René Taupin’s André Salmon

André Salmon was important to the “Objectivists” because he, “like his friend Guillaume Apollinaire,” was among “the generation which devolved from Symbolism.” The methods which they “devolved” were similar to that of the “Objectivists.”

Symbolism discarded, André Salmon now wrote poetry which was neither dreamy nor sentimental, but a matter of neat and simple notation. He did not even employ the artifice of the current metaphor, and yet he did secure the validity of its detail and ornament. “Nominalistic poetry.”

Among the arguments that [Louis] Zukofsky gave [Ezra] Pound for including this translation of René Taupin’s review of André Salmon [in the “Objectivists” Issue of Poetry Magazine, 1931] was the assertion that it would reinforce what he considered to be his own position—nominalism. Although the “Objectivists” were not nominalists in the extreme sense of denying the existence of universals or of believing that all relations of word to thing are arbitrary, they were nominalists in the sense of distrusting vague phrases, general and abstract words, and discursive analyses and commentaries. Like Salmon, they wanted a poetry which presents the thing rather than qualifies or talks about it. Taupin wrote: “The metaphor of Baudelaire, or even the metaphor of Mallarmé, was primarily qualitative; it expressed what consistently poor adjectives could not express.” However, Taupin, on the one hand, felt that metaphor and image were essentially artifice. He asked: “Would the image no longer do?” and answered: “The real would.” He asked: “And language?” and answered: “Not metaphors, but the most immediate projections of the real which does not stop being real, even taking on, under this handling, plastic, decorative and emotive value.” The “Objectivists” believed, on the other hand, in the Emerson-Fenollosa-Pound tradition, that certain metaphors and images were of the essence of the real. At the roots of all language are metaphors which substantiate original perceptions which can be revitalized in poetry as thought, melody, and image. Nevertheless, the metaphor of the “Objectivists” was not the metaphor of Baudelaire and Mallarmé. It was interpretive rather than qualitative. Qualitative metaphor modifies but does not create perception of the fact. It is a subjective comment about a thing, “hallucination,” not perception.

Like Salmon, the “Objectivists” wanted a poetry the validity of which was secured by revelation of the real. Taupin wrote: “Nominalistic poetry is the synthesis of real detail, similar to the art of the primitives; and not of abstract or decomposed detail, like the impressionists.” The difference between real and abstract or decomposed detail, like the difference between objective and subjective Images as Pound defined them  is whether the detail emerges from the mind of the poet like or unlike his original generative experience. Details become abstract or decomposed as their accessibility to experience becomes attenuated by preconceived requirements and subjective distortions and associations.

Taupin argued for “the most direct contact,” approaching the purity of mathematical formula, the expressiveness of “scientific statement,” or newspaper reportage. “The newspaper,” he claimed, “is not so insipid as one might think when the news runs together and bears a definite imprint; it is only when the news inclines to be ‘literary’ that it loses its force of perfect notation. . . . The event therefore should be left to its integrality, to its maximum of the wonderful . . . The fact as it forms, that is not as it is cooked by the imperfect or predatory or sentimental poet.”

Regard for the event was characteristic of both Salmon and the “Objectivist.” Taupin wrote that “epic poetry is neither recitative nor narrative”; it is neither moralistic nor depends “on decorative qualities for its framework.” Epic poetry depends on “the poetic value of the event.” The epic poet does not feel the need for “making his heroes greater than their action.”

But this poetry is based on choice, on the imagination which apparently does not create but discovers, and gives the accomplished fact its maximum of the real: the esthetic of the reporter and the cinematographer—Eisenstein looking for the perfect Russian peasant woman and finding her after examining a thousand imperfect ones.

Salmon, like the “Objectivists,” consciously chose the details that best represent the wholes of which they are parts, the particulars which best evoke the experiences which involve them. The particulars of sincerity, therefore, can not be invented out of nothing. “The image,” Oppen wrote, “is encountered.”

The Nominalist poet allows details, by themselves, without analytic underpinning, to evoke the event. “The composition of the poem,” wrote Taupin, “is neither descriptive nor narrative”; its contents are not classified or schematized. Speaking of Salmon’s Prikaz, in which Salmon discovered “the value of the Russian revolution,” Taupin wrote:

It is obvious that the objects in this poem do not hold together in an association of ideas, but in their proper force of attraction.’ There is an art more than composition—even the composition of the impressionists; there is the attraction of the magnet, and the electric shock, the reality runs into reality by these brusgue transformations of shock: the esthetic of Eisenstein.

If drawing a constellation, a nominalist would present the stars as dots by themselves in their proper arrangement, leaving out the lines we imagine between them and the mythological figures we associate with them, knowing the reader would imagine the lines and figures for himself. This compositional method is the same as Pound’s ideogramic method—the presentation of synecdochic details or examples whose juxtaposition participates in certain lines of force—the magnet’s rose pattern in iron filings. It does not depend on either Symbolist or rationalistic “association of ideas.” If the idea or sentiment is valid, it will appear as a gestalt of the assembled details.

This “restitution” of ideas to an assembly of facts is “the essential distinction of the epic”:

Prikaz is this generation’s unique, intelligent attempt to give to the epic its rightful qualities, to find again the essential distinction of the epic, which is neither love nor hate but the restitution of these sentiments to a chain of facts which exist and the existence of which confers upon them the marvelous (le marveilleux—cf. Chateaubriand, le merveilleux chrétien) indispensable to all poetry.

Zukofsky echoed this concept of epic restitution in his “Program”: an “Objective” is “the direction of historic and contemporary particulars . . . a thing or things as well as an event or chain of events.” Zukofsky also made Taupin’s statement the epigraph to the “epic” section of An “Objectivists” Anthology and claimed in his preface that “poets should ultimately attempt” the epic restitution which Taupin accurately described.


Modigliani, Picasso, and Salmon

André Salmon is the forgotten Cubist writer though he outlived many of his early associates.  He shared quarters in the famous Bateau-Lavoir with Picasso and Max Jacob, and, along with Guillaume Apollinaire, was an early proponent of Cubism.  For more on the fascinating life of this poet, go to andresalmon.org 

Prikaz (“decree” in Russian) is Salmon’s unique epic poem from 1919 in sixteen juxtaposed fragments.  Each envisions the Russian Revolution from a specific point of view and without narrative continuity nor the reappearance of characters.

René Taupin was a French translator, critic, and academic who lived most of his life in the United States and is best known for L’influence du symbolisme français sur la poésie américaine (de 1910 à 1920), published in 1929, and for singling out William Carlos Williams, who at the time was receiving very little critical attention, by stating, “Peut-être  William Carlos Williams a-t-il composé la formule de l’art américain.” (Perhaps William Carlos Williams has himself composed the formula for American art.)


The entirety of Tom Sharp’s scholarly appraisal is available at The Objectivists with all the attendant footnotes and proper permissions.


Tom Sharp is the author of numerous books, including Spectacles from Taurean Horn Press, and a member of Seldovia Village Tribe.  He was a student of David Bromige’s at Sonoma State University and studied with Albert Gelpi at Stanford University, where he earned his Ph.D.  He is retired from IBM where he was a writer and programmer, and currently lives in Seattle.

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Years In The Making

 

When did you start writing Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of An American Genius and what was the inspiration?

Everything probably came together late spring 2008, or thereabouts.  I was putting the final touches to another novel that I’d played with for close to 30 years.  I wasn’t in any particular hurry to get it done, and maybe for that reason it was shaping up quite nicely.  At the same time I was writing a serial novel, some neo-pulp crime fiction, in monthly installments for the entertainment of a few local writers I know. I also had a couple of other pulp fiction projects that were in various stages of development.  So it wasn’t like I was looking for something to do. Yet in the middle of all that, at the end of a very manic day in which a lot of writing got done, I took a break.  I had been thinking about writing this novel, this kind of novel, for quite some time.  It’s the kind of novel a writer would normally be advised against writing.  Mainly because it is borderline narcissistic, like staring at yourself in the mirror, and depending on the light or your mood, you’re either admirable or pathetic. I’d had a germ of an idea at the back of my mind, but at that moment when I was contemplating the work I had just completed or left off, the organizing principle for the novel presented itself.  The beginning and the ending, in effect, occurred to me. 

Why did you write Ode To Sunset?

The motivation was personal, and largely sentimental.  I had the notion, the urge to memorialize friends, poets, who had died.  To accomplish that, without indulging in biography, I had to write about their element, which is poetry.  That which gave them joy and sorrow.  Because that’s what poetry does to poets, it makes them happy and it makes them sad.  In order to convey the joys and sorrows of being a poet, I needed an agent, a guide to the poetry world, a fictional sentience who is not quite Charles Baudelaire and not quite Charles Bukowski, and who goes by the name of Carl Wendt.  And it had to be irreverent, amusing, a satire.  My dear departed friends would expect no less of me.

Who is Carl Wendt suppose to represent?

Carl Wendt isn’t any one person or poet.  He is a kind of literary composite.  He has attributes of Charles Baudelaire in that he is a flaneur or dandy, an old school jazz hipster, and he works the margins of the literary scene as a freelance art and culture critic in a way that Baudelaire did.  Also like Baudelaire, and the modern American poet Charles Bukowski, his poetry offends the delicate sensibilities of the bourgeoisie.  He is an opportunist the way that Henry Miller is in Tropic of Cancer, always on the hustle, just getting by so that he can devote himself to his art. He’s also Bud Powell in Paris, marking time with his petite vin rouge. And I suppose, capitalizing on the Hugh Kenner quote that serves as one of the epigraphs for the novel, he can, at first glance, be seen as a charlatan, a jive ass. In this sense he is Coyote, the fool, the trickster. 

So is he the literary Everyman?

I think Wendt is characterized by his political incorrectness.  He’s white, male, heterosexual, he smokes and he’s a drinker. Most of which is no longer socially acceptable in the gentrified literary world.  He’s a social dinosaur heading for the bone yard of obsolescence.  That he’s a well known poet just complicates his inappropriateness. He is unaffiliated and eccentric, and embodies the antagonism between the sanctioned poets and the proscribed poets.

How closely does Carl Wendt resemble a typical poet? 

While I don’t see any poet as being typical, there are some very smart poets on whom Wendt is modeled and whose perspective and experience in defining the American canon has been overlooked, marginalized, because of the workshop industry. They are for the most part not associated with any institution, and are representative of the independent American poets who continue to be part of an antiestablishment community of innovative artists whose credentials are unimpeachable.  Many are ignored because they don’t fit into the current faddish mindset of the workshop mentality or they are keeping at arm’s length the intrusive desperation of fame and fortune.  Well, fame, mostly, by which I mean celebrity.  Everyone can do with a little fortune. 

Is Ode To Sunset autobiographical?

Heterographical, perhaps, in that it contains elements of biography, autobiography, literary history, aesthetic philosophy, social satire, improvisation, imagination, exaggeration and storytelling.  And it’s also personal in the sense that it is something I know a little about, having worked as a poet for fifty years.  Kind of like a retired cop who writes a crime novel.  And it allows me to talk about poetry, and poets, and find humor in otherwise weighty material. 

Do you think of Ode To Sunset as being representative of literature in the period in which you are writing? 

I would like to think that Ode To Sunset is unrepresentative of the period in which I am writing.  I am either ahead of my time or lagging far behind.  But wherever I am, I find it useful to be out of step in order to gauge my relative position in a world of obsessive scribblers.  As the Flann O’Brien quote that also serves as an epigraph implies, a novel is what the novelist says it is, much as Duchamp indicated that art is what the artist says it is.  This gives art and, by default, literature an incredible amount of freedom.  On the other hand, the playing field has been enlarged and leveled to such an extent that everything appears equal with everything else and this leads ultimately to a loss of perspective.  Not only is everything relative to everything else, but everything is subject to change without notice depending on any particularly focus directed at everything.

How do you reconcile being a poet and a novelist, and does either impact the other?

I always think of writing poetry as a house of cards.  At any point, the poem can be undermined by its own assumptions and come tumbling down.  Writing a novel is more brick and mortar work.  Even the wildest experimental prose is built from the ground up.  Poems, on the other hand, fall from the sky and because they are so ephemeral, they either are or aren’t.  Work in either form doesn’t necessarily influence the other outside of the fact that writing a novel demands so many more words and so, much more time.  A poem will sometimes appear as a piece, fully formed from the brow of the muse.  A novel is subject to revisions and storytelling codes, and follows a blueprint of sorts. Since I write mostly by hand in a notebook, the prose sketches take up a lot of room and energy compared to my poetry jottings.  Also the prose is almost immediately incorporated into the work in progress.  Poems can lie unattended in the notebooks for years. 

