Sunday, June 22, 2008


"Increasing excitement stimulated by wounds"

Or sick moon
Whose moth fear we bite
Moan and limp with ease
Our eyes kiss as we
Fame the dome
We cave

Our love is not cool
Or is cool
It is foam
As when April
Means seed
And soil reveals
Harp and cowl
To be eye alone
Or not I
But you

Not happy but in play
Not birth but day
Not said but soul sold
Out at last rights

Boot me an oath, Brutus
"A sudden death is best
When you are alseep ...
Sordid apocalypse"
Lamp me a 6 of doom
Hoop me a side

"In the iconic sound of the distance
You are no longer Brutus"

Jerry Estrin died in his sleep June 22, 1993. This poem is part of my Divination project and uses words given to me by Andrew Joron per my request. Actually, he gave them to me for my birthday. Jerry's lines in the piece are from the poem and book Rome, A Mobile Home.

And so here is a part of the poetry community from which no one will be excluded.

And here are more lines from Rome.

"He is a smart ass. Instantly, like the illusion, his illustration vanishes. An artful mass makes him snicker. A flicker tugs at the mug of Caesar. Disrobe the images."

Jerry Estrin
May 6, 1947 - June 22, 1993

Friday, June 20, 2008

Our Commonality

I am happy to see from conversations I have had with people and the various postings that I have linked to above (or, I guess, below) that the recent SPT Aggression Conference is living on in people’s minds. Today there is a long post by Gary Sullivan, who wasn't there but has a really interesting sense of what happened, with extensive comments by some who were there and some who weren't. There is a lot of possibility in the energy around this. There should certainly be more conferences. This one was of particular interest for not being academic but there is a lot of gray area in just how academic many conferences are. And it seems very much at this moment in time to be posssible and necessary to find other ways to investigate our commonality or lack of it, our poetics, our groupings, our individualities, our sense of whether our issues are personal or public and a whole lot of other stuff, not least of it all being a common feeling of being discluded. Who are ‘we’ and what is our problem?

An example of the disclusion issue I typically share with students is when I’ve found myself feeling hateful toward a magazine I was not in when I encountered it in the world only to remember that I had been invited to contribute but forgot to. I have also had the experience (more than twice) of being ranted to by well known poets in my gen with many books that they can’t get published anywhere and feel entirely unappreciated. Then there is the further experience of being invited to a conference but not being able to come up with the dough to go. Then there are the claims those of us from the working class make about our childhoods without prep school. And there is the complaint that those of us who are not academics don’t get summers off. Well, we don’t. But no one likes a whiner.

So the question, my question, is

How do you define the poetry community?

I have already asked this question of several people by email and have gotten some amazing answers. If you want to respond but don’t want to post an answer please backchannel me. And, needless to say, more on this.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Group formation in action. Responses from Cynthia Sailers, Stephanie Young and Chris Chen, the organizers of the SPT Aggression Conference, to the conference. Incredibly interesting. More on this.

And more on women of the 70s.

I think Marc Lecard gave me this copy of Susan Howe’s Hinge Picture (from Maureen Owen’s Telephone Books) because of its obvious and important connection with my work – which by then had fortunately changed a lot from the example below. This is around 1979, maybe 80. At the time, I resisted it mightily, as children will, because of its obvious connection with my work. The lovely cover is by Susan.

I am am I

Set fire to the house
Overturn the table
I am crouched on the axis
of sunset
seated at the edge
of my chair
are wombs another extreme
of lair
have I been cooked into the fabric
of my father

Making the Park is an early Kelsey Street Press book (1976). I helped to typeset it in Patricia Dienstfry’s basement on Kelsey Street, feeling exactly like Anais Nin, whose diaries about setting type and living the literary life, we had all already read by that time. This poem is by Karen Brodine, one of the six of us (Rena Rosenwasser, Kit Duane, Marina La Palma, Karen, Patricia and I) who started the press. Karen sadly died of breast cancer in 1987.


This coat full of holes you give me
I know already how to wear hand-me-downs.
You turn so I can’t see your eyes
how they flatten into dimes
and swallow reflections.
Pouring money from a jar, you say,
take a bus.

