I Remember Tom Clark

I Remember Tom Clark 

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

Orphic Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remember thinking I resemble those remarks.

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

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

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

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

I remember thinking that Tom was kind of a dick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wan Tom (1941-2018)

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

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


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

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Meditation In A Big Cabin

MEDITATION IN A BIG CABIN

Still a classic!

It has been fifty years since Ron Padgett’s Great Balls of Fire lit up the poetry sky. In 1969, Padgett’s publication by a mainstream publisher, Holt Rhinehart Winston, was a tremendous breakthrough for a non academic unaffiliated poet of the younger generation. Great Balls of Fire set a new standard and Padgett was the standard bearer, a position reinforced a year later with his co-editing of the groundbreaking Anthology of New York Poets. Along with Don Allen’s The New American Poetry, it functioned as a Get-Out-of-the-Poetry-Gulag-Free card.

For many poets coming into their own in the sixties and seventies, Padgett, as well as the poets associated with Lower East Side Manhattan of that time, represented a way out of the particular neo-romantic Beat/neo-classic New Critic conundrum. That this group of poets was in tune with modern-day culture in a way that paced the times was their most resonate appeal. By offering a breezy often frivolous post modern pop surrealism, they made it acceptable to write about the commerce of the everyday and to let that define their context.

Padgett’s foundational role in mapping this distinctive focus in American poetry has been acknowledged on numerous occasions. His strength is thanks to a poetry that places him as a contemporary signifier in American letters and with an acumen based on the trends of modernism begun over a century ago, an aesthetic thread that struggles to gain a hearing in a visually challenged Anglo biased literary environment. His association and collaboration with artists Joe Brainard, Trevor Winkfield, Jim Dine, and George Schneeman, among others, underlines how art can be a lens through which to view literature, poetry in particular. Even the titles of some of his earler books give significance to art and artists as exampled with In Advance Of A Broken Arm (Duchampian), Triangles In The Afternoon (Cubist), and How To Be Modern Art (Dada/Surrealist). Certainly his translations of Guilliaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, Raymond Roussel, and Valery Larabaud helped to reintroduce early 20th century French poets into the dialectic of contemporary American prosody.

In his own inimitable way Padgett also continues the work of William Carlos Williams, and, in some respects, E.E. Cummings, in the use of a laconic uninflected plainspoken language, one that hides beneath its surface the sly American wit of exaggeration and the conspiratorial wink. There has always been something of the corny, the shaggy dog in Padgett’s poetry. Sometimes his gentle almost imperceptible language displacements are effected by faux irony and open ended indeterminacy. The reader is not so much dazzled by the Wow! as arrested by the Wha?

Despite its zany off-the-wall unpredictability (or perhaps because of it), Padgett has made his unique brand of American poetry accessible to a wider range of sensibility with his perceptively personal pop slice of life takes. He speaks to a generation introduced to culture by newspaper comic strips, radio comedies, and early TV sitcoms. The symbolic use of comic strip art resonates with those of an age exposed to illustrated story telling. Brand names and cartoon characters found a place in poetry in part due to the collaborations of poets and artists.

Padgett’s truck with modern artists continues in his latest selection of poems from Coffee House Press  featuring a cover by Alex Katz. In the prose composition that makes up one of the three sections of Big Cabin, Padgett’s admits a familiar context.

“My penchant for comic book imagery comes partly from having immersed myself in comic books as a child, alone in my room but not really alone, since I was with my friends Daffy Duck, Little Lulu, Plastic Man, Sad Sack, and a host of others, all of whom lived in a world where order prevailed and the colors were bright.”

Add to the mix radio comedies and dramas that required the imagination to think in pictures but also providing a pool of idiomatic American speech, and the ubiquitous Saturday movie matinees for the anonymous and collective joy of onscreen antics whose repeated tropes were integrated into the short hand of language commonality. Each gave value to nostalgia (ubi sunt) as being significant in the development of a working aesthetic across a generation of peers.

In Big Cabin, Padgett limits his props to a cabin on a pond in isolate Vermont (sic), some rain drops, clouds, trees, a notebook, ink, and pen.

I Give Up

I give up
for today
but I’ll be back
tomorrow
with my pen
and paper and identity
that keeps an eye on things.

It is almost as if Dear Abby was a Zen master living in a cabin in Vermont studying to be Thoreau.

Poem

You’re here—
and if you relax
for a moment
your back
and other parts
will arrive
and you can be
together,
with yourself,
a little happiness.

