Monday, January 30, 2006

I'm never sure how obscure he really is, but I always try to get people to read George Albon. He's a quiet person, and his poems can also be rather without showstoppers, so maybe that explains why you don't here of him much outside the Bay Area. He's got a rare range, where one book, like Thousands Count Out Loud, will have a closely-knit prosody and sound play, and in the next, like Brief Capital of Disturbances, there's still great attention to detail but suddenly it's a poetry of ideas. I always say of George's work that it's the kind of poetry one should read on a weekend in the morning because it has an Objectivist-type sturdiness and assurance and light but is also very leisurely. Beverly Dahlen is another Bay Area writer who doesn't hustle herself or her work, so as a result she's quietly, very quietly, built up one of the more impressive bodies of work with her "A Reading" series, kind of a Rachel Blau DuPlessis of the west coast in terms of working in a single series. Flexible and just very integral work, wonderfully able to work in a political point without a trace of dogmatism. Also right now I'm telling people they must read David Larsen's The Thorn, it's about as exciting a change from the norm as anything I've run across in many a year, just unpredictable and purposely slack but actually brilliant just under that surface.

I don't think I'm old enough to answer this question yet. Certainly not to answer it like Eileen did, lasering down through the parallax to illuminate the peers in her dust. I am anticipating that most of my generation has yet to suffer through enough loss to have learned how to answer such a question with any relevance, much less grace.

So: if a book is available through SPD, can it still be called "difficult to find"? I think not. In fact, if it has an ISBN #, I would disqualify it. You have to do a little of the legwork yourself in this life.

There is one bonafide book of genuis American poetry published during my lifetime that qualifies for the sobriquet "difficult to find": Robert Head, Refuges of Value. I would nominate him for greatest self-published poet since Blake, although he would probably not win, since he would not campaign. Robert's poetry is one of the few germane responses I have ever seen to the conundrum of just how is all this modernism crap supposed to help me live my life, anyway?

Every other book of poetry I can think of, basically I bought it in a store, so it couldn't have been very hard to find, right?

Here's the thing about the question about the out-of-print, the forgotten. I have an odd, unsatisfactory answer, and I have been puzzling about how to say it. As an academic (i.e. I teach/learn at the university), I have devoted just about my whole book-writing career to this issue, but none of the people to whom I've given quality time is unknown right now, hopefully in part because of my efforts and the efforts of others interested in these writers. So I feel at the end of a process with this question, while you were probably looking for answers naming the beginning of another process. The people I am referring to are H.D., George Oppen, and to some degree Lorine Niedecker, plus Mina Loy. This "forgottenness" was compounded at that point because two were women writers, and not incidentally because one was a leftist with an odd career arc (leaving off writing for almost 25 years, I mean). Also, from the perspective of critical point of view: often the work I was doing involved gender readings of their poems and poetic careers—(tho not to date with Oppen). It was NOT going to win a popularity contest to do feminist-inspired work when I started to do it in about 1970. I know you know this, but it's hard to credit that people actually had their careers on the line, especially when now some of those careers are well-established. When I began work on H.D., only one or two people were working on her AND taking her seriously, not blowing it all off. I wrote a succinct, user-friendly book on her called H.D.: The Career of that Struggle (Indiana 1986). When I began doing the Selected Letters of Oppen, it was before he died, and I did it because it struck me how many great letters I'd received from him, all about poetics, and I thought (naively!) gosh—if there are a few more great letters out there, I'll make a little collection for friends. Once I realized (by collecting letters by George to others) that he had done some of the most compelling thinking about poetics that I had ever seen in the contemporary period, I knew I had to do that one right—which meant a full dress edition. It was published in 1990 by Duke UP, and it remains a work that is crucial to read if you want to contextualize the poems and study more about the objectivists. As for Lorine Niedecker, Jenny Penberthy did ground-breaking work with her edition of the poems (from California), but I emphatically have written on Niedecker in strong ways. In fact, not only is one of my Niedecker pieces going to be in Blue Studios (see flyer), but another article about her late work and thinking in poetics just came out in the scholarly journal Contemporary Literature. As for Mina Loy, again the incredible scholarship was done by Carolyn Burke and Roger Conover, but I got some writing done on her early in her "recovery" that has stood up (that's mainly in my book on modern poetry—like chapter title "'Seismic Orgasm'"). That, and Writing Beyond the Ending—which talked about women writers in a new way (pub. 1985) AND the recent (2001) Genders, Races, and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry whose whole point was putting people who are now well known (Eliot) near people who are not (Alfred Kreymbourg), and putting sometimes "ghettoized" writers (Countee Cullen) near writers now better known, only after some effort (like Mina Loy). But all of those people are in print, NOT unforgotten any longer, of serious and lively interest. However, you are emphatically right to be alert. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty to read those who have made serious contributions to what we are. I can think of several poets whose work has meant a good deal to me that I want to see in print or remain in print. Here's a list: Gustaf Sobin, a person writing a very austere, hermetic poetry who died just this past year (2004). Lorenzo Thomas (alas, another person who died in 2004), and Gil Ott (died 2003—this is a very mournful list). I will alter the tenor of mournfulness by listing a few really terrific "younger" poets (meaning—younger than me!!!!) who should be read: Daniel Bouchard, Chris Tysh, Rob Fitterman, Rodrigo Toscano, Jennifer Moxley, Renee Gladman, Evelyn Reilly, Laura Elrick. It's been fun talking. And I could extend those lists forever.

