Saturday, August 12, 2006

 

One new journal that has started up this summer that promises to make a significant contribution to American poetics is Celery Flute: The Kenneth Patchen Newsletter, edited by Douglas Manson out of Buffalo. It’s a great idea, given that Patchen is one of the most important of the neglectorinos of the last century, patron saint to American visual poetry & an important influence on poets from the mid-‘30s onward, especially on such Beats as Kerouac & Ferlinghetti. Indeed, City Lights’ Pocket Poets series took its famous (if now sadly abandoned) design from Patchen’s An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air, designed by Kemper Noland & published by his Untides Press at the Conscientious Objectors’ prison camp in Waldport Oregon in 1945.

Mason, in his introduction, calls the journal

the beginning of a critical reassessment of a poetic career that stands out in twentieth-century American literature for its ability to astonish, arrest, and reveal, for its unique historical and cultural importance, and as an example of the ongoing suppression of a popular, radical avant-garde practice of innovation in poetic form.

In addition to an this editor’s note, the first issue contains a piece by Michael Basinski, who discusses Patchen’s correspondence with Jonathan Williams & contemplates ways in which to historically place this unique working class radical poet/painter, given that the categories still widely available (New American, etc.) still fail to address what was happening in poetry prior to 1950 – it was not simply New Critical/Fugitive, Objectivist, Pound-Williams, etc. – there was more (and different) that has yet to be understood.

Manson attempts to accomplish much the same thing in a long piece – it’s really the great find of the first issue – that uses the concept of prepoetics to compare & contrast the careers of Patchen & the likeminded (tho historically later) Canadian poet bp Nichol.

This is followed with two pieces relating to another early radical poet associated with Patchen & the evolution of the literary scene in the Village, Holly Beye (a deep neglectorino). First is a review of Beye’s journals, 120 Charles Street, The Village: Journals & Writings 1949-1950, which is then followed by an excerpt. Even then, it is clear from Beye’s notes that Patchen was suffering from the crippling back condition that essentially made him a recluse in Palo Alto by the 1960s, making his relationship to the SF scene that I was just then starting to enter into all the more mysterious. Just who was this guy whom Robert Duncan, Tom Parkinson & Kenneth Rexroth all obviously looked up to, but who appeared to be all but invisible?

At 34 pages, the first issue has been heavily seeded by Manson doing triple (maybe quadruple) duty, editing, writing three pieces & publishing the journal. Hopefully, Celery Flute will resonate with a readership & generate more work from a broader range of participants. There’s a lot here, for example, that I could stand to learn, all of it worth the effort.

My only complaint is that the journal needs to have a web site, especially so that it can post out-of-print past issues to the web and ease the process of acquisition. The first issue costs $7 and a four issue subscription is $20 for individuals, $35 for institutions, check or money order payable to Douglas Manson & sent to Celery Flute, 425 Bird Ave, Apt. 2, Buffalo, NY 14213-1235.

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Friday, August 11, 2006

 


Tsewang Dandup & Sonam Lhamo
play Dondup & the rice paper maker’s daughter

Since the age of seven, Bhutanese lama Khyentse Norbu (Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche) has been recognized as the present reincarnation of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo, one of the two founders of Khyentse lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, a non-sectarian version that seeks to integrate the best of all forms of Tibetan Buddhist practice. Khyentse Norbu also is a world-class filmmaker, having made two motion pictures, The Cup and Travellers (sic) and Magicians, that have been international hits.

I saw The Cup when it came out in 1999, a film about the impact of the World Cup soccer championship on a group of young Tibetan initiates living in exile in Northern India. A comedy, The Cup is the antithesis of the ponderous-but-respectful films westerners tend to make about Buddhism. Seven Years in Tibet & Little Buddha are not atypical instances of the problem. Khyentse Norbu, then a thirtyish student at the London School of Oriental and African Studies, actually served as a consultant to director Bernardo Bertolucci (indeed, the monk who comes to Seattle to find the young initiate in the film is called Lama Norbu). It was working with Bertolucci that eventually led Khyentse to make his own film six years later – financed & produced by people whom he had met in the process. If Little Buddha’s moment of scandal centers around the decision – which smacks to my mind more of Daoism’s love of paradoxical intervention – to cast Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha, The Cup is full of such moments, as when the monastery’s leaders worry that such non-Tibetan practices as failing to reserve bathing solely as a New Year’s activity will cause their young charges to lose their unique sense of their heritage.