“The Hook” exemplifies the meditative quality of exile from a larger commerce. It works as an appreciation of the moments between the momentous, the forgotten forgetful moments that are discarded like body ash, the faint particulates of being. Here the minimalist tendency, strict, often severe in its uncompromising individuality, narrates with a Dick and Jane diction, wry, sly, pop, unapologetic.

The Hook

All it takes is a hook
even a small one
of any color
and you’re in. Today
it’s gray that grabs you
and won’t let go
and you don’t want it to.
It’s a tree.

 

 

“Haiku”, although technically not a haiku, accurately renders the philosophical underpinnings of Zen usually associated with the form as an aphoristic homily.

First, calm down.
Next, stay that way
for the rest of your life.

It could be stitched on cotton with colored thread and stuck in a frame. The sentiment, if it can be called that, is expressed as (not surprisingly) a Norman Rockwell trope, all American, guileless.

“Life Without You”, like an old Max Fleischer cartoon, uses a similar light-hearted, clever, unpredictable morphing from one image to another. Beginning, “I leap from the title to this first line as if over a stream” and ending on the next page with “They need a clown.” That would be Koko.

or How To Read A Ron Padgett Poem

“People vs. Leaves” returns, as do other poems in the selection, to a world weary undercurrent. The solitude and reflection of light off the pond casts longer shadows, exposes darker threads of looking back, defiant, with a frustration that imagines humanity with no more value than a pile of raked leaves, a morose dive that is suddenly upended with the ironic mock realization.

But if humanity disappears
who will read this poem?
Fuck

The persistence of irony plays out playfully as a poetic stance in Padgett’s poems. It is a reminder that what is on the page is literature (reading material), not a how-to guide for dummies on how to live their lives. Or prompt an epiphany. The spare quality of the poems function as sentient captions to self-evident illustrations of meditations on solitude, an assessment on those moments that don’t get assessed enough, if at all. Yet underlying the poems is a bemusement undermining expectations with the predictable deadpan humor of a Richard Wright or a Bob Newhart.

“Funny, discerning, lovely” are some of the adjectives used to describe Ron Padgett’s poetry. Also are “wry, absurd, provocative, eloquent (without seeming so), whimsical, good natured, nimble, succinct, agile, lucid, authentic, ironic, painterly, deconstructive, Yankee-doodle, tangible, human, zany, wise.” Only occasionally is it tagged as “insouciant, nervy, sophisticated, existential, cosmopolitan, avant-garde, unemotional, plain spoken, pretentiously unpretentious, fun.”

The poems in Big Cabin function as verbal illustrations utilizing a basic, low yield Joe Friday pokerfaced “just the facts, ma’am” vocabulary. The mundane immediacy is expressed sparingly and without pretense that it is anything but what is there. It is a kind of what-you-see-is-what-you-get poetry initiated long before that concept came into being. Now Padgett’s matter-of-fact poems are just that, a plain speak minimalism that in some cases belies common cultural sense of what a poem is or should be but at the same time hits the nail square on the head with its discerning correctness. Deceptively simple, in fact, and silly as a Silly Symphony or a Looney Tune, Ron’s poems might even prompt a first time reader to react like Laura Linney in The Savages: “Is that it?!” Or to think, “That’s a poem? I could do that.” That may just be the point.

Big Cabin could lead the reader to think of it as the calm after the fireworks. That would be a mistake. Ron Padgett exercises his poetic license with the purity of his intent despite the tongue in cheek sparkle of his eyes. Among the many adjective used to describe Padgett’s poetry, the most telling is almost never used: subversive.

Submitted to the membership
by the Parole Officer
7/31/19


Big Cabin by Ron Padgett is available from Coffee House Press


New to the Society’s Shelves. Summer, 2019
Robert Hébert, Monsieur Rhésus, Nota Bene, Montreal, 2019
Gerald Nicosia, Kerouac; The Last Quarter Century, Noodle Brain, Corte Madera, 2019
Ron Padgett & Trevor Winkfield, Encore With Rectangle And Philosophy,
Cuneiform Press, Austin, 2019
Norman Schaefer, Records of a Broken-down Mountaineer, The Alcuin Press,
Portland, 2019
Pat Nolan, So Much, Selected Poems Vol. II Notebook Keyboard, Nualláin House, Publisher, Monte Rio, 2019

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Poetry Is A Crowded Room, Part 2

Poetry Is A Crowded Room, Part 2

Excerpt from
Ode To Sunset, A Year in the Life of American Genius
a fiction by Pat Nolan 

Attending the Cirque De Penumbroi, a poetry happening in the partially demolished Reed Hotel south of Market, Carl Wendt, last of the hardboiled vigilante poets, is guided to the performers’ facilities on the second floor by Allie Gary, a tall blond explainer dressed in a flight attendant’s uniform impersonating the Muse.  Once done with his business, Wendt proceeds to dish on all the assembled poets.  To Allie’s questioning whether he thinks that all the poets hate him or bear him ill will, he replies by quoting Pound’s “the vendetta of imbeciles is endless” and as an afterthought adds “Poetry is a crowded room.  Someone’s toes are bound to get stepped on.”

