The Anselm Hollo Challenge

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. Goliard Press, London, 1966
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. 

For those in need of a kick start, see Ravi Shankar’s review of Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence in Quarterly Conversation.

Submitted to the Membership
by the Parole Officer 4/18/19


The What If Poem
By Cecelia Belle

What if Odysseus was born in Baltimore and Vasco da Gama got sidetracked inventing what we know as Rubik’s Cube?  What if we either had Doric or Ionic temples at our hair lines and flying buttresses could no longer serve to transmit the lateral forces pushing walls outward?   And we could change the shape of our noses merely by pushing them around?  Pass our hand through a mighty oak as if it was a waterfall?

What if all the flowers on earth grew to the size of Victoria lilies at Longwood Garden, Pennsylvania—overnight?  What if oranges inherit the earth and apples don’t care?  What if Job got the last laugh and ever since comedians only told long, sad stories?  What if Methuselah died young and Noah had been a poet surfer?

What if all therapy is grief counseling and we enter the world suffering from valde melancholicus and when we hear voices in our heads we should invite them into the parlor, move a few pillows, make tea and polite conversation?

What if there were methods of mass construction that could build skyscrapers designed by Calder in every city and Bach’s fugues were like music to our eyes?  And when you looked into a pool and saw hundreds of glittering coins they rose to the surface bursting into a covey of doves?  Every time.  What if we used conch shells for money and there was enough gold for us to lay our hands on?

What if we could turn back the hands of time, would they grow less wrinkled?  Would we end up in a ditch in Bakersfield or be swooning from the alfalfa of Fresno?  Would Edvard Munch be kissing our hand while coughing?  Would we find an asp on our tender breast?  Finally remember where we lost our voice and all those car keys?  What if every time we blinked, we forgot everything and the world became new again?

What if meteors streaking overhead became commonplace and you could dig up stars in your backyard if you knew where to look, or got lucky?

What if raccoons came from bears and rabbits became brave and more and more fish began to come onto the shore and started walking in threesomes towards the woods, suburbs and the cities?

And there had always been, and continue to be an entire race of very little people, using small flowers for tea cups and lamp shades  and fresh mowed grass for bed ticking?

What if it became customary for all of us to greet each other by rolling on the floor or stopping mid-conversation when a siren sounded to howl until it passed us.  What if we shook hands to signal strong disagreement?

What if Tesla was right?  About everything.

What if certain people became magnetized and had trouble walking by metal.  What if everyone in Brooklyn did get up at 6 a.m. to do the Hawaiian number?

What if everyone decided not to make public appearances anymore?  And if scientists invented an anti-glue that could help us all take things apart?  Or if orange juice rose to your mouth of its own free will?  And apples could be found dancing mid-air in the hallways, hoping to avoid lunch?

What if before you got your doctoral degree you had to go through kindergarten again? And then children handed out the diplomas and the valedictorian was awarded a cat, some velvet ribbon, and a set of horse shoes?  And the families of the graduates were asked to stand and dance to the long version of “Jump Around”?

What if Camus’ “The Stranger” was really about that weird guy with a friend that had a cat?  And that play by Oscar Wilde was called “The Seriousness of Being Important”.  And Nietzsche was the guy who wrote “Metamorphosis” —the story of a caterpillar who feared nothing but change.  And F. Scott Fitzgerald never existed.

And the Armory Show of 1913 was celebrated world-wide at parties where people fell down staircases in honor of it?

What if primary colors changed hues and hand puppets roamed the planet at night to steal socks from dryers in an effort to preserve their populations and roses thrived in snow?

What if Amelia Earhart was giving away free samples at Costco in Rohnert Park and Danny Devito was a descendent of Rasputin and millions of California poppies suddenly bloomed and vanished in Siberia never to be heard from again?  And what if cicadas weren’t the only thing to come out of the earth every seventeen years and left-handedness became the new right?

What if all the planets became visible in the day and at night we could tune into the collective unconscious like a radio station.  What if Aunt Marion was right about the cement wall at the end of space and Kepler was wrong?

What if when we petted ponies they gave off perfume and Queen Anne’s’ Lace was made of fabric and thread?  What if every freeway, street and road became a waterway and gondolas were the only way to get around?  What if you actually could think your way out of a box?

What if Newton, Copernicus and Galileo missed some essential points and shit started flying around everywhere?  What if Julius Caesar had learned a good steady trade instead and Adolph Hitler had learned to read and sew and bake bread?

What if the Fibonacci numbers were now off by only one and shells and fingerprints and music all started to look and sound strange?  What if symphony conductors faced us?

What if rain made puppies grow and mud pies began to taste good?  What if we found the place where all the time goes?  What if it is in someone’s attic in Wisconsin?

What if all the clocks and watches in the world disappeared and dark holes and anti-matter could be found in anyone’s pocket?  What if the Song of Circe could be downloaded on YouTube and no one ever went to work again.

What if the Land of Milk and Honey truly was made of that and manna from Heaven could be purchased at Walmart at rolled back prices or for a song, an actual song you would sing, or for a small bit of anti-matter or pony perfume?

What if paint peeled onto walls and cracks gradually grew together?  What if Orion’s Belt really was one and no one knew how it got there.  What if buckles in the time warp continuum were where all the really cool discotheques were and you could find all those angels there dancing on the heads of pins laughing?

What if poems and photos actually spoke to us and when memories washed over us we came wet.  What if when we thought things through we ended up in another room?  What if we could no longer hide from our feelings and they found us?

What if Sephora was a Greek goddess and her crowning glory was her brain?  So what if Thor was gay.  And all Zeus really wanted was a good home cooked meal?  What if Jung was right and human life is the story of the gods wanting to be man?

How long will you be staying?  What if Oliver Cromwell ran a used car dealership or did you know our artichokes run across the backyard when we are not looking might be an ice breaker?  What if there really are only the happy few?

There is much to suggest it did rain roses upon St. Theresa’s death and visions of Jesus on pancakes are not all that uncommon.  What if the fruit came first and then the flowers?  Can we escape Raptures?  Prefer desire to consummation?  Be saved from sin by the gods?  I could be wrong…but I don’t think so.


Cecelia Belle lives in Sebastopol, California, with her partner, Markus Bennett, daughter Maggie and good friends nearby.  She was a psychotherapist and social service non-profit executive director for close to 30 years.  She edited the literary magazines at Sonoma State University and organized Sonoma County poetry reading series in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s and has been quietly writing for the past 35 years.


New to the Society’s Shelves, Winter, 2019

Elinor Nauen, Now I Know Where I’m Going, Talisman Press, 2018
Andrew Shaw, Couplets, Silent Academy, 2019
Barbara Henning, Smoking In The Twilight Bar, United Artists, 1988
Barbara Henning, Love Makes Thinking Dark, United Artists, 1995
Barbara Henning, Detective Sentences, Spuyten Duyvil, 2001
Barbara Henning, My Autobiography, United Artists, 2007
Barbara Henning, Cities and Memories, Chax Press, 2010
Barbara Henning, A Swift Passage, Quale Press, 2013
Barbara Henning, A Day Like Today, Negative Capability Press, 2015
Barbara Henning, Just Like That, Spuyten Duyvil, 2018
Barbara Henning, Maureen Owen, Poets On The Road, 2019
Fell Swoop 160 , Contributing Editor, Jeffrey C. Wright, 2019

 

 

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Into The Heart Of Wetness

Sonoma County, California, the west of the county specifically, received three visitors in the last days of February and early into March of 2019.  One was unwelcome and made a big impact, and the other two, although welcome and appreciated, didn’t make as big of a splash.  As the atmospheric river stretching from the Hawaiian Islands swept ashore on the North Coast of California bringing with it enough rain to swell the Russian River to flood levels not seen since 1995, two intrepid poets, Maureen Owen and Barbara Henning, drove up from Southern California for a scheduled reading at Moe’s Bookstore in Berkeley and then on to the final stop on the West Coast of their cross country reading tour at North Bay Letterpress Arts in Sebastopol, California. 

Owen and Henning had put their ambitious plan for a cross country poetry reading tour into motion a year earlier by lining up dates and venues that would take them from Brooklyn where Barbara currently lives and end up in Denver two months later where Maureen makes her home.  Their venues would include upscale bookstores, coffee houses, museums, legendary used bookstores, botanical gardens, university classrooms, art centers, and artist coops, in short, a unique sampling of poetry environments tracing an arc across the Southern states, the Southwest, and up the West Coast before hooking back to the Rockies.