I don’t want coins. You try
to fail.
I hate these generous handfuls of small
change, the pennies
that slip through my clenched hands
and are never

Now you tell me to go about the business
of my position and the hard cloth
of your coat is an curt as your chin.

Loree Anderson and I formed Sternum Press in 1976 and published Escape From Veils. The linoleum print on the cover is by Robert Weinsko. This is the first part of a longish poem of mine called “Loon Woman.” It is shamelessly 70s.

Loon Woman

The Christians left you Pioneer
to your maps and cannibal dreams
Wildcat left you
but Coyote turned into a woman
and smiled, offered
to roast your painful head in the stones
But once inside
you could not fight your way out
and were cooked and
thrown into the river where shamans come to bathe
Part of the dream of Loon Woman
who never slept
whose dreams fell to her from the sky
into the fire and escaped
grew old but did not die.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Audio is posted from the internet panel from SPT's AGGRESSION: A CONFERENCE ON CONTEMPORARY POETICS AND POLITICAL ANTAGONISM at Andrew Kenower's A Voice Box. The panel includes Erika Staiti, Jasper Bernes, and Craig Perez. Thank you, Andrew!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Speaking of community in action -- see the excellent first round of discussion about Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz , which is being shown at SF MOMA, in Open Space, the new SF MOMA blog, curated by Suzanne Stein. The blogged group discussion is not a unique idea but this one is nicely done.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

I noticed that International Exchange for Poetic Invention has listed the available postings below from the Agression Panel. Here they are copied from there.

Jasper Bernes'"The Liberalizing Ideology of the Internet"

Juliana Spahr's talk

Erika Staiti's Race & Gender

Link to Craig Perez'"My Michael Magee and the Frontier of Democratic Symbolic Action"

And, again, the Aggression panel blog.

It is worth mentioning that a number of panelists (Jasper, Erika, Rob Halpern) called for future actions that had to do with setting down and asserting one's own history or identity or issues, sometimes in a collective and sometimes anonymous way. This idea compliments Erika's archiving project. As an older writer, I feel a lot of pleasure in knowing about these projects (some of them imagined, some already begun) and in being involved in them, to the degree that I am. But I feel a bit separated by generational issues or assumptions from those who will really do them. I don't mind this feeling because we older ones have other fish to fry. My sense is that younger writers might want to highlight personal life, the body, gender considerations more than has been the case with some recent poetics, but that is just a guess. There is a lot going on. Will I even know when whatever is going to happen happens? I hope someone tells me. Meanwhile, about the 70s.

Me at 20, 1972

Jerry and I are having one of our first dates. It is a hot day in early summer and we go to a group reading in the North Beach. One of the readers, I think the others are Beat poets, is Kathleen Fraser who has just gotten into town to run the Poetry Center at State (where she founded the American Poetry Archives of which I am later the director). She is fresh from close involvement in New York School which is going strong in the East.

Kathleen Fraser from the back cover of Memory
by Bernadette Mayer, North Atlantic, 1975

Jerry has just made friends with the poet Alta, who seems famous to me because I heard her read at Sac State. I perceive when they meet at this reading that she believed that their meeting was a date but Jerry, with me in tow, has a different sense of it. I experience being a silent girl thing as they talk poetry and wonder how I will find my way in the poetry world. Because of my working class background of not really knowing anything about anything but what I have read, I think of myself, to quote a Sappho book I often read, as a “hayseed in [my] hayseed finery” but I don’t care. My plan is to keep writing. I want to see my version and I want to see it out in the world.

One encounters, at that time, various Beats in North Beach as Gregory Corso who marries a young woman and has a kid. He always seems to be drunk and mean. One encounters Bob Kaufman as he wanders like a ghost from bookstore to bar, exquisitely dressed in thriftshop clothes, having gotten out of the asylum and begun talking again after ten years of silence. He depends on the baby Beat scene to buy him drinks and take him in of an evening. He likes to leave the shower running and sit in the steam.

