Saturday, February 15, 2003
What does Peter Coyote have in common with Marvin Bell? The same thing that Clayton Eshleman has in common with Anselm Berrigan, Bill Berkson with Maxine Kumin, Ursala LeGuin with Julia Vinograd, and Stanley Kunitz with August Highland. All have participated in Sam Hamill’s still-growing poets protest against the war.
As hokey as the official chapbook of Poets Against the War might be, the website’s database of more than 5,000 poets is a remarkable collection of the diversity of American writing, an amazing statement in opposition to a war in which the shooting has not yet begun. While The New Criterion’s Roger Kimball might not recognize these names, here (based on the most perfunctory scroll through the website’s index) are a few that might be familiar to you:
Not all of these links lead to poems – several are statements of conscience. And I’m sure that as my eyes literally glazed over the table of contents, I missed a lot of other obvious “name brand” poets. The list above represents less than four percent of what can be found at the website and I heartily recommend scrolling through & reading widely. One way to start is to read everything from your neck of the woods. Collectively, it has that mind-numbing, awe-inspiring overwhelming quality I will always associate with the AIDS Quilt.
Given the balkanization of
American letters & Sam Hamill’s own
less-than-innocent role in same – the site’s chapbook itself underscores the
problem perfectly – I think it takes an enormous amount of goodwill & sense
of urgency to send a poem or statement to this project. That so many American
(& a few Canadian) poets have done so is a testament to the lateness of the
hour & the importance of the idea. If/when this war begins,
these writers are on record that George W’s assault on the people of
Friday, February 14, 2003
“As Close to a Love Poem”
Friends ask us why
we decided to get married,
reflecting true affection.
As close to a love poem
as I'll ever get.
Your daddy sits on our sofa,
blue checked golf pants
and orange sweater, rereading
Ice Station Zebra. Mom's
on a hanger in the sun
from the padlock's clasp
to the shed door.
I wake by water's edge
Willingly I'll say
there's been a sweet marriage,
seabirds loud with dawn
in the harbor. Last night's
boneless breast of roast duck
topped with apple,
strong sweet aftertaste
lingers on. I won't forget your eyes,
the way they saw, tears
streaming, as you recited
words of Robert Duncan
and I my Zukofsky, and I
would fill your arms
as if with flowers
with my forever being there.
Thursday, February 13, 2003
“Job share archivists”
I have never seen a history
of poetic collaboration. A search in Google for all sites that use both
“poetry” & “collaboration” yields 199,000 sites. A search for the exact
phrase “history of poetic collaboration” yields none – or will until the Google
crawler finds today’s blog. My sense – and it may be quite incomplete – is that
poetic collaboration arises truly with the surrealists.* It
The absence of collaboration
among Beats & Projectivists***, and for the most part from the San
Francisco Renaissance+, is worth noting. It suggests, I think, a stance toward
the author & literal authority
that is substantially different from that of other communities of writing.
Allen Ginsberg may well have been the Kral Majales or King of the May in 1965
The investment banker sewed his lips shut. He'd arrived in a leaky ship, having paid dues to the dark haired man who answered to no name he could pronounce. Pronunciation is over-rated, he muttered to himself as he eased into the hold, arms bound in fetal position. His middle passage was punctuated (never leave metaphors of language behind, he added, pensively) by hunger pangs. No-name man told him nothing of the end, though his origin had been clear (he remembered, at least, his hard-earned MBA). He wanted to escape big words, like globalization, like fraud. Crusoe's accountant had nothing on his, member of the magic club in high school, artist of the extraordinary bottomless line.
In the end, it was hard to collect his story, through teeth clenched like broken-jawed Ali's. One had to assume consonants, or were they vowels, emerging as from some Afghan cave into the abortive syntax of a bombing run. What we heard had something to do with sea, and ground, and sickness. The south sea island that welcomed him (sic) has only years left before the flood (lawsuits are pending). On its coral, the banker sits, quiet as monk, though not so tranquil. He knows his days are numbered, so he counts them in his throat. If he were a poet, one might say he'd found his voice.
bombing the library.