Framed as a personal challenge, the poets hit the road much in the manner of itinerant preachers and musicians, lodging at discount motels, funky hostels, airbnb’s, and with friends (pobnb’s) along the way.  Adding a social media touch, Maureen and Barbara created a blog of their tour so that friends, family, hosts, fellow poets as well as the pathologically curious might also share in their adventure.  Their starting point on a wintery Friday the 18th of January night was the Belladonna Readings Series at the Jackson McNally Bookstore in the trendy Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.  A standout crowd of New York literati was on hand to see them off. Two days and two hundred and fifty miles later, the poets found themselves in Washington, DC, for an afternoon reading with Terence Winch and Erica Howsare at the DC Arts Center.  Their next stop was in Pensacola, Florida, for a reading the following Saturday, the 26th , at the Pensacola Museum of Art, which meant that they could take their time and enjoy a leisurely thousand mile drive through the much warmer Southern states and appreciate the bucolic landscapes of back road America.  From Pensacola it was on to Mobile, Alabama, and a reading at the Mobile Botanical Gardens the following day, the 27th,  and then to New Orleans for a Wednesday night reading at the Dragonfly Poetry and Performance Space on the 30th.  At this pace, they were averaging a reading every two and half days and had traveled, accounting for stops and detours, easily fifteen hundred miles.

Although a road trip across North America calls to mind Jack Kerouac’s youthful meanderings of self discovery, this reading tour was more in the manner of Basho’s late life journeys through the backcountry of Japan.   Both poets, now in their seventies, have made poetry the focus of most of their adult lives.  The road trip was in a sense a pilgrimage of reengagement with their calling as poets, and a chance to reacquaint themselves with like-minded friends, old and new, in a far flung landscape of American poetry.

No stranger to remarkable adventures, Maureen Owen, as a young woman and pregnant with her first child, moved to Japan in 1965 where she studied the practices of haiku and renku as well as Zen Buddhism. She then returned to the States and New York City in 1968 where she was program coordinator for the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church.  In 1969, she founded the literary magazine Telephone and the press Telephone Books, publishing many poets of the New York School. Owen is also the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Edges of Water (2013), Erosion’s Pull (2006), American Rush: Selected Poems (1998), American Book Award–winner AE (Amelia Earhart) (1984), and The No-Travels Journal (1975). For nearly 30 years, she collaborated with a group of poets, including Pat Nolan and Sandy Berrigan, on haikai no renga (linked verse) which was collected in Poetry For Sale (2015). Her work is also featured in the anthology Moving Borders: Three Decades of Innovative Writing by Women (1998). A recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the Fund for Poetry, Owen taught in the Naropa University low-residency MFA program and at Edinboro University. Maureen is a pioneer in women’s publishing as well as a poet whose unique work represents a determined esthetic that rejects the dominant mode of institutionalized literature.  Her presence resonates at the center of literate culture.

Poet and fiction writer Barbara Henning arrived in New York City with her two children in 1983 from Detroit, Michigan where she had attended Wayne State University. Her first book of poems, Smoking in the Twilight Bar, was published by Lewis Warsh’s prestigious press, United Artists, in 1988. Subsequent poetry collections include: Love Makes Thinking Dark  (1995), Detective Sentences (2001), My Autobiography (2007), Cities and Memory (2010), A Swift Passage (2013), and A Day Like Today (s, 2015). Henning is the author of four novels: Just Like ThatThirty Miles to Rosebud, You Me and the Insects, and Black Lace. Barbara is also the editor of a book of interviews, Looking Up Harryette Mullen  (Belladonna, 2011), and The Selected Prose of Bobbie Louise Hawkins (Blazevox, 2012).  She was the editor of the poetry and art journal, Long News: In the Short Century, from 1990 to 1995. As a long-time yoga practitioner, she has lived and studied in Mysore, India with Shankaranarayana Jois. She has also lived in Tucson, Arizona.  Henning taught at Naropa University, the University of Arizona, and Long Island University in Brooklyn, where she is professor emerita. As a prolific author, innovator, and participant in leading edge American poetry culture, Barbara’s engagement in the making and teaching of the art of writing is nothing short of inspiring. 

It should come as no surprise then that these two indomitable spirits would face the sunset in a journey that might be framed as “Thelma and Louise Ride Again” or “Grannies Go West.” Feb 2, Groundhog Day and James Joyce’s birthday, found the poets in Austin at the hub of Texas literary culture and a well attended reading at Malvern Books with local poet Ashley Smith Keyfitz joining them at the mic.  From there it was on to their next gig, a seven hundred mile trek to Albuquerque for a Feb 7th reading at Bookworks that included a side trip to the Buddy Holly Museum in Lubbock, Texas.  Tucson, Arizona, awaited them for their reading at the Steinfeld Warehouse Community Arts Space on February 16th after an overnight stay at the unique Rocket Inn in Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico.  By now the travelers were coming to terms with the vast and empty distances of the West.  They logged one hundred fifty miles from Albuquerque to Truth Or Consequences and another three hundred miles to Tucson, Barbara’s old stomping grounds. There the poets took a much needed breather to enjoy the familiar sights and reconnect with old friends before heading for California and the beginning of their sprint north up the coast the following week.

All the while the poets were making their way west, California was experiencing one of the wettest winters in decades.  A keen eyed weather prognosticator might have noticed a shift in the storm patterns as early as the previous November, an indication that California was cycling out of long years of drought and was headed toward a winter of heavy rains and the potential for flooding and mud slides.  The month of January saw one weather system after another batter the coast with saturating rain.  Soon the overburdened hillsides could no longer absorb the inundation and began to flush the excess into the watershed of streams and rivers.  Once dry washes and leisurely creeks became muddy raging torrents, hillsides gave way to slides blocking roads and undermining homes.  With each storm the holding capacity of the normally placid rivers inched higher toward historic flood levels, threatening communities along their banks. It was under those conditions the poets arrived in Sothern California in mid February.  By then they’d been on the road over a month.

On Thursday night, the 21st, scheduled to read to Professor Mark Wallace’s “The Community and World” series, Barbara navigated her twelve year old Fit through the blinding rain and hail on a swamped expressway looking for the exit to the State University in San Marcos.  It was their welcome to winter in California.   The following evening on the tail end of the storm, but still dark and blustery, the poets headed to La Jolla and their gig at the legendary D.G. Willis used bookstore.  Driving the multi-laned expressway, Barbara was moved to observe, I always thought of California as more laid back than NYC, but to tell you the truth, NYC seems like old world and California, well, she is flying off the globe.  By Sunday they were in Venice. That afternoon Maureen and Barbara read at Beyond Baroque, the Poetry Project of the West Coast, certainly in its longevity and reputation as an independent art space.  The 25th of February they headed north for a four hundred mile drive to San Francisco and the Bay Area.  The National Weather Service in Monterey had issued warnings for urban and small stream flooding.  The predicted rainfall in some parts of Northern California was upwards of a foot and half in the next few days.  Based on calculations of the amount of rain, the local rivers would breach their banks.  The latest iteration of the “pineapple express” had arrived.  And by now all that time behind the wheel was beginning to take its toll on Barbara’s shoulders and arms, and she was in need of musculature attention.

Staging at a little air bnb in Berkeley, Barbara and Maureen got a taste of Bay Area traffic congestion with a visit to Diane DiPrima at the Jewish Home for the Aged in San Francisco.  To the north of them the Russian River was flooding and an evacuation order was in effect for those in the path of the rising waters.  It was a cause for concern as their next stop after Berkeley was Monte Rio, a little hamlet along the flooding river, where Maureen’s long time friend, Pat Nolan, lived with his life partner, Gail King.  An email from Pat updated them to alleviate any anxiety they might have about the current circumstances.  Hi Maureen. We are doing fine and not among the evacuees. And we still have power! We will be high and dry through it all.  The river is expected to crest at 46.1 feet (that .1 makes a difference).  If you saw the sat pic of the storm, it’s like a fire hose aimed directly at Sonoma County.  Anyway, tomorrow’s precipitation will determine if the predicted crest holds.  At 46 feet I might get a little water (inches) in my studio downstairs.  Unlike floods back East this one will be gone by Friday morning.  The roads should be passable by then as well.  I will update you tomorrow once I have a better idea on how all this’ll shake out. 

On Thursday, the 28th, the poets once again travelled to San Francisco for a reading in Steve Dickison’s class at San Francisco State University.  Then it was back across the Bay Bridge and their reading at the world-famous Moe’s Bookstore that evening attended by a select group of East Bay literati.  By then the Russian River had crested at 45.4 feet and was slowly but surely retreating to nonthreatening levels.

The next day Maureen and Barbara’s arrival in the North Bay was fraught with the high drama of a post flood region under an evacuation order.  As the flood waters receded, county officials scrambled to assess the damage and limit access to the area to residents only in an effort to thwart potential for looting and the inevitable crisis tourism.  To get around the “residents only” restriction, their hosts arranged a rendezvous at a mutual friend’s home away from the flood area from which they would then guide the visiting poets on the winding back country roads into the heart of wetness.  As it turned out, the restrictions were rescinded by midday and the poets could have easily accomplished the journey without encountering any check points.  On the other hand, taking the twisty back road through the redwood, fir, and oak coastal hills circumvented having to pass through the really ugly flood debris and mud that now lined most of the passable thoroughfares in the area.  And it was then also that Barbara learned that the locals do not measure distance by miles but by the time it takes to drive from one point to another.  There are no straight lines in nature, and where they were heading was deep into nature.