I was just discussing the subject with Brenda Coultas--what to do when people's work goes out of print (we even contemplated starting a press called Out of Print).

Anyway, I think first of Bernadette Mayer. It's incredible to me that her major works like Studying Hunger, Utopia, and Memory are out of print--with rare copies only available for sale at BIG prices. I really wish some small presses would reprint these older works alongside all the new works they are publishing. Moreover, apparently Bernadette Mayer has a 400-page manuscript called "the Studying Hunger Journals" which is supposed to be incredible. This should see paper and glossy cover and ISBN number!!! Step up to the plate folks!

On a calmer note, one totally out-of-print book I turn to often is a collection of Chinese poetry called Wen Xuan. I found it for 25 cents at a yard sale and when I finally cracked it open several months later, I was blown away by the scale of this epic poem, "compiled" by Xiao Tong around 501-531 A.D and translated by David R. Knechtges. I have Volume I: Rhapsodies on Metropolises and Capitals. I've only seen Volume III intermittedly on sale for at least $120. According to the front jacket copy, my volume is the first of eight planned volumes. And nobody seems to know about this masterpiece epic! I feel sometimes like it was printed and left on that stoop especially for me. Anyway, the title of my book Western Capital Rhapsodies came from this book, so that's how much it's meant to me.

I won't even get into all of the poetry of other countries that needs to be translated and published--or retranslated and reprinted--in the U.S...

One of the most frustrating things in the world is to find a poet, read his/her work, fall madly in love that work, become wildly enamoured with their language, and then go to tell someone about this monster genuis whispering in your ear, and recieve a glassy-eyed stare in the wake of your enthusiasm. Writers stay under the radar nicely these days, considering one in a hundred (thousand, million?) good writers get any press, but I have a short list of phenoms whose work deserves consideration. Davis McCombs wrote through the Yale Younger Series. Ultima Thule is the name of the book, and it's about his experiences in the cave country of south central Kentucky. Where the fuck did this kid go after he wrote this? Can I get a lapdance? Can I get some more, please? PLEASE??? So, McCombs is one of those poets where you're breathlessly awaiting the sequel...that hot one-nighter...Damn. Dana Gioia, specifically "Interrogations at Noon". A better known poet than McCombs, but still, this man does not write enough. I hear he's one of those self flagellating types that edits the shit out of things for years before they see the light of day. I say: More!!! MORE!!! He's one of Eliza. Bishop's finest little creations. But still completely under-read. His work is soooo subtle, and impactful without bombast, singular without shock. I would totally make out with this man. The last poet on my short list is Joseph Massey. Massey is an emerging treasure. There's plenty of natural tonality in his work, and he's a careful craftsman- Massey relies on the natural beauty of language and the world around him to guide his a hot chick with no makeup in sweats. A rare commodity these days.

