Friday, December 31, 2010

More Past is Proloque

I don’t mean to dwell in the past, but certain timely landmarks occur, or recur, and…

I remembered last night that 10 years before, we were at Boston Children’s Hospital waiting for Erin to have surgery. At some point after he was settled, a nurse informed us that only one parent could remain in the room. I was shuffled to the game room, where a sofa sufficed. The hospital’s heating system blew steam all night long, which sounded like rain in a tropical forest. It was in fact snowy outside. Sleeping thru that, and the day’s events, was hallucinogenic.

Around 4 or 5 am, I was roused because Erin was off to surgery. However long that took, he emerged in cranky confusion from the anesthetic. I recall sitting in Erin’s dark room after, with the tv going, alternately watching Hilary Duff and other Disney Channel hijinx (living to tell the tale), and dozing while he slept.

That night Beth and I watched the fireworks of First Night over Boston Harbour from the hospital window (sorry for the string of prepositional phrases). I was again kicked out, only this time my sleeping arrangement was already in use. I tried dozing in chairs in the hallway, and the floor. Finally, I found an unused gurney. Luckily I was not whisked away.

Erin was given morphine intravenously. At one point he had us laughing as he discovered how to cross his eyes. At another he startled us by declaring, This morphine’s fun. Time to remove the tube.

There was a lot of downtime during our stay. Hospitals = downtime. I periodically ran up and down the ten stories of stairs for exercise. Woo hoo. The lobby held one of those perpetual motion machines with balls timelessly moving along tracks and thru tubes. I added to Days Poem every day. I read Princess Casamassima (say, does that name mean Big House?).

The worst day was when Erin was supposed to go home. An ambulance awaited but the surgeon took a last look at the pins holding Erin’s femur together and decided one was infected. Soupy was the scientific term that he used (aptly). Surgery was called for, and two more pins replaced the infected one. It was a devastating rebuff at the time.

That surgery left Erin with a a hole the width of a quarter in his thigh, right down to the bone. It was initially packed with gauze. One day a doctor on rounds came to examine the wound. Before removing the gauze the said that it might feel a little odd. He pulled seemingly yards of gauze from the wound, all the while Erin screamed in pain. Beth and I had to hold him as he screamed.

That was the second time we had to hold him while he screamed. The first time was when he was transported from Emerson Hospital. Erin’s leg had to be stabilized. The EMTs said it would hurt. Erin said, promise to stop if it hurts too bad, and the EMT said, I cannot promise that. Of course he could not.

These events are unique in the sense that they happened in such a way, in such an order, etc, but life proffers such unities to all. By unities I mean points of integration with others. We become one as we tell our stories. I guess I will resist positing further import than that. It is enough.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Charles Olson at 100

It behooves me to note the 100th anniversary of Charles Olson’s birth today. He has meant much to me as a writer.

I cannot easily say what my debt to Olson consists of. I think thru him I came to understand how our knowledge inhabits our language.

He insisted in his poetry on embracing aspects of the world that poetry had not largely been allowed to embrace. Science, history, philosophy, politics, and philology were intrinsic in his work. I will not declare his primacy in doing this, only that I gained the insight thru his work.

Whereas I was resistant when confronted by the work of other modern and post-modern writers (I dislike those terms, and only use them to mark the generalities of which I speak), Olson’s held an invitation for me. For differing reasons, Stein and Pound were hard nuts for me to crack. Olson baffled me, but I somehow felt comfortable within that confusion. Possibly his localness helped, not that Gloucester is is really my local.

A further plus, Olson left a paper trail that, for me, provided a curriculum. I sought out the writers that he studied. I also found it compelling to follow the work of those who were within his sphere of influence. I am sure that the influence on me shows in my turning from the idea of poems as inviolate pretty things. Instead, I see poems as evidence of active engagement in the human enterprise.

I’ve always been iffy about the term poet. It conjures dilettantism. Olson was a poet of active interest in the world. Writing, to be a fair tool, must partake of such interest.  All writing, I mean: the letters and notes, the advertisements, the reports, the everything we place into written language. I believe I learned that lesson, or was encouraged in that idea, by Charles Olson.

I confound Olson somewhat with my father. They were born 3 months apart (I look with amaze at the centenary to come in March). They were both scions of Massachusetts (Cambridge for my father, not Worcester). I managed to break the fascinated hold of Olson, and look critically. Not to eschew, but to make use of what I learned. Just as I was able to get closer to my father (the engineer!), in his later years. That simultaneous act of drawing to and pulling away by which we learn and grow.

So this note, written sans eloquence, is offered in testament of what I have gained.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 2010, and Memories

To quote the Beach Boys, “Christmas comes this time each year”. Which I myself have observed, as well. We celebrate the time in our own way.

Beth, Erin,and I focus on a Christmas party. We had a party our second year together, and every year since except last year. Our digs were just too small to accommodate a party, tho we had small groups over.

Last Saturday, then, we had our Christmas party. Beth loves to plan and cook for these affairs. Excellent! Wonderful food, lots of sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, and desserts. Every party has had its drum session. My panoply of drums proves irresistible, and a lot of noise ensues. Children of all ages, when the drums appear.

Ramping to Christmas is our anniversary, on the winter solstice. This year our 10th. That there lunar eclipse occurred on the same day, but hampering clouds locally made it an event I could pass on.

Our first Christmas, 4 days after marriage, there was a partial solar eclipse. Our wedding, I should note, was a home affair. Beth decorated vividly, right up to the last minute, I did the meal (bread, soup, salad, cake). Prior to the ceremony with officiating Unitarian minister, we snuck over to Concord Bridge (Emerson’s rude bridge), and made our personal ceremony. It was a brisk day with snow in the air, but two pigeons joined us. They were in mating mood, with the male puffing out in display and the female performing a revolving dance. Affronts from my family spoiled the ‘real’ ceremony.

Just to add detail, 5 days after Christmas that year, Erin and I were chasing each other with snowballs. A crafty cutback on my part caught Erin off guard. Slipping on the ice as he tried to change direction, he landed hard on his knees. He howled, which I expected. He persisted to howl, which I did not expect.

A 911 call brought lots of help, and a ride to Emerson Hospital. A so-called butterfly break in Erin’s femur necessitated an ambulance trip to Children’s Hospital, Boston. Thru a snowstorm. Some 11 hours after getting injured, Erin had a bed. Around 4:00, last day of the millennium, Erin had 3 steel pins put into his thigh, to hold the bones together. The pins stuck out from the leg. We promised Erin that we would not leave him so we did not. One of the pin sites became infected, which extended his stay to 9days. I could go on.

Anyway, a last minute thing yesterday, we decided to go to the mall to get gifts to exchange. We don’t do gifts particularly. Leastwise, we do not enter the frenetic travail of shopping under the gun.

We stopped first at Barnes & Noble, which was busy. People near the door were ready to leap out and inform you about B&N’s e-reader. I am not against such a marvel, but until I can believe that the available selection will include poetry, and whatever esoterica of my interest, I will wait.

Beth and Erin both had targets at B&N. I just wandered. No, I did not look at the poetry selection, that’s a why bother proposition. Erin and Beth came up empty so we repaired to the mall across the street. Where things seemed listless.

People were buying, unlike recent years (eyeball proof), but not eagerly. This might partly owe to being the 24th. Eddie Bauer was strafed. A customer said to an employee, you mean there are no gloves at all? and the employee shook her head. Keeping inventory tight.

A slipper mongering kiosk, actually a cart, tempted Beth and her need for slippers. The fellow there was uninterested,offered no help.

Oh well.

Beth and I want a Buddha for a shrine we have. Now, where can you buy Buddha? An Asian import store had lots to offer. It was all gimcrack, alas. It didn’t feel good. Teavana, the tea merchant, had one that appealed, but it was too expensive. We decided to hit the food court. The Indian food offered there is as good as the locally available Indian fare. You have to go into Boston/Cambridge for better.

The food court was full, and ringingly noisy. I could watch the televisions placed everywhere, but not hear them. Music videos, with all the phony mannerisms that that implies.

Finally, a visit to Whole Foods, for turkey stuffing. There have been times when it was so busy there that they have people shepherding customers to open registers. AND offering coffee and chocolate truffles to ease the wait. Not so yesterday. Whole Foods had zero eggnog. Gonzo. We watched a young boy, abetted by his father, inoculated a brie sample with this year’s favourite flu. Sigh.

Beyond finally, a quick trip to Market Basket, in the hopes of nog. Market Basket is a low-priced local grocery chain. We do not buy either meat or produce there, it is all clearly low grade. The sparse egg nog selection included cinnamon, vanilla, and Special Holiday Release: sugar cookie. Vanilla was my choice of the three. It tastes like sugar.

We watched 2/3 of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Aragorn is still bitchin’. And so this holiday season, with my small family, and love.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Men Who Stare at Goats

Watched the movie the other night. The trailers were inviting, whenever I saw them (no explosions!). Enjoyed it.

I haven’t read the book but the movie supposedly is based on facts. The idea of the military attempting to find use for New Age psychic powers is both unbelievable and not so. The operation would necessarily be crazy ass. Thus the movie.