The following day, Barbara kept her appointment with a local massage therapist while the rest of the entourage visited with Sandy Berrigan who had come down from Albion on the Mendocino coast. That evening the poets took their hosts to dinner at the New York Times rated bistro, Boon eat+drink, in the center of flood ravaged Guerneville.  By then the river had settled back to below flood levels, some businesses were digging themselves out of the mud, and others, like those on like Restaurant Row, had escaped unscathed.

A somewhat soggy Sunday afternoon brought the poets to their next venue, North Bay Letterpress Arts/Iota Press in Sebastopol.   The NBLA is a unique collective accommodating a dozen or more print artists and poets dedicated to the craft of letterpress printing in a workplace that houses eight press and two hundred cases of type.  An industrial space that positively crackles with creative energy and esthetic ambiance, it is also on occasion used to host lectures, presentations by print artists, theater and musical events, and poetry readings.  The poets were greeted by a lively audience of working artists, friends, and in Maureen’s case, relatives, who, despite the recent disaster affecting many of their lives, were delighted to be in attendance.  And, as an added bonus, Eric Johnson, founder of Iota Press, handset and printed poem cards by each of the poets to commemorate the occasion.

On Monday, the 5th, the poets hooked South and on to Mojave to avoid having to go East through the snowbound Sierras. From there it was another determined jog to Santa Fe, and then the last leg of travel, arriving in Denver on the 8th. They had eleven days to rest and recuperate from their epic journey before the final reading of the tour. Then, as if extreme weather were dogging their tracks, Denver was hit with a bomb cyclone blizzard a few days later.  On Tuesday, March 19th, almost two months to the day, joined by poet Crisosto Apache, Maureen Owen and Barbara Henning held the final reading of their cross country tour at the Mercury Café’s F Bomb Series in Denver. With it they brought to a close one of the great poetry odysseys of modern times.   And not incidentally, in the neighborhood of five thousand five hundred fifty miles had been added to the odometer of Barbara’s little orange Honda Fit!


The details, personal observations, persons (poets), personages (famous poets), sights and sounds, and many photos and selfies of the road trip can be viewed at Owen and Henning, Poets On The Road.


Submitted to the membership
by the Parole Officer
3/31/19

 

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New To The Society’s Shelves

New To The Society’s Shelves

Over the past year The New Black Bart Poetry Society has acquired either as review/gift/comp copies, subscription, and or diligent used bookstore browsing a fair but not overwhelming number of books to add to the Society’s shelves.  As there is no particular system for tracking or cataloging the Society’s acquisitions (pace librarians), it is inevitable that a selection of poems or two might have been absent mindlessly squirreled away in some niche in the already teeming shelves and will miss making the list.  Apologies in advance.  Otherwise here follows a rather distinguish and respectable receipt into the inventory. 

 

From Empty Bowl Press for 2018, two books representing Pacific Rim sensibilities are A Day in the Life: The Empty Bowl & Diamond Sutras, new translation by Red Pine (Bill Porter), and Cathedrals & Parking Lots, Collected Poems by Clemens Starck.

Red Pine’s translations from the Chinese are always accompanied by erudite informed commentary, in particular this time a reminder of the admonition “not two”. Otherwise, the reader gets two sutras for the price of one. Go figure.  Along with the Diamond Sutra is another related translation titled appropriately the Empty Bowl SutraThe sutras follow the familiar call and response/master-disciple narrative as a number of mendicants wandering around the countryside or seeking shade in a grove discoursing over nothing, the meaning and non meaning of nothing, how obvious it is that nothing is nothing, and falling into various states of Samadhi at the drop of a staff.  Proceeds from the sale of the newly translated sutras will go toward the establishment and maintenance of the Port Townsend Meditation Center.

Clemens Starck’s workingman poems owe their rough hewn focus to Whitman and Sandburg and their succinct no nonsense diction to the plain speaking unpretentious cadences of a work force.  A Princeton dropout, merchant marine, union carpenter based out of western Oregon he engages with austere depictions of life at sea or the job site, but always backstopped by literary concerns or philosophically knocking the sugar coating off misguided  assumptions.  He is the bodhisattva of the toolbelt when he writes

 

 

I try to imagine Rilke
showing up for work one morning on the construction site,
his sad, dark eyes and drooping mustache
conspicuous
under the yellow hard hat.
Not to mention the angels accompanying him.

Starck’s example should be a call to others in the trades that the world of literature doesn’t belong solely to college kids and the skills that they bring to the job are the same that can be applied to writing.  Why shouldn’t the electrician be reading Voltaire, the plumber Heraclitus, the mechanic Socrates, and the mason Finnegan’s Wake?  Craftsmanship is obvious and always appreciated.

Also in league with the Pacific Rim sensibility is that of the outdoorsman, another hardy specimen peculiar to the American outback with a unique blend of folksy humor and worldly wisdom.  Affiliated with what might be termed the Gary Snyder “bear-shit-in-the-woods” school, and whose retort at being labeled as such is “be thankful that’s where the bear chooses to do his business”, Why Am I Telling You This? Poems and Stories by Doc Dachtler, with an introduction by Bob Arnold, Longhouse, 2019, highlights the wit and sagacity that has a definitive Western twang befitting Twain or Bret Hart, and pays homage to the tradition of the tall tale and the shaggy dog story.  A resident of the legendary San Juan Ridge territory outside of Nevada City, Doc Dachtler, former high school basketball star, one room school house teacher, carpenter, and local luminary tells it like it is or was whether you want to hear it or not.

Professor emeritus Tim Hunt, late of Southern Illinois University, Robinson Jeffers scholar (The Collected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers) and author of two definitive texts on textulaity and Jack Kerouac (Keouac’s Crooked Road: Debelopment of a Fiction and The Textuality of Soulwork: Kerouac’s Quest for Spontaneous Prose), changes gear in poems of reminiscences set in the North Bay (Napa & Sonoma) with access to the burgeoning music scene in the late sixties San Francisco.  In Ticket Stubs & Liner Notes, Main St Rag, 2018, Hunts traces the soundtrack of a generation born in the fifties listening to AM Rock and Roll on transistor radios and later to the 24/7 FM broadcasts of the psychedelic revolution on KMPX and KSAN.  Hunt’s praise songs and laments of the particular heroics and foibles that characterized his youth in popular music are done in a blithe no-frills fashion that befits its subject and bookmarks (with a ticket stub) the days that were and never will be again.

Since When, A Memoir in Pieces by Bill Berkson, Coffee House Press, 2018 Berkson’s anecdotal highlights map out a life as impressive as the times which he chronicled and includes wives, children, travel, altered states, sexual encounters, marginal gossip, and even, in his sixties, a lung transplant.  He grew up in a fashionable world with a sense of decorum that never left him, reserved and sophisticated. Through it all he passed with a certain sober equanimity, clear eyed to his sense of place in the world, especially that of art and literature. Berkson was proud that he could be equally comfortable with the natives as well as the society swells remarking that he was the only one he knew of his generation that had been at Woodstock as well as Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball.  He attained personal equilibrium in July of 2016.  Read a full review of the memoir in a previous post entitled Some Assembly Required. 

If Wants To Be The Same As Is  Collected Poems of David Bromige, New Star Books, 2018.  That David Bromige was generous with himself as a poet and mentor is evidenced by his attentiveness to the community of working poets.  He favored creativity over any particular cant or affiliation.  And he was fortunate to find among some of those writers a determination to make available instances of his authentic genius to a more inclusive readership. That in the gathering of these essential poems greater emphasis was given to selections aligned with the language school agenda is not a fault, merely an accentuated perspective.  Students of poetry, the obsessed and the merely curious, are indebted to that particular bond for once again focusing attention on the savant virtuosity and chameleonic versatility of David Bromige.  In George Bowering’s words: “. . .he was always better than you thought he was.”  Read the review of Bromige’s If Wants To Be The Same As Is by Pat Nolan published in Poetry Flash here.

Poet Tom Weigel belongs to that large literary demographic of undiscovered poets known as the “Undies” who have credibility and chops as poets but outside their select peer group (other Undies) do not really have any visibility.  Perhaps on a more equitable and level playing field. . .but the literary scrum is anything but fair. Once associated with the Poetry Project in NYC, Weigel left the rat race of the Sour Apple for the tranquil seaboard of Connecticut. He passed away October 18th 1917 from leukemia. The Tom Weigel Memorial Issue of Joel’s Dailey’s now retired Fell Swoop poetry magazine (issue 157/158)* features a selection of Weigel’s poems as well as tributes and reminiscences by Joel Daily, Richard Martin, Janet Hamill, Harris Schiff, John Godfry, and Gerard Malanga among others. To satisfy your curiosity and perhaps obtain a copy of this rare and special issue, contact Joel at PO Box 231083, New Orleans, LA 70183
*Thirty plus years of Fell Swoop have been replaced by Joel Dailey’s new publishing venture, The Moron Channel whose most recent offerings are Wipers Float In The Neck Of The Reservoir by Jim Cory and The Pocket Rhyming Dictionary by Joel Dailey.  Subscribe early, subscribe often (at the above noted address).

