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Vincent Katz
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I should say too that Greg is a drummer himself, adding further depth to his appreciation of the rhythmic complexity.
Just checking this out now. Glad it came in on my BAP radar. Listening to the session reel now. I'm at 12:04. I thought I knew everything of Miles, especially the fusion period, which is my favorite. I think it's only in recent years, with many more releases of complete sessions, that a wider audience is coming to appreciate the density and complexity of the fusion work. This rehearsal though is a goldmine! Scholars and fans everywhere will pore over this recording and others like it. Your poem brings all this to light, but that's an ancillary function. In essence, your poem is a miracle, as it transcribes the listening experience. It is really in the moment, a New York School work for sure, and also one of more Black Mountain like investigative poetry. Writing that makes me think of how important Miles was to Robert Creeley, among others. Creeley said he learned a lot from Miles's pauses. So Kudos to Greg! Thanks to Terence. And thank you for alerting me to the egregious lack of a Miles festival at WKCR. I've just written in support of the cause!
This is a beautiful poem Michael! It is brave and poignant, like all your work, and at the same, again like all your work, you let your musicality take the guiding role; you turn lament into song. Thanks and bravo!
Thank you for sharing your mother's story David. The challenges people had to face in those times are incomprehensible to me. Your mother was a very kind and strong woman! Xx
Terrific poem!! Congrats Jeff - & thank you to Terence for highlighting it.
Robert and Sarah, thank you for your comments. "The Forgetting" is powerfully complex poem. Thank you for sharing that great recording of it. It mentions Pound and reminds us that he and Eliot, among others, suffered from the same problem Baraka did, and it affected their poetry, and consequently our reactions to it. In regard to "Somebody Blew Up America," I would again suggest that a reading of the entire poem reveals a querulous, maybe paranoid, mind, posing questions regarding any number of tragic abuses, including: Who put the Jews in ovens, and who helped them do it Who said "America First" and ok'd the yellow stars Who killed Rosa Luxembourg, Liebneckt Who murdered the Rosenbergs And all the good people iced, tortured, assassinated, vanished Many tormented questions are asked in this poem, including the passage that most offends people, which I would again note refers not to Jews but to Israeil workers and Sharon.
Terrific poem Bill! Kudos! And thanks to you both for including the pic of Beverly!
Thank you for the opportunity, David!
Kenneth, I did indeed know Frank O'Hara when I was a child. I know some poets and others not so much. I heard Baraka read a number of times but didn't know him personally.
Thank you for the openness & generosity of this comment Michael & for allowing us to catch up with you for a minute!
Thank you for your comment Maria! "Torture" is a word McClure keeps coming back to, and it always has multiple connotations, such as those you suggest.
Thanks Michael! I've been thinking about you while writing these. Then today I thought, "Michael and Michael."
Thank you Alan for this very meaningful and heartfelt comment. What you write illuminates something that may not be as well known about Michael as his literary achievements — his generosity and capacity for friendship.
