Black Bart Quarterly Review Of Books

—Notice To The Membership & Interested Parties—
The Society would direct your attention to the menu bar above. The ANNOTATED Contents has been updated to include all the posts of 2022. As well, the Conditions of Parole have been revised to reflect new guidelines for submissions to Parole. Note as well new menu categories have been added to facilitate a more direct access to posts by specific as well as general subject types.


by Pat Nolan

Ada Calhoun, Also A Poet, Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me, Grove Press, 2022
Musa Mayer, Night Studio, A Memoir of Philip Guston by His Daughter, Knopf, 1988

Art is selfish, obsessive, self-centered, monstrous egotism. It exalts as well as devours the artist. For those in the artist’s orbit, family, close friends, the unpredictable mania of creation takes its toll as an often unconscious indifference to the emotional needs of others. It is a familiar story painfully depicted many times over by the partners and/or children of the artists. Not surprisingly it is usually a wife or a daughter who has suffered the neglect from these ogres and is obliged to come to terms with the absent presence by setting the record straight in memoirs. The dynamic of artist mother/son memoir is barely represented, and when it is, tends to be hagiographic.

Read More



Ted Berrigan, Get The Money, The Collected Prose, Nick Sturm, Anselm Berrigan, Edmund Berrigan, Alice Notley, eds. City Lights, 2022
Ted is back. Ted is what has been missing from poetry. And it’s exactly what is needed right now (more than ever before). Get The Money, The Collected Prose presents another piece in the unfinished mosaic of Berrigan’s contribution to AmLit. As iconoclast king of the irony age, his impish irreverence (pookah like) and no nonsense built-in bullshit meter was a refreshing attitude, one that could be aspired to. . . .

Bill Bathurst, The Collected Bill Bathurst, edited by Bob Arnold, Longhouse, 2022
If there ever was an underground, Bill Bathurst belonged to it. Not of anarchist commie bomb throwers, but of poets, jazz, and drugs, and yet just as subversive. In the introduction to The Collected Bill Bathurst, master printer and poet Clifford Burke. . . .

Read More


Gloria Frym, How Proust Ruined My Life, Blaze Vox, 2020
Published at the beginning of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, How Proust Ruined My Life missed out on the promotional opportunities that would have afforded the essays a wider appreciation. Although the great modernist cornerstones are the foundation of this collection of essays, Frym’s focus, in large part, is the American tree, a genealogy of misfits, mavericks, and outliers. . . .

Maureen Owen, Let the heart hold down the breakage, Or the care giver’s log, Hanging Loose, 2022
Maureen Owen needs no introduction. Author of numerous poetry collections, she was at one time co-director and program director at The Poetry Project in New York City as well as publisher of the poetry magazine Telephone and Telephone Books. . . .

Read More

—New To The Society’s Shelves—

Mark Young, Your Order Is Now Equipped For Shipping, Sandy Press, 2022

Dan Coshnear, Separation Anxiety, Unsolicited Press, 2021

Kit Robinson, Quarantina, Lavender Ink, 2022

Kit Robinson & Ted Greenwald, Takeaways, c_L Books, 2013

Luci Friesen, Under The Southern Cross, private printing, ND

Sandy Berrigan, A Slice Of The Pie, private printing, 2022

The Freedom of New Beginnings. Poems of Witness & Vision from Sonoma County
Phyllis Meshulam editor, with Gail King, Gwen O’Gara, Terry Ehret, eds
(Poetry Crossing Press, 2022)

—Periodical Mentions—
The Poetry Project Newsletter 50th Anniversary Issue, The Recluse #20, Rain Taxi, Fall 22, Poetry Swoopcards from the Swamp Genius who brought us Fell Swoop

Read More

Clifford Burke, The Academy of Accidental Art, and Desert Rose Press
Clifford Burke, poet, master printer, baritone sax man, wrote the book on printing poetry, Printing Poetry (Scarab Press, 1980). He was an influential force in renewing interest in the letterpress arts and exquisitely crafted limited editions in the 60s and 70s of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Read More

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | 1 Comment

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.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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


Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Poet’s Jazz Jive

The indefatigable Carl Wendt, not quite Charles Baudelaire, not quite Charles Bukowski, poet of all ages, private eye to the gods, lands in the hospital after a violent confrontation with an angry husband. An earlier close call had foreshadowed the eventual ass-kicking by way of illustrating his legendary good luck which apparently had run out. Or had it?

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

a fiction by Pat Nolan

The biggest surprise was that Roy Banks, the jazz pianist, had dropped by to check on him in the hospital. They had become better acquainted after he’d made a habit of swinging by the piano wine bar adjacent to the cable car turntable at the foot of Powell where Roy held forth for the tourist trade. He had been at loose ends that summer. The poet adrift, it had been his season in hell. Those years of stability as Angie’s roommate had mellowed the intensity of his social hustle. To suddenly have all that taken away, his survival reflexes rusty, mechanical in a digital age. At least he wasn’t walking a lobster on a ribbon like Gerard de Nerval. Some might have preferred a lobster rather than the vehemence of his desperation. But Roy was always good for some Monk on the keyboard and the occasional petite vin rouge on the house.

budpow Over drinks after work one night at Bud’s they had seriously parsed the greats of jazz, ranked their virtuosity, influences, origins, innovations, sublimity, cultural significance, and so on, from Kid Ory to Herbie Hancock. Roy had reel to reel recordings of some loft performances from the 70’s and unreleased sessions by Albert Ayler, and Sonny Red, that he wanted him to hear. It was around midnight and he hadn’t been paying much attention to where they were going since Roy was driving, actually steering with one hand and expressively testifying with the other. His eagerness to insert his own complimentary points had blinkered him.

The blue and red flashing lights ahead had prompted Roy to make a quick detour and steer down a few back streets. They re-entered the boulevard some blocks from the police action, pausing to let an empty 19 Polk trundle past. The next thing he knew they were parking in a fog shrouded bayside neighborhood and clambering up the steps to a classic old Italianate cottage that had been partitioned off into several apartments. Inside the door there was the subtle odor of dust and decay, the ravages of oxidization, no doubt emanating from the wall of floor to ceiling shelves jammed with record sleeves and musty books. An electric keyboard was placed off to one side of the tiny living room that also contained a loveseat couch, a battered armchair rocker, and a coffee table neatly stacked with sheet music.