Spiral Staircase, Poems by Hirato Renkichi (trans. Sho Sugita), Ugly Duckling Presse, 2017.  Once called “the Marinetti of Japan”, Hirato Renkichi created a unique brand of Futurism from the late 1910s to the early 1920s through poetry, criticism, and guerrilla performance and would later influence what became a lively community of Dadaist and Surrealist writers in pre-war Japan. Spiral Staircase is the first definitive volume of Renkichi’s poems to appear in English.

Where You’re AtPoetics & Visual Art, Kevin Power in conversation with Jerome Rothenberg, Robert Bly, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Bill Berkson, George & Mary Oppen, and David Meltzer, Poltroon Press, 2011.  What is astonishing about these conversations conducted with this diverse group of poets by Kevin Power, who passed away in 2013, is the affable tone of the discourse and the fact that Power, former Chair of American Literature at the University of Alicante in Spain, is incredibly knowledgeable on the subject of visual arts and poetics.  Never do the exchanges seem forced or awkward as often these types of interviews tend to be.  The conversations with the poets were recorded between 1974 and 1976 and came about as ancillary to a thesis Power was writing for the Sorbonne concerning “the relationship between poetry and painting in postmodern American poetry”.  Although all the conversations rise to the level of enlightening, the fifty plus pages of conversation with Robert Duncan is unique in its range as well as Power’s effortless pacing of Duncan’s vaunted logorrhea, certainly a match for the ages. Highly recommended although unfortunately out of print.

Basho’s Ghost  Sam Hamill, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2004.  This slim volume of 129 pages which includes a valuable and extensive bibliography is in essence Sam Hamill’s Narrow Road To The North, a tribute to Basho and Japanese poetry as a travel journal, a portrait of people and places, and their importance in the history of Japan and its culture.  Up close and personal, Hamill, a celebrated translator of Chinese and Japanese classics, starts with the 8th century poetry anthology, the Man’yoshu, and travels through time up to the present tracing the development of the Japanese poetic imagination in meditations on the work of Basho, Ryokan,  and the poetry of Japan’s first modernist poet, Takamura Kotaro.  Carried out with lucid poise and passion for the literature and culture, it is a true poet’s book.

Selected Poems of Alice Notley, Talisman House, Publishers, 1993.  Truly a gift from the muse, this early selected poems highlights the progress and breadth of poetic genius, with an iconic cover by George Schneeman.  Although many of the early books and publication from which these poems were selected are housed in the Society’s archives, this first of Notley’s selected poems offers their variety of range as well as  a time line of poetic accomplishment that is thoroughly distinctive and radical.  A must have, if you can find it.

Technicians of the Sacred, 2nd edition, revised and expanded,  Jerome Rothenberg, University of California Press, 1985.  Through his various anthologies Rothenberg has suggested a curriculum and a method for an acquisition of a familiarity of the subject of poetics and a unifying vision of the art of poetry.  Their didactic intent is presented as necessary for the grasp of a world view poetics. Unearthing the foundations of modern and postmodern literature becomes an archeological dig.  Rothenberg makes available the tools for such an excavation, the essentials for an overview and understanding of origins and how they relate to the present.  For a look at the breadth of Rothenberg’s work which had its beginnings with Technicians of the Sacred, see the post entitled Rothenberg Poetry University here.

Submitted to the Membership by the Parole Officer 2/10/19

 

 

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Schools of Poetry, Part II

Schools of Poetry, Part Two

 An excerpt from Pat Nolan’s online fiction
Ode To Sunset—A Year in the Life of American Genius 

The pot stickers and pork buns had arrived and both men fell to with a relish that belied the simple fare.

“Come on, Wendt, weren’t there schools of poetry in your day?”

Carl held the slug of beer in his mouth and raised an eyebrow. I’m continually being defined by my past, he mused.

“Oh, sure,” he said finally to ease the embarrassment that had set Andy’s ears aglow.  “There was the Homunculus School of Poetry. Only cared about what went on in their heads, the body mattered not. Their poems had that hall of mirrors effect, you know, the repetition of an image ad infinitum.  If they’d had any imagination they’d have called themselves The Infinite Regress School.”

Wendt turned his eyes upward and to the left as if he were scanning a script.  “And there was the Heavy Metal School. Not to be mistaken for the Leaden School. They were mostly second gen New York School types though they were more into ‘rock mine off’ than Rachmaninoff. Working class kids who got the call.  It was short lived. The working class has a built-in bullshit meter and it wasn’t long before they realized that the poetry scene was complete bullshit.”

Andy chortled and had the waitress bring another round of Tsing-taos.  Wendt was going to tsing for his lunch.

“Then there were the Homo Poets. The name has nothing to do with sexual preference or orientation, and everything to do with sameness.  Some of those people should have been working for the department of weights and measures! Their obsession with the anal perfection of the identical was maniacal.” Wendt stabbed at a pot sticker with a chopstick. “The Pointless School of Poets, they’re still around. The Iceberg School of Poetry, all below the surface, lying in wait for the Titanic of the unconscious.  The Surrogate School of Poets and their exclusive magazine, Turret, Vince Clayborn, dreadnaught and editor.  The Usurpers, anti-academic slammers who for all intents and purposes grabbed up all the academic posts and honors that they had once so vociferously trashed. OG’s, the Old Guard, and the Leaden School with their dense, turgid paperweight verse.

“Of course, my favorites of all time were the Anti-Gravity poets, floating above the fray, resisting the pull of gravity and it’s aura of authoritarian self-righteousness and inherent elitism. The California Pretenders, a band of wild and wooly poets, essentially neo-romantics, who are no more because romantics are well, lemmings, and so,” Wendt made a mime with his hand that depicted a leap off a cliff, “you know the rest. Defenestration. Did they jump or was they pushed?”

“I had a prof in a survey course as an undergrad who described the romantic poet as posed on a promontory, wind in hair, waves crashing below, an image that’s stuck with me.”

“Exactly!  Poised to leap.” Wendt smiled with satisfaction that his point had been proven. “And then there’s the whole underground of secret poetry societies.”

“Really?  Secret poetry societies?  Who’s in them?”

“Nobody you’ll ever hear of.  They’re mainly loose fits, not quite misfits, the lumpen poetariat collected under various acronyms like TANTRA, The Association of No Talent Rejected Artists, or POO, Poets of Outer Orbit, whose motto is Kerouac’s ‘Poetry is shit’.”

“Didn’t Genet say that, too?”

“Probably.  It’s a French thing.  Merde.  Such a poetic word.” Wendt took a sip from his glass. “The AWWA, The Association of Waxed Wing Ascenders also known as The Icari.  And of course the C Squared group, the Comic Cosmic poets.”  He paused. “Maybe that’s the Cosmic Comic poets. Also known as The Holy Fools.

“Anyway, all this speaks to a factionalized regimented poetry world. There have always been poetry groups, exclusive societies of amateur writers who essentially snubbed anyone who wasn’t part of their crowd.  And sometimes they affixed a name to their association, as a kind of shorthand for those in the know. It was Breton and his Surrealist who institutionalized the idea of a school of art or literature. Surrealist and Surrealism became brand names.  And now everyone wants to brand themselves, literally and figuratively.  I mean, look at the prevalence of tattoos.  You can’t be a loner anymore. You can’t be unique.  Or to be unique you have to be so extreme as to be the center of attraction that aligns everyone else like iron filings around a magnet.  And then you’re just part of a group, a social network, a school.  When anyone talks about outsider art, they’re just stating the obvious.  All true artists want to be outsiders. But being an outsider, an eccentric is anti-social.  Group poetry, by your designation, groupo, is in.”

“So like what are you, Carl?  A ronin, a masterless poet?”

Wendt laughed.  He liked Andy.  Andy was a good poet on his way to becoming a university professor.  He had a choice.  Be a good poet or be a good professor.  One invariably diluted the other. “That’s right, the I-Don’t-Belong-To-Any-School School of Poetry that excludes everyone and includes no one.” Wendt drained the bottle into his glass and then looked up meaningfully at Andy.  “Being a poet is not a club or association you belong to.  Poetry is the leprous affliction of the exiled and shunned.  It is not some kind of cult.  It is the reaffirmation of a singularity.”

Andy had been down this road, or one like it, with Wendt before.  He had an idea of what was coming.  But that’s why he paid for lunch.  Lunch with Carl Wendt was bound to be informative if not enlightening.

“The independent or non-aligned poet is relegated to the status of hobbyist by the professional cant of the academics who promote their own in a self-perpetuating literary daisy chain that includes big payoffs like inside track on hiring and fellowships. It has nothing to do with literature and everything to do with who is fucking who and who knows who is fucking who and how they can use it as leverage to keep the whole inane squirrel cage spinning. A bunch of no-talent hamsters.”

