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Kenneth Patchen:
Fables & Other Little Tales

Fables & Other Little Tales , by Kenneth Patchen. Karlsruhe/Baden: Jonathan Williams, 1953.

Another prose book by Kenneth Patchen brings up all kinds of memories—dull as that occupation often is. But Patchen was always unclassifiable, his earlier books were an excitement altogether separate from what, say, Henry Miller amounted to. There was a wild kind of purity to them, and a conception few would have dared to attempt.

All this is too simple to say. The old gimmick of breathing heavily about a man's past performance is too often an excuse for ignoring him all the same. In Patchen's case this has been so much the fact, that it is tantamount to insult, finally, to invoke these older things at the expense of what he is now doing.

The new work is not a simple matter. For once, I think, it is legitimate to speak of Patchen himself, i.e., the man writing this book, and the particular problems with which he has been damned through no fault, certainly, of his own. Various appeals for medical help for him have of course appeared from time to time in almost all the magazines—though the response to them has been hardly enough. For a long time Patchen was thought to be suffering from a form of arthritis, until finally it was found that the cause of all the hell he had gone through with his back came from an 'exploded' disc, in the spinal column. An operation partially helped this—but

Black Mountain Review , Spring 1954.


he is far from done with it. And the same need for money, for medical expenses, continues.

What that has to do with this present book may be vague—though I doubt it. We ask a man to tell us what he knows, and what Patchen knows must be pain, constant pain, pain moving, sitting up or trying to, pain walking. Every single day of his life. It's not a question of 'excusing' the flaws, call them, of this book—or even of feeling that, after all, the man we had known, with his incredible tenderness, and gentleness, is at last a victim even of that world he believed in. He still is there, very much there. And if it is, or seems, by inversion—a care turned inside out—I hardly think this can be called the end of it.

The tone in the book is neither very 'funny' nor anything else. It seems to me almost ugly, and almost necessarily so. What else? The punning, the discontinuous sequence, etc.—he is not the first man to call attention to horror, to the horror now on us, by the use of its own methods. It is that things don't 'follow,' not now—that you begin saying this, you end saying that. And who knows why, in time? Perhaps that is very far from either Patchen's intention, or, better, the book's actual point, but it is a sense that comes very strongly from it.

"Never mind that," interjected the impatient Kraken. "Those pleasant little minnows there—" indicating the orphans, who were now contentedly belting one another with planks their steaks had come on, "I know damn well that their shoes will fit me. Only thing is, I wouldn't want to hurt their feelings . . . so I guess I'll have to eat them first."

In defiance of the jacket blurb, the book is anything but "sad, beautiful gaiety." But it may well be the beginning of, and the reasons for, an attack. Toward the end of the book he writes "Every stick points two ways, and people like you and me have either got to get an easy, knowing grip on the dirty end or else let go altogether . . ."


A Note on Canadian Poetry

The first Canadian poet was probably the Frenchman who came over with Champlain, and had intelligence a good deal beyond the ordinary in that he saw the new world even as Champlain did. Before leaving, and almost on the dock, he had written his "Farewell to France," and by that act intended a new life, one might say; at least it was his own decision. There is an account in Parkman of how Champlain came back to Port Royal (I think it was) after a miserable voyage down the Atlantic coast. Putting in for water, he had been attacked by Indians, and off Mount Desert he had almost lost his ship in the heavy seas. In any case, he came back bitter and tired out, and was utterly dumbfounded to find himself met by men in strange costumes chanting alexandrines—a true poetic homage to himself.

As Parkman has it, the Frenchman was not lazy, and if the old world could not be translated quite so literally to the new, it was an honest sense that had made the attempt. The masque was the old form, but the context was altogether a new one.

Canadian poetry might always be this attempt, not so much to fit, say, into an environment but to act in the given place. If there is no 'major' poet in Canada, if there never was one, etc., I think it is a part of this same problem. A theoretic embarrassment of 'culture,' all the tenuosities of trying to be local and international at the same time, etc., take an energy otherwise of use in the making of an idiom peculiar to the given circumstances. In this way Canadian poetry, in its earlier forms, has much in common with the Ameri-

Contact (Toronto), no. 8, 1953.


can poetry of Lowell, Longfellow, et al. The model is English, and it is precisely the English which is of no use whatsoever. "Like some grey warder who, with mien sedate, etc." comes too late, and too borrowed, to be helpful. It is incredible to think of the man writing it, even then, being where he must have been. The impact of the place is dulled in the overlay of the English rhythms, and the politenesses which couldn't have been actual.

The Frenchman with Champlain was, finally, a poet in a much, much deeper sense, and it was he who catalogued a good many of the plants around their camp, and also made a garden which kept them all in vegetables. There is that sense of it, of where, particularly, one is. I think that is more 'poetic vision,' call it, than any other sense could be. The Frenchman has size in his intention, and more than that, what he intends he does, i.e., the garden, and the masque in the dead of winter, completely improvised and successful.

I don't see any other way to do it. The problems of form and content, and all the other contentions of poets, are utterly intimate with each one writing, and where he is writing, and what he tries with what's around him. Canadian poetry becomes, in each instance, which man or woman it is, and what their work can effect.


Canadian Poetry 1954

Contact (An International Magazine of Poetry), nos. 4–8 (1953), edited by Raymond Souster.

Cerberus , by Louis Dudek, Irving Layton, Raymond Souster (1952); Twenty-four Poems , by Louis Dudek (1952); The Black Huntsmen , by Irving Layton (1951); Love the Conqueror Worm , by Irving Layton (1953); Canadian Poems 1850–1952 (1953). Toronto: Contact Press.

A roundup of Canadian poetry, A.D. 1954, would probably bring in little else but these. The American reader is, or may well be, familiar enough with the work of A. M. Klein, P. K. Page, and perhaps one or two others—but I think that Irving Layton, for one example, may well have escaped attention, despite the fact that he is a better poet than either of the two noted. Why this is so, like they say, is of course simple enough to guess. Local conditions, and a prevailing provincialism, have kept the Canadians wedged between England on the one hand, and the United States on the other, and it takes a somewhat trusting soul to stick his nose out.

Contact Press, however, has broken out of this usual dilemma by way of both books and a magazine, and if a reader wants to see where actual conditions for a healthy literature can be found, he might well look here. For example, Contact (the magazine) is nothing very much to look at, nor does it have many of those great names well calculated to keep the reader buying. But it is, in spite of itself, international —insofar as its tone is open, its critical sense

Black Mountain Review , Spring 1954.


almost sufficient, and because it prints in each issue four or five good poems, demonstrably good poems, by poets writing all the way from Freiburg to Mexico City. Not to mention Montreal.

That, in itself, is something—and with the canons of good taste, and good business, so well set in the States, one can do worse than subscribe to such a magazine—if only for the fine sense of air, and openness, it does have.

To maintain such a thing is not of course simple, either for those writing, or the editors thereof. It is a considerable scramble to get together enough material and enough money for a decent issue of any magazine, of any length, coming out four times a year. And the Canadians, in spite of ingenuousness and an almost sticky goodwill toward Literature, are by no means apt to run out and buy something by people who are not quite acceptable. Raymond Souster, in Cerberus , is eloquent enough.

Turning the crank of a mimeograph
In a basement cellar to produce the typical
"Little magazine" perhaps fifty will read,
Twenty remember (and with luck) five will learn from.

The delights of the literary salon, etc., are by no means what these men know:

Engaged through the week at Usura,
Loaning the rich the poor man's money,
And kidding yourself it does not leave
The marks of its uselessness upon you.

So that to say something, anything , in protest, has been of necessity their payment.

Back of that is the problem of how to say it, if one is writing poetry, and this is much the same headache, for Canadians, that it is for anyone else. And they have no all-pervading tone, to sneak by with, no Great Men for a shield. Dudek, in both Cerberus and Twenty-four Poems , founders, I think, on this lack of patent authority. Or else he has not yet got to his own idiom—and too much resembles, at present, a very desperate man in a very crowded store, trying on thousands of hats, coats, and gloves, in hopes to find something to fit, before the clock strikes five-thirty. On the other hand, more relaxed, he can be very graceful:

An Air by Sammartini

It was something you did not know
                                  had existed—by a dead Italian.


Neither words nor a shape of flesh
                                 but of air;
                                              whose love it celebrated
                                                      and "cold passion"

Amoroso Canto , a crystal
                                    that fell from musical fingers—
As a cloud comes into the eye's arena,
                                 a certain new tree
                                                    where the road turns,
                                  or love, or a child, is born,
                                                       or death comes:

Whatever is found or is done
                                  that cannot be lost or changed.

Which, in defiance, really, of the 'love,' 'death,' etc., ends with as hard and simple a statement as any man might ask for. Because 'general statement' is Dudek's bête noire , on other occasions, and no matter all the goodwill in the world, his preface in Cerberus (with its "The way to freedom and order in the future will lie through art and poetry . . .") is incredibly naive.

Layton seems to have sprung from somewhat more hardened stock. One can imagine him biting nickels, etc., at a much earlier date. His poetry is tougher, and at the same time more gentle. His idiom, to call it that, is much of the old and even 'traditional' way of it, except that he has a very sharp ear, and a hard, clear head for rhythms:

Mrs. Fornheim, Refugee

Very merciful was the cancer
Which first blinding you altogether
Afterwards stopped up your hearing;
At the end when Death was nearing,
Black-gloved, to gather you in
You did not demur, or fear
One you could not see or hear.

I taught you Shakespeare's tongue, not knowing
The time and manner of your going;
Certainly if with ghosts to dwell,
German would have served as well;
Voyaging lady, I wish for you
An Englishwoman to talk to,
An unruffled listener,
And green words to say to her

Layton may well be, for the historian of literature at any rate, the first Great Canadian Poet—he has his bid in at least, not that it is


not, in some of these poems, too brief and too random. But Canadian, English, American, or whatever, his poetry can be very good.