“I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, but this place is usually a mess,” Roy had called out from the bright lit kitchen. The kitchen was tiny as well, a small white four burner gas stove next to an ancient white refrigerator. A half table was pushed up to one wall beneath a narrow curtained sash window along with two white chairs. Yellowing linoleum of indistinct pattern covered the floor. Roy had produced a couple of short water glasses and a bottle of wine. “But my oldest daughter Ayisha lives in the neighborhood and comes over a couple times a week to straighten up and spy on me.”  He smiled holding out the glass of dark red. “Zinfandel, from some brothers up in the Sonoma Valley. Anyway, it started with her offering to do my laundry, and I have to say, I took the bait. Now, it’s ‘where you been out so late’ and things of that nature. I’m a grown man and she thinks she can watch over me like I was a child!”

Taking the bottle back to the living room, he’d set it on the coffee table and gone to the shelves that held the LP’s at the center of which were his turntable, amplifier, and ancient reel to reel tape player. “This is what I wanted you to hear,” holding up the square tape box and then expertly spooling it onto an empty reel, “Cat had a loft down on 12th and C in the East Village. German cat, Fritz or Deidre, some shit, bass player Cecil told me about. Had a baby grand and cats would always be falling by because Ray Ray, the Puerto Rican connection dealt from a pad a couple doors down.”  He powered up the amplifier and cued the tape. “I had an old portable Teac that I toted around with me if I was going to do a rehearsal or a jam. So I set up thinking it was just going to be me and the bass player. Then a drummer showed up and I said, ‘hey man, where I know you from?’ Turns out it’s Billy Higgins and I caught him playing with Archie Shepp in a club one time so I knew he had chops. And I’m thinking, now we’re gonna cook and about then this young white dude wanders through, by the shape of his tote I figure he’s a sax man, turns out soprano. Know what his name was? Steve Lacy. Today you know that name. Back then he was just starting out. Now the first thing you going to hear is me intro the tune and then the opening bars of Tempus Fugue It. Well, man, you would have thought I had dinosaur shit on my shoe!”  From the speakers the piano stopped followed by nervous laughter, and a voice asking incredulously, “Bud Powell?”

Roy had got a good laugh out of that, and they’d spent the wee hours of the morning listening to tapes and LP’s. Roy had a jazz scholar’s collection of the obscure and the unknown and it was with obvious delight that he shared his treasures with someone who could appreciate them, from Doc Cheatham and Jack Purvis to Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill. At one point, after Roy had brought out the port, he also produced a joint. “Care for some ganja?”

“Naw, man, I’m ok, I don’t smoke dope.”

“Ah,” Roy had said with a knowing nod, “You are a white man after all.”

That did not stop them from strutting around the coffee table to Fables Of Faubus from bootleg tapes of the Mingus Paris Concert. It was an ass wagging high stepping finger waving poke in the eye parody of Pomp And Circumstance aimed at segregationist Orval Faubus and the Jim Crow apartheid South, and one that they had taken great pleasure in enacting with all the obscene booty shaking they could muster. When Roy fired up the keyboard and played him some of his own compositions, he’d been duly impressed.

Roy had assembled an old Army cot and provided a pillow and blankets. “You’re welcome to crash here as long as you want, my friend,” he’d offered before they turned in, by then the dark window edges easing to a gray transparency.

He’d been awakened later that afternoon by the ringing phone. Roy answered it in the kitchen. “Hi honey” and then silence as the person on the other end spoke, interrupted only occasionally by “But, honey,” “It’s my life,” “I don’t care what they said, they can mind their own damn business,” and “He’s a friend of mine,” but mostly the caller did the talking.

Over coffee Roy had explained that the call was from his daughter, Ayisha, who had heard from a neighbor complaining about the loud music and carrying on coming from the apartment. “Nothing to worry about.”

He’d started to barbeque a rack of ribs, and pointing out the open kitchen door to the small kettle grill on the landing to the steps down to the tiny backyard, “You’re in for a real treat. The sauce is an old family recipe from down home.”  Down home was some place he’d never heard of in Texas. The red wine that accompanied the meat was a pinot noir from Chile. Roy hadn’t lied. The sauce charred sweet with a piquant aftertaste, and along with the black-eyed peas and greens it was one of the best home cooked meals he’d enjoyed in a month of Sundays.

They had opened an after dinner bottle of red and were listening to and talking over a modal free jazz soundscape that Roy called, somewhat derisively, “LA Jazz,” essentially studio jazz, by musicians the likes of Oliver Lake, Don Byron, Wallace Roney and Ron Blake. Roy was explaining that it was all mood music, well played mood music certainly, but all the same it lacked the edge and originality of golden age bebop so that the lesson, that out of chaos came order, was lost on the current crop of jazz musicians for whom chaos emerged from more chaos, and they hadn’t heard the front door open.

anotherss2tx Framed in the doorway to the kitchen a large black woman in an eye shocking tropical pattern full length dashiki with matching head scarf, scowling and pointing her finger at him, repeated something he finally understood to be “Get out, white devil!”  It was stated with enough authority to be commanding. “Gather up your narrow white ass and be gone! Stop stealing the souls of our people!” He didn’t think that they were actually gold chicken wishbones she was waving at him with the kind of voodoo gesticulation aimed at banishing him and whatever bad white juju he might have tracked in and about his person. That led to the confrontation between father and daughter during which Roy called his daughter an ignorant superstitious brown medicine ball among other things. Or that was the way he remembered it. While they screamed their insults at each other, he’d donned his jacket and let himself out. No need to be the occasion for that kind of grief in family when they could find it perfectly well without any help from him.

The shadows in the hood had begun to lengthen but the radiant heat from sidewalk and asphalt kept things to a noticeable simmer. He’d made his way to the end of the block and the corner bodega where a number of people had congregated. He was looking for a main drag and the bus line. He had a change of clothes on the boat at Mission Bay, and he could take a shower. He’d become gradually aware that something was amiss by the attention he was getting from passersby and in particular from the now mostly agitated young men on the corner. It was an “oh shit” moment that was clear. Even now he recalled the visceral sink in the pit of his gut.

He’d accepted that he would be toyed with. They were bored and he represented the source of their frustration and anger. He was shoulder bumped as he tried to enter the store with the lotto and booze ads plastered on the iron grilled plywood boarded windows. He’d apologized but the hostility persisted. Someone, a large youngster, he remembered, had blocked access to the door. He turned and ran into a chest towering over him. Either he was shrinking or he’d stumbled onto a hybrid species, homo bigmofo. In a situation like that the only solution was to piss your pants, or shit, or both. Fear won out and he’d starting shaking. That was apparently the result those crowding around had desired. The rest was a cacophonous blur of insults and spit invectives which found him at a loss for words. Just as he’d become aware that the encircling gauntlet was about to escalate into something physical, he heard his name called.

