Saturday, July 14, 2007

 

Think big
(but really small),
Kenny G

Outsourcing
Mr. Goldsmith

§

A lengthy interview
of Kathleen Fraser
by Sarah Rosenthal

§

Talking with
Cathy Park Hong

§

Alan Gilbert
on
Tracy K. Smith

§

A profile of
Robert Kelly

§

Critical approaches
to discourse analysis

§

Fighting off
the Punctuation Police

§

In using a
School of Quietude
Literature Panel

USA Artists
guarantees
that its first
poets to receive fellowships
reflect their values

§

Trying to bring the web
down to the level
of the Pushcart Prize

& succeeding

§

Of all genres of poetry,
the one I least “get”
is sci-fi poetry,
which poses the future
as deeply retro

§

Modernism,
dazzling but hopeless

§

Powell’s acquires
the contents of
Other Times
in LA

§

An archaeology
of reading poetry

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Friday, July 13, 2007

 

Songs Aside appears to collect ten years’ poetry by Ted Pearson into a single volume. Depending on how one reads the book, this represents 120 poems gathered into four sequences, or four poems with 120 sections between them, or even – the way I’ve been reading it – a single extended meditation. I just don’t hear it as accidental that Pearson’s movements of 36, 24, 24 & 36 parts apiece occur with such symmetry. Nor does the symmetry stop there. All 120 pieces use precisely the same form: four stepped couplets, moving across the page not unlike the poetry of the later Williams or of Larry Eigner. In each case the third couplet “steps back” to align vertically with the second line of the first. The result is what I would call a step, forward, back, forward progression that is the closest thing I’ve ever seen in poetry to the box step of the waltz.

Polis is spoils
in mirrored shades  

of works and days
an old refrain  

the sting of which
collective sweat  

a cool breeze
don't explain  

For a sax player like Pearson – a one-time student of Lee Konitz if I’m not mistaken – the proliferation of possibilities in this space, barely more than twice that of a haiku, is almost without limit. At a reading at Kelly Writers House in 2004 (in which you can the final two sections of this book), Pearson himself referred to Songs Aside as a quartet, and the individual sections as movements. This poem, the first in “The Devil’s Aria,” starts off the first of the book’s two sequences to make heavy & pointed use of rhyme (another symmetry: the second & fourth sections of the book use rhyme, the first & third for the most part don’t – hence 60 poems of each variety). & while this poetics has, and is aware of, many antecedents & affinities – Pearson at Writers House mentions Blake, Mallarmé & Celan as its “presiding ghosts,” while I hear also Dickinson & Rakosi – so many of its particular pleasures are pure Pearson: the way the first line above builds from the first & third words being near anagrams of the other, the shift to an almost cyberpunk image of sunglasses, then in the third line the title of Hesiod’s poem, which often enough is translated into the Latin as Opera et Dies, an echo of Pearson’s own sequence’s title, and whose argument is largely what follows, tho given a sharp final twist with that disagreement in number at the start of the very last line.

There is a lot of compression here for a poem that plays so lightly on the ear & the push-pull of those two aspects are a primary feature of many of the poems. In the final section, which takes its name, “Parker’s Mood,” from Charlie Parker’s last composition, a condensed history of blues & jazz, Pearson allows found language to pile up in the ear in ways that will recall Christian Bök:

Midnight special
amber waves

triple-filtered and
stored in staves

the vox pop shops
for boss tops

but the prize is
on the bottom

The result is as familiar as cliché, but feels also totally inevitable. The model here of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience serves Pearson well. And the use of pop culture gives the piece a rough surface quite at odds with its formal dance. This is not – and this is where you can see the generation’s difference between Pearson, say, and the likes of Creeley – form as an extension of content, but rather the two quite literally pulling at one another. It yields a poetry that, even when it takes on very public topics – both Iraq wars figure thematically at different points – feels intimate in the way that only words can be.

In fact, as I read Pearson’s own comments at the end of an elegy of sorts to Creeley, Songs Aside constitutes the third movement itself in a quartet of serial poems dating back to 1975 entitled The Tune’s Image. Which is to say that this spare, almost minimalist work is simply one facet of a project that must be on the scale of 300 pages long. That’s awesome to contemplate, and – just as I want there to be a big Collected, one that gathers all the work from Evidence: 1975-1989 & all the work after – this volume from Past Tents Press makes me hungry to see the whole of this cycle.

