Saturday, July 10, 2004



Progressive Poetry Calendar

July Sky Edition




19, Monday, 7:00 PM: Walter Mosley, Robins Books, 108. S. 13th Street, 215-735-9600

22, Thursday, 7:00 PM: Haki Madhubuti, Robins Books, 108. S. 13th Street, 215-735-9600



11, Saturday, 7:30 PM: Shin Yu Pai & Ish Klein, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street

17-19, Friday-Sunday, times vary: Zukofsky /100, celebration of the LZ centennial, at Columbia & Barnard, New York City. Details here.

22, Tuesday, 7:00 PM: Ron Silliman, Kelly Writers House, 3805 Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania

25, Saturday, 7:30 PM: hassen presents Patrick Herron & TBA, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street

30, Thursday, 8:00 PM: Fiona Templeton, Temple University City Center, 15th & Market, Room 222



7, Thursday, 8:00 PM: Jonathan Letham, Temple University City Center, 15th & Market, Room 222

9, Saturday, 7:30  PM: Noah Eli Gordon & Pattie McCarthy, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street

23, Saturday, 7:30 PM: Kathy Lou Schultz presents TBA, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street

28, Thursday, 8:00 PM: Tracie Morris, Temple University City Center, 15th & Market, Room 222



6, Saturday, 7:30 PM: Brenda Iijima & Chris McCreary, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street

11, Thursday, 8:00 PM: Caroline Bergvall, Temple University City Center, 15th & Market, Room 222

20, Saturday, 7:30  PM: furniture press presents TBA, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street



4, Saturday, 8:00 PM: Rodrigo Toscano & Jena Osman, La Tazza, 108 Chestnut Street

6, Monday, 6:30 PM: Ron Silliman, Free Library, Logan Square, 1901 Vine Street, open reading follows


All events are in Philadelphia
unless otherwise noted

Friday, July 09, 2004


A note from Chris Stroffolino. The ellipses in what follows are his.


Dear Ron —


Just a quick note about Michael Moore's oeuvre as you summed it up in your recent blog. We just returned from seeing F911 with Continuous Peasant's bassist, and political science teacher, Bob Gumbrecht, and his wife (and saw Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy in the audience as well) — and yeah, we too, had to wait for a ticket (or they graciously waited for me, while I rested my broken leg), as the 5:50 showing was sold out (made the 7:30 showing)....


Anyway, I still haven't "digested" the movie enough to come to an ultimate assessment, though I'm pretty sure I agree with much of what you have to say about what Moore might be able to achieve in that movie that often "the left" has been not able to achieve (though with some reservations that I need to sort out), particularly, as you point out, with regard to the issue of the U.S. military. If anything, I wish he would've emphasized more, perhaps by placing it earlier in the movie, the human impact on the life of the U.S. underclass. I thought the focus on so many phases of the military, from recruiting (and his comic attempt to recruit congressmen's sons), to the gun-ho soldiers playing heavy-metal when they kill, to footage of their beating and killing Iraqi civilians, to their increasing frustration with Iraqis (something to the effect of "they are angry at us for being here, but then are also angry if we don't do anything"), to their increasing anger with Bush ("why are we here?" said one in combat, the amputated soldiers in hospitals, and the last letter from the soldier to his mother, severely criticizing Bush), and even anger at Halliburton (the juxtaposition of the Halliburton ad about they "feed soldiers," to the Halliburton corporate luncheon back home, and the priceless footage of the U.S. Soldier at an Iraqi oilfield complaining about how he gets $2000/a month to put his life on the line, while the guys he guards who work for Halliburton get paid at least 4 times as much, he approximated, to drive a truck around....


I wonder if this message will reach the "swing vote," the "conservative democrat" like Lila Lipscomb, and others. I'd like to think it might, but wonder if the way the movie is billed, as ANTI-BUSH, or BUSH-BASHING (partially because of the way the movie is ordered; it takes Moore a while to get to his sympathy with the soldiers) may undermine that message. I have to think about that more....