Tomorrow, at the California Shakespeare Theater, in Orinda, California, there will be a memorial to poet, playwright and thinker Michael McClure, who passed away in May of 2020. Along with Diane di Prima, of all the great poets we have lost in the past few years, Michael for me defines an era. It’s funny to think of it now, but it’s McClure and di Prima who somehow stand for a whole experiment in poetry and living that remains vital to me, and I imagine always will. I think it is partially the integration of their poetry with a way of thinking about living that is the key to their vitality. In his introduction to the first edition of Ghost Tantras, published by City Lights in 1964, McClure wrote: I WAS HERE AND I LIKED IT! It was all O.K. I suffered. There were scents, and flowers, and textures, beautiful women. I was a handsome man. I invented love. I radiated genius for those who saw me with loving eyes. I was happy — I laughed and cried. Constantly new sights and sounds. I trembled and sweated at the sight of beauty. I laughed at strong things because I loved them — wanting to kick them in and make freedom. When I go I’M GONE. Don’t resurrect me or the duplicates of my atoms. It was perfect ! I am sheer spirit. Tomorrow, poets, musicians, publishers, friends will celebrate this poet who some link to Shelley and Lawrence, and who I see as a human being able to intuit his living on earth in relation to all other living beings, and simultaneously to flesh that out in relation to the beauty, and sometimes terror, he sensed in the arts of painting, music, dance, theater. He wanted to reach most of all, to reach out, to resist, to feel the softness of the couch beneath his lover and himself, the dissolving of inside and out, the hummingbird, the bombs falling on Cambodia, consciousness creating and destroying itself each instant. As a kind of parting gift, Michael left us Mule Kick Blues and Last Poems, published this year by City Lights. Editor Garrett Caples’ account of how the book was put together makes clear both McClure’s fastidiousness when it came to form and his openness to such questions as sequencing and grouping poems. A sequence of four “Death Poems” in a section called “MORTALITIES” evinces one of the most joyful attitudes toward death I’ve seen in poetry, something perhaps not surprising to readers of McClure, but still a fantastic thing to have: TO GROW OLD IS A JOY PRECEDING THE BIG ONE. Death is a dark chocolate cake, sweet, and filled with deep blue tortures. Remember Michael tomorrow, remember joy, remember poetry. Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Congrats David! Can’t wait to get a copy!
In 1928, André Breton published the novel Nadja, loosely based on a brief affair. Text from the back cover the Grove Press edition, translation by Richard Howard, calls the novel “the story of an obsessional presence haunting his life” and goes on to state, “The first person narrative is supplemented by forty-four photographs which form an integral part of the work — pictures of various ‘surreal’ people, places, and objects which the author visits or is haunted by in Nadja’s presence and which inspire him to meditate on their reality or lack of it.” Breton invented a genre, the book as photographic prose poem, which has found new life today. In Breton’s day, taking all the photos and having them printed and readied for publication were arduous tasks; today all that is almost an afterthought. Some creative artists today have been stimulated to try to reinvigorate the photograph in its relation to text, thereby heightening both the potential of image, usually produced via that mundane accessory, the smart phone, and the text, which often lingers in some nebulous zone, neither poetry nor prose, a different gambit from the blending of the two that entranced French authors last century. When Claudia Rankine used photos in her epoch-marking Citizen, the images were usually in the mode of illustrations, or jumping-off points for her verbal manifestations. In her follow-up, the massive and in some ways more experimental Just Us: An American Conversation (2020), the photos are still illustrative, often historical in nature, but they are simultaneously more deeply embedded in the book’s meaning. A more experimental approach, one with deeply satisfying results in terms of the co-habitation of word and image is s*an d. henry-smith’s Wild Peach, published by Futurepoem in 2020. henry-smith is an artist and writer, and everything about Wild Peach makes it clear the book has been thought about as an object in its entirety. The endpapers and dividers are a dusky mustard yellow. The typography and layout of the titles is raw and energetic. Eager to get to the first section, “in awe of geometry & mornings,” one turns the page and finds a centered photo of a hazy view of a dried-out field being moisturized by the obscuring fog above it. Turning the page again brings us to the book’s first text, “dirty nails,” which begins, “eat me Infinity Serpent High Priestess of Sun the flowers we ate went straight to my hips rosy red w/ sweet water linen draped I feel so squishy today…” An erotics of the word reminding me of de Kooning’s erotics of paint is quickly palpable. Yet this short text ends surprisingly, “…I inhale light dirty pupil learns today how mud purifies & an increased sensitivity to nightshades I lift my head from the train tracks it is nice to sweat it reminds me that I am open whether I like it or not the conditions will decide”. This book is open, “dirty nails” beseeches almost that, despite everything not in our favor,... Continue reading
Posted Sep 17, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Thank you for your comment Tony!
Jill, that is a good question. My short answer is no, I think Baraka is interesting throughout. I recommend getting hold of a copy of SOS: POEMS 1961-2013 and reading it all the way through. I think Baraka evolved as a poet, adapting different techniques and modes to changing situations. His gift as a verbal wizard remains throughout. That gift is also palpable in much of his prose writing. Check out the story "The Screamers" among others. And yes, he and O'Hara were very good friends: "[Personism] was founded by me after lunch with LeRoi Jones on August 27, 1959, a day in which I was in love with someone (not Roi, by the way, a blond)." He also features in O'Hara's "Personal Poem" in LUNCH POEMS.
