Needles Auto

Needles Auto
(or The Revenge of Lorine Neidecker)
Alice Notley & the Novel Poem

by Pat Nolan

“The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace has passed.” —Simone Weil


It may come as a surprise to some but Alice Notley is a novelist, a poet novelist, narrative poet, if you prefer, whose novel poetry, layered, abstracted, disjunctive, expressionist (like a Joan Mitchell canvas) reinforces the disappearance of the distinction between poetry and prose. Her poetry prose follows an arc of increasing complexity, reliant on hypnagogic landscapes and the language of reverie and dreams.

Notley’s original writing instinct drew her to the narrative, and still does. She is perhaps a writer who would not have considered poetry, so obscure, dull, limited in what it could say in the ways it could say it. Chancing upon the right band of poetry vagabonds in the tradition of the bohemian bonhomie DIY unaffiliated mavericks of AmLit helped. Picture three wise men, (Black Mountain Bob, Red Cats Anselm, and New York City Ted aka Tulsa Ted), crossing the quad at the University of Iowa. “Who are those guys?” Once presented with literature as an extracurricular activity everything kind of falls into place. And it’s nothing like what was taught at Barnard or even in the renowned writing workshop. So some guy she just met (one of the three) left her alone in a room full of poetry books the likes of which she had mostly never seen before.

AN IREThe rest is history: how “Libby” from Needles, on the edge of the Mohave Desert, on the shores of the Colorado River, south of the Dead Mountains where the giggles of teens hanging around Irene’s Drive-In might be heard, at the beginning (or end) of Route 66, likely wrote herself a full ride to Barnard the working class way, and whose unique talent won acceptance to the Iowa Workshop. Like another acclaimed American poet, Lorine Neidecker, from the wetlands of the Midwest, self-exiled in rusticated obscurity on a river island, Notley is also one of William Carlos Williams’ “pure products of America.” Unlike Neidecker, Alice Notley, from the Western outback where the sun stroked landscape still haunts her memory and her poems, a hope, skip, and a jump from the frying pan of Death Valley to the inferno of New York City, crucible of arts and literature, made the poetry world her own with a vengeance.


Notley as poet returns, in her more current poems and poetry selections, to the shamanistic role of plumbing the depths of the soul, doing a little psyche spelunking, leaving some graffiti on the walls of memory’s cave through incantations of language and the detailing of a journey to a psychological state littered with the shiny sparking objects of consciousness. The individuality of the mental state is inviolable in being exceptional and singular. This seems to be the trend in art in the last century or so, a movement toward the unpredictability and uniqueness of the individual psyche and how it can be represented and responded to as a recognition of a commonality transcending the barriers of insularity as well as a response to the increasing codification of innate inclination.

Her work delimits, restricts, subverts sentimental emotional engagement through the distance implied by its disjunctive technique verifying the intensity of its usage and misdirection to maintain the tension of its intent through unpredictable splinters of language, rough syntax, tenuous agreement, paratactic disorder, colloquially formal, and formally colloquial, no pun intended or unattended amidst the playful ambiguity of appropriated repurposed cultural clutter.

Notley’s rare and raw sensibility inhabits a personal fiction as a poet who may say anything she wants, unfiltered through the mesh of literary propriety. Whose language leads, a discursive survey as a nervy narrative. It is a picture of the mind moving, undulating, oscillating, osculating, skipping and leaping, doing a little dance down previously unexplored corridors, shape shifting, hinting at other dimensions, and then revealing, vulnerable, lithe, facile, always just out of reach.


In the late 60s/early 70s a loose aggregation of disaffected poets, not solely on the East Coast or the Lower East Side, of like inclination, rooted in similar sources of the Don Allen New American Poetry and the New York Poets anthologies, national and regional post-Beat, proto-grunge working class affiliations, and the ubiquity of alternative (underground/mimeo) publications were riffing off each other. The early 20th century French poets were in fashion once again thanks to the translations of John Ashbery and Ron Padgett (among others). Duchamp, the spirit of Dada found new congregants and permissions of the impermissible. As well there was Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath which presented the case for an anything-goes radical experimentation.

It was the cusp of an era, a fleeting moment when a synced association of young, restless, ambitious, independent poets held a unique artistic vision in common. Over time, as always happens, individuals drifted off as their own singularities, beating a path through the literary thicket: some got lost and gave up, some sunk roots and stayed put, some died too young, and others, as Kumasen Abbott used to say, “built their own railroad.” The tenor of the times is too elusive to convey accurately that sense of camaraderie and energy afoot during those scant years before naked ambition, drugs, esthetic differences, indifferences, factionalism, pettiness, disaffection, and happenstance scattered fortunes to the wind.

The spirit of Dada and Surrealism’s collaborative projects of automatic writing and exquisite corpses, cut ups and appropriation were much in vogue then as it undermined (as was its purpose and history) the staid expectations of bourgeois intellectuals. What was taken in stride of being in that milieu: to not only think outside the box, but to eliminate the box altogether. “You want free verse? I’ll give you free verse!”

theendThat sense of camaraderie was also reinforced by reams of mimeographed paper in the guise of poetry books and magazine produced at a fevered pace in basements, backrooms, and the ever present kitchen. The basic ingredients were a case of paper, a ream of cover stock, two quire of stencils, a typewriter, preferably electric, A.B. Dick or Gestetner table top mimeograph machine, adequate beer for those volunteering to collate the pages and staple them together into a twenty page selection of poems as a magazine or book. And whose end product was approximately two hundred copies to be mailed across the country and around the world to contributors, friends, publishers of similar means (who could be counted on to reciprocate), and influential writers who might blurb said accomplishments and call attention to another tireless effort in the cause of cutting edge literature. Handfuls were placed on consignment at neighborhood bookstores (remember them?). The small press little magazine and the network/scene it engendered functioned as a life preserver for many  poets/editors/ publishers allowing them to stay afloat in the vast, often choppy seas of relevance (or irrelevance) no matter their talent while providing a sense of connectedness to like minds.

Tom Clark suggested I contact Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley to solicit poems for the first issue of my mimeo poetry magazine, the end (& variations thereof), c. 1971. I got my introduction to Alice Notley’s poetry by typing her poem onto a stencil.


Reading, deciphering, going along for the ride, Alice Notley’s poetry is a visceral experience. Or as Julia Kristeva put it, “Understanding is not possible without implicating the reader as an interpreter who is no longer neutral but is entirely caught up in the attempt to come to some sort of momentary identification with the avant-garde text. . .enact a distance to be able to describe it in one’s own terms to one’s self.”

Notley is not fixed by the past in following where the spirit moves her. Her points of departure are rather mundane and bordering on the conventional, the quotidian, but what ensues is neither conventional nor mundane. Rather than focus on the fractured narrative that might or might not exist, the lyric technique redefines in a fractal restructuring. The text has texture, a shape shifting ambiguity that allows for allegory and universals as abstract expression, the sheer indulgence of the artist self. Her landscapes are littered with language as no turn of phrase will lie unnoticed.

There are surprises when least expected in the bass drone of the texts that rise out of the density of language whose blend contributes to an ineffable sensation of the authentic or that of uncanny exactness. The implacable drone, a subtle oscillation, the inspiration and expiration of breath, breathing.

AN BENotley’s recent books have ceased being selections of poems. They’re self-contained works of poetry with a breadth and depth considered narrative bracketed by covers. The epic removed from its hagiographic setting as a praise song, remade as a reexamination of the process in the practice of the art of poetry, as a documentary from the bicameral studio. The reader must give up the lexical, syntactic, semantic urge to decipher but instead explore the path to its production and the moments of the brilliance that produced it. The epic tradition lives on in Notley’s work. It has always had a strong narrative streak no matter how it was put together. Now her architecture is on a cosmic scale. While most books of poems are program notes of moments when they occurred, Alice Notley’s live within the field of their creation.

The concept poetry book is not new and it facilitates the epic by providing a larger canvas than just the page or a brief succession of pages for nonlyric expression. A continuous nerve movie as Whalen would have it. That idea of poetry is echoed in the work of Anselm Hollo, although a minimalist in comparison to Notley where it is radically exemplified. And if a poem is framed sentience then it is up to the poet/artist to locate within the context of its constraints, be it lyric or narrative—Notley excels at the mind bending lyric—the continuous film of consciousness as appropriated by language inflecting, reflecting, dancing as light.

The internet/digital never-ending page allows the poet more latitude to expand into longer forms resembling song cycles and epics. Not uncommon before the advent of the word processor even though the typewriter did enforce a kind of lyricism limited to a page. Philip Whalen’s Scenes From Life At The Capitol is an example of such a rolling horizontal scroll of moments of consciousness artfully arranged in movements, moods, and intellection. Williams’ Paterson is another such praise song cycle, ambitious in depicting everyman existentially. It is all one poem, as Anselm Hollo insisted, one cosmic language flow, framed by titles reflecting on the multiple aspects of moving through the language of concerns and imagination’s displacement, the Heraclitean stepping in and stepping out of poetry consciousness.

Notley would have been a talented novelist, prose, short story author in a field crowded with posturing males and lipstick ambition, and would always have been considered a woman writer. By choosing poetry she allowed herself a greater freedom in how she approached writing as an art and as a means of conveying the experienced intelligent personality as a subject for her nerve movies with verve and audacity. She has dismantled the assumptions of the prose narrative and rendered it a poetic construct, touching levels of being and allowing the lyrical (the music of language in the mind) to be a vital force in her work. Language and its usage is radically transformed. Rhythmic, lexical, syntactic changes disturb the tranquility of the text continually allowing openings into adjacent possibility as an on-going process captured superficially as writing in an upsurge of transformation and subversion.

Alice Notley’s willfulness both abolishes the world and recreates it in an intensely spectacular fashion.


Facing the title page of Alice Notley’s latest poetry book is the “also by” list, twin columns of twenty poetry titles each, testament to a fucking prodigious creativity unmatched by very few if any of her contemporaries. Bracketed by the sonnets of 186 Meeting House Lane from the early 70s to the more recent harshly lit postapocalyptic anime epic of For The Ride with its Nazcan figures made of words, her achievement is as audaciously original as it is consistently extraordinary.

ANWM1I was fortunate in the 70s and early 80s to be on various mailing lists and to receive “review” copies from the small presses publishing Alice Notley’s work or from the author herself. Then I found myself on the dark outside with Black Bart and Life Of Crime, and was subsequently excised and blackballed (appropriately so) from many a mailing list. Once Notley became a Penguin Poet, however, access to her work was much easier as it was usually carried by the local library system or could be accessed through interlibrary loan. And used bookstores have on occasion turned up a few gems to add to my collection. Along with a recently acquired used copy of Certain Magical Acts, I can count at least two dozen of Alice’s books ranging over fifty years in my possession as a kind of literary capital. Of those not gifted to me or used bookstore finds are two, Reason and Other Women from Chax Press and Benediction from Letter Machine Editions, I actually broke down and purchased (no one realizes what a cheapskate I am) and that are perfect presentations encompassing the enormity of what Notley is attempting.

The content of all these poetry selections, in particular the early publications, is a vivid reminder of how tuned in Notley was to the experimental edge that characterizes and is indicative of the eschewal of traditional forms or modification of same that was at the core of experimental writing of the late 60/70s. Using methods borrowed from Dada, surrealism, tabloids, and the cinema as well as the antiestablishment attitude of the pacifist free speech counter culture, everyone, just about, was trying out similar routines and approaches to their art. Ed Sanders’ mimeo mag, Fuck You, pretty much summed up the defiance of approach as did, somewhat later in the underground’s evolution, “Up against the wall, motherfucker,” itself a tacit public acknowledgement of the struggle against the police state. The poets may not have been out throwing bricks in the street (though likely some were), but they were throwing brickbats at the entrenched conventions of institutional literocracy.

After Berrigan essentially abolished the sonnet, everything else was fair game. O’Hara had allowed for the incidental, as Williams had before him, but with a personal colloquial elan. Cleverness was back thanks to Koch, and Schuyler raised the bar on the ephemerality of the lyric. Ashbery reigned as the enigmatic splice of the obvious. Kerouac and Ginsberg were in the rearview mirror, except for the unfathomable Mexico City Blues always looming in the future. Only an outlier like Whalen from that generation could hold the attention and provide a unique way of proceeding. Olson, Duncan, Spicer choked on their own baroque, imnsho.

An indication of spooky action at a distance is that when these ideas came along, everybody (figuratively) was ready for them, psyched and synced, one might say. Of course there were the precedents in Mallarme, Apollinaire, Jacob, Reverdy, Tzara in terms of technique. As well William Carlos Williams’ emphasis on improvisation. The rest was made up, rules were posited only to be ignored. If you could, after the fact, rationalize what you were doing or attempting to do, and fine, if you were a conceptualist, but the whole purpose was to violate the accepted. There was an anarchist nihilist bent to it that might have been post Beat nostalgia but fortunately was done with a sense of humor that essentially made it a kind of pataphysics.

AN SPA similar sardonic humor, devastating, acerbic wit can be found in Notley’s snappy incisive lyrics as well as in the longer Olsonian open field Calderesque word mobiles. And then there is her acute sense of speech, and its emotional tone. There is much to delight in, from proto-Twitterture brain blitzes to the longer freeform improvisations of a pre-Tic-Toc gestural clip.

Personally, I particularly appreciate that she doesn’t foreswear her roots and can comfortably and confidently say “fuck this, fuck that” without sounding like she’s putting it on, an unpretentiousness that places her contra the trend to gentrify wild words. Also, after all this time in Paris, that she code switches into her adopted language and brings to its usage the same ironic twist of her native pronouncements. With her in-your-face flaunts, her authentic swearing and cursing, she is not interested in your pretentious bourgeoise bullshit.

Random thoughts and takes on Notley’s wide ranging oeuvre have littered the pages of my notebooks over the years. Her saving grace, for me, is that she keeps poetry interesting. Thinking about her poetry allows me to have a conversation with myself about her poetry and poetry in general. Much of the material for this appreciation is cobbled together from marginal notes accompanying the reading and contemplation of her work. Many are tied to specific selections. 

Songs for the Second Unborn Child. This would be the peak for some, why take it into the stratosphere—an incredible symphony of movements and early indication of the development of the narrative plan. The orchestration of movements, the clash of symbols as the new life is affecting its host, the pinwheel displays of sentient sparks and the utterly commonsensical, the poetic presence that wills it all.

Waltzing Matilda. Notes scribbled on the errata sheet on first reading: “intensity, thoroughness, the blend of diversity. Tireless task of sorting through chaos for order and disordering to achieve blissful chaos. Serious, successful, like a great Russian poetess enduring the proletarian tragedy she sings her heart out, a water glass of vodka, an ashtray full of butts, and one long burning ash on the rim, her purposely unpolished dazzle.” 

Meaning is not necessarily the poem’s reason for being. In Doctor Williams’ Heiresses, a paean, a folk mythology, and a scene from The Honeymooners if Ralph (Ted) and Alice were poets and argued about poetry. “To the moon, Alice!” And elsewhere, stumbling across the Kerouac poem she inhabits in a way that approaches voodoo, “Aw shit! She’s channeling Jack!”

In the 80s she continued to tell stories through various artifices, catalogue the incidental, mine the moment of its essence. The line between dream and waking, the hypnagogic—not awake not asleep, the zone, as if you’ve stepped out of your body or your body has stepped into another dimension. She writes what’s there, the sparkling diamonds on the surface of consciousness, catching the light, not how they might be cut or in what setting they would look best, but the raw unadulterated sense of what’s right then and there. She represents the thread that connects the mavericks of AmLit on the map of originality. When Frank O’Hara talked about going on your nerve he was thinking (presciently) about Alice Notley.

The Descent of Alette is an ultimate mindfuck in the genius of its audacity. The quotation mark is an ingrained convention over and above the intent of the text, and by doing so, lifts the poem off the page and returns it to the auditory cortex to lend it its spoken context—its effect is Pollackian, a layered cacophony.

Mysteries of Small Houses. Appropriation and imitation and mind bending syntax of cut ups and random whim, the undercurrent of irreverent humor, flip disregard, mocking acerbic wit that could strip the chrome off a trailer hitch (and I mean that in a nice way).

For the Ride’s oversaturated stark desert light of a post-apocalyptic Mohave that can be found in her other work, quite noticeable here, and as it is also manifested in Benediction, where verse form becomes irrelevant. Through tone and layered glimpses the present consciousness features an allegoric crew in a dystopian landscape exchanging an equally dystopian disjointed dialogue as hastily sketched presences who speak a futuristic disjunctive dialect.

AN INCNotley’s readers are a specialized class of esthetic adventurers, like rock climbers or cross country runners, able to exert themselves in a specific concentrated way that will uncover nuances that are not for everyone. Nor is she waiting for anyone to catch up. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, tracking the energy that put all that together, infused with a knowledge that spans eons. As an artist she presents the reader with choices, decisions. But again, maybe it’s not what the poetry reader wants or expects. It is in code and maybe not the code they’re used to. As the reader continues, the task is to decipher the trails, the contrails, rough trails, unmarked trails, steep trails, the entrails (for there is divination), and end trails that lead across a landscape of language, sometimes barren and lit by sodium flares, sometimes confined by tiny spaces made of words, just a few judicious ones parsed to an economy of reuse and repetition. The darkness of her vision is the concentration of her energy, psychic structures enabled by opportunistic appropriations that rise to the challenges of the greater complexity of fractal contours.

Her brilliance allows her the whimsy with which she dissects her speech (poetry) for the purpose of becoming the focal point where all speech converges, a hysteric discourse to position itself within an impregnable transference to dominate, capture, and monopolize everything within the discourse’s ineffableness in the guise of a centralizing consensus, however briefly. In her recent work Notley has capitalized on the infinite circle of being put into question, the chimerical, the endless excavation (strip mining) on the path to self-consciousness. The narrative drive of her earlier poetry selections, couched as lyrics or sequential movements, become more abstracted as time passes.

In the large canvases of her later poems, the somber oversaturated tones and striations, the layers and strata of an all-encompassing consciousness presupposes a deep dive into the psyche as a poetic reverie. In Gaston Bachelard’s words, Poetic reverie gives us the world of worlds. Poetic reveries is a cosmic reverie. It is an opening to a beautiful world, to beautiful worlds. It  gives the I a non-I which belongs to the I: my non-I. It is this ‘my non-I’ which enchants the I of the dreamer and which poets can help us share. For my ‘I-dreamer,’ it’s this  ‘my non-I’ which lets me live my secret of being in the world.”

