Sunday, December 31, 2006


It’s going to take 30 years at minimum, and 50 years is more likely, to get any fair sense of which major poets & artists were born in 2006. But we know that we lost a significant number of both. Among the poets whose passing this year I’ve noted on this blog were

Irving Layton
Barbara Guest
Ian Hamilton Finlay
Gilbert Sorrentino
James L. Weil
kari edwards

Of these, edwards is the one I knew best. I’ve written of kari here & here, and I plan to do more sometime soon. I’d met Barbara Guest briefly & superficially a few times in the last years I lived in the Bay Area. And I’d corresponded with Weil in the 1960s, when I was anxious about getting my work around & Elizabeth Press was one of the best small publishing operations going. He was generous to me, but my work lacked the discipline that was the hallmark of what he really liked. That’s probably still true.

Layton I knew primarily as someone Robert Creeley would mention from time to time. Among Canadian poets, he strikes me as someone who was, how shall I put this, prematurely New American, before it became fashionable & common north of the border.

Finlay seemed far away, geographically, historically, aesthetically. My impression is that he wasn’t the most gregarious of men & my only view of the British Isles has been from the windows of jets flying over. You can’t read the signage at Little Sparta from those heights.

Sorrentino is somebody I always thought I would meet & never did. I liked his fiction, loved his poetry & was thoroughly inspired by his critical writing – I’ve noted before that it is one of the models I’ve used in thinking about this weblog. But he was something of a recluse – when he went to teach at Stanford, which he did for over 20 years, I never saw him at a reading up in San Francisco, and I’ve known students of the writing program there who said that he was no more visible on campus. On the other hand, I know people who made the effort to seek him out, so I know that it wasn’t impossible. This was my failing, and now it’s something I can never undo.

Elsewhere in the field of art, some of the people who have passed include video pioneer Nam Jun Paik, sci-fi masters Stanislaw Lem & Octavia Butler (the latter due to a sad household accident, falling & hitting her head in her garden), and Allan Kaprow, who didn’t invent happenings, tho he seems to have been destined to work in that form.

2006 was also the year that Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley lost Cody’s, once a great bookstore & a model for so many others, which may yet prove a larger loss than we can now imagine.


Friday night’s MLA offsite reading can be listened to – or downloaded – here. Some photos of the event are here.


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