But, that being said, the main point I wanted to raise, as a possible point of disagreement with you, concerns not your assessment of F911, but of BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, which I thought was a very successful movie, and far more subtle than you're giving it credit for. You claim that in B FOR C, Moore DOESN"T explore "AT ALL" what you call the "anomaly" of Canada's lack of gun-control and the fact that there are less gun-related deaths there, but that "He instead focuses on the gun-lobby." True to a point; Moore does famously confront Heston, and theatrically take the victims of the Columbine shootings to K-MART to get them to stop selling ammunition. But, along with this, you could call it rather "shallow" analysis, Moore also, and I think more profoundly, offers a deeper analysis, in considering the "culture of fear." He quite specifically and consciously explores what might be seen as the "discrepancy"  between gun-deaths and gun-control laws in Canada to undercut any simplistic conclusion that gun-control will solve the problem in the USA. In fact, he begins the movie by talking about his own childhood fascination with guns, and how he himself is still a member of the NRA (which at first may seemed to be a "put-on" but it's not at all clear it is). So, either Moore is talking out of both sides of his mouth, on one level advocating gun-laws and on another level saying "GUN CONTROL WON'T SOLVE THE PROBLEM!," or he's astutely recognizing the need to work on a variety of fronts, straddling a wedge issue, in at least as "fair and balanced" a way as F911 deals with the question of "You don't have to be anti-SOLDIER to be anti-THE IRAQI war." And it is precisely this that allowed him to emphasize the analogy to American response to 9/11 and American response to high-school shootings, in B FOR C. In some ways that linkage of the seemingly more "local" with the "national and international" attitudes (and the role in the media) may have made B for C an even more radical movie (if not necessarily better—-they each serve their different functions) than F911, in terms of depth of analysis. In some ways more, since I felt Moore could have done a better job of investigating Bush's relationship to Saudis and Bin Laden. Because Moore came off as not just "another liberal" wanting to "take away our guns" in B FOR C, I think the movie possessed a persuasive power that may also exist in the new movie. Conservative commentators couldn't as easily just write him off. In this movie, because it begins so clearly as an anti-Bush movie, I'm not so sure it will — but the jury (of which I am not a part!) is still out on that. "No silver bullet?"

Thursday, July 08, 2004


The following note from Anne Berkeley concerns the Korean censorship of all blogs emanating from, not just this one. Personally, the idea of loading the video of a beheading onto a blog site turns my stomach. Yet I myself have in the past provided links to the website of the Revolutionary Association of Women of Afghanistan (RAWA), whose site documented the execution of women in that country under the reign of the Taliban. And I took my children to see Fahrenheit 911, which itself includes footage of a beheading.* There are contexts in which such material is appropriate and possibly even necessary.


As a writer, I’m a First Amendment absolutist. The Korean blocking of these sites is disturbing & ultimately stupid. Given that I’ve never written a word here about either North or South Korea, it’s completely galling.



I read your blog from time to time because I'm interested in poetry and your take on things outside the mainstream. I like the way you unpick poems and listen to the sounds and intervals. I relish your chastisements of the School of Quietude.

But I'm not writing to flatter you.

Do you realize your blog has just been banned in South Korea? It wouldn't surprise you about China, perhaps - but Korea is supposed to be a modern democracy, with freedom of speech enshrined in its constitution. It's the most wired and internet savvy nation on earth. Ah but.

It all started on 24 June when the video of Kim Sun-il's murder started circulating. The Korean Ministry of Information and Communication (Orwellian or what?) closed access to internet sites showing it. They could only manage it by the bluntest of means - by closing access to the hosts.

As you are hosted by Blogspot, and they are one of the hosts of an offending site, Korean access to Silliman's Blog is denied. The same is true for blogger, blogs and Typepad. That's hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of blogs denied to Koreans, some of them even blogging from Korea (though most Koreans use Cyworld). Some Koreans can manage to access blocked sites by using a proxy server such as, but that crashes at busy times. And doubtless that will be blocked too when the government realizes. Probably more foreigners than Koreans will suffer in practice, and there is no love lost for Americans in Korea.

There are two petitions doing the rounds. Neither is wholly satisfactory. This one accuses the government of being fascist, but I signed it anyway. This one sums up the situation quite well. The final sentence of the second paragraph is problematic for me because the situation's much more nuanced than that, but I signed it too.