the treasures of manuscript,
the texts history, natural sciences,
philosophy, poetry, mathematics
anthologies, dictionaries, treatises on everything,
the bombing filmed
in the peace zone,
phones the film collector
of "real UFOs"
There is a political tone
here that one hardly ever sees even with Gen XXXVII of the NY School, and it’s
stronger even in several of the other pieces, which generally circle around the
topics of oil, corporate corruption &
Indeed, one of the most
interesting aspects of this as a collaboration is how
it challenges “the political.” Typically & traditionally, one key to the
political has been what might be thought of as “angle of positionality,” which
usually gets reduced to an idea of stance. This is visible at the surface in
identarian texts of all manner: the poet writes from
his or her historical/ethnic/social/gendered position & articulation of
that position is often what the resulting text is about. But Schultz & Brown come from different
nations with different roles in the oil = global domination scenario. Schultz
may be marginalized in her role as poet within the hegemon, but within it she
most certainly & visibly is. Brown is at least doubly marginalized, living
in a country that the
Part of what makes “Amnesiac recoveries” so interesting is that it’s not possible to tell who in the collaboration is writing at any given moment, something that is so discernible, say, in a work like Sight that its authors, Lyn Hejinian & Leslie Scalapino, two fabulous poets who grew up in the same town in the same country within a couple of years of one another & whose fathers both taught at the same school, actually initial their individual passages.
But if we cannot tell who
is speaking, or at least writing, in
”Amnesiac recoveries,” how does the reader then position these
Brown & Schultz do this with wit, sharpness & élan. The entire project – I have no idea if the two sections that are up are all of the collaboration or only just the first portion of it – is gutsy & fun while being serious in the face of some extraordinary challenges.++ In connecting the dots north-south across the equator between their two homes, these poets are erasing lines that we often forget are “always already” there. & it’s fascinating to see what now shows through.
* Some writers characterize the relationship between William Wordsworth & Samuel Taylor Coleridge, especially during the Lyrical Ballads period, as a collaboration. An argument can certainly be made for that, even though they didn’t publish poems as composed by both.
** I believe that the phrase that is used as the epigraph to the West section of the book, “Instead of ant wort I saw brat guts,” was itself composed during a collaboration.
*** Thus when Daphne Marlatt works collaboratively, as in the book Double Negative with Betsy Warland, it’s because she’s moved away from the Projectivism of her youth toward a political feminism.
+ The notable exception was The Carola Letters co-authored by Joanne Kyger & George Stanley. See Kevin Killian’s article on the row it caused in the SF scene. Killian raises the possibility that camp, the arch subgenre of gay culture, was a major thorn in the side of Robert Duncan. Camp as a discourse erases boundaries not unlike the ones that Schultz & Brown are tackling.
++ The web
site captures this beautifully with a photograph of the two poets in
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
One of the great lessons of
the Vietnam War is that a nation of people opposed to a foreign war can
actually constrain & eventually halt that conflict. Unfortunately, one of
the other lessons of that war is that this process takes time. Between the
Today was the day that
I am asking every poet to speak up for the conscience of our country and lend his or her name to our petition against this war, and to make February 12 a day of Poetry Against the War. We will compile an anthology of protest to be presented to the White House on that afternoon.
That email spread like a computer virus, replicating over & over again until virtually every poet in the country must have received it at least once. I know that I stopped counting the copies I received when it got into double digits.
Somewhere along the way,
somebody – it would interesting to know just who – thought to let Ms. Bush know
of this impending anthology & the event was cancelled, generating several
articles in the media. As it turned out, the poet laureates of both
Since then, there have been plenty of opportunities for second-guessing. Hamill’s website has reminded everyone of what they knew all along – he’s really a conservative as a poet, even if he does oppose the war. His “chapbook” in fact reflects an establishmentarian poetics that wants more than anything to retain its role as just that. Others have suggested that attending the event & making a scene there might have generated even more media attention to the rapid arrival of a wide-spread & popular opposition to Bush’s war. I’m a skeptic on that one myself. I think that Hamill’s email took on a life of its own precisely because there is such widespread opposition.
