Saturday, March 06, 2004

Today, my favorite page on the internet – the whole internet – is right here. Kyle Schlesinger has done a terrific job.


The joy of a new book, beautifully designed, really doesn’t change or diminish at all over the years. For me, it triggers a very primal response . . . close to what I felt (or at least wanted to feel) on Xmas morning as a kid. Jack Gilbert used to talk of sleeping with Views of Jeopardy, his Yale Younger Poets volume, under his pillow, after it came out.


Since ® came out in 1999, I’ve had four books published, all reissues of earlier volumes: Tjanting; Sitting Up, Standing, Taking Steps; In the American Tree; and most recently Xing. The idea that one needs not simply to get one’s work into print, but to figure out how best to keep it there is something I’ve had to learn, as I suspect all poets do if they stay active as they grow older. When I was a kid, I had this idea of the books existing in eternity, or at least permanently in print. Little did I know . . . .


Books are like poems in that they have histories and we, who write, edit or otherwise cobble them together, have histories with them. One’s emotional response to a reissue – especially when, as in all four cases here, it entails in a transformed design, ranging from the move to perfect binding for Xing, to complete reworkings of the other three books – is extraordinarily complex, but no less intense than to an altogether new volume. I now have copies of Tree with four different covers: the original matte finish paperback, the limited edition hardback that accompanied it, an interim edition with a black & white photograph of the branches of a tree for its cover, and now the new edition, with great typesetting & a cover I love.


Woundwood is a poem from VOG, a section of The Alphabet. Each section of The Alphabet is in some manner different from all the others, or at least I fantasize that this is true. VOG – that title is the only one to employ an acronym – differs in that it was conceptualized as “a book of ordinary poems.” In short, something I haven’t written in a very long time – over 30 years. When Kyle suggested doing Woundwood as a chapbook, it made perfect sense to me from the framework of this project, even though I’m not yet 100 percent certain of the order or final makeup of VOG.


The relationship of any poem to whatever book it appears in is flexible, not fixed. Often, especially when we are young, we think of the works in the books we fall in love with as “obvious” or “right” for the project, when in reality almost all of them could have been done some other way, in another order. Would it have made a difference? Of course, at some level. But just  how much of one is something that you have to think about almost poem by poem, let alone book by book. One of the most important things we don’t know about Emily Dickinson is what her books would have looked like, had she gathered her poems together thus in her own lifetime. I feel like I’m still thinking this through, learning as I go. Hoping to.


The other night in New York, I listened as Miles Champion mentioned Woundwood in his obsessively thorough introduction of me at St Marks, pronounced the title as though the first syllable was the past tense of the verb wind, rather than as a synonym for injury. I thought to myself, “Well, you learn something new every day.”

Friday, March 05, 2004

Chris Stroffolino saw The Dreamers, then responded to my two blogs thereon.


