Monday, June 02, 2008


From Children’s Tape by Terry Fox, 1974,
a work not on Ubuweb

An Ubu Top Ten (1973 Edition)

Kenny Goldsmith asked me to program a “top ten” list for Ubuweb in June, ten items from its archives that I thought would make a good “playlist” for inquiring minds. The list is up on the Ubuweb site & I thought I’d write a little about why I chose what I did here.

The instant Kenny asked, I knew three works – the first three below – that simply had to be on my list. For personal reasons, they’re my favorite items in the entire Ubu archive. When I realized that all three were from 1973, I decided to look more closely at that year, to test – so to speak – just how good an archive Ubuweb actually is. I decided that I would list those items that spoke to my own work both then & now. What could I find that related to my world from 1973? Ubu’s search feature turned up 149 possibilities, tho there does seem to a certain amount of duplication, multiple ways to getting to certain files. Some of the folks from that larger list that I didn’t include here would be Guy Debord, Vito Acconci & Jacques Lacan. Their absence has more to do with who I am than the Ubu archive itself.

On the other hand, this slice of the Ubuweb pie made me painfully conscious of just how few early language poetry resources can be found here. And how very few women. (Basically I put in every one I could justifiably include, and there are only two, both of them collaborators with others.) The list below includes a Jackson Mac Low gatha for Kathy Acker – then using the public persona of the Black Tarantula – but relatively little by Acker & none from this important period of her work is available on Ubuweb. I also wished that I could have found more performance art from the West Coast from that same time frame. You can find Terry Fox or Tom Marioni, but not from that year & only a few items. Fox was the closest thing to a performance art superstar I ever saw in the context of the Bay Area, & Marioni’s Museum of Conceptual Art (MoCA), the ironic name he gave to his loft above the fabled Jerry & Johnny’s tavern – all now gone & replaced by the Marriott Jukebox a block from the Moscone Convention Center – was an important antecedent to all things conceptual, including Ubuweb itself.

In 1973, Richard Nixon was still president, the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January. The mayor of San Francisco was Joe Alioto, the second in a string of eight consecutive Democratic mayors. George Moscone, who would be third, was still a state senator, a solid liberal but a man known often to be bleary-eyed after lunch. Harvey Milk owned a camera store on Castro Street. Tho he’d only lived in San Francisco for a year, Milk first ran for the Board of Supervisors in ’73. The Oakland A’s, led by Reggie Jackson, who led the American League in homeruns with 32, defeated the New York Mets in the World Series in 1973.

I was living on Sacramento Street near Laurel on what is now shrink row, paying $67.50 for my half of a three-bedroom flat. A few blocks down Sacramento was Rae Armantrout & her husband, &, two doors off Fillmore, Ronald Johnson, who lived in a household he referred to as the Vinyl Vatican. Barrett Watten had just moved back down from Mendocino, where he’d been living after graduating from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. David Melnick may have still been in graduate school in Berkeley, but many of the poets now routinely associated with San Francisco in the 1970s – Steve Benson, Carla Harryman, Bob Perelman, Lyn Hejinian were just arriving or not yet on the scene. The only ongoing reading series in town were at SF State out in the fog mid-day (I was working in San Rafael & could never get to those) or at Intersection in North Beach on Tuesday nights, save for a short-lived series in a bookstore/print shop high over Noe Valley called the Empty Elevator Shaft. Barry & I gave a reading at the Shaft, our first reading together, and The Black Tarantula came up afterword to give me the latest chapter of her work-in-progress, I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac Imagining.

Over the next half dozen years, that world would change entirely. This list is a blast from that past.