What would you say is your writing style?
The style I find myself favoring might be characterized as naked hard boiled pulp.  Not a lot of introspection and inner moaning, letting the events and development speak for themselves.  Wendt has much in common with wise cracking private eyes, and as a poet, he is the ultimate private eye, visionary, a loner, knight in tarnished armor, troubadour in the court of the muse.  If I were to give it the eight second Mamet pitch, I’d say that it is a cross between A Fine Madness and A Confederacy of Dunces with voiceover by George Steiner. 

How many hours do you write a day?

How long I can write depends on how long I can concentrate.  Sketching and plotting I do pretty much on the fly—it is a very spontaneous process and hardly seems to take any time at all.  The real work of arranging all the elements of the novel usually depends on whether or not I can face what I’ve written.  I have very poor work habits.  I do try to spend at least a couple of hours a day on the initial structuring of any prose project. Then when it looks like it’s shaping up to meet my expectations, I can spend the entire day thrashing it out, rereading, editing, rewriting until it reaches a finished state. 

You actually write by hand.  Why?
I do my thinking on paper and act on my thinking at the keyboard.  

At what stage in the writing process do you move from longhand to electronic media?

I normally sketch and take notes on a legal pad, a habit I developed when I first started writing.  At a certain point, later in the day or later in the week, I’ll review what I’ve written and take the time to transcribe it into the appropriate word file.  At this point the more objective writer, the word mechanic, takes over.  Writing by hand allows me the freedom of not filtering the language, not judging whether it is proper or grammatical, simply allowing the words to flow unconstrained and find their own level.  Once the handwritten text is transcribed I can look for the little surprises as well as the duds which I then use to my advantage, or not. 

Do you have any form of ritual preparation before writing?

I have a gamut of avoidance behaviors that I generally run through. 

Such as?

Oh, compulsive checking of email, surfing news feeds, doing just about anything that is not related to the job ahead.  Drinking more coffee.  Staring out the window.  Counting paper clips.  Rechecking email. That kind of thing. 

Do you revise?

Not in the sense that I have a preconceived idea of what I’m going to write and have to strictly abide by it.  What I end up writing either works or it doesn’t.  I never go into it thinking I’m going to write such and such, actually have a definition of such and such, but merely knowing I’m going to write at my whimsy and from that vectors and directions will follow.  Forward progress is determined by the obstacles encountered, the hurdles I’ve placed there, consciously or unconsciously, to challenge narrative complacency.  I have language somewhat imperfectly, a mixture of bad habit, laziness, inelegance, and bilingual confusion.  What you see is what you get, a shabby mix of savoir faire and nonchalance.  

Has writing this novel offered you any insights into the writing of a novel?  Anything that you didn’t know before you started?

I kind of knew this before, perhaps in theory, but it was proven to me in the actualization of this work of fiction.  We tend to think of the novel as a closed system with a beginning, middle, and an end.  In actuality there is time before the novel begins because the beginning is merely a point in history. There are also multitudes of middles, and time continues as history even after the narrative has concluded. The reality of the novel is never complete, as Joyce has taught us, and is always in the state of being, powered by ambiguity and tangent possibility. To insist on finality is merely a death wish.  It’s an example of narrative fallacy.  Narrative fallacy arises from attempts to make sense of the world.  Novelists employ narrative fallacy all the time. The world makes sense because of our unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance. 

Looking back on what you’ve brought forward as a fiction to its completion as a narrative, has it taken on a gravity greater than the sum of its parts?

Ode To Sunset works as an accrual of subject matter and its placement in layers rather than as a linear flight of fancy.  There is a narrative but it is directed by random twists and tilts outside and beyond causal progression.  The novel then becomes a simulacrum of the chaos of everyday life artificially constructed from language, sometimes as sleek streamlined prose and other times as stream of consciousness Rube Goldberg contraptions. It is chaos in search of equilibrium.  It is also childishly self-indulgent and self-centered, replete with petty hopes and fears, an all too human oscillation. There are eddies of confusion and breathtaking rapids as the accumulation of matter, physical and metaphysical, flows in its own serendipitous course. Prose requires absolutes, or the appearance of absolutes. Poetry can survive on ambiguities. 

How objectively can you view Ode To Sunset?

To begin with, it is nearly impossible to view with any consistent objectivity something that I worked on for over ten years. It is truly a love hate relationship. On the one hand, I see it as inane in the same way that Seinfeld and Friends were inane.  Ode To Sunset is similar in its apotropaic absurdity. And I either feel ok with that, the silliness, or I contrive somehow, either through rationalization or editing, to rectify it.  Poets are constantly on the verge of becoming anachronisms.  They barely made it into the 20th century.  How are they going to make it into the 21st century?  Ode To Sunset poses the question, “Are you sure you want to be a poet?”


Pat Nolan is the author of over a dozen poetry books, most recently So Much, Selected Poems Volume II, Notebook Keyboard (1990-2010) from Nualláin House, Publishers (2019).  He has also published two genre novels, a western and crime fiction, as well as the online serial fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life of American Genius, available for perusal at odetosunset.com.  This interview with the author is condensed from a longer two part interview first published on the Ode To Sunset site.

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This Is How Legends Begin

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.
Nature I loved, and, next to nature, Art;
I warm’d both hands before the fire of Life;
It sinks, and I am ready to depart.
—Walter Savage Landor


Recollections, appreciations, musings, poems, photos, art gallery, and video celebrating the life of Keith Kumasen Abbott, 1944-2019, by Lani Abbott, Persephone Abbott, George Mattingly, Gloria Frym, Maureen Owen, Pat Nolan, Jerry Reddan, Brit Pyland, David Schnieder, Günter Ohnemus, Eugene Zander, Janine Ibbotson, Meredith Shedd-Driskel, and Clark Coolidge (via Steve Dickison).

To begin Pat Nolan reached back into his memory to try to pin down the year he first met Keith Abbott:
Sometime in ’65, maybe ’66, I think.  I was pouring beer and wine and making sandwiches at the Palace Bar & Grill on Cannery Row in Monterey, California.  It was one of those authentic bohemian hangouts with wire spool tables and mismatched chairs.  A jukebox featured forty-fives by Dave Brubeck or Miles and some of those new folksingers like Dylan and Baez.  It wasn’t exactly a tourist spot.  An occasional sightseer would wander in and then wander out.  It had the atmosphere of a waterfront dive thanks to the blatant drunkenness of many of its denizens.  I’d made the acquaintance of one of the patrons, a young woman by the name of Lani Hansen.  The first thing I noticed about Lani, in addition to her Norwegian comeliness, was how smart she was.  That made her dazzlingly attractive.  And I learned she was from the Seattle area.  As it turns out Lani and I also lived in the same rooming house located above the old Wing Chong Grocery Store then Antique Emporium on Cannery Row known as Good Old Roy’s (that’s another very long story) although I didn’t know that when I first met her.  Somehow the subject of my being a poet came up.  It usually does, even if I have to be the one to mention it.  Lani told me her boyfriend and high school sweetheart wrote poetry as well.  He was attending the University of Washington but would soon be coming to visit her.  Not long after that conversation I ran into Lani again and she introduced me to her boyfriend, Keith Abbott.

Keith’s passing in the early morning of Monday, August 26th, 2019 brackets my almost fifty-five year friendship with him and, of course, Lani.  That relationship was held together by a steady stream of correspondence for most of those five decades, often numbering two or three letters a month, long letters, half a dozen typed pages in fact were the rule rather than the exception, until predictably email rendered most communication  a memorandum. The letters were an ongoing record of our daily doings, what we were reading, what we were writing, the de rigueur literary gossip, our ever evolving aesthetic, hopes and dreams (as only authors can have), and, above all, our unfaltering dedication to our art.  Ours was a long distance friendship interspersed with visits whenever we had business that brought us in proximity to each other, the pleasure part of “business and pleasure.”  The last time we lived in the same neighborhood and socialized regularly was at the beginning of our friendship, in 1967, the year that both Keith’s daughter, Persephone, and my son, Bryan, were born.

Lani Abbott provides this time line for those early days:
1965.  Keith and Lani begin partnership and meet [Pat Nolan] while living on Cannery Row at Carney Good ol’ Roy’s with lots of local color, and find the groove that supports the next 50 years of life, love and work.
1965-66. Migration begins: Living in San Francisco Haight/Fillmore apartment across the street from Family Dog commune, riots, martial law, Kenneth Rexroth, and let’s have a baby.
1967. Baby daughter Persephone born in Monterey/Pacific Grove paradise.

Persephone Abbott now lives in the Netherlands where she teaches voice, sings opera, and writes.  She contributed this poem in her father’s memory.

Keith
Recollections from his Daughter

I am unable to remember when I met my father.
He told me he recalled the moment even though
The nurse thrust a substance upon his person
To keep him (well mustached at 23 years of age) from fainting
And falling on the hospital floor in a heap.
He admitted he liked both:
The baby and the intervention.
It was a good day.

I remember my father busy in the mornings writing something important.
Then he’d come out of his lair for coffee.
He was adored and admired for his charm and wit but he also drank coffee.
He ground the beans first.
It’s not a secret to making good coffee.

When I was a young girl, my father sometimes invited me
To go with him to the municipal dump.
I thought it was very exciting and I always said yes.
I also hung around him and his buddy Richard, who bought me
Steamed clams in Chinatown, but only occasionally so I
Didn’t miss too much school. But I
Tended not to go to school before lunchtime anyway.

My father and I enjoyed Amtrak together.
Multiple times.

My father taught me the best way to collect money at a golf club.
He’d never taken a short iron rod in a brown paper bag to a golf course,
But he thought I should know about golfers’ kneecaps
As part of my education.

When I was fourteen my father bought me a piano,
And, circumventing the school system, he found me private
French lessons. Following up on these two notions later:
I moved to Paris and studied music. Simple as that.

I once asked him what he thought about reincarnation.
He stared at me and did not utter a single word.
I believe he had a point.

The last thing he wrote me was a postcard of a stone frog. It said:
“Persephone I’ve got a place in the CHOIR!”
“I can’t wait!!” he added along with a large splat of ink at the end.
Then he croaked.

Tears ran into my coffee
Feeling salty, I took the dog to the park.
She likes the park and I do too.
She’s slow, selective of hearing, bow legged,
Benefits from poor eyesight and just like my premonition
I watched her slide from behind a favored tree down the slope
Enacting the part of a slow motion replay
Plonk into the canal, panic registering in her cloudy eyes.
It figures, I thought, that I end up jumping into an Amsterdam canal
The day my father is cremated,
Separate elements, each of us chasing a dog.


Pat Nolan again:Keith was responsible for my initiation into the world of underground avant-garde poetry.  Whalen, Snyder, O’Hara, Spicer were our buzz words and passwords.  At first I think ours was a kind of lopsided reciprocity.  I obviously got much more out of the friendship than perhaps he did.  He introduced me to his friends who were also writers.  At that time I had met very few writers who were of my generation or radical inclination.  Clifford Burke, Bill Bathurst, Steve Carey, and Richard Brautigan were all writers I met through my acquaintance with Keith.  Through him and Lani I also got to know, and claim as a dear friend, Michael Sowl, a Duluth transplant, graduate of the Defense Language Institute, and the model for Magic Eddy in Keith’s novel Gush, and Mordecai in Mordecai of Monterey.  I was also introduced to the Dunn Brothers, a couple of hillbilly conmen who populated his novel Gush as well as one of them being the model for Lee Melon in Brautigan’s A Confederate General In Big Sur.  I published Keith’s first book of poems, Dump Truck, and a few years later he returned the favor and published my first book of poems, Rock Me Roll Me Vast Fatality.

In the mid-sixties you could put everything I knew about poetry in a nutshell and still have ample room for the nut and a family of four.  Most of what I read back then was an odd assortment of academy sanctioned poetry, those long dead poets garnered from my insatiable reading, Rimbaud and Baudelaire in particular, and a chance discovery of Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry.  But then, fresh from my discharge out of the military, I had yet to enroll in any college literature courses.  My friendship with Keith was also an apprenticeship in the day to day reality of being a poet—off the page, so to speak.  Keith had a clear vision of what it took to be a poet in the latter half of the 20th century.  He knew who to read and what to read.  Some of it was from an underground poetry world I didn’t even know existed.  With Keith as my virtual Virgil, I stepped into an undercurrent of intellectual ferment and passionately innovative literature.  Every little side stapled mimeographed one shot poetry magazine was read as if it contained the most urgent news. 