Korea has a history on this, frequently blocking sites concerning N Korea, and gay sites.

OK, so there are lots of far more desperate human rights issues round the world, but I thought you might be interested since your blog is involved, and be able to spare a moment to sign  one or both petitions.

There's an interesting and informative article in Asia Times (30 June). There is more of the western angle in OhmyNews - MIC: Burning Down the Internet posted on 2 July. CNN picked up the story on 30 June, but they don't seem to have realized quite how blunt an instrument was being used. Otherwise there's been a deafening silence.

When the FKTU expressed dissent, they were quickly shouted down, as Robert Koehler reported in his blog on 25 June.

You can read more about the constitutional position here. Free speech is a constitutional right, but the devil is in the detailed regulations. They seek to "protect minors".

I don't have a particular line on this - I'm English, I like Korean poetry, I enjoy reading some Korean blogs, I feel involved, I get outraged. (I only happened on this interest in Korea through the internet, through reading a Korean poem on a Canadian blog, of all things.)

I don't believe in censorship anyway, but it astonishes me that so many innocent blogs on my own regular reading list are suddenly prohibited to Koreans. And on your own blogroll, there are masses of poetry and poetics sites, all now banned along with blogspot or one of the other proscribed hosts. I gave up counting when I got as far as Li Bloom, and there were already 17 of them!

Forgive me for writing at such length, and out of the blue. I don't know what else is to be done. Maybe a protest to Blogspot? Do they have a news section? Not having a blog myself, I haven't worked out how to contact them about this sort of thing. But at the heart of this is the issue of censorship, which I believe is wrong in principle. That blogs like your own are affected by the fallout makes it worse, but ironically, may help to bring pressure on the Korean government.

This sort of thing has implications for all of us online in the free world.

with best wishes

Anne Berkeley
Cambridge UK



* Tho at such a distance and so quickly that neither of my boys could identify where it occurred once the film was over.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


As noted in this blog before, Ahsahta Press, now a part of the Boise State University publishing empire, has – in addition to publishing books by interesting new writers – Noah Eli Gordon is next up on their to-do list, having just received the Sawtooth Poetry Prize – been doing serious work making available books of poetry by poets whose work might otherwise disappear from view. In particular, the press has taken on something of the project of tracking American modernism of the west, especially that which was not automatically linked up to a second-tier publishing center like San Francisco. 


In addition to Genevieve Taggard’s To the Natural World & Judson Crews’ The Clock of Moss, the press has brought out two volumes by 1926 Yale Younger Poet Thomas Hornsby Ferril and Hildegarde Flanner’s The Hearkening Eye, as well as books by Haniel Long & Norman MacLeod, among many others. Unlike its volumes of more recent authors, such as Graham Foust or Lance Phillips, published as Ahsahta Press New Series, the books in its Modern and Contemporary Poetry of the American West series have a print-on-demand look about them, with matte covers and no real cover art beyond the press’ logo, with no blurbs or copy on the backs. My copies of both the Crews & Taggard volumes both disintegrated during their first reading, as if the glue in the binding were there more as a gesture than a commitment. Still, I’m exceptionally happy to have my hands on all of this material, whether it’s fairly obscure (as Taggard has become, say) or more recent, like the book by Crews or one by William Witherup – another little mag staple of my youth – or (and this is a gem of a discovery) what appears to be Cynthia Hogue’s first book, The Woman in Red. While I’ve been kvetching for decades over the problem of “disappearing poets,” Ahsahta has been quietly doing something about it.  


If one were to divide the world of poetry, as Josephine Miles pictures it at the end of World War I, into “the poets in the Whitman tradition, trying their new freedoms, and those who held closely to or were renewing a kind of neat quatrain power,” Taggard might be said to fall closer to – tho not exactly in – the latter camp. Indeed, Taggard reminds me of the fact that Ezra Pound’s great poem, “A Pact,” from Lustra (“I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman -- / I have detested you long enough.”), is predicated by precisely the problem that the choice as posed, say, by Miles, of Whitman or the chains of quatrains, is finally not enough. One could, to some degree, see  modernism in poetry as the attempt to offer an alternative to heritage of closed forms other than through sheer orality.