And how good can well be judged, thanks again to Layton, together with Dudek this time, by means of an anthology of Canadian verse which they have edited—as Pound would say, "an anthology based on terrible knowledge," if one remembers how many poems both must have read in order to produce what they come up with here. It may well be that any anthology is terrifying, not just this one. I should hate to see the same job done on American verse, all put together like this, 1850–1952. And yet one can see the use—if only to settle, once and for all, that there was and is a Canadian poetry, however dark some of its 'periods' may now seem.

Some of it is by no means as bad as all that; we have written much worse. Robert W. Service is much the same pleasure:

I dreamed I saw three demi-gods who in a cafe sat,
And one was small and crapulous, and one was large and fat;
And one was eaten up with vice and verminous at that.

The editors do not rate him strictly as a poet, i.e., "a roughhouse rhymester whom everybody welcomes but no one rates strictly as a poet." I would, I think. At least he is much more of a poet than, say, F. R. Scott?

This is our gardening
And this our hardening,
There is no pardoning:
We cannot be forgiven
For what we have not striven.

Some of it may come from an idea of 'poetry' (not the act, but the noun) which is, after all, a matter almost apart from what Dr. Williams, for one, calls, the poem. Canadians, if any of these people are evidence, or if Souster has not been beating his head on stone, are writing more and more poems.


D. H. Lawrence:
Studies in Classic American Literature

It's an odd feeling now to read a book like Cooper's Deerslayer . There is hardly much left of that place, and I wonder how far one would have to look, in the United States, to find timber still standing in its first growth. It must have been a fantastic world. We are, of course, the heirs to it.

So Lawrence says: ". . . it seems to me that the things in Cooper that make one so savage, when one compares them with actuality, are perhaps, when one considers them as presentations of a deep subjective desire, real in their way, and almost prophetic." Beyond the prose, heavy as it now seems, a man like Natty Bumppo is familiar enough: "This is Natty, the white forerunner. A killer."

Cooper was one root, or evidence, of the 'classic' American literature which Lawrence, and few others, had eyes to see. Even a present reclamation of Hawthorne will not judge, clearly enough, that the "prettiest of all sensations [is] the sensation of UNDERSTANDING ."

     The Scarlet Letter  gives the show away.
    You have the pure-pure young parson Dimmesdale.
    You have the beautiful Puritan Hester at his feet.
    And the first thing she does is to seduce him.
    And the first thing he does is to be seduced.
    And the second thing they do is to hug their sin in secret, and gloat
over it, and try to understand.
    Which is the myth of New England.
    Deerslayer refused to be seduced by Judith Hutter. At least the
Sodom apple of sin didn't fetch him.

Origin , Summer 1954.


    But Dimmesdale was seduced gloatingly. O, luscious Sin!
    He was such a pure young man.
    That he had to make a fool of purity.
    The American psyche.

For Lawrence The Scarlet Letter was ". . . perhaps, the most colossal satire ever penned." It is not a comfortable implication for any of us, but there it is.

You have the pure-pure young parson Dimmesdale.
You have the beautiful Puritan Hester at his feet.

Not one of Lawrence's implications can give us very much peace, if that, in fact, is what we are after. The "great grey poet" (and/or Whitman) is given the roughest ride ever accorded him. And yet it is incredibly right, all of it. The "I AM HE THAT ACHES WITH AMOROUS LOVE  . . ." is a bore of immense proportions—or no one ever indulged himself so emphatically at such length. But Crane's Whitman is also seen, again clearly, without innuendo or tenuousness: "Now Whitman was a great moralist. He was a great leader. He was a great changer of the blood in the veins of men." That is fact.

And Franklin: "Benjamin had no concern, really, with the immortal soul. He was too busy with social man." Crèvecoeur: "NATURE. I wish I could write it larger than that. NATURE."

Franklin is the real practical prototype of the American. Crèvecoeur is the emotional. To the European, the American is first and foremost a dollar fiend. We tend to forget the emotional heritage of Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur. We tend to disbelieve, for example, in Woodrow Wilson's wrung heart and wet hanky. Yet surely these are real enough. Aren't they?

At a time when so much 'revaluation' and 'revisiting' are the practice, Lawrence can serve the very actual function of showing how it might be done. We have valued, foolishly, the perspective of time alone. And lost the very thing we claim to have gained, namely, understanding of any of these men Lawrence cites for a classic American literature. For one example, Melville. God knows there has been enough talk around and about him to satisfy any of his admirers. But—how many come up with such a simple statement as this: "Melville knew. He knew his race was doomed. His white soul, doomed. His great white epoch, doomed. Himself, doomed. The idealist, doomed. The spirit, doomed."

To have a literature Lawrence adjudged it necessary to have a


soul. And so we have laughed at him—how funny. How funny is it now?

"The old American literature. Franklin, Cooper, Hawthorne & Co.? All that mass of words! all so unreal!" cries the live American.

Heaven knows what we mean by reality.


Witter Bynner:
Journey with Genius

Journey with Genius , by Witter Bynner. New York: J. Day & Co., 1951.

Witter Bynner comes late to that distinguished group who knew D. H. Lawrence as opposed to those who have read him. His book is based on a slighter acquaintance than that, say, of Aldington, but the thirty-odd years which have since passed allow him considerable cud. And he was also the 'American' in the beginning of The Plumed Serpent —which probably seemed motive enough.

Perhaps it is time, in any case, to say to hell with all such as Witter Bynner, and to grant him, certainly, his friendship but also to insist it was apparently misused. At least the account of it makes very dull reading now.

As it is, we have another champion of Frieda—and why, always, do these men go so female in their causes? Aldington wailed of ragged undies, and the beast who let his wife go so clothed. Bynner proclaims a conspiracy, to wit, his sage advice that she fight back and the almost nauseous insistence that she then did, all because he said to.

It is in this character that Bynner becomes precisely the hasbeen, the would-be, in short, the fake which a good many good-tempered men must have been putting up with for years. I recently read a review of his on the biographers of Willa Cather (also a 'friend'), and that was more amiable. But nonetheless Bynner is still one who knew others, and it is a dreary, dreary occupation.

Black Mountain Review , Summer 1954.


The loss here is that the bulk of the comment on Lawrence is always this personalism and/or the attempt so much more ragged than any underwear, to hang on to a man who had all this complexity of effect. And who was, it seems, not very simple to forget.

But all such statement is a bore. It gives us at best, as Bynner does, a kind of lover's album of a few faded flowers—because both Aldington and Bynner did aspire, as did Murray, Carswell, 'E. T.' even, who was I think the most justified. But there it is, books about a man as opposed to those books he himself wrote. Or much more important, an actual levy on what Lawrence himself was after—simply things like his pick-up on Frobenius, on American writing, on the political set of Europe, and so forth.

And that is what matters. In England he is still for the most part sunk in the old social fix. By which I mean, people still worry that he was a miner's son. But that is only counterpart to Bynner's remarkable insight, viz., that he spoke like 'all' British men-of-letters, with a 'high' voice, etc. Or that he took his wife swimming at the far end of the beach, because he was embarrassed by his own body. Or that he got angry, unreasonably angry, and had little boys put in jail.

No matter the middle chapters—with their ridiculous headings—this is what Bynner is talking about. And this is the extent of his contribution. He wants, I think, to posit a "while I was doing this, Lawrence was doing that," and that of course is the end of him. There is no equivalence between them, either as men, as poets, or as anything else. And this is clear, very clear, from what each has written—the work . It is much too late now for Bynner to work, to do what another man was doing all the time.


Louis-Ferdinand Céline:
Guignol's Band & John Hawkes:
The Goose on the Grave

Guignol's Band , by Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Translated by Bernard Frechtman and Jack T. Nile. New York: New Directions, 1954.

The Goose on the Grave , by John Hawkes. New York: New Directions, 1954.

Guignol's Band lies so vulnerable to attack, like they say, that only a man with a penchant for beating carpets can really take much pleasure in working it over. But it can serve as occasion for several comments, among them, (1) that following the war a number of American 'violence' novels were published in French translation, and (2) that the reason for this was due, at least partially, to the fact that French writing had at that time no 'vocabulary' for that character of apparently gratuitous violence which they had just experienced.

So there is something strangely an insult in the publication of this particular novel in America, i.e., it is much too much like sending out some drugstore cowboy to help with the branding and all that. Because Céline is very much the dude, spit and froth as he will. And the basis of his novel, an implied attack on the conditions that make for a man like this "young French veteran now turned spiv" and his milieu, is both too late (the first World War) and too general in outline (these are types, not people). More than that, the novel's manner stays very static: "I got to know Clodo well later on. It's true that he was obliging, eager, you might say even zealous, only he'd falter for a moment, he was vague with words, had to tell him right

Black Mountain Review , Autumn 1954.


away what you wanted, to put it on the line . . . had to know how to handle him . . ." I don't think Céline has considered the necessary mess involved in writing a novel in which it is impossible to give a damn about any of the characters. If this is the point (and/or Life's Forgotten Men, etc.), then he makes his statement of it the weakest yet on record. Which is a considerable come-down for the author of Journey to the End of the Night .

John Hawkes' The Goose on the Grave gives us a little of the same dilemma, backwards, since the title novel (one of two) proves he can cut the Italians, at least as we have had them in English translation. Hence the Italian campo, given Hawkes, becomes:

The eyes were upon the body in the clay beyond them. Only Adeppi glanced up to see the crow flying. The silent figure turned in the white mud. Dragging itself, slowly animated, hardly visible, bones of the fingers resting upon the rot of the helmet filled with mud, its bare head lifted and was unable to catch breath in the rain.