Toot Lememe, poetry mime and part-time phrenologist, author of Read My Lump, Tom Mahoque, poet with an axe to grind, author of Flying Off The Handle, Judy Hoyt, known to all as Hoity-Toity, and author of Anecdotal Evidence, Moroccan poet Al Frah’d Jeri, author of You Be Raw, with his girlfriend, Patty Fishsticks, poetry voluptuary and performance artist, Andy Mattre, the experimental (emphasis on mental) poet, author of Chance Operation, and Donna Matrix, author of These Boots Are Made For Wanking. He knew them all. They were part of a group that he had once dubbed The California Roll School of Poetry, or the Sushi-ists.  And wild eyed poet Lyman Rossi, author of Ode to Wall With Men (about a bathhouse) cruising the edges of the crowd looking for an opening.  And there too was Bobby ‘Rubber’ Ducken, recognized for what he had attempted rather than accomplished, best known for his unfinished epic Do Little.

“What you have here is a veritable Postmodern potpourri self-devouring feast, like the worm Uroboros, spinning into an ever tightening circle, trying to bite their own tails, spiting their faces, and those limber enough to accomplish the feat know soon enough the smell of shit.

“Most of the poets in these little cliques are made up of FOPPS, Friends Of Poet Professors, who get taught or touted to clueless students and night school housewives which then leads to incredibly incestuous and inbred in-crowd behavior hence the name of their anthology, Fusion, known to some with a sense of humor as Confusion, though a more appropriate title would be The In-Breds. It just serves to underline the fact that MFA programs are for those who can’t read or read with any discernment or are too locked into their view of themselves that they can’t make sense of anyone else.”

“But what about the avant-garde?  Have they been co-opted, too?”

“The problem with the avant-garde is that those who claim to be at the leading edge of art are really the après-garde.  You’ll never know about the avant-garde until it’s already history.  Then I guess you might call that realization a post-modern epiphany.  Take conceptual poetry or Flarf.  They say they fight the power while at the same time hoping to be assimilated . . .it’s a very gay, the mother revered reviled kind of thing.”

“I’m not familiar with Flarf.”

“Flarf I think stands for Fluffy Art Federation, mostly bored middle class twits playing with refrigerator magnets.  They’ll eventually drift back to dungeons and dragons or their game consoles and masturbate in their socks.  As for conceptual poetry, it’s like the guy who gets into the ring with himself as his only opponent and starts punching himself in the face with his fists. . .there will be blood, but never a knock-out.”

“Do you agree with Ellen Mudhen when she says ‘Poetry is a very stupid thing to be good at’? That poems are basically like dreams, something that everybody likes to tell each other but nobody actually cares about unless it’s their own.  And which is why poetry is apparently a failure of the intellectual community.”

Wendt laughed.  “I don’t know who Ellen Mudhen is, but it sounds like she has a point. Now those guys over there might be a perfect example of what she’s talking about. Al Bebak, the author of Why Me, and Sam Maritain, author of Any Qualia. Denis Winkle wrote a collection of anecdotes titled Name Your Poison.” He indicated the cluster of dour intellectuals. “I reviewed Holly Grail’s Simple Sample, and Claire Del Ulna’s Exaggerated Misery. Favorably, I might add.”

“So you’re not affiliated with any of these poets, you don’t cotton to any of their notions?”

“That’s one way of putting it, but no, I don’t belong and I like it that way. And that scene, like most scenes, is way too church for me.  By ‘church’ I mean pious and narrow-minded.”

