Saturday, July 22, 2006

 

There are at least two kinds of vacations - the frenetic "let's do this, let's visit that" mode & the "get away from civilization & chill" one. The past 17 days have definitely been in the first category, as most days (save for two in San Diego visiting a friend fresh out of the hospital and three in Yosemite, where we seemed to trade vistas for acquaintences) have been a cycle of visiting one person in the morning, another in the p.m., another at night for dinner. Every one of the four of us hit a wall of exhaustion at some point, so there were some modifications to this agenda (involving, as a result at least two of them, trips to Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, both of which are quite a bit more enjoyable than their reviews suggest, so long as you're not expecting Eisenstein).

Still, my one major regret as we head home today is the number of people I couldn't figure out how to fit in, or with whom my visits felt far too brief. In 17 days, 12 of them spent in the Bay Area, I actually got to San Francisco exactly twice, both relatively brief excursions. (It's great to see that the new DeYoung Museum has acquired, through a gift, Jess' The Enamored Mage, his portrait of Robert Duncan. It's Jess' most important portrait and the best one of Duncan as well.)

I get back to the Bay Area every year or two, so the changes here architecturally and geographically sort of sneak up on me (I saw AT&T Park lit up against the South Beach skyline from atop the Berkeley Hills last night for the very first time). The most indelible one, on this trip, is the degree to which traffic and population growth are impacting geography here. Coming from Yosemite just past rush hour on Wednesday, we could see the caravan of traffic packed tight on highway 580 as commuters head to Tracy, Lodi, Manteca and even Oakdale (in Oakdale we saw signage complaining about the repurposing of agricultural water for residential use, as this town from the east side of the central valley tries to maintain its farming base against the onslaught of tract housing). It is clear, for example, that it is far easier to get to San Francisco from Berkeley either by BART or over the Richmond-San Rafael & Golden Gate bridges than it is over the parking lot that is the Oakland Bay Bridge. I found myself on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge ten times during this trip, and avoided the Bay Bridge altogether. It felt as tho the area where I had grown up had been reconfigured, and that a new geography is in place.

There is a moment in An Inconvenient Truth where Al Gore recounts the familiar story that says that if you put a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will hop out, but that if you put it into a pot of lukewarm temperature and gradually increase the heat it will stay until ... you rescue the frog. Traffic-wise, people in the Bay Area seem not to realize yet just how hot their own pot has become.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

 

I'm not making this up: "there's no more reliable way of initially entering a poet's private domain than by examining what he or she rhymes with what." This from Brad Leithauser, reviewing the latest slender (78 pages for $20) offering from Seamus Heaney in last Sunday's New York Times. In other news, the latest way to test out the reliability of your new hybrid vehicle is to gauge how many buckets of oats it will eat.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

 

In the breath-taking context of Yosemite Falls & Half Dome, long hikes & a little river rafting, I've also been doing some reading on my vacation. Sometimes the combination of what one takes to read fits perfectly, but other times it can be quite incongruous. In the latter category for me this year has been a copy of the Paris Review interview with the late David Ignatow.

This isn't the best interview in the Paris Review series, in part because Gerard Malanga isn't (or wasn't back in 1979) the strongest of interlocutors. He's obviously done his homework on Ignatow's writing (and the critical writing about him), but lacks the touch to follow up some of Ignatow's less-than-forthcoming answers with follow-on questions that might have opened Ignatow up further. For the real problem here is Ignatow himself, who comes across as angry, even bitter, in part because his own lack of understanding of American poetry gives him too narrow a view.

One of Ignatow's major complaints in the piece is that he has always had to fight against what he characterizes as the "genteel tradition" in American letters, complaining that the likes of Richard Howard and John Hollander (and John Ashbery!) "are once more reasserting a kind of quietism into American poetry." This quietism - sure sounds like the School o' Quietude to me - Ignatow equates with intellectualism, which he in turn contrasts with William Carlos Williams & Charles Olson as examples of anti-intellectualism. To read this interview, you would think Ignatow was much closer to Olson than to most other American poets, tho he seems to have no clear picture of the New American Poetry in his head at all.