  1. Frank Film (1973), Frank and Caroline Mouris. An early & great anticipation of animated vispo that actually received the Academy Award for Best Short Subject. Seeing this in a festival of short subjects showed me just how easily the mind can hold onto multiple trains of thought. Ketjak and the other works that flowed from that would not have come into being without this example.
  2. The Name (1973), Robert Creeley. Creeley read this poem at the First Unitarian Church in San Francisco on August 31 during the very first poetry reading I ever organized, a benefit for the Committee for Prisoner Humanity & Justice (CPHJ). I have no idea who made this tape, nor the one following, but I’m grateful that they did.
  3. Recollections of Grande Apachería (1973), Edward Dorn. Dorn, who insisted on arriving late so that he would not have to talk to either Creeley or his other co-reader, Joanne Kyger, closed the same evening with Apachería. It was the first time I’d seen the book or heard the work. And, tho I wouldn’t actually meet her for another four years & 28 days, one of the 400+ people who attended the reading was Krishna Evans, now my wife.
  4. Reading at Goddard College (1973), Robert Creeley. Creeley gave this reading three days before his 47th birthday. With the death of Charles Olson in 1970, and of Ezra Pound in 1972, Creeley was now unquestionably the dean of post-avant American poets.
  5. Carnival The First Panel: 1967 – 1970 (1973), Steve McCaffery. Even more than bp Nichol, Steve McCaffery is the writer who brought language writing & what was then being called concrete poetry together. Carnival was the first major statement of this intent that I ever saw right back when Steve & I were first getting to know one another.
  6. Black Tarantula Crossword Gathas (excerpt) (1973), Jackson Mac Low. Mac Low’s reputation had taken a great leap forward with the publication of Stanzas for Iris Lezak in 1972. The Black Tarantula was the name then being employed by San Francisco novelist, Kathy Acker. It was Acker who first got me interested in attending performance art events around town.
  7. A Vocabulary for Sharon Belle Matlin (1973), Jackson Mac Low. Other voices include Susan Musgrave, George Macbeth, Sean O'Huigin & bpNichol. One of Mac Low’s more famous works – you can see the text here. Caroline Mouris & Susan Musgrave (presumably the Canadian poet) are the only two women on this list.
  8. Heavy Aspirations (1973), Charles Amirkhanian. In 1973, Charles Amirkhanian’s music program on KPFA radio was a staple of everyone’s morning – and everyone’s music education. I’d actually taken a wonderful class that Amirkhanian team-taught with choreographer Anna Halprin & poet Brother Antoninus at San Francisco State in 1967. I knew Amirkhanian best as a composer, but his polymath ways took him also to sound texts such as this.
  9. Armand Schwerner (1973), Phill Niblock. Schwerner reading in an orange windbreaker on a blustery day (Staten Island?). Schwerner was part of the scene around Jerry Rothenberg & Jackson Mac Low, a connection to the important journal Caterpillar. His Tablets are a fun moment in the use of satirical palimpsests to construct authorship. I think of them, along with Ed Friedman’s Telephone Book, and the early works of Bernadette Mayer as being important antecedents to conceptual poetry. Niblock I knew principally as a composer, part of the larger scene I came into contact with through Kathy Acker, Peter Gordon & Chris Berg (Clay Fear).
  10. High Kukus (1973), James Broughton. Filmmaker & poet Broughton, seen here in both roles, was one of the few presences of the old San Francisco avant-garde that existed immediately after World War 2, before the Berkeley Renaissance took the F Train across the Bay & the Beats came to town, still active by the early 1970s. Broughton taught at the San Francisco Art Institute for years (the same job Bill Berkson has today) and did much to bring those art worlds together. In 1973, Broughton was younger than I am today.

So I think the question of Ubuweb as an archive is mixed. What’s there is actually pretty terrific. What’s missing is large to the point of disturbing. That’s probably to be expected from what amounts to a one-man operation, and it suggests that a major future question for Ubu, as well as for other similar archives, such as the Electronic Poetry Center, Eclipse, PENNsound, or Modern American Poetry, just to name a few, will be how to institutionalize (and thus make systematic, complete – whatever that might mean – and permanent, or at least long lasting) the riches they do hold.

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