And to see some serious distribution as well. Pearson has had one volume from Leslie Scalapino’s O Books, one from Roof, and early in his career one work as an issue of Origin & another from Gil Ott’s Singing Horse Press. But more often he’s appeared from Larry Price’s Gaz & Keith Shein’s Trike, presses that do great work printing books, but do so few that they have only the most tenuous circulation & not nearly the “brand equity” they deserve. Then there are the volumes from Homeboy and Square Zero. It’s strange to think that Pearson’s most well distributed book just might be from a press in the Canary Islands. Part of this no doubt is because, since leaving San Francisco, Pearson has lived in cities without major poetry presses: Buffalo, Ithaca, Detroit, Redlands. And part of it I suspect is that Pearson’s poems, seldom longer than the two quoted above, appear to be minimalist. But in fact that’s a misconception. Pearson’s poetry is all about how much pressure you can exert on a few select words or lines and a new Collected or the complete Tune’s Image would quickly reveal that for Ted Pearson density of experience is all. Which is why a book so simple seeming as Songs Aside can be such a rich reading experience.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

 

I’ve been thinking about poetry readings & their importance, especially to poets from my own generation. It’s not an accident, for example, that the collective autobiography in which I’m currently participating is called The Grand Piano, since that reading series proved the catalyst to what became known as language poetry on the West Coast. Nor is it an accident that Charles Bernstein has put such energy into preserving the sound of so many readings, from his early Ear Inn CD – functionally the New York counterpart to The Grand Piano – to the volume Close Listening, the various radio shows with which he’s been associated or the monumental PENNsound, the largest archive of poetry MP3s on the web.

In 1977, when Tom Mandel & I took over curating (nobody used that word for coordinating a reading series back then) the Grand Piano on Haight Street, we tried very hard not to let the series become too closely identified with just our kind of poetry. For one thing, both of us read more broadly than that, and both of us understood that an important part of the argument for “our” take on poetry was not only our poems themselves – tho we’ll happily stand behind them – but also how they reflected on a wide range of other kinds of writing. In a sense, our broader mission was not so far removed from that of this blog, to shed light on a lot of interesting kinds of work, to see how they fit together and, at times, how they might clash as well.

Our very first reading featured David Melnick and Morgan Wines. I’d known Melnick’s work for a decade at that point, had had a hand in helping him finalize some of the poems in Eclogs, and love (to this day) everything he’s written. Wines was the young poet of the moment at UC Berkeley. But our second reading went to Eugene Wildman, the innovative fiction writer who had edited the Chicago Review in the late 1960s. Mandel, like Melnick, had gone to the University of Chicago & the Review had been the first “major” magazine to take my work seriously, to use it on multiple occasions.

The following month we devoted two of the evenings to individuals in greater depth, Simon Ortiz & David Gitin, and we did the same again in March with Steve McCaffery & Mary Oppen. We had Richard Tillinghast & Robert Dawson, two former students of Robert Lowell (both of whom had, at that point, “abandoned” writing¹, tho Tillinghast took it up again later). We had readings by Actualists (Darrell Gray & Cary Gunn in one reading, G.P. Skratz, Victoria Rathbun & Michael-Sean Lazarchuk in another), Latino activists (Luis Talamantez & Dorinda Moreno), feminists (Judy Grahn & Paula Gunn Allen, the latter subbing for Pat Parker who was too sick to read). These were sometimes frustrating readings, in that I wanted the Piano’s regular audience to hear these poets, but if we strayed too far from the post-avant our audience stayed home.

A much better model was mixing poets from different, but compatible, aesthetics. Michael Palmer read with Lorenzo Thomas. We got Ted Berrigan to read with George Stanley, still the single most exciting reading with which I’ve ever been involved. Each seemed to bring their own audience of roughly 55 people – the Piano held maybe 80 people & this one was way over the fire code I’m sure. Many in each audience, it seemed, had never even heard of the other poet. Both gave great readings, but followed this later on with two very separate parties.²

Solo evenings, an opportunity to hear somebody in some depth, went to Norman Fischer, Johanna Drucker, Joanne Kyger, Clark Coolidge, Ronald Johnson, Robert Duncan, Andrei Codrescu, Larry Eigner, Kenneth Irby. Bob Perelman’s production of Louis Zukofsky’s “A”-24 (voices by Steve Benson, Barrett Watten, Kit Robinson, Lyn Hejinian & Carla Harryman) was one night’s event. Another night – the summer solstice of 1977 – was a reunion of poets active in the Haight during the Summer of Love a decade before. Still another was devoted to poets reading their “first” (or at least first saved) poems, which was honestly advertised as a “wonderful night of terrible poetry.”