Taggard herself was born in 1894, a decade ahead of Carl Rakosi, a decade behind Pound, Wlliams, Marianne Moore & HD. Born in Waitsburg, Washington, northeast of Walla Walla & not more than 50 miles from where I was born, Taggard grew up in what was then outside of the United States, in Hawaii, returning at the age of 18 to attend the University of California, after which she lived a life in constant motion, living everywhere from Capri & Mallorca to San Francisco & New York. Rare for someone in her generation, Taggard taught poetry at three universities. Married twice – her first husband was confined to a mental hospital – Taggard died in 1948.


There is one poem in Taggard’s 1980 volume that addresses the question of competing aesthetics. It is called “Aleatory Wind” & Miles, clearly on the quatrain side of the fulcrum, characterizes it as “an essay”:


Much offends.

Especially the new beauty;

The honest eye that shines and pierces

Even while it pours its honest love like a vapor of healing.

The bare ritual offends;

And the ritual of brotherhood

Which is the basalt sense of the world

Offends, is made to seem contrary and ugly

By means of another ritual with a flimsy deity

And a fantastic logic.

                         Where the hands have no liking

For stones and where minds are blind

To structure. Wherever the hands cease to take hold,

Where the mind backs away from the plain and the related.

This ritual will hurt

The hands of those

Who have left the wilderness of necessity.

Deep mutuality, the sense of distance,

The sense of depth.


Of the fertility of stones, their tears.

Of the electrical star, its tears.

Of the hilarity of the stone brotherhood, the activity of jasper,

Of the inertia of stones, the fixity of basalt,

Of the vigor of stones in their power to draw,

To test metals, to build shapes, to be in space,

To become fluid in the blood of volcanoes,

Of these I made claim . . .


“No art,” said the European, sidestepping the rattlesnakes,

With ballet steps. “Unreal,” said the European, “No ghosts.

No culture.”


I took a stone of weeping in my right hand.

And a stone of laughter in my left.


So the ritual always began, testing the power to hold.

Holding them behind me I juggled them evenly and said “Choose.

Lodestones and touchstones. Magnets subtle, complex.

The greathearted jewels of the obsidian world.”


And looking downward I saw a finger of wind in the dust,

Spinning the dust in a wheel, erratic,

In a funnel, a nothing of wind.


New-world dust sang a sulky little song.

But the tourist heard no song

And saw only liver-colored dust

About a foot high, suspended, in which to wade.


This stone is the electrical star,

The cleaver of space; can you, will you

Bowl it in nine-pins?

Curve it, will it to glide

In dream repetition?


We learn slowly the ritual of stones

And the tactile sense. The snap of action.

The excellent flash of the body

When it kneels and swings.


In this ritual we dance.

For we clasp our ghost, we whirl with a new music.

He is the man we murdered,

The red man. He goes. He is here.

Our ghost is our culture. And we embrace another.

He is the man we murder.

The black man. He returns and returns,

Teaching ritual. And every kind of man

Draws into this whirl. The wind veers

As if to nullify all.

The center of the earth is basalt.

Here we gaze to commune

On action’s articulate bones,

Observing our guilt; the rituals of food and power

All wrongly played. Of this we know much.

Sharing aleatory wind

A thin ether.

Playing with skulls, colors, gadgets

Inventions and dice.


A dangerous country. With a culture like whisky.


The European wore gloves,

And under the gloves, thimbles

On each finger – clumsy.

He turned the pages of old situations

And muttered his pity in the stony places.


This is not, you may have noticed, great poetry. But it doesn’t need to be to make my point. Taggard, not unlike Pound, is trying to find a grounds for an aesthetic other than “the European, sidestepping the rattlesnakes, / With ballet steps.” Not unlike William Carlos Williams, who found Pound’s promotion of Eliot to be a capitulation to “the European,” Taggard likewise attempts to define something uniquely American (i.e. non-European) in which to ground formal differences.


