Sunday, January 29, 2006

you KNOW this is one of my favorite topics, because we've talked about it before. so i'm going to sit down and write this now or else it won't get done. at first i think even tho this is one of my favorite topics that i have nothing to say beyond what seems obvious to me and i know to you too -- rosalie moore for example, the she published her great book the grasshopper's man and other poems, picked by w.h. auden for the yale younger poets award of 1949, her next book not coming out until nearly 30 years by which she'd become rosalie moore brown. she and the activist poets of the 1940s-1950s bay area are almost unknown today, having lost the publicity wars to the beats and whatnot whom they all considered to be charlatans and mere pretenders to the true throne of euro-american modernism which they thought was theirs. i read a few lines from rosalie moore, along with fellow activists robert horan and jeanne mcgahey i think, in michael davidson's book on the SFC renaissance, and he dismisses all of it pretty summarily, and i immediately thought no way!, this stuff is aMAZing, esp. rosalie moore. (click HERE for PDF of rosalie moore) i dunno, should i quote some? god it's all so good. Here...

          The weather blew through its year
          Its months of moon mothing,
          Its spools unwinding.

          O flake and feather of moon--O air:
          The throat having its own
          Moon in the muscle--
                  full is the bell-shook hollow.

          But the watery month leads nowhere, or the strings
          Beneath this spring--
                  the peeled bird out of air
          Shines over shallows.

          Looking, everywhere looking, out of our stones of eyes--
          Hoping to see, to find,
          In the stone-swung moonlight
          Or wasp waters.

          ("Weather and Month")

this example is maybe a bit too much on the precious side -- she can get quite wacky too (see "imprecation for an aesthetics society with newts, warts, waxes and pins.") i was showing some of this stuff to rod smith awhile back and he thought my god, i wonder if ashbery and o'hara and koch knew this stuff. then it turns out cole swenson knew her, actually typeset a festschrift that came out in moore's honor (learned and leaved, marin poetry center, san rafael calif) in the early 1986. the only scholarly work of any kind that's been done on her work is by cynthia kimball, who did a phd at the suny-buffalo poetics program. a whole big chunk of kimball's dissertation is on moore -- she interviewed moore, covered her life and body of works (late poems on the children's crusades and gutenberg not nearly as interesting to me as the grasshopper's man).

the other person i think i've talked about with you is daphne marlatt, canadian poet who while still in her late teens i think was hanging out with the vancouver poets in the early 1960, say roughly the same age as lyn hejinian but started publishing earlier. when she's known at all in the states she's known either for her prose (ana historic) and or for her identity politics (lesbian). i don't know all her work that well but i love the early stuff in her talonbooks selected, especially leaf leaf/s which was a short black sparrow book from 1968.

          sun finds you two

          shells on our bed
          in a deep
          white you're tide

          only the
          hull of your push.

          ("for k, d")

there's a lush lyric density to this stuff that evokes for me the best niedecker or zukofsky. there's also the six-part prose poem rings which is one of the most incredible accounts of motherhood i've ever read. but leaf leaf/s was dedicated to d alexander who apparently also practiced a short cut-line lyric at the time too so i tracked some of that stuff down. ron silliman's written about d alexander a few times on his blog. i interlibrary loaned a bunch of his stuff and xeroxed it, it's good, shows a bit of creeley and duncan, but now i can't find it otherwise i'd quote you some.

there's a lot of canadian poets i wish more folks in the states knew and which i only got turned onto when i lived in london ontario. bill bissett for example, incomparable really but kinda like a proto flower child crossed with a sound/concrete poet. maybe his friend d.a. levy is the closest yankee counterpart. christopher dewdenyso completely sui generis, those 1970s and 1980s paleozoic geology of london ontario books that read as if someone found, i dunno, some kind of post-industrial nature guide or encyclopedia or something and ran it through a medieval comic book or something. and bp nichol of course, and steve mccaffery who has the wonderful coach house 2 vol retrospective, and karen mac cormack, and still more: lesser-known kootenay-associated people, like deanna ferguson, someone told me she stopped writing i think but i can't remember why, too bad tho cuz her tsunami books are great. and lissa wolsak, another great vancouver poet (and metalsmith apparently!), she has a terrific roof book (pen chants or nth or 12 spirit-like impermances) but her earlier tsunami book, the garcia family co-mercy, is equally fantastic:

          . .       distill light         as we do

            silence as unsound

                            mho   membra

          so-so flivver




                 thrips      alter by it

                   one can advance

          across a shallow

          compete    with their own deer

chosen almost at random but i love how it has an almost futurist or zaum-like interest in the trans-sensical combined with a lyricism like susan howe's but more sensuous or something. and close precedent perhaps for this recent ashata (sp?) press book by sandra miller called oriflamme which is one of the best things i've seen recently.