My sense at the time was that I had a pretty good handle on what was going on in poetry around the Bay Area & whatever I didn’t know firsthand Tom seemed to have been reading for years. For one thing, I’d been going to two readings a week for the previous five years I’d been in San Francisco – something I did pretty much without fail from, say, 1970 (when the readings I got to were mostly in Berkeley) right through to about 1990. In retrospect, that’s maybe 2,000 readings. If the internet is one thing that makes the lives of poets today different from what existed when I was in my twenties & thirties, readings separated my age cohort from earlier generations of poets. How many readings did William Carlos Williams give over the course of his very long career? Or Ezra Pound? Or Gertrude Stein? Or Louis Zukofsky? Even the New Americans – the poets who made the reading the center of poetic activity in the 1950s, both in New York (where the key figure was Paul Blackburn whose events turned eventually into the series that begat the Poetry Project) & in San Francisco (where the reading at The Six Gallery in 1956 had proven pivotal) – never had the opportunity to go to as many decent readings as were available to poets from the late 1960s onward. Still, in all the years I lived in the Bay Area I saw Phil Whalen give a solo reading just once, in a bookstore on the occasion of the publication of On Bear’s Head.

Actually, when I returned to San Francisco in 1972 (I’d lived in the Haight in 1966 & ’67), there were just two regular long-lasting series in town, the mid-day readings out at San Francisco State & the series at Intersection, which was then on Union Street in North Beach, just down from the San Francisco Art Institute. By the early 1980s, Poetry Flash was regularly listing five readings a night in the Bay Area, a number that proceeded to grow. I may have been more diligent (or at least more obsessive) about it than others, but poetry readings were my education as a poet, much more so than college had been. I felt ready to publish almost the instant I began writing – which meant in practice that I would be making all my mistakes in public – but I went through several stages of relating to readings before I felt ready to put one on or to coordinate a series.

My first readings were part of an open mic affair that was held every Sunday afternoon at what was then Rambam Books on Telegraph Avenue, now Shakespeare & Company. Some of the other readers there at the time included Pat Parker, Richard Krech, John Oliver Simon, Gerard van der Luen. It was when “our” open mic series was pre-empted for a “birthday” memorial reading of the work of Jack Spicer that I first heard Robin Blaser & first discovered Spicer’s work. My own first “featured” reading was on a bill with radical right gadfly Stephen Schwartz at the Coffee Gallery on Grant Street in North Beach. That was sometime in late 1965 or ’66. I read around as much as I could in those days, then stopped pretty much cold sometime in 1968 or early 1969. I was concerned that people were enjoying the humor in my poetry too much and I was watching other poets turn into literary standup comics (tho hardly to the degree I would see a decade later with the Actualists). I started reading again as part of the antiwar readings around UC Berkeley in the summer of 1970, where I found myself on bills with David Bromige & Peter Dale Scott, Ken Irby & Harvey Bialy. When I moved back to the City two years later, I was able to get a reading at Intersection because the organizers there were really interested in my proposed co-reader, Irby. For the next three years or so, I would read once a year with Barrett Watten, but it was not what you would call a regular process.

The first reading I ever put on was a benefit for the prison movement group with which I was working at the time. They’d held a benefit in San Rafael with the Tubes as headliners, thinking that the fact that the Tubes had a number one record that year ensured that they would rake in the cash. But the band was not well organized & the event, which they controlled, wasn’t controlled at all. They gave away so many free tickets to this rented nightclub that it was impossible to recoup even the small outlay the group had put forward. Afterwards, disgusted with rock culture – I was not a Tubes fan to begin with – I said something like, “I could raise more money with a poetry reading.” And was challenged to do so on the spot. I got Robert Creeley, Joanne Kyger & Edward Dorn to read together at the San Francisco Unitarian Church, sold 400 tickets at $4 each (a very high ticket price for 1973) and we ended up making over $1,000 net for the organization. You can still hear Edward Dorn’s Recollections of Gran Apachería³ and Robert Creeley’s “The Name” from that very reading, thanks first to John Giorno’s Disconnected & now Kenny Goldsmith’s Ubuweb.