Ron –


I just saw this movie last night. I don't keep up with a lot of contemporary movies that much as of late, but this was recommended by many I respect so thought I'd check it out. So, it was good to read your timely blog comments, which were very helpful to me in terms of my own. There's some things I'm thinking about that you didn't emphasize as much, or that I might have a different take on. For instance, the whole "political backdrop" kind of movie. It's definitely a sub-genre. So, the French 1968 situation lends "color" and "intrigue" and "romance" perhaps to this movie, but what is B's point with it? (aside from the fact, that some of the songs in the soundtrack were not released until after April of 68). I think part of my discomfort with the movie was that it seemed to imply that Matthew, the Leonardo DiCaprio American, was the "normal" narrative filter American through whose eyes we see the "transgressive" French (you speak of this at length so I won't), with that kind of naive fascination (he's no American "hippie" but a mama's boy with an exotic fascination in France largely because of its movies, and perhaps to its politics) that eventually becomes a kind of disgust. Of course, much of this is "strictly personal" – and certainly Isabelle and Theo are not really down with the protests, as they "drop-out" to investigate the triangular personal relationship. Theo's called a "loser" for not being out on the streets enough, and even Matthew comes to criticize Theo, not so much for not being out on the streets, but for the discrepancy between his words and actions. It doesn't seem that Matthew, whose politics are certainly presented as at least as unthought-out as Theo's, is really interested in getting Theo to "put his money where his mouth is" and join the revolution as much as he, like his dad the poet (who Theo, in anger, compares Matt to), is trying to get him to "grow up" and get away from the "transgressive" incestuous relationship (of course, his own largely normative hetero attraction to Isabelle, which started the whole plot anyway, probably plays a factor in this. It does seem to me that there's more homoerotic attraction on Theo's part than on Matthew's but as you say it's never explored much). Of course, the specter of the parents certainly haunts Isabelle, who seems to want, and NEED, to continue the relationship with Theo more than vice versa (Theo does seem troubled by his buddies' calling him a "loser" as well as by Matt calling him a "freak"). She says she'll commit suicide if the parents find out, and of course when the parents find out, they seem rather NON-PLUSSED, and ever so permissively FRENCH, and leave a sum of money (I think it was a check). Yet she decides to to kill herself anyway. Of course, it's at this point where HISTROY intervenes, and knocks on the door, and allows THEO to die his great romantic death (and saves her from the "suicide") for the CAUSE. He's certainly presented as not necessarily noble in this action, but what is Matt's alternative? – TO KISS HIM and say something like "we're about love but not about war." But is that convincing? Not to me – it seems like a platitude and contrasts with his calling Matt and Isabelle "freaks" earlier. So here is Theo (who is either erring on one side – too domestically involved in their black hole version of a "sexual revolution" – or the other side, breaking through the police line and setting off the police brutality) and here is Matt (a kind of tepid embodiment of an Aristotelian mean, but the one we're SUPPOSSED TO identify with). All in all, I find it hard to identify with any of these characters. But what is the moral/political points that B is trying to make? That the folly of the student protests is one with the folly of the relationship of the 3 protagonists? Because of the way the movie ends, it's hard to escape that conclusion. He insufficiently analyzes both the psychological complexities and the political issues of this potentially great scenario. It seems to reduce much of the passion of the 1960s to a few half-baked clichĂ© ridden ill-thought discussions and scenarios (by precocious glamour-seeking kids locked in a fantasy world of movie quotes) the better to dismiss it (in a way this movie trivializes the "sexual revolution" "the personal is the political" and "Paris 1968" almost as much as, say "that 70s show" or remakes of "starsky and hutch" etc do the 70s), as Matt, no doubt, returns to his normal AMERICAN world of being a spectator rather than a spectacle (he probably becomes an accountant). I'm sure I'll have more thought out thoughts later, but I needed to get this off my chest.




I concur with a lot of Stroffolino’s points here – he’s totally on target in seeing Michael Pitt’s Matthew as a Leonardo DiCaprio impression & about the trivialization of the sixties, etc.


When I used to live in San Francisco in the 1970s, there used to be a cheapo movie theater in Chinatown called The Times that used to show two or three movies per day for just 99 cents. Its genius, tho, depended on how well it paired the movies. I’d love to see The Dreamers paired not with any of the French or American films referenced in it, nor with Last Tango in Paris or Ai No Corrida, the two films of sexual obsession it has so often been compared to, but with a movie that was being filmed in Chicago in 1968 – Haskell Wexler’s Medium Cool.


Known as one of Hollywood’s great cinemaphotographers (Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf, for which he won an Oscar, Bound for Glory, for which he won a second, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Thomas Crown Affair, No Nukes, Studs Lonigan, several of John Sayles’ pictures) and one of film’s most committed political progressives, Wexler had this idea of filming a movie about a television news cameraman initiating a relationship with one of his “subjects” while in Chicago to film the Democratic Convention. The idea was to set the fictional story into the otherwise documentary framework of events. But the convention itself turned into one long police riot & the Democratic Party, already frayed by the abdication of Lyndon Johnson, the anti-war campaign of Eugene McCarthy & the assassination of Robert Kennedy, simply unraveled. So rather than having a simple framing mechanism, Wexler records a movie in which events overwhelm the tale. I haven’t seen Medium Cool since it came out in 1969, but it is available on DVD. I don’t remember the film well enough to say clearly how it contrasts with the project of The Dreamers, but the premise seems so aligned (if inverted, say), it would be fascinating to find out.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Drew Gardner offers his perspective on the reading last night at St. Marks.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Michael McClure & Ron Silliman


Wednesday, March 3, 8 PM

St. Marks Poetry Project, NYC


Ron Silliman's life can be viewed in real-time on his weblog, (which has now been visited more than 100,000 times). His 25th book, Woundwood, is forthcoming from Cuneiform Press. Others include the anthology, In the American Tree, a book of essays and talks on poetics, The New Sentence, and Ketjak, Tjanting, The Age of Huts, What, (R), Demo to Ink, ABC, and Paradise. He lives just south of Valley Forge in Pennsylvania and works as a market analyst in the computer industry.