i wish more people knew -- here my dc poetry pride shows through -- the work of diane ward and phyllis rosenzweig, their rare titles from back to the 1970s i've been lucky enough to find and pick up or be given, but especially lynne dreyer whose books from the 1970s are collected in her roof book the white museum, these continually blow me away. (and she's writing new work too!) lynne's poem "introduction" from her first book (lamplights used to feed the deer, 1974) i think belongs with the very best of bernadette mayer and alice notley. it's too long to excerpt so here's a short paragraph from "stampede" (1976):

            Where she wrote from, where she stepped with stones,
         rivers where she severed their eyes, pressures of lobotomies
         of a poem without. I laugh ash to the wind. Mannequins dress
         themselves under the spell of some sordid fuel. They show her
         with two faces. I drop my voice in the dirt. Step on it
         viciously and let it grow. They notice seasons as if they
         were always changing, in one room they change clothes without
         the use of biographies. They were a group.

The repetitions, the way the sentence lengths are paced, the contrasting imageries, the movement of attentions from personal to impersonal, natural to artificial, tranquil to violent, individual to communal -- sustained paragraph after paragraph! amazing.

god it's really hard to know where to stop in this process, so much good work out there, and i feel like with the exception of the quick mention of sandra miller i'm not even getting into my contemporaries, the thirty and fortysomethings. maybe i should go back to eileen myles' original comment which started off this whole thread for you. ceravolo, absolutely. i LOVE spring in this world of poor mutts. he's badly in need of a collected poems, but who would even buy it or care? (supposedly, i think peter gizzi was telling me that peter says there's a whole bunch of unpublished catholic devotional poems that ceravolo did late in life -- can you imagine?) you know i appreciate ashbery and o'hara, and i think the koch and guest and elmslie are far too underrated, but ceravolo's work is unparalleled! and i wish all the thirtysomething and fortysomething nth-generation new york school poets would give up their veneration of frank and ted and take up ceravolo with slavish devotion! i think i put this to rod smith once and he shot back, you can't imitate ceravolo! probably true

         O height dispersed and head
         in sometimes joining
         these sleeps. O primitive touch
         between fingers and dawn
         on the back

         You are no more
         simple than a cedar tree
         whose children change
         the interesting earth
         and promise to shake her
         before the wind blows
                     away from you
         in the velocity of rest

almost moronic in its simplicity ("sleeps" as a noun?) and yet with these stunning metaphors, that a cedar tree has children, that rest has velocity.

and in addition to neglecting my immediate contemporaries i've not even started with french poetry in translation, which i need since my french is not good enough to read in the original and which we're terribly impoverished from lack of, i mean not even french contemporaries but of earlier generations who have recently died who have dozens of titles to their names and maybe two of which have been translated, it's shameful really. . . .

but one more little secret, i owe nick piombino for turning me on to:
frank kuenstler!

The first person who comes to my mind is David Wojnarowicz. His book, Close To The Knives, changed my writing early on and made me realize how important political writing is to queer readers especially his notion of the ONE TRIBE NATION and how queerness is not necessarily confined to sexual identity. Queerness is within, internalized from a very young age, and it is when one is outside the realm of the illusory one tribe nation, (A perception of the self that is perpetuated by popular culture, visual messages in public space, government and the media), that one begins to seek out others who don't fit the robotic answer key programed by the U.S.

I don't think David Wojnarowicz's books are difficult to get, he's still available on; he's not obscure either, but the reason he comes to mind is because I'm always shocked how many queer writers have never heard of him. It tends to be the more conservative gays who have gained main stream acceptance who disregard Wojnarowicz due to his rants against specific religious zealots and sociopolitical ramblings, but his art and writings remain highly relevant to our current situation and there is no comparable queer writer living today.

Two poets I recently found out about are Norman Macleod and Katherine Hoskins--from the 50s. Hoskins seems a bit trapped in rhyme, but real emotional sophistication--not the easiest thing to find in poetry. Macleod has the word-to-word intensity of Crane, Moore or Zukofsky but he seems streetwise--well, Crane was too, but Macleod is sans uplift--pissed.

It strikes me that all sorts of (familiar) poetry is 'difficult to find'. John Wieners, say. He's often really really good, for no reason that the standard poetics maps can display.