Hawkes has a genius for the singularly unpleasant, and his use of it seems sometimes too simple, by which I mean, to no evident purpose but that of being unpleasant, etc. But it would be a literal distortion to put him off with that. Whereas Céline's fantasy has gone old-maidish, Hawkes' world rides in with a deep and careful terror, best used and best seen, I think, in the first of the two novels, The Owl . Admittedly, it is a dream-structure, a place which is more real, as one says, in its capacity to suggest than in the literal elements of which it is composed. And the hangman is the Hangman, Il Gufo, the Owl. People fade, eyes divorce from faces, peering out, a field tilts, men whisper. There are great heights, and wind.

The prisoner, delivered into altitude where there was time and silence to devour him, was the hangman's. The fortress which kept him safe was cleft in two parts on the pinnacle of the city, high tower and low tower, and from either battlement there was an iron-edged view of the world, its cliff, the tilted slopes at the bottom, the sunrise and sunset, and, not so far off, the border itself of a definite black and white. To the east it was possible to find a thin white horizon, the sea. If any in Sasso Fetore saw out there a Venetian sail, they pretended it was a dream.

Disaster has only to declare its form; its premises, barrenness, despair, have already been accomplished. In that way the novel is an 'allegory,' and much of Hawkes' writing, even most of it, has been that. In this book, authority in its absolute form, the Hangman, moves with an inexorable rigidity—like those movie shots of locusts


covering a field. Except that this is one man, rather one face, two hands, one mind, etc. The town, the women, the men, the Prisoner—actually they take the forms of characters, virtues and vices (though hardly that unshaded) which are met in the old morality plays. But Hawkes puts these things against the final character of a landscape, his own mind, I think, in point of the moods it takes on.


"By God, Pomeroy, You Here!"

A Note on Francis Parkman

The problem of 'history' is a peculiar one for the American, involving as it does, "where do we come from," or better, how shall we come from where we came. It is just that apparently nonsensical statement of the dilemma which may relieve it. And there are other clues, if you will, like: skyscrapers could not have been built if it weren't for the Indians, since they are the only men in America having the nerve-set for balance at such heights. Too, what would the United States be like, if it had a king? To relieve the President for actually administrative duties, as opposed to egg-rolling, etc.

It all relates, like it or not, to a backdoor which stays shut for us, faced as we are with no past which we will recognize but that of Europe. This we will not accept, and turn in upon ourselves, to be 'better'—which is a horror, in its effects, a kind of restless continual battle to override the English, or the French, or whoever it may be we choose for the moment as our predecessors.

Parkman, Edward Dahlberg has said, had the mind of a twelve-year-old child; and The Oregon Trail , for him, reads like any Rover Boys story. We are so grown-up, it seems, that stories have lost all point, and in our maturity, anecdote, that which stays in the mouth and heart—however 'romantically'—is a trivial way of passing time, of killing it. Dahlberg himself is by no means so quick about these things, and has used such material with sometimes admirable ingenuity. He is as concerned as anyone to find a place to live in. In any case, it comes to, where can we begin, and Parkman, I think, is our only 'historian' in the deep tradition of the spoken.

Black Mountain Review , Winter 1954.


But all that can stay beside the point for the moment. Francis Parkman's Works (in twelve volumes) are as follows: Pioneers of France in the New World, The Jesuits in North America, La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West, The Old Regime in Canada, Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV, A Half Century of Conflict, Montcalm and Wolfe, The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War after the Conquest of Canada , and The Oregon Trail . The first book in the series has this for a dedication:

To The Memory
Slain In Battle
This Volume Is Dedicated By Their Kinsman
The Author

You may take that as the tone , the ground-sense, of all Parkman's writings, not in point of the 'battle' so much as the 'kin.' Parkman was a New Englander, he wrote roughly between the dates 1847–1892, and in his Preface to A Half Century of Conflict he says:

This book . . . fills the gap between Part V., "Count Frontenac," and Part VII., "Montcalm and Wolfe": so that the series now forms a continuous history of the efforts of France to occupy and control this continent . . . The collection was begun forty-five years ago, and its formation has been exceedingly slow, having been retarded by difficulties which seemed insurmountable,[*] and for years were so in fact.

The last complete edition of the books was published in 1898–1899, by Macmillan & Company, and since that time The Oregon Trail has been the only one to remain in print.

Parkman's idea as to how to write 'history' is happily simple, and is most concerned, I think, with getting it straight. This comes itself, if you will, from a tradition wherein a man can simply look you


in the eye and say, I don't think so. People from Maine are apt to be good liars, but that is almost from an excess of virtue and a cold climate. But from the beginning Massachusetts and those outlying places of a like nature took such responsibilities as 'history' with a very great seriousness, and Parkman comes, very much, from there.

His materials were not to his liking in many instances. For example, only La Salle could have distrusted Jesuits more than he does. But he is honest with, at times, wit, and always with a determined patience. He is quick to judge how deeply the Jesuit character held to its own determination, and how much these men were not only prepared to suffer, but did. "France aimed to subdue, not by the sword, but by the cross; not to overwhelm and crush the nations she invaded, but to convert, civilize, and embrace them among her children."

. . . Who can define the Jesuits? The story of their missions is marvellous as a tale of chivalry, or legends of the lives of the saints. For many years, it was the history of New France and of the wild communities of her desert empire.

To the north, then, Jesuits, a rank breed of 'gentleman,' and a race of fur-traders, the coureurs de bois —of which last Parkman writes:

. . . At least, he is picturesque, and with his red-skin companion serves to animate forest scenery. Perhaps he could sometimes feel, without knowing that he felt them, the charms of the savage nature that had adopted him.

Then follows a description of these 'haunts'—"deep recesses where, veiled in foliage, some wild shy rivulet steals with timid music . . ." Typical of Parkman is the footnote he adds to this, in justifiable irritation:

An adverse French critic gives his opinion that the sketch of the primeval wilderness on the preceding page is drawn from fancy, and not from observation. It is, however, copied in every particular, without exception, from a virgin forest in a deep moist valley by the upper waters of the little river Pemigewasset in northern New Hampshire, where I spent a summer afternoon a few days before the passage was written.

It is, of course, impossible to outline all of the work in question, but think of it as, first, the place . Spanish to the South (Ponce de León, Pánphilo de Narváez, Hernando de Soto), to the North the French (Cartier, Pontgravé, Champlain)—and then, of course,


New England. There is nothing really more to it than that, except 'history,' what then followed. And like it or not, it was hardly a process of much clarity, certainly not to those whose fortunes (much more than their lives) were the issue. As far as I know, Parkman is the first American historian (and perhaps the last?) to pay such careful attention to the ground . For example:

It has been a matter of debate on which side of the Niagara the first vessel on the Upper Lakes was built [the Griffin , which La Salle and his followers built in the spring of 1679]. A close study of Hennepin and a careful examination of the localities, have convinced me that the spot was that indicated above [Cayuga Creek, which enters the Niagara "two leagues above the cataract"]. Hennepin repeatedly alludes to a large detached rock, rising out of the water at the foot of the rapids above Lewiston, on the west side of the river. This rock may be seen immediately under the western end of the Lewiston suspension-bridge, etc., etc.

However irrelevant this may seem, it is by a like care that all 'history' is written, and from a like 'place.' To analyze comes, finally, to a presumption that no man careful of his materials cares to show. It is simple to talk about something, as if it were a convenience for the mind—whereas the mind is 'history' long before it knows that this particular problem exists.

Be that as it may, Parkman is careful to leave 'history' in the two places where it can endure; and one is, I think, in its own 'present,' i.e., where the rock has since washed away, where the foundations of the fort still show, and the other, in the letters, sayings, stories, and so on, that maintain 'history' much more actually than the supposed 'records' and commentaries.

Though his most complete success is La Salle—by which I mean, the fact of this man, given plainly, and with care—for myself, it is also in the countless anecdotes and (finally) flavors of a place I of course am too 'old' to know as he must have, because The Oregon Trail was written from a journal no man can ever keep again. For me, he returns 'history' to the only place which it has, in an actual continuity—hardly ours because we are its issue, but because we can perhaps recognize that we are. (At this point, surely, all the worry about 'europeanism' and so forth must become beside the point.) He stays at that one sure root, anecdote. "So they say." Men, if you will, are raised from the dead by just this:

On board one of the transports was Seth Pomeroy, gunsmith at Northampton, and now major of Williard's Massachusetts regiment. He had


a turn for soldiering, and fought, ten years later, in the battle of Lake George. Again, twenty years later still, when Northampton was astir with rumors of war from Boston, he borrowed a neighbour's horse, rode a hundred miles, reached Cambridge on the morning of the battle of Bunker Hill, left his borrowed horse out of the way of harm, walked over Charlestown Neck, then swept by the fire of the ships-of-war, and reached the scene of action as the British were forming for the attack. When Israel Putnam, his comrade in the last war, saw from the rebel breastwork the old man striding, gun in hand, up the hill, he shouted, "By God, Pomeroy, you here! A cannon-shot would waken you out of you grave!"

Parkman continues:

But Pomeroy, with other landsmen, crowded in the small and malodorous fishing-vessels that were made to serve as transports, was now in the gripe of the most unheroic of maladies. "A terrible northeast storm" had fallen upon them, and, he says, "we lay rolling in the seas, with our sails furled, among prodigious waves." "Sick, day and night," writes the miserable gunsmith, "so bad that I have not words to set it forth."