Travellers and Magicians similarly is built of just such little clashes. The first dramatic film ever made in the nation of Bhutan, using only native, non-professional actors¹ (the Buddhist monk is played by Sonam Kinga, a major researcher in the state planning agency, for example, co-editor of the volume Gross National Happiness; Dondup is portrayed by Tshewang Dendup, a TV reporter & producer with the Bhutan Broadcasting Service), the film tells the story of Dondup, a young village official, and his attempt to get to Bhutan’s capital where he has an opportunity to get a passport to America, a nation about which he has obviously fantasized a great deal. In the U.S. he hopes to wash dishes or pick apples for a living, an obvious downward move for a college educated government bureaucrat. When he receives permission from the village leader to make the trip (under false pretenses of attending a religious festival), he dances around his room playing air guitar, his walls covered with pinup posters & one large U.S. Army recruitment ad.

But leaving the village takes forever & when he gets to the roadside for the bus – which appears to come every other day – he just misses it. So instead he hopes to hitch a ride. At that moment, however, a peasant with a bundle of apples that he hopes to sell at the festival walks up, presenting the problem that they now represent too much volume for a normal passenger car – some of whose drivers seem thoroughly westernized. Smoking, tapping his foot, making every known gesture of anxiety & frustration imaginable, Dondup decides to walk back up the road so that future drivers will come upon him first, an old hitch-hiking strategy I recall from the 1960s.

Now, however, he is joined by yet another hitch-hiker, this one an itinerant Buddhist monk. When the monk realizes Dondup’s frustration, he chooses to walk down the road and join the apple man waiting for a ride a hundred or so yards hence. But, as no ride comes & night arrives with a thunderstorm, the trio huddle together around a makeshift fire and monk decides to tell Dondup a story.

From this point forward the film intersperses the two narratives, one of Dondup attempting to get a ride to the city, the second of this fable, which is told in pieces over the next two days as the group eventually swells to six travelers with the arrival of an a rice paper maker (also on his way to the festival to sell his wares) and his beautiful daughter who has just dropped out of school to help her dad after her mother’s death, and – during the only serious ride the group gets during the film, in the back of a truck – a drunken man who says little but has a great singing voice.

In the fable, the monk tells of a young student of magic who seeks to get away from his village & dull life, only to discover that his desires lead him to pain & suffering. As the group in the frame tale attempt to get to the city, Dondup and the rice paper maker’s daughter flirt seriously enough for everyone in the group to realize that future life in the village might not be so barren as the young officer imagines it to be. The monk tells Dondup that “the Buddha says hope causes suffering,” virtually the topic sentence of the film.

The frame tale is a road movie, with significant amounts of humor & just enough hints of arousal to keep it taut & exciting. The fable, a tale within the tale, is pure film noir, with elements of magic & the supernatural. Balancing the two narrative lines is difficult enough, but the real challenge for Khyentse Norbu is how to create a film that is deeply & openly spiritual without, by that fact alone, becoming preachy. It’s a distinction that Rachel Blau DuPlessis makes in the title essay of her new book, Blue Studios, between poems that tell you what to think (or that model it, “thinking hard for all of us”) & poems that are themselves demonstrations of thinking as an active, ongoing, indeterminate process (DuPlessis herself is a great example of the latter, as are, say, Bob Perelman, Lyn Hejinian & Barrett Watten). Before you conclude that the monk is a stand-in for Khyentse Norbu himself, you have to remember that this director is a Buddhist monk who himself went to London to learn cinema, who uses post-production facilities in New Zealand & Australia & largely a western crew, and who runs not only multiple monasteries, but several non-profit foundations in the west, as well as other businesses – offering everything from mediation tapes & training to three-year retreats in Australia & tours of Bhutan. One argument that he is making, in the context of his world, is that there is more to cinema than Bollywood. In the film, the final decision of the village official does not point toward the idea that there might be only one (or even any) right answer here.