“Mr. Wendt?”

Coralene Purlee, the Richmond Branch no-nonsense librarian, had just exited the bodega wearing her signature light brown pants suit with the gold mule pin on the lapel, holding a brown paper bag by the neck, and which he later learned was a fifth of Stoly. She had given his tormentors the censorious glare that he’d seen her use on rambunctious students in the library before: if you can’t keep your voices down, you will have to leave. It worked every time.

“Remember that time your daughter cast a voodoo spell on me with her gold plated chicken bones and I almost got my ass stomped down on the corner?” he’d asked his old friend seated by the hospital bed. “If it hadn’t been for Coralene Purlee. . . .”

Roy, head bowed in mirth, had replied with a throaty chuckle. “Hee-hee, you sure lead a charmed life, Carl.”

“I’m still trying to figure out which one was scarier.”

“Appreciate the irony of the situation, my man,” the jazz musician had offered sagely, “not many get to choose between an ass-kicking and an ass licking. Yet here you are laid up like you lost the coin toss.”

Whenever he thought back to that night with the lusty librarian, not in the habit of hooking up with a woman that close to his own age, the word “formidable” came to mind.

The hospital rep from accounting had returned his application for medical services. “You won’t need this,” she told him, “You might not think that it’s your lucky day, but someone just paid your hospital bill for you.” When he asked who it was, she’d replied that it was a nonprofit organization, “Artist Rescue.”  He’d never heard of it, though it did have a familiar ring, like the name of a Romanian poet.

When Courtney wheelchaired him to the sliding glass doors at the hospital’s entrance upon his discharge, the nurse seeing him out had said, “You may experience headaches for a while.”  Wasn’t that what the pills were for?

almost smile23Pat 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.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

—Special Collection Gallery—

Clifford Burke, The Academy of Accidental Art, and Desert Rose Press

Clifford Burke, poet, master printer, baritone sax man, wrote the book on printing poetry, Printing Poetry, A Workbook of Typographic Reification (Scarab Press, 1980) He was an influential force in renewing interest in the letterpress arts and exquisitely crafted limited editions in the 60s and 70s of the San Francisco Bay Area. He was the founder of Cranium Press in the late 60s as well as publisher of the poetry magazine Hollow Orange and included the work of Richard Brautigan, Steve Carey, Bill Bathurst, Andrea Wyatt, Mary Carey, Pamela Milward, Mary Norbert Korte, Lew Welch, Keith Abbot, and Pat Nolan.

Long retired from the book trade and living in New Mexico, Clifford, when not noodling on the baritone sax, continues to practice his print designer’s art by publishing his own poems in keepsake editions under the Desert Rose imprint or that of the Academy of Accidental Art. The New Black Poetry Society is fortunate to be the recipient of some of Burke’s exquisite poetry chapbooks. Anyone interested in knowing how to print poetry can start here. These four little hand sewn books, each a perfection of spacing and presentation, arrived, one a quarter, in 2022. Also arriving in 2022, the monumental The Accidental Art Machine, a biography by Clifford Burke documenting the fashioning of a kinetic calligraphic work, and the book that had to be carted around in the bed of a pickup truck. As book art, as design art, this hard cover hand sewn memoir is a work of art.

Click on images to enlarge.

For those interested in the fine print renaissance of the 60s and 70s, Alastair Johnston’s Dreaming On The Edge, Poets & Book Arts in California (Oak Knoll Press, 2016). Read a review of it here.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

—New To The Society’s Shelves—

—New To The Society’s Shelves—

yourOrderVer1Mark Young, Your Order Is Now Equipped For Shipping, Sandy Press, 2022
Editor and publisher of the online omnibus art and poetry vortex, Otoliths, Mark Young has his finger on the pulse contemporary poetry internationally. His latest selection of poems is as timely and relevant as anything being written today. He is truly a modern poet in every sense of the word. His wide erudition and knowledge of world poetics informs the subtle matter of his work which he delivers with sly humor in the daily musings of a poet totally engaged in his art. His Pelican Dreaming (Meritage Press, 2008) holds a permanent spot on the Society’s shelves. It is now joined by its new companion to vibrate in tandem a specific poetic aura.

DanielCoshnearSeparationDaniel Coshnear, Separation Anxiety, Unsolicited Press, 2021.
In Coshnear’s latest selection of stories and short prose he once again takes a keen eye to the human condition with precision and kinetic energy. Winner of the Willa Cather Award for his 2001 Jobs & Other Preoccupations, Coshnear, a counselor at a group home for the homeless and psychiatric clients, uses his up close and personal experience to delve into the inner workings of the other by deftly detailing the mannerisms that sometimes speak louder than words. His stories and dialogues all begin with the snap of an E. B. White opening sentence and hook the reader with their immediacy.

quarantina-cover-500Kit Robinson, Quarantina, Lavender Ink, 2022; Kit Robinson & Ted Greenwald, Takeaway, c_L Books, 2013.
Robinson is a poet of the declarative, there is no mistaking his intent even in something that can be as ambiguous as a poem. Quarantina was written during the pandemic and while the world entered a masked and locked down cautionary phase, Robinson kept the energy up with these reflective ruminations, both expressive and conclusive. Takeaway, with the late Ted Greenwald, were collaborations that sought to capture the spirit of  Japanese linked verse (haikai no renga) in which each of the participants takes a turn krtgalternating between a three line and two line verses to create a sequence that can be read as a narrative, or not. It is not an easy form to master especially by those schooled in Western prosody. Even the illustrious Octavio Paz in his Renga: A Chain of Poems could not grasp its essential anti-authorial non-narrative poetic despite being locked in a basement with his collaborators for weeks! Takeaway is a valiant effort, nonetheless, and obviously an enjoyable way to explore a curious non-Western verse form.

luciLucille Friesen, Under The Southern Cross, private printing, ND.
World traveler, citizen of Montreal, co-founder of the legendary used bookstore, The Word, near McGill University in one of North America’s most cosmopolitan cities, Luci offers her lyric appreciation and love for the Chileans she met on her frequent sojourns to fabled Patagonia. “Dedicated to all the Chilenas and Chilenos who hugged me in friendship, who fed me with love, who played their guitars and sang for me, who taught me their history and read me their poetry, who were by my side.”

