Saturday, December 31, 2005

Derek Bailey, the great jazz guitarist, passed away on Christmas. This has been one great year for death, robbing us of so many wonderful talents & people.

Robert Creeley, Lorenzo Thomas, Philip Lamantia, Gustaf Sobin all died in ought-five. Also gone this year were Buena Vista Social Club vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, blues man & Tuvan throat-singer Paul Peña, In These Times & Socialist Review founder Jimmy Weinstein & West Wing actor John Spencer, every one of whom enriched my world. My neighbor across the street, Evelyn Hoeflein, had a stroke last February and never regained consciousness. She was 80. On the day of Evelyn’s funeral, I drove down after the service in the rain to Washington, DC, to give a reading with Leslie Scalapino. When Leslie returned to her hotel room that night, her husband was waiting, having flown cross country to tell her in person that her own mother had died. Less than three weeks ago, Audrey Rein Elwood, my eleventh grade English teacher at Albany High, a wonderful influence on me & many others, passed away.

None of which reaches the level of horrific tragedy that was the aftermath of Katrina when the entire world got to see what the cost of deferred maintenance & underfunded, incompetent government was day after day on our TV sets. We had begun the year still counting the hundreds of thousands dead & missing along the eastern half of the Indian ocean – the tsunami’s toll of more than 200,000 lives is literally beyond the human imagination. And the dying continues unabated – and barely acknowledged by our so-called leaders – in Iraq & increasingly again in Afghanistan. There is no way to support the troops & support “our administration” at the same time. Our troops have no greater enemy than George Bush, Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. And I haven’t even mentioned Darfur.

But perhaps the saddest death all year was that of Nadia Anjuman, 25-year-old Afghani poet who passed away after being hit by her husband in her hometown of Herat. Whether she died from the beating, or after having taken poison, as her husband & mother suggest, her death was needless & tragic.

Normally, I might say that we tend to look back at years more somberly because we understand the importance of those who have passed, and tend to downplay or underappreciate those whose work is just now coming to the fore. Sadly, one poet whose work I connected with for the first time this year, Marc Kuykendall, also passed away. He was just 25. I am told that his death remains the subject of an open investigation.

Poetry goes on & even flourishes. It will be interesting to see just which major poets put out their first book this year – it’s too soon to tell. I read works by many younger poets, including Laura Sims, Taylor Brady, Joseph Massey, Geraldine Kim, all of which tell me that the world is getting richer, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. Big collected or selected volumes by Ted Berrigan, Kenneth Koch (both poetry & fiction), and David Meltzer ensure that these writers will be accessible in the coming years. Jackson Mac Low’s performance works are now available in book form. Conferences occur, reading series start up, life itself goes on. This year I realized one of my own ambitions in getting to read with David Shapiro – I’ve wanted to do that for over 35 years.

This weblog had its 250,000th visitor on January 29th and its 500,000th visitor on October 30th – it took two years and four months to reach the first quarter million mark, and nine more months to reach the second. I keep telling myself that this has to peak sometime. It’s been on a pretty even keel since May, so perhaps this is that moment.

The most common question I get of late in my email is why don’t I “cut off the crazies,” or “block the maniacs” from posting day after day to the comments section. But I notice that nobody agrees as to just who the maniacs & crazies are. Several of the people who have asked that question in one form or another have themselves been the subject of somebody else’s version of that inquiry. It has occurred to me to turn off the comments section for a period – a few days, a week perhaps – and if it continues to be abused by two or three people calling each other names, I may do just that. Mostly I think people should regulate themselves. It should be the exception, not the rule, to post twice to the same comments stream on any given day. And if you’re off topic, the comments stream probably isn’t the appropriate place to be posting.

I’m going to give the last word here this year to Robert Creeley. He was, to my mind, easily the finest poet of my parents’ generation & truly the dean of American poets at least from the death of Williams until his own in March. He was also one of the most generous of human beings, and that rarest thing, somebody who wanted truly to learn from younger poets, whether they were my age or just starting out in their early twenties. Bob was active as a poet for over half a century, and that we got to have him, his work, his presence & his example for so very long was a great gift. The following is a text that Creeley wrote for a class given by Larry Fagin in 1987 or ’88 at a junior highschool. Tho he was a guest in the situation, Bob took it upon himself to complete the same assignment given to students:

I know I have been alive for over sixty years.
I know some people love me and some don’t.
I know I am like all other people because I have the same physical
    life — as hens are like hens, dogs like dogs.
I know I don’t know a lot that other people may well know more
    about but I’ve got to trust them to help me – as I need it, and
    vice versa.
I know what I am, a human, is more than what I can simply think
    or feel.
I know I love dogs, water, my family, friends, walking the streets
    when things feel easy.
I know this is the one life I’ll get — and it's enough.