Saturday, September 11, 2004
Pieces of the past arise out of the rubble. Which evokes Eliot and
then evokes Suspicion. Ghosts all of them. Doers of no good.
The past around us is deeper than.
Present events defy us, the past
Has no such scruples. No funeral processions for him. He died
in agony. The cock under the thumb.
Rest us as corpses
For a funeral (as I live and breathe and speak)
First poem for The Nation,
Second poem for Poetry Chicago
Book of Magazine Verse
© 1966 by Robin Blaser
Friday, September 10, 2004
Thursday, September 09, 2004
I first enrolled in the Creative Writing Program at San Francisco State in the fall of 1966. It was something I did almost at the last minute, having been persuaded by my first wife, Rochelle Nameroff, that student loans and food stamps would make school economically viable, and that colleges were going to be the center of whatever was happening in society for the next several years. But because I enrolled so late – and because Leonard Wolf rejected my manuscript application into his poetry class – I found myself with a minimum of courses that first term, the only one of which I remember 38 years later being an omnibus Intro to Creative Writing course team taught by George Price, Wright Morris and George Hitchcock.
So I had a lot of time on my hands that autumn and spent most of it in the San Francisco State Library, reading the American poetry collection, basically A to Z. In addition to all the obvious texts, the SF State Library in those days had a really comprehensive poetry collection – the consequence I would learn later of having had Robin Blaser as its poetry buyer. I filled out what I already knew of American poetry – mostly the New Americans and a few of the moderns – and found several lesser known poets whose work I would come to appreciate, such as Kirby Congdon, Tram Coombs and Roger Shattuck. There were several books by SF State alum Tracy Thompson, whose jacket material made note of the fact that he was the most widely published poet in America in the early 1960s. And there were little magazines, some of which I had only heard about before. I recall quite distinctly carefully reading issue after issue of Origin, Second Series. I don’t think the library had the first series. So it must have been there, in the tenth issue of that run, where I first came upon a long prose work by Robert Duncan, then called The Day Book.
At the time I knew who Duncan was, but had not met him. I didn’t know, for example, that he had once been the assistant director of the Poetry Center. Indeed, it was hard for me to imagine just how this character I’d seen on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, usually at a poetry event, always surrounded by a group of older women I’d heard referred to as “Robert’s Theosophists,” with wildly crossed eyes and, in those days, the first signs of mutton chop sideburns, made any sort of living. He didn’t look like anyone I’d ever seen in an office. And he certainly was too debonair to be a beat or hippy. Maybe because he was always the center of attention, but Duncan seemed quite extravagant and that was before he began sporting the purple cape and wide-brimmed hat that became calling cards for him later on.
I met Duncan briefly the next spring when he came to speak to Jack Gilbert’s poetry class. I don’t recall what he talked about, other than that it was vaguely about the relationship of knowledge to poetry. Every time he made a point, Duncan literally made a point, with a blunt piece of chalk on the blackboard. By the time he finished talking, the board was virtually white with dots. It had been as much theater as lecture and I will concede to having been enchanted. It was very much like having been visited by a creature from another dimension. Lisa Jarnot’s phrase, Ambassador from Venus, is surprisingly accurate and not at all hyperbolic.
My time at SF State was curtailed after that first year when my wife became ill and I ended up working full-time in the U.S. Postal Service, limiting my studies to what could be cobbled together at night for the next 18 months. I recall at the time that there were two books I was reading constantly during that period, trying to fathom their implications not just for poetry but for my poetry & indeed my life: The Cantos by Ezra Pound and Roots and Branches, by Robert Duncan. I read & reread both books constantly, noting their similarities as well as their differences, not yet able to sort out generational distinctions let alone political nuances. I got none of the references in either – which in fact convinced me at the time that reading for references wasn’t reading at all.