The plus of the movie, and a word to movie makers, is the cast. Do not use defined comedic actors in these roles, or certified character actors. Instead, lean towards the old pros and stature types. Let ‘em  rip it up. It is plain fun to watch Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, and Kevin Spacey act wiggy.

Ewan MacGregor is the straight man, the witness, but even he gets a few sly ones in. The other three, they firmly involve themselves in their characters, but you see a twinkle. A blurb on the dvd cover says that this resembles the Coen Brothers at their most outrageous. I would leave the prepositional phrase out, perhaps because no one is being stuffed into a leaf shredder. The movie is goofy, that’s good enough.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bruce Springsteen Sincerely

I have heard Bruce Springsteen’s version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” a bunch of times lately, and am compelled to ruminate on that horrible rendition. I think I may have slipped a clue as to where my rumination might tend by the use of a certain adjective, but so it goes.

The song itself is one of those forgettable cutesy songs that no one can forget. You can deconstruct it into its component rules committees and such, but that’s like looking deeply into the Christmas phenomenon: no thanks. Or at least, take it as written.

Bruce interplays with his band, hahaha loudly: have they been good? Will Clarence get a new sax? Thud, if you ask me. But Showbiz Bruce pushes that for a bit. See, I saw Bruce at the Superbowl, when he was greasily super convincing about playing to the camera and performing all the necessities required by the Super Bowl Thing. It really dismayed me to see him phony up.

With the Christmas song, tho, we see that phonying up is part of the program. When he starts singing, he’s putting his whole Springsteenness into it. Yes, he has a tight band, yes Clarence can throw that same solo in per usual, and yes, Bruce can orchestrate the thing to death.

Robert Grenier hates words? I hate meaning. I hate the registry that enforces Bruce towards the payment system of audience interplay. Cute song of the Christmas season for the 4 hour Springsteen party. Bleah. Bruce means something, something meaningless.

Just last Sunday, at Best Buy, I witnessed some younger generation Vegas minion singing with a big band. That is, one of the super-sized screens of tele-vision showed him performing. Crafted mannerisms and slick foreplay intimating some grandeur that doesn’t exist, I recognize the same stuff in Springsteen. You had to get old, you bumbumhead.

Youngish writers at the Boston Poet Tea Party played to audience. They were the audience. Their sincerity was within a social context of agreeability. Like Bruce, they acted like land masses. Okay, but then poetry is dead within the context of agreeability. We do not agree with words, we watch them in their life. Those who press words, lose words. Bruce put that shouty voice to work singing the song he never thought about. All that sincerity turned only into noise. Bleah.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Post-Twyla by Jack Kimball

Last night—or yestreen, as the poets say—Beth and I left Erin to recover from his chem final (tonight it’s the charms of calc), to have dinner with Jack Kimball. In the course of said repast, Jack handed me a copy of Post-Twyla, version 2. Post-Twyla is the subject of today’s sermon.

I reviewed Twyla lo these four years ago, here. Jesse Crockett did likewise. Excellent setting of scene, I’m sure you’re thinking.

The point here, now, revolves around the effect of my opening Post-Twyla, version 2. Post-Twyla has now been reset. It is now available at Faux Press, so you can see for yourself (and should!). The phrase New and Improved comes to mind.

The text has been re-envisioned. Boldface, greyface (i.e. grey scale font), and varied font sizes pepper the field of text where previously one absorbed visual ordinariness, fonts in passive condish. Anyone can screw around with fonts but I mean to say, when I opened the book, without even reading the words, I comprehended something great and changing. It’s a marvel.

I loved this text from first meeting, in manuscript. As I recount in my earlier review, Jack read much of the ms to Beth and me, and we heard a considerable portion at a public reading. It is a text of humour, speed, voices, changing, sadness, shifts, stark, and joy. It really is a masterpiece. You hear all that in a rollick that creates a will. This is poetry of the Dickensonian sort. I am not even bothering to look for the top of my head.

Jack  notes that Post-Twyla (the hyphen replaces the tilde of the previous version) began as a reaction to Flow Chart by John Ashbery, then it swerved to its own dalliance and condition. 164 pages and 250 sections of the human voice immersed in the words of day and night. Really beautiful.

The way the festival of fonts burrows into the already antic love that these words convey is something to experience. Writing this now is my first attempt to go beyond wow! Jack read some sections aloud, and so did Beth. Okay, I did too, but not as well as them. Everyone read what randomly appeared after a thrum of the pages. Jack said that is how one should read the text, but I already knew that.

Today’s poetry world seems to be stuffed with chapbook calling cards of grabbed together exercises. Post-Twyla stretches beyond that busy hopefulness of success and ambitionized paltry. He launches something that provides sliding context for our words, and how our words await us. This is, I repeat, a masterpiece. Discover this for yourself.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Reviews at Galatea Resurrects

Just to let you know that I have four reviews online at Galatea Resurrects. You should be attending to this site anyway, but my sterling appearance in this issue makes it that much more de riguer, don’t you know. Since it’s all about me, here are links to the specific reviews:

Gorrick is also reviewed by Lynn Behrendts, and interviewed by Tom Beckett. Kudos to Eileen Tabios for instigating this project of engagement.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Granduncles of the Cattletrade by Jeff Harrison

Jeff Harrison has a work available on Scribd called Granduncles of the Cattletrade. I do not imagine that the title brings forth any immediate intimations for the reader. I find it a book of weird and wonder, to which I recommend your intellect, dear Reader.

Jeff and I have collaborated for 5 or 6 years on two email projects (we have never met in person). We have written a lengthy poem together. That project seems inert at this time, but I think neither of us declare it over. The other project has been a dual/duel interview between each other regarding poetry, writing, and whatever strikes our current concerns, Antic View. With some fits and starts, this project continues. I mention our collaborations just to remove any pretense of fair and balanced, a phrase that Fox News has turned into, you know, a curving denial of any such thing. No, I am eagerly pushing Jeff’s work forward.

I am happy to sell Jeff’s work, because it strikes me as original, guided by compelling, and wonderful. I have no answers to explain the strangeness of this work. It does not represent ‘typical Harrison’, at least insofar as it lacks the obvious narrative nexus that his work often shows. I will remark on some of the aspects that I see in this work, as preface for you, still dear Reader, to enter the stream and try to swim its amazing currents.

Jeff uses the listserv Wryting-L to present new work to a small, interested readership, as do I. This gives me no special expertise, but I have therefore seen an extent of what Jeff does.

One aspect to speak of in Jeff’s work is how he rings changes in texts. He forms a process and resiliently relies on and stands by it, to produce his texts. Here is the second section of this work:

orange by forage for spoon in moon has hands
clinquant for spoon in moon has hands by might
spoon in moon has hands by might for bands
moon has hands by might for bands in sight
hands by might for bands in sight has light
might for bands in sight has light by look
bands in sight has light by look for height
sight has light by look for height in book
light by look for height in book has hook
look for height in book has hook by miss
height in book has hook by miss for crook
book has hook by miss for crook in kiss
hook by miss for crook in kiss has hiss
miss for crook in kiss has hiss by way
crook in kiss has hiss by way for this
kiss has hiss by way for this in astray
hiss by way for this in astray has ray
way for this in astray has ray by cast
this in astray has ray by cast for dismay
astray has ray by cast for dismay in mast
ray by cast for dismay in mast has past
cast for dismay in mast has past by gold
dismay in mast has past by gold for last
mast has past by gold for last in told
past by gold for last in told has bold
gold for last in told has bold by snare
last in told has bold by snare for hold
told has bold by snare for hold in pair
bold by snare for hold in pair has glare
snare for hold in pair has glare by dresses
hold in pair has glare by dresses for fair
pair has glare by dresses for fair in tresses...

The repetitions seem to build from some plan, tho I cannot make out what that plan might have been. Of course this makes one think of the pressing repetitions of Gertrude Stein. The effect mesmerizes, if you stay with the text. I have assumed wrongly at times that Jeff has been working with a method such as Jackson Mac Low might use. Jeff does use such methods to produce his texts but, like Mac Low, not all the time.

I’m beginning to believe that the best way to explain Jeff’s text is to quote it entirely. That is, I leave the text to you to figure out. You should do that. Here is section 10, with the admonition that you should follow the link above and work out your own path thru the entire work.

pater castle etc Virginia crow etc pater
pater crow etc Virginia kine etc pater
pater kine etc Virginia minortaur etc pater
pater minertow'r etc Virginia verdict etc pater
pater verdict etc Virginia barnstar etc pater
pater barnstar etc Virginia rose etc pater
pater rose etc Virginia mouse etc pater
pater mouse etc Virginia pitter etc pater
pater pitter etc Virginia penalty etc pater
pater penalty etc Virginia jackal etc pater
pater jackal etc Virginia triangle etc pater
pater triangle etc Virginia mummified etc pater
pater mummified etc Virginia Bontecou etc pater
pater surprise etc Virginia missive etc pater
pater missive etc Virginia arsonist's etc pater
pater arsonist's etc Virginia outlives etc pater
pater outlives etc Virginia shipwrack etc pater
pater shipwrack etc Virginia portrait etc pater
pater portrait etc Virginia adamant etc pater
pater adamant etc Virginia suitors etc pater
pater suitors etc Virginia typhoid etc pater
pater typhoid etc Virginia basil etc pater
pater basil etc Virginia hippolyte etc pater
pater hippolyte etc Virginia 3412 etc pater
pater 3412 etc Virginia rest etc pater / pater...