“Hey Carl, ease up, I’m going to be one of those academics, you know.”

“Not you, kid, you’ve got a head on your shoulders.  Besides, you’re a scholar, not a professional poet.”

“Gee, who would that be?” Andy begged with mock innocence.

“Warren Pace, and just about everyone else in the Monotonous School of Poetry, is a perfect example. Also known as the monotones or the monos.  Today I suppose they’d be monopo.  And the Flatliners, an off-shoot that has lost most of its adherents to attrition or career changes.

“The collective under the banner of ‘school’ is the Trojan horse used to infiltrate the citadel of academe. The Monos created a cachet and marketed it through the exclusivity of social networking.  Someone always had to be out, so that its members could be in. Poets United, whose initials says it all, a subset of more rigid intellectuals and poseurs, used exactly the same ploy. No effort is made to understand the undercurrent or the essence of the art, only the desire to make it different which only makes it, by its sheer novelty, self-cancelling.

“And what do they have to offer? Their awful middle class boredom, passing it off as profound intellectual angst.  It never worked for me.  Their focus on the technical aspects of poetry masks a deep misunderstanding of what poetry is.  It’s not about technique. It’s not about how tight your pants fit.  It’s about talent.  It’s about undermining, not commodifying.  But I suppose when you want to appeal to bourgeois taste, you have to think product, the aesthetic object that can be bought or bought into.”  Wendt paused. He had to laugh at himself.  His aesthetic critiques often degenerated into faux vitriol, amusing bluster of a Falstaffian cast, especially before a bemused audience such as Andy.  He wasn’t about to take himself seriously.  Not over lunch. But a few more points needed to be made.

“Once they’ve achieved the metaphorical high ground, they set themselves up as guardians of the velvet rope, id checkers, sniffers of social status, quantifiers of the quibble, bureaucrats of subtle hierarchy, enforcers of the status quo, crabs in a barrel, judge and jury.

“I had a guy come up to me after a reading some years back to tell me that he really liked my poems and admired the fact that I still kept at it.  ‘This poetry racket is a hell of a hard one to break into,’ he told me.  He knew. He’d tried.  Eventually he gave it up, too many obstacles, too many tiny exclusive circles you had to run around in.  Then he said to me, and I’ll never forget this, ‘they only know what they think and think only what they know.  Everything else is unknown to them. The imagination is a primitive construct to mask what we really think about what we know, you know?’”


Caveat Lector: Ode To Sunset is satirical fiction, not a roman à clef or veiled autobiography. No actual poets were named in the writing of this fiction with the exception of dead poets who serve as historical or literary markers as is often required of dead poets. To read more of the scurrilous and louche peregrinations of the last of the hardboiled poets go to odetosunset.com


Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in the US and Canada as well as in Europe and Asia.  He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, two novels, and an online serial fiction.  His most recent books of poetry are Exile In Paradise (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2017)  So Much, Selected Poems, Volume I 1969-1989 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018), 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.  He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.

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Schools of Poetry, Part I

Schools of Poetry, Part One

 An excerpt from Pat Nolan’s online fiction
Ode To Sunset—A Year in the Life of American Genius

 Wendt met Andy Porter for lunch at Bebop Dim Sum Café on Clement.  The place was run by a jazz lover from Taipei who still had not mastered his adopted tongue.  The musical ambiance was Golden Age bebop.  Whenever the owner saw Wendt he would shout “Bud Powell!” but unfortunately it came out sounding like “butt powwow!” Invariably heads would turn.

Andy was cheerful, maybe a little more than usual.  He was young, after all, hopeful, full of ambition, full of himself.  This was different.  He was bursting with what he wanted to say.

“Good news?” Wendt asked as the waitress placed the pot of green tea between them.

“I got the fellowship. I’m going to China!” Then he shared his excitement, in Chinese, with the waitress who giggled and moved quickly back to behind the service area.  Andy liked to practice his Chinese on restaurant staff, often with hilarious results.  Wendt was clueless but amused by Andy’s apparent discomfort.

“I think I just said ‘a dog’s leg is bitter as ashes after sex.’”  He shrugged, resuming his cheery demeanor.  “I’ll be a year in Shanghai.  I’m really looking forward to it.  I don’t leave till late August, but I’m going to make an exploratory trip in June, just to get a feel for it.”  Andy was beside himself, “It’s going to be really cool,” and blushed at his enthusiasm.

“That’s great, Andy.”  Wendt poured the tea into both their cups.  “Your girl friend will be house sitting for you while you’re gone, I assume?” The wheels had begun their spin, tumblers rolling in the slot machine behind his eyes. Andy lived in a studio apartment on Turk, a pied-à-terre owned by a relative or a friend of a relative.

“I don’t think so.  She’s spending the summer with her parents in Rhode Island, and she’ll be gone as soon as her classes are over.”  Andy made a fake sad face.  “We’re kind of in the process of separating.  She’s going to intern in DC, and I’ll be in China.” He turned over a hand, palm up, as if letting something go. “Why?”

Wendt explained his upcoming eviction from the Balboa address. He would need a temporary launch pad until he could find a more permanent situation.  He mentioned that Nora was arranging a reading tour for him.  He did not mention that nothing had been settled and often Nora’s schemes resulted in miscommunications and the threat of lawsuits.  So, ostensibly, he was assured, virtually, of a cash flow.

Andy agreed readily.  And having Wendt look after his tiny apartment would be perfect for the month he was away on his recon mission to Shanghai.

Ka-ching! Wendt thought, which is not in itself a Chinese expression meaning jackpot. The perfect solution had presented itself, an archipelago of house sitting for his friends dotting the summer months while they vacationed in Big Sur or Yosemite, Paris or Athens, someone to collect the mail, stack the newspapers, water the plants, pet the gold fish.  The wobble of his flight for the last couple of days stabilized, and his smug became a little more self-satisfied.

There was more to Andy’s show and tell. He handed over an issue of Autoclone, a literary magazine from Tasmania, for Wendt to page through.

“International, with a twist.”

“It’s the first time my own writing has appeared outside the country. That is if you don’t count the poems I published in Perverse Notions, an on-line magazine from Oslo.”

Wendt recited a list of his foreign publications. “Translated into Hungarian, Czech, Finnish, and Romanian.  I have no idea if they even came close.  I was in that French anthology and whoever translated those poems made me sound like a tight-assed academic.”

“Weren’t you in an Italian anthology?”

“Right, I was.  Do you know that in Italian my poems rhyme? But then so do everyone else’s.  It’s a wonderful lyrically rich language.”

He tried to remember the name of the anthology, but that had been years ago. Secret Ballot?  Something like that. And that had been Sheila’s doing.  One of the editors was a friend she made when she’d studied a year in Padua.  He remembered how delighted he’d been at the thought of being read in Italian.

Interesting also that the French experience had turned out to be so phonetically askew.  And his inclusion in that anthology had been with the help of Val Richards who was a lycee schoolmate of the publisher of the volume.  He remembered the name of that anthology because of his original mishearing of the title, something that caused him additional consternation once he learned the truth.  He had been told by Val, who had a habit of slurring her words when she took certain pills, that the anthology would be titled L’heure du temps which his rudimentary French told him was a typical Gallic redundancy but, loosely translated, was The Time Of Day.  When he finally got his hands on the volume he read his mistake.  The title was L’horreur du temps.

Andy passed a book the size of a small shoebox across the table.  “Here’s that anthology I was telling you about.”

“Whenever I read an anthology I always think of all the poets whose poems are not represented, and that’s an anthology in itself.” Wendt scanned the columned gallery of names on the back cover.  Not one signaled recognition.  “Ok, here’s one, A. W. Porter.  That’s you, right?”

A rosy glow colored Andy’s cheeks.  “Yeah, but you know, the editor was a year ahead of me at Stanford.  It helps if you know someone.”

“You’re telling me?” Wendt flipped the volume and read the cover. “Poets of A Later Latitude, A Geography of Poets Under 30.  No wonder I didn’t recognize any names.”  He set the large book on its spine and let the pages flop open at random.  “And look at that, it opened right to your poems!  Good placement.  Do you have to pay extra for that?”

The noodles arrived and Wendt ordered a Tsing-tao.  He was beginning to feel pretty.  A significant worry had been alleviated.  It made him feel a hundred pounds lighter, virile even.  He felt like having fun, special fun, rather than his usual mundane day to day fun. A frenetic Charlie Parker solo punctuated his musings.

“I always like looking through the contributors notes, sometimes they’re more interesting than the poems.”

Andy chuckled his agreement.

“Let’s see now, herewego, Andrew Walter Porter. . . .”

“Walter’s my mother’s dad, my grandfather’s name.”  And then as an afterthought, “Isn’t Walter your first name?”

