Saturday, March 22, 2008

 

TIBET

(low yellow Renaissance towers
frame
Ocean Beach
mood of Cerulean blue
or copper overlaid with blue plate

Sympathetic to the sweet cypresses
a whale rises from the blue fumes forming a cloud
the mayors of the respective towns are out parading

A crowd gathers, passing the bottle around
some standing in a long curving line.

Some are talking
the waves, etc.
the bigger the better—

The troops are departing by boat
I can see them
            but think of myself—
            as better than nature

There is nothing of the Cliff House worth noting.
The polypus behind me feels like a cancer—
sinews connecting
Detroit and Sacramento
muscles of the
Corn Belt and Valley.

The odd sun shines elsewhere
on a world of republics
the men and women who built them
as any sickness of the remote.

Each penetration of the earth by the sun
is a point on the map
solved by four colors
in the mind’s eye a virgin Iris and her way.

But I, enstatic
a clean plain
at endless altitude
inside the color brown

am formally known as Tibet
the indifference.


footnote to
Tibet

Tibet is thinking
China is nature

China is the Manifest
Dream of Tibet

Now China is the Air Force
and Tibet is the air for flight

Now China is the air
and Tibet is the ether

Now China is the ether
and Tibet is the air—

What about this
suppression of Tibet?

Barrett Watten
from Opera—Works (Bolinas, Calif.: Big Sky, 1975)
reprinted in Frame (1971–1990) (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon, 1997)
Copyright © Barrett Watten 1975, 1997, 2008

Barrett Watten, reading Tibet” (MP3)

Stand with Tibet – Support the Dalai Lama

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Friday, March 21, 2008

 

Further Huzzahs for a “Grumpy Old Fart”


Tom Meyer, Alex Gildzen, Jonathan Williams (hint: read Jonathan’s hat)

Pierre Joris on Jonathan Williams

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M. Bromberg on Williams’ vision

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Language Hat has an obit
& an earlier appreciation

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A long appreciation (with some good images)
from Damn the Caesars

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Tom Christensen, who published
Magpie’s Bagpipe

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Further comments on Williams by
Mark Harnett, Rus Bowden, Peter Culley

§

This piece on Williams & Frederick Delius
appeared last month

§

“27 Batting-Practice Pitches
for the John Kruk of American Letters”
an interview with Jonathan Williams

§

An appreciation of the Jargon Society

§

Guy Davenport’s drawing of Williams

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

 

Blockbuster art exhibits are the most brutal way imaginable to view anything & the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is no exception. You need timed tickets to enter & even then you end up in a long single-file line that snakes through museum’s main lobby like the airport security line from hell – we were literally exchanging backrubs with strangers just to pass the time on Sunday. Once you are in the show, things don’t speed up all that much. If you want to look at the paintings – the show pretty much has all of the canonical ones – you basically need to wait to move to the front of the crowd around each picture as people move on. If the paintings weren’t so terrific, it just wouldn’t be worth all the standing on hard concrete.

Kahlo is that most unique of phenomena – the first-rate artist who became a “crossover” hit & an icon to the women’s movement right as second-wave feminism was rising to its heights. I can’t imagine, for example, anything like the same mob scene for a retrospective of Diego Rivera, Kahlo’s two-time (& two-timing) husband, tho the muralist was the most famous Mexican artist even when she first met him in art school & his Detroit Industry mural is easily the finest single painting in the United States by any artist ever. Thus, while the complementary audio program talks endlessly about Kahlo’s symbolism & some of her sources, the narrative actually discusses her actual craft as a painter exactly once, in the very last of its 24 little lectures, explaining why there are no paintings from the last three years of Kahlo’s life when her reliance on painkillers had finally become an addiction and “she lost control of her brushstroke.” This at the end of a program in which we’ve gotten to hear such fluff as Pattie Smith comparing Frida’s relation to Diego to her own relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

In fact, Kahlo is a muscular painter whose fine strokes leave her canvases – and her masonite boards & her sheets of tin & aluminum – almost perfectly flat. Rather than a celebration of the hand that would emerge out of modernist abstraction, Kahlo translates this invariably to the image portrayed. Two of the very best paintings in the entire show are not her iconic self-portraits, but a painting of marigolds and a portrait, done on commission, of Doña Rosita Morillo, both executed in the mid-1940s, both freed largely from the angst that is so often portrayed elsewhere in her work. They are flat out great paintings and it’s worth the hassle of the museum’s presentation just to see them.