Eh, minertow'r. Jeff exploits a pattern of syntax, so that the specific words in the variation almost do not matter. The mention of Virginia asserts something familiar for me in Jeff’s writing. Virginia, as person, as place, repeats often in Jeff’s work. Virginia is an imaginative construct, okay. It refers and alludes to something personal and not directly explained. That is, Jeff has his reasons for the usage of the term. The reader, lacking those reasons, understands the strategy differently. Certainly we know of such a place, and reckon of such a person’s name. That, according to Jeff’s poems, is enough. He answers not to specifics, but allows us, as readers, to take what we care to take. We have dictionaries to explain denotations, but we live by connotations.

Pater, of course, means father, but let us not forget Walter Pater. Jeff’s work often shows considerable charge from literature, including English literature, particularly including the poetry of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. Pater’s literary purview, with hard, gem-like flame, could be father to the poems here. Could be, is all I say.

Section 13 consists of 20 lines, each with seven words. The seven words are but one word, repeated seven times. The poem then is the repetition of one word 140 times. The word is Virginia. Place that within the context of the other poems in this series.

Section 14 consists of mostly 4-digit numbers, with occasional 5 digit numbers. Seven sets per line, nine lines. Sets repeat. Look for pattern, is all I can suggest (syntax is pattern, is it not?). This brings to mind the counting that Ron Silliman works into his texts.

Section 25 favours punctuation such as dashes, the ‘@’sign, and such, along with some words and letter combinations of what I do not recognize as words. And so on. What does punctuation mean, anyway?

All in all, this is a ride over strange territory, with curious bumps. Granduncles presents a fascinating world to explore, beginning with a title that does not exactly produce an easy tale to relate. I think the reader of this work should allow questions to percolate, and let that be the poetic experience. Need I quote Keats on Negative capability? Keats’ lesson seems implicit in this work.

That may seem a lame way to end this brief look at one of Jeff Harrison’s works but I must close in saying that other works by Jeff look nothing like this one. He institutes experiments so that he may explore. I invite readers to join that exploration.

Monday, November 29, 2010


Rodney Koenicke takes notice of Dana Ward’s notice of a filmmaker’s notice of Art Garfunkle’s hands in his (Garfunkle’s) pocket, here. The deal is this: said filmmaker edited Simon & Garfunkle’s famous Central Park concert down to only showing Garfunkle with his (like I said, Garfunkle’s) hands in his pocket. What a deliciously odd idea! Ward’s reactions to this are bright and useful, as is, just generally speaking, Koenicke’s to whatever he (Kornicke) sets sights on. In case you did not know.

I am no S&G expert, but can say that Garfunkle’s hands in his (Garfunkle’s) pocket have struck me. He’ so weirdly disengaged, it seems to me. I would love to see this film, because as ‘wonderful’ as S&G might be, they always seemed tepid to me. This reminder of them led me perforce to Wikipedia, where I learned that S&G’s producer, on his own look out, added rock music tracks to “Sounds of Silence”. This shifted the song from ‘pure’ folk to that demon mixture: folk-rock. How tedious the folk version must have been, I can only imagine. And yet, there is a field there, sown and ready to harvest. Which is at least one point to glean from the film and reaction to it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving with King Tut

We got tickets to see the King Tut exhibit in NYC. With blackout dates and other scheduling matters, Thanksgiving Day was when we could do it. Which sounded a little wait a sec, what with the parade and all, but we soldiered on.

We picked Erin up at UMass Lowell at 4:00 pm, which seems desperately late for setting out on the day before Thanksgiving, but Erin had a class he would not skip out on. Yes, Beth and I were saying, Are you sure you need to go to class? Cooler head prevailed.

Rt 495 was sluggish just about to the Mass Pike, and a call to 511 confirmed that we would probably never reach our destination. Visions of seeing the sun rise as we sit on the George Washington. It could happen!

In sooth, things mellowed out nicely, and we got to Brick (NJ) by 10:30, and that included a stop for dinner. We dined at the Vernon Diner in Vernon Ct, which we enjoyed the last time down to NJ. Liked it this time too, tho a slower experience. It seemed like Friday night.

The sports of tailgating and high-speed weaving were played frequently, worth marveling at. We didn’t get killed too bad. Such sport seemed unaccountable because tho many were on the road, flow remained good.

I guess I did not mench that we stayed with Beth’s mother and aunt. We left for the city around 10:30, I think, having first consulted the oracle of mass transit, the MTA site. Boston used to have an MTA, which I believe Charlie infamously got lost on, but now it is MBTA. Save that nugget for your next cocktail party.

Beth’s aunt did not accompany us but Beth’s mother did. We arrived at the Pt Pleasant train station with a whisker to spare, first paying the interesting machine for the right to park in the lot. We did not have time to get tickets at the station. The conductor was dismayed by this, for some reason. In confidence he told us to buy tickets at Long Branch, where we change trains.

It’s a fascinating ride, Fancyville next to economic despair. The marshland is beautiful, even given the magnitude of industrial abuse. I am reminded of Winter’s Tale  by Mark Helprin. The first time I read it, the evocation of the marshes in a bygone era that never quite existed really drew me in. The second time I read it, the fancifulness seemed forced and overly extravagant. Sigh.

Penn Station gave us a scare because the lines to get train tickets were endless. Yes, we should have gotten round trip but never mind that. The famous parade explained that gathering of irritable humanity. We had our own irritability trying to subway ourselves to Times Square. We did a few unsubstantive laps following assured directional signs. People gave us advice on the matter, which often proved fruitless. Until you get your city legs, you just have to accept being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. Left to my own resources, I would have walked the 10 blocks.

We found our haven easily enough, the Discovery Museum. We were led to believe that the holiday would be a quiet time there, but we shared the experience with numerous others. We bypassed the opportunity to have our pictures taken, then were held at the door for a few minutes. People are sent thru in workable groups.

Audio highlights were included in our package. That meant the sultry voice of Omar Sharif  explained this and that in our ear. I do not actually like saying King Tut, it sounds degraded, but Omar said it, so I guess it’s okay.

A few years ago we went to a Museum of Science show of Egyptian artifacts. That included large pieces. This one included mostly small pieces. Really exquisite stuff, not even considering how old it all was. I think for security reasons, the Star Gate was not exhibited, alas.

The heft of culture impresses one, seeing such an exhibit. Much is ‘understood’ about why this and that, but one still must make an effort to relate. The implacable strangeness hides the commonality implicit in these expressions. A few times I felt like I sullied the sacredness by being in the midst of all this displayed stuff. Partly I did, but then, not. The human answer is to look and wonder.

We returned to Penn Station after the exhibit. Ticket lines were no longer a concern. From here we looked for Tir na Og. Which being a nearby restaurant that we’d been to on a previous NYC visit. This took some hunting. We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner, accented by the couple nearby. Beth surmised that they were a dating service combo. The woman talked loudly about bats and tarantulas and the man looked glazed. Somebody may have wanted a refund.

On the train homeward, four young Japanese women made inquiry of the conductor. He told them that they had overshot their station, Secaucus. He carefully explained that they should get out at the next station, go to the other side of the tracks for inbound, and wait for the next train. As the train left the station we could see them still milling about in confusion.

Black Friday, that great and noble day, we mostly just rested. A large pile of leaves had gathered at the doorway. I used a borrowed blower to move them away. I mention this because gee, what a dumb tool that is. I realize that one needs some technique to use the thing, and I had never held one before. I felt like a rake would more than suffice, and more quietly. Just makes you wonder how much effort one needs to make for one’s convenience. I object to the suburban noise element that seems so necessary. Anyway, beyond that, I found a biography of Confederate general Jubal Early. Later, a walk on Lavallette beach.

The boardwalk there was not in summer prime, and I think summer prime is becoming an anachronism. The boardwalk probably heads for condominiumification. Still, a lot of arcades were open. Seedy, in my eyes, but families came for that sort of fun. No surf to speak of, tho the wind blew firmly and with hearty chill. A few fished near and on the jetty. The homes along the boardwalk are just plain weird. I mean, to be that close to strolling humanity, it would wear on me quickly. Looked like all of them were closed up for the winter.

We left for home betimes, more or less, Saturday morning. A riproarin’ wind felt wintry. Saw a car breezing along with a tree on the roof. The tree was securely tied but who knows if the needles would survive. A quick stop at Cheesequake for gas… except that none was available. Computer system down. The Grover Cleveland rest stop, it is. Okay, an Internet search reveals that Cheesequake comes from a Lenape word for upland.

