Thursday, December 29, 2005
Yesterday’s note on Brett Evans reminded me that I owe (and am way past deadline) CA Conrad an answer to an email I received earlier this month that read, in part:
Not long ago I interviewed Eileen Myles for PhillySound, and one of the questions I asked her was, "There must be other poets whose work you admire whose work is either out of print or difficult to find. Can you share some names or titles, and what this work means to you?"
This was her answer:
Susie Timmons. Always Susie. Locked from Inside. Yellow Press of
Not only was I excited to learn about Susie Timmons, but others who read this interview were also quite excited, and said so, and I'm taking this question to the next step. It's important, I believe, to ask this question of poets whose work we admire, which is why I'm asking you and a few others the very same question, "There must be other poets whose work you admire whose work is either out of print or difficult to find. Can you share some names or titles, and what this work means to you?"
At the time I told him I agreed with Susie Timmons as one such choice & I had never known that Richard Nassau was a pseudonym – I Like You is a terrific book. I, of course, have used this space before to write about several poets who fit this general description, such as Besmilr Brigham or Seymour Faust or Drum Hadley. I still have a stack of Harold Dull books atop a bookcase near this PC because his disappearance from the Spicer Circle was far more profound than, say, that of Landis Everson from the Berkeley Renaissance. You really can’t get a sense of the Spicer scene without addressing the role of its core straight male member (and, so far as I can tell, one that Spicer never tried to seduce). Dull left the writing scene behind fairly soon after Spicer’s death – Tom Mandel & I persuaded him to read in the Grand Piano series in 1977 or ’78, but even then that was in the nature of a resurrection. In those days he was working as a therapist near the UCSF campus on
I could make the case as well for Curtis Faville, whose Stanzas for An Evening Out, is a definitive book of the 1970s. Curtis, as readers of my comments stream well know, has hardly disappeared, but works now as a rare book dealer. In addition to Wittgenstein’s Door, which you can still buy through SPD, a new volume, Metro, supposedly is about to appear. But Stanzas is the book every poet interested in the evolution of contemporary verse ought to own. SPD has no copies & Abebooks.com shows none among the Faville volumes that can be found through the rare book network.
However, the poet who best fits this description for me – someone whose work I admire whose books are either out of print or difficult to find – unquestionably has to be Jerry Estrin. Estrin started out as a surrealist poet in
His biggest & finest book is Rome, A Mobile Home, jointly published by The Figures, O Books, Potes & Poets & Roof. The book arrived the same week that Jerry passed over & what was to have been a launch party turned instead into a memorial service at the SPD Bookstore that then existed on
Jerry tended to write in series – Cold Heaven is something of an exception in that regard, save for the last long work, ”The Park,” perhaps the first truly major poem Estrin wrote. A shorter version can be found in
During the 1961 season, Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s homerun record. At the conclusion of his final home run, Maris cried: I’ve taken my last swing, I am finished. I will now be visible forever.
Diary: the grass on the field, the stands, heavy with fans, the press corps, high in the sands, and Maris, connecting with the pitch, the ball, soaring over the center-field wall . . .
Maris, striking the ball, gives the home run its form.
People running, the ball, invisible, in the single movement of the swing . . .
Perfection of the swing, white-out of the ball, a surfeit never extinguished, asymmetrical to the distant epiphany of its form.
Crowds intensely draw all stories to themselves, are capable of any form. Violence of the swing, then a roar.
Without inside, Maris, after his final hit, would not speak, or rather, there was the sight of his swing, caught on camera, repeating itself, forever.
Maris’ swing, its constancy.
Night, Maris, under Yankee Stadium light, the crowd.
The crash of the ball, and Maris, caught in that instant, without inside, opening, to the evening.
Goodbye, he says through the night of the stadium air. Ah, I am finished.
During of the game, a player’s ration.
Image of Maris, flap of pinstripes, under shadowless stadium light.
Image before, Maris at the plate, bat about to explode into ball.
The roar, the sound of bat on ball. The swing never post-game
but prior to definition, to description
to our agitation.
Repose, words of prose, existing once and for all, removed from bat and ball.
If you look at that grainy QuickTime movie linked above, you will note how much this piece itself is a construction of memory: the home run went over the right-field wall & there were no people running to greet Maris or fetch the historic horsehide (a conflation perhaps with Bill Mazeroski’s World Series’ winning home run the previous autumn). The perfection of form – what this poem is truly about – is entirely Platonic, regardless of how temporary or complex.
Estrin creates the poem out of equal doses of cubism & Objectivism – the idea of a writing “without inside” is the point at which both join – yet his own position is outside of either. The poem’s last page shows Estrin offering a critical, rather than figurative, frame:
Think of a film, an unmoving Roger Maris, whose doll eyes never flicker. Shot of the street, of rhythmical crowds, of Roger there.
Maris the modernist, sufficient to himself, has become the paradoxical hero of an instant that endures without a future.
That last sentence might have been written by Guy Debord, had the French philosopher-vandal only known baseball.
In a way, Jerry Estrin’s own poetry likewise occupies this paradoxical space, still the writing of a young man, but forever a work that is finished, if never complete. I miss him personally a lot, but I know also that the world of poetry never has fully understood just how much his poetry has to offer.