Kearny Street Workshop forms in 1972 in the International Hotel where the Transamerica Pyramid now is. I am vaguely aware of the writers there but don’t move to San Francisco until just before they are evicted in 1977. There is a big demonstration. People surround the building. I think I do too. Jack Hirschman is very much part of the North Beach scene and is part of this action. We probably follow him down the hill to the crowd surrounding the hotel.

Jerry Estrin and I in 1976
In 1976 Jerry and I move to a place on Mason & Vallejo. He is part of a group of surrealists who have worked with the Greek poet Nanos Valloritis who teaches at SF State. Nanos is a connection to Andre Breton and French surrealists, some of whom he knew in the day. Jerry and Ken Wainio, a fellow SF State graduate, found the magazine Vanishing Cab by the usual surrealist method of randomly opening the dictionary or maybe throwing it up in the air. Neither of them drive at the time though both are to make a living that way later. They are also both to die young but we don’t know that then. I don’t identify as a surrealist and I resist some of the gang Jerry is friends with – as does he eventually. However he continues to admire Philip Lamantia and to have a surrealist inflected thinking which values experiment and the idea that one changes all of life with one’s work. In that way it is strangely political. Jerry and I write poetry and argue about poetics a lot. We talk Blake and Lautremont around various campfires on top of various mountains and in secret cabins he knows about from old girlfriends. We like Michael McClure’s work and go to see his plays at Malvina’s Coffee House on Union, one of the places everyone hangs out but we don’t really meet him. When September Blackberries appears I buy it and take it the Civic Center park City Hall to read in the sun. We are friends with a poet called Stephen Scharwtz who is destined to write Jerry’s obituary for the Chronicle. I admire Bruce Conner and other visual artists and often go to museum and galleries. After visiting one gallery and seeing Conner’s piece that I think was called Tables & Cards, I write the poem with his and Michael McClure’s words with which, thirty years later, I will open my Selected Poetry.
Re Vision and 70s Outakes from Re Vision

"Re Vision: Outlaws, Lone Wolves and Made Poets: Bay Area Poetics from the 70s to the Present is available here. It is the talk I gave at the SPT Aggression conference. Below are some of the outtakes. There is a bit of overlap with the essay.

Triumph of Flora, 1980, The Pilot Hill Collection of Art by John Fitz Gibbon

“Begin with Tharmas Parent Power” Blake, Four Zoas. For me that is the teacher and artist John Fitz Gibbon who taught Art History at Sacramento State in the early 70s. He made me a poet. So my story starts with love and with John’s idea of paradise, the garden of love or good government. He thinks (and acts) allegorically, putting on art events at his place in Pilot Hill in which everyone is naked and there are themes like the Judgment of Paris, the Peaceable Kingdom or, as above and from later, the Triumph of Flora. So I begin, allegorical and naked, to see my life as a history painting, and me in it and I begin to write my first poems. Also at Sac State I hear Allen Ginsberg during Gay Liberation Week. I hear Diane Di Prima and Alta who is the publisher of Shameless Hussy Press. When Diane Di Prima reads it is from Loba and I am struck by the image of this female lone wolf.

Loba,Part 1, Capra Press, 1973

“…she grinned/ baring her wolf’s teeth.” Diane Di Prima, Loba. Women’s Liberation is going full out and instead of thinking that I will grow up to be a wife and a high school English teacher, I begin to imagine a different destiny for myself, as a poet. I read Philip Whalen and Gary Snyder to find out how to do that. Loba is in the back of my mind. I take a Bob Dylan class. He and the Beats are my first living poets. I read Philip Whalen’s On Bear’s Head with the same transfixed passion I later read Jack Spicer. For the first time since I was a kid, I begin to write poems. Influenced by my Dylan class, I think of them as ‘talking blues.’ I think of the writers I like as outlaws and of being an outlaw as my duty. The first two poems of mine that are published, in 1973, appear in a stapled zine called Nevermind. Among the contributors are Alta and Laura Chester. My poems are titled “On Being Fired From the Job of Housekeeper for Immoral Acts” and “An Examination of the Anima in the Work of Bob Dylan.”

Nevermind, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1973, edited by Melinda Barry & Ingrid Swanberg, cover by Barbara McGee .
I transfer from Sac State to Cal, study with Tom Parkinson, first meet Robert Duncan in Parkinson’s class, study Blake with Donald Ault, have a class with Svetlana Alpers to which Patty Hearst doesn’t show up after she is kidnapped by the SLA. Behind me in the big auditorium of the giant survey class, one of her friends says to the other, “Patty kidapped?”

At the time, I am writing by looking at art and spend a huge amount of time at the Berkeley Art Museum. I admire Joan Brown. I see the poster of her Wolf in Studio painting everywhere. I go to her office hours at Cal but find I have nothing to say. You can’t simply say, “I think we share the same lover or I wanted to meet you because I want my writing to be in some way like your art” so I don’t say it but that’s what I want. I am in a Rhetoric class taught by Leonard Nathan and am invited to be part of a reading group with Leonard Nathan and Josephine Miles – possibly at the house of Lawrence and Justine Fixell. This is quite an august group but the experience scares the hell out of me and I only go once. Miles is an influential teacher and the first woman to be tenured by the English department at Cal (much later I learn she was a friend of Jack Spicer). She was very disabled by arthritis, and had to me, a kind of Linda Hunt in Dune feel about her, but I don’t study with her or connect with her work. I also don’t find that Donald Ault thinks much of contemporary poetry so I don’t join his Blake club. Hot on the trail of my new identity, I need to be with people who believe in contemporary writing and its power to change oneself and everything else. I am already with Jerry Estrin at this point and we are sort of lone wolves together. But Ault’s sense of Blake has enabled my own work and I call my individual major “The Practice of Poetry” from Blake’s statement in his engraving the of Laocoon.

“Practice is Poetry

If you leave off you are lost” William Blake

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Oh my god, it was like the best conference ever.

I am sure there will be much description of it in various blogs and of course there is the conference blog itself. This will be my impressionist version generated by post migraine euphoria. I am in a delicate rather exhausted state however and so cannot be expected to be thorough -- maybe not even accurate.

The SPT AGGRESSION CONFERENCE ON CONTEMPORARY POETICS AND POLITICAL ANTAGONISM began at CCA on SF Friday night with Cynthia Sailers’ talk on “When You’ve Got An Itch You’ve Got to Scratch It: a talk on group mania and the criminal mind.” Cynthia detailed aspects of crowd behavior and group formation with special emphasis on lynching and other terrifying phenomena. She used clips from films as her examples of this behavior. The psychological terms were somewhat familiar, but I don’t usually think of the poetry world in this way (mirror stage, desire for mother and father, body parts, feces etc) so I was a bit confused at first and troubled by her not connecting the talk directly to poets – but then I considered how diagnosing anyone or any group by reading her or him or them through texts or reported activities would be silly, maybe even offensive. Some of the audience was exasperated by this approach, some were elated. I thought that it provided an intriguing backdrop, not without issues, by addressing some of the psychological causes and effects of being part of a group, not being part of a group and otherwise in being in the poetry scene. After Cynthia’s talk, before I had really thought it through, I said to Jocelyn Saidenberg that I was asking myself how this approach related to the poetry world and she said that it was clear to her that it connected completely and in all ways. (She was one of the elated ones.) The next day Cynthia and others made the point that to look at the scene while you are actually in the scene had a value but was hard and potentially dangerous to the psyche and I tended to agree,

