Saturday, March 12, 2005
Any time I find myself getting too full of myself, all I have to do is read the Ron is Ron comics on the Jim Behrle website. Currently there is a poll on the website as to which of Jim’s cartoon features people like best.
Friday, March 11, 2005
I was thinking of d alexander the other day & decided to see what of the man’s poetry I could track down. Through Abebooks.com, I managed to pick up three volumes, all published in quick succession in the mid-1960s:
- Not a Word, published by Oyez Books in 1966
- Mules Balk, published by Robert Kelly’s press, Matter, in 1967
- Terms of Articulation, published by Clayton Eshleman’s press, Caterpiller (sic), also in 1967
All three are chapbooks, saddle-stapled, without pagination. Not a Word, which has more than 50 pages of text, is by far the largest & most professionally published. Mules Balk is very clean in its design, but published via mimeograph save for the cover. Everything on the cover of Terms of Articulation, in contrast, appears to have been done by hand – unsteady hand at that – in crayon or magic marker, multilithed in 300 copies & available, the back colophon notes, through the Asphodel Bookshop in Cleveland or the Phoenix on Cornelia Street in New York City.
Typically for that era, d’s name was presented in three different ways in these books. Oyez followed the standard capitalization & put a period after his first name. Matter went with all lower case & no period – d, after all, was his full first name. Caterpiller kept the lower case, but punctuated the name.
These are, so far as I know, the only books alexander ever published. He edited a little magazine for awhile, Odda Talla¹, the title also of the longest poem – three pages – in Mules Balk. It was because of the magazine that I first met d, having been directed there I think by Clayton. I sent him some work & got back a note suggesting that maybe he wasn’t doing any more issues for awhile. Then I sent him a note to tell him that I was thinking of a doing a publication myself, being at that point utterly clueless as to what that might entail.
Which is the point at which d alexander showed up at my apartment door one day in
I never knew the man well – he was eight years older, working as a software programmer at Stanford as I recall. And since I didn’t drive, the one time I ever was at his house near La Honda occurred when d hosted an afternoon reading there for Daphne Marlatt & I was able to hitch a ride over with Ken Irby & David Bromige. The last time I saw him was at Vesuvio’s the somewhat-less-than-swank bar immediately down the street from City Lights Books in
Then I’d heard he’d passed away. When exactly I’m not sure – there are two poems of his in the 1971 Caterpillar² Anthology, taken from the fourth issue of that publication. But there’s no sign of him in George Quasha’s Active Anthology in 1974, in some ways the last pure blast of Projective Verse. By the time Caterpillar morphed into Sulfur at the end of the decade, the poetry scene had changed.
alexander was a first rate practitioner of the projective poem, with all of its twitches – variable spacing, Poundian abbreviations (wd for would, etc.), tight linebreaks, occasional instances of creative punctuation (•) floating in the middle of a line. A lot of the poems in all three books are love lyrics, poems in celebration of womanhood, a mode that was quite popular in the wake of Robert Creeley’s first books, but which seems to have receded considerably since then, with the notable exception of women’s writing, where it means something different.
At its best, alexander’s poetry is sharply tuned to its environment, a marvel of economy. Here is an untitled poem from Mules Balk:
w/ yr name
or what will be
I read these three books almost as I might new fragments from Sappho, archaeological shards from a time & culture that surely have fled. But there were wonders in that city – alexander is not the only such example, tho he may be one of the best – and it’s a shame that they seem so close to disappearing altogether.
¹ Two words that, according to Google, appear nowhere in succession on the internet, at least until now.
² Which Clayton was now spelling conventionally.
Thursday, March 10, 2005
Erika Marie Eckart is a student at
Sorry I haven't gotten back to you sooner. My computer has been down all weekend and I didn't really expect you to respond. It is super neat that you did, but honestly my pessimism deterred me from preparing well-thought-out questions. So here are the loosely prepared ones I thought up this morning.
While there is a lot of biographical information about you available, much is outdated. I've been trying to glean what I can from your blog (thanks for the tip about Cue magazine), but that hasn't been very effective. Could you give a brief description of what you've been writing and writing projects (i.e. editing, teaching) you've been involved in over the past couple years.
I don’t teach anywhere – I work as a market analyst in the computer industry and have done that & things rather a lot like that for the past 16 years. I have taught on occasion – and turned down a half dozen job offers over the years – but I’ve never been a career academic. I was a graduate school administrator for four years in the 1980s but that’s the closest I’ve come to settling down in a teaching institution. My terminal degree, as they say, is a high school diploma.
Between 1979 & 2004, I worked on a single poem, The Alphabet, the very final section of which I’m typing up right now. To date, I’ve published 13 volumes from that project, tho a couple have been just fragments of an individual section. Right now, I’m just getting started on a new, somewhat larger project called Universe. The first section appears to be called Revelator, but right now I can’t tell you much more than that there will be some 360 of these sections.