Michael McClure is a poet, novelist, essayist, and playwright, and the author of Hymns to St. Geryon, Dark Brown, Ghost Tantras, Rare Angel, Scratching the Beat Surface, Selected Poems, Huge Dreams, Rain Mirror, and Plum Stones: Cartoons of No Heaven, among many others. He published his first book, Passage, in 1956, a year after the legendary Six Gallery reading. He won an Obie for Josephine the Mouse Singer, and his notorious play The Beard was shut down by police after 14 consecutive nights in LA. He is a Professor at California College of Arts and Crafts, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area hills with his wife, the sculptor Amy Evans McClure. [8:00 pm]


The Poetry Project is located at St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street at Second Avenue
New York City 10003
Trains: 6, F, N, R, and L.

Admission is $8, $7 for students/seniors and $5 for members

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

On Sunday mornings at the Grand CafĂ©, 61 Union Square, Somerville, MA, a group of poets gather to talk & share their work. Sunday Morning Anthology is a chapbook-size collection of works by nine of these poets. If you like the idea of poetry as community – and I do – this is a superb little example of the benefits that arise from collective activity.


The nine poets represented in these 48 pages are a diverse group, including Joel Sloman, whose first book, Virgil’s Machine, was published by Norton in 1966 (possibly before some of the other contributors here were born), the multitalented Joe Torra, five poets who are active bloggers – Amanda Cook, James Cook, Mark Lamoureux, Chris Rizzo & Christina Strong – plus Michael Carr & Tim Peterson.* The poems range from Amanda Cook’s earnest lyrics through Torra’s far more sardonic ones all the way to Strong’s sharp typographic ensembles, which carry far more of an edge to them than one anticipates from most vizpo. Overall, the poetry is so strong that the chapbook almost feels like a ringer – the Kinko’s print job & use of “saddle” stapling far too modest for the contents.


Some of the things that jump out for me include Sloman’s translations from a collection called, I swear, Off the Beaten Trakl, transmogrifications of the Austrian poet Georg Trakl that are far from literal translations but appear to have begun as homophonic versions that seem to get out of hand in inspired ways. Thus, the first stanza of “Sommer


I pay homage as she bends over her squeaky clogs
The sparrows steal from one another
Stiff from neglect, such are her toes
As I wrote to you this morning


bears only passing resemblance to Trakl’s stanza (not included in the anthology)


Am Abend schweigt die Klage
Des Kuckucks im Wald.
Tiefer neigt sich das Korn,
Der rote Mohn.


Thus, Der rote Mohn (literally “the red poppy”) takes us to “wrote you this morning,” just as Klage (complaint) leads to clogs,  but you have to have your punning sensors turned up to max in order to get from Korn to toes. The result feels a little like what you might get if you could do some sort of science experiment with the brains of Ron Padgett & Louis Zukofsky.


A very different kind of Zukofsky is on display on the facing page, in the poem “Goodnight Zukofsky” by Chris Rizzo:


Primrose, majolica, blooms
and maroon, a whitish spider akimbo
treads a thready disaster.

Cling limp, a window a fan
awaiting any in
other words the spider’s luck
ends in guts. How
do you go on to turn
off the lamp when turns
of phrase, phase, word
no consequence.
Love does not.


I’m not certain precisely how Rizzo arrived at this text – whether he used Zukofsky directly as a source or merely is working with the rich surface textuality that so characterizes the late Objectivist. Rizzo has another poem whose title references Williams, but which seems to go in an entirely different direction, suggesting that there isn’t a greater methodological system tucked under these texts that I just not making out. There are some wonderful moments in this poem (the use of i in the second line or that entire third line – it’s amazing to think that such a “commonplace” joining of adjective & noun as thready disaster has never been used before, but you will not find those words joined thus anywhere on Google . . . at least until it picks up this).


