Monday, October 04, 2004

 
Seeing Kenneth Irby last night & today has been a great pleasure. I hadn’t seen Kenneth in at least a decade until I ran into him at the Zukofsky Centennial in New York two weeks ago. (Alas, nobody thought to advertise that he was reading with Robert Grenier at Columbia on the Thursday prior to the conference or I might well have come to NYC a day earlier just to hear that -- I’ve been told by several people that it was a wonderful reading.)

So twice in one month is a particular treat. Today, he came to my talk on The H.D. Book and brought with him two separate copies of the book -- a printout of the PDF file and a carefully assembled collection of photocopies of all of the magazine appearances (save, I think for the selection of what was then called The Day Book, from Origin, Second Series). Plus Irby is one person who can say without question that he knew Duncan personally far better than I did.

This reminded me of a thought I’ve had ever since I got Marjorie Perloff’s autobiography, The Vienna Paradox, on how generational and age differences matter in poetry (&, just perhaps, in life as well). I’m reminded also, although in a different manner, of an assertion I’ve heard ascribed to Charles Olson, arguing that people develop to a certain year & then “freeze,” or become stuck permanently at some stage of their life & forever after become “bombs” of 1984 (or whatever the year) in all they say or do, the way Tom Clark seems forever to be an instance of the 1960s.

But that’s not really the important thing about age and age differences, although that does happen (and is always sad when it does). That accounts, for example, for all the New American Poets who have shown themselves unable to read poets younger than themselves (Creeley is the great exception to that rule). No doubt some of that is happening to the language poets as well. [And this blog is an active attempt on my part to prevent it from happening here.]

More important, though, is that gap that occurs not at the end of a writers maturation, but rather just the opposite -- at the very beginning. I came into poetry -- that verb phrase is very deliberate -- in 1965. Events that occurred to me in the years immediately prior (1960-65) might as well have occurred in 1910-1915 for all of my direct access to them. Even if I knew all of the individuals, it was something about them, whatever it might have been, that had taken place before I knew them.

Someone like Kenneth, who has, I guess, something like seven years’ head start on me has a much greater grasp of that time frame that I think of as the “New American” decades far better than I ever will. But from a certain point onward, our experiences tend to be far more alike, simply because we were operating during the same time frames (one of the great evenings of my life during the late 1960s occurred at a party at his house in Berkeley, for example, in which I successfully seduced two of the most interesting young writers I knew, but I suspect Kenneth had no knowledge of it since consummations occurred asynchronously & elsewhere).

Similarly, my experiences diverge most strongly from Marjorie Perloff’s not in the years after 1970, for example, but rather in the ones before 1955, since she became an adult 13 or so years ahead of me. Her experience of World War 2 is profound & important. I, on the other hand, was a victory baby, conceived after my father returned from the Pacific.

Doing this blog has been a revelation in coming to terms with younger poets in particular for me, precisely because they are making a history that is new -- and frankly different -- from my own. I have experiences they can’t share, but this also gives them a perspective I’ve found I have a lot to learn from.

Steve Vincent is a couple of years my senior, as felt very evident to me reading his comments to my blog last Friday. I actually recall all of the political events he names in those couple of notes, but my own relationship to them was quite different. And my sense of the FSM itself is quite different from his -- you can hear his sense of distance, emotionally & sociologically, from the UC students. I didn’t feel that difference at all, even though my own class background is closer is Steve’s than to that of the typical UC freshman, then or now. And I wasn’t even a student then.

Thus, finally, I’m reminded that in poetry & politics, as well as in real estate, so much comes down to “location, location, location.”




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