Saturday, January 31, 2009


Evening and Sorrow
Together again
Like spring everywhere
Winter in California
All the beautiful dead
Green the trees
Black the creek its
Boundless debauchery

Water fable or
House in the sun
Angels of Sodom
Hover among
Heron or ibis great
Ladders golden
Sections overlaid
Made to cross
In solar boats as
Before saying
Far from beautiful
But am your faithful friend
Grammar of your ornament

Abducted her there
Then or me
One of those nights he
Fought the last fight
Culminating in birds whose
Confirming network of signs
Pose the question

Or creature who wounded
But will you?
All the time or never
Remembers when she
Forgets she said
Forget me

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lives of the Poets
by Alan Halsey

The lines in Live of the Poets all feel found, though I suspect some (most?) of them of having actually been written in the present by the present poet, not me, but Alan Halsey, author of Lives of the Poets (including an excellent handful by Martin Corless-Smith). The whole activity of writing the poem, of living the life of a poet is deftly and hilariously treated in these pieces. That this treatment produces lines filled with desperation, pomposity and madness shouldn’t surprise you if you are a poet yourself or know one. There is also an intimate, sympathetic understanding of the activity of writing. "I had not the Patience to be Silent longer" (MARY, LADY OF CHUDLEIGH).

Many of the names are familiar but many are not. They are all from the past of English literature which (I’ve said this before) Americans tend to think of as our own literary heritage. The book supports my on-going thesis that this English verse both is and isn't the past of our language and poetics -- or poetic as Alan would say.

There is a lot to have fun with here. I have a great fondness for the Lives of the Romantics because they are long, florid, and, well, romantic. One tends to know more about Byron, Shelley and the boys than, for example, Aaron Hill whose succinct little poem appears to sum up a well-lived poetic life.


what we have written correct
Hillarius sung ‘till pity wept

There isn’t a portrait of Aaron Hill in the book but there are many engravings of the poets in the Lives. These images are unmoored from each Life and name of the poet in question, appearing occasionally throughout, but mainly in the front and back in a bewigged, ruffled rogues' gallery that bookends the book. The elegant index provides the key to the lives (more than one for several poets) and the engravings, as well as letting you know which poems are by Alan and which by Martin. The printing and design are at the usual very high level of Five Seasons Press books, and then some. Lives of the Poets is not only wonderful to hold but evokes a distinct time travel experience with its cloth cover, thick paper and classic design. The physical book, whose physicality is very much put before you, resonates with the physicality of writing (and having a life) which is read, interpreted, crossed out and reassembled for the reader's pleasure. The book perfectly presents the Lives much as an antique puppet theater would present Punch, Judy and their old routines in the old way of experiencing them to a happy connoisseur of puppetry. But to make a really parallel case, there would have to be a discontinuous, lifelike quality to the performance which would make it both wildly modern and completely traditional.

The eloquence and subtle textuality the reader of Alan Halsey’s writing has come to expect have ample opportunity to spread out across the lovely pages of the present volume -- and there to fill the reader with all the suggestiveness and possibility that can be wrung out of the words, markings, lives and lines, whoever wrote them.


so stared at (what I ought I can’t) stunning
words for poetry found in old romaunts and my Blake M.S.
to know all our Brotherhood blarneyed Pre-Pre
and Lizzy more beautiful more varying ghostly
broken and dear all glare and change
wrested (written) he buried (whispered) his poems (unrestful)
the recovery of which has taken this shape dearest Janey
things I dare not speak of nor meant to slur
a joyful sight were not everything an omen

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Poet at inn reading Alan Halsey before combing hair. Note world. More on this.

Monday, January 19, 2009


I thought it worked. Last night’s TAXT event. Nice to wander from poet to poet seeing and hearing them display their wares. Enjoyed hearing Jasper Berne’s work read by a robot. I forget the name of the program. And that shirt he was wearing was straight out of the seventies. Chris Girard had a wonderfully complicated explanation of the links in his piece displayed on his laptop that were incomprehensible to me in the general cacophony though I did get that Jane Austen and Lord of the Rings were involved. There was a big Powerpoint projection by John Sakkis to the right of me and was that some kind of feed from MySpace or something to the left of me? Anyway it was interesting as implicating various people, their situations and mental states on-goingly. By I think Geneva Chao. David Buuck’s poetic scratch & sniff & read thing. Did that a few times. Thank god I didn’t get the wet one. Then there was the poetry jukebox in the corner. I heard it was Lindsey Boldt in there with the flu? There was an ipod attached promisingly to some earphones but I never got back to them. Really liked Jerrold Shiroma’s book of images and the couch next to them where you could sit. As an added benefit, Norma Cole planted herself there to survey the doings (this was her third poetry event of the weekend) so you got to sit next to her. (See below.) So it was like a poetry fair or poet exploratorium or something. Move through space with poets and have experiences with their works, mostly not involving passively being read to, though occasionally, yes, being read to – by John Sakkis and Michael Nicoloff while I was there. When I left it was still raging on though the fizzy water had run out. Stefani Barber, Jasper Bernes, Lindsey Boldt, David Brazil, David Buuck, Geneva Chao, Del Ray Cross, Chris Girard, Michael Nicoloff, Eleni Stecopoulos, John Sakkis, Jerrold Shiroma were all said to have pieces in the event but I didn’t find or experience them all. There was much food for thought about events for those of us who constantly either have to put on, perform in or go to them. Practically everybody. I hope we continue to try stuff like this and that it actually raised some funds for TAXT. Brava to Suzanne!