There is a tendency to confuse the persona and the person, the artist and the genderless psyche. The artist you respect, the psyche you wonder how rich is that consciousness, how complex? If you’re looking for meaning, prepare to prospect for it, to enter a topological kingdom unlike you’ve ever encountered unless you are a fan and even then the footing is unpredictable. Don’t expect cleverness or quotable bon mots or pyrotechnics—they are there, subtly, in snatches, in moments when the brume Alice shifts or thins, separates long enough to give a glimpse of genius. Otherwise there is the disruption of the associative train, linguistic assumptions thwarted (derailed) by labyrinthine schemata, truncated notational syntax done with deliberation or “is it more like a chameleon/ trampled and least.” Joyce, Beckett, even Stein, are obvious models for uncompromising and somewhat difficult works, and Notley is that original.

Alice Notley is a novelist raised by poets, a fairy tale of literary life with its share of tragedy to be a small town gal, a Persephone of sorts, taken into the art underworld by the lord of that particular scene, where she meets a couple of snake oil charmers, learns their poetry con, emerges yearly as a prodigiously brilliant stylist and ends up living in exile in Paris as the beacon for the future of American poetry—it could be an HBO special.


Just ask Alice:

“Prosody is really about your own voice, your own physiology, your own vibrations. Prosody’s about how objects and voices vibrate, and how they’re packaged, made compact, but not compact, at the same time—how they spread and become small and then dense.

“Music is the only way you can make a poem make sense. But you fight the music sometimes, because if you give into it, you tend to be giving into somebody else’s sound. I was slightly giving into the Gertrude Stein sound, and it was really bothering me, because I knew that wasn’t the structure of my mind. But in her work she had made a really wonderful structure. . .She’d presented a structure for her mind, and a very plausible structure that stood in for how the mind works. It’s very seductive, and it’s also the sound of California—California and France together, you know, which is me. I had a lot of trouble with that. Then I just kind of gave in finally and let it do it, and the poems became more and more structured. Then I found out more things, which is what happens when you give in to form—things that you would never think to say come out of you, and then you have them, they’ve been brought to light.

“It’s elegance that helps you curse well.

“Well, outer identity is very slippery—no one can keep hold of it right now. Inner identity, I think, is quite graspable, but it’s indescribable because it’s a mystical entity. It’s what the Hindus call self, when they talk about whatever they call their mystical experience—I can’t remember right now—it’s an experience of self. Oh yes, the self is the atman. It is said to be about the size of your thumb, or you should concentrate on it with that image in mind—I think it’s in the chest.

AN reading“‘I write for those who don’t read my poems.’ That’s my sense of what I do, that I write for those who don’t read my poems. I’m trying to change their lives, I’m trying to change their minds, I’m trying to change them. I’m trying to give them something that they might not have, or speak for them even. I’m writing for them in that way—to and for. I think they’re with me. It’s a huge job to be a poet. It’s the most essential thing there is. In terms of essence, it’s very essential. Poetry is the species. I would probably emphasize the ‘is.’ All of our perceptual equipment is geared toward seeing us as forms, as compact forms operating on many levels—that’s like a poem. That’s who we are, that’s how we see. That’s what there is, really: there’s poetry. Prose is very, very flat. But we’re not flat. We’re dense and layered.

“I also think long poems do plot and story better than prose does.

“Poetry comes out of all the places where you break. It isn’t romantic to suffer, but you won’t know anything if you don’t.

“But I’m lonely! I write.”

Pat Nolan’s poetry, prose, and translations have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of a dozen poetry selections including So Much, Selected Poems Vol. II (1990-2010) from Nualláin House, Publishers (2019) and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, 2018). His online poet-centric novel, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusing at He is also the founder and editor of The New Black Poetry Society’s blog Parole. Made In The Shade, a limited term poetry document, began posting monthly in January of 2022 and which will end on December 31, 2022 can be viewed at His most recent fiction project is Dime Pulp, A Magazine of Serial Pulp Fiction ( Pat lives in the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.

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Poetry As Crime; Parole at Ten

Poetry As Crime; Parole at Ten

by Pat Nolan

In September of 2012, Parole, the blog of the newly reconstituted Black Bart Poetry Society whose motto is “For those who think poetry is still a crime,” started as irregular memos to a semi-fictive membership that evolved as monthly articles, essays, and book reviews. Apart from the able assistance of a small coterie of contributors, among them Keith Kumasen Abbott, Luci Friesen, Tom Sharp, Steven Lavoie, Carol Chivonne, Bruce Holsapple, Mark Young, Dan Demers, Tim Hunt, and Andrew Schelling, the writing has appeared under my own byline or that of The Parole Officer and The Grand Poobah (also yrs truly). Parole can’t boast of numerous followers (under 100 at last count) but often averages over a thousand views a month, and that is mainly through word of mouth and links to social media which allows the blog to maintain its outlier outlaw status—saints forbid that it should go mainstream.

cropped-bartlogo-2.jpgBeing named after a stagecoach robber who signed himself the PO8, the stance of The New Black Bart Poetry Society tends to be a little prickly and biased against the academic white collar types, and as Charles Boles, aka Black Bart, characterized them, “fine haired sons of bitches.” Parole was meant to reflect the recidivist anti-establishmentarianism that has been at the core of the Society’s impolitic ethos justly described as “surly.” That attitude, when addressing the vast talent pool of unsanctioned Americano lit, and examining how it is paved over by shrink wrapped authors catalogued into schools or movements while overlooking the underpinnings that made all that genius possible, is the tack into the winds of disapproval that Parole set as a course.

At the inception of its latest iteration, the Society stated that it would be interested in a discourse on poetry, poems, and poets. The conversation was to concentrate on 20th century/early21st century poetry and its influencers/influences. The poems, those collected in books or examined individually would be where a consensus of a poet’s work and their impact/obscurity in general could be considered. And poets, examined elegiacally or via biographic accomplishments, would act as the starting point for further discussion on the art of poetry and the writing of poems. (See the Sara Safdie curated Joanne Kyger remembrance). Not many, unfortunately, were interested or capable of entering into the fray.

To prime the pump, a tentative list of topics for potential discussion was proposed in an effort to suggest a range of interests and concerns about the appreciation of poetry. They included:

Pop Renaissance – The New York School and its Adherents
Fixing What Ain’t Broke – Can Poets Change?
Left Out In The Rain – Towards A Classless Esthetic
Why Bother – The Polemical Poem
American Monoglot – Provincialism in American Poetry
I Is Another – The Poet As Cult of One
A Throw of the Dice – Mallarme’s Revolution
Picasso’s Roommate – The Definitiveness of Max Jacob’s Prose Poems
How Did I Get Here? – Modern Poetry and Its Discontents (ongoing series)
Putting A Positive Spin On The Negative — Poetry and Negative Capability
Should Poetry Be Decriminalized? – Pro and Con
The Only Good Poet Is A Dead Poet — Why Is That?
The Poetry Spectrum — From Cool Blue To Red Hot
Poetry, What Is It Good For? – Looking For An Answer
Poetry Professional — Oxymoron or Harbinger
Poetry Workshops – More Harm Than Good?
Poetics – Is it Just A Made Up Word?
A Poet’s Ego – Is There A Cure?
Bored To Death – The Deadly Art of Poetry
Cut Ups – The Cult Of Discontinuity
Provocation – Its Use And Place In Modern Poetry

While none of these issues were ever fully addressed head-on, they did suggest ancillary topics concerning the discontent of modern poets as exampled by posts on Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley, Bill Berkson, Ron Padgett, Anselm Hollo, Steve Carey, and Andrei Codrescu in highlighting their Modernist roots in early century French poets including the likes of Pierre Reverdy, Max Jacob, and Guillaume Apollinaire. Of that early century revolution in literature, the tremendous importance of William Carlos Williams’ visionary esthetic in determining, above all, an attitude of questioning the complacency of the status quo was also duly noted. Addressed as well were the political considerations of the poet in society, the effect of provincialism and gentrification of the poet and poetry, the role of indoctrination of the workshop, and the emergence of the poetry professional.

Taken into consideration, as well, was the entrance of Asian prosody into the Western public domain and its impact, directly or indirectly, effecting a cross cultural resonance by contributing an ancient and unique sensibility to modern Western poetry. With the adoption of certain aspects of Japanese and Chinese poetry in translation, Western poetry has tended toward an elliptical succinctness that eschews the ornate Latinate rhetoric prevalent in the Anglosphere. David Perry’s translation of Sun Dong’s poetry, “Meditations In An Emergency,”  provided a look at Western influence on contemporary Chinese poetry. Also touched upon was the fact that North America has two other, often marginalized, languages of literature, the Spanish of Mexico and the French of Quebec. Jerome Rothenberg’s Poems For The Millenium series of anthologies was singled out as the basis for a heuristic wide-ranging international poetry scholarship.

A special emphasis has been placed on the poetry of Philip Whalen, and a Pacific Rim sensibility that is particularly strong in the Northwest. Kenneth Rexroth once remarked, “The Pacific, like the steppes, unites as well as divides.” Jack Kerouac appreciated the West because it still retained an element of romantic authenticity, and he was particularly fond of Whalen’s poetry. He might have unconsciously perceived that the denizens of the western shores were actually descendants of the Yankee diaspora (in spirit, if nothing else), a kind of Canada to flee to, dodging the draft for the war of secession. Both the excerpts from Whalen biographer David Schneider’s diary, and Steve Silberman’s memoir of time spent with Whalen provided intimate glimpses of the eccentric poet and Zen monk.

The importance of Philip Whalen cannot be understated. Whalen repurposed the journal as a form and distilled its material as poetry, suggesting that the line between the two can be indistinguishable. His method was a bridge to a further exploration and experimentation in language use, and the use of language as self-consciousness. When does the journal stop becoming a journal and become a poem? And how? The poem is a nerve movie of the mind moving as the framed sentience of an adjacent possible emerging complexity in the perceptual identity stream the poet can step in and out of at will (to succinctly paraphrase the equally important poetics of Anselm Hollo).

The new poem is all about breath and utterance and pace and emphasis in a maze of meaning that is the result of a process or a proceeding from an initial condition to the stasis of its balance.

Also considered is Apollinaire’s note to delete all punctuation in the poem as a commitment to “quantum” poetry. To admit that the words put down on the page have no meaning and all meaning. Lack of constraints allows them to roam free in the field of ambiguity. Whalen’s dictum, “as for meaning, let them mean themselves,” applies here. Word combinations will cluster and complement each other like colors on an abstract canvas increasing the focus on interrelatedness at its most finite points. “Relativity” allows everyone their own perspective in creation of the whole. The new poem is all about breath and utterance and pace and emphasis in a maze of meaning that is the result of a process or a proceeding from an initial condition to the stasis of its balance.

In a post-literate era spatial notions have to be considered in the interface with the page/screen. Rather than seeing them as limitations, they can be proposed as opportunities in readdressing the function of literature within the precincts of the eye (& I) followed closely by emphasis on the intrinsic musical quality of language. Meaning becomes a multivalent mode subject to prior knowledge, i.e., educated sensitivity and sensibility. Natural inclinations are what keeps us upright, it is the nature of grace that spells the difference. Great poetry is still being written or waiting to be discovered, but can it be distinguished from the noise of self-promotion, social jockeying, and the pernicious precious pretention of social media augmented egos?

For some, the concept of poet still retains much of the musty aura of art nouveau, draped in a goth cape sauntering through the culture faire of modernity, a romantic nostalgia for a way it really never was. They find themselves ensnared in the Bermuda Triangle of Anglophone poetry, whose apex and base angles are labeled T, S, E (Tennyson, Swinburn, Eliot). And it is into this Anglophone zone that they disappear only to reappear as professional pedagogues leading workshops and issuing prompts.

To others, the poet as a spiritual calling, pursuit, journey may be a proclivity of a unique branch of American poetry, adept or informed by spirit quest still prevalent in non-Western cultures and would include ritualistic as well as contemplative practices. The act is the purpose. Nothing else matters. What becomes of the resultant poem is merely paper work.

There is a general understanding, however, that poet has gone from the rare artfully inspired individual to a marketable job skill in order to legitimize the gentrification of its ancient outmoded role. George Steiner claims poetry is lament, what my old English Lit prof called “ubi sunt,” the basis of elegiac praise poems older than Homer, a nostalgia for a heroic past.

The paradigm shift occurred shortly after the turn of the 20th century: the sectarian cant of literature versus the reconceptualization of the role of the writer in the public domain. The notion of poet as artist (word artist) presents itself in the Duchampian negation of value and finds the ambiguous to be resonate with meaning, personal meaning. Viewed as a fragmentation of the grand order of ecclesiastic rule, cracking the institutional veneer, the entenured body of Anglophone anal neurotics coopt the energy of innovation by marginalizing it with a patronizing indifference as interesting but not particularly proper as literature.

Technology transforms the interface of artists with their work by offering new methods and materials and the esthetic reconsiderations that develop with the use of novel techniques. This applies to poets as well. In the 30s William Carlos Williams presciently pointed out that the quick cut editing techniques used in making compelling movie trailers were ones that poets could employ to imaginative effect. Those approaches were further improved upon by subsequent generations of poets in tune with current developments in the arts including abstract expressionism, pop, minimalism, and conceptual derivation. The role of poet was thus redefined outside of the strictly literary and enlarged to incorporate the universal concerns of art. These ideas were present early in the modernist transformation of literature at the beginning of the 20th century. Williams’ adoption of Kandinsky’s theories of form and composition, Stein’s forensic approach to language are analogous to the revolutionary developments in science and the arts.

Parole exists as a platform concerned that most American poets writing today did not get the memo. The memo is not a manifesto but a link to sources for assembling a manifesto or another memo, if one were so inclined. The gist of this memo can be found in Williams’ Kora In Hell and in Duchamp’s In Advance Of A Broken Arm. The poet utilizing the esthetic tools of the artist and the artist practicing a sense of literary irony become the model for renewing modernism as current innovation.

It is remarkable that the revolution and advances in the sciences, (relativity, quantum mechanics) and in the arts (impressionism/expressionism, cubism, futurism ) of that time were not readily recognized in literature, particularly in the Anglophone world (with the exception of the weak tea of Vorticism), yet analogous innovations certainly existed (surrealism, dada). Should there not have been a quantum poetics?

Quantum poetics would be one of noncontinuity, non-causality, and nonlocality, similar to notions (processes) emphasized in quantum physics. It is in its modernism that the arts can be considered as having more emphasis on the process, paralleling the reconceptualization of the poet, in modes of apprehending the individuality of the divisible invisible. New concepts of form call for recalibration of the esthetic. Thoughts don’t track in a linear narrative like a piece of prose. Instead there are quantum leaps, lacunae, dead ends, psychic phenomena that thwart any particular focus. A thread can be derailed at a lexical whim (as per Roussel) or, in a moment of self-conscious distraction, trip up the most obvious next step.

The quantum poem would express its unity with everything not its separateness from everything else, each word a hinge to a different dimension of meaning rigorously ordered to open in a particular direction. Additional, in a “Hollogram” (named after Anselm Hollo), the form and structure of the entirety of poetry are enfolded into each poem (e.g., each time you write a poem, you are writing the history of poetry), so that when unfolded the form and structure reveals the whole of poetry.

Has anyone paused to wonder that a familiarity with the fractured texts and lacunae-riddled fragments of ancient literature might have accustomed some (curious autodidact poets) to appropriate these gaps so that the artificed omissions in modern poetry resulted from a relationship between fragments that may be intuited as a reading between the lines? Robert Creeley, Anselm Hollo come to mind—one severe, pushing the edges of ambiguity, the other, a happy wanderer, herding cloud formations.

The last thing that is needed for a vibrant era in lit history (Beats, NYS, PacRim, etc.) is to be shrink-wrapped by overeducated white privilege know-nothing academics feasting on a body of work the antithesis of exactly that kind of bourgeois self-congratulatory self-aggrandizement of vacuous credentials they represent

A view of poetry as an integral part of the total flow of the poem leads to a harmonious approach to writing rather than the static fragmentary views that do not treat poetry as a process and which splits poetry off from reality, the reality of the poet’s language and how it best describes the immediacy of personal circumstances. Poetry any longer is more than just talking thoughts written down and involves taking into consideration a perception of how the mind works and how sentience can be framed, addressed as a mode of being.

Poetry’s function is to give rise to new perception and the action the perception sparks rather than a reflexive response of “that’s the way things are.” That new perception is a product of the poet’s use of language and reveals how micro tropes can be repurposed to reflect additional properties of resonance. Clearly there could never be an ultimate poem that would make other poems unnecessary. Any particular form of thinking about the poem indicates a way of looking at context with poetry and thus has implications for how one might perceive (read) in this environment. Process is the stream of consciousness from which the poet draws inspiration. The poet has to be open to further fundamental changes of order in the poem as they go along with the process, and such changes have to be realized in fresh and creative acts of language, gesture, dance.

At the beginning of the 20th century, with the dominance of the visual (gaze), increasing complexity required more of everyone. Starting in the early 21st, it appears to be the dominance of the digital, the pixelized illusion of reality taken to another level, that holds our attention. Complexity isn’t complicated if nothing more than passive acquiescence is required. However if engagement is essential then the learning curve is steep, steeper than many can tolerate.

Print highjacked the angular gyrus to bypass the visual cortex in ways that focused solely on the page and the words found there as a shared knowledge for the growing literate segments of populations. What was read was a read reality that over time blurred the definitions of physical space and existed as a special linear experience. The authority of the printed word depended on predictability of its organization as the consistency of a standard in representing the symbol base. In reading, the somatic balance favors the cerebral to actualize the information “viewed” in a panoply of concepts, knowledge of which is foregone or to which that knowledge can be adapted. The saccades of reading follow a directional sequence whose determination is anticipated by context. Manners of narrative are expected in expressing the clarity of the material. That material has the property of a machine in its singular predetermined result which, in effect, overlays the read reality onto the physical and casts its light/shadow on that which is perceived. It leads to a tyranny of the word’s representation of the world.