Lani’s time line continues with more adventures of the Abbott family:
1968-69.  Parenthood  in world of American trouble after moving back to San Francisco so Keith could finish his undergraduate degree at  SF State University,  riots,  violence outside Panhandle apartment relieved by small inheritance received by Lani who decides a change of nation is in order.
1969. Keith, an Irishman, finds himself in England, schedules a nervous breakdown and figures learning to write long fiction is the remedy.  The result is a novel called Dead Hippo, for which publishing prospects are captured in the title.  Keith’s wonderful mother, Gert, visits and tries to persuade Keith (and Lani) they need a career direction.  K & L are living in idyllic village and fail to comprehend a better direction then the footpath to the pub.  Gert offers to pay for graduate school so Keith can teach future layabouts in America. Keith accepts.
1969-71.  Keith completes MA at Western Washington State College in Bellingham with impromptu thesis on William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, and the family escapes back to Monterey, where Keith finds a job as chair of the English Department at a high school in Salinas.  When he asks why the faculty are wearing dresses, he learns it is run by Dominican brothers.  He lasts a year.

Pat Nolan: I also benefited from Keith’s reading regimen.  Kenneth Rexroth, for his essays and translations of Reverdy as well as the Chinese and Japanese poets, Philip Whalen, for a Pacific Rim sensibility, ditto Gary Snyder, Williams of course, and O’Hara, for those wild mood swings customary to the process of creativity.   The foundational readings of my poetry autodidacticism were recommendations by Keith.  Some of the most significant books in my poetry reading experience were gifted to me by Keith: On Bear’s Head, One Hundred Poems from the Chinese, and Second Avenue.

And it was Keith who tipped me to the networking potential of mimeo magazines. His Blue Suede Shoes was a vortex of New York poets on the West Coast.  It was enough to make James Schuyler sit up and take notice, as he remarks in his March 1971 letter to Trevor Winkfield: Have you ever exchanged magazines with Keith Abbott? He is, or was, Blue Suede Shoes. I like a lot of his poems—sort of West Coast Padgett, with a lot of the dilution that might imply—also someone he’s published named Pat Nolan, who’s a little closer to being a West Coast Larry Fagin; or perhaps is to Abbott what Fagin is to Padgett? Only different. . . .” (Just The Things, Selected Letters of James Schuyler Turtle Point Press, 2004).  Following Keith’s example, I started my own mimeo poetry mag, The End (& Variations Thereof).  In 1973, Keith Abbott and I were the only two California poets to receive a grant from the New York-based Poets Foundation.

Lani again: 1972-73. Keith supports Lani’s hilarious idea of finishing her undergraduate degree and even more hilarious idea of going to graduate school.  She completes the former at UC Davis, where Keith spends the year drinking sherry in the pool.  To give him something to do, Lani persuades him to write some terrible poems which she submits for a statewide poetry contest.  Lani wins and becomes California’s student Poet Laureate for the year.  To Keith’s relief, she turns down a Regent’s Fellowship to stay in Davis.  The family moves to Berkeley where they move into a shared house with old friend Darla Hilliard, who is soon to go to Nepal to be the first to radio collar snow leopards. Lani just thumps along in grad school until she figures out life is much more rewarding in theater where she works for the next decade.  Keith recognizes the Bay Area as his natural territory and sets about matching his living environment to his imagination. 

George and Lucy Mattingly were the first to publish Keith’s novels, Gush (1975) and Rhino Ritz (1979), from their Blue Wind Press.  They also published a selection of Keith’s poems, Erase Words (1977).  Keith, Lani. Persephone, George and Lucy were neighbors for much of the Abbott family’s time in that nebulous East Bay region known as the Berkeley-Albany-Solano triangle.

I met Keith Abbott in spring 1974 at a poetry reading by Stephen Rodefer at San Francisco State University. The poetry scene then was hot. Even the unknowns could draw audiences of dozens, and name poets, hundreds — Ginsberg and Snyder, thousands. There were hundreds in this audience: a full auditorium.  I was sitting near the back (in case escape became necessary). Rodefer’s poems were full of obscure jokes, puns, and outrageous eroticism, so I couldn’t resist laughing, encouraging, and commenting.  At some point I noticed there were a couple of serious-looking gatekeeper types glaring at me. One of them wagged a finger, and then put it in front of his lips. Shut up, in other words, this is Serious Stuff. “But it’s too—” I started to say, when a large hand patted me on the shoulder & the guy attached to it said “—too goddamned funny!” The gatekeeper’s face twisted like paper crumpling. I turned around and saw Keith Abbott behind me, smiling his big Buddha smile — and chortling. He finished my sentences, my jokes, even my laughter — and my drinks sometimes if I wandered too far.

The first Saturday morning after Lucy and I started renting the front bedroom in Lani and Keith’s faded pink stucco house at 1146 Sutter Street in Berkeley, we were awakened by loud banging. Pulling on my jeans, I walked down the hall and saw Keith, in his cool weather gardening clothes holding a 55-gallon metal garbage can with one hand & banging on it with a heavy-gauge steel garden rake. Whack. Whack. Bang. Bang.  From their 8-year-old daughter Persephone’s room came a blood-curdling wail. “No! No! You can’t!” And Keith barking back, “Yes! Yes! I can! Everything off the floor in 5 minutes or—” — he pointed a work glove at the garbage can. I peeked into Persephone’s room: clothes, books, toys, bedding, her whole life in a layer half a foot deep.

“Saturday morning on Sutter Street,” said Keith, “hope you and Lucy slept well!”

Later, after the wailing and banging stopped, I saw Keith on the couch, mustache beaded with hot black Berkeley coffee. Looking up from a film star biography he was reading, he said “Amazing how the author thinks we’re going to believe that all these things actually happened during his one life.”

In August 1974, Lani Abbott was readying for a solo trip to the UK. Lucy was about to move to London for an Antioch College semester abroad. I had just gotten a check from H.U.D. for vacating my $60-a-month apartment in Iowa City, Iowa (in a block slated for “urban renewal” a.k.a. bulldozing). And a check from a writers’ aid foundation — to speed my recovery from the breakup with the last of my Scorpio ice maiden girlfriends (aid I no longer needed but was happy to get).

“Time for a PARTY!” Keith announced. Pulling out his calligraphy pen, he created an announcement postcard for

THE HAPPY BAD LUCK & GOING AWAY PARTY.

He invited fifty or sixty friends, and passed the hat for cheap wine and snacks.

The day of the party, Lani and Keith’s daughter Persephone went to a friend’s house for a sleepover. Keith and I took the pickup downtown to buy a new stereo — the one material possession (besides pot and cheap wine) essential to every hippie household at the time.  Then off through the tunnel to Joseph’s Liquors on Solano Avenue to buy 6 gallons of Grower’s red wine. At $3.79 a gallon, this particular wine “had never seen a grape” according to Keith’s friend in the wine business, Peter Brehm.  Lani (easily the best home cook I have ever known) made a bean dip and an aïoli to go with a beautiful spread of fresh vegetables and breads — the polar opposite of the low-rent beverages on the card table.

Al Green, Weather Report, The Rolling Stones, Smokey Robinson, and Aretha Franklin on the brand-new tune box & we were ready to party — all afternoon, into the evening, and most of the night.  As people began to trickle in, I saw Lani and housemate Darla Hilliard gazing at a print on the wall near the kitchen: a male model cropped from lower back to upper thigh, wearing skin-tight neon-striped underwear. “You’ll see a lot of that in London,” said Darla. “Umm…yes,” said Lani, stirring her glass of white vermouth on the rocks. Darla’s tall boyfriend Victor came in, holding a greasy piece of Honda innards from the engine rebuilding project that had blocked the garage for months.  Darrell Gray lurched by with a tumbler of brandy. “Have you seen Patty? Can’t find Patty (his girlfriend Pat O’Donnell). He left, opening closet doors, looking out every window, looking for Patty. (A couple hours later I had to rescue Darrell, who had wandered face first into the hedge and was too drunk to extricate himself.) By 3 a.m. most of the guests were passed out on the floor. Darrell was explaining Schopenhauer to the cat, which was cowering under the card table. “Almost time to send my veins out for dry-cleaning,” said Keith, pulling on his mustache. He smiled and shuffled off to bed.

In January 1975, I was trying to organize poems I had written since 1969 (which were eventually published as Breathing Space). I had no clue which to include or how to order them. Keith came by one afternoon with a 6-pack of Liberty Ale, opened a couple and offered to look at the manuscript. A few days later he brought back the typescript — re-ordered and with notes pencilled on every page. He had categorized each poem as Big Talk, Reality George,* You’re Kidding, or Beauty Secrets.  “Don’t give the audience a chance to get bored and give up on you — which they might if you put too many similar-sounding poems in a row. Mix up the categories. And start with a work that teases the reader about where the trip is going to go.” Everything he did made perfect sense. He told me he found it much easier to edit or arrange someone else’s writing.

(*Reality George: the nickname given to me by Allan Kornblum in 1970.)

Bang bang bang bang on the door of the half bedroom Karl Kardel charmer Lucy and I lived in that spring of 1975. Rubbing my eyes sitting up naked in the mattress on the floor of the carpeted loft. Bang bang bang bang. “Up and at ’em, George!” For a guy whose writing and illustrations could be so subtle and quiet, Keith could be really loud, really big, a huge presence. He let himself in and scanned our LP collection and grocery list while I pulled on jeans, boots and long-sleeved flannel shirt. Stamping impatiently. “Time to get the money!”

That day was one of many when I did trash hauling, moving, and yard work with Keith. The splintery sideboards on his old pickup were spray-painted with the words “GTM.” Customers were told this stood for “Good Times Movers,” but the acronym actually stood for “Get The Money.” I was one of many friends who worked with Keith when funds were low — and in mid ’70s they were often really really low.

Those were the days Gloria Frym remembers:
Keith Abbott was a dear pal. We met in the late 1970s. When he and Lani moved away from, as he would say, “the old country” to teach at Naropa, he wrote and called every couple of months, assiduously keeping up our friendship even when he was in the early throes of his illness.  Lani and he always invited me and other summer writing faculty over for lunch or dinner, when we managed to squeeze in the latest lit gossip despite our increasingly heavy schedule.  Boulder lost three pieces of my heart when Lucia wasn’t there anymore, then Bobbie Louise, now Keith.  Life has grown a lot less interesting and certainly less charming without that triumvirate. Here, anthologized by Andrei Codrescu in Up Late: American Poetry Since 1970 is one of my favorite Keith Abbott poems:

Good News Bad News
                           after Apollinaire
in memory of Ted Berrigan

An old-fashioned sketchbook
With plenty of young women
Old wine the refined taste
Turns to restoring youth

Here the joy also heard
In the soft early songs
And this charm still enough
To save the new for an aged brain

To have old books past friends
Enjoy the ripe days Autumn
Here all the pleasures except
The one which always astonishes us

The one we call love
For this alone the world breathes
By this everyone knows the way out
The way in night & day

To live and die
Good news bad news


Pat Nolan: Keith and I traveled to New York City to read at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s in the fall of 1978 and met some of the poets we had been publishing in our respective magazines, both which were no longer active by then.  We spent quality time with Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley, and family, and had a jolly reunion with our old West Coast pal, Steve Carey.  We also met Ron Padgett and Maureen Owen who were at the helm of the Poetry Project in those days.

As Maureen recalls:Back so many years ago I can’t recall exactly, Pat Nolan invited me to join himself, Keith Abbott, and Michael Sowl in the writing of a Renga, a linked poetry.  I loved the idea of collaborating and was an ardent fan of Japanese poetry and so joined in. I knew Keith’s work and had met him at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project (now The Poetry Project) where he was giving a reading.  Those were the days before email and we sent our lines to each other by regular post.  And so of course our lines had to be accompanied by a long letter or a long letter with our lines embedded.  Vast expanses of time passed as we received the next lines and letters from one another.  Often hand written, sometimes typed, our letters languidly trotted the oncoming link to our eager mailboxes.  Keith’s letters were always a delight and full of literary news, family news, news of his latest writing, and sometimes a dynamic swoop of calligraphy.  We wrote our Rengas over many years and many letters.  From Michael in Minnesota, Pat in California, Keith in Colorado, and me on the east coast, our linked verse trekked and crackled.

