Sept. 5, 2012
Working today on a profile of David Meltzer, whose recent WHEN I WAS A POET appeared as City Lights Pocket Poets Series #60, It is a beautiful collection, filled with the insight, humor, and generosity that has always been the ground for this poet's writing. Also, I've been trying to finish this Duncan bio (see earlier posts). Getting ready for my European reading tour (and time-out) is fun, but not easy. I've also been glancing at Walt Whitman's SPECIMEN DAYS and Meltzer's poems from five decades. What a mix all of this has turned out to be. And I am trying to figure out YouTube for my own laptop, and not being very successful at it. Then, as if all this isn't enough, I'm putting-together a representative sampling of my own poetry for publication in Austria, a German/English edition. That is one daunting task, but I have the help of translator/editor (Hanuman Books, etc.) George Scrivani, who I originally met when Gregory Corso introduced us in 1977, saying, "This is a guy who will be your friend and editor the rest of your ife. Ah! How true that has proven to be over these long decades. Gregory is gone, but the blessing remains. On this Friday, George hands me the manuscript. He has gone over typos and the order of poems (crucial). I am also printing out poems in 14 point, bold type so I can read them at the festival in some sensible way that makes me look like a very good oral poet. I can only hope that they have good lighting available.
Sept. 4, 2012
Just received invitation to read my poetry at a festival in Tijuana. That's an exciting invite and I'm already choosing poems, as I have a number of them in Spanish, but will ask one of my translator pals to take-on a few newer poems. Many people think of "TJ" as a rough and tumble town, but it has a prestigious university and a thriving literary/art community. The invitation reads next October -- so I am trying to figure out if that means this coming one, or 2013. Alas. . . we shall see. Meanwhile, just a few days and I board the plane for Innsbruck to participate in the Sprachsalz Festival. Aggie Falk and I are the two SF poets who will be featured. Jack Hirschmam and Makita Groves will be there to read as part of the festival's tenth anniversary celebration, as well. William Gass, Gerard Malanga, and Ann and Samuel Charters are the other USA guests. We will be staying and reading in the town of Hall, close to Innsbruck. After the festival I travel on to Verona and will read there, and in Rovereto. This is all exciting, taking my poems to international venues. I'm an old Mexico hand, and so that trip will be really fun, as I am sure to re-acquaint with some of the poets I've met in past years when reading in Oaxaca, Mexico City and Guadalajara.
Meanwhile, I've been delving in and out of Robert Duncan's poetry. He had such a fine ear for the music, for the lyrical possibilities of the poem. Not long ago I re-read THE OPENING OF THE FIELD (1960), a magnificent collection, containing some of Duncan's finest poems. One of them, "Often I am permitted to Return to a Meadow" demonstrates what I am talking about. So lively is this poem -- it takes me to Goethe's lyrical writing, focused-in on nature. Here Duncan is not grandiose, as he often can be, but a deft dancer on the page. When I first read this poem, and this entire collection, I fell in love, and still am. Here is just a snippet of the poem: "Often I am permitted to return to a meadow/as if it were a given property of the mind/that certain bounds hold against chaos. . ." Another gem is "The Dance," which does just that: "Lovely their feet pound the green solid meadow./The dancers mimic flowers -- root stem stamen and petal/or words are,/our articulations,/our measures."
Sept. 2, 2012
All morning long reading Lisa Janot's biography of Robert Duncan (see below). It is a treasure-trove of the SF Bay Area poetry scene from the 40's till late 80's. The last time I saw Robert was in a Noe Valley Cafe. He was elegantly dressed, almost Byronesque, sitting with an equally elegant woman friend. I can almost see him now -- gesturing imperiously. But that is memory lane. I'm looking at his poetry as well, and am so moved by it. He has a depth of feeling as deep as John Wieners, and that is pretty damned deep. These guys did not mess around, they dove into the heart of matter. There's no doubt Duncan could have trimmed down the rhetoric, but wow anyway. The way he probes through time, across vast terrain, outside of a minimalist mind-set, as if yearning to "own" the power Dante had in his mastery over the melodies possibilities. Right from the start of his writing life, Duncan went for the music, his ear was so profoundly in tune with the life around him. Now, he compels me to leave this blog for a time and write a poem. What can I say, I feel it coming. I have the phrase, "Mind your own lake," written in one of my notebooks (Safari fountain pen) and need to work it out.