The George Washington supplied only a modest wait, but always there is the reward of the view, from and of it. Even infamous Rt 84 near Hartford could slow us down only moderately. The Mass Pike stalled us the most, but we got off at 290, to pass thru Worcester. Where, by gum, a tussle of snowflakes occurred. Home to a slightly annoyed cat.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Clayton Eshleman on Paul Blackburn

The power of Ron Silliman's blog. As explained below, Clayton Eshleman wrote to me regarding my post about Paul Blackburn that Ron Silliman linked to. Well, that’s a fine story. It’s not about me, after all. I attach Clayton’s note, and his essay, which I find of use. Check out the note (#4), where Clayton explains how a Blackburn poem managed to cancel funding for Sulfur. Sulfur along with Leland Hickman’s Temblor were, for differing reasons, the two most important poetry pubs of the era. Sez I.

Nota Bene: I did not initially get the formatting right for the poem quoted here—I was rushed to get on the Thanksgiving road-- but I believe the PRE html tag that I have inserted gets it close. here. The formatting was important to the poet.

dear A.H. Bramhall, I noticed your remarks about the Collected Blackburn on your blog via the Silliman notice. Back in the late 80s I wrote an introductory essay to a collection of Paul's unpublished poems I found in the PB archive at UCSD with a little Tucson press, SUN/gemini. I think the book was hardly distributed and to my knowledge it was never reviewed. It is called Parallel Voyages. I am going to reprint this essay in a new collection of poetry and prose that Black Widow Press will publish in 2011 or 2012. Would you be interested in looking at it for possible blog publication?

Best regards, Clayton Eshleman


The quintessential Paul Blackburn poem (“Affinities II” would be a good example) is visually speaking more like a sketch (Franz Kline was his favorite painter) than a work in oil. Lines are brisk, deft strokes resulting in mobile half-stanzas, particle-stanzas, slightly assymetrical, that tilt the poem on. Whether in Barcelona or in the New York City 23rd Street “Bakery,” the Blackburn persona is generally off-stage, activated by desire, an observer scoring nodes which the reader can connect to constellate relationship-oriented patterns. The tendency is to seek out value, or as Blackburn himself puts it in one poem included in The Parallel Voyages,[1] “the whole and the flowing,” but he is also fascinated by the extent to which humankind is derailed, and redesigned, by a ritualistic emotional and material interface. The content of this quintessential poem is spare, idiomatically erudite, and only marginally introspective. It frames itself as it tracks its own material, resulting in a page design that is quite mobile, with weighted, balanced lines and word clumps:

     Affinities II

Why do gulls like
to sit in the sea
only when there are waves, when there
is ground s well?

And never will
when it is smooth?
Must be they take pleasure from
the motion of wave
as I do,
the lift and ride and rise, the swing
down the trough, climbing
the next crest.

Best to sit in the sun afterward, tho,
on rock,
watching the rollers break, spill-
slide up the beach,
letting spray fall back its jet
upon wet rocks, brown legs, the next
against the sun.
We never learn
to distrust such motion, Carroll.

I recall your long legs
tumbling in such a sea
at Bañalbufar that summer,
body reddening
taking its first day’s sun
with brown face set on top with already
thinning hair.
Caring, steadily caring, for ideas alone
had not kept you from trying to rise
to your feet, smiling against such a sea,
the surf cracking you back to a sitting
posture against the stone
beach, the sea sliding around you
no god to help you, only your stalk-
white, reddening legs
could lift you timed in the face of it.
No god there that afternoon, Carroll,
only our powers, not yours, our demons
sea . sun . wind-squall
among us found a balance.
It was your own.

This winter sun
streams across my legs and chest, flashes
across the crashing surf-line.
A fisherman comes down with a heavy line and
drags it out its length along the beach,
each portion out
into the surf
until it’s a snake part in, part out of water.
He washes, not too carefully
the oil slick off it . Long rope
it takes him a long time . He finishes finally
and sticking to rock
avoiding the sand he
hauls it again to the top of the sea-
wall and coils his rope
to dry in the sun,
slows his coiling to talk to a friend
gives the line a last turn
the work done.

When will we learn
so naturally to
quit, when what we have to do
is done?
Or that the print of rough stone,
set deep in the flesh of the palm,
my own or yours,
see what we will in reading it, patterned
palms . pyramids . cuneiform
tablets, a cross, some
small starched waves or winging gulls, the shell,
the flower
we see or think we see . there
no matter
we trust and fear
this movement, that god,
will disappear
inside this quarter-hour?

Málaga, Winter 1956-57

“Carroll” is the poet Paul Carroll.

Note Blackburn’s “floating period,” which pauses the thought or image and at the same time continues the line’s movement. I have always suspected he picked it up from the eccentric punctuation in Ezra Pound’s Cantos worksheets (which is standardized in the New Directions collections).

Such a poem, it turned out, could only accommodate a limited amount of variation and materials that challenged its procedure. Anything that drew the poem inwards, that, in effect, unmoored its outer connections, seemed like sabotage. While there are some excellent poems of the early 1960s in which this frame is under great tension and bending to accommodate disintegrative psychological pressure (“The Sea and The Shadow” is an example), by the mid-60s Blackburn could no longer count on it as an organizing pattern. While it occurs from time to time in the “Journals” of the late-60s, it must fight for time and space there in a context that is increasingly given over to trivia and daily factual mapping.

The work of the mid-60s is to a great extent about Paul’s failure to come to terms with himself as a man, or to weather the transition from being a young, accomplished poet to becoming a mature poet with a sustaining pattern out of which to work. While Paul may have had complicated defenses in the social world, he had few in his poetry. In contrast to the self-contained pieces of the mid- and late-50s, which are models of opening, developing, and resolving a poem, the mid-60s work is amorphous, meandering and preoccupied with daily and historical events in a reportorial way. The specific and resolved poems are somewhat dated repetitions of earlier modes. Be this as it may, Blackburn’s fate is being worked out during this period, and any ultimate and genuine evaluation of his life and his poetry must take the mid-60s carefully into consideration.

In the early spring of 1963, Paul wrote most of the long “Selection of Heaven” and his fusion of New York City observation and Greek myth, “The Watchers,” two major works which, in the light of what he later produced, can oddly be thought of as summations. After these two peaks, references to alcohol, bars, bums, sensations of social or sexual rejection and impotence mill about in his writing. In a curious and touching way, the poem itself becomes a vagabond, without schedule or resting place. While Sara Blackburn, his second wife, is seldom mentioned at this point, she appears to be the companion figure who, according to Paul at least, is rejecting him.

There are fits and starts of word-play oriented poems, and some pieces that juxtapose seemingly unrelated patches of experience (e.g., “Hesper Adest” and “You Light It”), both modes of which could, under different circumstances, have been developed to stake out new grounds. Something deep and central in Paul has come unhinged and the poem has become a murky lamentation rather than a tool to get at and come to terms with the problem. At accurate indication of what has happened can be gauged by comparing “The Watchers” to a 1966 poem organized in a similar way, “the procedures.” In contrast to the former poem which bristles with alertness, the speaker in the latter piece is unengaged and seems to be writing to pass the time.

Blackburn’s decline in this period might well be pondered by younger writers coming to poetry now out of a William Carlos Williamsesque idiomatic tradition which has been filtered and softened by the “confessional” poetry of the late-50s/early-60s. On one hand, Blackburn stayed “open” by not locking himself into a set of values that would have determined what he affirmed and what he rejected. On the other hand, his failure to do so, made him extremely dependent upon the facts of daily existence in the harsh, impersonal labyrinth of New York City. Had he been tougher, more self-dependent, and more aggressive in directly expressing his feelings, he might have come through his “mid-life crisis,” completed his troubadour translation project, and developed a sustaining vision based on his work in the mid- to late-50s.

However, the facts, according to the poetry, seem to indicate that Paul’s sense of creative worth was exceptionally contingent upon sexual acceptance, very overtly in the case of women, and very covertly in the case of men. His antennae were lust-sensitive, and many poems are organized explicitly around an anonymous or intimately-known person who aroused him. As he approached his 40s, this point of imaginative ignition increasingly misfired, or did not spark at all, to the point that the pain of loving (himself as well as others) appears to have engulfed sexual gratification. In the chasm that began to appear as this single power gave way and divided was a morass of unresolvable childhood unhappiness.

In her Introduction to The Collected Poetry (Persea, NYC, 1985) Edie Jarolim writes that Paul and his slightly younger sister lived with his mother’s “strict and elderly grandparents” in Vermont between his fourth and fourteenth years, while his mother, Francis Frost, recipient of the 1929 Yale Younger Poets Award, was in New York City trying to earn a living as a writer, and living with a woman companion. According to comments that Robert Creeley has related,[2] Paul was regularly whipped by his maternal grandmother. The image of a small, brutalized fourteen year old Paul rejoining his mother in New York City in 1940 and via her encouragement becoming, as she did not, a major American poet and translator, is so redolent with Oedipal consternation that I begin to think that the host of anonymous women whose sexuality drifts in and out of his poetry (as well as his wonderful troubadour translations, which he could never to his satisfaction complete) is Paul’s reversed version of Isis and Osiris, in which it is the female figure whose body is scattered and the task of the poet-son to vainly attempt to reconstruct her via endless sallies into the moment of desire.