Later I had the pleasure of living near Keith in Colorado and seeing him often on the Naropa campus where we were both teaching.  I remember delicious and fun lunches at Lani and his home during the Summer Writing Program at Naropa.  Their hospitality and lovely gardens, a living Zen.  Keith was always bigger than life, brash in an open and lighthearted, bighearted manner; always welcoming and generous in his life and in his art.  Besides teaching writing at Naropa, he taught a fabulous course in Calligraphy.  A gorgeous piece he created for me hangs over my desk right now.  Mu, Void, in blackest ink forever liquid, it is moving perfection created by the brush of a master.  A huge presence, now forever missed, but never missing.

Günter Ohnemus, Keith’s German translator, provides this account at their friendship and how they met.
In the old days—1982 or 1983—when the world around me was full of love and laughter and a future other people could only dream of, my wife and I met George and Lucy Mattingly at the Frankfurt Book Fair.  We went to dinner together and we laughed all night . . .well, not all night, because they stayed at a hotel in Aschaffenburg and had to catch a late train that took them there. But the echo of this night and this laughter is still with me. In these years laughter was so much around that sometimes we woke up laughing.

In 1984 (which was the next year or the year after the next year) we visited them in Berkeley, and one night they introduced us to Keith (“Ursus Abbotticus,“ as George called him. “He’s as strong as a bear.”).  In the sushi restaurant, where we had dinner, Keith mentioned  a manuscript that he held back because he wanted to sell it to the movies.  I asked him if I could see it, and a couple of weeks later I took it back with me to Germany.  The title was Racer.  A story about an unruly boy.

I was ravished when I read the book, Keith and I agreed that a German version of the book would not diminish its Hollywood prospects. I sent the manuscript to my publisher, Benno Käsmayr of Maro’s, and the book was published in October 1987.  So there was an American book in German that never existed in English as a book.  It stayed in print for two decades. As far as I know it was never published in English.

I translated four of his books, and for a long while Keith and I were pretty close, we went on a reading tour with one of his publishers, his books were highly praised in Germany (though never a financial success), and translating them was a great joy for me. It didn’t feel like work.  It felt like living, it was life.

We had a falling-out some years ago, hadn’t had contact over all these years, which is a pity, but that’s how things go sometimes. Talk about financial success – I remember what Keith once said on one of our walks in Munich: “If I can be for just one person what Ray Charles was to me, then spending my life as a writer wasn’t in vain.”

We hadn’t had contact, I said. But we had some sort of contact through his daughter Persephone.  Last year I translated her first novel, A Closely Knit Web, from the manuscript.  So far there is no English edition.  Like Racer it was published by Maro. Last year, 2018: Ein rasch gesponnenes Netz.  So, like her father before her . . . Ah, well, I seem to run in the family.

Lani recalls the years from 1973-1994:  Keith finally lands a long tenure in the Bay Area literary scene.  He publishes a succession of poetry, novels, and short fiction with small press publishing including Clifford Burke’s Cranium Press and George Mattingly’s Blue Wind Press.  He cultivates what he considers a well rounded working writer’s profile: working widely in poetics, including classic forms, prose and sound poetry, and the collaborative Japanese form, Renku, with fellow poets Pat Nolan, Maureen Owen and Michael Sowl. Inspired by Phillip Whalen, he trains in western and Asian calligraphy to create visual poetry.  He writes long and short fiction, works in journalism both as feature writer and editor.  While serving as fiction editor for The Berkeley Monthly, he champions and befriends the writer Lucia Berlin.  He explores dramatic writing, collaborating with actors and directors at the Berkeley location of the Drama School London and the Bay Area Playwrights Festival and he workshops a one act play at the Magic Theatre.  His audience expands internationally and his work is published in Germany, France and the U.K.  He learns to enjoy public performance of his work.

Brit Pyland remembers first meeting Keith:
I was introduced to Keith by our mutual friend John Veglia. John and I brought a bottle of Cabernet to Keith’s home in Albany, CA for a fun afternoon. We found many areas of keen mutual interest, including poetry and Zen. Keith’s Zen and calligraphy teacher Kobun Chino roshi had been one of my first teachers when I was just starting Zen practice and study at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. Kobun was very kind, patient, and friendly. He was generous with his time and helped me with sitting posture. We took a long hike above Tassajara and downstream. On the way back he paused below the tall Sycamore in wonderful dappled light and shot an imaginary arrow at a high bird. His big smile indicated that he had hit his mark.

Another time when leading a demonstration of Zen archery on a high bluff at Esalen retreat center, he shot an arrow way out into the Pacific and with a big grin turned and remarked “Bullseye!”

Keith was Kobun’s assistant in calligraphy classes at Naropa Institute. Keith refined his calligraphy and brush art under Kobun’s guidance and became a fine artist.

Our friendship grew and was nourished by close mutual friends, including Zenshin Philip Whalen, Denis Kelly, and George and Lucy Mattingly. Philip and I shared a flat in Noe Valley in S.F. and hosted a small informal sitting group with tea or breakfast after zazen on Friday mornings—just a few people, including  a few of Phil’s writer friends. I later became Philip’s assistant when he became abbot at Hartford Street Zen Center and Maitri Hospice, doing mainly administrative work.

I took Keith and Lani to visit Philip when his health was failing and was living at SF Zen Center’s Hospice on Page Street, very upbeat farewell.

Keith and I shared writing and art over the years, sometimes exchanging correspondence of assumed comic personae. We also confided aspects of our Zen practice to encourage one another.

I am very grateful that we were able to speak on the phone on number of lucky occasions when he was not suffering from aphasia and was very clearheaded and in good spirits before he passed.

Keith is very much alive in my memories.

Brit also provided this account of Keith’s ordination in his own words:

At age 69 I decided it was time to know what the Japanese characters said on the rakusu I have been wearing since 2002 and so I commissioned Kaz Tanahashi to translate my teacher Kobun Chino’s Japanese on the rakusu silk backing.  Know that a kashaya is the Buddha body, Buddha mind. It is called a robe of emancipation, a field of benefaction. It is called a robe of patience, a robe beyond form. It is called a robe of compassion, a robe of the Tathagata, a robe of unsurpassable, complete enlightenment.

June 12th, 2002, Auspicious day of Ordination
Houn Kobun
For Lay-person Mugaku Jikido
to maintain this

(The passage is from Dogen, p. 146, Treasury of the True Dharma Eye) translated by Kaz Tanahashi.

Note: Mugaku Jikido was my formal Buddhist name.  Before my ordination Kobun translated this for me as: “No knowledge / preconceptions on the clear / straight path.”  He died after this event, on July 26, 2002.

The history of my rakusu goes like this. This formal name resulted some months earlier from what happened at the end of the incredibly intense dokusan that confirmed my ordination. Once my ordination and its details were arranged, I wanted to commission Kobun to brush a calligraphic version of a phrase, Mugaku No Koto that I had found in D.T. Suzuki. In that context this phrase was the highest praise for a Zen calligraphy: “A thing / matter / event of no learning.” i.e. the brushwork showed no preconceptions whatsoever: it just was what it was.  But because the intensity of Kobun’s dokusan exhausted me I could not remember the last two words No Koto.  So I only said “Mugaku” and that there were two more words.  Kobun dismissed my distress with a wave of his hand and said, “And that [mugaku] will be your first Buddhist name!”  He also added that now he had the burden of thinking up the rest of my Buddhist name before my ordination; I only had to sew a rakusu.  Such was his humor.

During my ordination in June 2002 Kobun announced my “Mugaku Jikido” title for the assembled monks and friends. But, he immediately followed that with: “But we will not call him by that name!  His name will be Kumasen (i.e. Bear Sage).”  When we co-taught the contemplative brush class together at Naropa Kobun had noticed that my habitual actions displayed some of that nature. On December 27, 2013 after learning what the rakusu said, I decided to research jikido and found this:

In Zen Buddhism, it is the job of the jikidō (直堂?) to run the zendo according to the rules prescribed by the teacher, and maintain the zendo’s schedule. The jikido makes a commitment to run every regularly scheduled sitting and each monthly sesshin. In Sōtō the jikido is the one person, other than the Teacher, who faces outward in the zendo instead of facing the wall. This is because the jikido’s practice cannot be simply private or inward, but must always face outward, aware and responsive to what’s going on in the zendo. The jikido’s job is not just to facilitate the functioning of the zendo, the jikido embodies and exemplifies practice as functioning. And that is the functioning of no-self – of the forgotten self – that responds to each thing in turn, performs each function in turn without a thought of right or wrong or how am I doing or how do I look doing it.

So for me to be a “Mugaku Jikido” means that among other duties I am the caretaker of the no-self zendo, basically running what I call Mu Shin Zendo routines: Nothing Doing Doing Nothing  (my translation into American English of Mu Shin).   I believe that I had been maintaining those duties for Kobun during our two contemplative brush workshops, and since 2002 in my daily life.


Janine Ibbotson studied brush with Keith.  Here is her appreciation on her website: https://janineibbotson.com/blog/2019/9/3/appreciation

Jerry Reddan, master printer and publisher at Tangram Press, recalls meeting Keith in a short note addressed to Pat Nolan:
I’m pretty sure I met Keith at Serendipity [Books] in the late 70’s.  As Tangram was getting started in ’87 I’m sure Keith was seeing some of my projects.  It was not until ’87 that I printed Skin And Bone followed by broadsides over the years.  As I recall it was Keith who provided you with my address, so it’s all his fault, what a pleasure.  When he and Lani moved to Longmont all correspondence was delivered via USPS, often very funny.  On occasion when he was in the Bay Area researching Whalen, Kerouac material in The Bancroft [Library] he would stay with us for a few days.  There was lots of fun conversations about his teaching students more interested in the movie version than the book itself. Always in good humor even with his mobility problems.  We’ll miss him.

Lani’s time line concludes: 1994-2013: In 1994 he accepts a faculty position at Naropa University in Boulder Colorado, transferring his writing energy to the next generation through his students.

In the early 90’s Keith made a few exploratory trips to Colorado before moving the family to Longmont.  In Denver he stayed with the artist Ivan Suvanjieff, the model for Chili Palmer in Elmore Leonard’s Get Shorty, and editor of the literary magazine The New Censorship, in Ivan’s art loft in the pre-gentrified Wyandot Corridor.  Eugene Zandler, also a resident of the loft remembers Keith this way:
One of my first memories of Keith is the evening that I awoke from my usual swoon to find thick gray smoke coming under the door of my rooms, which was close to the kitchen, for any readers who are unfamiliar with the premises of The Lodo Art and Boxing Team.

I entered the twilight kitchen to find the apparent source of the smoke to be heavy skillets on the gas range top. No one was there; whatever substance was being smelted had also been removed.  I returned to my digs, probably after ascertaining that the north stairway was useable in case of necessity. Alchemical transmutation being such an uncertain process.

Keith had concluded that the perfect temperature for scorching pasta was well above the smoking point of the best cooking oils.  Say 500 F.  He was not yet a resident in the LAABT to the best of my memory.

I did later speak with him briefly numerous times.  He made jokes; one often felt that some cataclysm or great awakening was at hand.  Some force, following him about, waiting for him to prybar open some awareness into the ordinary understanding. I cannot though remember any specific words he said.

Later [Ivan] gave me a copy of one of his comic novels. Unique and unforgettable scenes in that.   Where was/is Hollywood?   Some hapless bad guy unwittingly submerged in semi-poisonous smelt (while romantically engaged, I think) and then the whole exterior wall of the bungalow bedroom tactically dropped like a toilet seat, ker-bang,  the better for retribution and photography.  And this scene in what is now the heart of Silicon Valley, before the ascension of those unworthies. A pig rooting away under a carpet. Etc. His writing was bitingly direct; the man himself behind an impenetrable caul.

I intended to catch his act as a Professor at Naropa, but never got around to that.   I suspected some paradox, some revelation.  I hope he had success and peace.  These are mostly, of course, not anecdotes. Keith was very funny, in a dangerous sort of way, but the details slip away.

Meredith Shedd-Driskel, an old friend of Keith and Lani’s from the early 70’s and Lani’s grad school days in Berkeley provided these pictures from a visit to Longmont in 2005.

Keith with his namesake, baby Keith Mattingly, and holding his own baby picture

George Mattingly:
Keith and I were best friends for many years, and only gradually lost that closeness when he and his wife Lani moved from the Berkeley area to Longmont, Colorado, so that he could take a job as professor in the Writing Department at Naropa University in Boulder.