The next day began well for me when I ran into Jasper Bernes and Joshua Clover on arriving and Joshua approved of my outfit which was a bit beyond the regulation jeans and black shirt that is the fallback for these things. (You might generously call my look for the day aging but dignified French tart.) Jasper popped a couple of nicorettes, other conferees arrived and we found our way through the unfamiliar campus to the conference hall, a renovated Victorian with a wonderfully old California feel. There were pastries and coffee in a front room which ended up being the main other location for the audience who spilled out from the intimate conference room where the panels took place. There was a technology glitch with a larger location on campus that had been planned as a backup in case of huge attendance, but, in the event, the audience seemed to fit into the space we were in. I thought the crowdedness of it leant itself to a sort of excitement. There were maybe 30 or so attendees for the first panel which began at 11:00. Maybe fewer. At the most crowded, there were perhaps 40- 50 in the two rooms for the later panels, but many of us could cram into the main room for the first one. Stephanie opened things with a short intro to that panel which was on the internet and then asked the panelists to introduce themselves. Erika Staiti started out. I first met Erika a few years ago at a Mills pre-semester party when she had just arrived in town and, all eagerness and kid attitude, informed me that she was in my workshop. I must admit that I felt like a proud mama when she presented a sophisticated, thoughtful, coyly ironic presentation about her editorial/archival project Race & Gender. She is collecting Numbers Trouble posts connected with the essay by Juliana Spahr and Stephanie Young and the Michael Magee Flarf poem debacle. (There is a lot on this at and linked to the conference blog.) Jasper Bernes then gave a talk on the internet that really looked at the ownership of it and the way in which it is a not even remotely adequate compensation for the loss of opportunities and services which are true here in the US, not to mention the lack of connectiveness to the internet true of most of the world. (Lisa Robertson made this point.) His was a dsytopian view well thought out with a Marxian frame that generated a lot of comment. csperez read parts of a much longer paper on the Magee poem – actually as I think of it, it was a paper about his original paper on the poem, part of which he read. There were a lot of layers to his talk. The consensus I got later was that he was remarkably generous to McGee, while fully cognizant of and including the many nuanced issues of racism and other issues present in the reception of McGee’s poem the vexed title of which he tended to misread with a slight grimace each time he mentioned it. He posed the question of whether it is Emersonian gesture or white boy outrage and again, his answer to that question was quite measured. csperez had a view of the internet and of blogs in particular that seemed a bit more positive than Jasper’s and tended to chime more with Erika’s more hopeful view (close to my own) that it is good to have a lot of work and comment out there that gets books, events and analysis in front of the communities who need to see it. There was a moment when someone (Joshua?) asked Jasper and csperez to debate their seemingly opposite positions and suggested as an ironic afterthought that Erika could act as referee. Cynthia noted this later as a questionable gesture of making the woman the mediator (without accusing anyone of wild sexism) but wanting to question and highlight the action. I agreed inwardly (and later when we talked about it) but noted to myself that some presentations occur more in the form of an argument – these tend to be the ones that generate debate – while others take the form more of statement of what one is doing with a gesture of openness to include the listener but not really an argument with her or him or with the other panelists. This kind of talk is often quite artful and functions more as evidence or example than as debate. My own presentation in the next panel, which was a memoir, was like that. Tyrone William’s presentation and Bhanu Kapil’s talk in the last panel as well as Rodrigo Toscano’s excellent recorded piece would fall into the example of artfully presented evidence (with huge content) of the thing being discussed. Juliana’s piece about The Distinction, as she put it, was more in the scholarly argument mode. The Distinction referred to Chris Chen’s description for the panel of the “distinction, drawn by an earlier generation of critics and poets, between creative projects organized under the sign of “identity” or “difference,” versus a “poetics of indeterminacy.” This was a fairly simple, elegant way to proceed but some of us were so fried by that time that we couldn’t remember what The Distinction was. The consensus on the third panel (I am skipping ahead) seemed to be the avant-garde was already always ethnic and there were innumerable proofs using many writers and artists. Bhanu’s talk, riskily but effectively written the night before, grappled very directly with the psychological issues suggested by Cynthia’s presentation. Because the piece was very much written in the powerful diction of her work in general (which really crosses genres from fiction to non fiction to poetry) and because the issues she addressed were incredibly visceral and even potentially ugly or difficult and needed to be thought through by the audience in an individual way, maybe dreamt by them and discussed with intimates, there was less initial response than I might have expected or wanted and yet, as I discovered talking to people later, there was much admiration and appreciation of and engagement with her approach.

