EUREKA POZ -- May 22, 2008

I am reposting this in support of Richard McDowell's nomination for 2009 Downtown Poet Laureate.

I first met Downtown writer and artist Richard McDowell at Banquette on Main Street. He lived in the Canadian Building at the time, but he told me about other places he has lived in Downtown. He also spoke of some of the adventures he has had while living Downtown.

When he found out that I was an English teacher, he went to Parks Market (now closed) and returned with a copy of his book Thirty Days on Spring (A Junkie Needs Relief). He gave the book to me but asked for one thing in return. He wanted my critical feedback as a teacher of writing.

What English teacher could refuse a quid pro quo like that? I gave him a formal, old-school thesis paper based on the symbolism of rain in his book as my end of the deal.

McDowell's book can be purchased from Metropolis Books. I suspect he can sell a copy to you also. He can often be found outside at Banquette early in the morning.

This is what I gave him:

"Richard McDowell's Punctuation of Rain"
A review of Thirty Days on Spring (A Junkie Needs Relief)

By Joe Cornish

Artwork by Richard McDowell

"It's raining again. The streets, like the source of my difficulty, merge to retain and share a moment of melancholy, a moment of happiness, rejoicing while I believe all is lost. It's quiet out there. Has anything changed? Not really. Only the coming and going of restless souls, the souls of this building, while I remain the same. Some are content, along for the ride, asleep. They've left it to me, to keep watch, to write it all down on scraps of paper, to record what is happening, what comes to pass on this ship of fools."
--From "This Sinking Ship," Thirty Days on Spring

Rain, a recurring symbol in Richard McDowell's Thirty Days on Spring (A Junkie Needs Relief), is used in two traditional symbolic ways. It sometimes reflects the unhappiness or desperate confusion of the author, while serving at other times as a nourishing force from above. Rain in this latter role not only mirrors good things for the protagonist, but also contributes to his outlook and emotions in a positive way. These contrasting symbolic interpretations of rain clearly punctuate the author's reflective narrative in significantly meaningful and important ways.

The journal's first use of rain is in the beginning entry "I'm Wearing a Hat." It has been cold lately, the author writes, a cold partly caused by his surroundings of "insane to soulless, poverty, drugs, trash, filth, dirt and garbage." The chill is also due to his personal anguish, deprivation and search for answers. All this time the rain is constant for a day and a half while it provides a backdrop for his uncertainty and disturbing environment.

The nature and effect of rain change when it falls again in "The Lady in Black," a chapter with a theme of relief. McDowell's mood and outlook now is mostly positive; he mentions the comfort of home for two people he gifts with twenty dollars, all the money he has with him. He perceives that this act "makes(s) (them) feel better" and when he walks out into the rain, he senses it as being good, something that "washes away the scuzz of this heaven." Even as a woman's urine mingles with the rain on the concrete, the author feels "relief, an untimed release" while the cleansing "drops of rain (fall) from the trees."

The rain falling again in "This Sinking Ship" functions in duel symbolic ways within just one sentence. The wet streets hold "a moment of melancholy (and) happiness" for his content neighbors even while the damp streets are "the source of (his) difficulty," leading to the author's "belie(f) all is lost." He is cold again and metaphorically links water to an iceberg. Now the rain floods overhead while the wet night accompanies his feelings of loneliness, deprivation and near madness.

The duel symbolic uses of rain are similarly summed up in the later entry "Like Dying Rats" when the journalist writes of rain's misery even as he longs for the descending water's companionship.

When McDowell wakes to rain's sound in "Listening to Raindrops," it symbolically serves as a good friend, an enchanting escort. Here the rain assumes its nourishing function; the writer likes it and finds peace and comfort in its real emotions as he listens to it and watches its fall. He now feels like writing. Rain, "come sit with me," he asks. It is an enjoyable rhythm, one that gives him pleasure and dances with his appreciative mood.

Just as Richard McDowell's Thirty Days on Spring (A Junkie Needs Relief) reflects two sides of his personal feelings, observations and reactions, the dominate theme of rain is similarly paradoxical. In just thirty days it periodically supports, enhances and accompanies even as it chills, floods and causes misery. These polar uses of rain clearly constitute important and parallel elements in McDowell's journal.

Joe Cornish: I'm a retired high school English teacher who lives in Eureka, California. I have been HIV+ (POZ) and healthy for over 23 years and I am addicted to weight lifting. I live with a bull terrier named Ruby. Read more at

Thirty Days on Spring
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