Monday, October 17, 2005
Ever since he took over as director at St. Marks’ Poetry Project, Anselm Berrigan has insisted, repeatedly & publicly, that there is no single aesthetic agenda at work at the fabled home church of the
But, for me, the real proof that the phrase “
But that’s not what I mean really, when I associate Shanna Compton’s work with the historic NY School, especially that side of its second generation that might best be represented by the likes of Ron Padgett, Bill Berkson & Dick Gallup, all fashioners of lyrics that look as casual & friendly as anything e’er typed out by Frank O’Hara, but with a polish & a twist one might associate instead with John Ashbery. That’s an influence I see at times in the work of certain langpos, especially Alan Bernheimer & Kit Robinson (especially early Kit Robinson), but mostly when I run into it today among younger writers – the late Marc Kuykendall, for example – it often feels to me like a limit, the outer reaches of where the poetry might go, whereas for Compton, like Bernheimer & Robinson, it feels just the opposite, as a jumping off place, a launching pad toward something altogether new. One of the things this makes me think about is that, besides the influx from outside the circle of the first generation NY School poets of the work of Ted Berrigan & to some degree Anne Waldman, the second generation poets were the first who were able to synthesize those Ashbery-O’Hara strains, adding in a sense of wit that has more to do with Kenneth Koch than either of the other masters, to create something that was really new as a poem. That is why the 2nd generation
At the drive-in where
there’s nothing to see
but the weeds growing,
the joints glowing, and
the hooligans breaking shit
and making out, I
one time caught a
horror flick. It reminded
me of you. We
guffawed over the screams,
blushed at the sexy
scenes. Back then you
acted like yourself and
I looked like me.
And here is “Post-Texas Expressive Heat”:
Your mother put a
fan in the oven,
he said, to cool
it down. That’s right
the door is open
and on it sits
a little fan, blowing.
I am a little
fan, she says, an
ardent fan, a big
fan of yours. Whew.
Consider just how completely
You can get famous writing this well, and
She lectured us
and was paid
Over to the
via buses, the BQE
bust open good.
She took a swing,
a swig. We waited.
at the bar.
A first pressing, rare,
ovoid and red,
a heart presses another,
Underfoot a flagrant circular:
How to Earn Sense
on the Dollar, How to Own
She lectured us,
all fools, while
revolved and revolved.
This is a terrific piece of writing – my favorite poem in the book – and if I try to imagine any other living poet who could conceivably have written something on this order, the only person I can think of might be Bob Perelman. That’s about the highest praise I could give anyone, frankly. Another poem that reminds me of the heroic phase of language poetry – here Kit Robinson rather than Perelman – is “The Woman from the Public”:
When I was in the fourth grade
School system. The woman from the public
My science teacher drove me every day
Library. The woman from the public
After school to the public
Hospital. The woman elected to public
Library. I waited there for my mother
Office. The woman who claimed to own public
Who worked in a government building
Property. The woman from the Public
A few blocks away. Red tiles topped
Works commission. The woman from the public
The roof of the public library.
Park. The woman who in public
Upstairs there were private carrels
Wore gold jewelry even while jogging. Public
For earnest students from the junior
Sentiment against the women who supported public
College. Ms. Grisom drove a silver
Stonings in an editorial. Public
Pacer. Once she asked me
Television’s special Becoming a Woman. Public
What I would make if I knew how to make
Humiliation of a woman named Looney. Public
Something. I didn’t understand
Appreciation of works on paper by female artists. Public
What she meant by that. Her first
Defender’s Office. The woman from the public
The back stairs smelled like soup.
Pool. The women’s action group against public
The library was always quiet and I was alone.
What I love about this poem is how quiet & personal it is for a work that is so out front in establishing a particular politics. The interwoven threads pull in opposite directions, one towards a kind of confessionalism, the other toward the most impersonal of lists. Both are about what Marxists of a certain generation would have called the Woman Question. It is worth reminding ourselves that this poem rhymes in the harshest possible manner & that the contrast with this “public” tone is the very private, even hidden world of a latch-key kid being handed off out of sight (and yet “safe” because “public”)* between two women, both of whom work in public jobs. Cognitively & socially, this poem is far more complex than it at first appears.
These are all still poems within the framework that
¹ Quotation marks around “first,” because Compton has had chapbooks before, even one called Down Spooky, as well as editing other books, including one on gaming. As her interview with Snyder makes completely clear, she is hardly a newbie in the book world.
² This distinguishes it from the much more real phenomenon of the Berkeley Renaissance of the late 1940s, early 1950s, from whom the SF Renaissance took its name. Allen needed some way to group all those Western poets together for his anthology, but it did not then follow that they all read one another, shared aesthetic values, or even talked.
³ As always, it’s the exception that proves the rule, Jack Hirschman being that exception.