sbpieSandy Berrigan, A Slice Of The Pie, cover by Sam Berrigan, private printing, 2022.
Sandy Berrigan is one of those rare poets of “no pretense.” A Slice Of The Pie, the last of her privately published poetry chapbooks, once again proves that poems can be sentiments of the heart and don’t necessarily need to be cloying or faux profonde. Sandy has a gift and she shares it like a slice of pie. The concluding poem of this selection:

If I’m not on the wisdom path
by the time I’m 60,
I’ll just fake a good mood

freedomThe Freedom of New Beginnings. Poems of Witness & Vision from Sonoma County
Phyllis Meshulam editor, with Gail King, Gwen O’Gara, & Terry Ehret, Poetry Crossing Press, 2022
A themed collection of poems edited by Sonoma County Poet Laureate Emerita Phyllis Meshulam featuring local poets Dave Seter, Ed Coletti, Kathleen Winter, among many others as well former Poet Laureates of Sonoma County including Mike Tuggle, David Bromige, Kathleen Hastings, Jonah Raskin, and current Poet Laureate Elizabeth Herron with cameo appearances by Joy Harjo, Jane Hirschfield, and Juan Filipe Herrera.  

—Periodical Mentions—

ppn-270-cover-2000xThe Poetry Project Newsletter  #270, 50th Anniversary issue, Kay Gabriel, Bianca Messinger, Morgan Vō, eds. The Poetry Project Newsletter, like the Poetry Project itself, is an institution. It has gone from a few mimeograph sheets to offset pamphlet to tabloid newsprint and back and forth. Its latest iteration is of the newsprint variety with the wide open spaces of a newspaper with a full color cover of Joe Brainard’s Pansies featuring reminiscences by the original mimeographed newsletter editor Ron Padgett and a paean by Greg Masters to the mimeo machine that started it all. 

recluse 20The Recluse (issue20) is a literary magazine by the Poetry Project staff features the same newsprint w/color cover format as the Newsletter ( “Shiv” by TM Davy) and showcases the young talent of young talent looking for their voices and the distinctiveness of comfortable unselfconscious mastery. Robert Gluck in a spillover from the Newsletter is joined by Jackie Ess and Luke Roberts on the leading edge. The Recluse seems like such an unlikely name for a publication at the center of the East Coast poetry vortex.

raintaxiRain Taxi, a quarterly book review from Minneapolis, the polar vortex of American poetry, is distributed to a local bookstore and can be easily acquired if bookstores are a frequent destination. The Fall 2022 Issue features a review of Dale Herd’s latest by Joe Safdie, and a review of Baudelaire’s posthumously previously unpublished writing. Rain Taxi always provides an insight into the diverse regional literary sensibilities of the Midwest where university presses and small publishers supported by arts foundation grants have made the literary a veritable industry.


The Reverend XJ Dailey of the Church of NOLAPO helmed from the poetry pulpit the literary magazine Fell Swoop for over 30 years. He finally said “enough!” and moved on to other nefarious poetry projects. But the Swoops kept falling and the ex-master of Kinko’s just couldn’t stop. He has upped his game, however, quite a few rungs in fact, to producing a series of letterpress small broadsides and poetry postcard sized “Swoopcards.” Among the poem cards that have found their way into the Society’s mailbox are those by Maureen Owen, Sheila E. Murphy, and Swoopcard #15 by Joyce Hausfallen. Expect more shenanigans from the gulf poetry vortex.

Posted in Poetry Society, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Reading & Writing

Reading & Writing

Gloria Frym, How Proust Ruined My Life & Other Essays (Blaze Vox, 2020)

Published at the beginning of the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns, How Proust Ruined My Life missed out on the promotional opportunities that would have afforded the essays a wider appreciation. Although the great modernist cornerstones are the foundation of this collection of essays, Frym’s focus, in large part, is the American tree, a genealogy of misfits, mavericks, and outliers. Frym makes her living teaching literature and writing as a professor at the California College of the Arts, one of the premier liberal arts institutions on the West Coast. She is as well a respected poet and essayist of long standing. She has made it her distinction to champion the prose poem, and in her own work she demonstrates the precision of an admirable stylist. As Max Jacob wrote over a century ago, “I hardly know of any poet who has understood what it is all about and who has known how to sacrifice his ambitions as an author to the prose poem’s formal constitution.” In her terrific essays on prose poetry, transcription of lectures at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, Frym reveals she has that understanding.

Gloria reminds the reader in her essays of the joys of reading, of being an avid reader and rising to the intellectual challenges of difficult books, of the exhilaration of completion and profound insight. In the transcriptions of her lectures and her essays, she shares those insights. She zeros in, as did Rexroth, on the uniqueness of the American canon, from Whitman to Niedecker in cataloging with an insightful eye Williams’ “pure products of America.”

Frym is a lecturer, not that that’s a bad thing, and may use the inclusive ‘we’ in addressing the reader, and granted many of the essays are transcriptions of talks she has given on various occasions. Her tone maintains the gravity of address, the formal decorum of the academy, and in her texts she is diligent, almost to a fault, in marking her references. She is a professional with the eye of an artist, the sensibility of a poet, and the erudition of a scholar. All of which makes reading the collected of essays of How Proust Ruined My Life an education.

Maureen Owen, Let the heart hold down the breakage Or the care giver’s log (Hanging Loose Press, 2022)

Maureen Owen needs no introduction. Author of numerous poetry collections, she was at one time co-director and program director at The Poetry Project in New York City. As publisher of the poetry magazine Telephone and Telephone Books in the early 70s, she was a pioneer in publishing women’s writing. Her own poetry is unique in its presentation and one of the most formally innovative of all her contemporaries under the rubric of the New York School.

Maureen’s vision is a special kind of seeing the world with language, precise, often whimsical, but never static. Her poems are engaged in the dialectic flow of consciousness as mosaic, the splicing of states of being and detail in sympathetic symphony of engaging completely in the sorrows of the world as a joyful participation under particularly trying circumstances. She has put together an incredible end of life document, a praise song (with some reservations) to her mother who lived into her nineties, in her own distinctive style, extending the quick cut juxtapositions to samplings of the routine and the remarkable, from empathetic to exasperated. The Caregiver’s Log progresses with the patient unhurried pace of a cinematic narrative emphasizing light and shadow, vignettes woven into the tapestry of mundane days, unflinching and honest. Dying is not as easy as some might believe. There are details. And therein lies Owen’s strength as a poet, she has an eye for detail. Yet Let The Heart Hold Down The Breakage is not an easy poetry sentiment picture book, but a close attention to the intricacies of the living and the dying.