The day I met him was one of the best days of my life.  The day they moved was one of the saddest days of my life.

I hate talking on the phone, but Keith loved talking on the phone, and we talked often in the decades after they moved to Colorado. In the beginning, Keith finished my sentences. In the end, I finished his.

Pat Nolan: Keith was born on February 2, 1944, Groundhog Day.  Groundhogs are also sometimes referred to as “little bears” thus the importance of the name Kobun gave him, Bear Sage. That date is also James Joyce’s birthday which Keith was never shy in pointing out.  I was born September 3, 1943, approximately six month before Keith which for me had some odd mystical significance.  Although we often joked that we were the poetry twins and there was no telling us apart (on the page), we were actually quite different in personality, for certain, and in our ideas on how best to represent the world, our world, through poetry.  Yet in our love of literature, in particular the art of poetry, we were joined at the hip, informed by the dialogue we shared for nearly fifty five years.

I admired Keith’s poetry immensely—it was a showcase for his intelligence.  Keith’s instincts about the art of writing were always very sophisticated and informed.  His perception and comprehension had an unerring depth that revealed an understanding of the basics, the root of what was necessary to continue in our craft and sullen art while maintaining our authenticity.  Authenticity is the key word here.  It is a quality we valued in the poets we both admired and one to which we aspired in our own work.  I can honestly say that my education and development as a poet owes an enormous debt to Keith Kumasen Abbott. He was my oldest friend and I was his oldest student.

Steve Dickison shared this video clip of Clark Coolidge reading one of Keith’s poems

David Schnieder, another Buddhist friend and the author of the Philip Whalen biography, Crowded By Beauty, remembers Keith this way:
Keith stole the show at the event where I first saw him. It was not an easy show to steal, being the large, formal, memorial reading in San Francisco for a recently-dead Ted Berrigan. Keith read a story, one with several protagonists and a few interweaving plots, most involving serious consumption of alcohol and other intoxicants, and the resulting misadventures. Gentle, self-deprecating, hilarious, the tale provided much-needed humor—relief for a crowd uniformly upset by Berrigan’s sudden death.

As Keith and I got to know one another, it became clear that we shared many interests, a wide, motley spectrum of them, stretching from poetry and fine prose and bibliophilia, to graphic arts to Zen Buddhism to gardening to professional football to home-made beer…. the Pacific Northwest…calligraphy, Asian and Roman….the poetry, calligraphy, Zen and the person of Philip Whalen.

In most fields, Keith was senior, more knowing. He grew up in the Northwest; I’d only gone to school there. I watched football; he’d played it, alas. (His legs never recovered.) He was an accomplished writer. Keith also drew beautifully. With regard to Zen though, I was senior. I’d also practiced calligraphy longer. Not unconnected to these points, I lived for years at a time in daily contact with Philip Whalen.

The intercourse between Keith and me was never competitive though; our business was exchange — tips, knowledge (rumor would do), techniques. When I began to work on Whalen’s biography, Keith stood right there, his offering personal stories, texts, referrals, letters, essays, and hours of bright conversation. It is perhaps an under-appreciated fact of his oeuvre that Keith had himself written a fine memoir/critical biography of a poet, Downstream from Trout Fishing in America, about Richard Brautigan.

“Use legal folders,” he advised, on organizing unruly correspondence. “Or shallow boxes.” It was exactly right; it moved things forward, ordering both physical and mental space. This tiny example is evidence of much larger forces in Keith.

“For the 100th time, bodhisattva not Buddha,” Philip Whalen wrote in his journal one day. He seems to be saying that the aim of the Buddhist path is not an (imaginary) immobile state of Buddha-like royal ease and chill, but rather continuous engagement with the world’s troubles, against obstructions to that path. Classically, the bodhisattva conducts her-or-himself following the six paramitas, the six perfections. Foremost and fundamental of these is generosity.

Circling back to Berrigan, Ted is famously to have remarked that when someone dies, they go from your outer life to your inner life. So it should be no surprise that I now meet Keith in mind, where he continues his very sincere way along the bodhisattva path, practicing generosity. And the others: ethics, patience energy, meditation, and wisdom.

Lani provides this account of Keith’s final day:
And here is one of the many miracles that completed his life.  It was not until Saturday evening that I finally focused on Keith’s Zen.  I contacted the temple in Boulder with which Keith had had loose affiliation, and whose Sensei was a friend of Keith’s.  An ordained monk named Martin Mosko.  Martin, as I understood, no longer lived in Colorado and would be unavailable to chant for Keith.  However, looking for advice I sent an anonymous general message to the temple’s website.  Then I discovered that the temple was going into sessin the following morning for a week and I probably wouldn’t get a response.

Not so.  Early Sunday morning I got a call from Martin who was in town and immediately understood the message I sent was about Keith.  I explained what had happened and accepted that he would not be available. Oh no, said Martin, Keith is important and he requested permission to come that day to the hospice to chant for him.

And that was the release Keith needed to end his suffering.  The hospice nurse told me that when she came to attend to him later that evening, he was making a humming sound.  Are you chanting? she asked.  Yes.

Hours later, at 2AM I got a call from the nurse that Keith’s condition was finally changing.  I arrived at the hospice by 2:30, and he took his last breath at 3:15.

The miracle?  Martin was in town to lead the memorial sessin for Keith’s teacher, Kobun Chino Roshi, who had ordained him.

We brought Keith’s body home, dressed him in his robes and Martin and the monks came Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in their ceremonial robes to chant during the 3 day vigil.

Zen is mysterious.  A couple of months ago Keith had a moment when he was able to speak a bit about his experience of dementia.  I asked him what Zen meant to him in his affliction.  His answer came from deep within.  He could no longer speak coherently, read his own work, or identify the day.  Unable to reason, he still knew the answer.

He quoted:  water sees water.

It was a privilege to be his partner.


After Deiryu                                                 

All Buddha’s have
snail nature 

Master & disciple
in a slippery line 

Training hard
for the grand perhaps 

inside the vast mishaps 

nothing stops

 —Keith Kumasen Abbott


Keith’s Art & Calligraphy
Keith Kumasen Abbott was a practitioner of the three perfections in art: painting, poetry, and calligraphy.  It is something he fell into easily as it coincided with his avid interest in Asian literature, particularly the Chinese and the Japanese, as well as his drift toward contemplative practice, largely as a result of his reading, and his down home Northwestern temperament, of course.  As with a core of Pacific Rim writers and artists, especially in the postwar era, the cultural transmission lines have been long established and the discourse is in progress.

Keith’s art reached a peak around the turn of the century with showings of his work in multiple gallery venues nationally and internationally as part of a group show in Shanghai.  It reveals an additional aspect to his creative sensibility in bringing a discerning contemporary eye to the practice of yet another ancient tradition.  Writing and painting have different names but the same body, the Chinese say, as well as employing the same instrument, the ink brush.  They enact a fundamental unity through a shared lexicon of brush strokes.  As in writing, painting utilizes space (the page, the canvas) as the matrix through which forms emerge and bring about an interchangeable sublimity so that in effect word has presence and presence speaks.  This is the language of Keith’s art.



Post Script: Last September (2018) Keith, in the prescient genius of his later decline, sent me the photo at the head of this post.  Actually, Lani sent it to me at Keith’s insistence. Of the four men shown in the photo I only recognize Keith (on the right)—the others, friends, writers, I would assume, taken in the mid-sixties on Cannery Row.  He captioned it with a handwritten note: “Hey—here’s a PIX to get your BACK BRAIN to work on. The right hand of smoker Keith—But what he holds in his left hand appears to be a home rolled kind—the right hand is drawing out a lighter. Presumably a cop car has just passed by and we ALL are acting Non-sha-lot, a lot!”  Keith thought I would know what to do with it.

Thanks is due to everyone for their contributions and encouragement in this memorial project for an old friend and a significant light in American art and letters.  As George so aptly reminded me, particularly in the world of literature, “You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. . . .”

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Montreal Mastermind

The praise or public proclamation poem in the US is not exactly a lost art but one that has been relegated to inaugural sentiment, politic posture, public polemic, and John Philip Sousa huzzahs.  In fact, under tight-ass Anglo constraints, the praise poem is tainted with sinful hubris for any other purpose.  Unlike for the French who will apostrophize everything and anything.  There have been undoubtedly numerous panegyrics to the moment, particularly in the rhetoric of Greek and Roman antiquity, including weddings, graduation ceremonies, retirement banquets, funerals, and, just as deadly, art openings. However, thankfully, not all have been recorded or stood the test of time.  At the beginning of the so-called Modern era we are fortunate to have Apollinaire’s “Poem Read at Andre Salmon’s Wedding” which set the bar for the public poem of its day. We are also privileged, at the beginning of the 21st century, to have two beautifully realized examples by the French Canadian poet and philosopher Robert Hébert.

It should also be noted that, though often overlooked, French Canada is in some ways similar to Catalonia: a unique country and culture within another politically dominant culture and country.  For some of the poets of native attribution, the Acadian past looms large.  Montreal, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in North America, has a vibrant literary scene of which M. Hébert is a regular participant. These poets, writers, philosophers, because of their unique provenance, are Americanos as are all translingual authors of the Americas.  No matter the tongue, the language of poetry is universal. In Hébert’s nomination of a cohort of fellow artists as the “Ubiquiti” we should appreciate that the initial letter’s resonance echoes the 3 U’s of the Americas: Unis, United, Unidos.

Of “Prologue aux nouvelles clameurs (Prologue to the latest hue and cry)”, Robert Hébert notes: “On September 6 and 7, 2013, an amble through the theater and video installation “Berlin Calling” created by Daniel Brière and Évelyne de la Chenelière was held at the Goethe Institut in Montreal,.  Catherine de Léan and Marc Fortier piano with texts by Daniel, Évelyne and myself. Here is the Prologue which was vividly recited by Catherine de Léan”.   The “Prologue to the latest hue and cry” can be read in the original French at Onoups

Of the poem titled “Nelligan’s Fate after Finnegan’s Wake and vice-versa”, the text is in addition to the monologues written for the walk-through event “Berlin Calling” created by Daniel Brière and Évelyne de la Chenelière at the Goethe-Institut. Written on the occasion of an event entitled “Head in the clouds” on the performativity of living together. Unread text, was published here (in the original French) on Bloomsday day, 110 years after that day in Dublin with Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus.

The poems were translated by Pat Nolan who has previously translated M. Hébert’s minimalist work Histoire naturelles (Blue Pig, 1973) included as part of the text to Lost And Found In Translation which was also posted in this blog. The translator notes that the lines in italics in the body of the poems, and title of one, with the exception of epigraphs and dedications, remain in their original English, German, or Latin.

—Submitted to the membership
by the Parole Officer


Prologue to the latest hue and cry 

“Brother Jacques, brother Jacques, are you sleeping?”

Nursery rhyme,
theme of the funeral march by Gus Mahler,
Symphony No. 1, third movement.

In the beginning, the earth was brou and haha
brouhaha.
The spirit of Pterodactylus hovered over the darkness
of the primitive soup
and the waters of unconsciousness.
Pterodactylus created man in his image,
and lent him the use of the word. . .
Man began to speak, to project gobs of sounds,
To address the heavens.
Greatly puzzled by this breath that
Passed through his own mouth.

Over days and nights, stardust created
stone, wood, delicacies,
papyrus, animal skins.
So many supports-surfaces.
And the hand of man finally traced the letters of the alphabet.
Astounding birth of Homo scribens.

We, Ubiquiti of the Millennium,
ubiquitous without borders
we like the first letter A.
Ah! pleasures, joys and sorrow everywhere,
admiration. . .regret. . .impatience. . .surprise. . .
ah! perplexity,
Ha! Ha! Look out. Achtung!
A’s echoing affects the blood makes it curdle.
The alphabetary would summarize the great adventure of man
with all the ups and downs of his journey.

Im Anfang war die Tat.
In the beginning was the deed.
No more gloomy theories, paper,
library, dog growls,
Faust uncovers the plot but has to make a pact
with that psycho Mephisto.

In the beginning was the language of the Third Reich,
That distorted, perverted the words, euphemized,
that “took care” (betreuen) of the malignant and undesirable
by accompanying them to their destruction. . .
Then one day, rubble,
despite all the jam packed walls,
up pops a Joseph Beuys.
aouou! accompanies coyote
and who? a Nina Hagen punkette.