Photography brought a representation of light and its reflections into the consideration of nonidealized renderings that unequivocally evoked a moment in time and reanimated the visual cortex to return to its prime purpose which is to convert the visual to analogy. More than mirrors available almost exclusively to the well-to-do, the ubiquity of photography, portraits in particular, ignited a unique blend of self-consciousness that no longer had to refer to a higher authority to seek a determination of self and identity, and essentially created the modern mindset. The end result is a particular neurosis of uncertainty that requires multiple self-representations as an assurance of existence. At the same time the visual arts were freed from the dominance of accurate perspectival depiction and returned to the basics of color and form in portraying the self-consciousness photography had brought about. Once photography was converted into motion, the odds drifted back to a more nonliterary somatic balance.

“Nobody buys your book because no one will publish them, and even if you do get them published, they will not be a success, they will not reach a greater public—if you are not read today, you are dead.”

The contemporary poet is affected by these developments whether they realize it or not. First with the mechanical means of the typewriter (digitally with the word processor), the poet is able to manipulate the text outside of its purely cerebral/syllogistic constraints by standing outside the work and leveraging its potential with the use of judicious appropriation, focused replacement, nuanced reframing, and extra lyrical juxtaposition. The result is the creation of resonate layered surfaces open to appreciation outside of the formal expectations of literary context. Writing the totality of experience within the framework of the poem develops a way free of the inflexibility inherent in those forms of poetry which try to define, once and for all, what the whole of poetry is by confining it to literary convention.

The last thing that is needed for a vibrant era in lit history (Beats, NYS, PacRim, etc.) is to be shrink-wrapped by overeducated white privilege know-nothing academics feasting on a body of work the antithesis of exactly that kind of bourgeois self-congratulatory self-aggrandizement of vacuous credentials they represent. One should always remember that MFA stands for “Middle-class Fashion Accessory” and a PhD in Creative Writing is like a prison tattoo—hang around an institution long enough and you’re bound to get one. The whole idea of trying to legitimize a coterie of writer artists from a past or passing generation as a category of literature is the work of institution. Generations of scholar analyst—clerics in the universal scriptorium—hedge their bets against the growing entropic demands for a static sameness.

In writing a poem the poet seeks the acquisition of language as a kind of renewal. To say that poetry is a nuanced meditation which one can understand, not only by participating in it with a feminine sensitivity, but also by keeping a record of all those little masculine rages with which poets torment themselves would be a paraphrase of Gaston Bachelard. The most difficult poem to write is the one that says nothing. Poetry is a self-structured disordering that degrades the low entropy of language into something consumable.

And that’s where poetry stands today, on the edge of edginess, despite the paint by numbers curriculum of workshops promoted to banalize an otherwise mysterious process. As to the criminality of poetry, the Society has always maintained that there are no bad poems, only bad poets. (A once popular lapel button from the old Life Of Crime days read “The Only Good Poet is a Dead Poet.”)

Poets exists in a state of dilemma, a social quandary. Do poets have to play to their milieu or can they rely solely on purity of intent? Why must the product of their solitude require social approval for its actualization? It is a trap of sorts, a game, the glue that grips them in place, the fascination with a chance to stand in the illusory light of celebrity. Compromises are made to be made. And a poet can be as much a deer in the headlights as anyone.

William Carlos Williams once wrote, “There are a lot of bastards out there.” And most of them are poets. Tom Clark offered the “starved dog” theory of poets, “poets turn into back stabbing creeps just to get their names in print,” to characterize the social scrum. Steven Lavoie, the blog’s society columnist, has provided behind-the-scenes reports of poets behaving badly. Pierre Bourdieu, on the other hand, presents a focused spin on the dilemma.

The radical question posed by “poetry” is circumscribed by the interest linked to membership in the “literary” field, that is to say, the very existence of this field and its corresponding censorships. That field is an historical product of the labor of successive “poets” who have defined “poetry” by forcing on it commentary, discussion, critique, and polemic. But the problems, theories, themes, or concepts which constitute objectified “poetry” impose themselves as a sort of autonomous world on would-be “poets” who must not only know them, as items of culture, but recognize them as items of belief—failing to would disqualify them as “poets.” All those who profess to be “poets” have a life or death interest, as “poets,” in the existence of this repository of consecrated texts, a mastery of which constitutes their specific capital. Thus, short of jeopardizing their own existence as “poets” and the symbolic powers ensuing from this title, they can never carry through the breaks which imply a practical suspension of the existence of “poetry” —that is, a denouncement of the tacit contract defining the conditions of membership in the field, a repudiation of the fundamental belief in the conventions of the game and the value of the stakes, a refusal to grant the indisputable signs of recognition—reference and reverence, obsequiousness, respect for convention even in their outrages—in short everything which secures recognition of their membership. 

To put a less academic spin on it, the illustrious Julia Kristeva opines that “Clannishness is the childish illness of the literary world and even though this compartmentalization may have created and protected innovative stylistic experiences in the past, it is now hindering development of the novel.” This has been especially true of poetry. “The clans of the literary establishment want to amuse and gratify one another and have no need of knowledge. The literary marketplace, along with the way it is overseen by the publishing industry, has become a prime fixture in the normalizing and corruptible order in which we live today [1994].” The grim reality many poets face is just as Kristeva indicates. “Nobody buys your book because no one will publish them, and even if you do get them published, they will not be a success, they will not reach a greater public—if you are not read today, you are dead.” Poet, on the other hand, is one of the last art practices where you can still go on your nerve, and without corporate support, notwithstanding the grant grubbers, mostly vanilla conference networkers, self-congratulatory parlor sentiment synthesis sanitizers, self-righteous schoolmarms, and posture queens of vapid gesture. It remains a sullen art no matter how many followers you have.

The idea of poetry as a crime is an old one. Most everyone has experienced the pain of bad poetry at one time or another. Some of it can be classed as felony mayhem for the harm it poses to impressionable minds. Otherwise it’s merely misdemeanor mayhem, similar to showing off in public. Upon his release, when asked by the warden of San Quentin prison if he were going to rob more stages, Charles Boles avowed that he was done with his life of crime. When asked if he would continue writing poetry, Black Bart reiterated, “Sir, I am done with my life of crime!” For the poet, the likelihood of reoffending is always close at hand. Poetry is life even when it leads to a life of crime.

exilepic2Pat Nolan’s poetry, prose, and translations have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies in North America as well as in Europe and Asia. He is the author of a dozen poetry selections and three novels including So Much, Selected Poems Vol. II (1990-2010) from Nualláin House, Publishers (2019) and the thousand marvels of every moment, a tanka collection (Nualláin House, 2018). His online novel Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusing at He is also the founder and editor of The New Black Poetry Society’s blog Parole, now in its tenth year. Made In The Shade, a poetry document, is a limited term project that began posting monthly in January of 2022 and will end on December 31, 2022, and can be accessed at His most recent fiction project,  Dime Pulp, A Magazine of Serial Pulp Fiction (, just published its 21th issue. Pat lives in the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.

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New To The Society’s Shelves, 2022

The latest batch of arrivals to the The New Black Bart Poetry Society‘s shelves come from a variety of sources as gifts, contributor’s copies, review copies, exchange copies, remaindered stock, library sales, used book store finds, and actual retail purchases.

hr22cHurricane Review 19, Jamey Jones, ed. Poetry by Codrescu, Berrigan, Waldman, Pettet, Nolan, Owen, Mayer, Pensacola State College, 2022 
Hurricane Review has the reputation for publishing some of the best poetry in the non-affiliated Lit arena, always featuring a stellar lineup.

Both Bob Heman’s Disparate Works, The Moron Channel, 2022 and Joel Dailey’s  Get Smarter In 15 Minutes, Baked Alaska, 2022 continue the mimeo underground tradition of staple cover chapbooks by poets whose market (if it can be called that) is independent of conventional access and distribution and functions as networks of prole based lit put forward as urban legend surrealism and psychic cynicism.

PlagiosPlagiarisms-Volume-2-CoverUlalume Gonzalez De Leon, Plagiarisms Vol. 1, introduction by Octavio Paz, —Plagiarisms Vol. 2, introduction by Mary Crow, translated by Terry Ehret, John Johnson, Nancy Morales, Sixteen Rivers Press, 2021, 2022  
A great effort on the part of the translators in presenting the hip poetry of Gonzalez De Leon and a view into the contemporary poetry in turn of the century Mexico City as dual language editions so that the reader might become acquainted of one of three other languages of literature in North America.                                  

Clifford Burke, 19 Small Songs, Academy of Accidental Art, 2022 The master has not lost his touch in the framing these 19 printer’s etudes, each one a testament to many years at the type case and meditations on metal cast language.

blue flameTinker Greene, Blue Flame Ring, Collected Poems, Poltroon Press, 2022
A graceful presentation of Tinker Greene’s slim volume of collected poems done with taste and restraint of an impeccable eye.

Greg Masters, It Wasn’t Supposed To Be Like This, Crony Books, 2021
Greg Masters made New York City his home, on the lower East Side, and presents his impressions of his turf in the form of a homely, at times nostalgic epic, as the poetry of everyday seen from the stoop or from the corner store, a poetry of neighborhood, unique in its candor.

Joe Safdie, The Oregon Trail, Spuyten Duyvil, 2021 
Safdie’s poetry is a reminder that there are many of the post boomer generation of poets affected by the great tectonic shift of Don Allen’s New American poetry still around and engaged in the possibilities of that unique freedom of that modernism.

bolano gravesRoberto Bolaño, Cowboy Graves, Penguin Books, 2021,
—Monsieur Pain, Picador, 2011
—Romantic Dogs, New Directions, 2008
Roberto (if I may call him that) has attained the distinction of one of the few authors who bears multiple rereading as a poet who writes prose without losing his identity as a poet and whose poetry highlights the connection of late century Latin American poets via Octavio Paz and romance roots to the French surrealists.

Kent Johnson, Because of Poetry I have a Large House, Shearsman Books, 2020
Ron Silliman says Johnson’s poems are like “pit bulls” ready to sink their teeth into the pretentious flank of the all too pervasive poetry scene with a cloying ferocity.

Barbara Henning, Digigrams, United Artists Books, 2020  
Henning’s Digigrams offer their succinct “dashed-off” observations like text messages sent in rapid succession in a dialogue of the world through which she navigates with preceptive thoughtfulness.

No-time-like-now-offical-cover_Andrei Codrescu, No Time Like Now, University of Pittsburg Press, 2019,   
—The Art Of Forgetting, The Sheep Meadow Press, 2016 
It might be easy to forget that Codrescu is a poet because of his vast and varied prolificity , but once you read his poems you’ll be surprised by any other conclusion with these poems of regard, self and otherwise, in the declension of the verb of life of a moral soul.

Lafcadio Hearn, Japanese Tales of Lafcadio Hearn, edited and introduced by Andrei Codrescu, Princeton University Press, 2019 Codrescu finds a soulmate in Hearn, the prolific and popular writer of the late 19th century who becomes an expat in Japan and is now remembered for his championing of Japanese folk tales.

NotleyAlice Notley, Certain Magical Acts, Penguin Books, 2016
A used book store find, and familiar from multiple library loans, crackling with authentic spells and invocations, the lyric has not lost its whiplash epiphany. The portrayal of Pegasus’ mane says it all.

John Ashbery, Collected French Poetry Translations
—Collected French Prose Translations, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2014
Investments in literary capital are permissible especially when they’re remaindered. Ashbery is responsible for the renewed interest in Max Jacob and Reverdy among his generation of poets which extended its influence to subsequent generations. The prose volume features his most important discovery, Raymond Roussel, as well as Jarry, di Chirico, and Artaud.

Alex Katz, Brand New & Terrific, Alex Katz in the 50s, Colby College Museum of Art, 2015
Alex Katz is iconic in the splashy expressionism of the New York School and foreshadowed the trendy literalism of a younger generation of poets.

sundRobert Sund, Poems from the Ish River Country, Collected Poems & Translations, Shoemaker & Hoarde, 2004  
Another important figure in the northwestern sensibility of that stretch of the Pacific Rim whose affected unaffectedness is nonetheless authentic and grounded in originality. A truly unique presence among the poets of the sunset lands

Allen Frost & Paul Piper, a flutter of birds passing through heaven,  A Robert Sund Tribute, Good Deed Rain, 2016
Tribute to an authentic bard and Nordic shaman in the mode of Asian poet scholar calligrapher painters, a long legged egret stalking through the reeds.

Vladimir Mayakovsky, How Are Verses Made? Grossman Publishers, Cape Editions, 1970
Library book sales rule: anything by the author of Clouds In Pants is a bargain.

Submitted to the Membership
by the Parole Officer


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The Poet As Private Eye

The indefatigable Carl Wendt, not quite Charles Baudelaire, not quite Charles Bukowski, poet of all ages, private eye to the gods, is following up on the death of performance artist Valerie Richards, an old girlfriend and one of the true loves of his life, for a tribute in his Poetry Month feature in the weekly and stumbles across a connection between her and a recent apparent suicide, a street poet by the name of Jeremy Beljahr, aka Jeremessiah, and a mysterious “fat” man—is there a serial killer of poets on the loose in Frisco?

excerpt from Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius

a fiction by Pat Nolan

vivaLorna Dune ran the Vivisection Lounge. She was a large woman with Biker Bitch tattooed in gothic script on her inner left forearm. And she was the only person Wendt knew who actually looked good in a crew cut. He remembered her from when she’d been the bartender at Puss ‘N Boots, the biker dyke bar in the Castro. He had asked if she knew Val and when was the last time she saw her.

“Yeah, shame that. Lipstick doll, a real heartbreaker with that crooked smile. Yeah, I remember her. Why you asking?”

“She’s a friend of mine, was a friend, and I’m writing a piece on her for the weekly.”

“Yeah, I thought I recognized your mug. What’re you gonna write about her?”

“Kind of a memorial and a tribute to her talents.” Wendt indicated a refill on the shot. He unfolded the flyer and pointed to the name. “Know how I can get in touch with Lillian Belfry?”

Lorna lifted the phone on the back bar and stabbed a number. She spoke into the arcane handset. “You’ll never guess who’s out here askin’ after you?”  She listened with a wince. “Alright, alright. What’s his name, the guy you read in the weekly?”  She motioned to Wendt with her chin, “Wendt?” and Wendt nodded back. “Yeah, that’s him.”

Lorna poured the shot as Lillian Belfry flew out of the door that read Employees Only. “Well, if it isn’t Carl Wendt, poet killer.”

“Hey, hey, I had nothing to do with Reg Meyer’s untimely, or timely, as the case may be, demise.”

“I’m not talking about Reg Meyer.”  She stood at Wendt’s shoulder and he met her eyes. “Val Richards, that’s who I’m talking about. You killed her, Wendt, you killed her with indifference.”

“You don’t know what you’re saying.”

“I know you’re gutless. I’m woman enough to know you’re missing a pair. You coulda gone into that burning building and saved her.”

“I’m not a fireman.”

“You’re barely a man!”

Wendt glanced at Lorna who beamed a smile of great satisfaction. He turned back to Lillian whose head appeared to have been transformed into a giant long eye-lashed gape mouthed cartoon of a dime store goldfish. He nodded, understanding that Val intended to haunt him with memories of his churlishness and cowardice. “I’m writing a memorial as a feature article for the weekly. That’s why I’m asking around. Who did she see last, what was she doing? That sort of thing.”

“And you think that because you’re writing this memorial it’s going to absolve you of any guilt for your heartless neglect?”

Wendt nodded and stared at the shot glass in his hand and then put it back on the bar untouched. “Yeah, something like that. I feel guilty I didn’t do more even though I knew there wasn’t anything I could do, nothing anyone could do. You know that as well as me. Something got off track and that happened long after. . . .” he said with a wave of his hand to indicate what would remain unspoken. “The whole performance thing, I mean, it was spectacular, but it took its visceral toll. She should have stuck to poetry. She would have been just as miserable, more obscure, and maybe not as dead.”  He shrugged and knocked the shot back. “But what the hell do I know?”

Lillian fixed him with a gaze that had lost some of its harshness. “She always loved poetry, you know, that never changed. Ever wonder why she threw that whole poetry thing over, Carl? Think about it. She was in love with you. And she was a better poet. She knew that you couldn’t take the competition.”

“That’s crazy talk.”

“Really, Carl? Didn’t she change her name to Valentina Fox soon after the publication of Book Of Pain, her first collection of poems? Which, I might add, received unprecedented critical acclaim for a first book. All of a sudden she didn’t want to be a poet anymore. You were there then, Carl. What happened?”

“It was an esthetic decision. I had nothing to do with it. In fact, I supported her.”

“Less competition.”

“We were drifting apart. I wished her well. I mean, I knew something was wrong, the pills, and the lies, the lies and the pills. You can deal with one or the other, but not both, and most of the time, they don’t come alone.” He shrugged, “And she was in the process of changing her sexual preference.”

“That hurt, didn’t it?”

Wendt screwed up an eye like he was considering the comment. “Actually I have a tendency to turn women toward lesbianism. I’m part lesbian myself.”


irenesunset2 txtSome people have a sense of humor about their unorthodox proclivities, and it’s usually dark. Wendt should have been knocked off his stool lying flat on the floor for that crack. Instead Lorna poured another shot. Lillian didn’t quite put away her hostility but at least she coughed up some info. Val liked to come by and be part of the reading scene which, considering the moderator, was heavily femme.

“If she was on something, she’d be quiet, unassertive and sweet. If she were coming down, she’d be agitated and heckle the poets. But at least she was participating in the scene again. People would buy her drinks to try to get in bed with her but when she was drunk she was like a sopping wet dish rag and all she could talk about was this famous poet she knew and how she had written the best book of poems ever and how he had never said anything good about it except ‘that’s nice.’  She went ballistic if someone even said, ‘that’s nice’ to her.”

Wendt was familiar with that particular flash point.

Lillian indicated that Val was writing poetry again, but it wasn’t for herself. “She was hustling this guy who wanted her to write poems that he could publish under his own name, and he was paying her. So she said. Kinda like a poetry sugar daddy. Her and the kid who I guess is the one introduced her to this patron of the arts. Well, you know, with Val, you were never sure of how firm a grasp she had on reality.”

“Ok, back up a bit there. A kid? Who was this kid?”

“Some street monkey, a crackster I’m sure.”

