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.

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