In this context it is worthwhile to think about what looked at superficially appears to be a heavy load of machoism in Blackburn’s poetry. Women are often signed, or identified, as sexual targets, and his seeming dependence on women for self-affirmation empowers them with overwhelming, sometimes menacing, psychic size. The humorous “takes” (from a patriarchal viewpoint) are in one way escape-valves to let out some of the pressure such size builds up. But it is more complicated than this. There is, for example, a cluster of images making use of traps and nets (the purse-seine in the poem by that title, “the net of lust” and “that silken trap” in “Call It the Net”) that evokes Blake’s poem, “The Crystal Cabinet.” Unlike the speaker in Blake’s superb lyric, who is brought to understand that intercourse per se is not going to yield an apocalyptic vision, Blackburn never seems to get clear as to the limitation, meanings, and specific mental rewards of sexual union—or is able to develop an alternative set of values that lie outside its crisis.

From the late-50s on, he seems to turn and twist, a dreamer in its nets, as if in the grip of an inhibition so intense that the source of the anguish (homosexuality?) cannot be identified, let alone addressed.

An indication of the extent to which sexual fulfillment is endlessly complicated occurs in the splendid “Purse-Seine,” when the “sea bird,” in context a gull-man-penis, facing the rising hips of the other, “hits the mast in the dark and falls / with a cry to the deck and flutters off.” These lines occur at the threshold of penetration, and immediately after the “bird” strikes this peculiar “mast,” we read: “Panic spreads, the / night is long, no / one sleeps, the net / is tight…” In “Call It The Net,” a poem written five years later, in 1964, the speaker “imagines a young woman / lying on her back at the intersection / third Ave., and 8th St.,” and as he continues to both titillate and vex himself, he writes:

It is a threshold I cross, no

longer an intersection, the bird

hidden in the shirt upon the chest

torn . the eye

swells in the head

bird flutters and falls into the sea of eyes

She was so beautiful

Bird and sun are holy take the head

tear it open and set it like a

melon upon the threshold .

Taken together, these two related passages suggest to me that Blackburn has projected a phallic intensity (“the mast”) upon the vagina, with a loss of potency before penetration can take place. Subsequently, in the above passage, he fantasizes that he is castrated, and offers the street-woman object of his fantasy his genitals as a sacrificial gift. Given that Blackburn’s first and ongoing projection of the creative self is the gull, which is envisioned as the poet’s own childhood body as well as the numinous word riding the wind, or lines, of inspiration,[3] the implication of these lines is nothing less than devastating. The sexual act becomes the sacrificial grounds where language, the poet, his identity and his sexuality are drawn and quartered.

“Lust is unpredictable,” he wrote in a poem dated June 21, 1963, in which a stanza describing an angry black woman on the A train appears in a context that otherwise has nothing to do with her. The next week or so, Blackburn wrote the shocking “Birds chirp listlessly in the heat,” now published in The Parallel Voyages,[4] which lets the reader in on what he believes women would do if they really had their own way with him. The terror implied by such writing is so extreme as to become somatically entropic. If the reader thinks that I am exaggerating, let him read “Crank It Up For All Of Us, But Let Me Heaven Go” in the Collected Poems. It is one of the most perfectly executed genuinely disturbing poems in American literature.

Keeping in mind the issue of machoism that I raised, I would like to suggest that there are at least three kinds of sexuality in Blackburn’s poetry, only one of which is offensive from my viewpoint (which is one that believes in reciprocity between the sexes). The first kind is of the dirty joke variety, with Blackburn ogling ass on the subway or identifying anonymous women on the basis of their sexual “equipment.” While such poems as “Clickety-Clack” and “The Once-Over,” are well-written examples of this kind of humor, they in no way represent the range and complexity of Blackburn’s sexuality or poetry at large, and it is a shame to see him again and again represented in anthologies by them.

A second kind is the turgid sexual despair that Paul attempted to reveal, or unravel, in the kind of poems that I quoted from earlier. Whatever sexism there may be in these multiple images of gulls, women, nets and masts, is overwhelmed, to my reading, by Blackburn’s self-inflicted short-circuiting, and I can only lament that he suffered so much in this way. I am moved, not put off, by his hesitant, always somewhat thwarted attempt to express the core of his compulsive self-revulsion.

A third kind of sexuality, and certainly the dominant one for the first half of Blackburn’s writing career, is an admiration and tender respect for what might be thought of as femininity in all forms. This motif is sounded again and again, as contact with women, animals (generally cats—the occasional dogs seem to indicate a negative male presence), and plants, and appears to envision a feminine principle as the force that provides the world with growth and beauty. When Blackburn is under the sway of this persuasion (generally in his apartment, in contrast to out on the street or in the New York City subway, he is fair-minded, masculine, and extremely sensitive. The reader who draws back at “The Once-Over” should be willing to read “The One Night Stand: An Approach to the Bridge,” in which there is a scene that many American men and women who grew up in the 40s and 50s experienced, suffered, and seldom happily resolved:


Migod, a picture window

both of us sitting there

on the too-narrow couch

variously unclothed

watching sky lighten over the city

You compile your list of noes

it is incomplete

I add another

there is no anger

we keep it open



away, your all

too-solid body melts, revives, stif-

fens, clears and dis-

solves, an i-

dentity emerges, disappears, it is

like watching a film, the takes dis-

solving into other takes,

spliced suddenly to a closeup

The window tints pink

I wait

We sleep a bit . Your

identity goes and comes

it is never for me, it

it is never sure of itself

I wait, you

ask too much of yourself, why

of the moment, why

is your fear of feeding off other people? Must

you always feed off yourself

and find it unreal food you eat, unreal

water you drink from the source of yourself, un-

real liquor you take from the hand of a friend, and

never grow gloriously drunk, but stay

eating yourself

finding the fare thin,

stay in a dark room holding

uneasily, in an unreal hand

a thin man’s unreal cock who stays

and grows more unreal to himself?

We both sleep.

New day’s sun

doubles itself in the river

A double string of blue lights

glares to mark the bridge, the

city huddles under a yellow light

the sodium flares

gleam under oblique

sun’s double in the stream,

I wake

ready, make my move.

“You’ll make me pregnant” you murmur

and barely audible, “I’ll die”

neither will stop me

your legs are open

I am there a the wet edge

of life, the moist living lips

It will not do

I have been at this life’s edge

and hurt too many hours

It will be all me for a moment

then all you

Identities will dissolve

under this new act, or

six quick strokes

you move once

toward me, say

one word, even

moan, I will be finished



become real, alone, no

it will not do

You are no victim and

I no rapist hero, I can

still, I

I stop at the life’s edge


we are too real

separate, try

to recover

dully, our-

selves gone out

The coffee does not warm

there is an orange sun in the river

there are blue lights on the bridge

Animal tenderness and

sadness is all we salvage, is

all the picture window

mirrors and maintains


What to say? There is no other poem from this period (or perhaps in American poetry at large) remotely like this. The speaker’s decision in favor of respecting his “date’s” sexual fears, and not pressing himself onto, and into, her, is genuinely evocative of Paul Blackburn’s respect for others at large.

I have drawn out these three differing attitudes toward sexuality to point out that they represent such a complex and complicated web of ambivalences that they cannot be simply passed off as macho. To read Blackburn on these matters and to think what they humanly mean makes me wonder what we would think of T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Ezra Pound if, in their poetry, they had been as honest as Paul Blackburn about their sexual relationship to themselves and to their women and wives. The poetry of Blackburn represents a kind of halfway house in regard to the extent of the thrust into his fantasy life and the extent to which he was able to excavate the kind of ore that is precious to those of us who continue to believe, as has been attributed to Marx, that anything human is not alien.

It would be appropriate to evaluate Paul Blackburn’s poetry in the company of his own entire generation—not just the haphazardly-identified “Black Mountain” associates (Levertov, Dorn, Creeley, Oppenheimer etc)—but of those American poets born between 1923 and 1929, who began to make their mark in the mid- to late-50s. In this sense Blackburn’s company would also include Dickey, Simpson, Koch, Ammons, Merrill, Ginsberg, O’Hara, Bly, Ashbery, Merwin, Wright, Spicer, Levine, Sexton, and Rich. I would say that with the possible exceptions of Ginsberg and Rich that Blackburn is a match for any of these poets, and were a reader to assemble the best 100 pages of each of them, and do a comparative reading, that Blackburn’s 100 pages would be definitive and unique, an original energy that is not elsewhere duplicated or backgrounded e.g., he is not the lesser example of any other poet, his best work is not secondary. Here, for whatever it is worth, is a list of the poems by which I feel he should be centrally identified:

The Birds The Sea and the Shadow

The Lanner The One Night Stand…

The Search Ritual I

Pancho Villa… The Mint Quality

Bañalbufar… Bryant Park

Plaza Real with Palm Trees Phone Call to Rutherford

El Camino Verde Crank It Up…

The Letter This Is Not the Same…

Ramas, Divendres… Pre-Lenten Gestures

Alaméda #1, 7, and 17 from The Selection of Heaven

Affinities II The Watchers

Atardecer Here They Go

El Día Viene… At the Well

Brooklyn Narcissus Call It the Net

Hot Afternoons have been… Faces I

The Purse-Seine Sunflower Rock

Definition The Voices, It’s Cheap

The Net of Place The Touch


Between the years 1959 and 1966, Paul Blackburn and I had an active personal as well as literary friendship, much of which took place while he was in New York City and I was in Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto, in the early to mid-60s, was a kind of mecca for a small group of American writers and artists, including Gary Snyder, Joanne Kyger, Cid Corman, Will Petersen, Frank Samperi, Philip Whalen, with occasional visits by Alan Watts and Allen Ginsberg. Paul seemed to notice that our presence there represented a new alternative to Paris as a base where foreign materials could be drawn into American art.