Bhutan historically is one of the most closed societies on the planet, at least this side of North Korea. Travellers and Magicians offers some breath-taking views although, outside of the opening scenes in Dondup’s village, very little of town or city life there. The couple whom the wayward magic student meets up with in the fable are living in something like a tree house. The present day travelers are on the road in the most literal sense – their situation feels more like (tho less surreal than) Godard’s Weekend than it does the episodic adventures of Che & Alberto in Motorcycle Diaries. The Himalayas are visible throughout the frame tale – but always at a distance. So what you don’t get is a sense, say, of what a nightclub, should such exist, in the capital might be like, as you glimpse the Mongolian rock scene in Closer to Eden.

Khyentse Norbu says that he does not think of himself as a film director who happens to be a monk, but rather as monk who may have a few movies in him yet to do. A large reason why he’s successful, I think, has to do with his structuralist sense of film composition. This is a film that would storyboard well – and indeed isn’t that hard to put into a synopsis. But at the same time, it is all the extra “stuff,” the breath-taking backgrounds, the dense forest, that account for much of the film’s presence. In a very real way, they are (at least partly) the tale being told.

 

¹ Tsewang Dandup, the lead actor in the frame tale, had a very minor role in The Cup, which primarily used monks & novices from the Tibetan exile community in India as actors.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

 

Of all the poets included in the watershed 1960 anthology The New American Poetry, edited by Don Allen, perhaps only Bruce Boyd is less widely known than the late Kirby Doyle. He has just one poem in the book, in its “San Francisco Renaissance” section – a grouping that I’ve argued before was largely a fiction created by Allen’s need to organize his materials – sandwiched betwixt Boyd & the not-a-whole-lot more famous Ebbe Borregaard. A brief one-paragraph bio note indicated that he had been a grad student at SF State, but was then in New York, working on his poetry & a novel “under the dubious security of unemployment checks.” When Doyle died in 2003, the poem in the Allen anthology was his one poem still in print.

The book I came across the other day in Oakland, Doyle’s Collected Poems, was published in 1983, his fourth volume to appear, one of which was a novel, Happiness Bastard, composed entirely on a single roll of newsprint a la Kerouac. There were four more books after the Collected, all in the 1980s. If I read his entry in Wikipedia right, there remain unpublished at the least one epic poem, Pre American Ode, and another novel. There is an excerpt in the Collected, which it describes as “End Section of Book Five (Glacial Nocturne)”:

In my forty-ninth year
with a few dollars
& many poems
I salute you, Tomales
O fecund & friendly coast
of my native land,
deeper than genius
(or as deep).
This hand salutes
thee
& not th’ death threats
of a non-existent god
marrying children to murder

Poorer than a priest
& certainly healthier
nature loves & is profound’d
by me –
Sappho calls to me
beyond & prior to
the’ ill-focus’d folds
of th’ priestly & alien calendar.
I would die before
I (intentionally) call’d
this earth a planet –
would perish myself a’fore
I would deliver earth to th’ universe
Fields love me in fields
I do not count.
I am welcome in earth –
there is no death for me.
I am no ace of space
but a walking land.
If there is an
America,
if there is a west
I am that
America
& that west.
I too have lean’d w/mean
estates
& have straighted from them –
O they are worthless in their
viewings & importance,
& O I have happy – pointless.
O Spirit be not spirit;
God be not god.

A hundred lines before breakfast
& O I am living!
a hundred lines after
& life is original again –

kiss’s from everywhere –
flowers tuba bass notes
of welcome.

Simpler than schemes o’ killers
I give no false directions.

An over-abundance of myself
weathers all genius, all originality –
weathers time, weathers sleep,
unempires forests, makes unstrange
of friends.
Gardens celebrate themselves
by my wealth.
Voices cease,
& stillness enters all places,
all persons, all causes & deeds.
Th’ hills are still –
O th’ hills are living still!