How do you feel about being described as a member of the language poetry movement? Do you resent been assigned a title?
Wistful & ambivalent. Throughout history, a lot of collective names – the Beats, the Fauvists, Language Poetry – have been coined by people who were interested in dismissing precisely the thing named. As is visible from the comment you quote below – which is, I think, self-evidently incorrect, even comically so – being “typed” allows some people to think they’ve read you when they haven’t.
Having said that, I don’t resent the title. The other people who have to carry that association are still my favorite writers in the universe. I do think it’s more complicated when someone who has always been a sharp & intelligent critic of language writing, such as Leslie Scalapino, gets called a language poet.
Do you feel that this quote from Carl Dennis honestly defines what language poets are trying to achieve? If so how do you react to his criticism? – "About language poets, I appreciate their concern to point out the way in which common language is constantly being corrupted by the discourse of political and commercial manipulation. I disagree with them to the extent they conclude that the only way to resist this corruption is by creating an opaque surface that forces the reader to labor in deciphering. As I write in my book Poetry as Persuasion, "In its suspicion of clarity, language poetry tends to limit its task to the undermining of conventional discourse rather than trying to reclaim ordinary speech for truth-telling. We may ask why the intelligence that is exhibited in the clear-eyed cataloguing of linguistic abuses might not be used to help purify more directly the language of the tribe, resisting demotic speech by trying to say as clearly as possible what the poet believes to be important."
I’ve always written more clearly than does Carl Dennis. The same is true for Bob Perelman, Lyn Hejinian, Rae Armantrout, Charles Bernstein, Bruce Andrews, Barrett Watten, Kit Robinson & the majority of language writers, so called. Opaque surfaces are not antithetical to clear writing – indeed, they are sometimes its prerequisite, especially when confronted with a fetishized transparency. But not all language writers use opacity, and some who do deploy the device do so only sparingly. Dennis’ comments sound clear enough, but in fact what he’s saying is that he hasn’t read much of the work, nor very closely. So the purpose of his response is to deploy the devices of transparency into getting the reader to not question his assumptions. His is a defensive prose, but rather poorly executed I think. At least the cliché “language of the tribe” should warrant a hardy laugh. Do you think you could get away with that in an undergraduate paper?
A lot of my research refers to language poetry in the past tense (i.e. "it was a movement that..."), this conflicts with the intent of my assignment, to depict a school of contemporary poets that are working right now. I find this confusing because the writers that these articles reference are mostly still working. Why do you think it is often referred to as a historical rather than continuing movement?
I actually agree with that use of tense. I tend to think of language poetry as being a very distinct social phenomenon that had two distinct periods of roughly equal length, the first being 1970-78, a time when a group of 40 or so poets were interacting primarily with one another, each writer clarifying his or her thinking, then a second period starting around 1978 and continuing into the mid-1980s in which these same writers were communicating outwardly much of what had gone on before. By the mid-1980s, tho, so many other writers had either decided that they were interested in this or that aspect of language writing, or not interested at all, that its influence had become much more generalized even as it had broadened. After the mid-1980s, one might be a language poet rather in the way that Allen Ginsberg could still be a beat poet even when he sold his archives to
All schools of poetry are inextricably tied into the social circumstances through which they arise. The experience of the Vietnam War was a major factor in the rise of language poetry as a phenomenon, for example, just as the economic expansion at the end of the Second World War gave rise to the Beats, the
Lastly I have to "define" language poetry and discuss' it's roots. I plan to define it through demonstration and comparison to lyric poetry, hopefully in that way I can avoid having to say this is what it is. Is there anything you think I should absolutely include in the presentation that I might not happen upon myself? Also do you know of any language poets living and working in
Erika Marie Eckart
One of the interesting aspects of language poetry – something that was very specific to its period of time, prior to the internet – was that it was decidedly regional. If you look at In the American Tree, you will notice that there is really only one poet there who lives in a state that doesn’t actually border an ocean – Tom Beckett of
That regionalization of course is one of the things that has changed dramatically about poetry in the mid-1980s. The huge social gulf between “the coasts” and “the interior” – it was even commemorated in 1990 by a conference of younger poets who declared themselves to be “
I hope this response hasn’t made your life too much more difficult,
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Part of the way through Roy Kiyooka’s Pacific Windows, I went to bed wondering to myself if a major reason why there did not seem to be more of a visible, audible post-projectivist presence in American writing these days didn’t have to do with the fact that the Black Mountain poets, so called, never really had an urban center from which to operate. Then, the next morning, as I was driving myself to the doctor’s, Pacific Windows sitting on the car seat next to me, I realized that I was asking the wrong question. Because if I think about publications as different in tone as the late Sulfur or the more recent Skanky Possum, it certainly isn’t the case that such poetry doesn’t exist any more, much of it excellent – Graham Foust for example, who may be one of the best poets we now have, or Eleni Sikelianos, about whom ditto, or even, I think, Jennifer Moxley, Dale Smith, Devin Johnston or Lisa Jarnot, as diverse & talented a group of poets now alive. Although I doubt very much if any of them think of themselves as associated in any sense with one another. Tho they do have in common precisely the characteristic I think of as being most “projective,” which is to say that each has arrived at a radically distinct & personally defined style as a poet.