In his poetry as well as in his correspondence, I seemed to be on Paul’s mind more than the other Kyoto Americans, and some of the gifts I sent him (in particular, a happi coat mentioned in “Doubles: It’s a Cabin” which he wore until it disintegrated) turned up in poems, as well as news from my daily life. A tape on which I described the images tacked upon the wall over my work area, along with a reading of Hart Crane’s “The Harbor Dawn,” led to Section 5 of “The Selection of Heaven,” and material describing workmen in the ravine (behind the downstairs area of the Okumura house where we lived in 1962) warming their hands over fires they had built in oil-drums stimulated Paul to bring noticings of similar scenes in New York City into “Ritual IX: Gathering Winter Fuel.” The conjunctions of hands and fire was also symbolically worked into “Crank It Up For All Of Us…,” one of the poems Paul read on a 1963 tape sent to Kyoto that stunned me and consequently help me break through a block that had paralyzed me for over a year.[5] His last mention of Kyoto appears to have been in the “24 . II . 64 / Note to Kyoto,” in which he expressed the age-old spring desire to get roving again, in his own case to leap back to Paris and Barcelona.

Paul was a loyal and comradely correspondent during these years, exactly the kind of slightly older friend that a young uncertain poet needs—not a mentor, let alone a master, but someone with a slight edge of experience who is willing to set forth his view and let the younger person make of them what he can.

Paul was the first person to make me aware to what extent my creative blocks had to do with a swelling up of unassimilated childhood material, and of the extent to which participating in a full present life had to do with working through such material. In 1963 he married his second wife, Sara Golden, and spontaneously I started to write a poem celebrating their marriage. As I worked away on it, the problems in my own first marriage tore through the fabric, so I set the Blackburn poem aside and tried to concentrate on my own difficulties, into which churned so much material from the past that before I knew it I was working on a poem that attempted to bring my past life to bear on all that had happened to me since I had started writing poetry and come to Kyoto. This still unpublished four hundred page poem, “The Tsuruginomiya Regeneration,” was used as a quarry for the some of the sections in Coils, published by Black Sparrow Press in 1973.

It has now been over fifteen years since Paul’s death, and not a week has gone by that I have not thought of him. It seems on one level that the fate of our friendship was in the stars, that we were to be magnetized and then demagnetized by currents that rose up through us. Our closest years took place continents apart and appeared to be balanced not only on the age difference (nine years) but on my youthful and Paul’s more mature uncertainties. This incongruity was very workable when we were apart, but when I moved to New York City in the summer of 1966 and started the groundwork for the life that I have been building ever since, while Paul, from about 1963 on, seemed to be losing his grip on much that was dearest to him, the vectors of our drawing apart were set in motion. I was not invited to dinner at the Blackburns during the entire first year of my separation from Barbara Eshleman. During the summer of 1967, Sara had an affair with Hunter Thompson while she and Paul were in Aspen, Colorado. Sara returned to New York City before Paul did and begged me not to tell him when he returned where she was living because she was afraid that he would physically attack her. When Paul did return, with a broken arm from a bicycle accident, I told him that I did not know where she was living, and he decided that this meant that I had had an affair with her myself (which I had not). I probably did the wrong thing by not telling him, since my primary loyalty was to Paul and not to Sara. This misunderstanding nearly destroyed our friendship and while I continued to see Paul from time to time in the late 1960s our relationship was that of acquaintances, not friends.

Cutting through how we felt about each other was how we felt about ourselves as men and as writers in a world that never lets us take anything for granted. Thinking about Paul now makes me realize how tough, how nigh impossible it is, for American artists of different generations to have lifelong friendships.


[1] This essay, now with minor revisions and a few additions, introduced Paul Blackburn’s The Parallel Voyages, edited and annotated by Edith Jarolim, with drawings by Ellen McMahon, SUN-gemini Press, Tucson, 1987. At the end of this Introduction I commented on some of the previously unpublished Blackburn poems I had collected from the UCSD Special Collections Library and included in The Parallel Voyages. I have not reprinted that section here.

[2] See Creeley’s brief Preface to Against the Silences, Permanent Press, London & New York, 1980. While the editor Robert Vas Dias states on the back of this book that it “comprises the last manuscript remaining to be published which Paul Blackburn conceived as a separate and unified book,” he informs the reader in a Publisher’s Note that he has eliminated a third of this manuscript from the present book. Vas Dias also states that “no title has been assigned to the collection,” while assigning to it the first half of a poem title, “Against the Silences of Staircases.” Without “of Staircases,” “Against the Silences” is “poetic” in a way that Blackburn always avoided. Blackburn himself referred to this gathering as “the black binder,” which seems to me to be the most appropriate title for the collection—which should have also been published entire, as Paul left it.

[3] From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Blackburn’s poetry is graced with continuing bird, most often gull, appearances. Some of the key poems in this respect are: “Cantar de Noit,” “The Birds,” “The Lanner,” Winter Solstice,” The Purse-Seine,” “The Summer Window,” “In Winter,” and sections 1 and 6 of “The Selection of Heaven.” He once wrote to me in 1963: “Dear Clay, Never look a gull in the eye, love, Paul.”

[4] I founded Sulfur magazine at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in the spring of 1981, and the first eight issues were edited there, published by the Institute, with a commitment of deficit funding for five years provided by President Goldberger. In 1983, I was informed by Goldberger that Caltech’s name had to be immediately struck from Sulfur because of the following incident: he had been using discretionary funds from the Weingart Foundation in Pasadena to support the magazine, and at one point showed the Weingart Board of Trustees a copy of Sulfur #4, which included twenty-two of the Blackburn poems included in The Parallel Voyages. Apparently, someone from the Foundation picked up the issue, leafed through and settled on “Birds chirp listlessly in the heat…” which he read aloud to everyone at the Board meeting. He then told Goldberger that Sulfur was pornographic and that their funds were no longer to be used to support the magazine, and that they wanted Caltech’s name removed from it. Goldberger told me that as much as he disagreed with the Trustees’ response, he had to honor it because of the Weingart Foundation’s huge yearly donations to the Institute. Goldberger, quite honorably I felt, offered to make good on his original five year deficit funding commitment to Sulfur via other sources, so that the magazine could continue either on its own for a while or until it attracted a new sponsor. While the Blackburn poem is genuinely shocking, it is hardly pornographic. That a single poem by this shy, unassertive poet was sufficient to nearly eliminate a literary magazine on grounds of censorship in 1983 should keep us all alert to the fact that while things seem to change, “the sexual revolution” etc., on another level they remain stuck, and the same.

[5] There is amore complete description of the effect of this poem on me in my essay, “The Gull Wall,” most recently reprinted in The Grindstone of Rapport / A Clayton Eshleman Reader, Black Widow Press, Boston, 2008.

Opulence at SPD

Just thought that I would mench that Opulence by Stephen Ellis can be ordered thru Small Press Distribution, click here for that opportunity. Support small presses, support poetry, support friends. Support!

Robert Creeley’s Essays Online

Ron Silliman posted a link to Robert Creeley’s essays, now online thanks to UCal Press. Go here for the goods.

First of all, it pleases me NOT to see a picture of myself on Ron’s blog, leastwise one with 2 sets of 4 numerals separated by a dash. Ah, I breathe.

Second, it is nice to have these essays readily available. I mean not because I am cheap, but that they provide a general usefulness. Those publishers who curl protectively around their copyrights are part of the resistance to be fought. Creeley’s essays seem culturally important, if I can say that. Think of them as poetic reference works. Anyway, I think we have seen demonstration that to give away will redound positively.

Creeley’s critical writing was a necessary intensity in his writing. I guess it is part of the post-modern thrum that criticism twines so closely with the poetry. Creeley was generous in such writing, perhaps too. Blurbs are not criticism but we can consider them roughly the same doormat (to the poetry house). Creeley’s blurbs could be awful, I won’t say routinely so.  He would produce positive-sounding mumbles, then addend his affirming name. I always took note of books blurbed by RC, tho.

Critically, however, he played a good game. If you’ve read Poe’s criticism, you might nearly be overwhelmed by the antic situation. Poe’s crazy acumen was fully wasted on so many forgotten sentries of taste circa mid 19th. Creeley has his share of nobodies about whom he professes possibilities of expanse. Still, his batting average remains high.