Some time during 1967 I had a run-in with Duncan of sorts, the first, but certainly not the last. The San Francisco Police Department in a vain attempt to stake a ground in the culture wars of that decade made a raid on the Psychedelic Shop, a bookstore & poster palace on Haight Street, where they confiscated several publication, including Jack Fowler'sGrist, in which I had a poem, but in which the full front nudity of Gerard Malanga with a heroically backlit erect cock was more what the cops had in mind. They finally settled on prosecuting one book, Lenore Kandel’s The Love Book, which they later followed up with a prosecution of Michael McClure’s The Beard, ostensibly for the act of cunnilingus that occurs in the play’s final pages.
As local literary figures began to marshal up a defense for Kandel’s book, which was a rather two-dimensional derivation of Walt Whitman and possibly Ray Bremser celebrating the physical act of fornication, I found myself at first bemused and then somewhat alarmed by the overstatements that were being made in the press and on TV about how Kandel had discovered a new language for love. So I wrote a flippant note to the Chronicle suggesting that the book had more important First Amendment implications than one might imagine. Up to that moment, every defense of allegedly obscene material had depended on a claim of the work’s literary importance, from Joyce’s Ulysses to Ginsberg’s Howl & William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. The Love Book, I suggested, presented an opportunity to defend the right of mediocre writing to engage in erotic discourse as well. It was, I thought, a curious world in which only great books could get away with being obscene.
Duncan, I soon learned, thought of himself as Kandel’s discoverer or patron and had a deeply vested interest in the idea that she was embarking on a new feminine – the word feminist was not used – language for lust. He wrote a lengthy letter denouncing this Babbitt Silliman, reading it aloud at a rally at San Francisco State and later on a TV show on KQED, the PBS station.Gilbert and some of my friends were ecstatic – they thought it was great fun watching Robert get his knickers all twisted on account of some callow schoolboy – and frankly they agreed with my assessment that Kandel’s poetry wasn’t about to change literature. I, however, was appalled. In 1967, Robert Duncan represented everything I wanted to be as a poet. But Robert Duncan had met the enemy, and he thought it was me.
Wednesday, September 08, 2004
Of all the major projects undertaken by the New American generation of poets – which for the sake of definition lets presume consists of the 44 poets included in Donald Allen’s groundbreaking anthology that gave its name to such different tendencies of poetry as the New York School, the Black Mountain or projectivist poets, the San Francisco Renaissance and the Beats – only one appears never to have been published in book form, Robert Duncan’s booklength critical volume, The H.D. Book. The reasons for this are many and complicated, but the major blame – if we are to use that word – lies with Duncan himself.
Begun in 1960, at a time when Robert Duncan was embarking – and understood that he was embarking – on his major literary project as a poet, commencing with The Opening of the Field and continuing on through two additional volumes before he took a 15-year hiatus from publishing volumes of poetry, The H.D. Book was projected to consist of three parts:
· An nine-chapter first part, entitled Beginnings
· An eleven-chapter second part, entitled Nights and Days
· A third part, of unknown length and chapters, to consist entirely of a reading of H.D.’s Helen of Egypt
Duncan worked hard on the first two sections in 1960 and ’61, a time when he was in frequent correspondence with Hilda Doolittle, the one member of the so-called high modernist generation with whom Duncan seems to have had a serious dialog, begun after an abortive attempt to sustain an earlier one with Ezra Pound in the late 1940s. Doolittle herself passed away in September of 1961 at the age of 75, having had both a long & unusual career as a poet and a surprisingly difficult life for someone who, for the last forty years of her life, never had to worry about either work or money.
Duncan continued to think about, and occasionally to work on, this project so far as I can tell for the remainder of his life. Dates given in the sections published in journals suggest that there was a flurry of writing in 1963 and 1964. The second section of Chapter Five of the second part gives three different years of composition – 1961, 1963 and 1975. Duncan published a selection of excerpts from the second part of this project first in Origin, Second Series, Number 10, in 1963, but didn’t begin to publish chapters systematically until 1966, when the first chapter appeared in Coyote’s Journal, a magazine edited by James Koller & a rotating band of co-editors that included at times Edward van Aelstyn, Peter Blue Cloud, Carroll Arnett, Steven Nemirow, William Wroth and William Brown.