The English poet Ralph Hawkins, whose interview with Ted Berrigan is in the volume Talking In Tranquility, and who shares Susie's "Ted" connection, might qualify, perhaps, for your 'Susie Timmons Award". His own work, laconic and dry, but also cleverly adept and both wise and funny has appeared in, by now, oh, I don't know, almost a dozen books (try and find them! - even in England!) including, most suprisingly, two (or was it three?) collaborations with the late great concrete (visual) poet, Bob Cobbing. Ralph is somewhat isolato, living not in the literary metropolis, and having minimum to do with any literary scene, prefering a pint of ale in his local pub in Brightlingsea, and a good murder mystery. I have most of his books on my shelves. I've long-time thought somebody should do a Selected Poems. For purposes of full disclosure, and for the historical record, he, I, Douglas Oliver, and Charlie Ingham (whatever happened to him?) edited the legendary (ha!) Human Handkerchief in the early '70's at the University of Essex, mimeo masterpieces, (six of them?), under the not insignificant influence of the afore-mentioned Ted Berrigan.

For decades my first thought would have been piero heliczer, but thanks to Steve Clay's Granary, a collection of his is in print again. A poet I always liked and find it difficult to understand why he's not in print (given what is), is Darrell Gray. His "Scattered Brains" (Toothpaste Press... later Coffee House Press) and "Something Swims Out" (George Mattingley's "Blue Wind Press")... both in the 1970s, are worth the effort. There are two UK poets almost completely vanished who stick in my mind: Oliver Gogarty's Snap Box which Trigram Press did in the 1960s; and Philip Jenkins' On the Beach with Eugene Boudin (Transgravity, London 1978). To digress a little (but I always thought their work as much poetry as prose) two books of short prose clips I always remember are Neighbors by Stephen Emerson (Tombuctou, 1982) and Dale Herd's Diamonds (Mudra, 1976).

It occurs to me that probably all of Aram Saroyan's poems might be out of print..... thinking of those late sixties/early seventies works.... they were certainly important to me at the time..... which reminds me of the Telegraph series of small black and white books that Andrew Wylie and Victor Bokris did back in the early 1970s... including some of Aram's work.... and a book of graphics I always remember by Bridget Polk called Scars..

Two poets come to mind: Doug Lang in Washington DC. Has one chapbook out--Magic Fire Chevrolet. I think something is in the works with Edge Books, but it doesn't seem to come. Phyllis Rosenzweig is the other--a large body of witty, moving, erudite humorous work, largely unpublished.

Two poets with whom I read when in Chapel Hill, NC, in the 1970s, Paul Jones and Ralph Earle. Jeffrey Beam, also from that era, is published and has CDs and etc. out, but I have lost track of PJ and RE.

Roger Sauls and Richard Williams, two slightly older (than I was at the time) poets in Chapel Hill who were guiding lights; Roger was very minimalist, lapidary (Light Poems by Roger Sauls, The Loom Press 1974 was out of print but I found a copy that had fallen behind a bookshelf in a store in 75, I forget the more recent book's title, pub. by The Bench Press), while Richard was whoa way crazy in some ways (Savarin by Williams, Ardis 1977 is the last published work I know of his -- hilarious and very very scary in places), what has happened to them?

Jenny Bitner, whom I met at the Warm Springs Lodge in Perry County, north of Harrisburg in the 90s, her book Mother, Pine Press 1995 is wonderful. Also the last I've read of hers.

Here's what I can think of at the moment: boy I would love to read and spend all my time with a collected John Wieners, or at least a copy of Behind the State Capitol. The years of reading it takes to get to unreading. One contemporary poet who I really dig is George Albon, he has a fantastic recent book Brief Capital of Disturbances (Omnidawn). Benjamin Hollander introduced me to his work - Ben's work has always been an incredible gateway for me, see his book Rituals of Truce and the Other Israeli for an interrogatory without another interrogation of the Mideast. Recently met with Ben and Steve Dickison, and Steve showed me a book by Ed Dorn, The Shoshoneans, long out of print, a book with a lot of heart put into it, but will probably never witness another edition. Though I realize oblivion is something that is selected for in nature.

I'm lucky though since I have access to so many libraries, most of which will make copies of poems that I have trouble tracking down. Recently I've been looking for copies of William Carlos William's Contact, a journal he helped edit for a few years in the early 1920s with a bunch of manifestoes he wrote that I can't find reprinted. There is no current edition of Nelly Sachs in print (Green Integer is supposed to have something soon) - the last thing of hers was done in the 60s. Here are some other things I've been tracking down lately outside of poetry: anything by the philosopher Gilbert Simondon, Karl Marx's Ethnological Notebooks (a large pile of notes on anthropology that he took in the years before he died - a copy of these was printed in the 70s in Holland but I've not seen it for sale anywhere), and anything by Frankfurt School contributor Franz Neumann.

Celena Glen. She blasted off the stage at me during the inaugural Howl Festival. She is able to tear open a place in my inside that breaks ear and heart alive. I have an original of a poem she wrote and a chapbook of hers. Bethany Spiers. Her band the Feverfew and album Apparitions. Bethany is lyrically foreboding and musically pulsating as if drawing or spinning threads which turn into cords which make me gasp. Reaching in, gripping. I cry automatically/ before/ in anticipation of the moment in her song(s) that makes me cry.