And, too, plus, furthermore: he knew everybody. Him and Ginsberg counted coup on American culture, period.

Argue with me if you like, but Creeley’s poetry is not enough to keep me interested in him. I was reading his early collected recently, and it is valuable. But the considerable bear in the doorway for me proves to be the critical work. UCP would like you to buy this book, which I think is fair. A useful book for your time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Onword, Antic View

The 150th installment of Antic View now preens visibly on the Internet. Go here to read Jeff Harrison and I go back and forth regarding poetry, writing, and stuff.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Paul Blackburn

I have The Collected Poems of Paul Blackburn, which I believe I scored thru some remaindered book catalogue, years ago. I was psyched to get it. Blackburn fits sturdily in the Lesser Known and Under-Appreciated Poets category. So life goes, but I am thankful for the book.

I know the controversy attendant on this collection. Edith Jarolim chose to glom all the poems together in chronological order. Which is to say she eradicated how PB prepared his books. She did so for practical reasons, to avoid repeating poems. Alice Notley and the Berrigan brothers decided to repeat what Ted repeated, in Ted’s Collected. You have to make a decision, and Jarolim chose the probably less good choice.  Oh well, I as reader will manage.

I had, previous to this collection, several of PB’s books, his late journals, and early stuff, I think. They were both published by Black Sparrow. For logistical reasons, I got rid of those books when I got the collected. Room exists for only so much.

The cover photo really resonates for me. It was taken by Robert Schiller. It shows PB sitting on a stool. It looks like he should be working for NASA, circa 1968. He wears a white shortsleeve shirt and plain dark tie (picture is b&w, so I am making some guesses). His hair is trimmed neatly short. The tie is loosened. He has a (de rigueur) cigarette in his hand. His feet are on the rung of the stool. He looks seriously at the camera.

He looks sort of forgettable, but also rather drilling of perception into what is before him. Oh, that’s all trumped up diddy-wah, thank you very much. I’m just angling at an approach, and pictures are a possible means.

The late journals, which have the knowledge of spreading cancer as fulcrum, have that sad end flowing thru, try as you might to stay ‘with the words’. Ah, this is my sainted mother’s birthday (11/20), and I think of the cancer and emphysema. That narrative in PB’s life is part of the poetry. You cannot excise it, just as that skid of time when my mother’s life failed her doesn’t go away. I do not mean to pop sentiment into the forum, it comes on its own beck. Which, I mean to say, is how one meets PB’s poems, especially the later ones.

PB slogged in a sexist quagmire similar to Creeley’s. I hate to use words like sexism, they seem prepared for those who spurn full involvement. A word like sexism, or racism, lands with an imperative thud, with cessation of conversation in mind. Such words are used as short hand, and we need as much long hand as we can get.

But still. PB is acculturated (let us say) in an eager vision of White Goddess denial. Sorry, but it’s a little old skool. Not gone, just mustered to a post-era entitlement. Which never held much currency.

This is to say PB scouted and forlorn. It wears. Just as Creeley’s muddle does, here and there. It is not the completed tempo for PB, but one notices.

I hadn’t meant to review here, this is an old book, probably unavailable. The poetry is lovely. You should find it, and see if you have need for this brightening.

We have a sad person here, which is NOT a recommendation for pleasure. But the sad person pressed forward in the language available to him. This is interesting. He is not a prophet, he chronicles his stumbles well. The language in which we live is a central constant, delivering us to the forces of our lives. Poetry is not a game, tho many players fill the stage.

I have felt pissy about Kent Johnson’s recent book, a divagation as to whether Kenneth Koch wrote a poem attributed to Frank O’Hara. I bear little emotion about the results of such study, could even muster interest were it not that I do not trust him in his pronouncements. I just think Kent Johnson is a promotional gadfly. He himself discredits his work by the smarmy grope into the miasmic protocols of promotion. He should give his insights away, rather than make a cottage industry of them. I say this because a scholar like PB flustered in the blocked impulse of cross culture. People do not respect poetry. Johnson’s expert sophistry spoils in the sun.

Kent Johnson will not read, let alone consider, such criticism as I offer (or is it just accuse?). He has to prove that he is not just a scamp, that is what I need, at least. I bring this up because Paul Blackburn forcefully proclaimed that he was not a scamp. His translations were intense involvements, not tricks. The poetry, as an indigenous force or implement, carried thru and on. That’s the thing of interest, not gambits for the public ideologue machine.

I realize that I have inserted extraneous material, and a fractured argument. I just mean to press Paul Blackburn forward, as relevant and inspiring, even tho he’s a poet.

Opulence by Stephen Ellis

Stephen Ellis has published numerous books, albeit mostly in various diy formats. Opulence itself first appeared as a fresh-from-the-library-printer edition, back in 2002 (it has since been much revised). I have nothing but praise for the samizdat initiative, believing as I do that stupidhead cultural gatekeeping occurs relentlessly—take that, MLA programs!—but there's something to be said for making work available widely. Not that a small press like Theenk Books represents wide release, but at least it adds another outlet for the book. Opulence deserves notice.

One notices, first of all, a beautiful presentation. The cover and (bonus!) inside cover both display stark, realist paintings by Michael Merrill, one of some chairs and a folding table, the other of stairways in what looks like a modern art museum. These paintings fit the sense and sensibility of Stephen and his work. The book's format is 8x10¾, large but not outsized. To finish the stats, the book consists of 52 14-line poems, one per page. Quotes, dedications, dates, and locations flesh out, if that's the right term, each page. More on that later.

Stephen calls these poems sonnets, but he's not counting iambs pentametrically. It's not to tweak Milton and the other affirmed bards of yore that he names the poems thus. I see him working within that tradition, for one thing. Besides, to recognize a form, however dispersed, asserts a practice and deliverance. As my wife says, art is creative problem-solving. To fit whatever into whatever form propels the imagination. The imagination is our working tool.

I see the influence of Charles Olson in Stephen's work. I am sure Stephen will accept the fact of that influence, tho he might cite other writers as well. I myself am much taken by Olson, and am heartened to see some use made of the crazy man from Gloucester's ideas. Can we say that Olson had a paleolithic politics? I mean the polis he wrote of derived from a history of darkness from which our genetics sprung. Stephen writes within that political unity. It is a writing of febrile impact, however coolly he states the positions.
Here is an entire poem from Opulence:

Lay Me Down in the Doorway

There are no symbols that aren't clothed to become thus guiding
qualities of identification between celestial and and earthly worlds whose
signification takes place as white Goddess adolescent ritual drum-drums
of attraction to the first and always Girl Next Door who tracks the meta-
physical status of spiritual continuum that flows through the timeless
correlation between the dense Qabbalistic crown of flowers erupting from
the canopy of the catalpa grown out of the clavicular Eye in the (backyard) Heart
and the Milky Way that forms the rabbit-run into the glade out of which
emerges the Lightning Rod Man Doctor Faustus tried to trope out of he
hands of the selfsame human mind that perceived the first flash of
god life after circumcision completed the sympathetic Kundalini body
under image to Draco, where Christ rose on growth rings of perfect Dodonese
oak in order to maintain in the hollow core of the Argo the electrified
jawbone and kneecap of Agamemnon wrapped in the cape of his Real Wife

I intended to quote just a bit but can you find a stopping point in that self-propelling mass? I have referred to Stephen's style as run-on sentence, but I do not mean that pejoratively. Amy Clampitt has earned for herself the honour of being my bête noire, for her run-on sentences and proliferating commas, em dashes, colons, and, heaven forfend, semi colons. I find her ability to add pointless independent clauses to pointless dependent clauses an affirmation of sluggish poor writing. She just hangs listless 'poetic' images together in galled gallimaufry. If it looks like a poem, it must be a poem. Not!

With Stephen's work, thought persistently discharges provocation, language angles, and something new finds a way out. Creative problem solving! This is energy transfer, and a good thing. Clampitt seems to be stuck in mere simulation. I call that stones in the passway.

You will duly note the dash of references and allusions in Stephen's poem. These are wonderful intersections. Stephen's reading list is wide and pointed, much like Olson's was. He works within the world's necessities, not the garden of academic polish.

Stephen often adds nacreous quotes to his poems (albeit not to the one quoted above). I think this provides a rational context for his work. Poets, philosophers, critics, historians, and friends all appear above the poem in nuggets of input. After the poem, Stephen always addends where and when the poem was written. Living as peripatetically as he does, this practice seems to pin him down. Again, it situates the poem as an act and discovery.
The lesson I got from Olson, most of all, concerns the matter of poetry. That poetry arises out of science, and history, and politics: the human condition. It is not a rarefied adjunct to better ways of spending your time but a philosophic possibility and implement. Stephen, I think, in his registered political complex, would agree. At any rate, a ferocious political calculation propels his writing.

