Introduction for Robin Blaser
Sunday September 16, 2007
Poetry Center, SFSU
We’ve come here tonight to welcome Robin Blaser back to the Bay Area—it’s been too long since we’ve seen you, Robin, it’s always too long! And to celebrate the new up-dated edition of the poems, The Holy Forest, and the long-awaited collected essays, The Fire, both from the University of California Press.
When Steve asked me to introduce Robin, I went straight to the bookshelf to be in the vicinity of Robin’s work, his books and many chapbooks, and the ones that have been appearing about his work. Curious, not remembering what it was, I pulled out a Xeroxed stapled thing which, as it turns out, was (and is) a magazine called MIRAGE/PERIOD(ICAL) edited by Kevin Killian & Dodie Bellamy—from February 1994. And what had happened at that time was that Coach House Press in Toronto had just published the long-awaited The Holy Forest, which the Editors were featuring. The Editors write, “Up to now the scarcity of [Robin’s] work and its sporadic publication have made rare-bookmen rich. Now The Holy Forest collects all the work and exposes it to a larger public, one which we imagine will fall back, stunned, like Saul at Tarsus.” And more. I stop.
What were they thinking, “stunned, like Saul at Tarsus”? On the road, Saul had a vision, lost his sight for three days, and became Paul, the first evangelist. Did they mean to say that, like Paul, readers would become adherents—to Robin’s work? Well, of course, yes. But there had to be more to it.
With a Möbius twist, the public’s vision, stunned, comes directly from Robin’s envisioning, in the act. Chronos, linear time, becomes kairos, the time of occasion, due measure, interweaving filaments, voices in contrasting keys of “correspondences and differences” (wrote Charles Watts), making the whole a serial poem, always under construction.
And does Paul enter Robin’s work?
Yes, twice at least.
In his essay on Mary Butts’s novel, Armed With Madness.
While traversing the first few pages of the field of this “essay-story” we rapidly but briefly encounter, among others, Stein, Pound, Eliot, Williams, Rexroth, Duncan, Zukofsky, HD, Blake, Hesiod, Lucretius, Aristotle, Plato—whiz-bang—then Keats and then Paul.
Essay is also story, the sounding of story becomes lyric, lyric poems become the serial poem of a life-work. As Meredith Quartermain writes, “Blaser seeks not only to revive the public world but also to re-enact the lyric as a staging of public voices seen through the lens of a ‘singularity’ of body, soul, and intellect.”
Paul is also found, or found out, in Robin’s stunning dialectical poem, “Even on Sunday,” where he is tracking the “existential given” at the heart of the NOW, “in the midst of” what he calls “a metaphysical washout.”
Blaser describes his version of the serial poem as an Ovidian carmen perpetuum, a “continuous song” in which each serial rereads the others. As the possibilities for connection multiply, the range and the registers of the poem increase. As Blaser says, “I want to move from the simple geography, the limited geography of my own place and my own time” and “fall into history — into time on a completely different level so that my present flows backward towards origins, primary thought, and begins to join the major movement of … poetic thought in the twentieth century.”
We fall back, stunned. Let us welcome Robin Blaser.