“You are correct,” Wendt said considering his first taste of the old German recipe of his Chinese beer, “but, no offense, I didn’t want to be known as Wally so I go by my nomen, my middle name.  It’s one syllable so it’s direct, to the point.  Kind of like ‘shit’ or ‘fuck,’ both of which I’ve answered to, by the way.”

“What about Walt? That’s one syllable.”

Wendt feigned consideration with an impish grin, “A little too Whitmanesque, I’d think.” He referenced what he’d been reading with his finger on the page.  “Anyway, your note says, born in Santa Barbara in, hmm, for some reason I thought you were older.  Currently pursuing a post-graduate degree in Asian Studies at Stanford.  Published in Yadda Yadda, This Then, and Contemporary Literature In Translation.  So you’ve got some cred, that’s good.”

Wendt turned a page. “Who are these other clowns? Jesus, look at this guy, Ross Arbuckle, associate professor and he’s hardly a few years older than you.  Two books of poems, too.  You’ve got some catching up to do.

“Jerrold Lloyd, professor of Creative Writing, a string of books from presses I’ve never heard of, the recipient of the Golden Lyre and he’s barely twenty-nine.  Ok.  Laurel Hardy, also twenty-nine, lives in Vancouver, MFA from SFU, recent book, Special Agent from Screeming Lesbo Press.

“Barbara Keaton, professor of European Literature specializing in Beowulf.  How can someone so young specialize in Beowulf?  Baffling.” Wendt shook his head with mock consternation for Andy’s benefit.  Andy, for his part, was enjoying the running commentary.

“You’re traveling in some pretty rarified company.  And Darla Costello.  A Steiner Fellow.  How nice.  She’s like a year younger than you and yet she has two books of poems, Don’t I Know You From The Microwave? from Platypus Press. . .must be an Australian publisher . . . .”

“I think that’s a misprint. It should be I Don’t Know You From The Microwave.”

“. . .and Last Warning, Poems of Self-destruction and Resurrection.  Her titles are intriguing.”

“Get this, the guy she studied with is the Buddhist poet who runs the monastery outside of Omaha.”

“Omaha.  Perfect place for a Buddhist monastery.  Om. . .Aha!”

“ So essentially Costello studied with an abbot.”

“You know her?”

“Sure, she’s part of our gang, you know, the writers down in Palo Alto, the two Steves, Panke and Timey, Alfred Falva.  Darla’s married to Ben Turpin.”

“The musician?”

“Right, the horn player.  He’s been on Leno.”

“That’s some glamorous crowd you’re running with.”  And referring to the book again, “How about Laurence Mot-Kerlit?”

Andy shrugged.  “I’m like you, I haven’t heard of a lot of these clowns, either.”

“Professor of Abstract Languages at Buffalo.  Now there’s a job for a poet, a buffalo job.”

The noodles had cooled to an edible heat though their spice ensured that they were enjoyed tentatively.  Distracted, while they slurped and then inhaled big gulps of air through their mouths to cool their tongues, Wendt leafed through the paper brick.

“Ok, so explain to me what these guys are about.  Are they any good?  Besides you.  I know you’ve got chops.”

Andy was bursting to please.  “Well, there’s a real mish-mash in here because the editor wanted to be representative.  A mistake, I think.  Anyway, you’ve got your conpo. . . .”

“Whoa, whoa, your what?”

“Conpo, conceptual poetry.  Or poets.”

“Alright, I can see poets as a concept.  But I thought conpo would be more like the poetry my friend Deidre Davis, DeeDee the Destroyer we call her, for the number of marriages she’s torpedoed, taught to the inmates at San Quentin or here at juvenile hall.”

“Uh, no, it’s like when you say Ampo for American Poetry.  Or Fopo for foreign poetry. And formal poetry too, I suppose.”

“I’ve heard of faux pas, never Fauxpo.  But I can dig it.  Pretend poetry.  That could be what I write.”

“And there’s Fempo and Gaypo.”

“Is there a bipo, you know, for bisexual poets? Or would that stand for bipolar poets?  Like Jimmy Schuyler. Or Ann Sexton.”

“That would probably be bipopo,” Andy said without cracking a smile. “And Avpo which stands for avant-garde, or average poetry.”

“Sometimes they’re the same.”

“Mopo for modern poetry.”

“Mopo sounds like one of those Japanese toys you keep on a key chain.”

“And there’s Autopo, Surpo, Clapo, NeoClapo, Pomopo.”

“Northern California Indian poetry?”

“No, Postmodern Poetry.  Native American poetry would be Napo.”

“It’s like you’re naming off future generations of Marx Brothers. I mean, look at all the possibilities.  Synpo, Cypo, Actpo, Poactpo, Slapo, Slangpo, Slampo, Slurpo, Minpo, Haipo, Gypo. . . no, wait, he really was a Marx brother.” Wendt pointed his faux porcelain spoon at Andy for emphasis.  “So by what you’re saying, it sounds like schools of poetry are similar to vaudeville acts.”

“There is a Hypo. It stands for hybrid poetry.”

“Oh, I see, I was thinking of haiku poetry.  Hybrid poetry, isn’t that a little redundant?  On the other hand, hypo could also stand for hypothetical poetry.  I’m pretty sure that’s what I write.”

“That would probably have to be hypopo.  And I suppose you could have hypnotic poetry which would be hypnopo, and you’d have to have posthypnotic poetry and that would be pohypnopo.”

“Now you’re talking!  We’re starting to sound Greek!”


Caveat Lector: Ode To Sunset is satirical fiction, not a roman à clef or veiled autobiography. No actual poets were named in the writing of this fiction with the exception of dead poets who serve as historical or literary markers as is often required of dead poets. To read more of the scurrilous and louche peregrinations of the last of the hardboiled poets go to odetosunset.com


Pat Nolan’s poems, prose, and translations have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies in the US and Canada as well as in Europe and Asia.  He is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, two novels, and an online serial fiction.  His most recent books of poetry are Exile In Paradise (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2017)  So Much, Selected Poems, Volume I 1969-1989 (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2018), 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.  He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.


Parole Officer Report: SNARK ALERT!

In the early 80’s Steven Lavoie and Pat Nolan published Life Of Crime, the mimeo newsletter of The Black Bart Poetry Society, originally a one-shot put-on satire of the East and West coast poetry whirl.  After the first and putative only issue, the reaction was such (both negative and positive) that they concluded it might be worth the trouble to produce a few more.  The content then became more pointed if not sharp, the targets of the satirical broadsides broader, with a more vengeful agenda due to contributions of obvious bias.  Thus for the ten years Life Of Crime sporadically published, the contents and tenor of the newsletter was what might now be termed “snark.”  Snark found a fertile medium on the internet in blogs and in the comments sections (aka “snark tanks”) and spread like an infection in the cultural Petri dish.  Today, the record of rivalry, real or imagined, between institutional bastions and schools of poetry, once ephemeral whimsy, has niched itself, thanks to cyber ubiquity, as an agent under the rubric of Dispatches from the Poetry Wars (DPW) in an historical nod to the Bureau of Surrealist Research.  It was inevitable that this one function of poetry, delicious catullian gossip, would be bureaucratized and as a consequence, banalized.  For the pathologically curious their wide array of antic antics can be viewed here.

 


 

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Bill & Lou, Part II

Bill & Lou, Part II

 The Descent of Winter

By Tom Sharp
(excerpted from The Objectivists) 

Louis Zukofsky took Ezra Pound’s suggestion to edit The Descent of Winter by William Carlos Williams for “Exile 4”. Williams began the sequence “on board the S. S. Pennland in the fall of 1927 . . . having left his wife in Europe to care for their two sons who were attending school in Switzerland for a year,” and he continued and finished it living with his mother in Rutherford. 

Zukofsky sent his edited version of the manuscript to Pound on 28 May 1928, noting that the Sundays he had spent with Williams in Rutherford had been more than reassuring.  The first two months of their friendship had established lasting trust and understanding between them, a secure basis for future collaboration. Pound received the manuscript and wrote Williams to make further suggestions. Williams replied on 25 June 1928, and noted: “I’m really delighted that you like Zukofsky’s batch of choosings. You’d be amused to see the stuff he didn’t take. Yet he did a fine job, believe me—”.  On 1 July 1928 Pound wrote Zukofsky: “/// Re/ the Bill Wms. I have merely deleted 4 lines. Any further emendations HE chooses to make, might be added to mss. (or deleted from same) before it goes to press) . . . Bill seems please[d] with the way you have edited his mss.” 

The Descent of Winter, one of the first results of collaboration between “Objectivists,” is important not only to the relationship between Williams and Zukofsky, but to the history of the “Objectivist” movement. Editing Williams’ work for Pound must have taught Zukofsky or confirmed in him the poetic values which Pound and Williams had developed from their innovations in the second decade of the 20th Century. 