I will serve a nod towards Steve Tills, whose Theenk Books produced this book. He's on his toes. I recommend this book as a positive program. It kicks out the jams. Those jams need kicking out.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lowell, Mass

Erin’s at UMass Lowell now, after a prep school (pretty much his only school) experience of community college. UMass had a parents day last week, a feature of which was a rendezvous of the various school groups. Erin’s in environmental studies so gathered with them folk. It was nice to see the energy, because all these groups are basically geek havens. I mean geeks in the sense of focused interest. The ‘cool’ kids are in bars or whatever, snubbing the idea of joining.

Anyway, I have been thinking about Lowell, which is a fascinating place. And given that I have lived my whole life nearby, I hardly know the place. But I have impressions.

The bones of Lowell are beautiful, as I have said before. It is a town with waterways. The Concord River enters the Merrimack in Lowell, plus the industrious folk of the 19th century dug canals to transport the fruits of labour. The natural landscape offers rolling hills and a sense of human blessing.

The unnatural landscape is now largely decrepit. Always a home for immigrants, Lowell shows the sure hand of utility. Yes, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses and I’ll run them into the ground at the mill. What Lowell represents historically is a cornerstone to what is going on here, now. Lowell welcomes those of few means. When I say welcomes, I mean tolerates when useful. I understand that only Phnom Penh has more Cambodians than Lowell. Opportunity doesn’t seem to overflow in Lowell, tho, but the killing fields are more subtle. Subtle, that is, if you think Tea Partiers are subtle.

You will find few places with more stained glass and architectural knick knacks on the most mundane of buildings than Lowell. Lowell is among the prime towns for brick New England factories, which for some reason thrill me. These factories are now repurposed as condos, stores, museums, and such. The factories stand as monuments to when the turbine still surged. Today, the city of Lowell itself is a national park.

As a national park, Lowell receives or has received considerable fed money, without which Lowell would be chugging on empty. I’m not against the funding, but I do not think this will help Lowell get its soul back. The solution is too makeshift.

I have a larger purpose (of consideration) here than just to show off my halfbaked political thoughts, however. Better halfbaked political thinkers than me exist. Instead, I see myself making a mole to get at Tyre.

A couple of weeks ago, the town of Gloucester saw a gathering of people to discuss and honour Charles Olson, he of the almost centenary. I wish I could have attended. At the same time, I am leery of the weight placed on that place. Olson lived in Gloucester, sure, but other places too. Worcester saw his inception, but he did not go back to those roots but the more interesting story of Gloucester. He might have chosen the equally interesting story of Portsmouth, NH, or Salem, MA, if that was all he was on about. Of course, that was NOT all.

Olson wrote of Gloucester in an idiosyncratic and personal way. His local is not about street names, but of the inner/outer conflict between ‘our’ world and the larger thing before us. Thus proprioception is a key word for Olson.

Kerouac is tied to Lowell in a similar way as Olson to Gloucester. It is an old-fashioned romantic notion, of hero and place. Leaning on that biographical detail is lazy. Olson’s writing is not about Gloucester, nor is Kerouac’s about Lowell. Such biographical distraction poorly serves the writers in question. I am not saying that the Olson gathering was like the Melville Society one that Olson himself ranted against, but that rant comes to mind.

Neither Kerouac or Olson made it in their respective towns, they were merest actors briefly on those stages. Place collapses into words, finally, and words collapse into space. Space is empty, yet here we are. The local is when. Our writing, ages and ages of it, strains towards that place where we think we are.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crime and Punishment

I just wanted to alert you, Gentle Reader, that I have finally counted coup on Dostoyevsky and read one of his books. That I haven’t till now is just one of those holes in my reading. It may not be instructive but it is interesting to note the books and authors that one has not read. I shan’t delve into that now, but I admit that I have yet to read Don Quixote. I guess I had ought to make a list.

I avoided Dostoyevsky for some while because the grimness I inferred to exist in his books was not attractive to me. More lately, I just haven’t gotten around to reading him. I’ve read Tolstoy by Warren Peas, but that had the great historical agitation to interest me. I slogged thru 200 pages of Anna Karenina and got no more than that it was a soap opera, and gave up. I do not claim that as my critical assessment, but I have difficulty brewing up sufficient jimjam to try again.

So I have reached the third paragraph, still nattering. I should have lead with the report that Crime and Punishment was pretty pissa. Surprisingly so, given the grim plot points, and the grind of the philosophical underpinnings.

Raskolnikov fails slightly in the category of lovable, but D manages to keep the character sympathetic and engaging. Not in the sense of readers worrying how he’ll turn out, but in the psychological delineations portrayed within his character. He seems at first like the usual hyper introspective protagonist that goes wrong in a dazzle of novelistic contrivance, canned sorrow. Turns out that D can both philosophize and allow his characters to act like humans. In contradistinction to, say, Ayn Rand and her theories in human form.

D’s touch is superbly light, it seems to me. We catch R in media res, with fully fermented plans all a-bubble. I had absorbed already that he would murder but D did not code it desperately. He let R find his own way.

At the points when D could have popped the cork and gone novelistic, like the actual murder, or later, the suicide of Svidrigaïlov, D drily reports. I think I read that Hemingway radiated from D. That makes sense, not that I’m so keen on the big H.

D’s ability to write of a social nexus makes me think of Balzac. I have not read enough Balzac to make that claim sufficiently, but I think it might be a point to consider. The ending, with R in prison and all that, brought to mind the end of Magic Mountain. Thru out double M, Hans Castorp is a regular character experiencing, you know, stuff. It’s like a conversation, or argument, maybe, whereby Mann donates a bunch of Castorpian stuff to the cause, and the reader muddles thru. The ending, tho, is whammer jammer majestique. Castorp has become a ghostly impetus in the horrid impulse of WWI. Zounds! Uppercut to the chin wowzer.

D pulled way, way back from R, in the final pages, resonating a delivery of thoughtful regard that is a poetic laurel branch. To me, anyway, maybe I am inflating.

Our friend Melville’s emphatic embrace (in Moby Dick most securely) dissolves the margins of novel and plot. D, methinks, follows suit, in some sense. Actions see thought, and thought sees action. I do not think that C&P is a greatest, but D pitched a good game. I am so eager to read The Brothers Karamatsov, both because it is one other by Master D, but also because the shape of it, as I glean by skimming, seems to be of the order of masterpiece. We shall see, and thank you, imaginary and non-existent reader, for following my enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the delivery of art.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Thomas Wyatt Weirding out

In reading a collection of 16th Century English poetry (Silver Poets of the 16th Century, edited by Gerald Bullett) I came across this whizbang by Thomas Wyatt:

EACH man me telleth I change most my devise,
And on my faith me think it good reason
To change propose like after the season,
For in every case to keep still one guise
Is meet for them that would be taken wise,
And I am not of such manner condition
But treated after a diverse fashion,
And thereupon my diverseness doth rise,
But you that blame this diverseness most,
Change you no more, but still after one rate
Treat ye me well, and keep ye in the same state,
And while with me doth dwell this wearied ghost
my word nor I shall not be variable,
But always one your own both firm and stable.

What’s that all about? It burbles with twists and stubbed toes. We can cite the language as archaic by our standards. Wyatt shifts word order to appease the sonnet form. The 3rd line had me for a bit, till I realized that Wyatt meant To change propose  to mean To propose change. That would be to maintain metre, I guess, except that it seems like metre holds in either case. I dunno.

I like reading this stuff, tho I am no scholar of the age. I like how the Elizabethans had a context for poetry. Poetry nowadays is a localized and puny phenomenon. Take the Boston Poet Tea Party, of which I wrote back in August. Remove the poets in the audience who were also readers and you had basically no audience. A potlatch society for poets.

In Wyatt’s poem, an elevated delivery takes place. Wyatt speaks to the reader yet at the same time, honours the weird necessity of the sonnet form by finagling syntax to the needs of metre and rhyme. That sounds like an awful thing to do to us modern readers, but in doing that he proposes the excitement of following his jolted trail. I still am not sure what Wyatt is saying, but I dig his effort in the process.

An outsider named Emily Dickinson wrote from an elemental point of subversion. She knew maybe too well that the poetic context was not inclusive. She unrolled her disputatious antelopes in a context of impossible solitude. Form was not delivered cleanly to her; what she broke she never saw work fully. Parts were missing, denied.

Today’s poetry is secular crap divided from readership by a plangently coded power base. Wyatt could trust readership to follow his solutions to the matter of form. Can today’s poet believe that a readership even exists outside of a few likeminded practitioners? Do poets nowadays recognize form? I mean, do they recognize form the way we recognize Fox News as a news source?

Despite sounding like I know the answer, I do not. And the problem is old. Ezra Pound wrote ABCs of Reading, still a useful book, because readership was flopping the reading test. A century later, we still got ourselves a problem.

In his introduction, Bullett explains that he uses the term Silver Poets to make clear that these poets (Sydney, Howard, Surrey, Raleigh, and Wyatt) are worthy even if they aren’t named Shakespeare, Marlowe, or Jonson. They belong within a thriving context. That Boston Poet Tea Party ended up way too underground, as if getting by were thriving. The idea that poetry might stray beyond the local bounds of our learned hierarchies seems slightly impossible. Alas.