“You enjoy your cutting sarcasm, don’t you, Carl? I mean, that’s why people read your column, isn’t it?  You’re the representative sarcastic prick for the city.”  Allie gave him a tight smile, the kind that comes with reaching a conclusion. “You know, Carl, sometimes we attribute our own worst faults to others. You might call it ‘theory of mind with extreme prejudice.’ Problem with smart people like you is that they feel obligated to demonstrate their superiority no matter whose feelings are hurt. I suppose when you consider yourself vastly superior to anyone else and you’ve cultivated that critical acumen to such a sharp edge, you’ll ultimately cut your own throat to reveal a total and irrevocable incompetence at anything but waving the flag of your over-inflated sense of self.  And I mean that in a nice way.”  She glanced down at the smart phone in her hand.  “Oops, sorry, gotta go, I have more explaining to do.”

Wendt watched her walk away.  Yeah, he could probably kick her ass.

A buffet table had been set up near the large video screen with a live feed from the reading on the floor below. He wandered over and noticed that the wine bottles all appeared to be dead soldiers and whatever food was left had been thoroughly picked over.  Not very appetizing, if it ever was.  The poet peering at the assembly of green glass corpses for any signs of life or vino was Horace, Horace Kopes.  Wendt had once said a kindly word about his book of poems, Astral Winks, an obvious cop from the Van Morrison album of similar name, and now they were friends for life.  Horace took his poems from the daily astrology columns in the various newspapers around town.  He claimed that he could write a poem a day for a year, every year.  The poems were cutups of that particular day’s forecasts or predictions.  Horace was a deft editor and had a sense of humor.  But his method might have been too much of a good thing.  And they would never escape the fact of being other people’s words.  “I’m afraid the oasis has been drunk dry,” he said, addressing Wendt’s searching gaze. Under the table in a large tub once filled with ice a few diet beverages bobbed like flotsam, of no interest to even the thirstiest.

Wendt turned his attention to the big screen.  Shown in the harsh halogen lighting, a skinny fey man wearing a powder blue wig spoke his poem in a bullhorn which oddly enough gave it resonance and authority.  He queried Kopes who was peering down the neck of a wine bottle.  “Who’s that?”

“Uh, I think that’s Francis X. Finity, the defrocked Jesuit from Dublin.”  Kopes directed his attention to the reading on the flat screen.  “And he’s only got one good poem.  That one, Eek, A Homo!

Well, nothing to see here, Wendt mused, move along.  He located the entrance to the stairway down and started in that direction.  He passed two men engaged in a heated discussion. One was a professor at the University, Franklin Rydell, author of Fortune, Opportune, and a selection of translations, Importune.  Wendt had called him ‘Fiddle’ in one of his columns and the name had stuck.  Some people were under the impression that his name was actually Franklin Fiddle.  What gave the truth to his sobriquet was that Rydell obsessively revised and rewrote his work.  In actuality he had written only a handful of poems.  Most of his works were variations on those same few, rearranged and reordered and reconsidered. His translations as such were numerous variations of the one extant poem by an obscure Latin poet, Fluxus Refluxus.

The other man was someone he only knew as Stu, president of SPU, the Street Poets Union (pronounced “spew”).  Stu was saying, “Poetry’s first purpose is to say fuck you to people like you. What you need to know is that we’re the bad boys, the rude, the purposely uncultivated, lacking in couth outlaws, outsiders.  We take somebody like Kenneth Rexroth and hold him up as an example of what we are or would like to be.  Owing no allegiance to any academy, hermeneutic, autodidactic, and not the least bit polite about it.  We adhere to what Diogenes said about Plato’s carpet to be indicative of our attitude toward the insufferable academic toadies who are merely gatekeepers for the inanely conservative status quo.  Action prompts reaction, conservative against radical on the culture frontier.  We are the gunmen, the assassins of a misguided respectability.  What disturbs you most and threatens your grip on your much vaunted correctness is what we are.  I wipe my ass on tradition because I just shit on your ideals.”

Wendt would have stayed to hear Fiddle’s rejoinder but he spotted the red haired pompadour, craggy crazy leprechaun face, full length deep purple leather trench coat and make-me-taller lifts of Lon Murphy who was accompanied by his usual contingent of sharp shouldered, narrow-assed churls cruising for a back to stab or posterior to osculate. Right at the moment they were engaged in some polite chit-chat with Lu Sacke-Shoen, another disagreeable person, and needless to say, British, author of You Couldn’t Possibly Be Right, but, as Wendt could attest, great in bed, her body accepting what her mind denied—even more incentive to vacate the sulfurous atmosphere.