Maureen Owen’s strength as a poet is a quiet, unassuming one. In that context, why doesn’t someone write a book like Ninth Street Women, Mary Gabriel’s incredible consideration of the women abstract expressionists of the late 40s and 50s, about the amazing women poets associated with the Poetry Project in the 70s? Certainly the lives, loves, and work of Maureen, Anne, Bernadette, Alice, and Eileen would prove to be an extraordinary engagement in a crucial time for American poetry and for women poets of that generation. Call it something terrific like ‘Second Avenue Lights.’ Why not?

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Outlaws & Outliers

Outlaws & Outliers

Ted Berrigan, Get The Money, The Collected Prose, Nick Sturm, Anselm Berrigan, Edmund Berrigan, Alice Notley, eds. City Lights, 2022

Ted is back. Ted is what has been missing from poetry. And it’s exactly what is needed right now (more than ever before). Get The Money, The Collected Prose presents another piece in the unfinished mosaic of Berrigan’s contribution to AmLit. As iconoclast king of the irony age, his impish irreverence (pookah like) and no nonsense built-in bullshit meter was a refreshing attitude, one that could be aspired to. It’s the audacity of approach familiar in a failed Irish Catholic kind of way that is also found in the works of Flann O’Brien, and of Ted’s contemporary, Tom Clark.

Get The Money is a testament to the idea that artists get to amuse themselves. In fact, it is through this self-amusement that great art is accomplished. The Collected Prose is an everything but the kitchen sink gathering of miscellany that by its tenor evokes a period in literary history in which Ted Berrigan was making history by remaking history and putting himself at the center of that history.

Berrigan’s prose is a time capsule in which we learn, among other things, that he and Ron Padgett popularized the use of the word “terrific” and developed the phonetic mistranslation of non-English texts (maybe) now an exercise used in many writing workshops. The various journals are entertaining, making the mundane magic, and offering insight, gossip, and a behind the scenes look at the daily aspirations and works in progress. They are compelling in their revealing the uncertainty, the calculation, the triumphs of a hand to mouth existence. Ted did not have or maybe even aspire to a cushy academic gig.

Ted’s appropriations of Basho, Cage, and Bachelard are purposely and purposefully outrageous, something that would have shocked the readers of little magazines and mimeo newsletters they appeared in, stirring up little dust devils of controversy. The mock proclamation submitted to the editors of Life Of Crime in the early 80s was accompanied by a note that said, “print this and duck.”  The same disregard that Berrigan showed for poetic convention is as evident in the anything goes prose of Get The Money.

Hugh Kenner wrote that the American genius is not about virtuosity but purity of intent. This fits Berrigan like a well-worn tee shirt. In fact “tee shirt poets” could serve as the label for a coterie of neo-Romantic Post-Beat working class poets of that generation rather than the regionally exclusive “New York School” fraught with assumptions and presumptions. Ted found it risible. In his words, “If Bill Berkson is New York School, the rest of us are New York Reform School.”

When someone is as charismatic as Berrigan, it precludes the necessity of a solid theoretical line. You go on your nerve. Ted had what some might call “the gift,” an off the cuff genius in interviews and classroom spiels where his ideas about what he was doing were set out with a particular improvisational coherence. Berrigan knew what he was talking about (or could convince you that he did).

Talking In Tranquility (Avenue B/ O Bools, 1991), interviews collected by Stephen Radcliffe and Leslie Scalapino, and On The Level Everyday (Talisman House,1997 ), classroom teaching sessions compiled by Joel Lewis, are perfect illustrations of that confident ability. He had the autodidact’s breadth and erudition, and it was all on the tip of his tongue. “And now I am going to deliver to you what I think about everything, and what I have been thinking all the time, and what I’ve been thinking and made me write. . .” captures the nature of Berrigan’s wide ranging holding forth. These two slim volumes together with The Collected Prose can offer an overview of the man as poet and innovator.

Anselm Berrigan pens the necessary introduction to his father’s writing and provides a valuable and personal overview. It rings true, authentic, and adds to the appreciation of the distinctiveness of The Collected Prose. Of particular interest is his recounting of Ted’s short lived but fruitful career as an art reviewer, the frequenting of galleries and museums with his then roomie, Joe Brainard. It was during this time that Berrigan began to appreciate ideas of form and composition that led to a crossover non-literary approach to poetry that resulted in The Sonnets. The esthetic assumptions made outside the rule of literature were as radical as the arts and artists he associated with in his gallery visits. And the environment of New York City of that time as the center of the art world had a lot to do with shaping the development of an extra-literary mode no longer dependent on the constraints of convention. Berrigan’s approach brought a liberating improvisation and spontaneity to the making of radical new poetry.

Behind a full court press of readings and panel discussions, well-placed reviews and blurbs, The Collected Prose has the juice of a concerted effort to resurrect a dead Ted and make of him a Kerouacian post-Romantic working class anti-hero. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Every generation should produce one and every generation should have at least one, though not necessarily of the same generation.

Berrigan emboldened a segment of the post-Beat literary culture of autodidacts and unaffiliated outliers to define an authentic stance in reinforcing its anti-establishmentarian purpose. That included an understanding that art changes perception but also that it must be subversive, a subduction zone to repurpose sentience under the pressure of recontextualization. Superimposed spatial considerations break literature out of its linear mode. No longer required to track syllogistically, lines, stanzas act as quanta, parcels of reference, inference, information, and when read in sequence, as a wave. Yet when considered individually act as a prismatic particle, a lexical photon.

Ted made no bones about baring the simple spontaneity of his method, a magician showing the apprentices how it is done using the materials at hand. The extra-lyrical nature of The Sonnets proves this point as well as releasing anyone and everyone from ever having to write a sonnet again (unless they want to be ironic). Berrigan understood framing, that there were no beginnings or ends, just many aspects of the middle, which meant that everything had potential as a poem, the more undiscriminating the better (a lesson learned from Pop Art). He also was a practitioner of the  collaboration because of the way it broke down the authorial ego of the sullen art, making no distinction between the living or dead collaborators, present or merely as texts. The list, an ancient form reanimated in the “Things To Do In” poems (among others), provided an opportunity for stepping outside literary conventions in ways similar to the “personism” of O’Hara’s “I do this, I do that” poems. There is irony in that the methods Berrigan reintroduced into the dialogue, some obviously sourced from DADA and the Surrealist, would become mainstays in writing workshops as it was his opinion, “The only good thing about writing workshops is that you might meet someone who dislikes writing workshops as much as you do.” That provocative mindset is always welcome. Thanks to Get The Money a new generation gets to experience it.