(Priceless drafts of rough poems
stain’d & wealthy –)

Th’ freedom o’ Adam
far from th’ craze of killers
straining for bondage,
alive & nonchalant
is my companion –
O happy th’ furls of smoke,
my companion tobacco –
O profound cigarette,
profounder than bells.

’Ways of life’ only live –
ambition prays itself.

I am yet born
O the’ angels o’ Blake
are too precious –
I have no angels,
just ageless seed companions
of th’ endless forests of earth.
Now half-a-century long
now my birth –
I am earth.
Conquerors who could not (would not)
conquer themselves
have come upon me
asleep in my time
and perish’d
fear’d & cunning hags
worthless in antiquity
& too stupid in incessance
of old & unwant’d sex
have shriek’d & faded.

Th’ ego of independence
is a priority of my rights –
I accept only th’ teaching
of the poem.
Th’ ambitious ordinances of God(s)
cannot force my love.

Friend, I tell you I am asleep
& am sleeping in my own time –
that the succulent living growth
of all fruits & food
is a product of my sleep.
Too many claims, old gods,
I shall not awake unto you.

Ride not, ye priests,
upon th’ sleep of a babe –
you are sleepless, & without time
No fruits of life have ever claim’d
you –
death is y’r dear toy.

Over exposed, mad ambitious
religion –
thou are over exposed.

Without a word doth life occure
without a word.
Hug thy tricks to coin, prayerful –
thou hast stolen from babes.
No easy theft, mark you –
th’ cries of innocence
dismember universe(s).
Check th’ lust of thy attention,
Holy –
suffer’t y’rself.

Goodly companion Tobacco –
most medicinal witness,
thou art nation.

O contending suitors of Belief –
So what thy over-praised Zions
hate us that we would not chase,
would not praise –
What care we, th’ people,
I, this hand, th’ earth –?
(art thous not praised well enough
slave by thy slaves
in th’ far fear?)

Th’ field is not a mouth,
nor a house made of mouth.
By (th’) field this poem life,
this hand.
When th’ ‘eternal’ of history(s)
has completed
th’ field lives yet.
I am th’ field, not God.
I am asleep, not awake.
I am time before count, my own.
My only sky
th’ ever still hills –
flowers my only stars.
Th’ shadows of my seasons
strata within me
my true clouds.
My total knowing is only life.
Death knows only dead.
I am not ye.
Temple not upon me.

Unnamed nature my only name.
I am without a game.
Verse is my signature.
I know nothing of space.
I am earth uncreated.
There is nothing of God about me.

I am a hand that
holds a cigarette, writes.

Good darkness, pre darkness –
I salute myself.

I’m not going to argue that this is great or, for that matter, even good verse, tho there are examples of such in the Collected, as in:

Leave us Presume
thy eye’s the
noon
thy mouth’s the moon –
Thy Death’s disbanded calliope’s in society
too soon – my room,
my mind’s the loom.

The underlying influence of Blake in both pieces is palpable (plus Whitman, Ginsberg, McClure & Bremser in the first poem), but Doyle is hardly alone in heeding Blake in his generation, from Roethke to Duncan to Ginsberg. Where Doyle’s at his best – say, at the start of the passage from Pre American Ode & all of the untitled piece – eye & ear are both at work & there’s a level of specificity to the writing. But towards the end of this excerpt of Pre American Ode, a poem he continued to work on, so far as I can tell, the rest of his life, tho there were apparently long bouts of not writing as well, his attention flags. The poem lapses into predictability.

There are, of course, always people on the fringe of any literary scene who get caught up in the energy of a collective activity – the excitement is contagious & to some degree so is the writing (this is one of the great secrets of literary groups & movements – that the process itself makes all of its members better writers, at least for a time) – and one way to read Doyle is as an instance of this phenomenon. As a part of the Beat scene, the writing makes a kind of sense that it will later lack once that scene has moved on. Pre American Ode has never been published in book form, but one wonders if the context for it as a book exists in 2006. Or even if the manuscript survives: Doyle died in San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital – essentially the City’s charity facility – after “a long illness.”