It is never a question of 'making it real,' but rather of allowing it, whatever it is, to stay real. Perhaps this is simply a matter of wit, of necessity—but this character, of telling 'history,' has the proper quality of effacing even the man who records it, until it becomes all 'story,' and so, all true. It's hard to take any of it out of its place—because there are no morals to be conveyed, unless the whole substance which contains them is also to be recognized. When Parkman separates, becomes the nineteenth-century Democrat, then he is also 'history'—also a good story. But, at his best, he leaves it as it was, and so is:

Among the numerous war-parties which were now ravaging 'he borders, none was more destructive than a band, about sixty in number, which ascended the Kanawha, and pursued its desolating course among the settlements about the sources of that river. They passed valley after valley, sometimes attacking the inhabitants by surprise, and sometimes murdering them under the mask of friendship, until they came to the little settlement of Greenbriar, where nearly a hundred of the people were assembled at the fortified house of Archibald Glendenning. Seeing two or three of the Indians approach, whom they recognized as former acquaintances, they suffered them to enter without distrust; but the new-comers were soon joined by others, until the entire party were gathered in and around the buildings. Some suspicion was now awakened; and, in order to propitiate the dan-


gerous guests, they were presented with the carcass of an elk lately brought in by the hunters. They immediately cut it up, and began to feast upon it. The backwoodsmen, with their families, were assembled in one large room; and finding themselves mingled among the Indians, and embarrassed by the presence of the women and children, they remained indecisive and irresolute. Meanwhile, an old woman who sat in a corner of the room, and who had lately received some slight accidental injury, asked one of the warriors if he could cure the wound. He replied that he thought he could, and, to make good his words, killed her with his tomahawk. This was the signal for a scene of general butchery. A few persons made their escape; the rest were killed or captured.

Parkman believed himself to be engaged in something, perhaps, more notable; in one of his prefaces (Pioneers of France in the New World ), he says, "The springs of American civilization, unlike those of the older world, lie revealed in the clear light of History." That was a very hopeful surmise. But Archibald Glendenning's wife escaped—having first been captured "with her infant child" and forced to march, "guarded before and behind by the Indians."

As they defiled along a narrow path which led through a gap in the mountains, she handed the child to the woman behind her, and, leaving it to its fate, slipped into the bushes and escaped. Being well acquainted with the woods, she succeeded, before nightfall, in reaching the spot where the ruins of her dwelling had not ceased to burn. Here she sought out the body of her husband and covered it with fencerails, to protect it from the wolves. When her task was complete, and when night closed around her, the bold spirit which had hitherto borne her up suddenly gave way. The recollection of the horrors she had witnessed, the presence of the dead, the darkness, the solitude, and the gloom of the surrounding forest, wrought upon her till her terror rose to an ecstasy; and she remained until daybreak, crouched among the bushes, haunted by the threatening apparition of an armed man, who, to her heated imagination, seemed constantly approaching to murder her.


Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot , by Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press, 1954.

Waiting for anyone is a usual problem these days, particularly in America. It is, for one example, the army's, "Hurry up and wait." Or when will you be through with the bathroom. Or when—anything.

But to deal with this, as one says, in a play is not at all simple. Granted the obvious difficulty of having nothing happen, in fact of having nothing happen what happens—how not to release the audience just by that, i.e., how far can one go with this? A friend tells me of a problem she had been given as a dancer, wherein she was to effect movements which would, in turn, effect an intolerable boredom. First the audience would shift a bit, then writhe more openly, until, at last, something would snap. And that would be the point.

It's point enough, frankly. As it is, we live on the edge of it all too often, and one can say that Beckett is aware of this—of a deep, deep pointlessness, which maims people far more than they are willing to acknowledge. Certainly far more than they are able to repair. His play, then, is an abstraction of this awareness. Two men, indiscriminate, waiting for a third, who will prove something not only for them, but equally of them. It will effect something. Otherwise they have been there for they are by no means sure how long. Other things happen—activity of a kind—but what does this mean?

Black Mountain Review , Winter 1954.



We can still part, if you think it would be better.


It's not worth while now.



No, it's not worth while now.



Well, shall we go?


Yes, let's go.

They do not move .


There are three other 'characters' in the play (Lucky, a liberal slave; Pozzo, the landowner who 'owns' him; and A Boy, the absent Godot's perpetual messenger), but they are frosting of a kind. And literally enough, the play is that which I have just quoted. Some parts are better than other parts but they are all the same thing. It is a play of 'the same thing,' taken as far as Beckett has thought practicable.

It's here, in this question of practicability, that one can, I think, argue at least the obvious difficulties. One is, for example, how effect variations upon this monotony , which will appear to relieve it, but which will, in fact, only contribute to it. It is the particular tight-rope on which the play must balance. To let this monotony slack—that's no good; but without some relief, the man watching (remembering that he has both chosen and paid to watch) shudders and leaves. So Beckett chooses to make it a 'ballet' of sorts, by which I mean, a very formal and mannered interplay.



A relaxation.


A recreation.


A relaxation.




You'll help me?


I will of course.


We don't manage too badly, eh Didi, between the two of us?


Yes, yes. Come on, we'll try the left first.


We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?

But it stays a spectacle —and that in itself is too much a relief from it. I think Beckett has, finally, solved the dilemma elsewhere, i.e., in a story called "The End" (printed in Merlin , Vol. II, No. 3). The hero of this is an old man from anywhere one cares to think of, for himself. Let out of a hospital, sanatorium, or whatever, he begins to


stagger. "I am greatly obliged to you for these clothes, I said, and for this money, is there a law which prevents you from throwing me out naked and penniless?" He turns to begging.

There are those to be sure, who stoop, but generally speaking, people who give alms much prefer to do so without having to stoop. What they prefer above all is to espy the wretch from afar, get ready their penny, drop it in their stride, with an innocent air, and hear the God bless you dying in the distance. Personally, I never said that, nor anything like it, but I did make a noise with my mouth. So I got a kind of board, and tied it to my neck and waist. It jutted out just at the right height, pocket height, and its edge was far enough from my person for the mite to be bestowed without fear of contagion.

One day I was present at a strange scene. Normally I did not see much. I did not hear much either. But on this particular day the intrusion was too marked. For some time I had thought I heard an unwonted sound. I did not investigate the cause. For I said to myself, It's going to stop. But as it did not stop I had no choice but to find out the cause, and so be rid of it. Its cause was a man perched on the roof of a car, haranguing the passers-by, of whom many stopped, the better to see and hear. That at least was the way I looked at it. He was bellowing so loud that snatches of his oration reached my ears: injustice . . . union . . . brothers . . . Marx . . . capital . . . bread . . . love . . . right to live. It was all Greek to me. The car was drawn up against the curb, just in front of me, and I saw the orator, from behind. All of a sudden he turned around towards me, as to a specimen. Look at this down and out, he vociferated, this leftover. If he doesn't go down on four paws, it's for fear of being impounded. Old, lousy, rotten, in the garbage heap. And there are a thousand like him, worse than him, ten thousand, twenty thousand. A voice. Thirty thousand. In your plutocratic Sodom, resumed the orator, every day of your life you pass them by, and when you have won at the races you fling them a farthing. Do you ever think? The voice, No. No, indeed, resumed the orator, you find that normal, the way of the world. A penny, tuppence. The voice. Thruppence. It never enters your head, resumed the orator, that your charity is a crime, that you are subscribing to enslavement, stultification and organized murder. Take a good look at this living corpse. You may tell me it's his own fault. The voice, After you. Then he bent down towards me and flung me a phrase I did not understand. I had perfected my board. It now consisted of two boards hinged together, which enabled me, when my work was done, to fold it and carry it under my arm. So I took off the rag, as I always did when my work was done, pocketed the few coins remaining on the board, untied the board, folded it and put it under my arm. Do you hear me, you crucified bastard! the orator cried. Then I went away, although it was still light . . .


Ramón Sender:
Two Novels

The Sphere , by Ramón Sender. Translated by F. Giovanelli. New York: Hellman, Williams, 1949.

The Affable Hangman , by Ramón Sender. Translated by Florence Hall. London: Cape, 1954.

There are many questions on which any piece of writing can take off—not glibly, or one hopes not, but because these 'questions' stay the one 'given,' in a context otherwise constantly in process of reformation. So—what does one believe in? Is the real real because one admits it? Tastes it. Feels it. Knows it? Or because it is?

We are ringed with filters attenuating all the impressions pouring in on us from outside . . . Those filters which are acting through all the forms of our sensibility constantly guard us against attack by light, sound forms. But the best of these filters is the mind. We have minds not primarily to understand but rather not to understand too much. What horrible or transcendent truths repair to our understanding and remain outside? Against what terrible revelations or evidence does our mind protect us?

This is quoted from the first of a series of 'mottos,' placed at the beginning of each chapter, which form an anterior 'novel' to the one otherwise occurring. The writing, or rather what the writing resolves as, is a continuing displacement of a man already beyond the character of a 'natural' reality in that (1) it is a question as to

Black Mountain Review , Summer 1955.


whether or not he is dead, yet he has not found death, so he is not; and (2) the book is placed on a boat, i.e., it is the geography of no geography but that which human disposition can arrive at.

More aptly, it is the journey to death, to a death realized, which is impossible—but which is necessary , when all calls to life have become so rotted, and ambiguous, that nothing remains outside the mind, not enough. Or, as Lawrence says it:

Oh build your ship of death, oh build it!
for you will need it.
For the voyage of oblivion awaits you.

Sender says: "I am closer to my death than yesterday . . ." The progression of the novel is through circumstances, trails perhaps, or again and again questions—of the body: "And Saila came back to his mental constructions: 'I've told myself time and again that love is a "reintegration" and that it is both necessary and impossible . . . '" Of the mind: "There is a perfection upon which we all rest when we wish: reality." Of that complex, belief: "Faith was born before miracle."

And all of this comment decries, despairs, and distorts—what is being said, by this book. The form it takes, the 'mottos' juxtaposed against the 'action' and/or the literal events which form its sequence, are, also, the 'how it is, as it is,' which the mind, damned (is it), feels itself so obliged to repair to. To repair, to in fact be, also, present to—as 'it' happens. So in this instance Sender records in one man, Saila, this complex, this man with his hands, on the woman, yet un-on, or un-relieved. For example:

With her look she asked him: "Still? In the situation we are in? What for?" But Saila said to himself: "When every road has been blocked to us there remains the absurd feminine, the great chaos over which we can place our hand in order to feel the infinite accessible."