“Get a name?”

“Messiah?”  She glanced at Lorna for confirmation.

“Yeah, something like that, Messiah. I had to boot him. He was creeping people out.”

“I think he was writing poems for this guy, too. That’s the impression I got, anyway.”


Lorna nodded. “That’s it, frickin’ freak is what I say.”

“You know him?”

Wendt sighed. “It’s a long story.”

Lillian looked at her watch. “And I’ve just run out of time.”


anotherss2tx“Yeah, third floor, three ten. You from the paper? The weekly? Yeah, he said he was a poet. What do I know? I thought they was all in the schools. You writing something about him? Funny critter. Used to call me his corn-sage. That means apartment manager in French. He said he could speak French. He tried some out on me. But what do I know. Come on in.”

Gray limp hair hung from her surprisingly small head like unraveled yarn. Her shoulders were broad, and her arms jutted out in installments from the garishly bright orange and yellow sleeveless dress. She’d forgotten her teeth. “’scuse a min.”  She came back shortly with her smile. The widescreen TV seemed out of place in the cramped shabbiness of the tiny room. The sound was off and the images flickered disconcertingly without context. “Funny that when he was alive he hardly had any visitors. Now that he’s. . .you know, there’s always someone asking after him.”

“Oh yeah, like who?”

“Well, cops, for one.”

“Woman cop?”

“Yeah, yeah, but she come later, after the uniforms got done taking statements.”

“Anybody else?”

“A guy. I think I seen him with Jeremy once, before. . .you know.”

Wendt nodded. “What did he look like?”

“I dunno, big guy. Looked like he ate well.”

“Young, old?”

“Younger than us, I’d say, older than the kid.”

“You talk to him?”

“Only once, after the. . .you know. Wanted to look in the room. I told him the cops took everything.”

“Say what he was looking for?”

“Books. Notebooks. Said the kid had some of his books.”


“I showed him these over here in the corner.”  She pointed to a bundle of spiral notebooks on the floor next to the chipped and dinged white nightstand. “They’re still in the shrink wrap. He didn’t want them though. Had to have writing on them. I said he could have them anyway. They’re brand new. You want them? You can have them. I ain’t gonna use them. They was Jeremy’s. He’d just bought them. Figured he wouldn’t need them and I could give them to the neighborhood kids to do their homework. That’s something I didn’t know.”

“What’s that?”

“Kids don’t do homework anymore.”

Wendt pulled his attention away from the dancing shapes on the flat screen. “Think he had a girlfriend?”

The corn-sage said, “I did see him with a woman,” when she finished coughing and laughing. “Didn’t think she was his girlfriend. Older. Redhead. Dyed red, you could tell.” And without prompting, she blurted, “He give me that TV so I ain’t gonna say nothing bad on him.”

“Nice TV. New?”

“Said he come by some money and just had to have it. Impulse buy, he called it. Didn’t matter. Said he’d be getting more money soon. He had a deal with some guy to write for him. Said I could borrow the TV anytime I wanted. So when he. . .you know. . .I figured that it would be as good a time as any to borrow it seeing as how he weren’t gonna ask for it back.”

When Wendt said nothing she insisted, “He said I could borrow it!” He didn’t care about that. Why would the kid buy new notebooks if he was going to take a dive? Another impulse buy? Or maybe the euphoria of the moment when possibilities seem infinite.

sunset81Wendt also thought to check some old trap lines among the margin dwellers. Apollinara and Jacob, known to everyone as Polly and Jake, were an East European couple in their 70’s whose apartment was on a block south of Market scheduled for demolition to make room for more parking garages. He remembered that Val had a special affection for them because they were so old world, and she was particularly fond of old world. Polly was a papier-mâché artist while Jake was a junk artist.

“So much more junk in America! My art improve one hundred percent!”

The walls and ceiling were covered with papier-mâché stalactites and odd organic protuberances painted a variety of colors but giving off a slime yellow-green aura like the inside of a giant gut. Jake’s repurposed found objects were niched and incorporated into the ever-changing irregular surroundings.

“The things people throw away would make a man rich in my country.”

They were always busy creating, Polly tearing strips of newspaper, a cigarette permanently lodged in the corner of her lipstick rouged mouth, one eye squinting from the trickle of smoke, a ratty blond wig on her head, thin diaphanous kimono thrown over narrow bony shoulders, a stained satin slip showing underneath, and when she paused, one hand on her hip, to take the cigarette from her mouth to blow a cloud of smoke and consider the progress of her latest creation, she resembled a bad parody of Marlene Dietrich.

Jake, a tall stooped man always attired in the same suit coat and matching brown trousers, a perfect crust of day-old white whiskers clinging to the hangdog jowls, mouth a liver red smear beneath cavernous nostrils and, despite their inflamed sockets, blue eyes twinkling with glee, joy, and mischief.

A constant stream of people passed through the small two room apartment, mostly neighbors, druggies, conmen, common criminals, and street toughs. No one ever overstayed their welcome for fear of becoming a part of the incessant collage going up around them. And it was because of one of Val’s drug connections that he had first been dragged down the dead end alley and up the short flight of creaking wood steps.

“What’s the matter these people? They don’t have memorial for her friends should honor her?”  Polly squeezed the life out of a tea bag that had seen better days into a cracked tea cup missing a handle. “You want sweet? We got pink and we got blue, no real. Just like political party, yes?”

Wendt examined his own cup and tried to discern color in the liquid. Was it darker than hot water or was that just a shadow?

“She come here with skinny crazy boy who must always talk not so long ago. Looking for Gordo.”  Polly shrugged. “Each their own.”

“Just her and the kid? Anyone else?”  Wendt noticed Jake eying the used tea bag on the saucer as if it had a numinous presence.

Polly carefully emptied two packs of the pink sweetener into her hot water and then set them aside with the pile of used pink and blue packages that would eventually be collaged to a section of wall.

“Fat man.” Jake said looking up from the tea bag. It sounded like he said ‘fete’ man.

“Fat man?”

“Last time she come with fat man.”  He made a slope shoulder gesture with his arms held away from his side.

“He was money,” Polly added.

“How do you know?”

She shrugged. “Because Valentina say so. Gordo come, they get big score.”

“I guess I’m gonna have to talk to Gordo.”

“No good. Hit run.” She waved a nicotine stained hand toward the outside, relegating it to another world. “In hospital, maybe die.”


sunsetmendo cvrWendt now considered City of Assassinations as the title of his feature on Granahan, Val, the kid, and now something on Ian Blake which would also serve to announce his presence at the memorial, and maybe Morgan Tilson. Both of them had been associated with New Arts Institute, Frisco, as adjuncts. He figured he could glean enough background from Stoddard Leary.

Mikhail, the bartender at the Backed Inn, a block down from the NAIF campus, had said “regular as clockwork” and at three on the button, Stoddard pushed in the door and momentarily reveled like a man in the desert suddenly happening upon an oasis. He didn’t object when Wendt offered to buy him a drink.

They touched glasses. “I thought I’d see you at Granahan’s funeral.”

Stoddard made a face and waved a hand in dismissal. “My ride never showed up!”

Wendt knew this was bullshit as Nate Silveri had complained to him at the funeral that he was late because he’d waited around for Stoddard who never showed up at their agreed upon meeting place.

“Shame. Wasn’t he instrumental in getting you the position at NAIF?”

Stoddard looked at him like he had just uttered nonsense. “No. . . ,” he shook his head slowly. “As a matter of fact, he had recommended someone else. I got it because the provost at the time was Joel Fischer, an old classmate from Iowa. Granahan, if I remember correctly, wanted you to take his place.”

Wendt nodded, receiving the memory like a bad odor. He’d missed the interview. It had something to do with a woman and too much to drink or a drink and too much woman, either way he didn’t want to think about it. “Ah yes, the Iowa connection.”

“You’re just jealous.”

“Doesn’t IOWA stand for Inbred Ontologically Witless Assholes?”

Stoddard chuckled. “You could be describing any writing program in the country. But, yeah, Iowa is certainly the model. Need I remind you that Valerie went to Iowa.”

“For less than six months. She said the sexual predation was disconcerting. And provincial.”

Stoddard toasted Val, another painful memory. “Here’s to a sweet angel. She will be missed.”

Wendt raised his glass before knocking it back.

“And to Reg Meyer, who won’t be missed.” Stoddard called for another round. “Are congratulations or thanks or commendations in order? You did the world of literature a great service.”

Wendt shook his head. “I didn’t do it. On the other hand there’s no shortage of people who would have done it. I didn’t realize he grated on you, too.”

“He was after my job!”

“No kidding? Reg?”

“Yeah, Reg. He didn’t have any idea how unpopular he was with the board of directors. It may have been that lawsuit he filed against the school a couple years back. Remember that? It was a nuisance suit. Corporations have very long memories.”  After a belch, he added, “They’re called databases.”

That was neither here nor there, what could he tell him about Tilson and Blake.

“They both wanted my job!”

“What do you mean? At NAIF?”

“And they didn’t stop at stabbing in the back whoever was in their way. Of course they aren’t the only ones. There are others. Everyone wants my job. It’s the perfect poet’s job. The pay is decent and you don’t have to do anything except talk about what you do to a bunch of cross-eyed trust fund morons.”  Stod had the bartender bring over another setup. It was as if he were preparing to go to work, the work of getting obliterated. “It does have a price, though. Who would have thought that it would be so soul negating. It’s not the art. It’s the people you have to deal with. Vampires are real, my friend, they drink a figurative literary blood. And when they’re done with you, you’re about as useful as a burnt out match.”

“They’re dead, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. I just wish there was a way I could thank them.”

“No love lost?”

“The Blake kid was alright. He had a lot of energy, and it showed in his writing. But when you’re the cute up-and-coming literary property and make a point of being seen at all the correct occasions and then act like that somehow gives you some kind of privilege, it can be a pain in the ass.”

“What about Tilson?”

“He was an alien.”  Stod savored some of his drink. “A walk-in. Maybe even a robot. I could never connect with the guy. Totally devoid of viscera. His method was interesting, but not the end result. And very ambitious. They both were. Now they’re just a boring subject.” He turned his attention to finishing his drink and hunched his shoulders like he was done for now.

Wendt signaled the bartender for another round. “C’mon Stod, don’t clam up. You got me curious. Who else do you think is after your job?”

The bartender removed the empties and Stoddard moved the new setup into position. He didn’t want to be bothered.

“Like three of the people who were after your job are now dead. Is that just a coincidence?”

“I can’t help it if I’m lucky.”

“With luck like that you don’t need friends.”

Stoddard shrugged. “I heard your friend from Kansas is angling for the job, too.”

“Lynal Pauk?”

“And Charles St Charles.”

Wendt shook his head. “No way. St Charles is old school University material. Where’s he teaching, Yale, Princeton? He’s not going to go after something at a barely accredited diploma mill. That’d be like putting a brass doorknob on a beaded curtain.”

Stoddard giggled. “Where have you been, Wendt? Don’t you know? The old guard is being sloughed off like last season’s exoskeleton. There’s a new breed of insect, of climbers on the bricks of academe. Ruthless untutored young pups. And they’re pushing the old dogs out. St Charles is out here looking over the prospects.”

“If I hear he’s met with an accident I’m going to get real suspicious.”

“How come you haven’t queued up to stab me in the back, Wendt? Waiting for the field to narrow down?”

“Lack of experience more than anything else. Impatient would be another.”

“You’ve got the rep though. That’s all the kids want, to have some of your name rub off on them. Then they can say, I studied under Stoddard Leary. Or Carl Wendt.”

“Quite a few can already say that, but it has nothing to do with poetry. I’m not a teacher.”

“You’d be good, Wendt, I’d even consider passing the baton to you if I didn’t have rent to pay. But you’d still have to contend with Mitch Tjantor and his asshole friends.”

“Tjantor? Who are his friends.”

“Greg Peck, the Hunt brothers. Tjantor has Berkeley sewn up. He has his shadow, Mira Marks, at State poised to jump into the head job at Mills. Hunt or Peck would then move into that vacated position, and the other would be looking to slipping one between my ribs.”

AA8W3FUcvrWendt laid out Jeremy’s notebooks on his bed. Some had been curled, tube-like, for so long they looked like the Dead Sea Scrolls. The newer ones were merely creased down the middle. Jeremy didn’t date his entries but he did date the beginning and end dates on the cover of each spiral bound. Wendt ordered them and then discovered that some notebooks were copies in a better hand rather than random jottings, drawings, scribbles and notes. There was a method to the madness but it would take an archivist to figure it out. Among the notebooks were typescripts, some from a typewriter and others, by the faded script, the product of a computer printer low on ink. They were certainly more legible. Wendt freed a page from a folded sheaf and read.

The radical question posed by poetry is circumscribed by the interest linked to membership in the literary field, that is to say, the very existence of this field and its corresponding censorships. That field is an historical product of the labor of successive poets who have defined poetry by forcing on it commentary, discussion, critique, and polemic. But the problems, theories, themes, or concepts which constitute objectified poetry impose themselves as a sort of autonomous world on would-be poets who must not only know them, as items of culture, but recognize them as items of belief—failing to would disqualify them as poets. All those who profess to be poets have a life or death interest, as poets, in the existence of this repository of consecrated texts, a mastery of which constitutes their specific capital. Thus, short of jeopardizing their own existence as poets and the symbolic powers ensuing from this title, they can never carry through the breaks which imply a practical suspension of the existence of poetry —that is, a denouncement of the tacit contract defining the conditions of membership in the field, a repudiation of the fundamental belief in the conventions of the game and the value of the stakes, a refusal to grant the indisputable signs of recognition—reference and reverence, obsequiousness, respect for convention even in their outrages—in short everything which secures recognition of their membership. 


Wendt found that one of the notebooks was stuck to the back of another by the syrupy residue of spilled soda. Separating the two he saw that Jeremy had written a long Ginsbergian poem a la Howl entitled Bay. It was dedicated In Memoriam Angel Headed Hipster, and began I am the beast mind of my generation, wool in sheepish clothing. . . . Wendt chuckled and read a little further then gave a brow raised low whistle. “Well, hello Rimbaud.”

Disquieting were the names on the inside cover of an apparently newer spiral notebook. They were a list of dead poets, very old dead poets whose names underpinned literature, as well as the obscure though remarkable in their day, and more recent names that meant something to Wendt personally. Paul Simon Legris, Dee Dee Wrell, Cornaio Gibaldi, Mark Broms, Dick Granahan. Morgan Tilson, Ian Blake. It saddened him to see Val’s name. Reg Meyer. Andy Porter’s name had been penciled in. That didn’t scan. As was his.

warning uspoet mrbtPat 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 three 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  He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.

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ANSELM HOLLO at The Naropa Institute

By Andrew Schelling

The first time I saw Anselm I did not know who he was.

I’d gone into San Francisco to hear a talk on Walt Whitman by Kenneth Irby. The talk, offered for poetics students at New College, was open to the public. A sunny day in San Francisco, the room spacious, old, wood-floored & dusty. Fifty people sat by tall windows in folding wooden chairs. Irby delivered his afternoon talk, whipcord smart, peppered with random Irbyesque facts, ideas, notions, and approaches to the poems of Whitman. From the back of the hall came voices, a bit loud for the occasion’s solemnity. Not really voices, but what sounded like honking & cackling.

Two men seated on wooden chairs in the room’s last row were passing a bottle in a paper sack. They were also heckling the speaker. Not with fervor, certainly not malice, more like they were sharing a noisy few jokes, tossing offhand comments, contradicting an opinion, countermanding a fact, mimicking a word or two that sounded odd or overtly pedantic. This was a glimpse into the old relaxed world of poetry readings when speaker and auditors shared a playful arena. For the serious New College students—these poetry years of the early eighties had become very serious indeed—it must have seemed impossibly rude…

…or a lesson in what poetry could be.

ahollo2Years later, I figured out the hecklers were Bob Grenier and Anselm Hollo. They knew Ken better than anyone else in the hall did. Why did they heckle? 1982 or thereabouts we lived through an era when poets scrunched up their brows. People took to poetry with Leninist fervor: “poets are revolutionaries, poetry better change the world, you fucking better change your life….” Here sat and shifted these two cacklers, old time immortal bums, sharing wine, making sure the room did not take itself too seriously. Maybe poetry has a higher purpose than changing the world.

I would not meet Anselm for another eight years. By then he had quit drinking. My memory might be deceptive too. Anselm might be more of a coyote than I suspected. What if that companion of Grenier’s hadn’t been Anselm? As I said, I didn’t know him in the early eighties. I did not know him as a drinker.


When I joined the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at The Naropa Institute, Anselm was faculty. He’d landed a year or two earlier, joining Anne Waldman, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, and Jack Collom. I saw him every day—at meetings, parties, we swapped books on poetry & translation, ate meals together, poked in and out of the rooms of the little clapboard buildings that housed the poetics school—from 1990 until he stopped teaching twenty years later. I’d gotten to town from the dead serious days of Bay Area poetry, late seventies through the eighties. Animosity between austerely militant language poets and the “mystical” crew over at New College had resulted in trench warfare: the goals of the poem were at stake. I credit Anselm with reminding me that poetry can be fun. Even if you want a leftist politics, poetry’s counterculture influence (New Left zaniness) remains the high spirited friendships. Be whip-smart if you like, go any direction you can, avoid the doctrinaire or the mean-spirited. And keep making word-objects with grace. Want to go to hell in a bucket? Then laugh as you go.

Having watched first-hand the nation-state furies of 20th century Europe, Anselm had no need to climb into a trench with Marx in his back pocket.


Anselm wore black. Shirt, pants, coat, roper-style boots, a brimmed hat, always black. With silvery-white hair and beard, he looked old-fashioned, bohemian without apology. Boulder in the early nineties still had the tang of a former mining town sixties enclave—not the high tech fantasyland it has turned into. Anselm was Baudelaire in riding boots. Late in life for reasons I never figured out he took to wearing loud colored Hawaiian shirts in the summer. And a straw hat.

One day in the small asphalt lot behind Naropa’s principal buildings we fell into conversation. He said, “My sister has died in Finland.” A few words went back and forth. His eyes settled on the redslab Flatirons of compact Dakota sandstone, jutting through dark pines to the west. “She’s the last person who knew me as a child.” He looked like the loneliest man in the world.