In the beginning there is nothing of the All To Come.
There’s night at times, sex,
a world war, the deed already done.
Historic madness precedes every birth
and the unborn heed.

At the beginning there are points of departure,
a coastline, the rumor of dreams,
the chances of an adventure in an uncertain world,
the oceanic suspense.
Then the mouth of a river,
Amerika, Amerika! 

In the end the catalog of all memories will remain,
bygone pleas,
hub of actions to come, predictable.
The earth won’t be any less hustle and bustle,
Hustle bustle,
An otherwise primordial soup.

In a universe where stardust would have created
Nothing conscious,
philosophy would not be taught:
an extraordinary sun is necessary,
men and women,
an open wound, an injured humanity
for the philosopher to question
all that happens, alles was der Fall ist.
Ah!. . .but we only question with language, my friends:
Fish bones, the embers of books
caught in the esophagus.

Ladies and gentlemen,
meine Damen und Herren,
enter the labyrinth of the Goethe-Institut.
It’s the clamor,
the offbeat hubbub of the Ubiquiti;
ubiquity is a superior virtue of tourism.
To each the highlight of their evening,
the creation of a few flickers at the windows. . .
it will be the Berlin bunch
or Montreal on the Main.

New images, new enigmas or variations,
A little headway through the throng,
A throng
without identity papers,
fiction’s playground


Translator’s notes:
“supports-surfaces” references the 70’s French art movement.
Joseph Beuys was a German Fluxus, happening, and performance artist as well as a painter, sculptor, medallist, installation artist, graphic artist, art theorist, and pedagogue.
Catharina “Nina” Hagen is a German singer, songwriter, and actress. She is known for her theatrical vocals and rose to prominence during the punk and new wave movements in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The Goethe-Institut is a non-profit German cultural association operational worldwide with 159 institutes, promoting the study of the German language abroad and encouraging international cultural exchange and relations.

 

Nelligan’s Fate after Finnegan’s Wake and vice-versa
(A wrench in progress/ English key in the works)

To Cecilia Sullivan and Jacob Hébert, auctioneer,
buried at Old Shediac Cemetery, NB


Here comes everybody
Here everyone enters
An inn of infinite mirrors
Bar open to the gullet, no sweat
Hod, cement and edifices facelifted
sleepers won’t sup at the Eucharistic meal of tongues
This is the eerie din of the Ubiquiti
In the wake of “Le Vaisseau d’Or”, the Berlin or Dublin network
Mutatis mutandis, let’s muon each other
Head in the clouds, sky is the limit
Dublin on the 53rd parallel
higher than the crater of Manicouagan, “the eye of Quebec”
sometimes snow and hail
Heinz cans everywhere
but it is never a matter of ketchup, my friends
So let’s finish Finnegan again

For you, Jean on the go, bush pilot
and noble hiker of the Americas
Homo canadensis erectus
For you, Nathalys and Lotte, flowers of the labyrinth
of the charming knacklaut, in love with the little dreamer Léolo
Home cured emigrants
For you, crusty Marco
ophthalmologist and atheist Jew in the land of the blind
Hush! Caution! Echoland!
counter hallucinations with calm
first scan your terrors and prejudices
Hostages and Co, Engineers, Pierre exclaims
guinea pig and engineer
bundler of new sounds
Haunting crevices of Eros, Phanie smiles
May the most intense of fires grab us by the gut
by our hearts and our minds

Finally for you Julien, troubled and honest
student of philosophical truths
who plays dominoes with the clones of Wittgenstein
to the island kingdom of nonsense
Hegel’s churned excrescences
Heidegger in song, besides!
haughty dogmas and beliefs at auction
Hardest crux ever
For sale, every truth bought, sold, traded or outdated
Who will say it better? Who will raise the stakes?
Who will boost the slumping gambols?

Time-outre
New alphabet t-shirts
abcdefghijklm NO PQ rstuvwxyz
Bouvard and Pécuchet copied the archives
Buvard and PQ stumble, fade, transpire
but without q no Queneau, Quebec, quark or queen
History, climate and entertainment
jangled annoying  nightmares
“Ah! How the snow has snowed”
permanent show business spasms
thin titters, da capo
P. and Q., the peach of all piedom, the quest of all quicks
afraid of the lively question
peace by the quantum or self-importance
Have we cherished such expectations?
Peequeens ourselves, the beautiful pickles in the brine
a mari usque ad mare

How comes ever a body
Listen to everyone in the crowd enjoy themselves, yea
TNT from aaah! … right up to zzzz
We Millennial Ubiquiti, Ubiquiti without borders
we love all the letters of the alphabet
highly charged with electronic meanings
Zarathustra dancing to zydeco airs in the bayous
and tralala in the shadow of an urubu
carrying a water moccasin
ZUP and ZEC, a priori priorities heterogeneous comforts or erogenous forests?
The air is full of mosquitoes and blood sucking bugs
Zeugma

I wandered in Dublin last century
to the Trinity College Library
along  the docks of the Liffey, a river dreamed
Heroticisms, catastrophes and eccentricities
To you the bartender who told me about King Heber
From the butts of Heber and Heremon, nolens volens
brood our pansies
overthink our thoughts, crush the black of our hooded violets
to you Louis Wolfson, student of schizoid language
glued to the short-wave of Radio-Canada
photographed with walkman in Montreal
did I pass you by one day?
To each his own Yiddish
To the beautiful Acadian at the Waldman Fish Market
who sang “in the buginning was my upheaval”
to a tune by Tom Waits
Lobsters cooked in roiling waters
and thanks to all the anonymous H. C. Earwicked who worked
with their two hammers, anvils, stirrups 

Happinest childher everwere
Here everyone begets
Living together, mission accomplished
Head in the clouds, looking Dionysian
Habituals conspicuously emerge
To the virtual offspring of David Nelligan and Émilie-Amanda Hudon
the follies of Ducharme aka Roch Plante
mosquito hawk in the shadow of a Nobel Prize
Finnelligans, Funnelliguns, wake up!
Cannon and chimney belched your resonant fire
poof! kites shape shift
“Humungous” cyber ecology
Sphinx assassin? pharynx redeemer
Delicate balance of long distance friends between languages
the empire of tiresomely-assumed equivocation, of Le Nez qui voque
then Phonelligone
with the wind


Translator’s notes:
Le Vaisseau d’Or; a sonnet by Quebec poet Émile Nelligan, composed in 1899, probably after the May 26 meeting of the École littéraire de Montréal, during which Nelligan received a standing ovation after reading “La Romance du vin”. This is Nelligan’s best-known poem.
“the eye of Quebec”;The Manicouagan Crater is one of the oldest known impact craters. It is in the Côte-Nord region of Québec, Canada. 
Bouvard et Pecuchet; an elaborate pun on the title of Flaubert’s unfinished novel.  In the original French “Bouvard et Pécuchet recopiaient les archives/ Buvard et PQ trébuchent, s’effacent, trépassent” that involves the sense of drinking and stumbling inherent on the tonic similarity between Bouvard and Buvard and the French for drinking, “buvard”.  Flaubert’s title is undoubtedly an elaborate tonic pun as well, given attention by Hébert’s “PQ trébuchent”.  PQ stands for Provence of Quebec, its previous postal designation.
Peequeens; a code switching tonic pun for “between” substituting the P and the Q, not referencing the notorious urination porn.  
a mari usque ad mare (from sea to sea) is the Canadian national motto.
Urubu; Portuguese for vulture, also a slang denigration.
ZUP and ZEC; ZUP is the acronym for “Zones urbaines en priorité” in France, kind of second zone suburbs for poor, migrants, awful buildings, etc.  ZEC stands for “Zone d’exploitation controlee”, kind of wildlife parks with camping sites.  
Zeugma; a figure of speech in which a word applies to two others in different senses (e.g., John and his license expired last week ) or to two others of which it semantically suits only one (e.g., with weeping eyes and hearts ). 
Louis Wolfson, born 1931 in New York, is an American author who writes in French. Treated for schizophrenia since childhood, he cannot bear hearing or reading his native language. He invented a process which consists of immediately translating every English sentence into a foreign phrase having the same sound and sense. He lived in New York, then in Montreal after his mother’s death. Since November 1994 he has lived in Puerto Rico where he became a millionaire on 9 April 2003 after winning the jackpot in a lottery game.
H. C. Earwicked; pun on Joyce’s dreamer in Finnegan’s Wake, also recurring theme of the Wake and this poem, HCE.
the virtual offspring of David Nelligan and Émilie-Amanda Hudon; Émile Nelligan was a French Canadian  poet born in Montreal on December 24,1879. He was the first son of David Nelligan, who arrived in Quebec from Dublin, Ireland at the age of 12. His mother was Émilie Amanda Hudon, from Rimouski, Quebec.  Nelligan is considered one of the greatest poets of French Canada. 
Roch Plante; In addition to being a playwright, scriptwriter and writer best known for his famous novel L’Avalée des avalés, Réjean Ducharme creates sculptures under the pseudonym Roch Plante.
Le Nez qui voque; the second novel by Quebec writer and playwright Réjean Ducharme. It was published by Gallimard in 1967.

Robert Hébert is a French Canadian author and experiential philosopher living in Montreal. He is the author of eleven books whose subjects range from philosophic meditations and cogitations, observations on the uniqueness of Quebecois culture and its Acadian past, and poetry.  His most recent book, Monsieur Rhésus, was published by Editions Nota Bene (Montréal, 2019)


Pat Nolan’s translations have appeared in numerous literary magazines including Otoliths, The World, Big Sky, Exquisite Corpse, and Contemporary Literature in Translation as well as in The Random House Book of Twentieth Century Poetry (1982) and Poems for the Millennium, Vol. I (1995).  His translation of Philippe Soupault’s Aquarium was published by Doris Green Editions in 1984 and a further selection of Soupault’s early work was issued from Pygmy Forest Press as Where The Four Winds Blow in 1993.

 

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A Taxonomy Of Poets

A Taxonomy of Poets

 from Ode To Sunset
—A Year In The Life of American Genius—
a fiction by Pat Nolan

Carl Wendt, poetry polymath and flaneur, has a genius, whether American or not, for finding patrons who will regularly invite him for dinner. More than two-thirds of his social calendar is taken up with a dining engagement at someone else’s expense, either at home or in public.  Wendt dines with Charlie Reyes, his editor at the weekly, to go over ideas for his poetry month Gone With The Wendt columns.

 “Help, help, a black window spider is after me!” said Jade, or Jolie, and pretended to cringe in fear while being chased by her sister, Jolie or Jade, with claw hands and bared menacing teeth. The twins had greeted Wendt’s arrival at Charlie and Clarissa’s tiny apartment over on Coleridge with gleeful hysteria the last few times he’d come by for dinner.  They screeched and ran circling him as he stood in the entryway and then demanded all his attention once he was parked on the sofa in the dining living room.  They had just turned four, their jet black hair tied up in a bushy knot on the top of their heads, one with a green ribbon and the other a red.  Their big black eyes took him in like an oddity, tiny chins quivering in determined innocence.  Jade or Jolie began a demonstration of finger play, a classic, The Itsy Bitsy Spider, opposing a thumb and forefinger to mark the spider’s path up the water spout.  Wendt’s attention to Jolie or Jade had prompted Jade or Jolie to transform into a black window spider.

“Black window spider! Your girls are poets!”

“Carl, don’t tell me that.”  Clarissa, a large woman with an angelic face, stood in the doorway of the kitchen.  She handed him a Red Stripe, and then muttered, “I’ll put them in a gunny sack and drop them into the bay.”  Laughing with him, she asked, “Has Charles told you the good news?”

Wendt tipped the bottle and wet his whistle.  “Yeah, he just said something big was up.”

“I’ll let him tell you, then.”

Charlie appeared in the doorway with the open laptop in his hand.  “Hey, Wendt, I heard the girls screaming so I knew it must be you.”

“Or The Beatles.”

“Yeah.  Want a beer?  Ok, already got one.”

“What’s this good news Clarissa won’t tell me about?”

Charlie frowned like maybe it wasn’t all that good of news. “Oh, yeah, great news, actually.”  He darted a glance at Clarissa. “I got a job teaching journalism.”

Wendt’s expression was a big grin and raised eyebrows.  “City College?”

“Actually, Carl, it’s up in Benicia, Solano Community College.”

“That’s still in California, right? Northern California?”

“Yeah, yeah, up 80 on the way to Sacramento.”

“Ok, I guess I know where that is, I’ve been to Sacramento.”