The poem’s opening suggests that Taggard is going to find this quality – X – in some mystical notion, literally something capable of supporting “the fertility of stones.” It’s almost as if Taggard is anticipating Olson’s sense of landscape – or as he liked to call it, in caps, SPACE – but in fact she turns away from that dimension, at least as transcendant cause, looking instead on the temporal access. Thus, if the European’s complaint is that the new world – and by inference its poetics – lacks history – “No ghosts” is the complaint – Taggard counters precisely with the ghost of genocide, and not of one race, but of two.


Considering that a considerable portion of Taggard’s own work could easily be characterized as “European” in the sense that Miles suggests as “renewing a kind of neat quatrain power,” Aleatory Wind is an intriguing thought experiment. At one level, Taggard gets it that American poetry might prove inherently different from its cousins across the pond. Yet she wants the causes for this to be relatively straightforward – none of this “base vs. superstructure” stuff that was fashionable once upon a time here. What she ends up with is not that far removed from a version of American exceptionalism – the theory that attempted to explain why the US never had a major socialist movement. If the origin of European culture – those “ballet steps” – can be said to be history – “ghosts” – it is not that the US lacks its own apparitions, but rather than in our truncated sense of the past what we have instead are two genocidal movements – the Indian “wars,” and lynching.


And this is where I wish I knew just when Taggard was writing here – the only mention of this poem,  the longest in the book, I can find among the index of her papers at Dartmouth is a collection of typescript fragments, undated. Is she testing open form, pushing it beyond her normal sense of the poem, which frankly is how I read it in the context of her other poems here? Or is this a kind a set-up? Is she arguing that what is distinctly American – our ‘”rattlesnakes” – is a kind of toxin, the literary vestage of our own damage? Hard to imagine that view too close to World War I, or WW2 for that matter.


The poem appears in the “Washington and California” second section of the volume, after the juvenilia of “Hawaii,” so presumably was written either when Taggard was studying at Berkeley, or relatively soon thereafter, thus the work of a woman in her twenties.


Yet if she is arguing for a connection between the violence & poisons of the American experience, this poem is, in the same moment, an argument for this indeed. What “offends,” after all is “new beauty,” “honest love” and “the ritual of brotherhood.” There is an articulateness to the opacity of the landscape, its immanence –


New-world dust sang a sulky little song.

But the tourist heard no song


It’s a conundrum that plays out in our own landscape as well.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004



Gael Turnbull

1928 - 2004



                                                It’s dark


                                       It’s dark

                                       and late

                                       and still

                                       Let me hear

                                       your voice –

                                       once again

                                       once more –

                                       the sound

                                       of your voice

                                       as you speak

                                       my name.

                                       Let me feel

                                       your touch –

                                       and again

                                       as before –


                                       all the cold

                                       in the night

                                       out there

                                       kept away

                                       by the fold

                                       of your arms.

                                       Let me be

                                       as I am

                                       with you

                                       as we are

                                       like this

                                       while we can

                                       still know

                                       while we are

                                       still here

                                       while you are

                                       as you are –

                                       no one else

                                       nothing more –

                                       that is how.

                                       There’s time

                                       even yet

                                       even now.



Monday, July 05, 2004


There is a wonderful evocation of a lost world in a 1980 note by Josephine Miles that serves as a preface to Genevieve Taggard’s To the Natural World:


In a legendary time in the Greek Theater in Berkeley at the end of the first world war, poets gathered around the visitor Witter Bynner with a great sense of inventiveness and praise. Names I have heard from that time were Genevieve Taggard, Hidegarde Flanner, Eda Lou Walton, David Greenhood, Jack Lyman. A decade later, all were scattered, and new figures were slowly appearing from a distance, Colonel Charles Erskine Scott Wood and his wife Sara Bard Field. Marie West. Yvor Winters, Kenneth Rexroth, Lincoln Fitzell. There persisted a contrast between the poets in the Whitman tradition, trying their freedoms, and those who held closely to or were renewing a kind of neat quatrain power, as we could read elsewhere in the country in Millay, Teasdale, Wylie, for example. Bynner lauded both.