Anselm taught a course on translation. He studied the economics and politics of translation. He could tell you, for instance, the percentage of books published in the United States each year that were translations, what the main languages were, what trends stocked the bookshops, practical details of the translator’s trade. This made sense; he translated into English and into Finnish, from a confounding range of tongues. His father had translated Homer, Cervantes, and Dickens into Finnish.

ahollo3Anselm’s polyglot skills stood him on solid ground when he taught French poetry, European Modernism, or brought the Cubists, Surrealists, or Russian avant-garde to class. The Kerouac School from its 1974 beginnings had taken poetry to be an international field of activity. Anselm’s presence on the faculty provided—what to call it? Credibility? Authenticity? I cannot stress how important his courses were, along with his publications, in helping set the Kerouac School apart from the suppositions of most writing programs in the USA, which look militantly one-language.

His translation courses were lowgrade Dada. He would assign students odd tasks. Some arrived knowing languages other than American English, but Anselm took Ezra Pound’s view: you don’t need to know a full language in order to translate. If you work hard you can get pretty far with a bilingual book and a dictionary. He’d have people try translating older English verse into modern forms. He had students to mistranslation, homophonic translation (by ear, don’t worry what it says). Try a bit of French, look into Italian. His orientation was, of course, avant-garde European. One year he received a decoration from the Finnish culture ministry. He and Jane drove into Denver to accept the award at Finland’s Consulate.

I arrived at Naropa with a rucksack full of Sanskrit, so he and I began to mix things up. Anselm wrote a over note for my first book of old India poems:

These dear ancients deserve a translator like Andrew Schelling: with
gentle authority, he helps them raise their hands to bid time halt for a 
moment in our heads. Their brief translucent poems in Schelling’s
“rekindled translations” (William Carlos Williams) demonstrate the
coexistence of past, present, and future in the perennial vortices of
human emotion; they are gists of the heart.

This could be one pointed note describing his own notion. Jane later told me it was this book of “dear ancients” that got him looking at old-time Greeks, a way to go back before Europe was Europe. To catch what from the past had whirled into our own vortex. In the note he names Williams but notice what he takes from Ezra Pound: vortices & gists. He would have gotten to the old Greeks in time no doubt; his father had translated Homer.

The first outcome of his quest for a dear ancient was “Hipponax of Ephesus.” He found in Hipponax a like spirit. Hipponax had discovered “limping iambics” (bust expectations apart) to deform standard Greek metrics. These “lame feet” had caught the eye of William Carlos Williams in Paterson. Anselm took notice. It aligned the bitter Greek elder with Anselm’s dry humor. He gave quite a hip title to his Russian translations from the City Lights: Red Cats.

Anselm savored the curses, invectives, & complaints Hipponax flung at—here’s Anselm’s list—“dribblers, gluttons, imitators of Homer, corrupt judges, dumb painters, witches, sadists, masochists, [and] con-men.” A tiny Baltimore press put out the 13-page Hipponax book. Anselm handed me a copy, “To Andrew, aren’t we lucky? and, let’s remain so—.”

I take lucky to mean, who else gets to swap happy, dirty, philosophical words with the ancients, bitterly, drunkenly? To converse with the dead remains a joy had by Ouija board fanatics, and by translators. “Translation,” Anselm wrote, is “the closest reading you can give a poem.”

He & I swapped off the translation course. I ran it differently since my work took place on other language territory than Anselm’s. Our tempers differed too. In those years Summer Writing Program guests came to Naropa and offered work that included translation, or they dug into linguistics. Poets came from Austria, Mexico, Holland, India, Japan, South Africa. He and I figured we had enough to add a course of study to the Kerouac School. To the basic MFA tracks, one in poetry, one in prose, we added translation. We had people in class working and publishing poems from Latin, Hebrew, Chinese, Korean, Ladino, Ukraine, Tibetan, Czech, Russian, Latin American Spanish, Arabic, and the run of West European tongues. Someone even translated Basque.


ahollo4During the years I knew him Anselm didn’t touch liquor. He smoked cigarettes and weed. When he visited our house my daughter would place ashtrays outdoors and post handmade signs telling smokers to take their smokes out back. A lot of people found their way to the “smoking section” at an iron lawn table, just to talk with him. Some people smoked but Anselm smoked a lot. He carried a Sucrets tin in his pocket for the butts; he stripped his cigarettes.

Did he learn field stripping from Bobbie Louise Hawkins? She did not smoke. I always figured she learned about it from him. The way he’d take care of his smokes gave rise to one of Bobbie’s monologues. At the first gathering of each year’s Summer Writing Program—the large white tent on Naropa lawns—she taught neophytes how to field strip their cigarettes, not drop them into the grass. Each year Bobbie ran through her instructions, Anselm rocked with laughter.


How did Anselm fare as a teacher? Some students became friends, some he met with to collaborate on translation. There were those who complained Anselm didn’t offer much. He didn’t act like a college professor. His lectures came off like spare, funny collages. I think students who wanted feedback on their poems before they had read widely bored him. Get him to talk, you’d find a trove of ideas, languages, history, poetry forms. His thinking was Beat, Dada, steeped in the schools of the anti-academic. He didn’t give up his thoughts for nothing.

Today rockets thunder into Kyiv. I remember when U.S. missiles rained over Iraq in the first Gulf War. TV showed footage of nighttime green flashes lighting up the turrets and domes of Baghdad. Anselm said the sight reminded him of Helsinki. The Soviet Union military attacked Finland throughout World War II. The night sky over Helsinki had lit up with green stars and comets, from when he was five.

The Naropa Institute’s Board of Trustees decided to change the school’s name. They thought Naropa University a better way to go, now that there was a B.A. degree along with the dozen Masters programs. At a meeting of Academic Council—the gathering of Naropa’s faculty—we were asked who supported the change. (I’d carried my first paycheck into the bank in 1990 and the teller said, “What’s Naropa? A mental institute?”) A show of hands by the forty faculty ratified the change. We now worked at a University.

Anselm was the sole dissenter. I think the term Institute means something different to a European.

                                                                                                                                 February 2022

ASchellingAndrew Schelling is a poet and translator of old India’s poetry, largely from Sanskrit. Twenty-odd books. These include The Facts at Dog Tank Spring (poems), three recent books of translated poetry from Shambhala Publications, and a folkloric account of linguists, bohemian poets, wilderness, and myth, Tracks Along the Left Coast: Jaime de Angulo & Pacific Coast Culture. He teaches poetry & Sanskrit at Naropa University in Colorado.

The Parole Officer notes: The Anselm Hollo Challenge is ongoing. Parole continues to be interested in publishing writing that reflects on the life and work of the extraordinary poet Anselm Hollo, be they anecdotal, reminiscences, or critical reviews and appreciations of his work and its influence on the American canon (more of the latter). Queries to nuallainhousepublishers (at sign) gmail (dot) com.

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David Bromige: Always Better Than You Thought

David Bromige: Always Better Than You Thought

by Pat Nolan

If Wants To Be The Same As Is: Essential Poems of David Bromige; edited by Bob Perelman, Ron Silliman, and Jack Krick, with an introduction by George Bowering. 624 pages, paper, New Star Books, New Star Books Vancouver, B. C. [Canada]; Point Roberts, Wash. 2018) $35 USD (Available through Small Press Distribution). Originally published in Poetry Flash

bromige_20            Rarely do collected poems have titles that capture the fundamental nature of the poet whose work is gathered between two covers. The reader has to be content with a generic The Collected Poems of (insert name here). Not so with David Bromige’s collected poems. The title, If Wants To Be The Same As Is; Essential Poems of David Bromige, highlights the poet’s sly subversive humor and hypersensitivity to the potential of a playfully creative grammar. As Bob Perelman, one of the editors of this volume along with Ron Silliman and Jack Krick, states, “the title is an eloquent bit of rueful stoicism.”  The cover photo depicts a younger David Bromige as a better looking D.H. Lawrence. The title also sidesteps the question of “When is a collected poems not a collected poems?”  The answer being “When it is a collected selected.”  In David Bromige’s case, that this representative six hundred plus pages contains only the “essential poems” is unavoidable. To have included all the poems from his more than two dozen books of poetry would have most likely entailed two volumes, at minimum.

As Jack Krick, whose editorial expertise shaped this impressive volume, explains, the poems are selected from twenty two of Bromige’s books, chapbooks, manuscripts, and assorted ephemera. Two of the books, My Poetry (1980) and Red Hats (1986), are complete versions. Also the texts of chapbooks Please Like Me (1968), P-E-A-C-E (1981), and The Melancholy Owed Categories (1984) are reproduced in full. And a chapbook dating from 2003, Indictable Suborners, is also included in full but minus a forward by David’s alter ego, Bouvard Pécuchet (a nod of the lyre to Flaubert) and the afterword by Stephen Ratcliffe. The difficult choices, and possibly why it took nearly ten years for this collection of poems to reach publication, were in selecting poems that exemplified Bromige’s particular genius. For the editors, this was undoubtedly a task devoted to assuring that a significant lifetime’s work received the attention it deserved.

Introducing the essential poems, George Bowering, Canada’s first Parliamentary Poet Laureate, provides a biographical thread that charts the progress of his old University of British Columbia chum from conservative columnist for the campus magazine to avant-garde subversive rubbing elbows with the likes of Ron Loewinsohn, having lunch with Robert Duncan, declaiming Olson, and asserting “Call me Bromige!” all the while maintaining the cover of mild mannered college professor.

“So, in the next four decades,” as Bowering relates, “Bromige became an important part of west coast poetry. He finished up in Berkeley [grad school], became a straw hat academic [Sonoma State University] in California wine country, and wrote book after book of curious phrasing. . . .  Sometimes he was grouped with the west coast contingent of the Language poets, and he certainly took language as his particular job, but he was too restless to stop poking his formidable nose in elsewhere. . . .”

For Editor Bob Perelman, Bromige’s work is “beautiful, deeply amusing, and continually surprising.”  One of a younger generation of poets attracted early on to Bromige’s poetry, he finds it “endlessly interesting to grapple with David’s writing. The self-awareness of his mind choosing the words and experiencing their sound, his wonderful ability to play with (and be played by) syntax; the lightness with which he wore his considerable erudition; his perpetual mixing of high and low, dead serious and silly. . .happily, it remains impossible to pin down the multiple effects he produces.”

In the late sixties on through the early nineties, Bromige published with an impressive regularity. Desire: Selected Poems 1963-1987 from Black Sparrow Press (in whose catalog Bromige titles were regularly featured), was merely a sampler of his productivity in the twenty odd years previous. There was much more to come in the succeeding two decades, not with the same frequency perhaps but nonetheless tirelessly prolific. As Ron Silliman points out, late Bromige has “different needs than a younger writer seeking to find. . .[a] place in the world.” In those later years Bromige was the Bay Area’s best kept poetry secret, living a quiet unassuming life as a retired college professor in a quiet and unassuming community.

Some of his early poems display a creative spelling that perhaps owes something to the influence of Canada’s great avant-garde poet, bp Nichol, an affectation that disappears after the first selection of poems published in 1964. Yet even then stealth wit underlies every presumption.

Not the last crack of the ashtray on my skull
was the indicator but her
repeated scream, What do I want with a
husband — never once my name. 

The ashtray was calld Niagara
Falls & on our honeymoon, not spent
there, I was calld
David in different accents
& responded differently.

(“At Last” from The Gathering, 1964)

            What can be observed across the range of poetry selected for this volume is not so much an evolution of style as a willingness to engage with language. Bromige was an opportunist who was receptive to the various isms, inclinations, and coteries as a playground for his own originality. Rarely did Bromige come across a form he didn’t like or appropriate for his own purposes. He referenced a personal anthology of poetry and poets as indicators, as ignition points. And he practiced the poet’s intentionality of amusing one’s self with the play of words, all with the precision of a Creeley, the correctness of an Auden, and the effortlessness of a savant. His points of departure are legion in a knowing and knowledgeable engagement with language as easy going turns of mind skillfully put. In this respect he can be compared to Ashbery for the density of his poetic weave. His is a tone of quiet authority that gives even the surprising and whimsical weight. Couched in syntax classical in its formalism, these poems are informed by an impish ironic wit of someone fully cognizant of the power of language.

In My Poetry (1980) Bromige walks a postmodern tightrope of the self-directed gaze. It is, by his own assessment, the most representative of his esthetics and candor. With a title archly ironic and not a little mocking tongue in cheek, dedicated to Bob Perelman, it begins

My poetry does seem to have a cumulative, haunting effect—one or two may not touch you, but a small bookful begins to etch a response, poems rising in blisters that itch for weeks, poems like ball-bearings turning on each other, over & over, digging down far enough to find substance, a hard core to fill up the hand. It’s through this small square that my poems project themselves, flickering across the consciousness, finally polarizing in the pure plasma of life. The reader grows impatient, irritated with my distancing style, coming at him the rare book format, written under not one but two different kinds of dirty money, & knowing me to be an english teacher.

1davidBromige            Placing Bromige in an esthetic and historical context, Ron Silliman’s afterword points out that his “relationship to Language Writing proved as ambivalent as his previous allegiances to Canadian & Black Mountain poetics, his rep as a langpo resting primarily on three collections, Tight Corners & What’s Around Them, My Poetry, and P-E-A-C-E.” Silliman goes on to praise My Poetry as “the most complex and satisfying collection to appear under the rubric of Language, demonstrating not just the layering and nuance integral to the project, but the deep historical consciousness at its heart. Nobody could out-polyseme Bromige.”

In her 2008 essay, “Irony’s Eye” (Golden Handcuffs Review, 1:10) Meredith Quartermain uses Schlegel’s definition of romantic irony, “playful and serious, guilelessly open and deeply hidden,” to get at what exactly is happening in Bromige’s poetry. “Who could be more playful and serious, more guilelessly open and deeply hidden than David Bromige? One of the most enjoyable things about his writing is his keen sense of paradox in language, its hinging of the ‘real’ to a multitude of fictions, starting with the real fiction of Bromige himself. [His] artistic practice refracts humanity in the prisoning/freeing mirrorland of language. Yes, there is plenty of philosophy in these poems. . .equally a meditation on human relationships with cars, love relationships in general, and the relationship of reader to writer of the poem. . .[and] invokes notions of history from the personal to the mythical.”

For Quartermain, Bromige relishes “puncturing linguistic illusions” to detach the world from the “manufactures of language” and “escape the fiction of a unified self presented in the word I. . .because talking about himself in the third person makes it impossible to take either third-person or first-person speech in the pieces at face value. But also because the language in the prose commentaries has been thoroughly loosened up and allowed to play.”  Citing a passage from Threads (1970), she shows Bromige well advanced into the terrain later claimed for Language Writing. 

This is the first book where I use ‘I’ to declare experiences which I did not ‘have,’ to question assumptions of (non) identity. . . . I’d also note that the shifting sense of I raises the issue of language and its mediations, and that henceforth this awareness comes increasingly to the aid of the subject in the attempt to constitute the object.”

“Bromige discovered,” she concludes, [the] “play with multiple personae via pronoun shifts early in his career, and it was a discovery that inspired many who later became known as Language poets.”  The pervasive edge of irony throughout Bromige’s poetry leads the reader on a merry ride in the thrall of language where ambiguity and refraction undercuts any anticipation. As he says in Red Hats, “Poetry mocks the spirit of sober objectivity.”

The attention given to Tight Corners (1974) as, according to Silliman, “important in the evolution of the prose poem” confirms the emerging popularity of the form as a counterbalance to the minimalist trend of the early 70’s. Also of importance were the prose poems of Max Jacob, the colloquial cast of Blaise Cendrars’ poetry, and the zany wit of adjunct professor and colleague Karen Elizabeth Gordon’s grammatical illustrations later collected and published as The Well-Tempered Sentence (1983). Serge Gavronsky’s Poems & Texts (1969), an anthology of contemporary French poetry that featured two masters of the prose poem, Jean Follain and Francis Ponge, were an informing factor as well. Though mostly forgotten now, those notions and vectors were the subject of much discussion among some of Bromige’s close contemporaries.

Playing with the expected trope, A Cast Of Tens (1994), a series of poems whose combined lines or groups of stanzas add up to ten and perhaps determined by a cast of the die, real or imagined, Bromige offers an oblique homage to Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés. As well, flaunting mordant aphorisms in “Lines” (The Harbormaster of Hong Kong, 1983) he displays an off-the-cuff whiplash wit that hovers in the realm of the koan.

keep it to yourself

write it down

weird and repulsive at first

later, reality


division of labor

i write it
i admire it

In the same collection, Bromige’s steel trap intelligence blitzes the syllogism.


He was carried into the garden
Therefore he was infirm
The block was lined with bars
Therefore the town was friendly
She was just like one of the family
Therefore we neglected to disarm her
The night was about to be buried
Therefore we hired lovers of sleep

As the anti-logic of this lyric, and many other examples too numerous to cite, reveal, Bromige approaches in spirit the surrealism of surrealism’s most surreal, Benjamin Peret. Nor does his flow of inspired logorrhea ever falter, even when he is stacking checkers as in the centered lists of T As In Tether (2003):

A mattress factory explodes
And then the ticking is noticed

from “Poem beginning with a line by Pindar (1)”


Hand me that thorazine
I want to read something

from “Defeat’s Deafeaters (2)”

             Bromige’s poetry has a wry elegance that finds its source in the sheer joy of composition, of setting the products of language down on the page. Despite the myriad paths to its realization, there is always some assumption of an underlying coherence if not semantic progression, of resolution that will render the poem an artifact, done. His constant search for definition, any kind of definition no matter how momentary, is rife with a dense irony spun by precise usage. He has a keen ear for the colloquial, as much in its lexical aspect, viz; “Zounds Loik Zumthin Oi Wud Mayake,” as in its patterns and phrasing. And he was a master of the sarcastic interrogative retort which he employed as a counterpoint. David Bromige’s greatest appeal, however, was his singular intelligence.