[I don’t think it’s possible in today’s world of webzines and phenomena such as Spencer Selby’s list – which includes roughly 370 “experimental poetry/art magazines” – to fully appreciate the scarcity of publishing resources that existed in the middle 1960s, and thus to appreciate the greatness of the best little magazines of that time. In the period immediately prior to the creation of Clayton Eshleman’s Caterpillar, Coyote’s Journal – on which Caterpillar was loosely modeled – was easily the best little magazine in the United States, including everyone from Richard Brautigan to Tom Clark, Larry Eigner, Anselm Hollo, Ted Enslin, Edward Dorn, David Bromige, Robert Creeley, Robert Kelly, Douglas Woolf, David Meltzer, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Basil Bunting, Charles Olson, Lew Welch, Ronald Johnson, Gary Snyder & Phil Whalen. The exclusivity with which the journal focused only on white men was not, as they say, a differentiator in 1963. After eight issues or thereabouts in five years, Coyote’s Journal turned into an occasional project of Koller’s as he bounced around from Portland to the Bay Area and eventually east to Maine.]
Duncan published that first chapter of part one in 1966, the second one the following year (again in Coyote’s Journal) plus the first half of the sixth chapter in the initial issue of Clayton Eshleman’s Caterpillar. In 1968, the second issue of Caterpillar completed the publication of the sixth chapter, plus chapters three, four, and five. Duncan also published the first chapter of the second part that year, again in the first issue of a new magazine, this one Sumac, a publication edited by baby-food heir Dan Gerber and budding novelist Jim Harrison.
Duncan published chapters two, three and four of the second part of the volume in 1969, plus the first section of chapter five. Then Duncan didn’t publish anything from The H.D. Book until 1975, when he published three additional pages from chapter five of the second part, plus chapters seven and eight in the second issue of Credences. Chapter nine appeared in 1979, chapter 11 in 1981, and chapter ten in 1983. In 1986, Duncan published a reworked version of part two, chapter five in a Sagetrieb issue devoted to his work and chapter six of the second part in the Southern Review.
A note that Duncan published in 1983 suggests that at one time there were to have been three additional chapters in the first part, plus a twelfth chapter of the second part:
Chapter 5, which addresses the matter of the State and War, remains in large part unpublisht. Chapter 6, which has to do with the transmutations of genital and poetic experience, has not been publisht at all (contrary to the impression given by the checklist in Scales of the Marvelous [New Directions, 1979].
Both this note, and a second one that is appended to the PDF version, suggest that some or all of the unwritten chapters were to have been composed after the completion of the third section, the reading of Helen of Egypt. Presumably because of The Southern Review publication, Chapter Six is included in the PDF.
The PDF file is worth noting because it is the only version of this project that is readily available in 2004, and thus is the edition most contemporary readers are likely to have come across. It’s not clear just who produced this version – the credit to Frontier Press is an allusion to Harvey Brown’s Buffalo press that, in 1970, brought out the lost classic original version of William Carlos Williams Spring & All, seemingly in a pirated edition. The success of that project – easily the most influential critical text of the early 1970s, if not at the moment of its original publication in 1923, when it more or less sank like a rock from view – was thought by many readers to have forced New Directions to return the great early prose works of Williams the high modernist to print. So this “Frontier Press” edition is rather something of a similar prod, in this instance to the University of California, which must eventually publish The H.D. Book in some version in its collected works of Robert Duncan, and to that series’ general editor, Robert Bertholf. The PDF file has circulated through a number of different sites on the net over the past four or five years, and can currently be found at OneZeroZero, a virtual library of English Canadian Small Presses.
The PDF file is little more than a reprinting of the chapters that had appeared in little magazines prior to 1983 and even on that score it has flubbed the job, publishing the fourth chapter of the second part both in its correct position within the manuscript AND as the fourth chapter in the first part as well. (One can still find an occasional issue of TriQuarterly number 12, in which the real fourth chapter of the first part appeared in 1968 – I have a poem in that same edition.) It’s worth noting that TriQuarterly calls the book as a whole just H.D., not The H.D. Book. Duncan also called it The Day Book in its initial appearance in Origin. In short, this was a project that never fully came together.
