Monday, May 03, 2004

Bob Perelman was a young poet living in Cambridge, MA, when he first sent me a copy of Hills #2, which included work by Steve Benson, Bob Grenier, Michael Waltuch, Anselm Hollo, Josephine Clare & Perelman himself, among others, in addition to a cover by Francie Shaw. That was about 30 years ago. Since then, we’ve lived in the same community on both coasts, to my great benefit. In addition to his own poetry & critical writing, Perelman will always be known as the person who started the San Francisco’s poets’ talks series in his Folsom Street loft space – the manifestation of poetry, or at least language poetry, having a critical dimension began literally in his living room. Later this year, Granary Books will issue Playing Bodies, Perelman’s collaboration with Shaw. Here is Perelman’s contribution to the Rosenbach Alphabet:


Standing beside my assigned vitrine on a windless day in special collections, I heard Jack Spicer and Gertrude Stein. Like me, they’d been drawn by the letter B.


Actually, Spicer had been drawn by the B-things, a baseball Joe DiMaggio signed to Marianne Moore, a drawing of the musketball that killed Lord Nelson, a postcard of the children’s ball, a scrap of gallantry George Washington addressed to the local belles.


Spicer hated that these things all had prior being. He said, “God is a big white baseball that has nothing to do but go in a curve or a straight line. . . . I often thought of praying to him but could not stand the thought of that big, white, round, omnipotent bastard.” Gertrude Stein stuck up for omnipotence, as why ever not, saying, “Let her be let her let her let her be let her be let her be let her be shy let her be let her be let her try.”


So God, who was more on Stein’s side than Spicer’s–unfair, but what are you going to do?–did, activated by Stein, try. She tried, and Stein became Stein. It was a closed system, like the Republican Party. Only a lot more interesting.


Let be be the finale of seem, I heard someone say.

Let seem seem the beginning of be, I repeated.


How can I ever learn my lines when they keep changing? In the vitrine nothing moved. At least we’d crossed the ecliptic & the days were getting longer. This one in particular. But there’s more than one. There’s every one apparently. Against which small vitrineloads of things fished out of the time stream. Collected, all turbulence deflected, cathected, if that’s how you feel about each other.


So. B. It begins. What does? Not this. This has already begun. Something, then. The poem. How can a poem begin in the middle of a sound stream? Form, that’s how. It makes being a ball, baseball, musketball, children’s ball where they’re dressed like adults because games are serious. Just ask Joe, though he always dressed like a special child to play his game. If he was by himself he’d say, “Games are games,” but he’s got Marianne Moore to say it another way or two, “since he who gives quickly gives twice / in nothing so much as in a letter.” Two times, because B is 2nd, and being is, too. First comes everything. Counted as one, it’s anything, any one thing, a B. Just B, that’s all. Never argue with the alphabet.