The Descent of Winter remains in the journal format in which Williams wrote it; each piece is dated, beginning “9/27” (27 September 1927) and ending “12/18” (18 December 1927). These dates, as Webster Schott notes, “literally document Williams’ title. Winter was coming.”  Williams had just turned 45 and felt the descent personally; however, in his work, corresponding to the archetype of Kora in Hell which was rooted in his psyche, he found Persephone’s blessings in the imagination’s revitalizing of physical perception, in the spontaneous creations of his mind, and in his old mother’s memories of her childhood in Mayaguez. These blessings countered his disgust with the death he felt of art and culture. The central concern of his attempted revitalization was writing itself. His restoration of the problems of art and culture to the writer’s poetic discipline proved to be characteristic of “Objectivism.” Williams attacked the death of his art by experimenting with form and content, and by directly attacking the problems before him either metaphorically (9/30 “There are no perfect waves— / Your writings are a sea / . . .”) or critically (11/1 “Introduction / in almost all verse you read, mine or anybody’s else, . . .”).

The work opens with two poems, “9/27” and “9/29,” both of which present objects at that time new to poetry. “9/27” (printed in quotation marks and italics) expresses a man’s elation at discovering the underwear he had long taken for granted. “9/29” focuses on the oval celluloid disc in Williams’ sleeping cabin which identified the “No. 2” berth. The form of each poem is uniquely adapted to its feeling, and the feeling is a direct response to the object:

My bed is narrow
in a small room
at sea

“9/30” begins Williams’ direct confrontation with the problems of writing. His language like the sea is imperfect—broken, restless, monotonous, and uninhabitable. But perhaps in it is “a coral island slowly / slowly forming and waiting / for birds to drop the seeds.”

Subsequent entries are seeds, some of which fall on fertile ground. “10/23” begins a long section of free-form prose which reveals Williams’ refusal to take the marksman’s properly rigid stance but also shows his ability sometimes to hit the mark. He begins by declaring: “I will make a big, serious portrait of my time,” which is only partly ironic. It will be like the Aztec calendar which survives its cheap Mexican imitation. As in the opening of Spring and All, Williams felt that poetic excellence repels idiots but suffers because of its nakedness:

. . . the art of writing is to do work so excellent that by its excellence it repels all idiots but idiots are like leaves and excellence of any sort is a tree when the leaves fall the tree is naked and the wind thrashes it till it howls it cannot get a book published it can only get poems into certain magazines that are suppressed . . .

Williams howled when his work lost its leaves as winter descended. He felt his poems in the world were like seeds drowning in gasoline.

Yet inherent in their construction is “the great law”: that care for quality, for integrity of materials, is love:

. . . and all I say brings to mind the rock shingles of Cherbourg, on the new houses they have put cheap tile which overlaps but the old roofs had flat stone sides steep but of stones fitted together and that is love there is no portrait without that [that] has not turned to prose love is my hero who does not live, a man, but speaks of it every day.

Love is the attention which creates objects that will not date or decay. It is an active and creative assertion of the value of the part of the whole, of the order which frees not only the creator’s energy but can free the energy of others and of the world. Zukofsky’s  natura naturans (nature creating rather than created) is such “love, whose proof in writing is “sincerity”. Williams’ concept of love is further elaborated in January: A Novelette. Here, he continued:

But there is a great law over him which—is as it is. The wind blowing, the mud spots on the polished surface, the face reflected in the glass which as you advance the features disappear leaving only the hat and as you draw back . . .

Attention to the effects of “the great law” revealed to Williams the relevance of the birth of Dolores Marie Pischak in Fairfield, September 1927, which he celebrated in “10/28.” Her birth killed the decency and order that obstruct creation and writing. She was a seed dropped to germinate on a coral island; she was Williams’ “hero,” and so her portrait is the portrait of his time:

born, September 15, 1927, 2nd child, wt. 6 lbs. 2 ozs. The hero is Dolores Marie Pischak, the place Fairfield, in my own state, my own country, its largest city, my own time. This is her portrait: O future worlds, this is her portrait —order be God damned. Fairfield is the place where the October marigolds go over into the empty lot with dead grass like Polish children’s hair and the nauseous, the stupefying monotony of decency is dead, unkindled even by art or anything—dead: by God because Fairfield is alive, coming strong.

Williams abolished in his creation the order in her birth love abolished. Poetic liberation established for the “Objectivist” a political liberation. Williams became free from the loveless and pleasureless monotony of the suburbs:

Oh, blessed love where are you there, pleasure given out, order triumphant, one house like another, grass cut to pay lovelessly. Bored we turn to cars to take us to “the country” to “nature” to breathe her good air. Jesus Christ. To nature. It’s about time, for most of us.

Nature is disorderly. To order is to drive out pleasure and health: “A cat licking herself solves most of the problems of infection. We wash too much and finally it kills us.” Writing must reveal the vivid “truth of the object” without attempting to order it, to clean it up; it must experience the poverty and dirtiness of nature without comparing it to something else:

and the late, high growing red rose

it is their time

of a small garden

poetry should strive for nothing else, this vividness alone, per se, for itself. The realization of this has its own internal fire that is “like” nothing. Therefore the bastardy of the simile. That thing, the vividness which is poetry by itself, makes the poem. There is no need to explain or compare. Make it and it is a poem. This is modern, not the saga. There are no sagas”*only trees now, animals, engines: There’s that.

The thing itself reveals the whole of which it is a part, as synecdoche. The universal is in the particular, the idea in the thing. This became the ultimate justification of “Objectivist” sincerity—their emphasis on concrete and specific particulars, their distrust of abstraction and generality.  In The Descent of Winter, “Russia is every country,” and in “A Morning Imagination of Russia,” a man frees himself of everything (sleep, cities, walls, rooms, elevators, files, fashion, shaving) that comes between himself and the earth and sky.

Williams’ love is a development of Keats’s negative capability. Both react against the rationality that interferes with creativity. “O for a Life of Sensations rather than of Thoughts!” Just as Keats felt the setting sun always set him to rights “—or if a Sparrow come before my Window I take part in its existince [sic] and pick about the Gravel,” so Williams praised Shakespeare’s “mean ability to fuse himself with everyone which nobodies have . . . that is what made him the great dramatist.“

“11/13 SHAKESPEARE” continues this argument, and here, where Williams described the “unemployable world” of Shakespeare’s mind outlasting those destroyed by their artificiality, it is clear that Shakespeare’s virtue applies as well to Williams. The “scaffolding of the academic, which is a ‘lie’ in that it is inessential to the purpose as to the design,” and the “defense of the economists and modern rationalists of literature” are done away with by “intelligence . . . subjected to the instinctive whole,” by the poet who “lives because he sinks back . . . into the mass.”

The only human value of anything, writing included, is intense vision of the facts, add to that by saying the truth and action upon them—clear into the machine of absurdity to a core that is covered.

God—Sure if it makes sense. “God” is poetic for the unobtainable. Sense is hard to get but it can be got. Certainly that destroys “God,” it destroys everything that interferes with simple clarity of apprehension.

To sense the plain core of the facts and the natural “stores of the mind” is difficult but not impossible. This core is not therefore transcendental but immanent. Creation from this “simple clarity” is freer from the perverse, inane, oppressive, cheap, and “fragmentary stupidity of modern life.”

“Genius” is realizing this intense clarity: “It is to see the track, to smell it out, to know it inevitable—sense sticking out all round feeling, feeling, seeing—hearing touching.” Genius is the corollary to “the great law” of love. Great art is the product of this genius. The dramatist must identify “situations of the soul (Lear, Harpagon, Oedipus Rex, Electra)” so closely with life “that they become people,” and he must identify so closely with these people that the drama comes to life. “But to labor over the ’construction’ over the ’technique’ is to defeat, to tie up the drama itself. One cannot live after a prearranged pattern, it is all simply dead.” The theater is dead unless the actor does more than mimic the script, and unless the script does more than mimic the life. To be scrupulously realistic, to copy the prearranged pattern, kills the life. “The painfully scrupulous verisimilitude which honesty affects drill, discipline defeats its own ends in—”. Creation depends on the subject as well as the object; life depends on author as well as nature.

Shakespeare’s ability to “live,” like Williams’ ability to “love,” was to escape the rational inhibitions and inane imperfections of language and of the world for the full realization, in the mind and in the senses, of the vivid truth of the object. The Descent of Winter therefore established the “Objectivist” solution of political and personal problems as a poetic concerned with registering “clarity of apprehension” in terms of facts objectified by a structure within which both the human psyche and the shared world participate.

From Tom Sharp’s The Objectivists.


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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Bill & Lou, Part I

Zukofsky and Williams 

By Tom Sharp
(excerpted from The Objectivists)

The extent of the friendship and mutual influence of Louis Zukofsky and William Carlos Williams is not sufficiently known. Williams’ autobiography records that the two were “good friends” but not that they read and criticized each other’s work with interest and a sense of common purpose from the day they met until Williams died. Critics fail to acknowledge the importance of Zukofsky and “Objectivism” to Williams and his work because they do not know the facts. Webster Schott, for example, fails to credit Zukofsky for editing The Descent of Winter for Pound’s Exile and A Novelette and Other Prose for the Oppens’ To Publishers.