“And the money’s pretty good.”

“We’ll be moving up to Fairfield,” Clarissa added.  “We’ve been looking at home prices.  We might just be able to afford a house of our own.  Once Charles gets settled in.”  She sounded thrilled.  “A yard for the girls, a garden for me.”  Ecstatic.

“So the gig with the weekly. . . .”

“I’ll be giving my notice at the end of the month.  I have to get up to speed for the fall semester.”

“Well congratulations, the both of you!” he toasted with his bottle.  Why does someone else’s good news, Wendt mused, always turn out to be bad news for me?

Clarissa asked Charlie to put the laptop aside once they sat down to eat.  It wasn’t so much a request.  Charlie frowned at the screen before selecting an option.  “You know that last piece you submitted, Ed Dorn Meets Adorno, a Godzilla Love Story?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m going to change it to A Godzilla Love Story, and subhead it Ed Dorn Meets Adorno.  Though I don’t know if that’s even necessary.”

Carl said nothing.

Charlie knew Wendt didn’t like his words messed with. “Here’s my thinking on it: few people know who Adorno is, even fewer have read him, and no one knows who Ed Dorn is. Godzilla, everybody knows.”

“Charles, do you mind?  We’d like to eat?” Clarissa threw him such a look and extended her hands to one of the twins and to Wendt so that they might be joined for the blessing.  Once everyone’s hands were linked she intoned, “Almighty Throb, that we may share in the bounty of your Reverberation.  Om.”

“Om,” echoed the others.

“Would you like a drink with your meal, Carl, another Red Stripe? Ginger beer?  Ting?”

“Got any Big Bamboo Irish Moss?”

“Carl, the last thing you need is an IM.”

Wendt looked down at the dinner plate of black beans, shredded beef, jerk chicken, rice and plantain.  “Just like momma used to make.”

“I don’t see any sauerkraut, Carl.”

“You‘d have been right if you’d said corned beef and cabbage.”

Clarissa had made rice pudding for dessert.  Wendt eyed the plate of gizzidas.  And since he and Charlie always conducted business over lunch, they easily fell into talking shop.  Wendt outlined his next couple of columns, and his idea for the feature.  Charlie nodded, and grinned, and frowned, and laughed, and agreed, and frowned, and shook his head in close attention to what Wendt was telling him.  Carl seemed particularly excited about his updated taxonomy of poets.

“Ok, you might have heard some of these before. There are the spiritual poets who are obviously held down by the gravity of their lofty world saving aspirations. And there are the poets of history who catalog the march of time in the broader strokes of saga and epic. You’ve got your clever poets who specialize in anecdotes and limericky jokes, and the portrait poets who sketch the psychological shape of this or that personage, famous or otherwise, in the dull gray wash of sentimentality.”

Charlie nodded that he was following.

“All right, then your landscape poets also known as nature poets for whom every bug and bee is worthy of catalog and for whom vistas, vast of course, remind them of their significance in recording, in altogether inadequate language, what they think they see.”

Charlie chuckled.

“The pet poets who dote on the anthropomorphic antics of their animal companions be they dogs, cats, canaries, turtles, goldfish, potbellied pigs, but stopping at the dark significance of the beast within. The body poets, also known as the narcissists, who revel in relating the minutia of bowel movements, menstruations, ejaculations, orgasms, and ingrown toenails—in general, the narcissism of their pedestrian suffering.  And of course the poets of conquest who tally their triumphs in the bedroom, in the public stall, the backseat, the closet, the kitchen table, the subway, and pew.  There are also feminist poets, gay poets, ethnic poets, in general, political poets, whose narrow-minded diatribes seek to correct the misguided conceptions of humanity, the us-versus-them factions, in so many words.”

Charlie blinked, maybe as a signal that he was falling behind.

“One kind of poet specializes in personal confession, another in the lexical trappings of fashion.  Each has their own style, their own approach with which to distinguish themselves from others, though it would take a micrometer to gauge the difference.  The minimalist sketches, the florid flourishes, the typographer experiments, the haughty moralizes with a holier than thou stance that masks the insubstantiality of the verse, the catalogers of mannerisms, mannerists themselves, the woe is me, or humanity, sentimentalist, the idealist, the realist, few in number but loud of voice, and the miniaturist who needs only a few words, sometimes just one, to express the entire bandwidth of consciousness.  Each strives with his own trick, a spectacular specialness to an untouchable uniqueness, and thus, with the vagaries of fad, reputations are made.  And unmade.”  Wendt added a diabolical snicker though it wasn’t necessary.

The twins, dark eyes wide with wonder or horror, had stopped, spoons of pudding held in midflight. Clarissa looked horrified. “Carl, please, you’ll make the children cry!”


Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia.  He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry and two novels.  His most recent books of poetry are So Much, Selected Poems Volume II 1990-2010 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2019) and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018). He also maintains Parole, the blog of the New Black Bart Poetry Society.  His serial fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusal at odetosunset.com.  He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.


The Parole Officer Notes:  Part of the response to the Anselm Hollo Challenge has been a request from John Bloomberg-Rissman who is editing the collected poems and translations of Anselm Hollo for future publication by Coffee House Press as well as preparing a bibliography of the poet’s published work.  He is in the final phase of compilation and requests, “that anyone who finds a mistake, or who has further information on something I’ve found, or knows of something not included, let me know about it – at this email – would be great.”  A pdf file of the draft bibliography is available here.  Mr. Rissman’s email address is john.bloomberg(at sign)ucr(dot).edu

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hard as nails

hard as nails 

by Carol Ciavonne
(in response to the Anselm Hollo Challenge)

In my art studio/laundry room, a fly-specked postcard leans on the window sill.  This is the poem printed on it:

 hard as nails 

hard as nails    we are not
& there are no exceptions 

but as fragile as    “some strange melodious bird”
singing one continuous strain 

in which one thought is expressed
deepening in intensity as it evolves in progress 

“like a welcome already overshadowed
with the coming farewell”

—Anselm Hollo

I love this poem. It is in full view so I can re-read it often, and I do. It’s one of the first poems I ever saw that included quotations within the poem. In fact, the poem is mostly a quotation. I like them partly because of the way Hollo has made them sit in the poem so that they work without calling attention to themselves, but also the way they do call attention to themselves because they are in quotes, and are thus lifted and emphasized. He’s made them hold that balance. And of course the quotations themselves are lovely, quite lyrical. I had never thought of explicating the poem, which as a teacher and reviewer, I have often done, but I have very mixed feelings about those roles. On the one hand, it can be helpful and interesting to give context, but on the other hand it can beat any beauty or mystery right out of the poem. I vaguely thought that maybe the quotes were Keats, but I never felt a driving urge to look them up, nor to find out anything much about Hollo himself. The poem simply existed as a delight for me.

But then I began to truly wonder about the poem, so I googled the quotations. (It’s quite possible that many people have explicated this poem before and better than I will, but it’s become a labor of love.)  I found the quotations were originally the work of Scottish writer George MacDonald, taken from Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women, a fantasy novel published in London in 1858.  From Wikipedia: MacDonald (10 December 1824 – 18 September 1905) was a Scottish author, poet and Christian minister. He was a pioneering figure in the field of fantasy literature and the mentor of fellow writer Lewis Carroll. In addition to his fairy tales, MacDonald wrote several works on Christian apologetics. His writings have been cited as a major literary influence by many notable authors including W. H. Auden, J. M. Barrie, Lord Dunsany, Hope Mirrlees, Robert E. Howard, L. Frank Baum, T.H. White, Lloyd Alexander, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Walter de la Mare, E. Nesbit, Peter S. Beagle, Neil Gaiman and Madeleine L’Engle.”

It so happens that I read quite a few of MacDonald’s children’s books, but not Phantastes, which is classified as adult fantasy, although obviously not with the connotation that “adult” literature has today. The Princess and the Goblin was one I devoured at age 9, and now I remember that seeing MacDonald’s name on a book would quicken my heart. So here is a mystery I would love to have asked Hollo. How did he come upon this piece? When did he read MacDonald, how much did he read, what appealed to him about this 19th century author? Was it simply the words, was it the philosophy?

And from another part of the web, here is the MacDonald quote from which Hollo chose phrases:

“…at that moment, some strange melodious bird took up its song, and sang, not an ordinary bird-song, with constant repetitions of the same melody, but what sounded like a continuous strain, in which one thought was expressed, deepening in intensity as it evolved in progress. It sounded like a welcome already overshadowed with the coming farewell. As in all sweetest music, a tinge of sadness was in every note. Nor do we know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows. Joy cannot unfold the deepest truths, although deepest truth must be deepest joy. Cometh white-robed Sorrow, stooping and wan, and flingeth wide the doors she may not enter. Almost we linger with Sorrow for very love.”

But Keats was still nagging at me (like a “sparrow… picking about the gravel”) so I looked up “To a Nightingale,” certainly a poem MacDonald knew. 

     My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
         My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
     Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
         One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
        ‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
         But being too happy in thine happiness,—
                That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
                        In some melodious plot
         Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
                Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

The heartache of joy, expressed by Keats “in some melodious plot of beechen green” And “shadows numberless” also gives the sense of MacDonald’s (and Hollo’s use of his phrase) “a welcome overshadowed by the coming farewell,” and further in MacDonald’s description (not used by Hollo), “Nor do we know how much of the pleasures even of life we owe to the intermingled sorrows.”  And still, in all three poems, the feeling of the bird “singest of summer in full-throated ease.”

This combination of bird, song, sorrow and joy is present in many poems over the centuries. In Christina Rossetti’s “A Birthday”, “My heart is like a singing bird/Whose nest is in a water’d shoot” the joy of love is predominant, while in Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, the sorrow and longing: 

     I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings! 

Then, in Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird”, the longing is reiterated, but strengthening rage, not ease, is the motivation:

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The metonyms of bird and song for human emotion are a literary legacy. But in “hard as nails”, the lines “hard as nails we are not/ & there are no exceptions/ but as fragile as” are Hollo’s additions and the thought that shapes the poem. Hollo has picked out the words in MacDonald’s piece that make the poem poetry, and that give the feeling of sorrow, without using MacDonald’s further, more heavy-handed description. But I want to say that in Hollo’s poem, it’s not really sorrow, but a recognition of human fragility. The almost-irony of the certainty of fragility: we are breakable, breakable. There is something comforting in the phrase “hard as nails we are not,” using a common idiom and contradicting it so strongly. Who is “hard as nails”?  No human. “… there are no exceptions”. This powerful rejection of anything more/less than human begins the poem. And in truth, we are “…as fragile” and perhaps as un-understandable and beautiful in our way as “some strange melodious bird.” Hollo begins the poem with a rejection, but it is also a tender affirmation of our perseverance in seeking beauty and meaning despite, or maybe because of, the knowledge that we will die.


Carol Ciavonne’s poems have appeared in Concis, Denver Quarterly, Boston Review, Colorado Review, New American Writing, among other journals. Essays and reviews can be found in Colorado Review, Rain Taxi, Entropy and Pleiades. She is the author of Birdhouse Dialogues (LaFi 2013) (with artist Susana Amundaraín) and a collection, Azimuth (Jaded Ibis Press 2014). Ciavonne is an associate editor of Posit.


The Parole Officer notes: The poem card was first published by Jeffrey C. Wright’s Hard Press in a series of poem cards numbering one hundred, this poem belonging to series 12. “Hard As Nails” was also include in the 1970 Cape Goliard Press selection of Hollo’s poems titled Maya, along with 4 other laid-in, period postcards, each issued by Hard Press.  The poem appears again in a selection of poems published by Blue Wind Press titled Finite Continued (1980).


The New Black Bart Poetry Society Challenge:  Anselm Hollo

In an effort to be more comprehensive in its overview of the art of poetry, the Society has tasked itself to reappraise the canon and point out what has been overlooked and what is in need of attention or review.  Fitting for a society named after a stage coach robber, the focus will be on the outlaws, the marginalized, the ignored, the eccentric, and forgotten poets and their work.

Poets vital to the progress and renewal of contemporary poetry are being scratched off the guest list of the endless and inane poetry cocktail party (not that they would attend or have anything to wear) as a result of the gentrification, commodification, and corporatization of literature as well as the capitalization of mediocrity.  To remedy this sad state of affairs, The New Black Bart Poetry Society is issuing a challenge to the membership in the form of a request for submissions of essays.  Submission of an essay to the blog automatically confers membership (see Conditions of Parole).

