Saturday, March 29, 2008
the death of Jonathan Williams got me thinking. I never really studied him, in that sense of literary imperative. I met his work in the early 70s, when I read New American Poetry. I enjoyed Elite/Elate, and a couple of short later books. I'm not trying to place him in the poetry pantheon, just indicating my acquaintance. when artists die, exquisite documents of effect appear. those documents tend to work from template and are not, finally, useful. not having met JW, I cannot count coup on his memory in that way, either. it occurred to me that I have no iconic heroes left alive. I think the possibility of iconic hero has burnt off, in fact. Charles Olson affected me as a writer perhaps more than any other, tho I will say that the 1st writer that I emulated was probably Robert Benchley, he also of Worcester, Mass). I did not hear about Olson until as much as a year after his death, so he could hardly fulfill the role for me that Pound and Dahlberg did for O. but I did follow his indications. I read much of those writers associated, however accurately, with Black Mountain. sought out the historians that he touted, Sauer and Harrison, and the ancients. etc. it made sense to me, following this course, and still does. having said that, I recognize that Olson was nuts. Guy Davenport has a terrific essay in which he tries to find someone, among Olson's partisans and peers, who actually got what the Big O was talking about. good luck on that. nothing wrong with that bizarre sort of murk. I would say Jung, for instance, was pretty arcane as well. the caution is simply not to take it all too gullibly or systematically. the Olson Now conference that I attended last year couldn't quite shake free from slavish respect, tho Ben Friedlander for one posed some useful and sharp questions regarding Olson (an unvoiced anti-Semitism). Olson's body has lain mould'ring in the grave for nearly 40 years so the common grief of knowing him should have worn off. for that matter, the equal and opposite re-evaluation should have toned down too, but I do not think it has. I'm reading The Poem of a Life by Mark Scroggins, about Zukofsky. I may not finish it any time soon, my time is focused elsewhere, but it is a fine book about a fascinating character (don't miss the picture of Zukofsky posing on a motorcycle with a couple of friends). there's an urge to study these people that seems both useful and damaging. I have not yet read Scroggins' account of the relationship of the 3 Zukofskys with Lorine Niedecker but know enough that it was muddled and probably not quite as everyone may have said it was. I mean, this sort of thing is context, but also distraction. I learned a lot from Robert Creeley but I essentially stopped reading him 30 years ago. my attention turned elsewhere, which should not be taken as final judgment. I had a dynamic response to the LANGUAGE poets--I should be more specific and not use the damning lump module: Silliman, Bernstein, Hejinian, Perelman, Susan Howe--but they never were larger than life. Kenner identifying a Pound Era is reasonable, but the poetic landscape that I see (in the direction that I am looking) might be called post-LANGUAGE, but only in a dispirited way. CAConrad eulogizes Jonathan Williams with a hail to the positive energy that JW supplied to the poetry world. Conrad kinda deflates that by mentioning the cat and bat in JW's home, personal attributes that I the reader never partook of. Conrad had the opportunity to meet JW but poetry cannot be contingent on such meetings. such personal assertions are distracting, tho I understand the loss. we can look at Olson and see his Dahlberg daddy, his Pound daddy, even his Creeley daddy, as well as his Creeley son. truth is there, but it also follows a literary line to insist too strongly on these dimensions. we have got to keep our eye on the work itself. I guess that's the bottom line I was heading towards when I began this ramble.