Projectivism’s obsessive focus – most apparent in Olson, Blackburn & early Creeley, but visible also in such divergent hands as Lew Welch & Jonathan Williams, Steve Jonas & Denise Levertov, Phil Whalen & Robert Duncan, Larry Eigner & Edward Dorn – with using the space of the page & especially the line to elaborate & articulate a personal voice made it the most complex of the 1950s New American modes, even as, at times, it could also appear to be the most casual. Olson & Whalen were perfectly capable of poems that seemed like the most contingent jottings, notes more than finished works. Even so, this concept of the line as a poet’s signature gesture, the key to Olson’s program, proved so powerful in the 1950s & ‘60s that it can be seen reflected in the writing strategies of virtually all of the New Americans – the two notable exceptions are John Ashbery & Jack Spicer.
Yet, save for the last three years or so of Olson’s tenure at
So while we hear of second, third & fourth generations of the NY School, the influence of the Projectivists, tho it may have been far stronger overall, proved to be more diffuse in its character. Indeed, the one major distinction that quickly came to be made between different sorts of NY Schoolers in the next few generations proved to be between the downtown wild bunch, led by Ted Berrigan & the gang at the church, and the far more formal uptown poets who patterned themselves deliberately after Ashbery.
When the langpos first showed up around 1970, it’s worth noting that the only other aesthetically distinct groupings were the NY School 3rd gen folks & the Actualists, whom one might have characterized as “the NY School west of the
There are two sides to this coin. The upside is that no poet has ever been harmed by being associated with the
¹ This 1 commemorated Olson’s passing through a series of photos of Olson & his desk by Elsa Dorfman, including her notes on the funeral itself. The first of Grenier’s four major essays in the issue is not the manifesto “On Speech,” but a review of A Quick Graph, Creeley’s selected essays.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Steve Petermeier added a note to the Squawkbox thread a couple of days ago, then sent me a longer version that I thought deserves wider circulation:
I've been reading your blog for a couple of months now. I first heard of you via some of Samuel Delany's writings, and I am glad to have discovered your blog. It is wonderful to have a regular resource for comments on a wide array of poetry, as well as the other topics you write about.
Your comments today on language and Finnish poetry bring me to write a response. I found it interesting that there is a correlation to the amount of time that Finnish has been a written language with the amount of time that a number of Native American languages have also been written.
I live in
I am trying to learn more about both Dakota and Ojibwe and have dictionaries for both languages. I'm currently very fascinated by Ojibwe, in part having been introduced to it by the works and comments of novelist Louise Erdrich and poet Jim Northrup. On January 30, I went to seminar about Ojibwe by the author Pat M. Ningewance ("Talking Gookom's Language") at Birchbark Books (owned by Louise Erdrich) here in
(bpNichol is one of my favorites)
I wish I could have found a way to open up the discussion to this, but I had already asked a couple of questions and wanted to be respectful and not be the white English speaking guy bogarting the seminar. I'll be looking for another opportunity to bring up get this discussion going.
So, how do we know there is not already some great poet speaking Ojibwemowin and writing amazing one word poems? I think the poet would know. The poet would share their work, and the community would know, just as the community has passed on their culture via the oral tradition. I think it probably proves more valuable within a small language community than within a large one. What does it mean to be a great poet in the
There are some poets that straddle both of these worlds. A book I really enjoyed reading recently was Joy Harjo's (http://www.joyharjo.com/) "A Map to the Next World." In her work she references, her connection to the Mvskoke language, though like many Native American poets she writes in English. Check her blog entry from February 27: http://www.joyharjo.com/news/
I keep imagining what
In Diane Glancy's novel "Stone Heart: A Novel of Sacajawea," she imagines Sacajawea observing Lewis & Clark as they scribble notes in their journals, drawing things and naming the animals and rivers, and she imagines Sacajawea wondering how they can give names to things that they don't know, essentially giving them the wrong names, not knowing their real names. This especially came home to me while my wife & I & our kids were driving back from
This seems to be our lot in life as Americans -- living in a land where we don't know the real names of things, speaking a language that doesn't really belong here, writing & reading & listening to poetry in isolation from the bulk of the community.