But, in fairness, Kahlo is also the most political of painters, more so than Rivera, more so than, say, Ben Shahn or Leon Golub. Her sense of capitalism is closer to Bosch & Brueghel than her contemporaries (this shows especially in one of her few European-influenced pieces, a collage she made while accompanying Rivera on his disastrous trip to New York to paint a mural for Mr. Rockefeller). Her feminism is serious & conscious & decades ahead of the women’s movement. Thus, in “A Few Small Nips,” the image at the top of this note, painted in 1935, Kahlo not only presents the stabbing death of a young woman, but her killer’s claim that it was only “a few small nips.” The spatters of blood extend beyond the metal on which the scene is painted to the work’s frame. Inside the frame, they are pictorial and representational – the walls are not covered – but outside it, they directly engage (challenge / accuse) the viewer.

Unsurprisingly, Kahlo has become the matron saint of chronic pain. As I told Krishna (who used to keep a poster of Kahlo’s Broken Column above her bed when we first met), I have a hard time reading a painting like Column, with its piercing nails spreading far beyond the shattered image of a spine, without thinking that Kahlo must have had reflex sympathetic dystrophy – chronic pain syndrome. Between her childhood polio, the horrific trolley & bus crash she was in at the age of 18 – Kahlo was impaled by a handrail & her pelvis was shattered – the lifelong surgeries that followed, her multiple miscarriages that resulted from a pelvis that was unable to support a pregnancy & her husband’s blatantly wayward ways – they married, divorced, remarried & came close to divorce again as Rivera tended to fuck anything in a skirt, including Frida’s sister – Kahlo has proven to be the perfect symbol for a particular feminist aesthetic. In this sense, she’s not unlike Sylvia Plath, tho their differences I think are more telling than the obvious parallels. Unlike Plath, who took her life right at the point where she was emerging as a mature poet, Kahlo persevered. If she thought about suicide – and it’s obvious that she did – she put it in a painting. If he slept around, she did too, famously, counting the likes of Trotsky among her conquests.

But a photograph of her in traction by Nick Murray – one of her lovers – is itself as painful in its own way as any of her hallucinated images. The photographs, from some family photo albums that have never been displayed before, are themselves a fascinating part of the exhibition (and notably less crowded around than the paintings). It’s worth noting, for example, that the exotic animals that give many of her self-portraits a surreal edge were in reality her pets. This is a woman who kept not just monkeys & parrots, but an eagle. Another photograph in which Kahlo is nude from the waist up has been torn in half, but carefully so as to render it a head shot – the text on the wall luridly (and without any supporting evidence given) suggests that Rivera must have been furious at this documentation of her affair with the photographer. But her gaze here, as in so many of the photos & in so many of her self-portraits as well, meets our eyes. Unlike Plath, this was someone absolutely determined to survive & prevail. It’s ultimately a very different message. In one of the last works, she portrays her self as a sitting Madonna, holding a naked infant that just happens to be the grown Rivera. One can certainly see the anger represented – to have married someone 21 years her senior only to have to treat him like a baby – but even more significant is the degree to which this work shows Kahlo in control, of her art, her images & her life.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

 

An obituary for Jonathan Williams

& another from The Asheville Citizen-Times

Alex Gildzen, Mark Scroggins, Jeff Davis,
CA Conrad, Don Share, Laurie Duggan
Gulayihi” & John Latta remember

Two great photos

Charles Shere on Magpie’s Bagpipe

An exhibit of Williams’ collection of
American vernacular art

Williams talking with Jeffrey Beam

A profile of Jonathan Williams

§

Arthur C. Clarke has died

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The C.D. Wright page at PennSound

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A reader’s companion to
Annie Finch’s Calendars
(PDF)

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A history of the Cleveland poetry scene

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Rosmarie Waldrop in The Nation

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Eight books by Basil King

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Monstrous women of the avant-garde

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On Bottom: On Shakespeare

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Nine books by John Yau

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Robert Duncan & Eric Mottram:
a dialog

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Charles North & Hettie Jones

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On Tom Devaney & Peter Krok

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Shanna Compton on Cathy Park Hong

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Tom Raworth & British humor

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Eileen Tabios on Bob Marcacci

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Tim Peterson on Charles Bernstein

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Talking with Ed Sanders

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Nico Vassilakis on (sorta) Morton Feldman