But backing up a bit, I will say that we went over our time even with the first panel, getting out late for lunch -- which had me fretting about the logistics of it all but I managed to let go of it. I ate with David Brazil and Sarah Larsen who were distributing their new magazine Try! Tyrone was there and Stephen Vincent, blessedly keeping me from being the oldest person in the party. Two other tables in the tiny Thai restaurant across the street from the campus were filled with poets. We reconvened back at the location where Stephanie, Cynthia and Chris had reset the room and were ready to show Rodrigo Toscan’s 8 minute piece SUPER-SOLID about work and community and the tricks being played on us to get us to think things are better when, well, are they? Camille Roy then gave a nice introduction to the histories panel that included her intriguing notion that she was subject to each of our divas. Robin started with her piece which was broad and even-handed in its scholarly approach. I was struck by what should be obvious -- that what is written and recorded become the only sources, besides the participants (while they (we) are still around) for what happened. Robin mentioned some of the familiar issues around Ron Silliman’s several articles and assertions in relation to various communities and Leslie Scalapino’s and others’ responses to them. I saw the necessity of mentioning these often debated issues, which however were sometimes less central to those of us who were there in the time when they occurred. Ron gets a lot of focus because he does the work of summing up, boiling down, framing etc – sometimes accurately, sometimes not – but he does it and so becomes the lightning rod for issues. Still, I felt there was no particular bashing going on – in case anyone expected that or suspects it is what occurred. Lyn Hejinian came and made some perceptive and gracious comments in response to the three talks in this panel, remembering bashings of the past as rather traumatic for those bashed, but clearly demonstrating by her demeanor and presence that this was not in any way what was going on. I would say that there was processing of how the many strains of thought and personal relationships have produced the scene we are in – with occasional complaints but often also with celebration. I think if Ron had been there he would have had some issues but really enjoyed the energy and the argument.

My talk was very much a memoir. I had worked hard to make it a coherent narrative. (I will either post it or publish it somewhere – more on that.) The very warm, interested reception of it I got from more people, including Lyn, than have almost ever praised me after a reading (not that I keep count) let me know that there is real interest in multiple versions of the last few decades of poetry history, how it relates to now etc. and in my own take as participant and witness at many levels. Rob Halpern’s talk “Realism and Utopia: Writing, Sex and Activism in the New Narrative” was a wild improvisitory ride through the first 5 pages of his 50 page tome on New Narrative, focusing on the magazine SOUP and Bruce Boone’s Century of Clouds which is very happily soon to be reprinted. His and Robin’s talk seemed to generate the most response, sometimes by me as I was completely uncorked and felt able to say what I wanted (hurray for it!) I very much look forward to the longer versions of both of these projects.

The third panel was great in many different ways which I can’t quite be equal to as my euphoria is weakening. Tyrone’s talk included many visuals available on the conference blog, detailing several examples of avant-gard practice by African American writers and artists of the past and present. It was, again, artful and so was very much an example of his point. The responses to each of the talks in the third panel were a bit more subdued than I expected, partly because we were all pretty worn out by that time. A number of points that had been made earlier by csperez and by members of the audience such as Scott Inguito who argued for distance learning and how it can be the only learning available to students with economic and other issues were not remade but definitely enriched the discussion that did occur. And these points clearly radiated outward to the question of how the esthetic practices we were discussing reach readers and what the effect of the route (internet, book, graduate school etc) is.

In the interests of getting this up now before my migraine euphoria has completely faded I will truncate the later events, mentioning only that, after a lot of post conference talking, dispersal occurred and a lovely dinner was had by myself, Jen Hofer who was irresistibly and happily drawn away from her current stay at Djerassi, Taylor Brady, Rob Halpern, Camille Roy and then David, Sarah, Stephen and Tyrone, as at lunch. It’s hard to believe, but the evening ended with Bhanu Khapil and Tyrone William in bed together in David Buuck’s house -- Tyrone reading his poems as bedtime stories and Bhanu mysteriously pulling books off shelves with string, surrounded by as many members of the poetry scene as could stuff ourselves into David Buuck’s bedroom. With any luck there will already be many shots of this highly photographed event online. For now, I am fading fast.

Oh, one more thing. Chris Chen, in masterfully moderating the third panel -- commenting, framing, inciting -- asked for ideas for future panels and it occurred to me that to think of audience might be one approach, as in 'what and who are we writing for?' Just a thought.

ALSO, the whole conference was documented by Andrew Kenower and will appear shortly on his site.