Sept 1, 2012
Here goes my first blog posting. It's August 31 and I'm thinking about my upcoming participation in the Sprachsalz Poetry Festival to be held in mid-September. II'm also putting together a book for publication in Austria, a gathering of poems from over the years, including sections from a number of book-length poems, EINSTEIN ALIVE, FRANKFURT A TO ALEPH and THE CONFUCIAN ODES.
Amid all of this, I've been diving into the life and poetry of Robert Duncan,wishing I had sought him out more when he was iiving and writing here in San Francisco. From the beginning of his writer's life he had the lyric down and a naturally prophetic voice. One of the earler poems, "The Year As Catches," he read aloud in my Harwod Alley, North Beach apartment the day of the SF Gay Parade. Poet Steve Abbott and I were his audience. I thern handed him the book of the same title and he inscribed, "For Neeii on a day among the years." That book is now with my papers in the Bancroft Library, UCB. Not long ago I read his unfinished masterwork, THE H.D. BOOK --a spiritual autobiography (my description). Highly recommended. As for the upcoming book in German (with accompanying English), I will begin it with this poem, a sketch of Caffe Trieste, my North Beach hangout of choice since 1974. It's where I met so many people who became important in my life. The poem is inspired by "At the Trieste," from the hand of Harold Norse (1916-2009). It is in his collected poems. Anyway, here goes mine:
This poem came to me in one quick take, then with some tinkering I sent it to a few friends and onto Facebook. As I wrote it, a voice whispered, "I write poems so that I can read them aloud." There it is. That reliable litle guy who resides in my synapses gave me the basic truth about what makes poetry. So this poem now means a lot as I move on ahead. To top it off, I am reading a biography of Robert Duncan. THE AMBASSADOR FROM VENUS. Go to your local bookstore or Amazon and Check it out. It is a good vierw of his life and of both the Berkeely poetry scene of the late 1940s and early 50's and of the San Francisco Renaissace/Beat Generation. The bio. led me back to many odf my favorite Rbt. Duncan poems such as "Bending the Bow, "My Mother Was a Falconress" and "Santa Cruz Propositions."
Soj there it is. Time teeter totters and jumps up and down. I feel so fortunate to be able to use this computer screen as a pool of leaves and ashes. A magic screen. It brings back a poem from 1994 that I found burrowed-away, foergotten. Now it goes into the new book. I wrote this in Mexico City in a ramshackle hotel, the room down a long, d ank corridor, after several days of rain:
WAIT OUT THE RAIN!
wait out the rain! wait it out!
turquoise figures probe my mind
I move from that other inside covered
with gyrating ochre and munificent ivory
your lips are cold. I touch them
as two doves rest in this world
of gasoline, dark white with speckled
pale pink spots, one larger than the other
rain! heavy rain! a fist of rain!
rainfall startles the radios
people float into caverns, huddle
with arms folded, bat-like, dreaming of
tobacco and sex, thinking subway
and death. cruel facades shelter
rats and wizened assassins
soon you'll dress and disappear
I'll speak in fantasies, recapturing your eyes
aching for your fingers, your slender wrist
your voice reciting a poem about a barrio
hidden in the country, reflected in your eyes
wait out the rain! wait it out!
eyes press against my body
a poetic fact while lying in bed
aware of workers and their floating torsos
tearing up the street directly below my window
I leave the room, making my way
toward a field of photographs
electric rain! listen to the rain!
your name floats past, a leaf
or sun veins crossing a marketplace
of rotting vegetables
- the earth is a beast whose talons
dig into flesh - you are a memory
I'm watching traffic ripple
through morning showers, the rain
will bring sunflowers on hillsides
free from this metropolitan grid.
rain! wait it out!