For the moment—there is no injustice, I hope, in using this novel as a means to suggest the world, the literal time, which encompasses it, and also, which it hopes to encompass. A wise man asks only questions. Because the answers to them, granted they have in fact been asked, lie in the man to whom they are asked. Sender is unlike, or rather differs from, most writers of so-called 'fiction' in that he is not so eager to persuade as to demonstrate (first to himself) the complexity of the idea of the world which he has been brought, of necessity, to consider—whether or not that 'world' is


in fact of a real kind, or, more literally, is the real world. We know—as we say in that now familiar tone of reassurance—that a world does exist, beyond our minds; yet we do not.

The person, child of experience—the return of reflection upon action—holds to a lineal or superficial idea of everything. It is born, grows and develops with that primitive tumour of the ganglia we call the brain.

And what is spirit? Is it flight? I sense that force which impels everything to disintegration, reflecting perhaps the very centrifugal impulsion of the planet. Gravity prevents or conditions our disintegration. The feeling of escape which disintegration communicates to everything we ourselves find in the tendency of our spirit first to self-sufficiency, and then to departure and detachment from self. This possibility of separation from, and even action against, the very self we recognize as a 'need to flee.' But at the very moment this need seems most imperious, a curious thing happens. That is, we return to the ganglia, and instead of fleeing, strengthen the unity of being; a reciprocal movement—it might be said—between the notion of essential being and the feeling of elemental being.

This is a resolution—a 'melting,' a 'separating into parts.' Yet—"Miriflor looked at him confused: 'You, you Spaniards . . . ' he said, unable to finish."


The world of Sender's most recent novel, The Affable Hangman , is one assembled, stumbled upon—as a man will stumble—again of necessity. We cannot call Ramiro "the affable hangman" until we have also stumbled, willynilly, into or upon, that thread of occasional purpose by which a man directs himself, given eyes and mouth, hands and legs, and a mind, and also a heart. Diotima tells Socrates, in Plato's Symposium , that:

On the day that Aphrodite was born the gods were feasting, among them Contrivance, the son of Invention; and after dinner, seeing that a party was in progress, Poverty came to beg and stood at the door. Now Contrivance was drunk with nectar—wine, I may say, had not Yet been discovered—and went out into the garden of Zeus, and was overcome by sleep. So Poverty, thinking to alleviate her wretched condition by bearing a child to Contrivance, lay with him and conceived


Love. Since Love was begotten on Aphrodite's birthday, and since he has also an innate passion for the beautiful, and so for the beauty of Aphrodite herself, he became her follower and servant. Again, having Contrivance for his father and Poverty for his mother, he bears the following character. He is always poor, and, far from being sensitive and beautiful, as most people imagine, he is hard and weather-beaten, shoeless and homeless, always sleeping out for want of a bed, on the ground, on doorsteps, and in the street. So far he takes after his mother and lives in want. But, being also his father's son, he schemes to get for himself whatever is beautiful and good; he is bold and forward and strenuous, always devising tricks like a cunning huntsman; he yearns after knowledge and is full of resource and is a lover of wisdom all his life, a skilful magician, an alchemist, a true sophist. He is neither mortal nor immortal; but on one and the same day he will live and flourish (when things go well for him), and also meet his death; and then come to life again through the vigour that he inherits from his father. What he wins he always loses, and is neither rich nor poor, neither wise nor ignorant.

An account of Love is, loosely enough, what later commentators have called the 'picaresque novel,' i.e., a story of a man who travels much, who becomes involved in untoward events for singular reasons, and who 'distills' (as the book jacket in the case of Sender's novel puts it) an 'idiosyncratic' philosophy.

Yet Ramiro is a hangman: "He felt real gratitude toward me [the story's narrator] because I had offered him my hand, knowing that he was a hangman . . ."; and Love would do no less.

But why does a man become a hangman—these days? Or, better, how is it that a man—in whom love moves, or else he is not—arrives at that 'authority' which allows, as Ramiro's instructor does: "It is not that one is ashamed of one's work. Someone has to do it, and nowadays they don't mistreat the pobreto —poor wretch—as before, but dispatch him neatly and rapidly . . ." And is not this, also, a rather familiar 'man's world'?

Faced with a loyalty to this or that idea, he finds himself on either 'side,' on the one hand witness of the killing of men and women with whom he has sided, and, later, on the side of those who have killed them, at another like incident, where men are forced to jump into a well and then sticks of dynamite are thrown in after them.

On the way back Ramiro was thinking: "This is more cruel than what they did to Chino and Curro Cruz and the peasants of Benalup. And the Duke, the priests of my town, the mayor, the judges know it or take it for granted. Everyone knows it and no one does anything


about it." They returned in silence. It suddenly occurred to Ramiro that it had been a good thing for him to make himself responsible for all that. To accept the responsibility that everyone shunned. With his presence he was already responsible. He wanted to be even more so. The word responsibility rang out inside him in an urgent way and with tremendous force. It was an obsession.

Sender's method, in this book, is a constantly shifting character of 'reality,' i.e., of fable, of naturalistic detail—of the supposed 'real' put against the hyper- or also-real. And in the narrative occur other 'stories,' for example, of Lucia, who is in love with her sister's husband, whom she denounces, whereupon he is killed. Ramiro thinks:

"I would like to make myself responsible for all the crimes in the world," he muttered to himself. "But how?" Then he remembered Lucia naked amidst the snow and he found her appealing. He liked not only her body but the disorder of her mind. He really believed that she had denounced Joaquina's husband and yet he regarded her as innocent. "She got into the game," he said to himself, "and had to do what she did, and now she is paying for it."

When Ramiro was a little boy, his mother "told tales that made [him] cry with pain, and then she would tell everybody how tender-hearted [he] was . . ." What is the man who will witness, and thereby 'do' what all others imply, but will not do—as, for example, we all know that this or that has to be done, yet wait for someone to do it. Is that why we have armies, etc. At the close of the book Ramiro and the narrator are sitting in a cafe, talking. Noise is heard, outside. A fiesta of some kind seems to be starting.

"But why all this?" I [the narrator] repeated, sensing an immense scandal in it all.

"I don't know. In any case it concerns me alone. Don't you worry, it's only because of me. It apparently has nothing to do with you."

He was more afraid than I. He looked at the cars lined up, at the patient crowd, and said very nervously:

"There is no doubt about it. It is the end. This is the end. Or the beginning. Who knows?"

People are all around the cafe, the building; the two men are 'prisoners,' and then going out, Ramiro asks "questions to the right and left of him, but no one seemed to give a satisfactory answer."

The procession was formed. The bands continued playing. Ramiro started marching under the canopy . . .


So that is the end of it. Thinking of the first book, The Sphere —why will we not believe, or try to, until the mind itself is broken, breaks back, forcing the world to declare itself. Finally? Or at least 'occasionally.' And of the second, The Affable Hangman —the sacrifice we make is a witness, of course, to that act; and is our authority for it.


On Love

Self Condemned , by Wyndham Lewis. London: Methuen, 1954.

One has been trying, for weeks, to compose oneself in terms of, or rather in relation to, a given instance. For example:

Your letter came in a moment when my heart was limping. A star had come and I couldn't receive it for I was repenting pride. And though you were expressing the world you know in Plato's Symposium , the nature of love, Socrates' conversation with Diotima, "and that one's disappointment finally becomes expectant . . . ," I knew the chastisement. I'd provided the mantle of my personal size . . . Love is the world and Logos the word but Life demands that Love know itself and when Love isn't in Grace it is testy and bitter . . .

I know this lady is a fine one, and was grateful for her reassurance. For an instant—I did not, I think, wish to laugh at either one of us, but how not to. I was afraid that I was I, and she was she. Writing is private, I thought. Later I read in Stein's Everybody's Autobiography:

. . . when you say what you do say [these were lectures] you say it in public but when you write it in private if you do not write it, that is what writing is, and in private you are you and in public you are in public and everybody knows that . . .

My heart has been limping, for months now. In that way, I tend to forget the lady, a little. Without glibness, Wyatt must have known

Black Mountain Review , Spring 1956.


it, very exactly, and he was then much older: "They flee from me who sometimes did me seek." For an instant, no matter more—there are these several juxtapositions possible, e.g., H.D.'s saying, I go where I love and am loved  . . . ; Williams', what, shut grief in from us? We who have perhaps nothing to lose? And the, myself forgetting violence, and long betrayal —of Robert Graves, the poem which introduces the first edition of The White Goddess .

Should we roar with laughter—or what do we have to do, with the moon, these days? Stendhal writes: "I am full of admiration for the shrewdness and unerring judgment with which women seem to me to grasp certain details; and yet the next moment I find them praising some dullard to the skies, allowing themselves to be moved to tears by a platitude, or gravely treating some hollow affectation as a sign of character. I cannot understand such folly. There must be some general law beyond my ken governing these matters . . ."

Robert Duncan, in a letter: "And I want them all as best I can, and so do you, any man: want to be free to give myself over to the sexual lure, to fall in love—and to learn the art of place and person, of tone and definition that might render the experience to itself. But it's a cheat to bring the accusation against ourselves or our lovers of selfishness in a situation that is of the essence 'thotless.'

"And a mixd hell on wheels to try to come to love that which has possessd us. Well, but then there is the figure of an hysterical female figure on a rollercoaster crying 'I simply love this.'"