To read more from Ode To Sunset, A Year in the Life of American Genius, go to odetosunset.com.  Excerpts from the Pat Nolan satire on poets and poetry can be found in the Southern Autumn issue of Otoliths (scroll down) and at Dispatches from the Poetry Wars.  As well, excerpts have appeared on occasions in this blog, viz, The Poetry Reading, Poetry Is A Crowded Room (1), How To Write A Preface, Schools of Poetry 1 & 2, The Poet In Love.


Pat Nolan’s latest book is SO MUCH, Selected Poems, Volume II (1990-2010), Notebook Keyboard, now available from Nualláin House Publishers.


New to the Society’s Shelves, Spring 2019

Ron Padgett, Big Cabin, Coffee House Pres, 2019
Pat Nolan, So Much, Selected Poems, Vol. II, Nualláin House, Publishers, 2019
Sandy Berrigan, Gentle Opposition, Albion, 2019
Red Pine, Cathay Revisited, Empty Bowl, 2019
Roberto Bolaño, The Spirit of Science Fiction, Penguin Books, 2019
Edmund Berrigan, More Gone, City Lights Books, 2019
Garrett Caples, Power Ballads, Wave Books, 2016
John Coletti, Deep Code, City Lights Books, 2014
John Coletti, Mum Halo, Rust Buckle Books, 2010

 

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Bromige Was Here

Bromige Was Here
Remembering David Bromige (1933-2009)

by Pat Nolan

Life Is Brief It Says Here

David Bromige was here.  Although, truth be told, he wasn’t from here.  Like many coastal Northern Californians, he was from elsewhere: England, then Canada, and finally, rustication north of the Bay Area.  What drew him here, where there is only here, was a peaceful place to engage in his bottomless curiosity and to up the ante on the knowledgeable.  The long though not so winding road he took to get here was more of a dogleg, a straight shot from England to the prairies of Saskatchewan, and then hop, skip, jump to the university campus in Vancouver where he impressed the locals with his proper brilliance and his conservatism.  That would soon change once he got wind of the tempest surrounding the New American poetry, especially that whirling around Charles Olson and Robert Duncan.  That led him to matriculate, as only Bromige could, down to the Bay Area where he fell into the good graces of the aforementioned Duncan and came to the attention of a coterie of proto-Language poets.  Eventually he secured a teaching position at an institute of higher learning north of the Bay in Sonoma County. That’s where I met David, in the early 70’s, while attending Sonoma State University (then a mere State college) on the GI Bill.  My friend, the poet Keith Kumasen Abbott, recommended that I look him up because David Bromige was “one of us.” I took that to mean of the more experimental non-academic wing of American poetry.

June 4th marked the tenth anniversary of David’s passing, or as Gerald Edelman would say, his “personal entropy.”  What I remember most of my early acquaintance with him was his affability.  He helped me with or facilitated many of my literary projects. When Andrei Codrescu and I were publishing a co-edited double issue of my poetry mag, The End Over End, we were allowed access to the English Dept’s mimeograph machine after hours to run it off, thanks to David’s beneficence. Another time in the early 80’s, long after I had severed my connection with that institution of dubious learning, David arranged for the audio visual department to make VHS copies of the professional videos of the First Black Bart Poetry Society Benefit held at the On Broadway in San Francisco.  It was also through David’s efforts, unbeknownst to me, that I was included in a selection of California poets published in the Italian literary magazine, Carta Segreta. When he sent me a contributor’s copy of the magazine in which my poem appeared in Italian, he included a note that said “I had to fight like a tiger to get you in here.”  (I don’t doubt it.)  He once generously paid me, as things were often tight between paydays, to talk to one of his lower division classes about the Cubist and Surrealist poets, knowing my interest in them and my translations of their work.  I remember somehow the discussion got around to Jack Kerouac.  The blank looks on the student faces at the mention of the name led me to inquire who, if anyone, had read his work.  No one stirred.  I looked over at David.  “Bob Dylan?” I tried.  Nothing.  We were staring out across a generation gap though it felt more like “the void.”

