Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Les Ferris invited me to write something for his book arts class at UC Berkeley. They are preparing to make a letter press edition of 3 of Jess's poems.


Sometimes Jess laughed and said he was “gilding the lily.” Those were times when he’d make us a lovely meal and for dessert serve, in porcelain dishes shaped like lettuce leaves, an enormous portion of cake with pieces of fruit and a big scoop of ice cream on top, usually vanilla. Like the use of the phrase “gilding the lily,” Jess went often to his many heritages—fairy tales, nursery rhymes, histories, art nouveau tea cups—he was “always shopping,” he said. Always happening by the Salvation Army, or Goodwill, his favorite haunts and not far from where he lived. Those magical teacups!

Jess’s poems mediate, illuminate and provide a splendid continuity among the paintings, paste-ups, translations, Tricky Cad, Critical Dreams. Said Jess, “I’ve always thought of the book as a form of collage space.” Clusters of notation/narration, doubled-up, beyond belief, as in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, which Jess was always reading, chortling.

“Hohohoho, Mister Finn, you’re going to be Mister Finnagain.” Finnegan’s Wake

“You can teach me poetry, said Fionn,” from Jess’s Translation Ex. 3 Fionn’s -- Finnegas

Fionn MacCumhal was learning the arts of Druidism and Bardism from an old Druid named Finnegas. For years Finnegas had been trying to capture the salmon that swam in the river Boyne, for whosoever ate of this salmon would gain all knowledge and wisdom. The salmon fed on the magical hazel-nuts that fell into the river. One day Finnegas managed to catch the salmon, and ordered Fionn to cook it for him. Fionn accidentally burnt his thumb on the hot fish and thrust it into his mouth to cool it off, and immediately gained all knowledge.

I first met Jess in 1980, when Robert invited me to tea. The dazzling teacups, and Jess, twinkling, all knowing, pouring the hot tea.

Norma Cole

Translation Ex. 3 Fionn’s -- Finnegas by Jess