Conversely, Wyndham Lewis' Self Condemned is a terrifying relation of more than 'one man's life'; it is a statement of the impossible distance of an intimacy, too often, these days. At the beginning:

As soon as she saw that he was occupied with his correspondence (and she was not detained by her own, which had been nothing but a few bills), she shook off the contretemps of the Princess Casamassima discussion—such a highbrow feature for their breakfast-table talk was almost without precedent—and returned to the setting of her own little traps. The terrific success of the night before, and René had been in perfect honeymoon form, must really be put to some good use. The moment had come, it seemed to her, to seize time by the forelock while his eyes were still gooey and his brain still drugged with the fumes of the Venusberg. Her eyes shining, her waist arched in


and hips thrust out, she held up a page of her newspaper on which were displayed a bunch of late-spring coats, a bait for those who were so silly as to imagine that in warm weather fur coats grew cheaper.

"Now that ," she exclaimed, arching her eyebrows, "is what, if you ever had a really lavish fit—that is the sort of thing I should get you to buy."

René looked up from his correspondence, momentarily stung almost to fury by the brazen naively mercenary calculations of the good Hester, with her garishly stock notion of what was a propitious moment . . .

This image is not a 'criticism' of anyone, or rather, I use it in no such context. Nor am I concerned with the 'reality' of either character or situation, except that they are here—some pages (weeks, months, countries) later:

. . . "Will you kindly tell me at once what my wife has done," demanded René.

"What did she do?" echoed the policeman. And René noticed the change of tense.

"She did nothing?" he asked; his lips trembled. "And if she has done nothing, why did you demand my presence here?" The aggressive tone provoked the reappearance of the unmodified jowl of the dogs of the Law.

"She did do something , Professor. She threw herself under a truck."

It continues: ". . . The poor hair was full of mud, which flattened it upon the skull. Her eye protruded: it was strange it should still have the strength to go peering on in the darkness."

René took a step forward towards the exhibit, but he fell headlong, striking his forehead upon the edge of the marble slab—the remains being arranged upon something like a fishmonger's display slab. As he fell it had been his object to seize the head and carry it away with him. To examine his legal right had been his last clear act of consciousness . . .

D. H. Lawrence writes: ". . . But if your wife should accomplish for herself the sweetness of her own soul's possession, then gently, delicately let the new mode assert itself, the new mode of relation between you, with something of spontaneous paradise in it, the apple of knowledge at last digested. But, my word, what bellyaches meanwhile. The apple is harder to digest than a lead guncartridge . . ."


The Journals of Jean Cocteau

The Journals of Jean Cocteau , edited and translated, with an introduction by Wallace Fowlie. New York: Criterion Books, 1956.

The occasion of Jean Cocteau's election to the French Academy (1955) has meant an increase of interest in his work in this country. Actually, this kind of interest most concerns publishers and their use of such events to provide "times" for concern with the writing of this or that man. This is a perfectly reasonable exploitation of a circumstance perhaps, but it can often lead to hasty thinking, editing, translating—and so on. The occasion forgotten, the book shows its gaps and awkwardnesses, and ends by disobliging the very man it assertedly hoped to honor.

The present book is an "occasion" book. Mr. Fowlie's introduction is twenty-nine pages long almost in defense of his uneasiness. He was given a sizable task, clearly. I am by no means as familiar with the material as he must be; but I am aware that it must have been very difficult to select things out of it—it does not break open into pieces, but is a texture of attention, endlessly reforming. At times Mr. Fowlie can only shout his goodwill ("Membership in the Académie Française will hardly slow him [Cocteau] down!"). But his translation is readable, and given his word—"A fairly literal translation seemed often to serve Cocteau better than an effort to recast the original in order to find a style and phrasing more native

New Mexico Quarterly , Winter 1956–57.


to English . . ."—we will have to trust him, and also thank him, because no one has as yet done more, or as much.

This brings us, then, to Cocteau—not fatuously, please, because I have taken pains, or have tried to, to separate him from his translator, and particularly, from the "occasion" behind the translator—forever to be suspected. As Mr. Fowlie suggests (p. 3), Jean Cocteau is not a widely read writer, although many people know his name, and sense a half-glamour in it, for reasons they themselves continue to produce. He has, however, been recognized by his contemporaries for many years. The first sections of the book describe his relationships with Satie, Max Jacob, Stravinsky, Raymond Radiguet, Pablo Picasso, Maritain, Proust, Diaghilev, Apollinaire. In the American context, Ezra Pound mentions him several times in Guide to Kulchur , once as follows: "To establish some table of values as among men I have seen and talked with . . . Gaudier had and Cocteau has genius . . . By genius I mean an inevitable swiftness and rightness in a given field. The trouvaille. The direct simplicity in seizing the effective means."

What is his writing like, then? I would like to know too. I have seen three of his movies, including Beauty and the Beast; know nothing of his poetry; read Opium when younger with great care (and wonder—it was not at all what I expected, and was very strictly written); and began Thomas the Imposter (remembering the kaleidoscoping of short scene-images, with which it begins); and read with what French I had, Journal d'un Inconnu , what I could of it—excited to find the mind so capable of balance and continuance. Cocteau writes:

On Words

I attach no importance to what people call style and that by which they think they recognize a writer. I want to be recognized by my ideas, or better, by my bearing. I make every effort to be heard as briefly as possible. I have noticed, when a story does captivate the reader's mind, that he was reading too fast, and gliding down the slope. That is why, in the book, I skirt around the writing which forces me not to glide in a straight line, but to start over again, to reread the sentences in order not to lose the thread.

When I read a book, I marvel at the number of words I find in it and I dream of using them. I note them down. But in my work it is impossible. I limit myself to my own vocabulary. I cannot go beyond it, and it is so restricted that the work becomes a puzzle.

I wonder, at each line, whether I shall go on, whether the combination of the few words I use, always the same ones, will not end up by


blocking the way and forcing me to silence. It would be beneficial for everyone, but words are like figures or letters in the alphabet. They are able to reorganize differently and perpetually at the bottom of the kaleidoscope.

I said I was jealous of the words of other writers. It is because they are not mine. Each writer has a bag of them, as in a lotto set, with which he has to win. Except for the style I dislike—Flaubert is the leading example—too rich in words—the style I like, Montaigne, Racine, Chateaubriand, Stendhal, does not spend too many words. It would take no time to count them . . .

The sections into which the book is divided show a preoccupation with personalities, not Cocteau's nor perhaps even Mr. Fowlie's, obliged as he was by the concerns evident. Sections I (Childhood and Early Influences) and III (Testimonials) contain the bulk of it; and Sections II (The Writer's Character) and VI (Aesthetics) seem the most purposefully free, and useful. But what use we are intent upon, is what we must of course decide.

A use of words is a definition of words. This is not new, but worth, like they say, the repeating, always. The structure of language is at stake, so to speak.

There is also the question of "authorities," concerning which Robert Duncan, an American poet who has read Cocteau's work with care, writes:

What Joyce sees as "conscience" because he is guilt and sin centered, Pound sees as sensibility or Ibsen sees as awareness or Dante sees as Grace. Cocteau in Journal d'un Inconnu voices an aspect of the problem. It is here in the terms of the economy of fame. The work, as it is realized, is a flowering; and like all flowerings—the author here no more intending than a plant intends—an attraction; its emanations draw and repel, its colors exhibit or conceal. No matter! a host arrives, or hosts depart, of all sorts. This clustering about an emanation is its fame in which sometimes the plant can survive; thru which at times the plant comes even to flourish or, as in the relation of certain plants thru their flowerings with bees, to depend; or it may perish. All artists draw a sap out of solitude. The work of art flowers forth, ripens, and falls away from a vitality drawn out of a privacy, a secret source of the artist in the fields of time and space . . .

The relation of a poem to what the world calls events is similar. The "world" cannot view a poem as an event in itself, and seeks to translate as if the poem were referring to "real life." Yet for the poet, the reality of time and space which is realized in making, in a poem, is the real life.

[From an unpublished Notebook.]


The attempt to wrench segments from any completed work (happily called a book ), to reassort, re-time , reaffix, etc.,—is not easily defensible. Most reasonably, it would be the act of the man who wrote the book or books. In this case, it is not. In twenty years there have been five books by Cocteau published in English; two were translated by the British poet and playwright, Ronald Duncan, one by the British novelist, Rosamond Lehmann. The fourth is a retranslation of the same novel translated by Miss Lehmann (no translator given), published in this country. And the fifth is the present book. I think we had better go back, and start over.


Kenneth Rexroth:
In Defense of the Earth

In Defense of the Earth , by Kenneth Rexroth. New York: New Directions, 1956.

In Defense of the Earth is the first more or less substantial collection of Kenneth Rexroth's poems since the publication of The Dragon and the Unicorn . The latter was a long philosophical travel-poem, so that the book I am reviewing more literally goes back to The Signature of All Things (1949), and is (as that book was) an accumulation of poems and translations of varying length and determination.

Many of these deal with similar locations and events, seeking over and over again for the changing forms of an unchanging significance in stars, insects, mountains and daughters. They do not of course try to answer, "Why am I here?" "Why is it out there?"—but to snare the fact that is the only answer, the only meaning of present or presence . . .

[Foreword to In Defense of the Earth , by Kenneth Rexroth]

Reading a book, or reviewing it—one comes to ask, what does the book have, for its ideas; and, how clearly are those ideas made evident? Rexroth's title demonstrates the area of his concern, large though it surely is, and open as well to the pitfalls of an overzealous generality. But one can, as he does, begin there.

The opening poems are for his wife, Marthe, and his daughter Mary. Those for his wife have, among them, some of the book's best writing.

New Mexico Quarterly , Winter 1956–57.


. . . What do I know now,
Of myself, of the others?
Blood flows out to the fleeing
Nebulae, and flows back, red
With all the worn space of space,
Old with all the time of time.
It is my blood. I cannot
Taste in it as it leaves me
More of myself than on its
Return . . .

This is the first idea. It is as well a broadening, in effect a deepening of something, such as:

. . . Just born to die
Nobody will ever know anything about it
And I have nothing more at all to say.

Which is taken from The Art of Worldly Wisdom (1949), a book which marked the last large instance of Rexroth's experimentation in poems akin (as he notes) to those of Stein, Lowenfels, Arensberg, and Louis Zukofsky. After that time he made clear his intention to write in more "common" forms, and to give up at least the intensity of his concern to that point with syntactical formation, personally based. Perhaps my own statement here is unclear, but what was meant seems simply this: he became concerned with a poetry which people, in a half-hoped for generality, might be able to read, as put against that which apparently they could not—or at least this was not to be the concern of the writer.

This is the second idea, clear in this book—that people, who are being loved, attacked, or subjected to the varying attitudes of the writer, be obliged to hear that concern. The poem "Thou Shalt Not Kill" (for the memory of Dylan Thomas, who was himself proposed as a common voice) speaks like this:

I want to run into the street
Shouting, "Remember Vanzetti!"
I want to pour gasoline down your chimneys.
I want to blow up your galleries.
I want to burn down your editorial offices.
I want to slit the bellies of your frigid women.
I want to sink your sailboats and launches.
I want to strangle your children at their finger paintings.
I want to poison your Afghans and poodles.
He is dead, the drunken little cherub.


He is dead,
The effulgent tub thumper.
He is Dead . . .

But—one knows what one 'speaks,' or else not. Put too blandly, such address is perhaps only equalled by the equal exhortations, to buy this bread, that butter, and to eat it all. More reasonably—the addition of "launches" to "sailboats" belies the echoing tiredness of the man writing, it may be, with the whole 'idea.'

More quietly (less 'common'):

What can you say in a poem?
Past forty, you've said it all.
The dwarf black oak grows out of
The cliff below my feet. It
May be two hundred years old,
Yet its trunk is no bigger
Than my wrist, its crown does not
Come to my shoulder . . .

I read the book making notes, so that I should not be overly embarrassed, coming to write of it. Which was my dilemma, but these poems are marked as follows: "Seven Poems for Marthe, My Wife" ("Positions of love—physical—loneliness. Images of possible loss—flat line. Praise.") "The Mirror in the Woods" ("Good—fairy story quality. Mirror."); "For Eli Jacobsen" ("Good—old-timers, liberals, workers—the good old days—won't come again. Courage—makes taste & feelings better. Ok."); "Time Is the Mercy of Eternity" ("Philosophical—'on poetry.' Up in the mts. Images of moments: description. Clear. Alone . All strips away to 'knowledge '"), etc., etc.

Perception, inside or out, is 'earth,' equally to be defended. In the "Japanese Translations" at the book's end, there is this one (by Ishikawa Takuboku):

I do not know why
But it is as though
There were a cliff
Inside my head
From which, every day,
Clods of earth fall.


Edward Dahlberg:
The Sorrows of Priapus

The Sorrows of Priapus , by Edward Dahlberg. New York: New Directions, 1957.

Manners are custom insofar as they represent continually and generally reaffirmed notions of value. We shoot to kill. We think to act effectively. The world is nine-tenths to be found in the way one moves through it, be that with resistance, longing, good nature, or whatever other possibilities of attitude exist.

For a writer this problem of "manners" converts, partly, to that of "style"—of which Stendhal said, it is the man. In America there are no very actually customary writers such as the English have. From Melville on, those men who have managed a formal distinction have done so with great labor, and Moby-Dick sweats a composite language of completely singular kind. It would seem that the American writer has constantly to refind, and, equally, to redefine wherein lies the value of the words he uses. Awkwardly, and persistently, this is what they seem to me to have done: Whitman, James—utterly unlike otherwise—and in our own time, Pound, Williams, Crane, Faulkner et al. To the European our "stylists" at times seem outrageously self-conscious; they do not at all write in a way that anyone might have. But I think that is, again, a reaffirming of this question of "manners" which has nagged at our dress, our food, our attitudes, ever since we first came to this country.

New Mexico Quarterly , Spring 1958.


The only way is the one way, and that way must be found by each of us, one by one. Perhaps we arrive at custom without any manners at all.

From the character of writing in his first book, Bottom Dogs , a novel published in the late twenties, to that now shown in The Sorrows of Priapus , Edward Dahlberg has come by no means unwittingly. Bottom Dogs is a flat, harsh work of realism; and for the last word, read the attitudes subsequent to Dreiser, the affective photographing of life sans relieving characteristics of sympathy. Why then this manner?

Our annals are weak, and we know not our rivers; we cannot understand today which is Father Ra, the Egyptian sun, until we gather up yesterday, who is Osiris. These rivers are immense legends and would cure us of many ills, did we know them, for all nature is our corpus, and once we relinquish a part of the earth, we lose, in some way, the use of our hands, feet, loins, and spirit.

This is not a realism of any kind familiar to critics, though I would argue its concerns are ultimately just so oriented. For those familiar with Bottom Dogs , the language has certainly a new character of reference and tone. Yet the strong monosyllabic structure holds. Sentences stay closely based, running to compounds in passages of argument and explanation; but even there they end with even, flat statement, unmistakable contentual emphases.

The Sorrows of Priapus argues two main images: (1) a natural world, dominant in animal and plant, as corrective to that "understood," intellectually "purposed," defiant of natural authorities; and (2) a source-world, of New World histories, and custom, origin, whereby to secure continuance and understanding of a more primal sort. The last sentence in the book is: "Be primordial or decay." Which injunction—both to continually begin, and to begin with what you began with—can give some sense of the manner in point of content. The beginning note reads:

This is fable and not natural history. The polestar of the writer is a legendary book, using geography, the beasts in the earth and in the sea, and voyages, as the source of maxims, mirth and an American myth . . .

The natural world is the "plural" world of the Greeks, and those around and before them. It is devoid of humanistic hierarchies; the trees are there as much as the man is, no matter he can chop them down. The second, the source-world, is that of the Maya, Aztec, ge-


ographers, the forms of land, and the rivers which mark them. In Dahlberg's use it breeds overtones, insistencies, of great strength:

Memory is our day of water tutored by want. La Salle sought virgin Tartars, descendants of Prometheus. He returned to Frontenac, but he had not found the Alpha of the river . . .

But what does that first sentence mean? It means that we remember what we have, because we do not have it. It means that fate does not necessarily argue accomplishments.

Water is death, but man must seek it. All our seeming wakings are the debris of evening waters; most dreams come from mean shallows, and are the digestive rot of secure bottoms; prophecies rise up from the marine depths ancient as the Flood. We are cartographers, unheeding the singing maggots, or bereft of the Angel.

Is it to gain an authority, the manners of authority, that Dahlberg has developed such a "style"? I argue that its purpose is as follows: to demand attention, for the content, the things with which it is concerned. The book is a compounded book, formed of many things, "many narratives have been employed . . ." The book is a legendary imagining —from imitari[*] to imitate, or some form lost "back there," in the same world; and derives its form from tales, and writings, of men who were there, and provides for us the image of a "new world" which has filtered down to us.

Finally, pedantically, manners comes from manus , hand; and custom, at least possibly, in part, from suescere: to have it for one's own. At least that can stand as an American reading of the work Edward Dahlberg has done.


Evergreen Review , Nos. 1 and 2

Evergreen Review , Nos. 1–2 (1957). New York: Grove Press, 1957.

The use of the "little magazine" format in contemporary publishing is a result of the wide increase in paperback publications generally; and must, I think, be first recognized as a commercial device rather than a use relating directly to contemporary writing. In fact, the little magazine per se finds itself in difficult straits these days. Increased publishing costs, more highly developed means of distribution, lack of independent subsidies, and like factors have all tended to push out any actual parallels to the old Dial, Transition , or The Little Review , which might otherwise have appeared. The increased use of little magazines by universities has also resulted in a generally academic tone which reaches over into reviews without such connection, e.g., The Hudson Review . Writers for these periodicals have usually a well determined axe to grind—not certainly their fault, but again the result of anterior preoccupations: in this case, that universities have come to expect their employees to be active in such publication, particularly the members of their English departments. The subsequent search for occasions has led to any number of specious revivals, and the independently creative writer—to use a well-worn phrase—finds himself more beside the point than ever.

What is a little magazine? It used to be, most usually, the publication of a group of writers , however restrictive that might seem. It

New Mexico Quarterly , Spring—Summer 1957.


was not, in any case, the publication of a group of publishers or teachers. At times a sympathetic editor, such as Ford Madox Ford, could, with an English Review , publish both Lawrence and Pound, no matter what each thought of the other. Transition practiced an almost voracious eclecticism, but one clearly committed to writers, not pocketbooks. And there were as well magazines such as Broom with a more narrowly cohesive editorial commitment. The late View , for example, was dedicated to American surrealism, with Charles Henri Ford and Parker Tyler as mainstays. In contemporary writing only Origin (which has now stopped publication) seems to have been committed to a group—its nemesis perhaps, but also its use. The writers it published were given means to develop their own idiom, with the very significant security of knowing there was a place where they might appear free of obligating "limits"—which is a very important security indeed.

The Evergreen Review has, as yet, no "group" and it is perhaps not to be expected of an essentially commercial publication. Publishers, reasonably, use such magazines as this as a form of advance publicity; Gallimard in Paris has maintained a review of this kind for some years. But this use will explain in part the hodgepodge character of Evergreen Review No. 1, despite single excellences such as James Purdy's "Cutting Edge." The contents include Sartre, Michaux, Baby Dodds, and Samuel Beckett—and these do not relate, nor is the eclecticism of such inclusion very interesting. Sartre's essay, "After Budapest," is not demonstrably an attitude with which the editors "agree"—or on which they stake their own political commitment—or by which they define a position they intend to maintain. It is, rather, an "example"—useful, but limiting, because it is an example of Sartre, not of an editorial program or policy.