At one point in the mid eighties the imperatives of family life took precedence in the form of regular employment and the attendant paucity of personal time.  David and I experienced mutual personal encounters on occasion, always promising to make time for more, though too often that time was invariably taken up with something else.  There were a few readings and dinner parties but the fact was our young children demanded most if not all of our attention.  A decade or so passed in that fashion, and it wasn’t until I had retired from my job as a lowly civil servant after the turn of the century that I was drawn closer to David’s now quite wobbly orbit.  I learned through a mutual friend that David had heart troubles, a stroke and bypass, and was wheelchair bound.  Soon afterwards, attending a reading of his at a local bookstore, I reconnected with him.  I now had more time to renew and cultivate our mutual interest in the art of poetry, although we didn’t talk so much about poetry as we did of poets so maybe our mutual interest was actually the art of gossip.  There also were plenty of friends who had stepped up to help with David’s mobility issues and ease the burden on his family.  I was only one of them.  David at the time was working on publishing projects and collaborations with the poet Richard Denner.  A memoir was being cobbled together with the help of Petaluma poet Bill Vartnaw.  David continued to attend and to give poetry readings.  He arranged for me to read with him at a local library.  I chauffeured him to a few of his gigs.  One was in Petaluma in a quasi nightclub café that I remember as resembling the lounge in a bordello.  We were seated waiting for the event to commence when in walked the poet Gene Ruggles and from all appearances he’d fallen off the wagon again.  He spotted David right away and came over to give him a big bear hug while exclaiming in a very loud and 100 proof voice, “I love you, man!”  I remember quite well David’s mortified expression as his frail body was crushed by the affection of this lumbering specimen. Subsequently, whenever there was an awkward lull in our conversation, one of us, to lighten the mood, would say “I love you, man.” Over time, it stopped being so much of a joke.

In the summer of 2005 David joined Andrei Codrescu, Joanne Kyger, Michael Rothenberg, Gloria Frym, Bruce Cheney, Gail King, and I for a reading in memory of the poet Jeffrey Miller at the Pegasus Theater in Monte Rio.  Over two hundred people were in attendance, and David, in his panama hat, was by far the audience favorite. Most of the time though I would just visit the little house on High St in Sebastopol, a street name David thought quite appropriate, to sit at the kitchen table and entertain him with wild imaginings, exaggerated progress reports on various projects, extemporized excerpts from my satire on poets, and pass on various crumbs of gossip from the greater world of poetry.  Or we would hang out in his sunny front yard bordered by a low white picket fence where the entire neighborhood could walk by and catch a glimpse of the eccentric poet in his underwear and his oddball long haired friend.  I’d say, “David, you know you’re essentially sitting out in public in your briefs.”  “They’re shorts!” he’d retort.

Looking back, I realize that I was in denial when David gave himself a birthday party on October 18th, 2008, and that it was actually a deathday party to which he’d invited his friends to say goodbye. A celebration of life, nonetheless.  On hand was a gathering of the usual poetry suspects including Joanne Kyger, Donald Guravich, and Barry Gifford, Kit Robinson, Jerry Rosen, and Steven Lavoie, Terry Ehret, Stephen Ratcliffe and his students from Mills College among many others lost to the mist of time and foggy memory. The little house on High Street spilled over into the yard and sidewalk with people.  It was on this day that Kathleen Frasier, also in attendance, announced the forthcoming publication of David’s collected poems, a joyful occasion tinged by the grave realization that it would most likely be a posthumous edition..

And what a collection it is! Nearly ten years after that announcement, If Wants To Be The Same As Is, David Bromige’s collected poems, all 600 pages of it, was published by New Star (Vancouver, 2018).  There was only one problem.  It wasn’t really a “collected” poems, more of a selected collected.  An entire collection of poems would have entailed at least one similar sized volume to give an accurate idea of David’s prodigious output and publication history.  No matter, the selected collection lends a unique perspective in highlighting forty plus years of literary achievement.  It often takes distance and overview to come to terms with the enormity of creative brilliance, as is the case with David Bromige and his essential poems.  Following the chronology of his three dozen books, the progression of his adaptation and appreciation of various contemporary literary styles, from minimalism to conceptualism and beyond, and what he does with them, is a truly extraordinary.  Ultimately, his peerless intelligence and wry wit found its realization in the sheer joy of composition, of setting the products of language down on the page. There is always some assumption of logical if not semantic progression, of resolution that will render the poem an artifact, done. His was a constant search for definition, any kind of definition, no matter how momentary.  David could appear aloof, seemingly adrift in a lexical paradise of his own making, but always with an innate sophistication, a haughty bemused filter through which his smoldering authentic genius was made known in his poetry.

A taxonomy of poets can be an amusing diversion, subject to the revisions of hindsight, of course. David’s classification would run something along the lines of “Post-Modern, Anglo-American, Pacific Rim, proto-Language School, Neo-Formalist, Irony Monger”. More precisely however, he was a giant among poetry pipsqueaks, pretenders, and poseurs.  Yes, Bromige was here, but it has yet to dawn on the many just how here he was.