There is a lot of discussion, in his obit in the San Francisco Chronicle & in the memorial site on Empty Mirror, of the impact that drugs & alcohol played in Doyle’s later life. One comment on the latter site that has the ring of authority is T. Walden’s “Doyle's drug use was clearly an attempt to ‘self-medicate’ a severe mental illness.” This would hardly be a first. Indeed, poetry is one field – from John Clare to John Wieners to Jimmy Schuyler to Hannah Weiner to Robert Lowell – in which a person with a serious psychiatric condition is not necessarily at a disadvantage. There is, in fact, a history yet to be written about this genre’s role in the history of disability in general – think, for example, of Larry Eigner with his profound physical challenges.

But Doyle here deserves the last word. Here is a link to a 15 minute reading of his (in WMA format) from Howls, Raps & Roars: Recordings from the San Francisco Poetry Renaissance. Berkeley, CA : Fantasy Records, 1993.

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006

 


Photo © 2003 by John Tranter

By any reasonable measure, the most successful of the literary tendencies associated with the New American Poetry had to be the New York School. Its members won awards, have their collected editions out from major presses & John Ashbery has even managed the magic trick of hypnotizing the School of Quietude into believing that he is one of them. Yet if your name doesn’t happen to be Ashbery, O’Hara, Schuyler, Koch, Padgett or Ted Berrigan, attention has been considerably more scarce. Barbara Guest certainly qualifies as one of the more under-appreciated poets of the first generation, even tho she became one of the most influential poets in America in her day. Peter Schjeldahl & David Shapiro are likewise members of the 2nd gen. NY School who ought to have big collecteds out from the likes of FSG, but the former is now usually considered as an art critic, tho possibly one who got his start as a poet. And Carcanet in the U.K. recently released an anthology of NY School poets that doesn’t even include Schjeldahl or Shapiro!?! Or Alice Notley, Anne Waldman or Lewis Warsh!

Such “success” creates a kind of shadow effect – everyone remembers Allen Ginsberg, but try to find the Collected Poems of Kirby Doyle. That latter edition was published by Greenlight Press in 1983, but when I searched AddAll for copies through used or rare book dealers, I could find just six copies, only one of which is going for under $100. It made me really appreciate the $4 edition I bought out in Oakland a couple of weeks back.

One poet whose reputation – tho not his poetry – has I think suffered from this shadow effect is Simon Pettet. He’s someone – not unlike Reed Bye – who just might be much more widely known & celebrated far & wide were he not always associated with the NY School gen 3. Jacket did a feature on his work in issue 25, including a lovely appreciation by Robert Creeley that had once served as an introduction of Pettet’s work translated into Italian, published in Sardinia. If it weren’t for Ed Foster’s Talisman House press, we might have ourselves to go to Sardinia to find the work. Talisman, which continues to be perhaps the largest independent press without a regular web site, issued Pettet’s Selected Poems, a surprisingly slender book, back in 1995, and more recently published More Winnowed Fragments. SPD has both books in stock.

Pettet’s sense of humor shines through that latter title, self-deprecating & wry. He was actually born in the U.K., tho the only evidence for it you might find in his work is a tendency to set a number of works into palpably European settings – which is not so different, say, from a Harry Matthews – and a willingness on occasion to rhyme, tho only in spots. Viz:

Pastoral

It all passes
Ah, but the lasses
These bodies
shall decompose

All’s grey
inside and outside
The bird in the bush is
hush,

the mad piper,
silent

as are
The cows in the field .

Part of what makes me trust this poem as much as I do is the space between the final word & the period, a gap that captures the unhurried aspect of pastoral, a literary device one associates with Paul Blackburn & which is not much in use today.