So it’s worth noting that when Tom & I ran the Piano series, I looked around as best I could to see if I could find any “new” poets to introduce to our audience. Even with the Piano every Tuesday night, I had time to get to at least one, if not two, other readings around town and I made a conscious effort to attend readings where I did not already know the work of the readers. There was just one reading that I attended, really over the two years that Tom & I were co-coordinating the series, where I came back and said to Tom, “We gotta book these guys.” It was a reading that David Highsmith put on at Third Floor Books, his attempt at an art book store up in a loft space just South of Market. Most of the floor was given over to an art gallery run by Carl Loeffler – there were quite a few similar spaces in the South of Market area during those years as businesses emptied out in advance on the forthcoming “urban renewal” that turned into the Moscone Convention Center & all the surrounding venues, from the new art museum to the Marriott Jukebox.

Highsmith had told me of these poets, neither of whom as new to the Bay Area, tho new to me. Just as Rachel Loden & I can tell that we were around the same scenes in the region from the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965, which we both attended, thru at least the 1970s, but ultimately met over the web, I somehow had been in the same circles as both Keith Shein & Ted Pearson for years, but somehow had not bumped into either before. Shein was understandable – he was working as the tennis pro at Dominican College in Marin and living in Novato, sort of the anti-Bolinas of that county, the sort of bedroom suburb where lots of the residents worked in San Francisco as police or firemen. I never did figure out how Ted & I managed not to run into each other. We knew the same people at SF State & his interest in the Objectivists & the rigorous side of the Black Mountain thing was obvious the instant you heard him.

So we booked Keith with Steve LaVoie, a lanky young poet who had some aspects of Actualism & some of what would come to be called langpo about him, but who seemed to be steering his own way. The next week, we booked Ted with Alan Bernheimer, which got him introduced to a new audience.

 

¹ We talked with them about this as we set the event up, since we didn’t want either to feel uncomfortable. Basically, the story as we got it was that the terms in which they’d learned writing – pure School of Quietude – proved not to apply in the “real” (read “off-campus”) world. Tillinghast was working with a Sufi orchestra at the time, Dawson had become a photographer.

² I attended both, tho they were in different parts of the city. When some of the Actualist poets started telling Berrigan how great he was in comparison “with that other guy, he stopped them cold & gave a great, and fairly lengthy, lecture on all the wonderful things there were to hear in the poetry of George Stanley, things he had heard that very evening, and of the whole importance of the Spicer Circle & in the poets in that Circle beyond just Spicer. I had never heard Berrigan “lecture” before, but it was a terrific – and totally honorable – moment.

³ Comment readers who imagine that I’m out to “get” Ed Dorn, please note.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

 

Ruth Stone
succeeds
Grace Paley
as Vermont State Poet

§

Petrarch
& Brad Paisley

§

Talking with
Chinua Achebe

§

An Irish poet
”at least as important as Heaney”

§

Translating
Cathal O' Searcaigh
into Nepalese

§

Mahmoud Darwish
returns to Haifa

§

Librarians:
the next generation

§

Plus
libraries
in the digital age

§

Poetry on TV

Greg Djanikian
on NewsHour

§

Harry Northup & Holly Prado
among the poets on
The Moe Green Poetry Hour
Thursday, July
12
7 PM
Pacific Time

§

Clemente Padin
on Dick Higgins
(en español)

§

Are blogs
killing
the newspaper critics?

§

A history of
the late
Gotham Book Mart

§

Best poem
set in a southern
junkyard”

§

Frackin’ A

§

The Avant Writing Collection
at
Ohio State

§

Potentially,
a very important ruling by
the Supreme Court
that snuck by
without much public attention

§

Robert Pinsky
on blank verse

§

Talkin’ ‘bout a revolution….”