As an overview of taxonomic categorization, Bromige and his poetry could be bracketed as “Post-Modern Anglo-American Pacific Rim proto-Language neo-formalism” which is a fleeting and insufficient description at best. As to the question, “If you’re so good why ain’t you famous?” Silliman’s contention that Bromige was “ambivalent to being the next generation of anything” rings true. There is a certain “lotus land” side to Sonoma County where he lived the majority of his life, what Luther Burbank called “the chosen spot of all this earth.”  It is the impression of the banalization that occurs in the equanimity of living in paradise. But as Bromige counters, “I didn’t care. Banal or brilliant, it made no difference in the world I was living in. Besides, sometimes the banal turned brilliant as I listened.”

don david            In his later years, retired from teaching, with local honors of the Sonoma County “Living Treasure” award in 1994 and Sonoma County Poet Laureate (2002-2004) bestowed on him, Bromige was occasionally addressed as “Don David,” the godfather of poetry. Yet the social component of his recognition as an important poet after almost ten years has faded some. Even at the time of his death in 2009, some of those memorializing him were more familiar with his reputation than his work.

Bromige was generous with himself as poet and mentor as 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 a particular school’s 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.”

PG authorvintagePat 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 and three novels He also maintains Parole, the blog of the New Black Bart Poetry Society, and Dime Pulp, A Serial Pulp Fiction Magazine. His serial fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusal at He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.

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The Poet Encounters The Future of Poetry

In which Carl Wendt, not quite Charles Baudelaire, not quite Charles Bukowski, with the look of a well-worn Alex Trebek but the pit bull demeanor of a Mickey Rourke, flaneur, art critic, jazzbo, and last of the two fisted hard drinking hard boiled poets in a city not quite Frisco, hustles some much needed operating funds by delivering a lecture to a creative writing class at City College, and encounters the future of poetry.

from Ode To Sunset
A Year in the Life of American Genius

a fiction by Pat Nolan

sfccHe was late partly due to Angie. She had to get ready which meant that after she was fully clothed, she had to dress her face. She was heading to South City to look into long term storage options and agreed to give him a lift to City College and the morning class. Then finding the classroom on a campus he’d never been to before took more time. The security guard was only a little more familiar with the layout than he was. Finally it was determined that the class was being held in a basement classroom in the Science Annex.

Russell Kennston was pacing outside the room in a poorly lit green hallway chewing his cheek.

Wendt didn’t bother to explain as Kennston hurriedly opened the door to the achingly white artificial light of the windowless classroom. “You have my fee?”

Russell frowned and rummaged through his soft case and extracted a number 10 envelope. “As we discussed,” and handed it over.

Wendt peered inside to ascertain the amount. He nodded his approval. As he’d explained to the young professor over drinks a few days earlier, anything that involved explanations was extra. If it was just a poetry reading, he’d charge his standard hundred bucks an hour, but since he’d be explaining shit, it would cost more.

He turned to the class as Russell called for their attention. “Everyone! This is Carl Wendt!”

Everyone was less than a dozen youngsters, some barely out of their teens, only a few trying to look radically different than their peers. A white guy with a mop of unruly curls slouched in a desk near the front with an I-don’t-give-a-shit smirk of skeptical nonchalance. Three girls, their desks close enough together to signify that they were BFF’s, the girl, woman, with the cobalt dye job in the center of the triad doing nothing to hide the mischievous sly smiles she cast his way. A couple of young guys, nondescript black and or Chicano, looked like they’d made a wrong turn at Riordan High. An Asian woman, girl, sat in a row toward the back, furiously and seriously copying down every word her professor was saying.

Wendt waved a dismissive hand. “A PhD is like a prison tattoo, stay in an institution long enough and you’re bound to get one.”

“Mr. Wendt is a well-known poet, author of numerous books of poetry, most recently, Synthetic Lament, and a critic who has published many articles on literature and esthetics in some of the top literary journals in the country, internationally, in fact, including Poetry Now and the Pan-American Review of Literary Esthetics, and in such collections as Reconsidering Language, Examining the Puritanical Roots of American Literature. According to another well-known and respected poet, Mitchell Tjantor, someone whose views on poetry we were discussing just last week, Carl Wendt and his work have had a significant influence on the poets of the younger generation. You may know him from his weekly column Gone With The Wendt, a running commentary on the rich and sometimes scandalous art and literary scene in the city. As a young poet very close to your own ages now, he was chosen by the legendary editor and publisher Dorian Pillsbury for the prestigious Singled Out Foundation Award, also known as SOFA, and the publication of his first book of poems, Pay Attention.”

Wendt had stopped paying attention. Done checking the student fare, he let his gaze drift across the professor’s desk. There were two books among the scatter of stapled handouts and assignments, one, a thick poetry anthology he assumed was a reference text for the class, Advanced Creative Writing 1B, and another smaller volume sprouting numerous colorful page markers.

“Please welcome our guest, Carl Wendt.” Kennston swept his hand toward him, yielding the floor. “Carl, it’s an honor to have you here.”

“This book!” Wendt held up the slim volume, “Nonsense and Stuff, How To Read Modern Poetry?”  He glanced at the cover. “By Bertrand Stephens! This whole book is total bullshit! Do not believe a fucking word this asshole says about modern poetry or poetry in general!”

Russell stiffened as if he’d been stung. “Wait, he has a PhD!”

Wendt waved a dismissive hand. “A PhD is like a prison tattoo, stay in an institution long enough and you’re bound to get one.”

The white guy gave a loud guffaw, everyone else suspending judgment, not sure on which side they were going to land.

“And this anthology, edited by the same guy, PoMo, Hybrid Poetries at the Beginning of a New Century? PoMo stands for postmodern or in this case, postmortem. These clowns are dead and they don’t even know it.”

Kennston, still aghast that the recommended reading was being so summarily criticized, interjected, “But he teaches at Harvard!”

“Every time I hear the word ‘Harvard’ I reach for my mental spray can to tag it, Americano style, con safo. The English Dept. there is bent on ruining American literature.”

The young Asian woman now visibly incensed, partly due to her affection for her professor and partly because she perceived Wendt as being rude, blurted, “That’s better than you could do!”

Wendt laughed. “Hey, look at that, someone’s awake.”  The outburst had the effect of easing the formality and tension.

“Alright, let’s get this straight. First of all, Pomo are a Northern California indigenous peoples, not a collection of sanctioned poets picked by a self-appointed committee. This boat anchor is more of a directory than an anthology, and if anything, acts as an annotated bibliography for the commercial purposes of those listed. The notion that it is in any way representative of the art at any one time is sadly mistaken. Political concerns always override esthetics.”

“How come you’re not in there, Mr. Wendt?”  It was the white guy.

sunset81“Good question. Actually mediocre question, but what can I expect, this is a friggin’ junior college. However, the very good, actually excellent reason I’m not in that anthology is because I’m a Marxist Lennonist. Groucho said, ‘never belong to a group that would have someone like yourself as a member,’ and John said, ‘love is all you need.’ In other words, I don’t need to be included in no stinking misleading misnomered employment list of poets to know that I am a poet. The middle class definition of which, incidentally, implies being employed.”

“I got another question. I know the Lennon Beatle dude, but who’s this Groucho?”

If he hadn’t noticed it before, the immensity of the generation gap hit him across the face like a wet flipper. He paused a beat as a few late arriving students found their desks, a large black woman who sent a myopic frown in his direction, a skinny black woman, actually café au lait with incredibly straight hair, and a young man of the same beige complexion with a head of dreadlocks, his half closed eyes and sheepish grin saying LOADED loud and clear.

“So you think you wanna be a poet. Well, you’re gonna need a toolkit, because being a poet depends on your tools and how you use them. Out there in the cold cruel poetry world, and let me emphasize cruel, it’s just you and your toolkit on the way to the job. Except for most of you going to a job is like putting on a suit and goosing the receptionist at the office.”

There was an uncomfortable chuckle from the class and Russell cleared his throat.

“Or a skirt and being goosed at the office. On the other hand, being a poet is like gearing up to go spelunking, it’s physical, you’re going to sweat, it’s mostly dark and close, and it can be dangerous which is why you need to have the right toolkit.”  He cast a glance around the classroom to make sure they had followed him thus far.

“In case you think I’m pulling monkeys out of my ass, let me remind you that it was Wittgenstein who said, ‘Think of the tools in a toolbox – there’s a hammer, pliers, a saw, a screw driver, a ruler, retractable or fixed, a glue pot, nails, screws—the functions of words are as diverse as the functions of these objects.’ Experience, of course, is important, as long as it doesn’t make you careless. It provides you with content. Personality is no less important as that is the source of your wit. And intelligence provides the form, how you actualize your wit and content. It’s a formula, P plus I plus E equals PIE. The formula for being a poet.

“Everyone has access to these tools. A poet, unless he’s a minimalist, and nothing wrong with that if don’t you mind having orange crates and cinder blocks as your literary furniture, has to learn the use, and practice the use, of necessary tools, in this case, parts or figures of speech.

“Let’s start with the basics, simile and metaphor. Simile is what the name implies, similarity, the comparison of one thing to another, animal, vegetable or mineral. I could say this class room is like a dungeon.”  The class snickered, rasta-head giving a loud guffaw in spite of himself. “And you are obviously seeing the similarities that are essentially square, windowless, and enclosure. The handy thing about a simile is that it doesn’t have to be perfect, you’ve got wiggle room. Unless you’re a sphincter tweaker, and that’s largely a matter of personality because some things don’t always line up, specifically. Dungeons are generally thought of as tiny, dark, and dank, and primitive. This classroom is not small, nor is it dark, and only a little fetid. More like a cell or an interrogation room, but still generally confining. And there I’ve added more similes by my further comparisons. We use similes every day, all the time, to express general ideas to relate more easily what we hold in common.

“The downside of similes, particularly in poetry is that they’re too easy, cheap, common, and eventually too formulaic. A good simile is a needle in a haystack. And what I just said is a metaphor.”  He paused to gauge their attention. The stoner was going to nod, that was a given.

Your generation unfortunately is at a disadvantage because you’ll never be as smart as your phones.

“I could have said like a needle in a haystack but in this case the fit is a little tighter, not as much wiggle room, and I’m not making a comparison, I’m equating an abstract concept, a figure of speech with a physical object, the needle, and by placing it in a haystack, a collection of similarly shaped yet unlike objects. I am emphasizing its rarity and at the same time capitalizing on the assumption that you’ve heard the trope ‘as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack.’  Like similes, a good metaphor is hard to find. A good metaphor will have the reverberation of a brass bell, a shimmering presence for as long as it’s contemplated. Similes are basic arithmetic in that ‘like’ serves as an equal sign. Metaphors, depending on their resonance, are a more complex calculus. Metaphor attaches a picture to meaning, and simile invites a comparison, subjective at best”

He stopped and looked out at the scattered desks only sparsely occupied, essentially by children. He might as well have been singing a lullaby. One of the BFF’s, the one with the bad complexion and numerous facial piercings, had dropped her eyes to the watch on her wrist. There was a thick silence in the large airless classroom crowded with stale personal scent, off the shelf deodorant, and someone’s half-eaten salami sandwich saved for later.

“Why is metaphor in poetry essential you might ask? One way of focusing on our lives is through metaphor—we do it every day. Something is always compared to something else, and how closely the match is made is how its intrinsic value is established. Symbolism is an attempt to synthesize or institutionalize metaphor which is essentially a spontaneous act of consciousness available to every conscious being. The vitality of poetry relies on its ability to remain spontaneous. Metaphor is what we place between ourselves and the mundane to renew experience. And from this you get the satisfaction of the straight forward, the unwavering line drawn by analogy.”

He could never be a teacher. Not that he didn’t have the chops and an autodidact’s insatiability, he certainly knew what he was talking about. It was that other thing. He didn’t care enough. A good teacher gives wholeheartedly the requisite knowledge and delights in the comprehension when it blossoms in self-realization. He wasn’t interested in giving anything. He’d heard it said before, he was a selfish son-of-a-bitch. Interest, curiosity would lead to discovery, that’s the way the game was played, and he had no desire to spoon feed a bunch of unformed psyches into thinking that they were poets. You’re a poet when you know you’re a poet. Advanced Creative Writing 1B wasn’t going to change any of that.

“Now what I just said, you could easily find online. It’s all there. That’s the advantage over having to physically search through books, page by page, looking for what you want to find or think you want to find. Metaphors and similes are known as parts of speech because we use them every day, without thinking. The same goes for most literary or rhetorical devices. And writers teach themselves how to organize these parts of speech on the page so that it sounds like someone talking to you when you’re reading it, trying to convince you, convert you, instruct you, dissuade you, entertain you, lie to you, make you laugh, make you cry, jump for joy, drop into the abyss.

“Metalepsis, antonomasia, hypallage, catachresis, metonymy. . .not monotony, that’s what’s going on here. . .metonymy is like when you say uniform when you refer to a cop, or suit for a businessman, and maybe somebody in upper management as corporate.”  Wendt shrugged. “Well, you get the drift. And there’s synecdoche, not a place in upstate New York as a certain film maker would have you believe. Litotes and antiphrasis, pleonasm, hypotyposis, and lest we forget, hyperbole. Nothing like a little exaggeration to make a body feel good about themselves.

“A poet’s job is to learn these components, these rules, and how they relate to their sense of language and twist them, pervert them, turn them upside down, maul them, mangle them, stretch them, ignore them, and then break them. Wittgenstein was full of shit about the tool box after all. You think you’re gonna build a poem with a hammer and saw? Sure, a novel, maybe, but not a poem. A poem is a house of cards, you need a steady hand, a cool reserve and the understanding that the entire thing could collapse at a moment’s notice.”

A hand shot up, the young black woman who had come in late, and Wendt nodded his assent. “Don’t you have to be, like, really smart to be a poet, I mean. . . ?”

Wendt shrugged. “It doesn’t hurt to be smart or educated as long as you don’t let it get in the way. Poets don’t need smarts, really. A poet needs guts and the determination to stick with it. Like the great Frank O’Hara once said,” he paused looking for glints of recognition, but nada, “‘you go on your nerve.’  Your generation unfortunately is at a disadvantage because you’ll never be as smart as your phones.”

One of the post high-schoolers asked, “Why did you become poet?”

“Because it’s the most dangerous thing, in all existence, that you can do and requires nothing but your nerve, like walking a tightrope. Without a net. From the tallest building in Frisco. To the tallest building in El Fuckin’ Ay. Naked. A poet needs perfect balance to survive. To fail is to fall. That’s why some so-called poets can’t do it without a safety net or the assurance of a zipline harness. By safety net, I mean a nine to five that has nothing to do with the art of poetry, and a zipline can be equated to a teaching job or professorship at some university which is like the ultimate dream job for wannabe poets.”

The Asian woman. “How does that translate into success?” The pen in her hand pointed accusingly.

sunsetmendo cvr“The successful writer is of a class, mostly middle, educated in the better schools, and with a worldview that really has nothing in common with the real hard scrabble world, and everything in common with a privileged point of view that is entirely self-serving. There are other writers, actually great writers, who are self-taught either because they couldn’t afford better schools or would have little patience with them in the first place. You may never hear of them unless you are, or someone you know is, an intrepid scholar and goes looking for them. The assumption of privilege is what success is all about. There are two avenues open to what you might term success, the public and the private, as a means of gaining entry into the poetry world. The government will fund those who can or will fill out the necessary forms in triplicate and have the connections, i.e., name recognition as a social gadfly. One can eke out a ‘living’ in poetry by constant application and tenacity, and an undeniable belief in one’s own worth. In other words, you get a job at a college or university or you live by your wits.

“And it is for this reason that the role of the ecstatic, the real poet, will always be marginalized because it is essentially an antisocial role. We tend to forget that poets are descendants of shamans. They practice the techniques of ecstasy, and are basically eccentrics, off center so to speak. What writing classes like this one, and workshops and writing programs, attempt, and which you will encounter if you continue in this course of study, is the socialization or the normalization of the ecstatic experience which, because of its individualistic character, can’t be done or done without destroying or diluting that ecstatic quality or nature. Much that is done in the name of literature is self-advertisement. It has a purpose or aim beyond the function of the art, and that is to promote the poet. Once poets cum artists achieve acclaim they can slough off their art like a snake with its skin.

“Poetry is not a means, it is the end, a practice, and in many respects, it is the ultimate end, that’s to say the terminal point of sentience, death itself. A true poet should always be on the verge of literary suicide. The achievement of poetry is self-negation through the discovery of self, through an understanding of self that leads to a point of vanishment. Know yourself to the point of no point and integration with everything visible and invisible, as an ecstatic oneness.”

The café-au-lait student with the straight hair raised her hand. “What if I don’t want to walk a tight rope to LA naked? What if I just want to write poetry?”

Wendt smiled at the question. Someone was paying attention. “Poetry is the most inclusive form of thought yet devised. It is a conscious call upon those resources which underlie all language and all thinking. If you are involved in any working system of thought, recognized or not, then poetry, identified by your somatic complicity, is in fact nearest to reality. Poetry, metaphor, mythology are highly realistic and down to earth. It is logic and mathematics which are the imaginative and fantastical exercises. Besides, being a poet means that you believe in yourself in a very basic way, that you have faith in the unknown.”

If he listened carefully he could probably hear the cosmic microwave background above the rock bottom glassy-eyed silence. He gave a quick glance at the clock above the whiteboard at the head of the class. A quarter hour had passed. That was probably enough.

“Alright,” he clapped his hands in a clasp, “I’m good, how about you? What say let’s go get a drink? I seem to remember a friendly neighborhood bar around here, The Kit Kat Club?”

Some of the students frowned not sure if he wasn’t exceeding his authority by dismissing them. Others got to their feet tentatively, wide grins that class had been dismissed, looking for confirmation from their prof who, leaning back against the front edge of his desk staring at his shoes, looked like he didn’t know what hit him or that he’d made a huge mistake by inviting Wendt to speak to his class and was momentarily unable to respond.

“That place still open?” curly mop wondered aloud.

“Yeah, I think so, but you know it’s kind of like a dive,” one of the chinegroes offered.

“Then what a better place to continue our discussion on the merits of poetry!” Wendt declared with triumph at the obvious. “Like Orpheus we must descend into Hades in hopes of winning the release of our fair muse, Eurydice!”

The large black girl with the bright yellow backpack and matching plastic eyeglass frames sitting at the back of the room joined her classmates gathered around Wendt. “I don’t know what the hell he just said, but I’m with him. I wanna know more about this UR A DC in hell.”  Then as an aside to the skinny black woman, “Sounds kinda like my life.”