My favorite poems of Pettet’s tend to be his shortest, often untitled, sometimes pure description:

La luce terra cotta olive green
Fig tree quiet Tuscan morning birdsong
Church bell toll butterfly zig-zag
(cars on the road zoom by and then returning to silence)
paving stones, dappled shadows

This isn’t an entirely successful poem – I wish Pettet had found another word than zoom to employ there, especially as it’s the first verb coming after three-plus lines of detail – but this poem’s strengths are so strong that it persuades me completely in spite of itself. Or this, literally on the facing page:

mention to the girl in the vets
about the butterflies
and she’s excited!

wants to,
but has never done it before
but is willing to try (tho)

There’s a remarkable power in that last parenthetical word, even tho the word itself at first seems extraneous, perhaps even unnecessary. What in fact it captures is that flinching second thought familiar I would imagine to all of us. I’ve never seen that pulled off in a poem before. It works perfectly here.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

 

A word about book jackets & the question of how much is too much. A book that arrived this week – which appears to be an interesting, well crafted serial poem in two parts – came in a book jacket that makes use of 374 staples, 96 vertical staples (8 columns of 12 each) both front & back and 91 horizontal staples (7 columns of 13 each) again both front and back, thus 187 staples for the front, 187 for the back. All of the staples, I should note, are facing outward. Not one is stapled through a signature, which the book does not require since the inside cover is adorned with a number of magnetic strips, the sort you find on refrigerator magnets these days. It’s clever, to be certain, and ties into the theme of Justin Sirois’ Silver Standard, at least if we pretend that staples are made of silver. It also adds dramatically to the weight to this 40 page chapbook and ensures that if you try to put it into a tightly filled poetry bookcase, it will pretty inevitably destroy the jackets of the books to which it is next. It’s that last detail I can’t quite get my head around.

This is hardly the first such book of its kind. In 1989, Verso Press brought out An Endless Adventure…An Endless Passion…An Endless Banquet: A Situationist Scrapbook, using sandpaper covers and talking explicitly about the desire to destroy its immediate neighbors on your bookshelf. I own that one too. Sirois’ volume is likewise destined not to sit in a bookcase, but on top of one, alongside An Endless Adventure, but also, unless I clean it up, some cobwebs & a box for software that I haven’t used in ten years.

Admittedly there aren’t a lot of copies in play here – the press run is just 100 – but one might think that the function of publication was to expand one’s reach, to make the work available. I know that there are counter-arguments possible – I’m thinking of Jack Spicer’s adamant refusal to distribute the magazine J east of the Berkeley city limits – but if Siroiswork is part of a militant isolationism like Spicer’s, I don’t see the evidence. In fact, tho, the work itself does remind me somewhat of Spicer, from its dedication to Alan Greenspan to its appropriation of pop culture to ends that it might feel so comfortable with:

in every space station & hull, barn & back yard
let this tone mobilize youths into a dance frenzy of freaking

in every spa & apartment, basement & brothel
let this beep rock the souls of their impressionable feet

in every pub & public park, club & gymnasium
let this one ring rule them all

we it to sound like a Christmas tree & an Abrams tank
avoiding cattle & camels through a farmer’s field, we’ll sample
a diamond stud dangling lonely from one brown lobe & filter it
through moon rocks & beveled flange, we’ll make all the
interns go to the zoo for the afternoon so they can mic the
mandrills, antelopes & leopards, run stampedes through
pedals of twanging sitar

Where it differs from Spicer is in its absence of pessimism & nastiness, tho I wouldn’t say that the alternative is optimism or sweetness exactly, more of a hyper glee that’s curiously impersonal. This is interesting stuff & more than 100 people should get a chance to read it. However, I think that 100 is itself an optimistic number, simply because the cover will stop at least half from either reading the book or, at the least, keeping it around very long to attack the rest of the book collection. This I find problematic & puzzling.



Monday, August 07, 2006

 

A lot of the reading I do when I’m on vacation – which as of this morning is over, alas – is actually rereading. Favorite books, new editions, works that seemed to go by too quickly, books I feel I really need to study. Some of the books that fell into these categories this past month have included Joe Ceravolo’s selected poems, The Green Lake is Awake; Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Drafts (a project I could read endlessly, which I think I must be endeavoring to do) and Stacy Doris’ Cheerleader’s Guide to the World: Council Book. I’d read the latter in a PDF format prior to publication after receiving it in hopes that I’d contribute a blurb. I was only too happy to do so at the time – I think of Doris as one of the really sharp new young poets, tho I’ve been thinking of her that way now for at least 15 years, and I loved the manuscript. Here’s my blurb:

Imagine Reese Witherspoon with the rebels in Chiapas, recounting the history of civilization & its collapse as transmitted by flying Tibetan monks. Alternately, imagine the love child of William Burroughs & John Berryman, but with pom-poms & a little literalism on the shotgun formation. Give me an A! This is a great book.

