A Taxonomy Of Poets

A Taxonomy of Poets

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

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

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

“Black window spider! Your girls are poets!”

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

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

“I’ll let him tell you, then.”

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

“Or The Beatles.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the money’s pretty good.”

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

“So the gig with the weekly. . . .”

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

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

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

“Yeah.”

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

Carl said nothing.

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

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

“Om,” echoed the others.

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

“Got any Big Bamboo Irish Moss?”

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

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

“I don’t see any sauerkraut, Carl.”

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

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

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

Charlie nodded that he was following.

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

Charlie chuckled.

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

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

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

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


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


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

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hard as nails

hard as nails 

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

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

 hard as nails 

hard as nails    we are not
& there are no exceptions 

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

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

“like a welcome already overshadowed
with the coming farewell”

—Anselm Hollo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


The New Black Bart Poetry Society Challenge:  Anselm Hollo

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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I Remember Tom Clark

I Remember Tom Clark 

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

Orphic Tom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remember thinking I resemble those remarks.

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

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

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

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

I remember thinking that Tom was kind of a dick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wan Tom (1941-2018)

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

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


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

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Meditation In A Big Cabin

MEDITATION IN A BIG CABIN

Still a classic!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Give Up

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

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

Poem

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

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

The Hook

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

or How To Read A Ron Padgett Poem

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

But if humanity disappears
who will read this poem?
Fuck

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

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

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

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

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


Big Cabin by Ron Padgett is available from Coffee House Press


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

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Poetry Is A Crowded Room, Part 2

Poetry Is A Crowded Room, Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not familiar with Flarf.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


New to the Society’s Shelves, Spring 2019

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

 

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Bromige Was Here

Bromige Was Here
Remembering David Bromige (1933-2009)

by Pat Nolan

Life Is Brief It Says Here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


            Bromige Bibliography

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

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

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The Poet In Love

The Poet In Love 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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