(Read Pat Nolan’s review of If Wants To Be The Same As Is, The Essential Poems of David Bromige in Poetry Flash)


            Bromige Bibliography

  1. The Gathering. Buffalo, NY: Sumbooks, 1965.
  2. Please, Like Me. Los Angeles, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1968.
  3. The Ends of the Earth. Los Angeles, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1968.
  4. The Quivering Roadway. Berkeley, CA: Archangel Press, 1969.
  5. Threads. Los Angeles, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1970.
  6. Three Stories. Los Angeles, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1973.
  7. Ten Years in the Making. Vancouver, BC: New Star Press, 1974.
  8. Tight Corners & What’s Around Them. Los Angeles, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1974.
  9. Birds of the West. Toronto, Ontario: Coach House Books, 1974.
  10. Out of My Hands. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1974.
  11. Spells & Blessings. Vancouver, BC: Talonbooks, 1975.
  12. Credences of Winter. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1976.
  13. Living in Advance (with deBarros and Gifford). Cotati, CA: Open Ready Press, 1976.
  14. My Poetry. Berkeley, CA: The Figures Press, 1980.
  15. P-E-A-C-E. Berkeley, CA: Tuumba Press, 1981.
  16. In the Uneven Steps of Hung Chow. Berkeley, CA: Little Dinosaur Press, 1982.
  17. It’s the Same Only Different/The Melancholy Owed Categories.  Weymouth, England: Last Straw Press, 1984.
  18. You See, Parts 1 & 2 (with Opal Nations). San Francisco, CA: Exempli Gratia Press, 1986.
  19. Red Hats. Atwater, OH: Tonsure Press, 1986.
  20. Desire: Selected Poems 1963-1987. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1988.
  21. Men, Women & Vehicles: Prose Works. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1990.
  22. Tiny Courts in a Year Without Scales. London, ON: Brick Books 1991.
  23. They Ate. Sebastopol, CA: X-Press Books, 1992.
  24. The Harbormaster of Hong Kong. Los Angeles, CA: Sun & Moon Press, 1993.
  25. A Cast of Tens. Penngrove, CA: Avec Books, 1994.
  26. Vulnerable Bundles. Hartford, CT: Cricket Press, 1995.
  27. From the First Century. 1995.
  28. Piccolo Mondo. Toronto, Ontario: Coach House Books, 1998.
  29. Authenticizing. San Francisco, CA: a+bend press, 2000.
  30. As in T, As in Tether. Tucson, AZ: Chax Press, 2002.
  31. Indictable Suborners. Sebastopol, CA: dPress 2003.
  32. Behave or Be Bounced. Sebastopol, CA: dPress, 2003.
  33. Ten Poems from Clearings in the Throat. Sebastopol, CA dPress, 2005.
  34. Spade (with Richard Denner). Sebastopol, CA: dPress, 2006.
  35. if wants to be the same as is: Essential Poems of David Bromige,  edited by Jack Krick, Bob Perelman and Ron Silliman, with an introduction by George Bowering, Vancouver, BC: New Star Books, 2018

Pat Nolan’s most recent book of poems, So Much, Selected Poems, Vol. II, Notebook Keyboard 1990-2010, is now available from Nualláin House, Publishers

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The Poet In Love

The Poet In Love 

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

Carl Wendt wowed the audience at the Ian Blake Memorial Benefit by reading excerpts from his book length epic, Procreation.  Afterwards, he was joined by SFPD Inspector G. Grace Niklia for a post reading tête-à-tête at Crepe Del Sol, a 24hr pancake house on Masonic, where he fell hopelessly in love with the police detective.  Needless to say, she wasn’t interested. 

On the slog back to Balboa, the fog had wrapped itself around the line of horizon like a big grey breaker. He stood at the top of Geary and considered stopping in at the Red Hen, but it was late and he was tired. His conversation with Grace replayed itself and he engaged in the correcting of his mental transcript. What he should have said, what he could have said, what he would have said if only she had said. His figurative heart ached.  As blasé and as cynical as he normally was, Grace held his attention, an object of unattainable desire.  He wanted to know her with a kind of intimacy that transcended the physical.  It had been a while since he’d felt that way.  He’d always played it safe, his assignations generally brief and for the sole purpose of self-satisfaction. He’d been hurt before. And if he’d admit it, he was a coward. Sheila, Valerie. Even Danni.  What rejection did to his self-esteem, crippling. The apprehension of pain darted through the amygdala, the pain of regret that still made him flinch, twitch with a deeply etched cerebral tic.  How and what would he have done differently.  That was the kind of speculation he rarely indulged.  Yet Grace.  He would open himself to all the possibilities of love and affection as well as rejection, heartache, unknown and untold pain. For her.