Further, Ignatow in 1979 is silent on the Objectivists, never once asking why it should be that a follower of Williams like himself should come along in the 1940s with no nurturing environment, as if the Pound/Williams tradition had not only not disappeared (or been disappeared) during the years of World War 2, but had never even existed.

It seems weird to see Ignatow so clearly portray himself as the victim of a particular school of letters, but to have no historical understanding of his situation. Calling Williams & Olson anti-intellectuals is deeply inaccurate, and yolking Ashbery together with Howard, Hollander and Harold Bloom (Ignatow's primary villains) suggests that he was not able to see the degree of satire in Ashbery's "award-winning" period.

Hearing this one-time APR editor complain about the School of Quietude is instructive, tho, in that it shows just how deeply divisive that school's poetics have been. Ignatow dismisses the Boston Brahmins as a failed coterie of the 1940s and Malanga goads him a little further by quoting Robert Bly, an Ignatow ally, as saying "We can let the academic imagination regain control over American poetry that it had during the time of the New Critics or we can fight." Bizarrely, Ignatow appears to misunderstand Bly's statement altogether as recommending the reinstatement of the New Critics in order to provide a more perfect target for oppositional poetics.

Anyone who had read Ignatow on the language poets will know that he did not always see the possibility of alignment with others who might have strong roots also in the Williams/Olson heritage, especially if those others acknowledged the ability of Williams & Olson to think in their poems. Here it is fascinating, but depressing, to see just how closed off and isolated Ignatow seems to feel. In a way, had the Objectivists not been driven out of print during the 1940s, Ignatow would have found a scene awaiting him where his own inclinations as a poet might have been well received, one that would have put him into a more intelligible relationship to the New Americans who would come along a decade later. Lacking this at the very beginning of his career, the David Ignatow interviewed by Gerard Malanga in 1979 seems never to have found it later instead. An American tragedy.

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Monday, July 17, 2006

 

My day job is a reasonably stressful 80-hour per week gig as a market analyst. This little sabbatical - three weeks added to my usual vacation - is in some ways the longest break I've taken since 1977, the last time I was unemployed for any length of time, longer even than what I took for either of my eye surgeries or the birth of my twins. It took two weeks and two days for me to stop dreaming about work. Last night I dreamt instead about the sort of electoral work I used to do as a volunteer with the Democratic Socialists of America in San Francisco in the early 1980s. We lost a number of the battles at the time, but won the wars longterm. On Saturday I visited a friend in the City who has been able to rent in the same building now for over 20 years because of rent control.

Another friend gave me some of the programs from last fall's "Litquake" event, a commemoration of the Gallery Six reading in 1955 that kicked off the poetry reading scene in this country and debuted Allen Ginsberg's poem "Howl." I was taken aback at just how few of the 250-plus readers involved in a week's worth of events there I would have ever considered going to hear in person, perhaps as few as ten. It definitely looked like some kind of detente between the remnants of the Beat Scene (now, save for an occasional original like Michael McClure, a thoroughly sentimental phenomenon of historical re-enactors who might as well be dressing up as Civil War soldiers on the weekend) and the local version of the trade publishers' pet projects. Since San Francisco has only a tenuous relationship to the trade scene, that side of the equation seemed especially random and pointless.

What did this have to do with the scene at the Gallery Six? If anything, it was an ironic copy of the very world to which the Beats proposed themselves as an alternative. As Pogo used to say, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

When I looked at the list, I tried to figure out just how many participants might be in Stephanie Young's new anthology, Bay Poetics? Less than five certainly, maybe less than two. If you want to see what is happening in the Bay Area, Bay Poetics is a much better place to turn.



Sunday, July 16, 2006

 

I'm back on Gmail, tho the route back seemed circuitous and made me wonder about Gmail security in general.

One serious problem in visiting the Bay Area - something we have not done as a family in three years - is that there is no upper limit to the number of days we could spend visiting different friends every morning, afternoon & evening. After 10 days, I can tell the kids are burnt out on the process and I have not had a moment to myself that was not on an airplane since we started traveling. So this afternoon we're bagging the process for a quiet visit with the man of steel in a movie theater. Followed by three days in Yosemite.

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