The flirtatious one of the three BFF’s proffered her smart phone. “Look, my friend just wrote a poem on her phone and texted it to me!”

He glanced at the device and read the future of poetry.

exilepic2Pat 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  He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.

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Sour Grapes


By Pat Nolan

“What a fool to be tricked into seriousness.”
—William Carlos Williams
from Kora In Hell

This year marks a century since the publication of Sour Grapes by Williams Carols Williams. The previous year, 1920, in the aftermath of a global pandemic, Williams had published his most radically modern work, Kora In Hell, Improvisations—prose improvisations in part influenced by what he had read of Gertrude Stein’s work in Alfred Stieglitz’s art magazine, Camera Works, (an early indication of the visual bias/esthetic in 20th Century) as well as Kandinsky’s essays on art. Kora In Hell was the starter’s gun that signaled Williams’ sprint into a decade of innovation and imagination, and in which he would develop and integrate esthetic concerns that would follow him for the rest of his days.

The germ of modern American poetry is in these 42 poems, a synced modernism in which Williams focused on the trends of the day (Expressionism, Futurism, Vorticism, Cubism, even Dada) from his semi-rural suburban redoubt and made them his own, using what fit with his vision and discarding the rest. To reread the poems in Sour Grapes is to contemplate the flourishing of a unique shift in American poetry, one that has endured a century and is practiced widely, often with barely an inkling of its provenance. They are poems of ease and elegance, notations of a particular perceptual identity tuned in to the times. In quoting Kandinsky’s “Every artist has to express himself, express his epoch, the pure and eternal qualities of the art of all men,” Williams affirmed what he was setting out to do. Just about everything in modern American poetry that is currently conventional can find its roots in Sour Grapes, the succinct paratactic directness of the poem stripped bare of its allegories.

As an independent professional, William Carlos Williams, M.D., was free to explore a certain radicalism in the arts without fear of it affecting his livelihood. The language would be spare yet elegant, with the objectivity of a scientist in its experiential expression. The poems have no theme (aka prompt) except for being in the moment, and the language that precipitates its transcription, once organized in verbal expression, can be viewed as the material from which a composition is articulated, the product of the writer/artist and a typewriter, the de facto canvas of the letter size sheet of paper implicit. The convention of topic and syllogistically clever resolution as homily, moral judgement/indignation, or resolute declaration (i.e., rhetoric) are abandoned for the perceptual/cinematic pan across a sequence of images to trigger a piano roll of subtle and harmoniously linked synapses much like the eyeful of a painting in which interest is aroused by various aspects of artistry, a sense of cohesiveness that is ineffable in nature. As Bruce Holsapple notes in his excellent Birth Of The Imagination, William Carlos Williams on Form (University of New Mexico, 2015), Sour Grapes and the poems of that period cued off the pictorial arts Williams would have seen in Stieglitz’s gallery, the Armory show of 1913, the Duchampian/Cubist fracture of planes, and a revelatory reading of Kandinsky’s essays on esthetics,

Kandinsky’s The Art of Spiritual Harmony (1914) is a point of reference around which much of Williams’ subsequent vision of a liberated poetic for the new age would revolve. Kandinsky and his ideas about art were hot topics of discussion, relevant to a particular coterie in the Stieglitz circle of artists and writers in the first decades of the 20th Century with whom the doctor from New Jersy was peripherally associated. Williams appropriated the terms “improvisation” and “composition” from Kandinsky, and was familiar with Kandinsky’s triadic sources of inspiration, responsibilities of the artist, guiding principles, and the mystical elements of inner need. Kandinsky’s idea of complementarity aligned with Williams’ idea of correspondences between unlike elements in apposition, of a resonance that ensues similar to the complementarity of colors, the binary of juxtaposition familiar from Seurat and pointillism but extended to a larger domain of abstraction and pure form. In absorbing Kandinsky’s idea of composites and composition, design and form, Williams removed himself from the literary sphere in his approach to writing, adopting extra lyrical methods closer to the visual esthetic of the 20th Century.

The pictorial arts played an influential part in Williams’ self-definition as a poet. He was a contemporary of Duchamp, in the era when literature became art (vividly retold in Shattuck’s The Banquet Years). The example of Mallarme’s Coup de des, with its emphasis on chance operation, juxtaposition, and the unpredictable, and Apollinaire’s graphical Calligrams presented the bridge to the visual esthetic in the way the poem could appear on the page. Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Imagism, Dada were all part of the artistic buffet available to Williams. In the new century, paintings were now visual poems, lyric, geometric, primitive, psychological representations of a nonverbal right brain. Poetry became indistinguishable from prose, imagistic verbal sketches, experientially schematized, sensually parsed, with the immediacy of the new now.

As Duchamp professed and predicted, anything and everything that can be appropriated is art. The outcome is a blending  in which the literary  incorporates (is incorporated by) the spatial approach of the plastic arts, and vice versa. Duchamp, as an example, is literary and literal: he creates a narrative with his objects by their confounding explicitness—you have to consider them. And Duchamp exemplified the new artist, one who is conceptual as well as intuitive. Expressionism added the analytical comprehension of form as an essential and spiritual element of artistic creation. Cubism, as a juxtaposition of elements in a brash remote mechanically abstracted assemblage, reflected the undaunted lines of machinery, supreme icon of the age, creating an environment of jarring loud designs, confounding in cacophonous announcement the representation of their workings. The Futurists were in love with machines as were architects and graphic designers. Dada, in all its seriousness, was aimed at producing laughter (albeit nervous), a release, an escape velocity from the grave grip of tedium and the troughs of repetition when things weren’t all that funny anymore.

If there is anything Dada about early Williams innovation, it is invisible to us now unless we take into consideration the provocative in Dada is the outrageousness of Williams’ method for the poetry readers of his time. What Williams realized is that the disjointed fragmented illustrative irony that dominates the eye can also be represented as a verbal construct. The found, the juxtaposed, the technical, scientific, photographic, cinematic, anecdotal can be objectified in situ by the form of the page. Like abstract paintings, poems “need not be intelligible to others,” Williams states in the Prologue to Kora In Hell, as they are unique engagements of perceptual identity and the creative impulse to frame sentience.

When considering Williams and form, the forms are not those of literary convention: sonnet, terza rima, ballad, villanelle, ode,  blank verse, and so on. Nor is there rhyme or meter. “Nowadays poets spit on rhyme and rhetoric,” Williams states in the Prologue. The point of emphasis is that they are not literary forms at all, but products of impression, imagination, and composition, all guided by an initial stance in the moment of inspiration and self-organized according to the author’s esthetic understanding of what has presented itself, and not fit into the strictures of antiquated cleverness. Conventional literary forms would have no bearing on the new poetry, the one with the American voice.

In The Birth Of The Imagination, a fascinating and erudite close reading of the good doctor’s early work, Bruce Holsapple examines what distinguishes Williams’ approach as a radical shift from the conventions of literature. “[T]he innovations of Sour Grapes entails minimizing propositional content and decentralizing imagery. . .boosting the significance of the simplest of phrases, heightening all elements equally. . .[with] meaning distributed throughout, not located in a macrostructure or in what the poem is ‘about’.” Many of the poems in Sour Grapes are extraordinary for their “painterly organization” as well as their use of “prepositional phrases” and their “conspicuous lack of propositional content.”

Holsapple uses the poem “Approach To Winter” as an example to focus on Williams’ method. The poem is distinguished by intense visual focus, lacking overt propositional content as well as being “an esthetic event in of itself.” Williams naturally thinks of the poem as “a kind of object with its own ontological status.” With the physicality of an objet d’art, the poem is now more than just literature—the typewriter had allowed the writer to own the page as an object of his making. Nor is the poem structured by theme but schematically (visually) as perceived events with bits of inner reflection sprinkled throughout. The absence of propositional content doesn’t invoke an outside referent in support of its non-theme nor is it especially representational in its non-expository presentational directness. The poem is not about anything in the conventional sense and as a consequence diminishes the distance between the subject and speaker to emphasis a unique and personal intimacy. “What occurs takes place on the page, resulting from a ‘poetic’ design,” Holsapple insists. The shift from an ideational to an experiential mode of organization has the effect of decentralizing the poem, an innovation begun in Kora In Hell.

Williams realizes his aim by first establishing perspective, accomplished in distinctly spatial terms, decentralizing the poem, and allowing the eye to follow the imagery much like it would in looking at a canvas. Point of view is flattened, redistributed, and the background brought forward to engage the reader much as modern painting does away with perspective for the effects of color and shape. The poems in Sour Grapes are not possible without the radical reappraisals of linear modes of poetic organization. As well, notions of content have undergone similar transformations. The poem is not meant to be taken as a representation of experience, but experienced as an artistic construct, one in which theme is no longer the primary principle of development, and that “the meaning resides in the very structure.”

“The form of the work, the compositional design, gives evidence of thought. . .innovative design is the  [poet’s] primary task,” Holsapple notes in his conclusion to the section detailing Williams’ groundbreaking method in Sour Grapes. “The content of the poem arises from experience. . . the poet’s attention. . .focused at the point of origin, on immediate experience, as a legitimizing moment. The organization of the poems becomes schematic. . .rather than organized by hierarchy,” he maintains, and consequently the poems in Sour Grapes are allowed to expand beyond the bounds of literary conventions into those of visual tropes. Williams’ improvisational modes become part of a calculated method as requisite to composition.

There is not a little irony in Williams’ titling of his 1921 poetry selection Sour Grapes, an expression that suggests dissatisfaction and envy. When I first noticed the title in the table of contents of my 1951 edition of The Earlier Collected Poems many years ago, I thought, “Sour Grapes, now there’s a fitting title for a book of poems.” It certainly articulates a universal mood, especially among poets who feel marginalized or don’t get the attention they think they deserve (on a sliding scale). Despite his current status as a major literary figure in the American canon, a thirty seven year old (in 1921) Williams Carlos Williams was shoveling shit against the tide and he knew it. His ideas did not have a chance in “hell” when the literary establishment was favoring T.S. Eliot whom he viewed as a subtle conformist, a conscious simplicity, a man content with the connotations of his masters, and the antithesis of the radical poetics he was advocating, one that did away with the old world methods for the new perspective of the 20th Century. What Williams proposed then is still radical despite being marginalized and disparage in the institutional canon.

A further irony is that it took René Taupin, a Frenchman, to grasp the significance of Kora In Hell and by extension Williams’ later innovative work. In his 1929 L’influence du Symbolisme français sur la poésie américaine (1910-1920), a time when Williams was receiving little or no critical attention, Taupin writes that “Williams knows more about the work of the imagination than any American poet today,” and that perhaps it was Williams who had come up with the formulation that would become the basis for American modernist writing. He had no difficulty in positioning Kora In Hell as the seminal text for a uniquely American approach to modern poetry and seeing the text as probably the most important in the evolution of Williams’ poetry, that in the composition of Improvisations, [Williams] had posed all the relevant artistic questions of his day, and in its writing, had brought himself into intimate contact with his means. Williams makes no bones about delineating these means in the texts of Improvisations as well as in the original 1920 Prologue to Kora In Hell (omitted in the 1957 City Lights edition). The poems of Sour Grapes and subsequently in Spring And All and The Descent Of Winter would illustrate his means, his gift, his talent, his genius, his vision.

Williams’ influence is hardly insignificant in modernist American letters. He is the subject of numerous and laudatory biographical/critical studies that get to the root of his supreme importance in the development and direction of modern poetry, certainly in the Anglosphere. Yet he is still denigrated as a minor poet, dismissed by the likes of Vendler and Bloom, and paved over in the institutional curriculum of entrenched academe and the sentimentalized techni-centric workshop/wokeshop where students (future poets?) are taught to write meaningful captions to their selfies and pass them off as poems. Lip service is paid to Williams by including his “wheelbarrow” poem (Spring And All, “Poem XXII”) in anthologies without providing the necessary context, and without which the glaze of rain water and white chickens is rendered simplistic and superficial while so much depends upon its revolutionary complexity. Remarkably his poetry and his ideas about poetry have gone on to influence generations of American poets too numerous to name but would include, as just the beginning sketch of a very very long list in the generations that overlap my own, Paul Blackburn, Elaine Equi,  Anselm Hollo, Joanne Kyger, Denise Levertov, Lorine Niedecker, Alice Notley, Kenneth Rexroth, James Schuyler, and Philip Whalen. (Add your list here.)

At the turn of the century of the visual cortex and dominant esthetic of the gaze, writers necessarily had to be freed from their subcategory and integrated into the greater field of creative individuals. The poet became the painter and the painter became the poet: colorful emotions, anti-narrative flights of fancy predominated the canvas and artfully arranged words and phrases in tandem graced the page. The poet manifests as artist, not simply a man or woman of letters—there are no longer such distinctions—participating in the breaking down and redefining of the arts in culture as increasingly more complex interpretations of the modes of the psyche. As Julia Kristeva observed, “The 20th Century saw another reordering of the esthetic until it got to the point that art became a continuous reordering of the esthetic as the process of signifying.”

Process over product in American modernist writing begins with Williams Carlos Williams who understood that visual bias, already well established in photography and the cinema as well as the plastic arts, would be the dominating influence of the new century’s art. The dynamic of the poem is its construction as a movement not only as a creature of the page but as the process of the unfolding of the imagination through deft improvisation that on each occasion rewrites the history of literature as a unique composition. Form is self-determined in that it is the result of imagination, improvisation, and intelligence. The poem must offer something other than the old syllogistic cul de sac. The poems in Sour Grapes were among the first steps toward dismantling the antiquated mechanisms of literature and are the rootstock feeding the diverse branches of American poetry.

Obviously much of what I have written here is the result of long held opinions and perceptions of the importance of Williams in relation to my own writing and to the vast entangled field of modern poetry. However, I delight in being joined in my speculation by others who have articulated their views and have done the leg work. Bruce Holsapple’s The Birth Of The Imagination, William Carlos Williams On Form (University of New Mexico, 2015) is one such study I feel fortunate to have chanced upon. For those not familiar with the material of Williams’ early groundbreaking work, Holsapple presents an informed exposition on the development of the radical esthetic at the root of modern American poetry. Readers better acquainted with the breadth of the Williams oeuvre will discover a brilliant, thoroughly considered refresher into the revolutionary vision of the new poetry by the foundational figure in modernist  American writing. Recommended as a companion volume is Imaginations (New Directions, 1970), a collection of Williams’ seminal work of the 1920s,  edited and introduced by Webster Schott. The 42 poems of Sour Grapes, found in The Collected Earlier Poems (New Directions, 1951), will no doubt surprise the contemporary reader with how current and fresh they remain.

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 three 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 as well as Dime Pulp, A Serial Fiction Magazine. His poet-centric fiction, Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, is available for perusal at He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.

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What’s The Hold Up?

New To The Society’s Shelves, 2021

It’s that time again: books received by The New Black Bart Poetry Society have been piling up ever since the Society’s librarian took a lunch break more than 12 months ago and hasn’t returned. Below are some recently received and not so recently received books that were recovered from a dusty nook in the Society’s office.

Donald Guravich, Joanne & Donald’s Trip To NYC, April 2002  Blue Press, 2021
Joanne & Donald’s Trip To Boulder, June 2002, Blue Press, 2021

The titles say it all, two charmingly illustrated chapbooks by Donald Guravich detailing the salient and exhaustingly social aspects of his and Joanne Kyger’s trips to two of America’s poetry meccas, in limited editions from Blue Press.

Red Pine, A Shaman’s Lament, Two Poems by Qu Yuan, empty bowl, 2021

redpineThis translation of Qu Yuan, besides the usual Red Pine amply notated clarity, serves as a glimpse into an early manifestation of poetry illustrating its shamanic roots. Qu Yuan, contemporaneous with the Greek Golden age, in 93 quatrains treads the line between praise song and incantation, allegory and oblique criticism resonant with Daoist lore, that the heaven will be set right by the power of his testimony (lament) as a shaman. A terrific read, both poem and commentary. And supports Steiner’s contention that “poetry is lament.”

Sabina Knight, Chinese Literature, A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2012
The Heart of Time, Moral Agency in Modern Chinese Fiction, Harvard University Asian Center, 2006

heart of time SKMoral agency is not something that is front and center in the Western imagination or is so buried in levels of deist hierarchy as to be almost invisible, even irrelevant. It is certainly more evident in Chinese literature where personal responsibility provides the ground for moral action found in the Buddhist teaching of “right mind, right act.” Perhaps that’s what makes Chinese literature so different and compelling is its world view.

chilit SKSabina Knight’s A Very Short Introduction, from the Oxford series of the same name, is a great primer for those unfamiliar with the traditions and authors of  Chinese Literature, and a terrific refresher for the aficionado and armchair scholar. While Chinese Literature focuses on classical literature, Knight’s The Heart Of Time covers modern Chinese fiction to reveal a contemporary literature reflecting the growth pains of modern China, the tug of war between progressive and reactionary, and brings to the surface a public soul searching that is relevant to understand this ancient culture and tradition in literature transitioning into the secularity of the modern world.

Takuboku Ishikawa, Romanji Diary & Sad Toys, translated by Stanford Goldstein and Seishi Shinoda, Tuttle, 1985
Shuntaro Taniwaka, Selected Poems, translated by Harold Wright, , North Point Press, 1983
Chuang-Tzu (Burton Watson, tr.) Basic Writing, Columbia University Press, 1964

All three of these books were bequests from the Keith Kumasen Abbott Estate and for the most part are so obscure as to be lucky to find space on anyone’s shelves. Yet Kumasen and the Society’s tastes in such exotic appetites overlap and renders them treasures worthy of frequent perusing.

DSDavid Schneider, Goods (Short Stories), Cuke Press, 2020

David Schneider is the author of two biographies, Street Zen and Crowded by Beauty, The Zen and Life of Poet Philip Whalen. He was ordained as a Zen priest in 1977, and served as an acharya in Shambhala from 1996-2019. If you thought that being a Zen priest might be nothing but doing zazen and seeking enlightenment, Goods , Schneider’s selection of short stories of an unconventional Zen priest is bound to give you a different, very secular view of monastic life.

MYMark Young, Sorties, Sandy Press, 2021

Mark Young is the editor and publisher of the Otoliths enterprise from Australia and its omnibus poetry magazine of the same name. Sorties consists of prose vignettes full of “intelligent, humorous, precise, well-informed observations.” If you haven’t seen a copy of his 2008 Pelican Dreaming (Meritage Press), a selection of poems spanning fifty years, you are missing a treat.