Think positive, he told himself as he paused at the curb before striding across to the other side.  The traffic noise distracted him and he gave his attention to the near day-bright illumination of the boulevard islands and passing headlights, the storefronts, shuttered by grilled gates hung with pendulous chains and locks, coffee shops and bars and restaurants minimally busy for a Wednesday night and buzzing faintly like stunned bees.

Maybe he shouldn’t have played his hand so soon.  It betrayed his eagerness.  That rarely happened.  The mountains came to the Poet, not the other way around.  Grace was different, smart, sharp, intelligent, sexy, sexy intelligent.  Nor was she part of the inane literary scene.  She was a whole new world, a new world he would gladly step into and leave all else behind.  What could he do to gain her attention, to win her respect?  He was out of his element in the real world of competition for jobs and wages. He was a fucking charity case, he’d admitted as much to her.  Smug in his skin of teeth survival as what, a literary dandy, a fop, a swell, a coxcomb, a toff, a macaroni, a blade, a buck, a fribble, a popinjay, a carpet-knave, a dude? A flaneur without a pot to piss in and soon no window to throw it out of?  He had to face it, he was a participle dangling poseur, an idler, a lounge lizard. What could she possibly see in him?

But she, she was a melody, unforgettable, bound to bore its way into every thought, a maddening musical loop to accompany the memory of her laughter and her perfume.  It started above the right ear. Bah dah—badah da da da dadah. And then above the left ear.  In stereo. The Quintet.  But actually they started it with a little downbeat. Ba do dum ba do dum bad do dum. Before Dizzy gently unfurled the melody line over the solid comp of Bud’s keyboard and Mingus’ bass, Max tickling the skins and Bird testing the spaces in between.  All The Things That You Are.  A sentimental favorite, particularly this version.  Sometimes it left him on the verge of tears, riding a great swell of indiscriminant emotion. The melody recalled pervaded him and he hummed it, remembering the trilling of Bird’s alto playing with the line and the way the rhythm section knocked against it, Mingus finding places for big thumps and Bud’s sparkling notes splashing out as languid liquid flow.  He allowed his breath to tumble over his lips in a bare approximation of the saxophone’s improvised peregrinations.  His pace on the sidewalk keeping the beat as he added recalled nuances, not in any particular order, now going back to the melody for his own purposes because that’s what got to him, the sweet lyric of that phrase, all the things that you are. Now back to bleating it out louder above his breath and flattening the sounds like that of a deeper horn.  Wondering what the genius of J. J. Johnson would have done with that particular riff. Of course he’d listened to that track often enough to remember Dizzy’s high register trills attempting to squeak them out between his pursed lips on the dark night street amid the roar and rush of fouling engines, smiling at Dizz’s riff punning on the Grand Canyon Suite in the middle of his solo, and the wrap up change of tempo upbeat crescendo into a Powell classic, Dance of the Infidels he was pretty sure, to bring it all to an end washed in the static of applause.  But he could always bring it back to the head.  Bah da badat dadadada belioo bang boom zee-toon-do badah.  It was love.

Or something like that, something he had no time for. His present situation tentative as it was. He was the bear about to be evicted from his lair after a long hibernation.  From dream to waking as in the solemn attendance to death, a period of activity, a rebirth as with spring.  Oh furry Persephone! Should he also consider himself a wandering Ulysses, not to get too Joycean, caught in the maze of islands of the eternal city, though that was more like Dante, all his friends shipwrecked or eaten by Cyclops, nightly, frequenting Polly Famous’ CAVE (Cabaret And Variety Entertainment)  in the Castro, realm of the one eyed snakes, or turned into pigs, the majority of them, and he trying to return to Penelope who is the muse, his ex-wife, old girlfriends, his new love, all women kind and unkind. Should he consider the city a labyrinth, that he was Theseus?  And the Minotaur? How do you go from believing that all women desire you to thinking that the one you desire most could care less? The rebuke in her lovely face, almost too hard to bear.


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


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

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The Anselm Hollo Challenge

The New Black Bart Poetry Society Challenge:

Anselm Hollo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The What If Poem
By Cecelia Belle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if Tesla was right?  About everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


New to the Society’s Shelves, Winter, 2019

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

 

 

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Into The Heart Of Wetness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

 

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