But what concerns
me is not the usual – & ultimately petty – divisions between traditions of
poetry. I am experiencing emotions that I suspect many Germans must have felt
in the late 1930s: my government is
about to rain death onto the world in great quantity. The legitimate safety of
the nation in which I live, one ostensible reason for this, can only be damaged
by any invasion of
leaves only one plausible rationale for sending troops into
Far from “helping to spread
democracy” to other Middle-Eastern states, the Bush strategy is a recipe for
long-term destabilization of an entire region, stretching from sub-Saharan
What can be done to halt
this disaster before it occurs? Short of a massive general
strike in the
Poets need to continue to
speak out, to demonstrate to the world the absolute lack of consensus the
actions of this regime have, to point to the hypocrisies & to call
attention to all of the various new threats on democracy and justice that emanate
from the axis of evil situated between
The problem that poets have is one that we share with all progressives – the forces who promote this conflict have dramatically reorganized & transformed themselves since the 1960s. Progressives continue to use the same tools that took so very long to work four decades ago that millions died needlessly. Unless & until we can transform that imbalance, more to the American Voice than just poetry will continue to go unheard.
Tuesday, February 11, 2003
I received multiple emails concerning my recent blog on the work of Rachel Blau DuPlessis and the issue of the subconscious, one of which wanted to know how I could insist that
There is never a word nor syllable nor the slightest scratch upon the paper in any of Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Drafts that has not been thoroughly vetted through the mind & imagination of the poet
if in fact her work invokes the unconscious.* DuPlessis, who has very obviously thought these issues through with extraordinary care, had reactions that are worth printing in full. I find myself agreeing with most (not all) of her observations below:
Dear Ron –
Needless to say the baby narcissist in me (something the size of a barn) has been delighted to see your repeated interesting mentions of Drafts, the latest on the issue of subconscious. My thoughts on this are all one sentence before getting inchoate.
a) I think you are a little unfair to your "cohort"/generation. Bob P[erelman]. wittily strikes out with awareness of ps-a thought. Barry [Watten]'s CRITICISM is articulate to a fault about the point where politics meets ps-a theory and works that spot brilliantly. Lyn [Hejinian]'s My Life is so against "depth-psychology" that it is almost a hidden topos.
b) me: I always thought with a kind of modernist utopian flair that feminism would be the/ would make the necessary synthesis of marxism (social-justice thought is how I translate that) and psychoanalysis. At least that's the way we were thinking then. I think I am still informed by a version of this hope –
whatever it means – which I think is an awareness of how ideology is inserted in us (RSAs etc) so that transformational change could occur to create a better, more just society in distribution of resources and in social power for positive ends. Which would not be the end of ideology, of course, just of a bad ideology. Forgive brutally low-level word "bad," please. I didn't want to use the word repressive as I believe that repression and sublimation are just dandy, thank you. Anyway, It may be why ps-a is not so foreign to me. There were many many debates of the use and function of Freud and Freudianism in feminism, and then also there was HD as a poet who used ps-a.
H.D. and others like
d) However, one of the most interesting contemporary uses of the religious and mythic and political information that might come through the meditation of dreams is Alice Notley's Descent of Alette, a major long poem. Another (and of course far more Jungian etc) is the work in general of Clayton Eshleman. I hope in listing these first responses, I did not misread you or mis-remember what you said. As for Drafts, it is true that I try really hard to have no mark unaccounted for – to say it flatly, I try to know why everything gets down on the page. This may be deluded (esp in light of ps-a logic, where one does not ever fully know one's motives!) but it is the paradox of art.
In responding to Rachel, asking if I could use her email here, I also mentioned that Rae Armantrout struck me as the writer of my cohort who most completely made use of psychology. I then received an additional email, as follows:
Actually – I'd
thought of Rae too, but it was hard for me to put how she does what she does
into words, so I didn't, lazily. I think she gets a sense of the waywardness
and odd glissades of association that run up and down (I mean round and round)
the scale from the social to the inner –
the unconscious, because all, in her
world, is quirky. Her ways of putting work together draws on a logic of the
unconc. leaps. BUT/AND it wasn't a question of your editing OUT what you said
about Ashcroft, but about seeing it as a place of wound, hurt, loss by virtue
of the typo. I mean this was an example of The unconsc. speaking. In that case,
not to make a bad pun, the "political unconscious." As for my "slips"
and lapsus linguae – try (what
I admitted once in an essay) – my constantly typing "Canots" for
"Cantos" while I was writing a diss. on Pound (and Williams). I guess
in that case "Drafts" now answers "Can, too." I don't have
a lot of objection to a raw piece of response of mine being absorbed
bloggishly, as long as its provisional-ness is noted; maybe this here
second-thought, treppworter*** thing
could be included as well. BUT FINALLY, I don't yet know whether we have a
sense of what "getting psychology in" or working thru the unconscious
is, exactly, in poetry; it seems more mysterious than we've made it so far,
more evocative. It has implications for form, for imagery, for the structure of
meaning, intention, and understanding presented in a work. (Here I think of
Dante.) As if one wanted the poem to explore the deeper rhythms and allegories
of knowing that our sense of the Unconc. offers.(Here I think of some Ashbery.)