Keep up the good work.
Also, I enjoyed your comments on Dylan and Chronicles. I heard an interview with Spider John Koerner on KFAI radio the other day. I've seen him play a number of times over the years, mostly before Dave Ray died when he and Ray and Tony Glover played on occasion. Now, I've got the itch to get down to the Viking Bar on the
I'm gonna try that blog comment thing, too. Also, your search tool doesn't work too well. I put in bpNichol and it didn't find anything.¹
peace, love and understanding (never give up)
no man's land
¹ The search engine is indeed pathetic, but it might not be the problem in this instance. bp Nichol is one of those poets whom I’ve often thought I would need a year or two of concentrated work to sort through my many different (and fairly inconsistent) threads of thinking before I could write even a paragraph or two.
Monday, March 07, 2005
Roy Kiyooka is a name I first heard from the lips of Robert Creeley a long time ago. Kiyooka was, I gathered, one of those Canadian poets one heard about in the 1960s, but about whom not a lot of information snuck over the border. Once in awhile I would see something in a magazine, crafted & casual. Beyond that, I was clueless. Then shortly after I joined the then-embryonic Buffalo Poetics List in 1994 – it was averaging less than 3 messages a day back then – my friend the late Charlie Watts mentioned in an email that Kiyooka had died earlier that year. I had a sense of having missed that boat entirely, so to speak.
Years passed & somewhere along the line, perhaps as far back as 2000, I came across a big beautiful book entitled Pacific Windows. I can’t remember where exactly but I suspect that it may have been on one of my prowls through the stacks in the back of SPD. I do recall thinking “At last!” & snatching up the volume immediately. But it’s been sitting on the shelves of my “still-to-read” bookcase up until just this past week. And it’s a revelation.
Kiyooka, as it turns out, was part of that great generation of poets born between 1925 & ’27, a group that came of age during the Second World War but who, for the most part, managed to avoid being swallowed up by the experience. In Kiyooka’s case, however, a
After the war – and this I didn’t realize literally until reading the book this week, including editor Roy Miki’s fabulously specific afterward – Kiyooka attended art school briefly & very quickly became established as a major presence in Canadian painting, first focusing on the abstract expressionism that was emerging, then moving off to a more complex period involving photography, sculpture, even music. Sometime around 1963, Kiyooka met American poets – hunting around on the web, I’ve now read conflicting reports as to where & how – including Robert Creeley, Phil Whalen & Charles Olson. Shortly thereafter, however, a first book of poems, Kyoto Airs, appears.
And for the next 31 years, until his death at the age of 68, Kiyooka seems to have been a thoroughly successful Canadian poet. That is a particularly amazing story, especially for someone whose grandfather was Masaji Oe, “the last great master of the Hasegawa
But I’m even more appalled at my own ignorance. It’s my second visceral reminder in less than two weeks as to exactly how dramatically the internet, and especially the World Wide Web, is changing the role of geography in poetry. One half century ago, just being in the far reaches of the
It may be a generational thing – if so, the kids win this one hands down – but I don’t think that Canadian poets ever again will find themselves at quite such a remove from audiences south of the border. I wonder if it would have made any difference to Kiyooka if he had had anything like the kind of audience in the
Indeed, Pacific Windows is what Yanks might see as a “profoundly Un-American” work. In spite of his obvious interest in American poets, the
As proved to be often the case for so many poets who came out of either projectivist poetics or its western variant centered around the mesa in Bolinas, Kiyooka’s earlier books have a more rigorously held to sense of line & linebreak that relaxes gradually as he ages. The details are often quite daily, and Kiyooka picks up on Blackburn’s sense of variable space between words (and in a couple of instances, even between the letters of a word) to visually pace the poem on the page, as in “The Dress”:
do look beautiful
does fit you
that the sheen
of it sur-
both of us
If you’ve never given Roy K. Kiyooka any attention, Pacific Windows is like suddenly discovering the collected works of someone on the order of Lew Welch, say. Roy Miki has done a superb job, especially incorporating in texts that – as several do here – involve painting & photography as well as words upon paper (one terrific sequence, The Pear Tree Pomes, is a collaboration with painter David Bolduc). This book won awards when it was first published in 1997 & happily is still in print. Last I looked, there were still six copies available through SPD.
Sunday, March 06, 2005
I’ve been scrolling through the blogroll of late, trying to see who has gone dark & who is up to something interesting (viz. Gary Sullivan). One result has been that I’ve been removing links as quickly as I’ve been adding them of late. Thus there are 30 or so links that are new within the last month here & yet the total hasn’t gone up at all.