Nico’s Text Loses Time

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Mary Jo Bang:
big star, small sky

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Poets die young

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MP3s of The Line reading series
are starting to come online

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Talking with Washington laureate
Sam Green

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Charles Simic on Kosovo

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Lisa Lubasch’s Twenty-One After Days

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Two poems by Bill Berkson

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Stephen Vincent on Trevor Joyce

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The problem of storing your cash in books

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Sheila Murphy’s Skinny Buddha

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Taking Eliot seriously

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Amiri Baraka on Ed Dorn

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Noah Eli Gordon’s Noise Pictorial Noise

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The poetry brothel

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Selected poems of Eric Pankey

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Lila Zemborain’s Mauve Sea-Orchids

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Vincent Katz in English & Portuguese

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Reducing your book’s carbon footprint

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The laureate at Mr. Burger

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Some identity poetics for Irish Americans

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Two veterans of the St. Louis scene
return for a reading

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Cathleen Calbert’s Sleeping With A Famous Poet

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A bookstore struggles to survive

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37 booksellers give publishers feedback

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A “bluffer’s guide” to poetry

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Singing in a dark time

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Alan Shapiro’s Old War

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Jean Venuga’s Prau

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Amir Sulaiman at Brown

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Teaching & security

§

A legend in his own mind

§

What Heather McHugh doesn’t know about Star Wars

“Space Bar” (plus Q&A)

§

Thomas Fink on David Lehman

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How anti-intellectual is the U.S.?

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A poet for “the simplest hearts

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Jorie Graham, centerfold

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Maggie Nelson, Julie Cook & David Foster

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Mathew Takwi’s Fire on the Mountain

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The “greatness” of Ted Hughes

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The future of literature programs, if any

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Business Week on literacy

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Gargoyle & the limits of audio

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Corrine Fitzpatrick’s Zamboanguena

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Feminist artists across generations

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New play opens in the toilets

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The “most poetic” Biennial

Failure is an option

§

Twombly goes to Rome

§

Jasper Johns, fifty years later

§

From tag writer on the streets
to the National Gallery

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Color at MoMA

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Are you getting your fiber

§

Why not nationalism?

§

What role for expertise?

§

What the FCC?

§

Are Republicans objectively fascist?
Just ask

§

Chapeaus off to Galatea Resurrects
from whom the many links here
represent just a fraction
of its terrific new number 9

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Monday, March 17, 2008

 

Recently Received

 

Books (Poetry)

George Albon, Momentary Songs, Krupskaya, San Francisco 2008

Tetra Balestri, Cheap Imitations, Green Zone, Brooklyn 2008

Jack Collom, DDPTSTW, privately printed, Boulder 2008

Richard Deming, Let’s Not Call It Consequence, Shearsman Books, Exeter 2008

Emily Galvin, Do the Math: Forms, Tupelo Press, Dorset VT 2008

Michael Gottlieb, The Likes of Us, Harry Tankoos, New York 2008

Jason Heroux, The Sea Never Drowns, sunnyoutside, Buffalo 2008

Trevor Joyce, With the First Dream of Fire They Hunt the Cold: A Body of Work 1966-2000, Shearsman Books / New Writer’s Press, Exeter & Dublin 2001

Alex Lemon, Hallelujah Blackout, Milkweed Press, Minneapolis, 2008

Andrew Levy, Memories of My Father, no publisher listed, no location listed 2008

Joseph Massey, Out of Light, Kitchen Press, New York 2008

Clay Matthews, Superfecta, Ghost Road Press, Denver 2008

Frances Richey, The Warrior (A Mother’s Story of a Son at War), Penguin, London 2008

Pattiann Rogers, Wayfare, Penguin, London 2008

Raphael Rubenstein, The Afterglow of Minor Pop Masterpieces, Make Now, Los Angeles 2008

Leslie Scalapino, It’s go in horizontal: Selected Poems, 1974-2006, University of California Press, Berkeley 2008

Frank Sherlock & Brett Evans, Ready-to-Eat-Individual, Lavender Ink, New Orleans 2008

Aaron Simon, Periodical Days, Green Zone,Brooklyn 2008

Colin Smith, 8x8x7, Krupskaya, San Francisco 2008

Chad Sweeney, An Architecture, BlazeVOX, Buffalo, NY 2007

Tyrone Williams, On Spec, Omnidawn, Richmond, CA 2008

Warren Woessner, Clear All the Rest of The Way: New and Selected Poems 1987 – 2007, The Backwaters Press, Omaha 2008