Bill Bathurst, The Collected Bill Bathurst, edited by Bob Arnold, Longhouse, 2022

If there ever was an underground, Bill Bathurst belonged to it. Not one of anarchist commie bomb throwers, but of poets, jazz, and drugs, and yet just as subversive. In the introduction to The Collected Bill Bathurst, master printer and poet Clifford Burke remarks on Bathurst’s personal honesty, his rare, raw candor. “[Bill] will not soften the truth of his person or his story, much of it not so pleasant, wrenching such beauty out of anguish.”  Bob Arnold, the Longhouse publisher, has gathered together, in a beautiful, lovingly made book with old school production values hardly ever seen in the commercial book trade, the stuff of legends or at least legendary if you were a young poet in late 60s San Francisco. Under one cover are careful replications of the work Bathurst was known for, a slim collection of sixteen poems, For Julessa, originally published in 1967 by David Sandberg’s OR Books, The Greystone Poems published in 1970 in the Maya Quarto series edited by David Meltzer and Jack Shoemaker, printed letterpress by Burke, cover by the talented linoleum print artist Michael Myers, and How To Continue, a celebrated word of mouth work (much as Steve Carey’s AP was) designed by Burke with cover by Myers. The remainder of this handsome 236 page tome collects a miscellany of prose and poetry (some previously unpublished) interspersed with photographic memorabilia from Bathurst’s personal archive.

Bill Bathurst, born in 1935, was of the generation that made him old enough to be a postwar delinquent in the 50s, and by the 60s, into jazz, looking to score, and always on the lookout for the heat. To be “beat,” an understatement if there ever was one, was a symptom of the police state’s racist terror, not the sanitized version of painted-on goatees, berets, and bongos. Bathurst graduated from UC Berkley with a BS in Pharmacy in 1958 and soon was employing the controlled substances for his own enjoyment which led to complications with the law and prison time. and which is thoroughly examined with humor and panache in How To Continue.

A lifelong California resident, Bill spent the years 1989 to 2003 in Czechoslovakia as an expat jazz DJ for Radio Prague. His intimate knowledge of the jazz scene and its proclivities in the States and his lyric bent when extolling the pleasures of the music made for avid listeners.

Bathurst might be considered a poet of the Noir School that would include such luminaries as Jean Genet and William Burroughs. His is not the glib word mash of the Beats nor is it the sanitized pabulum of the overeducated. Bathurst, in a very real sense, was an outlaw, served time, lived rough from fix to fix, loved hard, too hard perhaps, and endured personal tragedy explicitly examined in his poetry and prose. In a previous century he might have been called a poète maudit, like Baudelaire, and like Baudelaire, he was a flaneur, a hip man about town, a hard boiled persona who always knew the score. His is a hard scrabble romanticism, the vulnerable sentience beneath a tough exterior. There’s no turning away from the angst and the agony and the price paid to reveal it. It is all too real but beautifully put.

In the late 60s, Bathurst divided his time between his family home in Chico, California and The City, San Francisco. He roomed with  Steve and Mary Carey when they lived on Stanyan Street directly across from Golden Gate Park and Kezar Stadium during the “summer of love.” He was part of a coterie of writers whose work could be found in printer poet Clifford Burke’s Hollow Orange poetry magazine and included Mary Norbert Korte, Keith Kumasen Abbott, Pat Nolan, Pamala Milward, Steve Carey, Mary Carey, Richard Brautigan, and Lew Welch among others. He was also good friends with the legendary Price Dunn who served as a model for Brautigan’s first novel, A Confederate General In Big Sur. San Francisco was a smaller town then and everyone knew everyone else so it was not unusual to wander into Gino and Carlo’s in North Beach to hear Jack Spicer’s rant or run into Brautigan at Enrico’s or to be panhandled by Bob Kaufman outside of Caffe Trieste. The poetry and prose in this collection evokes that time in a very special literary milieu. It is a quieter, less flamboyant regime that flourished under the conventions of a pre-Beat metric and sensibility. The irony, what there is of it, is that of an inextricable existentialism. And that style, that predilection has been paved over by a more cynical view of the arts and literature, a drive to commodify personal sensationalism over long term esthetic goals.

Ted Berrigan and Bill Bathurst are of the same generation. Ted is Bill’s more audacious NYC counterpart. Bill is the smoky sentiment of West Coast Jazz to Ted’s innovative improvisational free jazz. Ted breaks all the rules. Bill rules all the breaks. Ted has scads of adherents, and rightfully so. Bill appeals to the connoisseurs of a fine limited vintage. They are two distinctive yet related branches of the American poet tree.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Monsters of Vanity

Monsters of Vanity

by Pat Nolan

Art is selfish, obsessive, self-centered, monstrous egotism. It exalts as well as devours the artist. For those in the artist’s orbit, family, close friends, the unpredictable mania of creation takes its toll as an often unconscious indifference to the emotional needs of others. It is a familiar story painfully depicted many times over by the partners and/or children of the artists. Not surprisingly it is usually a wife or a daughter who has suffered the neglect from these ogres and is obliged to come to terms with the absent presence by setting the record straight in memoirs. The dynamic of artist mother/son memoir is barely represented, and when it is, tends to be hagiographic.

Also A Poet, Frank O’Hara, My Father, and Me by Ada Calhoun (Grove Press, 2022), caught my interest not solely because it is about Peter Schjeldahl but anything, anecdotal or otherwise, having to do with Frank O’Hara will always draw me in.

Musa Mayer’s Night Studio, A Memoir of Philip Guston by His Daughter (Knopf, 1988) I deliberately sought out because I thought I might gain some insight into my own late life artistic doubts. Not a particular fan of Guston’s work, I could identify him as an Abstract Expressionist who had abandoned that style for cartoonish figuration that seemed to be a total rejection of all that he had produced previously as an artist.

I have to admit that I am too, by the above definition, a monster of vanity. However, I wonder if my daughter would write a memoir detailing my neglect of her and her mother. Being a parent changed my perception of the responsibility for my choices. It was a balancing act, but the choices were not difficult, and selfishness, more often than not, was set aside. Still I retain the option to plead guilty to a self-centered life in the thrall of the muse.

