Party hats on, Malverinos, because tonight is a very special night at Malvern Books… we’re hosting a birthday celebration in honor of the late, great Albert Huffstickler!
Albert Huffstickler (December 17, 1927 – February 25, 2002) wasn’t born in Austin (his bio simply states “born in Texas”), but he lived in Austin in his later years, and became a local literary legend. You could usually find him in a café in Hyde Park, decked out in suspenders, smoking, drinking coffee, and working on a poem. (Rumor has it he wrote a poem a day, and his impressive publication record—four full-length collections, plus hundreds of poems published in chapbooks and journals—lends veracity to the story.) He was a two-time winner of the Austin Book Awards, and in 1989 the state legislature formally honored him for his contribution to Texas poetry. In May 2013, a new Hyde Park green space at the corner of 38th and Duval Streets was named Huffstickler Green in his honor. Huff was a friend and inspiration to many, and everyone who knew him talks of his kindness, his honesty, and his passionate support for local literature. Austin Community College English professor W. Joe Hoppe, who will be reading tonight, describes his friend and mentor as “a great encourager of poetry.” We’re delighted to be raising a glass in honor of Huff tonight, and we hope you’ll join us.
For more on Huffstickler’s work, I recommend checking out Issa’s Untidy Hut, the poetry blog of Lilliput Review, as they have a ton of Huff loveliness to be enjoyed. Meanwhile, here are a few of my favorite Huffstickler poems…
This is how Hopper would have painted it:
the line of yellow dryers
catching the sunlight from the broad window.
Man with his hand reached up to the coin slot,
head turned to the side as though reflecting,
woman bent over the wide table
intent on sorting,
another standing hands at her side, looking off—
as though visiting another country;
each thing as it is,
not reaching beyond the scene for his symbols,
saying merely, “On such and such a day,
it was just as I show you.”
Each person, each object, static
but the light a pilgrim.
* * *
We forget we’re
till the rain falls
and every atom
in our body
starts to go home.
* * *
My brother and I sang and sang
growing up, sang love songs from
operettas, sang pop, sang country
western. We didn’t think about
it, we just sang because we liked
the way the sound came out of us,
didn’t think about the words, just
sang because it felt good to have
music come out of your body and
we tied our feelings to the music
and let it all go like a kite
sailing up, up out of sight. No
use asking us why, we just did
it, just sang and sang. And
sang our way then into another
time where music was scarce and
it was harder to find the music
to tie the feelings to. I don’t
remember when I stopped singing.
Jack stopped when he died, not
forty yet, still a young man.
Tonight I sit and think about time
and music and where people’s lives
go and it’s night and there’s a
small breeze and I think about
people like Pavarotti and Louis
Armstrong and Ray Charles, singers
who can put people’s joy and
sorrow into music and sing it
for them and I believe to my soul
that there is no more wonderful
thing to do in this world than
to sing and that of all the things
in the world a man can do, there
is no more honorable occupation.