Tim Peterson has a piece that reminds me in a yet a different way of Zukofsky, in this instance of the man with the most precise sense of tonal balance in a line, when I read, in an untitled section from a larger series called Trans Figures


Lawn chairs yawn mouth awning
hair on neck in prayer hands
bandaged ample breast pairs in flown
deck bench stepping stone declension
tensed on step in step represent shipwreck
calling parts dungarees under hands
knees face side of a skin rib filial
injury dingy basement implement tool
swinger pen penis to write and under plans
wrinkled table in full bloom hardy
or wry mouth damaged lock shorn then

If I hear these lines as instances of Duncan’s conception (for which he credited Pound) of the tone leading of vowels, I find them to be almost perfect examples of sound being painterly. The way the aw occurs three times in the first line, the sequence of chairs to hair to prayer & pairs, all built upon variants of a – the poem at that moment moves right on to e – completely convinces me.


Whether these three represent examples of an “assignment” the group took on or simply shared inclinations on the part of the poets, I can’t say – there is another thread in this book that one could read as focusing on the line as the unit of writing – and frankly I don’t much care. The only thing I see at all problematic about this anthology is that I don’t think it will be seen/read by nearly enough people. For more information or a copy, the one address actually listed in the publication is for Christina Strong:




* James Cook’s blogroll includes a link for a blog by Tim Peterson that shows up as a 404 error on Blogspot. 

Monday, March 01, 2004

I was ragging on John Latta the other day, but his weblog has a couple of very nice pieces on Bill Bathurst, a San Francisco poet of the 1960s whose work I always liked. I never met the man myself, although he has apparently returned to Northern California after a very long stint working in radio in, of all places, Prague. I own what I was told was once Bathurst’s copy of the original edition of John Wieners’ Hotel Wentley Poems, which as I recall came very cheaply (50 cents or thereabouts) when I found it in a used bookshop because of Bathurst’s doodles on the inside cover. From my own perspective, they made the volume more, not less, valuable.


Bathurst is a poet I associate with a scene that showed up in print in Clifford Burke’s magazine, Hollow Orange. Burke was a poet & printer I met through my first wife, Shelley, when the two of them worked together for a Berkeley campus lecture notes publisher called, if memory serves me right, Slate. It was Burke, in fact, who loaned me the money to pay the preacher for my first wedding on Halloween, 1965.


The hinge poet in that scene seemed to be Richard Brautigan, not yet known as a writer of fiction. I met Brautigan just once, in David Sandberg’s print shop in the Haight, probably in 1967, tho I saw him read once or twice. Brautigan struck me as shy & had the softest voice. Sandberg was typesetting a chapbook of Brautigan’s – Curtis Faville no doubt could tell me which one – and I remember trying to keep up with the printing terms Sandberg & Brautigan were using.


I never got too close to that scene, tho – my sense of it was that these were older guys, really second generation Beats, who seemed far too fond of drink & drugs. I’d already gone through my own two-year cycle with various altered states, mostly psychedelics & speed, & was trying to stay clear of that world somewhat by then, especially since people like Sandberg were reputed to be into smack. Sandberg, in fact, died of an overdose in 1968 & it’s Bathurst’s memoir of him that Latta posts on his site, an excerpt from a 1973 book I recall as mostly a prison memoir.


When Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America first came out, my sense of it was as a narrative prose poem, not a novel, and I was amazed, frankly, when it took off after Dell Publishing reprinted it in 1969 & it became a gen-you-wine hippy best seller. I remember sitting on a bus going up Main Street in Buffalo in the summer of 1970 seeing two, maybe three, young women all reading copies at once. The first generation Beats had all been famous before I even began to read poetry seriously, so in my eyes they’d “always” been famous. Brautigan was the first poet I actually saw go through that process.


I always looked at Brautigan’s poetry as being heavily indebted to the forms of Jack Spicer, but not in the slightest in Spicer’s growly pessimism. It was as if he’d appropriated the mode & applied it instead to the lyric poem* – I still reread those works with considerable pleasure. In my mind, he’s still – and will always be – a poet who writes fiction, not a novelist who writes poetry. That’s a significant difference.


Brautigan committed suicide in 1984, having gone through & been chewed up by, the celebrity process in America as well as by alcohol. After he died, it took five weeks for his body to be found in his home in Bolinas & even then the person who discovered it was a private detective who’d been asked to look in on Brautigan by Becky Fonda. The day that news was published I cried myself to sleep out of some sense of helplessness of the individual in the face of the great American culture machine. Seven weeks later, I finally stopped the worst of my own bad habits, alternating glasses of Jack Daniels with bottles of beer every evening. I haven’t had a drink since.






* In this way, Brautigan’s poetry might be said to parallel Bill Berkson’s relationship to the work of John Ashbery.