Mark Yakich, The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine, Penguin, London 2008

Lila Zemborain, Mauve Sea-Orchids, translated by Rosa Alcalá & Mónica de la Torre, Belladonna Books, Brooklyn 2007

Rachel Zucker, The Bad Wife Handbook, Wesleyan, Middletown, CT 2007

 

Books (Other)

Ed Barrett, Bosston, Pressed Wafer, Boston 2008

Hank Lazer, Lyric & Spirit: Selected Essays 1996-2008, Omnidawn, Richmond, CA 2008

Philip Metres, Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 2008

Hilton Obenzinger, Busy Dying, Chax Press, Tucson 2008

George Oppen, Selected Prose, Daybooks, and Papers, edited by Stephen Cope, University of California Press, Berkeley 2008

Joseph Torra, Call Me Waiter, Pressed Wafer, Boston 2008

 

Journals

Abraham Lincoln no. 2, no location given, 2008. Includes Rod Smith, Cathy Eisenhower, Ben Friedlander, Tim Yu, Mel Nichols, Tao Lin, Kevin Killian, Lanny Quarles, Mitch Highfill, Maria Damon, Joseph Massey & Jess Mynes, Patrick Durgin, Linh Dinh, Christina Strong, Nada Gordon, more.

Bird Dog, issue 9, Seattle, Winter 2008. Includes Julia Cohen, Daniel Comiskey, Sarah Anne Cox, Jordan Davis, Shira Dentz, Michelle Detorie, Kate Eichhorn, Nava Fader, Garth Graeper, Terita Heath-Wlaz, Brian Henry, Robert Mittenthal, John Olson, Sharon Lynn Osmond, Jessea Perry, Andrea Rexilius, Judith Roitman, Sandra Simonds, Stephanie Strickland, Mathias Svalina, Eileen R. Tabios, C. McAllister Williams, more.

filling Station, 40, Calgary, 2008. Includes Oana Avasilichioaei, Tom Wayman, Wolf Larson, Karen Mac Cormack, Kate Eichorn, Jon Paul Fiorentino, George Bowering, Glia Sutherlanbd, Sina Queyras, Daisy Fried, Laura Elrick, Kate Greenstreet, Laura Sims, Carol Marakove, Jena Osman, Nada Gordon, Sawako Nakayasu, Julie Sheehan, more.

filling Station, 41, Calgary, 2008. Includes Sarah Keevil, George bowering, Andrew Klobucar, Michael Boughn, Spencer Selby, Natalie Simpson, Nicole Pakan, rob mclennan, Wanda O’Connor, more.

Parthenon West Review, Issue 5, Berkeley, 2008. Includes kari edwards, Gillian Conoley, Gloria Frym, D.A. Powell, Rusty Morrison, Sarah Hannah, Paul Hoover, Christopher Arigo, Johannes Göransson, Thomas Kane, Timothy Liu, Kevin Magee, Matt Hart, Rodney Koeneke, Bruce Covey, Brian Henry, Andrew Joron, Tomaž Šalamun, Ericka Ghersi, John Oliver Simon, more.

Thuggery & Grace #3, no location given, January 2008. Includes Selah Saterstrom, J’Lyn Chapman, Alan Gilbert, Akilah Oliver, Brenda Coultas, Elizabeth Robinson & the editors (Anne Waldman & Erik Anderson)

 

Other Formats

Tom Jenks, Omens, Matchbox, Manchester UK 2008

Lev Rubenstein, Unnamed Events, translated by Philip Metres & Tatiana Tulchinsky, Poems for All, no. 254, Sacramento 2003

Karl-Erik Tallmo, Molly B. Whips It Out, CD, self-published, no location given (Sweden), 2008

Matthew Welton, Measure, Matchbox, Manchester UK 2008

 

Just a few more of the items received since January 11
-- to be continued

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Jonathan Williams

1929 – 2008


For fifty years, give or take, Jonathan Williams has been one of the most complete men of letters our nation has had to offer, underappreciated by all but a few for all of that time. Williams was named by Larry Fagin on his original list of “Neglectorinos” when that discussion first began on this website two years back, a discussion begun by none other than CA Conrad, one of the writers I would point to as reflecting Williams’ influence. But I could say that of so many poets & such diverse ones as well, from the late Ronald Johnson – for some years early on, Williams' lover – to Clark Coolidge to Tom Meyer, Williams’ partner now for nearly four decades, even to yours truly. I don’t know anyone who has taught people more clearly about the role of laughter in poetry, or the limitless value of a terrible pun.

