least one book by Pintarich, I think. (I’ll be Seventy this month. As Ray Bradbury told me it would, I’ve come to the day when I can’t pick up a newspaper because it will contain a notice saying that another of my old writing pals is dead.)

The one-armed angler

Back then, when the world was young and television was recently black and white, there was a comedian named George Gobel. He told me a fishing joke. “Did you hear,” he asked, “about the one armed angler who caught a trout this big?”

I was living in the concrete cabin on the corner of the creek during the Eighties. Just a ways below the Meacham Rd. bridge. Heaven, itself, for those who stand in summer tunnels of green streamside alder trees and cast imitation insects for the wily salmo clarkii clarkii. When Pintarich discovered that somebody who liked writing for his “magazine” (a sunday supplement tabolid is made of newsprint, not slick paper), he demanded fishing rights on the East Fork, followed by a big soda upon his arrival at the end of each event. In all the decades, I never saw Paul take an alcoholic drink.

If you had seen this nearly seven feet tall giant working a flyrod with an Oregon country afternoon sun glistening the curling line and bronzing the wavetops of the riffles, you would have understood poetry without ever reading a poem. When I first watched him release a chunky cutthroat trout and send it back into the green depths, I finally assembled the contrapuntal elements into one chunk you could illustrate in an autumn fishing calendar.

I was looking at a seven foot Marine named Ozzie Nelson. Well, the gentle quality is poetic, and you don’t expect the celebration of cherry blossoms from Archie Bunker. (I am the world’s only conservative poet.)

Once, I took Paul to meet the widow of the photographic genius, Sjef Wildschut. (Pronounced: Shef Vildskoot, it is, to the surprise of few people, a Dutch name. (Our family barn in North Plains was of Dutch design, and beautiful to a fault, like their windmills.) I thought that having once lived with an associate of a legendary Western landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, she might sparkle in the company of a great Oregon poet.

After the visit, Paul sent her the following poem:

I COULD TELL BY HER OUTFIT…..

That she had been around

Was no question.

I saw it in the pictures and the smells

Of a grand old barn; a horse

Out there, and goats.

The new-old wood of a house

Built wide-window bright,

Not to be a sad lasting memory.

A wide porch against the rain,

Chairs facing east, where

The sun rises over a past

That held much more.

Boots in the bedroom;

Paintings, photos, things

To be touched, remembered;

Her beauty startling me

When I caught a glimpse of her

Smiling, and getting along.

 

— Paul Pintarich 3 Feb. ‘07

 

Poetry is often an intense description of a moment which is timeless. Tennyson described mountains as clouds: Immense objects which assembled themselves, then dissolved away. If you ask a geologist for a better description of mountains over time, he will tell you that a better description than this is impossible.

We’re not talking about Rap junk, here. We’re not talking about official White House designees, selected for the political ideology in their work, or because they have the official approval of the Progressive university lords which presently anoint only sociaist poets. Here, we’re talking about real poets. Pintarich was a real poet.

Time has a way of passing

We talked about things while the anti-war hippies marched through the streets of Portland. We watched the astronauts bouncing across the moon. We watched the rise and fall of writers and presidents and wars. We saw Berlin Wall go both up and down in our lifetimes. We saw the World Trade Center go down forty years after our friendship began. We watched Portland change from a tough little port city into a spandex-loving, politically-correct bicycle town. The Rose Parade with floats containing Civil War veterans changed into Gay Day celebrations, with scantily-clad males on the floats, looking like something out of an ancient Greek bath tile graphic.

In all those decades, amidst all the turmoil, we probably talked to each other in person maybe thirty times. During the summers when the trout were rising. During the winters when, like the SF writer, Bob Scheckly, he just came over to sit before the iron fireplace and listen to the creek. Mostly we talked on the phone, and later, emails.

Pintarich approved of the swing to the Left in America. I thought the whole thing was a kind of cancer that would one day use the Constitution for toilet paper and then flush it into a sewer.

We argued about all that. One day he told me that he was retiring from the Oregonian a bit early because of pressure from staff feminists. It seems his large presence was an aura of male aggressive sexism as he walked through the newspaper offices. At the time, I told him he was an idiot for buying that. Nothing liberals say, I explained, means what they want you to believe it means.

“All this is, ” I told him, “is the using of terms like justice and equality as a cover for achieving power. What they want is control of the top jobs at the Oregonian. You have one, and they want it.”

It’s a liberal jungle out there 

He was a liberal. He compliantly left the premises so the Progressive church princesses could have their sway in the holy of holies to Marxists — the media !!!! (French horns blaring, Queen Huffington enters, Stage Left.). So, off he went to weekend visits to coastal casinos, living the quiet life and slowlly fading away. He made one trip to Australia during his retirement, later describing part of it to me. Here it is:

He found a superb little cove on the lonely, barely-populated Western coast, and stripped naked to have a long, luxurious swim amongst the colorful corals and critters. Finally coming out, he saw an old man sitting on a rock, watching him.

“Boy, this is beautiful,” Paul said to the man. “How come people don’t swim here?”

“Well,” said the old Australian, ” some think it’s because of the poison blue octopussies, and others think it’s because of the killer sting rays. But I don’t hold with that. You don’t see the sea crocs around here, and not many tiger sharks, either. So, I think it’s either the little jellyfish that can kill a man in less than a minute, or the lionfish that can do the job in about an hour.”

Paul Pintarich spent his entire professional life in a pool of poisonous killers without ever knowing they were there. When he told me this story, I don’t think he had the faintest thought that he was on the spot speaking in allegory, with the metaphors of poetry. Oregon journalists of the type he worked with closely resemble spineless, deadly animals.

So, it’s Godspeed to the Pintarich. I hope they have trout streams wherever you are. But, if they’re lovely Australian cove pools, for God’s sake just this once listen to Leonard and watch where you are stepping.

(LL)

Link to an Oregon Magazine piece by Paul Pintarich:  The Summer of our Discontent

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