And in terms of a double line of word associations, a parallel world, there's
always Charles' With Strings. This
(implications for form, imagery, narrative, allegory) is why I think The
Descent of Alette is a terrific and moving work. It occurred to me to note an
essay of Alice Notley's, in addition to Alette
– the "What Can Be Learned From Dreams?" which appeared in Scarlet in 1991 and argues eloquently
for the information that the unconscious can offer – this
being (in part) a very present, palpable sense of temporality, an enriched
narrative possibility, strange imagery and event in kinds of disproportionate
relationships to the expected, and – this is key for Notley – "moral
knowledge" – all this can come from dreams. Of course – and you
* Perhaps I should have said that DuPlessis “invokes & addresses” the unconscious. I was not, I hope, suggesting that her work was written unconsciously!
** The Potemkin Village of my syntax has subsequently been realigned. DuPlessis is absolutely correct in her presumption that thinking about Ashcroft drives me into fits of sputtering rage. – RS
*** Yiddish for "stairwords" – the words you wish you'd said at the party, but only think of what you could have said on the stairs, going home.
Monday, February 10, 2003
I’m totally jealous.
“Lateral Argument” is an as yet unpublished poem that is circulating via PDF file, 20 pages of shiveringly brilliant writing. My first thought as I read through this poem, composed over last summer, was: well, what if John Ashbery’s Flow Chart – my favorite work of his – did have a beginning, middle & end – is this what it would look like? Then I thought: well, what if Flow Chart had a social imagination, a politics? Or at least one that was coherent?
These thoughts reminded me
of a comment Davies himself made in a footnote, one of four, to a letter this
blog ran on November
1. In the body of the letter, Davies argued that, contra
In my own case, Berrigan was crucial to my education. The first thing of his I read, in the year after high school (while working desultorily at the local mill), was "Tambourine Life," in an anthology at the local community-college library. This event was, I think, similar to what Ron describes when he first encountered The Desert Music: the sense that there was a writing practice that could account for the vagaries and particulars of the life I was living, one that was not tied to the prosody of either the Romantics I adored or the academics I abhorred.
In “Lateral Argument,” Davies puts up, giving substance to the vision sketched out above:
Not all the fruit trees hate you –
just this one.
Freud once attempted to purchase
Mathew Arnold hated ducks, just hated ’em.
Martin Frobisher cooked and ate an entire cabin boy.
Jack Spicer invented the clap-on clap-off lamp.
Fatty Arbuckle faked his own death and ended
up running a go-cart track in
Goya lost his nose
in a practical joke gone very, very wrong.
Backing slowly away from the bear, not looking
in its eyes. Pretending to be asleep.
Ignoring the tornado. Refusing to acknowledge
the legitimacy of the mudslide.
Not flinching – holding steady – when the toaster
falls into the bath. Glancing back, turning to salt, and not
caring. Driving blindfolded on acid in the 70s.
Arguing for a lower grade. Pulling the thigh
hairs of the opposing power forward.
The title of “Lateral Argument,” it seems to me, is very literal (lateral). The poem is very much built around the stanza as its primary unit, often changing shape as the text moves from one to the next. At the same time, the stanzas themselves are destabilized by a process of “carry over,” the last line/thought of the previous one bleeding into the stanza following. The device starts at the beginning, with an ambiguous refusal to demarcate between epigraph and the body of the poem itself:
as practical ways of speaking about
– Paul Williams.
They awoke in a bookless world studded with lean-
to performance artists interacting with electricity.
This must be the place. Evicted from elsewhere, here at last
not rest but an apprenticeship in container
technology. A kind of music that, though apparently stopping,
starting, stopping, more specifically never ends, thus
displaying as virtue its greatest flaw. Successfully,
irritatingly. Who here has access to liquor?
Several of these carry-over lines
break in ways that seem unpredictable &
If there is a standard or
baseline stanzaic form here, it’s one that doesn’t really show up until the
fourth page & doesn’t fully take over until the 14th,
where (as in the last part of the first quote above) almost every second line
Davies has been an active
participant in the