But such writing can make it hard for some folks to actually think you’re serious. And Williams’ neglect is compounded by to the fact that he has mostly remained in his rural region of North Carolina, the local kid who happened to attend Black Mountain College right when Charles Olson was King Mastodon at that facility, plus because, when his peers were in New York & San Francisco getting famous soon thereafter, he was pulling a stint in the army – hard to envision for somebody just as far out of the closet as Williams has been since day one – and no doubt also because of the gruff exterior he sometimes presents to the world, as tho one has just stumbled on a backwoods version of British royalty. Whenever Williams has ventured forth from North Carolina, it was mostly to head off to the U.K. where I think he similarly avoided whatever urban poetry scenes might be had.

One index of this neglect is that you can still buy many of Williams’ books dating back to the mid-1970s from Small Press Distribution. Of Williams’ most recent collection, I wrote here

Jubilant Thicket is one of those absolute must-have books of poetry.

It’s nice to see, in retrospect, just what good sense I have. Lately, tho, I’ve been going through the somewhat earlier Blackbird Dust, from Turtle Point Press. A collection, as the subtitle puts it, of essays, poems, and photographs, Turtle Point actually lists the volume under non-fiction, perhaps because fiction’s the only thing Williams didn’t seem to do. One of the masters of the small press whose imprint Jargon is legendary, Williams was the first publisher of The Maximus Poems – I think he was still in the army at the time – a major photographer (his portraits of Louis Zukofsky, gracing the cover of Mark Scroggins' new biography as well as the recent Chicago Review issue dedicated thereto, are becoming canonical), a big time serious poet – he is the last living member of the Projectivist or Black Mountain section of The New American Poetry – and an essayist whose work in the form is as full of fun & mischief as is his poetry. And as for the poetry, the following are the opening lines from “Amuse-Gueules for Bemused Ghouls”

good titles occur to
me all the time
like i have a
nephew who is a
prtocologist from greer south
carolina and other poems


HOMAGE TO LEE SMITH

one-eyed jesse waldron lives
all by hissef up
in the paw-paw gap

                    *

justine poole always says
fuckin’ is fine as
far as it goes

two jewish ladies meet
in central park one
of them has a
new baby in a
carriage what’s the baby’s
name says one it’s
shelley says the other
how nice that you
named her after a
famous poet shelley temple
was a famous poet

“Gueules” is French for mouths & the term is a synonym for the amuse-bouche I’m more familiar with – literally mouth amuser – as an offering from the chef in advance of the meal’s first course. It’s a perfect metaphor for Williams’ own writing, which tends to such rollicking series of half-naughty humor. The trick, I think, is in seeing just how serious poems such as this really are. What Williams is offering the reader is not simply a series of puns & wild yarns, but rather a vision of the world itself, one in which people are a little daft, but possessing nonetheless profound common sense, the language conspiring to reveal both sides of the human coin at once.

The essays in this collection often enough the same tone as the above amuse-gueules, such as a letter to the New York Times concerning the idea that there are “only 83 poetry readers in the entire nation” in spite of “the collective efforts of 64,980 busy, untalented, published poets, plus the National Entombment for the Arts.” Many of the essays, tho, are eulogies, for Ernest Matthew Mickler (author of the White Trash Cookbook), Robert Duncan, Paul Potts, Joel Oppenheimer, Art Sinsabaugh, Virginia Randall Wilcox, James Laughlin, Ronald Johnson & James Harold Jennings. In a way, such accounts are a summing up for an entire generation, one that is now fast escaping us. To this, Williams adds his advocacy for the decidedly marginal in American letters, including a profile of Alfred Starr Hamilton that Williams managed to place in the New York Times Book Review in 1975, a time when Hamilton was apparently still managing to survive in his $40 per month rooming house tho the $7,000 he had inherited from his mother 11 years earlier had apparently run out. Williams made a point of including Hamilton’s address in the article so that readers could send money directly.

This wonderful volume is a sad book only insofar as the world it often describes – not unlike Hamilton – is gone. You can’t get there no more is probably how Williams “hissef” would put it. It’s true: Williams is one of our very last & very best links.

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