Peter Schjeldahl is someone whose poetry I encountered in the early 70s in little magazines and anthologies, notably Bill Berkson’s Best & Co and the Shapiro/Padgett New York Poets. I may have owned but certainly did read an early selection of his poems, The White Country. At that time, anything poetry related emanating from New York City, especially from poets associated with The Poetry Project and the Lower Eastside, was of vital interest. Most of the participants were of my generation and expressed a similar ambivalence toward the literary status quo. Schjeldahl, of all the poets who made a few quick bucks from reviewing gallery shows for various art magazines in New York City, was the most successful and turned this sideline into a career as a renowned art critic for The New Yorker.

His adult daughter, Ada Calhoun, no slouch in the writing department either, has penned a few notable tomes as a New York Times best-selling author. Even so she felt the shade of her illustrious father. He was a mystery, a father figure as well as a shadow figure, distant, unresponsive, indifferent, even to her own success. Naturally inquisitive, she wondered why, and set about digging into what made Dad tick or not tick. In the course of her personal archeology, she found the tapes! Here is where it gets interesting.

The tapes are of Peter Schjeldahl interviewing various artists and writers as the anecdotal material for a proposed biography of Frank O’Hara. Why didn’t Dad finish it and why had he never mentioned it? Also A Poet, a wonderfully ironic title, becomes a whydintit as opposed to a whodunit. In retelling her adolescence on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan, living on fabled St Mark’s Place down the street from Joan Mitchell, the Schneemann’s, and the Berrigan/Notley ménage in a quasi-bohemian enclave blocks from an apartment once occupied by Frank O’Hara, Calhoun delves into the poet’s renown through her own reminiscence of encounters with Frank or his mystique, and those of the accounts recorded by her father.

The details of O’Hara’s life and death have been retold in various biographies and memoirs by those who were part of the New York art scene in the fifties and sixties. The narrative has become fairly gospel in its rhetorical consistency. The taped interviews by Schjeldahl come under critical scrutiny from his professional writer daughter. She doesn’t hide her disappointment at their amateurishness. There are more than a few “Dad, how could you?” and “Dad, really?” moments.

As the story evolves, Ada insists on learning why the project was canceled, and Peter is either unwilling or too caught up in his own drama to offer any coherent or acceptable answer. Ada keeps digging, going through her dad’s old files, reading the original notes, getting down to doing some real literary detective work. Then there’s a fire in Peter’s apartment and files are damaged. Some serious drama occurs, and in times of stress things can go from intense to shit in a New York second. And that’s when the real grievances reveal themselves, the struggle to come to terms with this really self-absorbed, self-important person who is central to her life but who also remains a cypher. The complaints are legit. Peter is a shit. But Ada ain’t gonna quit.

The O’Hara matter keeps getting sidelined by the family drama. But Calhoun persists. She discovers that the main stumbling block to Schjeldahl’s O’Hara biography was the executor, Frank’s sister, Maureen Granville-Smith. Without permission from the estate, access to much of what consists of the biographical material (letters, photos, writings) would remain unavailable.                                                                               

But why wouldn’t the O’Hara estate authorize a biography by a respected art critic, someone who’d known Frank personally, also a poet? It seemed like a marriage made in art gallery poetry reading heaven. Who better to write the bio than someone who was as intimately involved in the art world of New York City as was O’Hara. His perspective would be invaluable.

O’Hara, in an interview with Edward Lucie-Smith, confirms a collaborative spirit among “unemployed poets who worked for art magazines and wrote art criticism,” and the painters who were “the only ones interested in any kind of experimental poetry” in a way that the general literary scene was not. Melding aesthetics of approach to how they viewed their work, the poets initiated a defining development in postwar American poetry as important as Williams’ discovery of Kandinsky earlier in the century. Schjeldahl was a participant and witness to that shift in esthetics, among poets in particular.

After a few false trails and sidesteps, Calhoun comes to the crux of the matter. It was a case of self-sabotage. And it’s on tape. The scenario: Peter and his agent get an audience with Maureen Granville-Smith to go over any misunderstandings that might be hampering the progress of the proposed biography. Maureen is hesitant, still has reservations. Peter is impatient. He blurts out that he thinks John Ashbery is a better poet and that Frank is just an art scene social phenom. Or something to that effect. Open mouth, insert foot.

Schjeldahl’s contention raises an interesting point. Before Perloff’s Poet Among Painters and Gooch’s City Poet, O’Hara was dismissed as “also a poet.” The appreciation of O’Hara by a younger generation of poets, Schjeldahl’s in fact, who were taken by the quotidian charm and experimental demeanor of O’Hara’s work is without question. As an artist bridging plastic arts and literature, O’Hara, in essence, fused them in a witty painterly esthetic discourse. Ashbery, the better poet? Perhaps, technically. His longevity gave him the advantage of being able to speak differently without appearing to do so. Importantly, The Tennis Court Oath offered poets permission to follow his audacious disjunctive often flip language lead (Cf. “Europe”). On the other hand, O’Hara’s Personism allowed for a personal intimacy in addressing the self in the poem that was liberating to many. Both trends were adopted, adapted, and abused by subsequent generations of poets. But that’s a matter for another time.

Perhaps the most compelling part of the failed O’Hara bio story is the transcript of the conversation between Maureen Granville-Smith and Ada Calhoun. It crackles. Granville-Smith is no slouch and holds her own as Calhoun presses to make her point in favor of renewing her father’s project. Maureen is the junk yard dog of her brother’s legacy. Ada encounters the same roadblock her father had. There will be no new Frank O’Hara biography anytime soon, certainly not from Schjeldahl’s notes and interviews, but at least Calhoun has made a story out of why there won’t be, and at the same time addresses the enigmatic figure of her father chained to the demands of his art.

Poignant and predictable is the scene in a doctor’s office where Schjeldahl receives his cancer diagnosis and where it is made clear that his family (wife and daughter) rank a distant second in importance relative to his writing. Calhoun justifies her bitterness and makes the best of it. Needless to say, Schjeldahl, as a dad, does not come off very well. Peter passed away from lung cancer on October 21, 2022, recognized as one of the great art critics of his time, also a poet, six months after his daughter’s stormy tribute to him was published.

I am intimately familiar with the poet/writer/artist at whose center profound megalomania will not allow one to be done, that to be done is a failure of doing, and doing is what art is all about. The contradiction is in trying to lead a normal life all the while attempting extraordinary impossible things. A question might be why do wives/daughters put up with these selfish, self-devouring household demons?