Pound’s letter of 5 March 1928 suggested that Zukofsky meet Williams: “Re/ private life: Do go down an’ stir up ole Bill Willyums, 9 Ridge Rd. Rutherford (W. C. Williams M.D.) and tell him I tole you. He is still the best human value on my murkin. visiting list.” It also enlisted Zukofsky’s service as editor: “I shd. be inclined to print anything of Bill Wm’s that you picked out. Editing ought really to be done by the young (?? what/ d– age are you) not by the senile or even by the mature. -eh- save for the purpose of commerce.” Pound was 42; Williams, 44; Zukofsky, 23. Zukofsky responded to this on 20 March 1928 by noting that he had written Williams and Cummings and that, meaningfully, his previous letter to Pound, which crossed Pound’s in the mail, had expressed interest in meeting Williams.

Williams replied to Zukofsky on 23 March, beginning: “My dear Zukofsky: By ’human values’ I suppose Ezrie means that in his opinion I can’t write. Dammit, who can write, isolated as we all find ourselves and robbed of the natural friendly stimuli on which we rest, at least, in our lesser moments?” Apparently mistaking Zukofsky’s role as editor, Williams wrote: “So you are responsible for Exile now. Is that so?” Since Zukofsky came “with an introduction from my old friend,” Williams invited him to Rutherford “for a country meal and a talk.”

Zukofsky

Zukofsky wrote that he could visit Saturday, but Williams countered on 28 March that he would “not be home this Saturday evening” but that he could meet Zukofsky “in the city” after “being interviewed — at five o’clock by some stranger.”  The two met, then, on 1 April 1928. Williams remembered in his autobiography that “one day I met Louis Zukofsky in the city after I had been sketched for a caricature by a person named Hoffman. Louis and I became good friends.” This friendship brought Zukofsky to Rutherford in April, and repeatedly thereafter, affording, as Pound observed, “some pleasure and consolation” to them both.

The facts of William Carlos Williams’ life are well-known. He was born 17 September 1883. Although, as Mike Weaver wrote, “He was half English, one-quarter Basque, and one-quarter Jewish,” he is known for his insistence on the value of the American language and locale. Like Zukofsky, Reznikoff, and Rakosi, his American values were not inherited; they were earned.

Williams met his life-long friend Ezra Pound while he was in medical school and Pound was in graduate school studying romance languages. Pound involved him in the free verse movement. His job as a general practitioner with specialties in pediatrics and obstetrics left him little time for his main passion, his writing. In 1928 he was feeling the lack of recognition that should normally come to a writer of his merit in middle age. He felt isolated. Attention from other writers more than flattered him; it provided the “natural friendly stimuli on which we rest, at least, in our lesser moments.”

Of the years following his return from Europe in 1924, he remembered:

These were the lush Republican years when money flourished like skunk cabbages in the swamps in April. . . .

Damn it, the phone ringing again. . . . That was Mr. Taylor who said excitedly, You never wrote a poem in your life, Doc. What you write is prose, like Shakespeare.

when Doc. K. was selling week-ends at two hundred dollars a shot, complete: liquor, keep and a woman guaranteed; and when stupidity had no measure.

Mr. Taylor’s stupidity makes his criticism into praise. Coolidge prosperity did not improve the intelligence or integrity of Williams’ contemporaries. “Five minutes, ten minutes, can always be found.” In these years, Williams banged off his work between patients. “Then would come the trial. The poem would be submitted to some random editor, or otherwise meet its fate in the world. I would observe that fate and so come to judge the intelligence of my contemporaries.”

Zukofsky swiftly became Williams’ special editor and critic, extending the care taken between Williams’ creation and submission. His first visits left Williams with suggestions for cutting deadwood from his first novel, A Voyage to Pagany, which was in progress and would be published in September 1928. Williams wrote to Zukofsky on 17 May 1928: “What you had to say about the novel did me much good. I felt that you had hit on some very raw spots. Oh well, I can’t quite bring myself to throw the thing away though I wanted to do so after you had left.”  And, on 25 June 1928, after working on it, Williams added that “the book looks about as presentable as I can make it. I cut out a lot about the Rhine! which should give you a special pleasure.”

Williams’ novel was based on his trip to Europe with his wife in 1924. When in Vienna, as he described it in Chapter XXVI, titled “Bach,” he attended a performance of Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion. Soon after their first meeting, Zukofsky invited Williams to attend with him a performance of the Passion at Carnegie Hall. Williams could not make it. His letter of regret on 2 April 1928 attested to the importance of this new friendship:

This has been a pleasure, the reading of your poem. You make me want to carry out deferred designs. Don’t take my theories too seriously. They are not for you–or for you, of course, or anybody.

I’d give my shirt to hear the Matthaus “Passion” this week, but I doubt if it can be done. If I do get there in spite of everything, I’ll cast an eye around for you.

But your work’s the thing. It encourages me in my designs. Makes me anxious to get at my notes and the things (thank God) which I did not tell the gentlemen. Thanks for the supper. As soon as work lightens a bit for me here in the suburbs, I want you to come out. I congratulate Pound on his luck in finding you. You are another nail in the –coffin. Damn fools.

It is likely that Williams and Zukofsky had read together “Poem beginning ’The,’” Zukofsky explaining its allusions and structure and Williams, as he suggested, extemporizing poetic theory. Already Williams had found Zukofsky to be a compatriot and perhaps a disciple in his struggle against the “damn fools” who did not accept the value of his work.

Zukofsky went to the Passion alone; “A”-1 is his reaction to the performance:

The Passion According to Matthew,
Composed seventeen twenty-nine,
Rendered at Carnegie Hall,
Nineteen twenty-eight,
Thursday evening, the fifth of April.

“As a matter of fact,” Celia Zukofsky remembered, “the poem ‘A started out as a letter to William Carlos Williams.” The Passion became one of the themes for this work, whose 24 movements took Zukofsky the next 46 years to complete:

“A”
of a life
—and a time

 Bach is a theme all thru the poem, the music first heard in 1928 affecting the recurrences or changes as may be of the story or history.

Zukofsky referred in “A”-1 to A Voyage to Pagany directly and indirectly. The lines “I heard him agonizing, / I saw him inside” are unchanged from their occurrence at the end of “Bach” chapter, where they form the thought of Williams’ protagonist, Evans, after the performance in Vienna, and refer to Bach empathizing with Christ. Further, Zukofsky’s vision of Bach hurrying to church, “Ah, there’s the Kapellmeister / in a terrible hurry— / Johann Sebastian, twenty-two / children!” reflects Williams’: “Funny old figure he must have been going across the street after having generated another child in the night.”

Williams’ letter to Zukofsky on Easter expresses his feeling of direct relation between himself and Zukofsky:

Williams

I did not wish to be twenty years younger and surely I did not wish to be twenty years older. I was happy to find a link between myself and another wave of it. Sometimes one thinks the thing has died down. I believe that somehow you have benefited by my work. Not that you have even seen it fully but it proves to me (God Damn this machine) that the thing moves by a direct relationship between men from generation to generation. And that no matter how we may be ignored, maligned, left unnoticed, yet by doing straight-forward work we do somehow reach the right people.

Williams’ feeling is confirmed by a consideration of the importance of the two other topics in his letter in the history of their work and association. First, Williams expressed curiosity and regret, having missed the performance of the Matthew’s “Passion.” Such interest had already inspired the beginning of Zukofsky’s life’s work, “A”. Secondly, Williams claimed:

There must be an American magazine. As I have gotten older, I am less volatile over projects such as this (a magazine) less willing to say much but more determined to make a go of it finally—after I am 70 perhaps—. Perhaps it will crystalize soon.

Williams and Zukofsky continued in the years that followed to be interested in publishing the “straightforward work” which others ignored.

Williams was temporarily rescued from the need to begin a new magazine by a request from Pound that he help with the “Exile”. Williams responded on 16 April 1928:

Pound

Dear Ezra: Your present letter rescued me from an oozy hell. Your offer is generous. I hereby give up any thought of a new magazine. Within two weeks I’ll let you know what kind of material—what kind of impetus it is that has been stirring in me. If you feel impelled to give me a whole number of Exile when you have the material in hand, well and good. But I’ll be content with as much space as comes my way. 

But it is a delight to me to feel a possible bond of workmanship being exercised between us today. Damn it, why don’t–why didn’t I seek you sooner? Exile is a good venture; let me from now on really throw my energy into it—not for my name or for myself in any way, but just to do it. I’ll do it. For a year at least I’ll shower you with anything I can rustle up or squeeze out. I want to. I need to. I have felt sometimes of late that I am sinking forever.

Williams again referring to Zukofsky’s “Poem beginning ‘The,’” in Exile 3, was perhaps one of the reasons he considered Exile “a good venture.”

This is just to accept your offer. More later. I heartily support your judgment of Zukofsky’s excellence (in the one poem at least) and he seems worthwhile personally.


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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