In retrospect, I’m pleased at just how on target this description seems to me. It captures not only the dynamics of the book, but the sense of play involved as well. Here is a sample from the text which, as I read it, is a (roughly) 80-page serial poem. All but one four-pager right near the end are less than a page long, most about the length of this piece.

Laugh1ng M1rrors Puk1ing
in whose chinks we conspire
on oxygen and plot and wish for bed
and huddle just a little ore
sentient pre-clobbered
perhaps already gone
live this midget circle

parallel yet slashing
cross-current on the field
charged last down hollows
assisted as if rumored worlds
could be of a instinct
less foundational

Laugh1ng M1rrors Puk1ing is a major character here. In a preface, Doris writes:

Concentrating on my life’s work about Money-Love-Writing (how they’re the same fault) which involves Ancient Greek and Arabic metrics, I got to thinking of Pindar as a cheerleader so I starting writing this which I thought would be a part of that but it isn’t really. Plus living here [San Francisco, where Doris teaches at SF State] now in the West which means going to Central America to swim as often as possible. I started considering Mesoamerican time and its ballgames which bring me to our own….

The leader is Laugh1ng M1rrors Puk1ng, short for Love Money Poetry.

Doris later notes that

The text in general is a sort of sandwich-translation read-through of four books: Popul Vuh, Paterson, Tibetan Book of the Dead, and the Secret Autobiographies of Jigme Lingpa.

Maybe half of the pages here also are illustrated by football play diagrams, not unlike this:

There is, to say the least, a lot going on in any one of these remarkably compressed lyrics. What is most remarkable, however, is that as a literary experience, as text, it all fits together & doesn’t feel busy or stitched together in the slightest. Here are two other sections, somewhat further along in the text:

Outside there’s a world
subject to my incursions
rubble a playground female
for concrete
action and resources
so what if it fights back
cliffside in proof
numbering as proof
skid along proof
outpaced their dogs

§

Wait! those ugly young
legs rough worked arms
to toss
Yah Yah Yah Yah Yah
back down now girl

breathless surveys after
(ours but expensive)
possessively tilted weight
on the ball other thigh
lift arm swing forward

clever if we’re monkeys.

Below the second of these texts, there is a diagram in which the quarterback drops back right while both wide-outs and a tight end angle into the center of the field for a screen pass, the archetypal West Coast offense play.

One of the dimensions you might not get just from the introduction is the constant gender interrogation going on here – after all, football offers a very clear framework for what both men & women “should be” doing. Indeed, when a male is a cheerleader – as was our president once upon a time – it sets up all kinds of messages that counter traditional role types.

Underneath these multiple realms – origin myths, football plays, the history of a community, or of a civilization, two different angles into Tibetan spirituality – one senses not so much a narrative as such (tho, in fact, one can be glimpsed at times, tho only that) as an ongoing discussion precisely about roles in the world.

What is most impressive about this book, tho, isn’t any one of these things. It’s the degree to which Doris holds all of them in balance & focuses instead on the writing at hand. That’s a sign of the great ambition & intellectual power here and it’s thrilling to see & to read. This book isn’t like anything anyone in my own generation could have written, regardless of whatever echoes it might call up (this time through, I heard Dorn, which I’d missed the first time, for example). It’s something new on the horizon altogether.



Sunday, August 06, 2006

 

A note on comments. I have been moderating them this past week, which is to say that I have had to approve each one before it was published to the blog itself. To date, I’ve rejected seven – three vitriolic ones from one of the people who persuaded me to shut comments off a month ago, two others that were off-topic put-downs of other contributors to the comments stream. And a couple by somebody who felt that their note should have been posted instantly to the blog and so sent it three times trying to see what was wrong. I’ve also gotten two emails from contributors about comments they thought I should have rejected. Significantly, each email concerned the other person.



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