Musa Mayer’s quest to find an answer is a fascinating story. Night Studio, a daughter’s memoir is quite thorough in laying out the particulars of Philip Guston’s life. Born Philip Goldstein in Montreal in 1913 to a family of recently immigrated Russian Jews who, shortly after their arrival in North America, migrated to the West Coast and Los Angeles. As the youngest male of a dozen siblings, he was doted upon by his liberal mother. His father was a distant, sometimes abusive, bitter man who, although well educated, could only find work as a rag picker in a boomtown rife with antisemitism and hooded vigilantes. Guston early on displayed an aptitude for drawing. He attended Otis College of Art & Design School in Los Angeles where he met his future wife, Musa McKim, and made the contacts that led to his apprenticeship with noted muralist David Siguieros and his development as a muralist. In the later years of the Depression, Guston worked as a Works Project Administration artist and achieved recognition for his figurations strongly influenced by Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca and by the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico. In the fifties his shift to a limited palette and gestural grouping of the abstract expressionist style of the New York School established him as one of the more successful artists of that period. By the late 60s, Guston’s work had evolved back to representationalism although not with the rigorous formalism of his murals. The new paintings were a further exploration of a tortured psyche but depicted as cartoonish figures and objects in a landscape that owed something to both de Chirico and George Hermann’s Krazy Kat. This latter phase of Guston’s work was not well received by the established New York art world as it smacked of the loathed Pop Art.           

As Guston’s daughter portrays him, candidly and with telling detail, she recounts her dawning awareness of her father as more than just the chain smoking mercurial presence often smelling of turpentine and attired in paint smudged clothing, but as an imposing respected presence in the world of art as well. Still he is a distant figure, a god in the clouds, intimidating, demanding, and totally self-involved. And she and her mother pay the price of the emotional estrangement.

Intimacy does not allow the distance needed to appreciate great genius. The artists you know and love for themselves want to be known and loved for their art, and any deviation from that focus is a distraction from the elemental fire that burns within. Any attention directed at them fuels the passion of that genius to manic heights as any perceived inattention (or attention to others) dampens the spark with self-doubt. Great art proceeds by obsession, and in the many iterations of the romantic cult of the individual over the past two centuries, the self is a convenient vehicle. That Guston’s early experience as an artist was depicting the monumental and heroic might have had something to do with his sense of self and have appealed to the innate male quest for the larger than life. In the self-conscious post-War reexamination of the psyche, the agony of creation, the hand to mouth laboring in obscurity for an ideal conflicts with the need to survive on the labor of one’s art.

Daughter Musa has done her research and her own soul searching, and the memory of her father is told with thoroughness and detail as well as with bitter acknowledgement of the missteps in the family dynamic. With Guston as the temperamental driving engine, there was much insecurity on the emotional plane, from the mania of self-bliss to the doldrums of uncertainty. Guston was a charismatic chimerical figure to his daughter, large (he was a big man) and larger than life, full of contradiction. Musa brings it all into focus, and the picture of Guston she paints is as elegant as that of an old master, or of someone who knows enough about old masters to represent them. Musa Meyer’s Night Studio is a convincing portrait of a major American artist, an existential archetype with brush, canvas, and turpentine. And what is life like with someone constantly battling their ego, sometimes a winner, other times a loser, wracked with doubt, elated at chance? Meyer’s memoir proceeds by revelation and realization and hope for redemption. The monster of vanity is still a presence but not as forbidding.

To view the arc of Guston’s work from a distance is to view a conventional development of talent, the investment of self in the life career of creation proceeding in rather predictable phases from art student to muralist to teacher to painter to outcast to a final validation of his dissident vision. In his work on murals, he was heroic, in his Abstract Expressionism, he was an intellectual, and in the final phase, returning to the time when art first gave him pleasure and was not yet a down payment on his family’s future, he was the sage primitive.

The later work as representations of a student sketchbook is where he could recollect and portray that time with a youthful parodic energy. The landscapes are from his understanding through George Hermann of how dimension is portrayed with a few simple lines, and reinforced later on by examples from de Chirico, mural painting, and the art of the sober palette. The figuration is cartoonish as one would find in the doodles and marginalia of a young artist’s sketchbook where a language of personal symbols is being developed in a kind of shorthand storytelling commentary for deeply incised memories and impressions. Guston returned to this simpler style but on a monumental scale, heroic and intelligent, with an achromatic emphasis examining his progress as an artist in understanding the picture plane. The saga’s nonlinear narrative depicts the son of an imbittered ragpicker in post Great War Los Angeles, the antisemitic prejudice his family suffered as well as the incidentals of his present life conflated in minimalist Krazy Kat landscapes accenting with the deft contrast of an illustrator’s black line on neutral ground the shapes of his later concerns. They are all points of entry referencing a deep self-abiding in a personal yet universal iconography of ecce homo, hoods, cigar butts, and all.

Yet art’s selfish obsession persists, the partitioned soul allots little for anything but self-entanglement, the Gordian knot of inner knowing. It is the legacy of Romanticism that the artist must suffer, torment mostly self-inflicted. But even without the questioning demands of post-Romantic art, the amount of psychic energy the creative dynamo devours has a diminishing effect on those most closely associated, the family of loved ones by now (hopefully) inured to the self-absorbed self-consumption that artistic endeavor entails.

I went to Guston’s biography for an understanding of what caused the radical retooling of his aesthetic. With so much invested in the elevated discourse of his internationally renowned coterie, what was it that turned him back toward narrative figuration? Perhaps through the agency of the reviled Pop Art, eyes averted like most of his generation of artists, he allowed himself a glimpse at his roots before onset of the social consciousness of the murals, the trend setting abstractions of his worldly success, the crushing responsibility of family. Although I am certainly not in the same league in the same ballpark on the same planet in the same galaxy as Guston or Schjeldahl there is a recognition of that which drives us to address the inhuman as a spark of sentience just beyond our grasp. And to that holiest of holies, the creative urge, all else is shut out. The alternative is to untether from the desire for celebrity, for attention, of establishing a commanding righteousness in the creation of a universal vision, and accept a simpler truth.

Schjeldahl embraced the compromises and estrangements that would allow him his pontifical assertions as a celebrated art critic. Guston struggled with unpacking and revisiting the demeaning contentions of his upbringing to achieve the pinnacle of his painting. Both these memoirs did their work in turning my gaze outward to the tolerance, consideration, and patient understanding of those who have shared my life as a monster of vanity and the self-indulgent attempts at recapturing the fleeting light of certitude at the beginning a lifelong journey. Doubt is art’s most familiar shackle, celebrity its most fickle one. To be without either is to be free to wonder at what might have been. In the end, however, the definitive assessment might be found in the words of wives and daughters.

warning uspoet mrbtPat 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 ParoleMade 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.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Poetry, Poetry Society | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment