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Vincent Katz
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As this is my final post as guest author, I would like to cast my net and highlight some of the interesting books that have come across my desk in recent months: Diane di Prima Revolutionary Letters (Last Gasp of San Francisco, 2007) Forrest Gander, Eiko & Koma (New Directions Poetry Pamphlet #8, 2013) Ferreira Guilar, Dirty Poem (New Directions Poetry Pamphlet #18, 2015), translated from the Portuguese by Leland Guyer Mike DeCapite, Radiant Fog (Sparkle Street Books, 2013) Thomas Devaney, Calamity Jane (Furniture Press Books, 2014) Thomas Devaney, Runaway Goat Cart (Hanging Loose Press, 2015) Elaine Equi, Sentences and Rain (Coffee House Press, 2015) David Meltzer, No Eyes: Lester Young (Black Sparrow Press, 2000) I have been getting more and more involved in the work of Diane di Prima of late. This summer I taught a course at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program entitled “Theogonies: What Poets Do When They Write Gods.” We examined the role of theogonies in poetry, particularly epic poetry, beginning with Hesiod, looked at Plato’s objections to Hesiod and Homer, and then jumped to the 20th century, where we studied how Charles Olson took epic and the idea of modern mythologies in a completely different direction. We took a careful look at di Prima’s work, in particular her Revolutionary Letters, which attains epic sweep in its role of speaking for the tribe, elucidating its beliefs, and stirring it to action. We also looked at her epic Loba, which embodies a shamanistic, feminist, animist, and animalist worldview. While at AWP last spring, I picked up two pamphlets from the new New Directions series. At 85, Ferreira Guilar continues to be an important figure in contemporary Brazilian poetry. He started out an ally of Concrete Poets (Augusto de Campos, Haroldo de Campos, Décio Pignatari, among others), who were based in São Paulo. Guilar, who was living in Rio, branched off on his own path of neo-concretism, embracing the Communist Party after the military coup of 1964 and pursuing poetry of a humanist bent, while reveling in informality of style and language. Many Brazilian artists had to flee the dictatorship, and Guilar wrote his remarkable poem while in exile in Buenos Aires in 1975. In it, he attempts to return to the city of his youth and to re-create all he experienced then: Or when we wake up early and stay in bed musing through the early-morning process: the first steps in the street the first sounds in the kitchen until from rooster to rooster a nearby rooster erupts (in the backyard) and the tap of the laundry tub opens to gush the morning Forrest Gander’s contribution to the ND pamphlet series is a group of texts that work around the Japanese dance duo Eiko and Koma, who have been performing their spectacular, primal, work for over four decades now. Gander uses a constantly shifting poetic approach to come to terms with their timeless, yet highly physical, performances, in which they often perform completely naked in slow, writhing,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 20, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Over the past 5 years, Tom Clark has been quietly publishing some of the best work of his life (which is saying a lot). I identify the following books of poems: Feeling for the Ground (BlazeVOX, 2010) Something in the Air (Shearsman, 2010) At the Fair (BlazeVOX, 2010) Canyonesque (BlazeVOX, 2011) Distance (BlazeVOX, 2012) The Truth Game (BlazeVOX, 2013) Evening Train (BlazeVOX, 2014) There may be others. These seven books account for some six hundred plus pages of poetry that see Clark deeply investing his earliest poetics with a hard-hitting concision in the facture, combined with a wistful yet ultimately optimistic sense of observation. This observation can take place in the poet’s immediate neighborhood, the changing fabric of north Berkeley, where he lives with his wife, Angelica, or it can travel the universe, via Clark’s omnivorous reading and wide-ranging research. He uses his knowledge knowingly, that is, specific details are marshaled in the service of a deeper message, delivered with wit and sophistication. There is much that is elegiac in the tone of these poems, but the emphasis on the mind thinking and the eloquence with which these tonalities are orchestrated add up to an experience that is terrifically energizing. The way Clark uses line-endings and continuations is unerringly precise. We know we are in the presence of a master. Here is an example, the poem “To a Certain Friend,” from Something in the Air: Presence comes before everything, even before being The you to whom everything once belonged If by everything one means the fullness of nature’s beauty You must remember now that much has been taken from you Grief too will go from you as from sorrowing songs Sorrow goes, leaving nothing for you after a while But the memory of the melody, some old familiar tune That’s lingered on long past the moment you first sailed Gracefully into the room, as if all the modern languages Were coming down to me so that I could say these things Then there are poems that are haiku-like in their brevity, American takes on the immediate and the passing, such as “Fame” from At the Fair: A hot dog paper blows across the infield, passing into shadows near third base. Other poems register, in language that becomes surprisingly activated, a particular scene observed. One such poem is “Full Moon through Clouds” from Canyonesque: Illuminating the brief deep blue middle of the night window between the third and fourth in a series of cold Pacific storms through an opening in the flotilla of big low rain saturated city light pink underside tinted clouds a brilliant full moon Some of Clark’s observations take place on the web, and those familiar with his blog Beyond the Pale can attest to his acuity in combining words with carefully researched images. Here’s one example, a poem embedded within a series of images, Clark’s usual posting technique. This time, the poem comes from painter Jim Dine: Beyond the Pale And Clark himself adds a comment: “In... Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
Tonight I went up to Columbia for the opening of “The Book Undone: Thirty Years of Granary Books” at the Kempner Gallery Rare Book & Manuscript Library on the sixth floor of Butler Library. It is worth the trip! Curated by Sarah Arkebauer and Karla Nielsen, the exhibition includes about one third of the astounding 164 books Granary (proprietor, Steve Clay) has published since beginning operations in 1985. Some of the earliest Granary publications seemed to pick up from the tradition of Jonathan Williams’ Jargon Books, which got its start in the early 1950s at Black Mountain College, at the instigation of Charles Olson, who told Williams, “Don’t ever be intimidated by the disdain or the disinterest of the world. Get yourself some type, get yourself some paper, and print it.” This statement could serve as the motto for the Mimeo Revolution that flourished in the 1960s and ‘70s and was a mainstay for the dissemination of poetry that had small but passionate followings. In its early days, Granary published books by Williams, Fielding Dawson, and John Cage, all of them with BMC credentials. Granary is also devoted to the Mimeo Revolution itself, as anyone who saw the inspiring 1998 exhibition at the New York Public Library will remember. Clay and Rodney Phillips, a curator at the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, organized the exhibition, and they co-edited the accompanying book, published by Granary: A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980, which documents many of the poetry zines of that era and the poets and artists who created them. This book should be required reading, and it probably is in the most advanced literature classes around the country and beyond. As time went on, Granary’s interests expanded to include such artists and writers as (and this is only a selection!) (in roughly chronological order) Johanna Drucker, Buzz Spector, Susan Bee, Lewis Warsh, Jerome Rothenberg, Kimberly Lyons, Robert Creeley, Alex Katz, Charles Bernstein, Anne Waldman, Ted Berrigan, George Schneeman, Joe Elliot, Julie Harrison, Carolee Schneemann, Bernadette Mayer, Lyn Hejinian, Emilie Clark, Pierre Joris, Larry Fagin, Trevor Winkfield, William Corbett, Clark Coolidge, Keith Waldrop, Kenward Elmslie, Alison Knowles, Joe Brainard, Susan Howe, David Antin, Emily McVarish, Kenneth Goldsmith, Gary Sullivan, Nada Gordon, Simon Pettet, Duncan Hannah, Leslie Scalapino, Marina Adams, Anne Tardos, Ron Padgett, Maureen Owen, Yvonne Jacquette, John Yau, Archie Rand, Bob Perelman, Francie Shaw, Norma Cole, Alice Notley, Alan Halsey, Steve McCaffery, Marjorie Welish, James Siena, Jen Bervin, John Ashbery, Kiki Smith, Kathleen Fraser, Hermine Ford, Ceclia Vicuña, Edward Sanders, Raphael Rubinstein. (Page from Johanna Drucker and Susan Bee's A Girl's Life, Granary Books, 2002) Granary’s books are remarkable because each one is unique in design. Clay has a sixth sense for knowing which approach — whether trade edition or limited edition artist’s book — is appropriate for each outing, and he knows exactly how to achieve the end he and his collaborators have in mind. Often, these... Continue reading
Posted Sep 16, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
I am thinking about time, how it divides and separates. I have been attempting to locate myself in the present, and I think I am getting better at it, but it is hard work. The mind wants to slip back into the past, to glory over supposed triumphs and fret over past defeats — or to pump itself up over things it is looking forward to or cower over things it is apprehensive about. Yeah, you know the drill. But to be in the present, when one can achieve it, is a gift to oneself, and ultimately to everyone else as well. Meditation is a practice for this, and so is going to poetry readings. I’ll always remember an early poem of Anne Waldman’s called “Things That Make Me Nervous” — and the entire poem reads “Poetry readings. / People. / Dope. / Things I really like.” Which, back in the day, all went together. I looked up the poem and found it in Waldman’s collection Baby Breakdown, published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1970. It was in a period when major publishing houses thought it made sense to go with the zeitgeist and try publishing some far-out poetry, almost as though they were record companies, gambling that one of these books could be the Next Big Thing. Others in this class include Ron Padgett’s Great Balls of Fire, published by Holt Rinehart and Winston in 1969, and Tom Clark’s Stones, pubished by Harper & Row, also in 1969. These were hardcover publications with dust jackets and very sharp design, seemingly because the decisions were left to the poets. Joe Brainard blanketed Padgett’s book with white stars on a royal blue jacket, cover and endpapers. His hand-lettering of the title and author’s name is exquisite. Clark’s book also has jacket design by Brainard, in this case a large piece of yellow swiss cheese on a black background with the author’s name on the vertical axis. Brainard also contributes a blurb, which begins, “Ron Padgett is a poet. He always has been a poet and he always will be a poet. I don't know how a poet becomes a poet. And I don’t think anyone else does either…” Ted Berrigan’s “liner notes” for Waldman’s book are typically effusive. He starts out casually, “Anne Waldman is easily the most exciting poet of her generation, and Anne and her poems are among the great pleasures of everyone’s generation. Half the population of America is under 25, and Anne Waldman, at the age of 25, is a star. It seems she can do anything, and she has, and does …” Later, he adds something as true today as it was in 1970: “She has altered all our lives for the better simply by her presence, for she is no wielder of power, but simply a presence that permits everybody to be themselves and more often than not their best selves in the world…” He concludes, “This book is an ordinary miracle.” I love that Berrigan dated... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2015 at The Best American Poetry
I am excited to be starting a new season, Fall, my favorite season. It is said that every poet has a favorite month. October was Jack Kerouac’s. For me, it is the season. Even though a friend once said, “Spring is my favorite season, except for Summer,” for me Fall is the season that is filled with new beginnings and renewed buoyancy. It is the season in which classes start again and people migrate back to the city from the country. It is the season of cold evenings and Friday night plans. I actually like the days getting dark earlier and the rhythm of the leaves falling, a dance that will finally end when all the leaves are down, and the trees go to sleep for the winter. It is also Rosh Hashanah. I feel a resonance with the energies that have to do with understanding among peoples, repentance, and taking responsibility for one’s actions. As described in Wikipedia, today should be, literally, “a day of shouting or raising a noise” or, and this I like even better, a Feast of Trumpets. In addition it cites, “three important stages as the spiritual order of the Ten Days of Repentance (the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) unfolds: On Rosh Hashanah Jewish tradition maintains that God opens the books of judgment of creation and all mankind starting from each individual person, so that what is decreed is first written in those books, hence the emphasis on the ‘ketivah’ (‘writing’). The judgment is then pending and prayers and repentance are required. Then on Yom Kippur, the judgment is ‘sealed’ or confirmed (i.e. by the Heavenly Court), hence the emphasis is on the word ‘chatimah’ (‘sealed’). But the Heavenly verdict is still not final because there is still an additional hope that until Sukkot concludes God will deliver a final, merciful judgment, hence the use of ‘gmar’ (‘end’) that is ‘tov’ (‘good’).” In my own interpretation, I take this to mean that the writing that we, as poets, do must be held accountable to the highest judgment and that it must contain within it, not necessarily expressed literally or rationally, our most profound beliefs. Again, in my own interpretation, I take this whole period to mean that, through self-reflection, we must make every attempt to be not simply tolerant but actually open to others, particularly those whose opinions and beliefs may be most alien to us. And that thought reminds me of someone who embodied those principles. Born the daughter of a rabbi in Kiel, Germany, she immigrated to New York City at the age of three and lived an exemplary life devoted to the arts and freedom of expression and thought. She once told me it was important to engage those on the opposite end of the political spectrum; otherwise, we would never have a chance of convincing them. No one could accuse her, however, of compromising. Her adult life and art practice were devoted to the core principles of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2015 at The Best American Poetry