Most of the poets whose work was difficult to find or lesser known 15 years ago (when I first started this life's study in a more serious way) have now been put back into print. Works by Lorine Niedecker and Mina Loy were, inconceivably, hard to get a hold of. Then there were the books that you could find in any used bookstore which suddenly went missing or became prohibitively expensive (Ronald Johnson's Radi Os or The Collected Books of Jack Spicer), but now have been or will be soon put back into print (Radi Os by Flood Editions).

An under-read poet whose work is available but few seem to talk about (is this because the poetry scene I'm involved in is so white? probably) is Henry Dumas who was "mistakenly" shot and killed by a NYC Transit cop in 1968, at the age of 33. His work is full of energy, intelligence, politics, surprise. Like Ceravolo (another somewhat under-discussed poet in younger generations), Dumas moves from whimsy to shattering pathos (as conveyed through sound, juxtaposition, etc) in a breath. There is a selected poems, Knees of a Natural Man, and Coffee House put out his collected short fiction a couple of years ago (Echo Tree).

My partner, Laird Hunt, put out a few chapbooks under his imprint, Heart Hammer, and I love them all, all by friends: Tim Atkins' Folklore 1-25, Garrett Kalleberg's Limbic Odes (now in his Psychological Corporations, another under-read book), and Dan Machlin's This Side Facing You.

And then there are my students, whose work is just coming into print or isn't yet in print — all fabulous.

(a note from CAConrad: Ron Silliman answered the question directly onto his blog (see his post from 12/29/05), which was great because it very quickly spread the word about the project, and got the interest, the conversation and the sharing underway. Here is his answer:)

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 Parnassus Heights in San Francisco. Relatively soon thereafter, tho, Dull began to develop Watsu, literally water shiatsu, which I believe he still does himself these days at the Harbin Hotsprings Resort north of the City.

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 & 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 San Francisco some time in the 1970s & saw his work evolve considerably right up until his death from cancer in 1993. He was a student of mine briefly at San Francisco State & when I say of that graduate seminar, that there was always at least one student there ready & willing to discuss just why this or that language poet was a fraud, deficient or just not interesting, the subtext is that Jerry filled that dissident role a disproportionate number of times. Yet these poets were his friends as well – when he drove cab around the City, he would stop & give them rides if he saw them, never ever charging for the service (I once literally threw money into the front seat & jumped out before he could give it back) – and he would have been amused to see the words "language poet" used in his own obituary.

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 San Pablo Avenue. You can still get Rome from SPD as well as Cold Heaven, a slightly earlier book from Manuel Brito's Zasterle Press in the Canary Islands. An earlier book, A Book of Gestures, published by Jerry's own Somber Reptiles press in 1980, is worth tracking down as well, capturing as it does his surrealist years (the cover image shows Gertrude Stein conversing with André Breton). Abebooks shows just two copies of that volume to be had, as well as another chapbook I've not seen and an issue or two of Jerry's magazine, Vanishing Cab.

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 Rome. My own favorite Estrin poem, "Brace," is likewise to be found in Rome & focuses on the meaning of Roger Maris – I don't know if Jerry knew he had cancer when he began this or not, tho his version was not the lymphoma that took Maris in 1985 at the age of 51. The connotations around Maris' name have changed considerably since Estrin himself died in '93, as the two-time American League most-valuable-player enjoyed something of a renaissance of attention when Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa first surpassed Maris' record in 1998. Here are the first two pages of "Brace," the ellipses in the original, which focuses on the moment of the homerun itself:

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.

(NOTE: for QuickTime movie click here and scroll to bottom of page)

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.


Anonymous John Wilkinson said...

I'd like to add the unschooled English poet Mark Hyatt (1940-1972). His three posthumous chapbooks were How Odd (Blacksuede Boot Press/ Ferry Press 1973), Eleven Poems (Ted Kavanagh 1974) and A Different Mercy (infernal methods 1976). Peter Riley holds the extensive typescripts and manuscripts. A Different Mercy contains the following poem:

Puberty of Puck

It's slow writing
on re-admission of the abyss
so if this body is sleepy-tired
please walk round.

Suddenly there's nothing
in the laws of the alphabet
that breaks open revealing
what buoyancy am I.

Surely the corpse of childhood
can't multiply any greater?
Only the sad hole of this new void
revisiting old headaches;

I realise the image of myself
coils round soft the life,
nolonger am I wise or otherwise
but alone;

exhausted by the birth of aching,
thoughts reach me
with pangs of emptiness,
once my mind wouldn't look at,

split in thrills of urgency
growing beneath my hait,
there's somebody inside me
that wants to fight any wild space.

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