“There persisted a contrast” as indeed there did & does.* Miles’ portrait is intriguing, leaving out for example such major figures as George Sterling and Ina Coolbrith. And was Robinson Jeffers that far to the south? No more so than Sterling.


But other than Rexroth – somewhat – and Winters, principally through his student Thom Gunn, there is almost no way I can imagine any connection between the Bay Area poetry scene of my day, starting say with the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965, & this “legendary time” Miss Miles envisons.


Some of this has to do with the nature of publishing, especially problematic at such a remove from the economic centers of an emerging corpratist trade book industry in New York & Boston. Lyman, whose actual name was William Whittingham Lyman, co-edited, with Vernon Rupert King, a volume called Today’s Literature in 1935. But there is precious little mention of him or it on the net & indeed, Miles’ own poem on the same page provides as much detail as you are apt to find.  


“A decade later, all were scattered,” Miles writes, a phenomenon not restricted to the poets of 1919. I suspect that the Bay Area – which has always had a highly mobile population, with a substantial portion of its citizenry having migrated from elsewhere** – has always had a transitory literary community. As noted in this blog before, the so-called San Francisco Renaissance figured as a major section of Donald Allen’s epochal The New American Poetry was, at least by contrast to its sections on the Black Mountain Poets, the New York School & the Beats, largely a fiction of editing. The Beats were, in fact, as much a phenomenon of San Francisco as the Renaissance, even tho most of them seemed to have been born on the far coast & their tenure in the Bay Area seemed all the more ephemeral, collectively identifiable as just a couple of critical years in the mid-1950s. In fact, Allen put Phil Whalen, Michael McClure & Gary Snyder all in his fifth or “unaffiliated” section, alongside LeRoi Jones, Ray Bremser & John Wieners. Yet how is one to think of them today? And why are Whalen & Snyder not in the SF Renaissance section alongside their fellow Reed College alum, Lew Welch (who spend a fair portion of his Renaissance days working in that SF suburb known as Chicago))?


What brings this to mind, curiously, is not just the depiction of a scene – two scenes, really, ten years apart in time – in Miles’ intro to Taggard’s book, but the announcement of a forthcoming conference on Diasporic Avant-Gardes: Experimental Poetics and Cultural Displacement, planned for November at UC Irvine. I know – by which I mean that you don’t have to tell me – that this is not precisely what the organizers, Carrie Noland & Barrett Watten, had in mind by the use of the term diaspora. But at some level, it very much fits.


If one looks back at the generation of poets in the western section of In the American Tree, for example, you can trace the migration patterns of a literary scene. In 1982, when the largest portion of the book was edited, 16 of the 18 poets grouped under West lived in the Bay Area. Had it been done a couple of years earlier, Erica Hunt would have made it 17 of 19. Today, just eight do. Of the ten poets in the East section who were then living in & around New York City, all of the nine still living reside at least within driving distance of the city, albeit Michael Gottleib’s ride in from the northwest corner of Connecticut must be quite a schlep. Indeed, of the twenty poets overall in that section, only two, Diane Ward & Clark Coolidge, have permanently moved to other parts of the country. It’s interesting – maybe even counterintuitive – that New York City proves to be (at least in this one instance) more stable a community over time than the Bay Area.


Economics obviously play a part of the equation – and a significant part – but I’m less sure that that was the case prior to 1950 & yet here are not one but two sequential generations of pre-WW2 poets who proved no more stable than the poets of the 1970s & early ‘80s. And while one can, I think, talk reasonably of the continuities of poetry in the Bay Area since the end of World War 2 – essentially since Rexroth & the New Americans came together – it’s the discontinuities that strike me most today.




* Tho, in the very next lines, Miss Miles – having known her somewhat, I cannot imagine calling her anything else – denies being able to hear it any more in the poetry of a quarter century ago.


** Indeed, I was always considered something of an oddity, having gone to high school just over the line from Berkeley in Albany. Yet, of course, there were other East Bay poets around as well, if one just knew where to scratch below the surface. Stephen Vincent, for example, went to high school in Richmond, Lyn Hejinian & Leslie Scalapino in Berkeley, Michael Davidson & Barrett Watten in Oakland.

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