RHRobert Hébert Coulisses, La Compange A Numero, Montreal, 2020

Another gem of philosophical musing and poetry from the interior of a little appreciated literary French Canada and French Canadian soul, in French with some English

When exploring inside the tombs
with a bear
don’t be paradoxical
Flaherty’s films are generous
Man of Aran on Isle-aux-Coudres
syzygy between humans
word not said
in discussion

(from 24 ossement exquis)

HerronElizabeth C. Herron, Insistent Grace, Fernwood Press, 2020

A handsome and substantial selection of poems from Elizabeth C. Herron, four time Pushcart Prize nominee in poetry, a fellow International League of Conservation Writers, and a poet in the forefront of ecopoetics from the beginning.

Clifford Burke, Rain, Etcetera,  2018, Deer Creek

A beautifully produced selection of poems by the man who wrote the book on how to print poetry. The master of letterpress printing brings his talent and his considerable knowhow of this elegant desktop version of meditations on the nature of the world and the nature of self as realized in these concise beautifully realized poems

Eric Johnson, The Type Dreams of Ab Fulsom, Iota Press, 2020
Excerpts from Tapered Pitch by Iklipz Dopplur, Farflungland Editions, 2020
This, by Ekl Partz, Farflungland Editions, 2020
Short Sorties, Iota Press, 2021

A particular school of the printing arts has sprung up around Eric Johnson much in the same way that fine letterpress printing and its esthetic took hold in the last quarter of the 20th Century under the guidance and tutelage of printers like Clifford Burke,  Alastair Johnston, Kathy Walkup, and Susan King (to name just a few). As the founder of Iota Press, Eric helped establish North Bay Letterpress Arts, a fine arts printing coop, practicing the methods of handset type and printing on various antique but fully operational hand presses. His recent limited edition handmade books highlight his mastery of the book arts as well as a sense of language and humor peculiar to this who stand at the typecase.

lfLucile Friesen, Blue Bicycle, Ideal Café Editions, 2021

Similar in its style to Johnson’s hand printed handmade books, Lucile Friesen, an alumnus of North Bay Letterpress Arts, who now practices her art in Montreal, offers her meditations on blue bikes and their permutations in the peddling of her witty and insightful poems on a bicycle built for blue.

Jjjohn Johnson, Idiomatic, printed at Iota Press, 2013

The fine art of letterpress printing is also evident in this selection of John Johnson’s short incisive poems handset by the author and printed at Iota Press on a 193 C&P platen press.

Fell Swoop 164, Last Gasp Swoop, Joel Dailey, ed 2020
Scoop Bibliography, Dick Martin, Compiler, 2021
Roberto Hortikulture, Liquid Paper, Moron Channel, 2021
Joel Dailey, Current Manifesto of the Dumbass School of Poetry or Puncture Reptilian, Unarmed Chapbook (nd, St. Paul)

JDFell Swoop is dead! Long Live Fell Swoop! His excellency, The Reverend X.J. Dailey, NOLA, has performed the last rites on his long running faux mimeo literary magazines after 164 issue thrown onto the bonfire of the vanities—that’s a lot of paper. Fortunately for the archivists (those that can, do, those that can’t, teach, and those that can’t do either become archivists) a Fell Swoop Bibliography complete with pithy comments and obvious omissions was compiled by the intrepid Dick Martin. Yet fear not, the Rev has reincarnated as another publication destined to be long lived, The Moron Channel, in which the authors all share the Rev’s outrageous wit and humid humor if not actual corporeal presence.

TGTinker Greene, Flaming Serpents In The Desert (poems), Chicago, 2021

Tinker Greene’s infrequent but much appreciated poetry pamphlets now arrive as dispatches from the Midwest where winters are always a good reason to be from there. Flaming Serpents and all previous such outing are available for the asking from Nice translation of a Reverdy poem from Les ardoises du toit.

Sandy Berrigan, Song Rhymes, 2020
Viajes, When It Was Possible To Travel, 2020
Spring Ahead, Fall Behind, 2021
Random Wanderings of a Wayward Mind, 2021

When you are raised in a literate family, spend your adult life in the company of artists and poets, from the brick tenements of the lower East Side to the lush gardens of Hawaii and the redwood forests of Northern California, and are as well a seasoned world traveler, it seems only natural to set down your words to share your impressions, explore the sentiments of a communal investment in the life of literature and the art of poetry. That’s what Sandy does in these poems, she presents the disarming and unpretentious cadences of her authentic soul.

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How To Rehearse A Strophe

How To Rehearse A Strophe

Carl Wendt, not quite Charles Baudelaire, not quite Charles Bukowski, but one of the last of  the hard boiled, streetwise, post-Beat Neo-Romantics (in other words, a dinosaur) not sucking the institutional teat, author of Synthetic Lament, (rhymes with cement), recent winner of the Pillsbury Prize in Poetry, finds himself washed up like a wounded lovesick sealion on a sandy stretch of Pacific Ocean beach north of Frisco, and later a cliff overlooking the crashing surf, rehearsing the rhythms of his thoughts as strophes for an ode to sunset.

(excerpts from the final section of Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life Of American Genius, originally published in 2017 as an online serial fiction by Pat Nolan)


The glare of white sand shadowed to gray, rumbling waves lost their green sheen, and the hiss of dissipating foam edged closer. Sea birds screeched, gulls hopped among the debris of apple cores, carrot ends, food wrappers left by his rescuers, and his own empty beer cans, slim jim sheaths, and chip bag. Otherwise he was alone. A wind skimmed the waves chilling the air. In the distance the orange orb crushed a stratum of cloud dyeing the horizon with the blood of its muted fire. “Suppose you really do, toward the end, fall away into a sunset which is your own self-ignited pyre,” the dying sun sang in his ears, a siren chorus with the shrill voices of cicadas.

sunsetmendo cvrStupid. And I am the exemplification of that stupidity. Shake it off. Gulp in breaths of denial that it can’t be all that bad. But which is worse, the headache or the heartache. The topsy-turvy scramble to regain mental balance in the face of an onslaught of contradiction and self-delusion painfully limited by my bone headedness or the gut churning, heart arresting, adrenal fueled, fear-based realization that it must end, and the immense futility of it all. Is there hope, that mocking seductive chimera, fickle as flickering day or is there only dark despair and night? Well, you live, you die.

Getting to his feet, wrapped in the blanket and feeling the full cold weight of being soaked to the skin, he stared out at the giant orange eyeball above the vast eyewash sea that seemingly demanded, “Just who the hell do you think you are?” He replied, “Nobody.” 

All the bad luck, terrible accidents, cruel circumstances, the waking horror I’ve been through, brushed off simply to continue. I can hear people say, “What great promise he had when he was younger.” At least I haven’t self-immolated as have so many of my contemporaries. Nora likes to joke, “There’s the smell of smoke about you, Carl, and I don’t mean cigarettes. It’s all those burned bridges.”

Me and my shambling machinations, in the end the question is who are these worthless pricks and why am I wasting my time trying to be one of them? I have no use for tight-ass flyblown poets, confining my associations to a few friends and lovers. The lovers never hang around for very long, and the friends have become victims of the three deadly D’s of friendship: disaffection, distance, and death. It’s when those names come with a face and a memory of palpable interactions that are no longer active on the perceptual plane, having achieved the stasis of the infinitesimal, that the truth of mortality sinks in or at least gives pause to the recall of a vivid impression. You live. You die.

I shouldn’t think of life as disappointing. If nothing else it is consistent in its suffering, and that, in the face of it all, I am helpless. There’s suffering because nothing stays the same which plays havoc with my desire to hold on to what works even if only for an instant which in turn causes the anxiety that makes me suffer. Nothing lasts forever and even that is gone in an instant. Life isn’t anything unique by itself. It is what comes after what went before and what goes before what’s to come. Conditioned by the past, it affects the future as a chain of instances linked by memory, desire’s intelligence. It matters not one way or the other. It is all the same. Life or death.

All I can hope for is a kind of intuitive understanding of death, dying, which surpasses reason and rules out any further discussion. All things, being impermanent, have no separate and independent identity. The absolute is inherent in all phenomena. Ultimate reality can’t be explained in terms of existence and nonexistence. Everything is real. Each thing is identical with all things. To exist is to be in relation to other things that exist. The universe is simply the set of all these relations. You live.

What comes of the illusion that even though I am edging toward the last days of my life that it is far from over, and joy and dread combined will find time enough to grow, planted in the fertile soil of anything of any moment up till now? Should I regret that at the end no one really ever got what I was doing and all the fame and attention are based on a house of cards, not on truth but on assumption and conjecture that have nothing to do with my poetry? You die.

I acknowledge that there can be no other way. I must say my goodbyes with the realization that the world says goodbye to you long before you leave it. Goodbye means the same in all languages although for some it is more definitive than others. In my language I must say goodbye to friends because either they died or I did, or they have alienated me, or me them, by their, or my, thoughtless behavior, which is a kind of death to me, and to them. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. So goodbye to those of parted ways, you are dead to me as I am to you. And those who have through necessity and circumstance physically removed yourselves from the immediacy of my presence, might as well be dead because memory is fickle and the longer separation is maintained the less the fact of your being matters. Nostalgia is merely the stubbed toe that calls attention to the foot and the blindness of inattention.

As the limping man, I am Jason, and all smithies made lame or hamstrung. The limping hero, one shoe on, one shoe off, the missing sandal, the single footed, the dancer, the shaman. I go through life doing the same old thing over and over and then one day it’s different. I’ve reached a threshold. Step across, carrying the bride of my enlightenment or disillusionment.

All I know is that every six months or so I die. I have died a hundred times a hundred, and it’s always the same death. I don’t know what dies, and why I have to be reborn again, always with the same high hopes, always the identical death. Death is a return to the cocoon. I should have died young like all the other promising poetry talent but through some fluke I was passed over. Now I am caught in the thrall of the denial of death syllogism: other men die, I am not other men, therefore I cannot die. I live.

What will they say about me when I’m gone? “He was a bit of a bastard and a bit of a genius too. He could be an egotistical drunk and even he hated his guts.”  Some might even say I was being too easy on myself. Besides when I imagine someone saying something about me, they never say anything I don’t already know. I die. 

When I still held the idea that I would end up in the ground like everyone else, I wanted the quote from Tristan Shandy on my tombstone, De Gustibus non disputandum est. I’ll settle for I am not done reading. Now more like the Icarus of my previous days I’m tempted to fly into the sun, but reborn in my epiphany as Daedalus, I hesitate, my shadow tangled around my feet. The owl of Minerva flies at dusk, something that Daedalus should have reminded Icarus, when the sun’s effect on wax wings is diminished. Where does that leave me? People don’t want the soul-fashioned-out-of-thin-air stuff anymore. They want conceptual and commercial or tritely trendy tried and true. No soaring on wax wings, no clambering up to a seventh heaven, no leaps off cliffs, metered feet fitted with the conventional cement of sensible shoes.

sunset81So who is the one called Wendt? To whom the mail is addressed, whose name appears as a byline or on the title page of books and in discussions on the art of poetry. It would not be obvious just by looking at him that he was well known as a poet although in the eyes of some he was a poseur, a mountebank, a throwback, a full-time charlatan. As it was, he recognized himself less in his own books than he did in those of others. His life was a flight from himself. Everything he ever was or could be was lost to inevitable oblivion. He couldn’t even remember which one of his selves had written this. Ink like blood flows in the slow spill of a lifelong intellectual sacrifice or suicide.

To be successful you have to believe in something. At the very least, yourself. I am too skeptical of everything, even myself, to be truly successful. I follow Descartes’ original proposition, dubito ergo sum, I doubt therefore I am. Even my small successes are not my own, but those of others who see something in my work, something worthwhile. Moments of faith have allowed me to write and being able to write allowed me faith. Yet I undermine it all by my lack of conviction beyond that original instance of creation. I’m only as good as my next poem. And a poem is just another bread crumb in the journey through the deep dark forest. The older I get the more I realize that it’s not just that the competition gets better, it also gets cuter. As Granahan once advised, “If all you got is technique, you ain’t got much.”  Rationalizing with every breath, I follow the way of why, seeking the answer, any answer. But it’s always someone else’s answer and I hate being told what to do. Imprisoned behind the solitude of a fervent smile I am a virulent fever passing through a lukewarm crowd as my natural cowardice shrinks from the occasion. I mythologize my life to give it meaning at the most basic anthropomorphic level. Impatient with the slow return and low interest yield of poetry, impatient with a life that continually marginalizes me. Poets, like gypsies, are each about as welcome in polite society.

The wind riffled the edges of the army blanket wrapped round him lifting the free folds like the edges of a cape and in turn shuffled the neocortex rolodex between his ears and stopped at the appropriate citation. “It is he of the billowing greatcoat, Cedric Silkyshag.”  Or Lazlo Pierce, his alter ego lothario, expert in passion. How does the Iliad end? He was a refugee from the age of heroes.

I am the hero poet awakening the sleeping images of the future which can and must come forth from the night in order to give the world a new and better face. I am the enemy of the old ruling system, of the old cultural values. Poets are necessarily anonymous. “I am a voice with no name,” echo the ages. Poets should prize their anonymity.

The absurd excitability of my system which forces me to create crisis out of every experience and puts drama into the smallest incidents of life makes it impossible to count on me in any way. I am no longer a poet. And then I am. At most I am a rendezvous of poets who, from time to time, appear as that one or this one with cocky insistence. For this very reason, like in some B western I find myself riding off into the sunset. Destiny imposes its own consistency and my thoughts and wishes are but a pretext for what I find myself doing. No passion, no act of heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling will preserve my life beyond the grave. All the labors of all my days, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the high noon brightness of my genius are destined for extinction in the vast solar munch, and the whole edifice of my literary achievement will inevitably be buried with me. A poet once wrote, “When I die I want to be buried in a book.” Needless to say, it was his own book. The Fates do not have “needless” in their vocabulary. Death is the ultimate defining instance. To live in the present is to live facing death. Man invented eternity and the future to escape death, but each of these inventions is a fatal trap. Only in facing death is life really life. Within the now, death is not separated from life. Both are the same reality. The search for immortality is a dead end in the labyrinth of existence. Death chews us up from the moment of birth and then shits us back out into a hole in the ground. 

The blanket slipped from a shoulder and the dying breath of sunset pushed against his chilled torso, pulled at his sodden sanded hair. “I’m rich! I’m famous! Why can’t I happy with that?” And that caused him to cackle knowingly. He imagined the mess he must look. He just wished the day would end. Even if there was no guarantee of another one? Even. He was nothing when he should have been everything. The search for absolute beauty is the quest for death, the exercise of reason’s constant critique of mortality. From a technical point of view, the world is comical. Death knells come cheap.

irenesunset2 txtI tell my life to myself as dreams, images, fantasies, and an array of deliberate states reflective of the vast inherent power of cerebral activity underlying consciousness. What I speak is never the absolute truth. It’s either a half truth or a truth and a half. I understand now that I am essentially a monologist in poet’s clothing. First of all, the monologue is an art without an audience. And without an audience, the expressions of artist and art don’t exist. It is an art of forgetting and of forgetting myself as a function that eliminates the subject, indifferent to the outcome. In this boundless universe everything is arranged according to the principle of cosmic necessity as a manifestation without self-consciousness. My monologue begets the world itself. The boundaries of art are breached yet no originality is attempted because to try to treat the monologue in terms of esthetics is pointless. The eternal monologue that accompanies my consciousness overcomes all obstacles and concentrates much too much in every nuance in the steady erotic connection with language only possible in perfect solitude. All distraction disappears and nothing remains but a hidden maze and the echo of fragments in endless pursuit of each other. I don’t know of any more profound difference in the whole orientation of an artist, whether I look at my work in progress, essentially at myself, from the point of view of a witness or whether I have forgotten the world, simply humming a tune to myself.

Well, it’s been going this way for a while, impatient with the inevitable, I want to hurry it along, don’t cry for me Argentina or Paraguay or Slovenia or Madagascar. It’s been a great ride, and I got everything I deserved, good and bad, and maybe a little something that belonged to someone else. And know that I loved you, all of you, but there was only so much I could give after I served myself. Thank you for your belief, your disbelief, your indulgence, your indifference. You won’t get hurt if you stand back out of the way, look on objectively and consider it the end of an era, my era and error, a bid for freedom, me free of pain and suffering, you free of me and my pain and suffering.

He felt a chill that cooled his liver and made him shiver. “This is the way the world will end, in rays, red,” Kerouac had dreamed, “silent, tired—the world of the mind is the real world—the rays of the mind, the real rays.” The old king must die before a new one is born, his legacy his grand illusion.

Gazing at the dying sun, what anthropomorphic arrogance is it that steals the essence of cosmic eternity and absurdly imputes it to an immortal self? Why must I insist on combining the attributes of myself with that of the universe? To be a poet means to calmly weigh the eventual terror and degradation of impotence at averting my own death and that of my friends and lovers, and by extension, the death of a clueless feisty species, the death of the planet, incubator of a vaunted sentience. And even the death of its vital star, that bright orange dollop sinking into the ironic sea. Will anyone mourn that in this place over a span of untold eons there once lived poetic intelligence?

He lit his last cigarette and stepped to the edge to relieve himself. As he watched the unremitting froth of breakers spray phosphorescent arcs among the jagged dark shapes below, hypnotic in their mutability, his attention turned to the next swell of wave approaching as the edge of a mysterious and chimerical energy. And what exactly is the attraction of that shaped force consisting of undifferentiated particles caught up in concert until it breaks into the disarrayed individual wash of ephemeral droplets? It was all he could do not to join the cosmic undulation and become a part of it all. He contributed a little of himself anyway which pretty much summed up his life as a poet, a piss in the ocean.

I am as eternal as the universe and so the endless sea of matter, constantly unfolding enfolded forms, will find something else to do with me. Then my spirit should not be afflicted or frightened for I am this enchanted unity stable in my oneness and will remain so eternally. I am a non-symbolic thing signifying what I am. Those who consider the divine one thing and I another do not know. I is another, the rest is silence.

fuzzy patx42105Pat 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  He lives among the redwood wilds along the Russian River in Northern California.

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