Duncan’s second note in the PDF file largely concedes this point:
Note: The last three chapters of Part I and the remaining chapter of Part II I think to be dependent upon what happens in Part III, of which no sentence has yet been ventured. The first draft of the Book was done in 1961, considerable over-lays were written in 1964, with dream material entering into the Book as late as 1964. It had been commissioned by Norman Holmes Pearson as a Book for H.D.’s Birthday, but at the time of the commission I had warnd him that I saw H.D. as the matrix of my finding my work in Poetry itself. “I askt him for an H.D. book,” Norman Holmes Pearson said sometime in the 1960s, “and he’s writing an LSD book.”
By the time Duncan died, some 70 handwritten pages of the third section existed and the first part was now complete at six chapters. But the final chapter of the second part appears never to have been written. What we have, then, if we turn to the PDF as the best widely available resource is a document that is missing two published chapters, plus all that exists of the third section. At best, The H.D. Book we have is shards of a working that Duncan himself was not able to complete even though he worked on it, off and on, for over a quarter of a century. When the UC Press edition comes out, perhaps as early as the end of this year, it will be interesting to see if we can now answer the question as to why a project to which Duncan appears to have given such importance was ultimately left undone.
Tuesday, September 07, 2004
This is one of those stories that makes clear to me – if nobody else – why I’m so happy to be doing what I do. Although, as you will see, I’m only a peripheral figure in this tale.
Sue Gaughan, whom I do not know, sent me an email last week, as follows:
Dear Mr. Silliman,
i was hoping you may be able to help me. i recently found a poem, or a verse from a poem credited to robert hogg.
The sun is mine
And the trees are mine
The light breeze is mine...
all the searches i have done lead me to believe he is a Canadian poet. i would appreciate some confirmation of this and the complete poem if possible.
i would greatly appreciate any assistance you could offer.
Well, I knew that Robert Hogg was a Canadian poet, but was this a poem of his? I couldn’t say. So I forwarded my missive northward to Louis Cabri, who noted that Hogg was
one of the TISH era poets from the 1960s in Vancouver, who has lived in Ottawa since I believe the early 1980s and teaches at Carleton University. (TISH was a poetry newsletter and the poets involved with the magazine were the Canadian counterpart to the New American poetries.) [RS: Jack Spicer fans will recognize the name Tish from Book of Magazine Verse]
Since Louis didn’t have any of Hogg’s books at hand, tho, he forwarded the email chain westward to Rob Manery in Vancouver. Rob indeed had answers, plus a bibliography – and a further poem for our consideration:
The lines are from Bob's first book, The Connexions (Berkeley: Oyez, 1966).The Connexions is a long poem describing a mythological rite of passage into manhood. The lines are from the last poem of the book, an envoi to the poem.
Bob Hogg's bibliography:
The Connexions(Berkeley: Oyez, 1966)
Standing Back (Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1971)
Of Light (Toronto: The Coach House Press, 1978)
Heat Lightning (Windsor, Ontario: Black Moss Press, 1986)
There is No Falling (Toronto: ECW Press, 1993)
Another poem by Bob which I've always thought was his best
In the midnight
of the room
into which I
but the unseen
of the air
to place my
with my mind
of the furnace
could be still
and not forever
for the silence
for the night
sounds of the house
laid on bedrock
networks of pipes
in their gravel
what is really
but a curious
with the real
as my elbows
and no less
to prop up
a construct a
free at last
it can ride
down on the nets
of the inner
Finally Robert Hogg himself joined in (copied on all this, I think, by Rob). His note:
Hello folks; the poem in question was printed as the last poem in my first book, The Connexions, Berkeley: Oyez Press, 1966. It was written in Buffalo in May 1965 when I had recovered from a terrible battle with hepatitis that nearly killed me during my convalescence and relapses the previous winter in Manhattan where I had been a welfare patient in St Vincent de Paul’s Hospital, and later stayed with a lover, the “Nadia” of the sequence, in an apartment on West 10th St from the window of which I could see the barbed wire roof of the West Street Jail. The entire text obliquely refers to the rite of passage associated with prolonged fever, jaundice, two serious relapses and the consequent proximity of death. Of three of us who contracted the disease