The first challenge is for essays on the subject of Anselm Hollo and his Poetry.  The essays should address the background, uniqueness, and impact of Anselm Hollo and his work on modern American poetry.  Submissions should be in the range of 3K words or less and submitted as an attached word doc with the heading “Hollo Essay Challenge” to nuallainhousepublisher@gmail.com  The resulting essay or essays will be posted on the Society’s blog for hundreds of people to read and perhaps be informed, radicalized, or even outraged (one can only hope).

For those unfamiliar with the poet, below a basic bio and selected biblio.  Anything else is searchable.

Anselm Hollo (12 April 1934 – 29 January 2013) was a Finnish poet and translator. He lived in the United States from 1967 until his death in January 2013. Hollo published more than forty titles of poetry in the United Kingdom and in the United States, with a style strongly influenced by the American beat poets.

Jazz poems, Vista Books, London, 1963
& (And) it is a song : poems, Migrant Press, Birmingham, 1965
Faces & Forms: Poems. Ambit, London, 1965
The claim, Cape Goliard Press, London, 1966
Maya, Cape Goliard Press, London, 1970
Alembic, Trigram Press, 1972
Sojourner Microcosms: New & Selected Poems 1959–1977, Blue Wind Press, 1977.
Finite Continued, Blue Wind Press, 1980
Corvus: poems, Coffee House Press, 1995. Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence: Selected Poems 1965–2000, Coffee House Press 2001.
The Tortoise of History
, Coffee House Press, 2016

 

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I Remember Tom Clark

I Remember Tom Clark 

(with a tip of the laurel crown to Joe Brainard)
by Pat Nolan

Orphic Tom

I remember the first time I heard Tom Clark’s name mentioned was at the Bull’s Eye Tavern in Monterey, California in 1966 or 67.  I was tending bar and had engaged in a conversation with a lovely young woman (Anita?) whom I tried to impress with the fact that I wrote poetry.  She asked me if I knew a friend of hers, Tom Clark, who, she said, was a real cool guy and a great poet.

I remember meeting Tom Clark for the first time at a John Weiners reading at The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s church in New York City in January of 1968.  Ted Berrigan introduced John Weiners, and Tom was at the door collecting admissions (donations).  I introduced myself and mentioned the exchange I had with his friend in Monterey.

I remember when Tom was the Poetry Editor for The Paris Review that I sent him some poems in late 1969 or early 1970 with a note reminding him of our meeting at The Poetry Project.

I remember hearing back from Tom a few months later saying that he was accepting some poems for issue #50 or #51 of The Paris Review and not believing my good luck.  As it turns out, luck had a lot to do with it because years later in an interview published in Little Caesar magazine Tom explained that toward the end of his tenure as poetry editor for The Paris Review he used the blindfold dartboard method of picking poems.

I remember getting a copy of the Anthology of New York Poets when it was first published in 1970 and thinking that I had finally found kindred pop Modern spirits especially in Tom, Ron Padgett, and Ted Berrigan.

I remember finding a copy of Stones in the Oakland library and thinking how cool it was that a mainstream publisher like Harper & Row would publish such a brash up and coming poet like Tom Clark.  It gave me a kind of hope.

I remember returning Tom the favor by publishing a poem of his (“Icy Stars”) in an issue of my mimeo magazine, The End (& variations thereof) in the early 70’s.  It was kind of a symbolic reciprocity.

I remember Tom suggesting that I ask Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley for submissions to my fledgling literary effort.

I remember driving around on the mesa in Bolinas looking for Tom’s address on Cherry St.  Eventually I got the drift.  Tom didn’t want to be found.

I remember attending a Tom Clark  Alice Notley reading at Intersection when it was on Union Street.  Ted Berrigan introduced them.

I remember acquiring a copy of Neil Young and thinking that it was the epitome of the minimalist poetry concept book.

I remember that in the mid seventies I went about acquiring all the Tom Clark poetry books I could get my hands on.  I still have Blue, 35, How I Broke In & Six Modern Masters, At Malibu, and When Things Get Tough On Easy Street. 

I remember when I got my copy of At Malibu I was blown away by the sheer pop modernity of the voice and thinking, finally, an American poetry to match the culture and the times.

I remember thinking that “To Kissinger” was best most effective curse poem ever penned, that the language was brutal, unforgiving, with a spare street smart kick-ass irreverence. The amoeba is mountainous Hank! /it dwarfs your think tanks you neoid!/so jack off my octopus!  Still works for me.

I remember James Dickey saying that Tom was “the worst poet in America.”

I remember Alice Notley saying that Tom Clark was “the smartest poet in America.”  Which I took to mean “savvy.”

I remember interviewing Tom for Doug Messerli’s Sun & Moon (issue #5, Fall 1978) conducting it through the mail because I didn’t drive and Tom had his license suspended (so he said).  The interview was titled “Inertia and the Highway Patrol” after something Tom had written: Two things to watch out for in California/ inertia and the Highway Patrol.

I remember Tom saying that living in Bolinas had made him a “bitter pastoralist.”

I remember Tom claiming to belong to the Why Not School of Poetry.

I remember asking Tom what he had learned from his experience as poetry editor for The Paris Review, and his answer “I learned that there’s more bullshit poetry around than you could imagine.  Even in your most extravagant moment” was right on the money.

I remember thinking that being the poetry editor for The Paris Review would most likely cure anyone of romantic notions about poetry, and certainly about poets.

I remember the late seventies as my Tom Clark fan boy period, when I wrote and published reviews in The Poetry Project Newsletter and Poetry Flash of Tom’s poetry books including John’s Heart, 35, How I Broke In & Six Modern Masters, and At Malibu.

I remember that Back In Boston Again with Ted, Ron, and Tom exemplified the sense of camaraderie of the early New York poets scene before drugs and social politics took their toll.

I remember getting a copy of Dennis Cooper’s Little Caesar #11 (December, 1980) with the Tom Clark interview conducted by Ed Dorn when they were both living in Boulder, Colorado.

I remember thinking that it was probably the best interview with Tom I’d read in that it was candid, honest (for the moment), and quite revealing.  I still think so.

I remember learning two very important things from the interview that I’ve carried with me since.  One was Tom’s idea of what he called “the starved dog principle” in which the competition for survival in the poetry scene immediately turns poets into back stabbing creeps just to get their names in print.  That’s what it’s like in academic circles, that’s how it is on the literary grant circuit, and that’s the way it is with any of the hundreds of self-serving poetry crowds everywhere.  And it has absolutely nothing to do with poetry.

I remember that the other important thing I learned was that Tom‘s editorship at The Paris Review came to an end because George Plimpton objected that he was accepting the work of “absolutely unknown, unheard-of jack-offs.”

I remember thinking I resemble those remarks.

I remember coming to the realization, somewhat facetiously, that Tom should at least shoulder some of the blame for my monstrous tenacity in the face of repeated failure. But, by then, it was too late.  I had already invested too much in the exalted opinion of myself to look back.

I remember thinking that Tom’s experience in Bolinas had contributed to a siege mentality and his indignation, self righteous at times, at the conservative group think that communities of writers often devolve into further hardened his eccentric outspoken maverick inclination. And I could appreciate that.

I remember finding a used copy of Paul Blackburn’s The Cities at Black Oak Books in Berkeley that had once been owned by Tom, complete with scrawled marginalia (in pen no less).

I remember the only other time I met Tom Clark was at Larry Blake’s in Berkeley after a reading at Cody’s.  His answer to something I said was “How’s that working out for you?”

I remember thinking that Tom was kind of a dick.

I remember not hearing from Tom for almost five year until I received a review of Dennis Cooper’s My Mark as a submission to Life Of Crime, the scurrilous gossipy newsletter of the Black Bart Poetry Society that Steven Lavoie and I were publishing in the early 80s.  Life of Crime, by then on the cusp of its third issue, had quickly gained the reputation for publishing anything as long as it was cutting satire, with or without a purpose.  Tom’s review fit not so much as satirical but as vindictive.  Beggars can’t be choosers, and the newsletter was receiving many such axe grinding submissions.  Again, beggars. . . .

I remember hearing awful stories about Tom and not wanting to believe them.

I remember that Tom Clark was considered a social pariah among a certain coterie of poets I occasionally ran into.

I remember thinking that Tom was manipulative even though I still respected his work and that relationships tend to go sour when you feel like you’re being used.

I remember looking in on his blog, Beyond The Pale (certainly aptly named), occasionally. He was nothing if not prolific.  And looking back on the whole of his oeuvre I again realize that the guy had guts, what Frank O’Hara would call “nerve.”  I found the more recent work a tad morose and sentimental but nonetheless powerful.  His homeless poems had some of that same incisiveness and fire of the early work.  Tom had the lingo, the patois, and a particular authentic no bullshit working class rage that I thought I understood.  And he was better by leagues than anyone who has recently been awarded the Pulitzer–they’re not even in the same ballpark.

I remember soon after Donald Guravich apprised me of Tom’s accidental death, once I got over the shock, I started searching the shelves to find the books of his I had.  I have a lot of the early work, up to the 80’s.  After that I may have gotten over my Tom Clark thing.  I still think At Malibu was his best selection of poems mainly for the rage, the invective, and for a couple of poems that impressed me mightily, “After Reverdy” and “Japan”.  He really worked the metaphysical poets, Herrick, Campion, etc, caught their tight rhythms and gave them tough new words.  Later I could see he was repeating himself, and of course he was writing a lot of prose, bios of the famous and near famous, and as everyone knows, prose is deadly.

I remember someone telling me afterward that this wasn’t the first time Tom was hit by a car, and in almost that same exact stretch of roadway. That time he was declared dead at the scene by the EMT.  He didn’t survive the second time.

I remember going to my “archives” to see what correspondence I had from him.  Not a whole lot.  I still have the handwritten acceptance notes.  And I have a note sending me poems for my poetry mag, The End, with the suggestion that I hit up Ted and Alice for some poems.  I have the correspondence with him from the interview I did with him for Sun & Moon but it’s mostly his tiny unreadable handwriting in the margins of my typescript.  Reading it over recently I see that it didn’t hit many targets or nerves so it’s kinda disorganized.  I think it was then that I realized that Tom was a control freak.  Only later in my dealings with him during the early issues of Life Of Crime did I conclude that he could be “paranoid” as well.  I have postcards and notes in his teeny tiny handwriting at first saying what a great idea Life Of Crime was and maybe he has a guy who might want to fund the enterprise—we were so unambitious back then (not much has changed).  The 180, threatening to sue and insisting that I damage with lacunae and typos Steve Abbott’s rebuttal to his Dennis Cooper review as I did to his, came soon after.  Then he really frothed up when I blanked out all the names in his vendetta against Cooper and essentially muted the sting of the nasty axe grinding diatribe.  I knew I was being used—but I didn’t have a dog in that fight.

I remember not hearing from Tom for many years after that.  Until the internet and blogging.  I found his blog and commented that I liked what he was doing.  We exchanged a few back and forth’s but nothing significant.  Then in late ‘09 I mentioned to him in an email that Alastair Johnston’s Poltroon Press would be publishing the collected mimeo facsimiles of Life Of Crime.  He wrote right back to demand that he have editorial rights to expunge anything that reflected poorly on him!!!  Too late for that, the milk had been spilt and the cows had escaped the barn.  He threatened to sue (again) and gave an incredible sob story (I saved the emails of that exchange) about his poor health and finances and all the people who were out to get him.  Nothing came of it.  Eventually when Life Of Crime, Documents in The Guerrilla War Against Language Poetry was published, Tom asked for a comp copy.

Wan Tom (1941-2018)

I remember that maybe a year or so later, when he realized that the book was nothing but a fart in a feed lot, we were pen pals again.  I would check in on his blog occasionally, read the sycophantic comments and think, so it’s come to this.  He posted so many photos that the tiny bandwidth that services me out here in the boonies would take a quarter of an hour to download everything.  The final impression I got of Tom was that he saw most American poets as treading water in a lake of shit poetry and pleading, “don’t make waves.”  Of course Tom made waves.  He couldn’t help himself.  He was always a rebel, always pushing the limit.

I remember Tom Clark as an eloquently righteous voice raging in the wasteland of American poetry.


Pat Nolan’s latest book is Volume II of his selected poems, So Much, Notebook Keyboard, 1990-2010 from Nualláin House, Publishers.  He is also the author of  Ode To Sunset, A Year in the Life of American Genius, a serial fiction available for perusal at odetosunset.com

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