§

Michael Lally’s
promoting
the work of
a serious prose neglectorino,
Dale Herd

§

Putting checklists
on book covers

§

A profile of cowboy poet
Baxter Black

§

Two Canadian poets

§

Reading
Jimmy Santiago Baca
in Wichita

§

Shelley
& the god-like power
of the imagination

§

The Washington Post
gets around to reviewing
Günter Grass’
”confession”
as well as
running a
5-paragraph
excerpt

A more positive review
in the Chron

§

Censorship
& “self-critiicism”

in Chinese fiction

§

A profile of Jeff Rath

§

The education of
Max Hell

§

The New York Times
acknowledges
the passing
of Philip Booth

§

More fawning
o’er
feeble Fables

§

Talking with
Sean Thomas Dougherty

§

Afaa Michael Weaver
in Taiwan

§

A sober man
looks at a thistle

§

Imaginary bands
for authors

§

Belgian ISP
found legally responsible
for illegal filesharing

§

Fonts
in music notation

§

The mysterious music career
of Mingering Mike

§

When Nessum Dorma
became
Messum Dorma

§

Photography curator
John Szarkowski
has died

§

Ladies who launch

Chez Bushwick

§

American Art 2.0

§

The Berlin art scene
as viewed from LA

§

Creativity & madness,
the latest round

§

Freeman Dyson
on
Biotech

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

 

Recently Received

 

Books (Poetry)

Rae Armantrout, Concentrate, Longhouse, Green River, VT, 2007

Valerie Coulton, The Cellar Dreamer, Apogee Press, Berkeley, 2007

Eli Drabman, Daylight on the Wires, Vigilance Society, no location, 2007

Geof Huth, Out of Character, Paper Kite Press, Wilkes-Barre, PA, 2007

Brenda Iijima, Animate, Inanimate Aims, Litmus Press, Brooklyn, 2007

Brenda Iijima, Glossary of Art Terms, FourSquare Editions, Charlottesville, VA, 2007

Michael Jacobson, The Giant’s Fence, Lulu.com, 2007

Joanna Klink, Circadian, Penguin Poets, New York & London, 2007

Michael Koshkin, Om Folk Came, Fact-Simile.Com, Boulder, CO, 2007

P.H. Liotta, The Graveyard of Fallen Monuments, Quale Press, Florence, MA 2007

Gerald Locklin, The Mystical Exercycle, The Chuckwagon, Andover, MA, 2001

Max Middle, an MMSP C poem, Above/Ground Press, Maxville, Ontario, 2005

Max Middle, a VISUAL POEM (untitled), self-published, Ottawa-Montreal, 2006

Max Middle, call & response, Above/Ground Press, Maxville, Ontario, 2007

Max Middle, flow march n powder blossom s, Above/Ground Press, Maxville, Ontario, 2007

Ange Mlinko, The Children’s Museum, Prefontaine Press, no location given, 2007

Tom Morgan, On Going, Bootstrap Press, Lowell, MA, 2007

Sheila E. Murphy, The Case of the Lost Objective (Case), Otoliths, Rockhampton, Australia, 2007

Sean O’Keefe, Did You Know That You Could Heal Yourself?, The Chuckwagon, Pioneer Valley, MA, 2007

Michelle Naka Pierce, Beloved Integer, Pub Lush, Pittsburgh, PA (with Bootstrap Press, Lowell, MA) 2007

Chris Pusateri, North of There, Dusie, Boulder, CO, 2007

Jessica Smith, Butterflies, Big Game Books, Washington, DC, 2006

Mike Topp, Shorts Are Wrong, Unbearable Books, Brooklyn, 2007

Ryan Vine, Distant Engines, The Backwaters Press, Omaha, NE, 2007

John Wieners, A Book of Prophecies, Bootstrap Press, Lowell, MA, 2007

 

Books (anthologies)

The Wind Shifts: New Latino Poetry, ed. by Francisco Aragón. foreward by Juan Felipe Herrera, University of Arizona Press, Tuscon, AZ, 2007. Includes Roa Alcalá, Naomi Ayala, Richard Blanco, Brenda Cárdenas, Albino Carrillo, Eduardo C. Corral, Gina Franco, David Hernandez, Carl Marcum, Carolina Monsivais, Lidia Torres, more.