in Vancouver, one died. The exuberance I felt when I recognized my health had really returned is reflected in the repossession of those natural elements celebrated in the final poem. It came in a burst one May day when I was living on Lafayette Ave in Buffalo, the leaves fully on the trees, and the warmth of spring finally certain. It signaled both the end of my illness and the end of the sequence of poems I had been writing since the previous December—I knew also that I had a book with a coherent theme, and that many of the poems I’d written over the previous three years did not belong in it. Consequently, most of those early poems never saw reprinting in any of my books, though many had appeared in small mags in Canada, England and the States. The poem in question has been anthologized a few times, most often in anthologies for young readers. While I am delighted by this, it is also somewhat ironic that the real context has never been recognized or acknowledged. As a final note of interest, that same month I read the poem out loud in Olson’s graduate poetry class in which I was enrolled; he listened to the poem intently, then asked me to reread it to the class. After I had done so he looked at the class in general which was populated with some exceptional peers, and said, “Now that is poetry.” After what I had been through, and the circumstances under which I had been living and studying and teaching first year classes in English at SUNY, that was a great moment. I had just turned 23, and was likely to see 24. The entire poem goes as follows:
The sun is mine
And the trees are mine
The light breeze is mine
And the birds that inhabit the air
Their voices upon the wind
are in my ear
Monday, September 06, 2004
Progressive Poetry Calendar
11, Saturday, 7:30 PM: Shin Yu Pai& Ish Klein, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street
16, Thursday, 5:00 PM: Jen Hofer, Ofelia Pérez Sepúlveda& Cristina Rivera-Garza, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
17-19, Friday-Sunday, times vary: Zukofsky /100, celebration of the LZ centennial, at Columbia & Barnard, New York City. Details here.
18, Saturday, 8:00 PM: Linh Dinh, Molly’s Books, 1010 S. 9th Street, in the © of the Italian Market
21, Tuesday, 7:00 PM: Ron Silliman, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
23, Thursday, 6:30 PM: Nathalie Anderson, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
25, Saturday, 7:30 PM: hassen presents Patrick Herron & Elizabeth Reddin, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street
30, Thursday, 8:00 PM: Fiona Templeton, Temple University City Center, 15th & Market, Room 222
6, Wednesday, 8:00 PM: Linh Dihn, hassen, Ish Klein, Frank Sherlock & Kevin Varrone, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania (215 Festival presents PhillySound). With Cellist Monica McIntyre.
7, Thursday, 8:00 PM: Jonathan Letham, Temple University City Center, 15th & Market, Room 222
9, Saturday, 7:30 PM: Noah Eli Gordon & Pattie McCarthy, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street
14, Thursday, 6:00 PM: Peter Gizzi & Marjorie Welish, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
20, Wednesday, 5:30 PM: Jean-Michel Espitallier, with translator Sherry Brennan, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
21, Thursday, 6:00 PM: Michael Gottlieb & Tony Lopez, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
23, Saturday, 7:30 PM: Kathy Lou Schultz presents TBA, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street
28, Thursday, 8:00 PM: Tracie Morris, Temple University City Center, 15th & Market, Room 222
29, Friday, 12:30 PM: Anne Waldman, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
6, Saturday, 7:30 PM: Brenda Iijima & Chris McCreary, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street
10, Wednesday, 6:00 PM: Theorizing presents Mark Hansen on technesis (technology beyond writing), Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
11, Thursday, 4:30 PM: Jaap Blonk, the legendary sound poet, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
11, Thursday, 8:00 PM: Caroline Bergvall, Temple University City Center, 15th & Market, Room 222
18, Thursday, 5:00 PM: Rae Armantrout, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
20, Saturday, 7:30 PM: furniture press presents TBA, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street
4, Saturday, 8:00 PM: Rodrigo Toscano & Jena Osman, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street
6, Monday, 6:30 PM: Ron Silliman, Free Library, Logan Square, 1901 Vine Street, open reading follows
9, Thursday, time TBA: Kenny Goldsmith, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
All events are in Philadelphia
unless otherwise noted