PS Note from Suzanne about Geneva Chao's piece and other key info: Geneva was using Twitter to write into the status update bar on Facebook and we were watching the Live Feed function, as she sat alone in a bar in Portland, Oregon, all dressed up and performing for us from her laptop. John Sakkis gave a live reading-by-proxy of Eleni Stecopolous's work. The headphones was Stefani Barber's piece. Totally Lindsey in the booth.

Suzanne Stein and Kevin Killian

Chris Girad with his TAXT book anatomized

A. Kenower & A. Warren listen to J. Bernes

Norma Cole and Brandon Brown live the dream

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Fictions of the Red Night

Being a collection of notes on the strangeness, after and within a life of poetry, of writing fiction.

A poet captured by the idea of fiction is in several kinds of trouble common to captives, the most obvious being the loss of autonomy. Poets like autonomy. We like to use words when and how we please and let the cards fall where they may. We might impose strict limits on ourselves as we are writing, but there is always a safe word we can utter that will allow us to move freely through the poem.

Fiction requires the work of laying the sentences down (well first you have to write the damn sentences) end to end to be able to get somewhere. It is both wider and narrower than poetry. Wider in the sense that you are writing into a whole world of events that will actually open out before you – much as the day does. Writing fiction is for me more engulfing than poetry which I experience as if I am responding to an inner soothsayer reading from some entrails found lying around (mine?) that need to be thought through before they can be gotten rid of. Getting rid of something (I usually call them the ideas) has along been a central need of my poetry.

Or, taking the writing of poetry in a more mechanical direction, the poet, having a few moves he is really good at, sets up verbal situations in which he can perform these moves. He works his way through the routine, adding, if you are lucky, a new flourish here and there, ending on tiptoe with his umbrella balancing on his nose, thereby questioning capitalism, proposing a utopia and possibly getting into the pants of some designated reader. Don’t laugh, this is really difficult.

Fiction seem to me to function with less language play but with more of something like life. Committing to write a story or especially a novel feels like taking on a new job or going on a long trip whose logistical difficulties are likely to far outweigh the fun to be had. As with life, and trips, I think I know what will happen but don’t really know. Eventually, at some extreme point of exhaustion, I will have all I can do to keep up with the will of the characters and the trajectory of the narrative. Not that words don’t do this in the poem, but the presence, in the story, of a seductive verisimilitude which I am both creating and being fooled by cause the writing of fiction to be surprising to me in a way that is other than the surprises of poetry. This might be because, as an old poet, I have written myself into a corner and find it harder to really surprise myself. Fine, have it your way. On the other hand, my characters not infrequently write poems which aren’t entirely like my own. And lately I notice a harshness to my poetry, a kind of anti-beauty, which does in fact interest me, but will anyone else get it? That is another thing about fiction. You don’t have to be a fully trained life long reader of poetry to get it.

Certain poets claim that they never read novels, but I can’t not read them. I too feel the claustrophobia present in the inevitability of the usual plot, but I seem to need several plots (lives) to be unwinding at the same time (it’s never just one novel) just to, you know, make it through. But have I even written a real novel? Or am I writing one now? Damned if I know. And what about poetic novels and novels by poets? From Mount Analogue to 2666, I have found these to be among my favorite books. They are the books we poets hope to write when we are captured by fiction. Just this morning I was being knocked on my ass by how good the books are in Burrough’s late adventure trilogy. I remember the thrill as each one came out in the 80s and I bought them at City Lights. The particular book in question being Cities of the Red Night, some of whose ideas I embrace and some detest, but I like the ride. More on that. Okay, just a taste:

“The name is Clem Williamson Snide. I am a private asshole.”

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Love and Death and Jack Spicer

Last Sunday I was happy to be part of the reading for the new Jack Spicer collected My Vocabulary Did This To Me. The reading at San Francisco Public Library (thanks sfpl!) was put together by Kevin Killian who, with Peter Gizzi, also put together the book. With its gorgeous cover (a still from Threnody by Nick Dorsky), lots of new work and a great introduction, the book really is perfect in all ways. No wonder the first run is almost completely sold out. You can’t help wondering what Spicer would have thought of it all, with his infamous desire to keep his work within the bounds of his particular neighborhood and circle of friends.

To some degree that question was answered by Larry Kearny who read with a sense of unwillingness and doubt that seemed to reflect a commonality with the Jack Spicer he in fact knew. Larry said about Spicer’s work that it had the essential qualities of being haunted, immediate, ecstatic and self-evident. I found there was a lot about death and memory and love in the work, more than I remembered and about as much as I could stand. I was surprised by how emotional I felt to hear poems read aloud that I have been reading and hearing in my head for my whole adult life. Actually, now that I think of it, I feel a bit jealous to share Spicer with the rest of the world. The piece I chose to read from was Billy The Kid. I didn’t get to read the last section, but here it is.

from Billy The Kid


Billy The Kid
I love you
Billy The Kid
I back anything you say
And there was the desert
And the mouth of the river
Billy The Kid
(In spite of your death notices)
There is honey in the groin

Thank you to Kevin and to Peter. And to Jack.

More on the reading.

Thursday, January 08, 2009