2006 Pew Fellowships in the Arts, directed by Melissa Franklin, Philadelphia, PA 2007. Includes Nava Etshalom, Jena Osman, Bob Perelman, Lamont Steptoe, Elaine Terranova, Kenneth Goldsmith on regionalism, more.

 

Books (other)

Kate Alton and Ross Manson, The Four Horsemen Project, Great Canadian Theater Company, Ottowa, 2007

W.S. Merwin, The Book of Fables, Copper Canyon, Port Townsend, WA, 2007

Donna Sellinger & Madeline Ffitch, The Wonders of the World: Recite, The Chuckwagon, Pioneer Valley, MA, 2007

 

Journals

Aufgabe, No. 6, Spring 2007, Brooklyn. Includes Brazilian poetry in translation (guest edited by Raymond Bianchi), kari edwards, Drew Kunz, Bruce Covey, Carrie Etter, Michael Slosek, Shira Dentz, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, Rodney Koeneke, Elizabeth Robinson, Albert Flynn DeSilva, Nico Vassilakis, Sasha Steensen & Gordon Hadfield, Brandon Shimoda, more.

Matrix 77, Summer 2007, Montreal. Includes Science Poetry feature edited by Gillian Savigny. Includes Christian Bök, Sylvia Legris, Ken Babstock, derek beaulieu, Jay Millar, a.rawlings, plus a column by Darren Wershler-Henry.

Model Homes, issue 1, Summer 2007, Northhampton, MA. Includes Ted Greenwald, Jules Boykoff, Ray Hsu, Johanna Drucker, Anne Tardos, Brian Kim Stefans, more.

Modern Review, Summer 2007, Richmond Hill, Ontario. Includes John Ashbery, Peter Gizzi, Andrew Joron, Robert Kelly, John Kinsella, Ben Lerner, Ange Mlinko, James Meetze, Jennifer Moxley, Rusty Morrison, Marcel Proust (trans. by Charlotte Mandell), Donald Revell, John Tranter, more.

Practice: New Writing + Art, 1, Mill Valley, CA, 2006. Includes Suzan Tichy, Semezdin Mehmedinoviç, H.L. Hix, Paula McCartney, Cole Swensen, Ban Beachy-Quick, Betsy Andrews, Rod Smith, Aaron McCullough, Janet Holmes, Graham Foust, more.

Practice: New Writing + Art, 2, Mill Valley, CA, 2007. Includes Brandon Shimoda, Rosty Morrison, Michael Heller, Joshua Edwwards, Dan Fost, Tony Lopez, more.

Primary Writing 5/07, Washington, DC, 2007. Includes Cathy Eisenhower & Laura Moriarty.

The Physical Poets, vol. 1, Northhampton, MA, 2007. Includes Marie Buck, Brad Flis, Lawrence Griffin, Steven Zultanski.

Verse, Vol. 23, Numbers 1-3 (single volume), Richmond, VA. Includes Beth Anderson, Pam Brown, Landis Everson, Bob Hicok, Ethan Paquin, Ray Di Palma, Joshua Corey, Thomas Fink, Cathy Park Hong, more.

 

Puddle Leaflet Series – Griddle Grin issues, Ottawa, Ontario, 2006-2007

1, Max Middle, Two One Line Poems

2, Max Middle, Moon Potatoes

3, derek beaulieu, flatland #21

4, Sheila Murphy, Practice Preach

5, Chris Turnbull, Continua 12-12

6, John M. Bennett, Neee

7, Irving Weiss, Two Poems

8, Jonathan Ball, Practicing my Signature / Storm

9, Gregory Betts, he / his

10, Sandra Ridley, ‘Somewhere On a Saskatchewan-North Dakota Highway (Two) – The Atlas E Missile Complex’

11, Gary Barwin, ATOB /ATOB3

12, Jesse Ferguson, Glitch 8 and Glitch 10

13, Max Middle, ‘AT TA : Rudiments’

14, Nico Vassilakis, ‘Thought Though’

15, Adam Seelig, ‘if it,” ‘BRUCE MCKINNON IN MEMORY’ & ‘OLD MCDONALD HAD A LOVE’

16, Donna Kuhn, ‘I never,’ ‘oneontafigs’ & ‘gottobehuman

 

Works all received after June 21st

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