WKCR is on, as it often is at this time of day, and they are playing selections from Miles Davis’s fusion period — “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” and “Splashdown,” to name two. It is providing the right vibe, as the radio often does, to composing thoughts about two books that are on my mind. When I was a teenager, a little after those Miles tunes were released, I had some favorite books of poetry. They were talismans, I carried them with me, they could ward off depression and evil by their mere presence, without even needing to be opened, or read. Part of that had to do with their physical presence. I remember the series of books Gary Snyder published with New Directions, especially, one summer, Earth House Hold. Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency, published by Grove Press (the edition with the red and purple cover overlaying a photo of O’Hara seated on a Gothic stool). The same poet’s Lunch Poems, from City Lights Books’ Pocket Poets Series, back when the covers were not glossy. They were printed on soft card stock, each title in identifying format and design, differentiated by the color combinations. Lunch Poems will always recall the orange and blue in its layout. Another book I carried with me everywhere that summer I was 15 was another title from the Pocket Poets Series, William Carlos Williams’ Kora in Hell: Improvisations. I loved Kora in Hell. Just gazing at its cover was of inestimable benefit to me, and I enjoyed reading it. It felt very adult, its jokes easily understood, its thought-connections sublime and not necessarily accessible to all. It represented a kind of secret knowledge. This was unlike some of Williams’s better known poetry, which prided itself on using everyday language and meeting the reader halfway. That poetry was modern, in that it didn’t always feel like what poetry was supposed to feel like, but it was anti-modernist, or maybe non-modernist, in its ratcheting down of degree of difficulty. Anybody could read those poems (though not anybody can write them!). Kora was different. I liked the classical reference in the title, the Greek word kora itself, coupled with that word “Improvisations.” I think that was the one that got me the most. I was listening to a lot of jazz; the idea of improvising a book, or sections that made up a book, was thrilling to me. Looking around last year, I realized I no longer had that copy of Kora, so I ordered another one. I made sure to order one from one of the earlier printings, a first edition it looks like. I just wanted to make sure I got one that looked and felt like the originals, as though it was made of cotton, dyed red. “March had always been my favorite month…” the prologue tells us. And, “What I had permitted myself could not by any stretch of the imagination be called verse.” I agree with Williams that these are not... Continue reading
Posted Sep 15, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
Also keep in mind, the stanza referred to "Israeli workers" not "Jews".
Tony, thank you for your comment. I too have difficulty with some of Baraka's statements, in poetry and prose. The most glaring of those was in the poem you refer to, "Somebody Blew Up America." I would only recommend, as in all other cases, reading (or re-reading) the original text in its entirety before deciding. Gerald Stern, one of the poets who nominated Baraka to be NJ Poet Laureate, said about the stanza in question, "I am sensitive to what appears to be the anti-Semitic utterance, which reflects that Jews knew in advance [about the Sept. 11 attacks]. I'm sensitive as a Jew. However, a man is allowed to be paranoid." And Robert Pinsky noted, "Poets are people; their works are human works. We all likely know, or can easily imagine, people capable of saying stupid, vicious things who also sometimes say beautiful or wise things... In other words, each of us, and each of our works, is to be judged on the merits. Moral viewpoint is among the merits, I think."
I will try to oblige Peggy!
One day, a year or so ago, Oliver said to me, in passing, “I need to read some Baraka.” When someone, especially someone close to me, says something like that, I leap into action. I leapt to my keyboard and ordered him The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader, edited by William J. Harris with input from the author. Published in 2009 by Basic Books, the Reader does not cover the last fifteen years of Baraka’s production, but, at close to 600 pages, it certainly covers the early years, from the late 1950s through 1999. To supplement this, I recommend SOS: Poems 1961-2013, published by Grove Press in 2014. This volume, edited by Paul Vangelisti, shows the scope of Baraka’s poetic achievement and is especially surprising in its final section, titled “Fashion This,” which covers the years 1996-2013. Here, we see the poet at his most unguarded. Many of these poems have not been previously collected in book form. They maintain the same senses of urgency and outrage that animate Baraka’s poetry throughout, but they are tempered with a lightness, a delicacy at times, that can be shocking and disarming. I’ve shied away from Readers as they focus on a consensus of what an author’s best work is, or someone’s assessment of that, leaving out much interesting peripheral work — but the LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka reader feels essential. Partially that has to do with Baraka’s participation in the selection, but mainly it’s because the man was so prolific, something the Reader makes clear. He published poetry, music criticism, fiction, and was a successful playwright from his early days on. He was also a significant editor of literary journals — first of Yugen, with Hettie Jones, and then, with Diane di Prima, of The Floating Bear. Baraka always had a voice. I’ve often wondered what it is that catapults a poet into a wider consciousness, and I believe much of it has to do with prose writing. While poetry remains a particular province, prose, if it is well-written and timely, can reach a much larger audience. In Baraka’s case, his two books on music, Blues People, published in 1963, and Black Music (1968) did precisely that. The first was composed as a study of the origins of jazz and has the subtitle The Negro Experience in White America and the Music that Developed From It. The second book was composed of articles and reviews previously published in DownBeat, Kulchur, and as liner notes for such artists as John Coltrane and Sonny Murray. Selections from these seminal studies are included in the Reader, along with a fantastic, often hilarious account of a trip to Cuba in 1960, originally published in Home: Social Essays (1966). There is much more in the Reader, including a selection of at-the-time unpublished works. One of these returns to Malcolm X, a seminal figure in Baraka’s movement from downtown bohemian to uptown Black Nationalist in the late 1960s. In the ‘70s, Baraka adopted an explicitly Marxist ideology, elaborating and expanding... Continue reading
Posted Sep 14, 2021 at The Best American Poetry
It's good to be back!
I am excited to be back at the B.A.P. post desk! This week I plan to riff on things I’m reading and see where that takes me. I usually read a mix of favorites and new work, often going back to things that have affected me powerfully in the past. I like the way books come to litter a place, diving into obscurity for extended periods before resurfacing bold-faced and re-determined to command respect. Alternatively, there are those books that lie there perennially, always available yet untouched for months or years at a time. This summer I picked up such a book and threw it into my overnight bag — the updated Folger Library edition of Hamlet, published in 2012 and edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. I think it belongs to my son Oliver. I say “think” as I found it in the vicinity of his room; there is no handwriting in it I can identify as his, and no evidence he ever looked at it. We used these same editions when I was in high school, probably read the same syllabus. There may be a tendency to look down on these editions as “school” editions, or to think that one should be able to read Shakespeare without notes at this point, that one should be able to get what one gets out of the words alone. I am here to tell you that, unless you are really schooled in sixteenth-century poetry (and I know some of you are), then this is not the case. I understand a lot more of Shakespeare than I did when I was in high school, but there are still usages I want to fine-tune in my reading. And this brings me to the beauty of these editions. They are not at all precious, you can take them anywhere, they are clearly and elegantly designed, they have the benefit of having the notes on pages facing the text, and, for this reader at least, the choices of which usages to include notes for were judicious. For example, in Act 3, Scene 2, when Hamlet is prepping Horatio to observe the King’s reaction during the play Hamlet has prepared for him, here are some of the notes given: 84: comment: observation 85: occulted: deliberately hidden 86: unkennel: a term describing the driving of a fox from its lair 89: Vulcan’s stithy: forge of the Roman god of fire and metalworking 92: censure of: i.e. forming an opinion about; seeming: appearance, behavior Here’s the passage: I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot, Even with the very comment of thy soul Observe my uncle. If his occulted guilt 85 Do not itself unkennel in one speech, It is a damnèd ghost that we have seen, And my imaginations are as foul As Vulcan’s stithy. Give him heedful note, For I mine eyes will rivet to his face, 90 And, after, we will both our judgements join In censure of his seeming. [Maurice Jones as... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2021 at The Best American Poetry