The only one who comes to mind is Christopher Knowles, whose one book, Typings (1974-77) ...I think is still in print at SPD... Christopher worked with Robert Wilson on numerous performances, including Einstein on the Beach, music by Phillp Glass.... being severely dyslexic, language always seemed slippery at best, and hearing and reading Christopher Knowles who is autistic seems to offer a wonderful sense of freedom. The work is so out of the signify progress... and yet there is a rythum I can always settle in..

I would want to write that most poets under the age of 40 or publishing outside of the university press seem obscure, but this kind of answer isn't much fun. And the cycles of hot and cold, in and out make poets appear and fall out of reading and talking circles--I'll bet no one spoke of Ted Berrigan as much as now ten years ago. So no one is ever lost. But this is, again, a no-fun-answer.

I read Ashbery's Other Traditions some years back, and I have seen lately a greater interest in Raymond Roussel and Laura Riding Jackson, two of six authors who are subjects of this wonderful book. John Clare and Thomas Lovell Beddoes have had their work reprinted recently. But David Schubert and John Wheelwright have not had as much attention. Schubert was last collected in a paperback volume Works and Days, published by the Quarterly Review of Literature in 1983. Wheelwright's Collected Poems in 1971, decades after his O'Hara-like death, and Wheelwright is a real stunner. But I'm guessing that Ashbery's attention to these latter authors will gain them the fame they deserve, eventually.

I have a puerile fondness for Brewster Ghiselin, whom I found by Richard Hugo's Triggering Town. I don't know much about Ghiselin but that he seemed to keep up correspondance with Allen Tate and that he's really great with line-breaks. The poet Kevin Goodan found a copy of Ghiselin's Against the Circle in Troubadour Books when Kevin and I were living near Whately, Mass. And Lauren Ireland and I found the E.P. Dutton first-edition of The Nets in a shop in upper-state New York, shelfed near a beautiful copy of Berrigan's Many Happy Returns. The Ghiselin was far cheaper. Here is his "A House," which is dedicated to Allen Tate:

The rootless blossoms brought, from the horseneck curve
And foamy bulge of the greengage bough, from white
Dayshine, to the blackhouse of man
Are such estate of spring as may flourish here,
Standing like fallen things, like foam wasting
On a pool, or a bride's dreadful gown
That will never be used.

            But suddenly while I read
In the breathless room they curvet, in a fresh gust
Leap at my eye lifting from Tate's black page,
And stand like things risen, white out of light.

JOHN MCNALLY had a book called the "Undiscovered Country" that made a big impression on me when I was close to being a poet. He was friend's with Buck Downs -- they were grad students, while Greg Fuchs and me were undergrads. The post, I believe, was postcard size or nigh so, and was basically prose poems that functioned as photographs of dreams. Like many of my favorite books, it wasn't an endpoint but a catalyst, sans the catalytic converter. As far as I know, like Rimbaud, but with all limbs, he's since quitted the field (of poetry).


Blogger Jim Maughn said...

Naomi Replansky's book Ring Song was nominated for the National Book Award the year Marianne Moore's Collected won. Shortly afterwards, she was outed as a communist sympathizer and her book was pulled. It's quite hard to find now. She's only put out one book since, in the 1980s, I think, called Dangerous World. It collects some of Ring Song, and also contains new poems. The press went belly up not long afterwards, and now nothing is available in print except some poems in Poets of the Non-Existent City, an anthology of LA poets edited by Estelle Gershgoren Novak. That anthology, by the way, contains a number of poets who'd qualify for this site.
Replansky was admired by a number of poets, from Tom McGrath to George Oppen, who considered her superior to Levertov. (His phrase.) She was also a close friend of Richard Wright. She is still alive and living in New York City. Definitely worth tracking down her work.

Jim Maughn

11:03 AM  
Blogger bd said...

To answer Mr. Maughn's comment, Naomi Replansky has a blog with some poems posted, at, and there is a Wikipedia entry about her.
Her poems appear in many anthologies and journals.

Barbara Davis

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