This randomness is in some sense corrected in Evergreen Review , No. 2. Here a cohesiveness is obtained by giving over the issue to San Francisco writers; and Kenneth Rexroth leads off with a confused, but certainly explicit, "letter," maintaining the importance of disaffiliation to the writers involved. This of course implies liveliness and the like, but it also involves some error of generalization as does, equally, calling Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg writers of this geographical "school," despite the impact they have had there. Michael Rumaker seems to me equally detachable. The more true members are, perhaps, Rexroth, Brother Antoninus, Duncan, Spicer, Broughton, and Josephine Miles—though these as well share many differences. There is, in any case, some danger in pro-


moting geographical relationships; they are rarely significant, and add somewhat specious labels to writers who have troubles enough.

In both issues the problem seems coherence. The first relies primarily on an unabashed eclecticism, with the use of "names" to provide interest. This is a familiar practice. The second in turn makes use of a geographical "scene" (the publisher has printed on the cover SAN FRANCISCO SCENE in fact), and again the coherence is tentative, although somewhat more clear than in No. 1. But neither seems to me a very able substitute for a literal editorial policy or program, no matter the apparent limits of that commitment. It means of course that someone will be left out. It means, too, that several writers, or, in short, a group of writers will have precedence. But it means equally that something will be aimed at, and the editors will have arrived at the liberty of inviting writers to contribute to something more than a miscellany. There exist very clear "sides" in writing today, and they are not described by calling something "good writing." I should myself hate to see the Evergreen Review become, simply, another New World Writing —which can boast it prints writers of completely divergent opinion only because it has none itself.

I make use, however, of a writer's attitude in this review; and forget that it is not here the point. Readers will find much of interest in both issues despite my qualifications. "Baby Dodds' Story" in No. 1, for example, is a fine exhibition of a very free-wheeling prose; Michaux's tour "through the hallucinated hell of Mescalin" in the same issue is also a timely subject. And Evergreen Review , No. 2, is I think the most interestingly diverse and generally excellent instance of the "little magazine" in big publishing yet to be done. So, if I hope, it is mainly that it will become the occasion for writers it can now be claimed to be for readers. That will be the day.


"To Build Castles in Spain"

Ten Centuries of Spanish Verse , edited by Eleanor L. Turnbull. New York: Grove Press, 1955.

The Penguin Book of Spanish Verse , edited by J. M. Cohen. Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books, 1960.

To anthologize ten centuries of any country's poetry would seem a very ambitious job—and the more so, when the country is one so vague in our minds as is Spain. I don't know that either Miss Turnbull's selection, or that of Cohen, succeeds altogether in giving the necessary orientation. But such success would be in any case extremely relative. Briefly, I would prefer Cohen's book for these reasons: (1) his system of identifying authors in the table of contents is uncomplicated and allows quick reference; (2) his prose translations, running beneath the Spanish text on each page in the character of unpretentious footnotes, make a very usable "trot"; and (3) his material, although paralleling Miss Turnbull's in great part, seems to me a more solid continuity. To these things, I should add the fact that his anthology costs $1.50 less than Miss Turnbull's; and consider the matter settled.

There is, however, a tendency evident in Miss Turnbull's book that might be mentioned—because it seems without justification. The translations which she has provided are often very curious. They include, for example, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's translation of the formalist Jorge Manrique's "Coplas por la Muerte de su Padre "—and also Lord Byron's translation of "La Pérdida de Al -

Poetry , December 1958.


hama ," which he calls "A Very Mournful Ballad on the Siege and Conquest of Alhama" reasonably enough. And there are a number of other translators present, who have that strangely insistent tone of great enthusiasm and limited perception. Again, that is why I favor the workmanlike continuity of Cohen's prose notes. But an instance may make the point more clearly:

. . .  Como al partir del sol la sombra crece,
y en cayendo su rayo levanta
la negra escuridad que el mundo cubre,
de do viene el temor que nos espanta
 . . .
(Garcilaso de la Vega, from "Egloga Primera ")

. . . As when the sun departs the shadows grow and, as its rays sink, the black darkness rises to cover the world, whence comes the fear that strikes us . . .


. . . As at the set of sun the shades extend,
And when its circle sinks, that dark obscure
Rises to shroud the world, on which attend
The images that set our hair on end . . .
(Turnbull: Jeremiah H. Wiffen, translator)

Miss Turnbull would, I think, have been better advised to follow her own abilities; Contemporary Spanish Poetry (another of her anthologies, wherein she used translations of her own) seems to me a much happier example of her care and intelligence.

That done, there remains Spanish literature to be spoken of; and I feel as tentative here, as the usual American must. Both books are, in effect, a substantial offering of that literature, but I wonder how simply a reader will find their materials available, lacking much acquaintance with either literature or the peculiar characteristics of the national temper of which it is the form. It is true enough, as Cohen notes, that "For the majority, Spain is the country of a single prose masterpiece, Don Quixote  . . ." For the American, we may add background instances of Spanish temper, such as Cortes, Coronado, et al., and of course Columbus (by Robert Graves' conjecture quite probably Spanish also, i.e., a Mallorquin from Soller, etc.). But then our orientation moves north. And although one may see bullfights in Nîmes, Arles, and other French cities close to the Spanish border, there is no such acquaintance with Spanish form allowed in Texas.

So then the background for this literature is also a problem, and we are left here with what references we can manage, wherewith to


take hold of this work. Granted writing comes from a place , and the complex of attitudes there to be found effectual, I would recommend as a primer William H. Prescott's History of the Reign of Philip the Second (1855), simply because it conveys with all the singularities of 19th-century American intelligence, a world unequivocally Spanish , in a variety of relationships, both European (because this period was one in which Spain, contrary to usual position, was much involved in European politics) and Moorish (the opening chapters of Book V will place that relationship clearly in the reader's mind). What we have, in short, to manage is even the most minimal sense of what that "world" was—for ten centuries. Prescott will usefully let one look both backwards and forwards, and that is more to the point here than would be a work perhaps more modern or more accurate.

Continuing this sense of background, I would also cite a few ideas , more than actual references, which may have bearing. I don't know that we see, or can see, such areas "all of a sudden"; yet an idea, a perception of some aspect of that reality, can do much to help, no matter what questions of bias or opinion. For example, Stendhal comments on the Spanish character in his A Life of Napoleon as follows:

Ferocious yet generous at one and the same time; hospitable yet unrelenting; lazy yet tireless when on the move, burned by his sun and his superstitious beliefs, the Spaniard offers all the freakish characteristics of an irascible temperament carried to extreme.


The specific character of the priests is perhaps the main characteristic which divides Spain from the rest of Europe. The clergy in Spain is resident .

In her Autobiography Gertrude Stein writes:

She always says that americans can understand spaniards. That they are the only two western nations that can realise abstraction. That in americans it expresses itself by disembodiedness, in literature and machinery, in Spain by ritual so abstract that it does not connect itself with anything but ritual. . . . They have no close contact with the earth such as most europeans have. Their materialism is not the materialism of existence, of possession, it is the materialism of action and abstraction.

Ramón Sender calls the Spanish poet ("if he survives") the most civilized man in the world today. I note that Elie Faure in an introduction to a collection of Goya's etchings speaks of "a kind of equivocal


atmosphere wavering between Catholic cruelty and life on the one hand, and Protestant hypocrisy and morals on the other . . ." It will be, then, by such apparently disrelated comment, often incisively personal, that our own reaction may be stimulated, to supply that contact on which these, or any poems, will be dependent.

There are many poets in the two collections, otherwise, who will enlarge anyone's concept of Spanish or, equally, of world literature. Juan Ruiz, Jorge Manrique, Garcilaso de la Vega, Fray Luis de León, Baltasar de Alcázar—to note only those to the time of Shakespeare—are such men. Yet to say it that way quickly falls into speciousness. It is better to think of one poem. "Antonio Machado (1875–1939), a poet of great and individual simplicity, sober and reflective, and a great interpreter of the Castilian landscape. He defended the Republic, and died on the French side of the Pyrenees when its armies were defeated" (Cohen). This is one of his poems:


            En memoria de Abel Martín

Mientras traza su curva el pez de fuego,
junto al ciprés, bajo el supremo añil,
y vuela en blanca piedra el niño ciego,
y en el olmo la copla de marfil
de la verde cigarra late y suena,
honremos al Señor
—la negra estampa de su mano buena—
que ha dictado el silencio en el clamor.

Al Dios de la distancia y de la ausencia,
del áncora en la mar, la plena mar . . .
El nos libra del mundo—omnipresencia—,
nos abre senda para caminar.

Con la copa de sombra bien colmada,
con este nunca lleno corazón,
honremos al Señor que hizo la Nada
y ha esculpido en la fe nuestra razón.[*]


"Her Service Is Perfect Freedom"

The White Goddess , 3rd ed., by Robert Graves. London: Faber & Faber, 1952.

The Poems of Robert Graves (Chosen by Himself ). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1958.

The Golden Ass , by Lucius Apuleius. Translated by Robert Graves. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1950.

The Twelve Caesars , by Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. Translated by Robert Graves. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1957.

Robert Graves presents an attractive figure; he is diverse, he is multifaceted as some might say, he writes clearly and with engaging emphases. Many of his books—like the occasions which prompted them—may well fall away; but some, equally, seem squarely fated to stick.

So, what to think of The White Goddess? Is she really for real—because that has, it seems, been the question. Perhaps it is our ingrained monogamy that has made most readings of this book, ironically enough, a frustrated rejection of its proposals. The subtitle gives an orientation, however; the book is "A historical grammar of poetic myth." By its "historical," the text will depend on what is known in and of time; by its "grammar," will offer a wherewithal to "know one's letters"; and, by "poetic myth," will depend on those

Poetry , March 1959.


evidences, tales of the tribe, which poets, the makers in language, have used as a basis for their work. This in hand, one may read as literally as he cares to; but he would do well to see that the book is an "argument" as much in its own form and methods, as it is in the literal details to which it refers.

In short, this book is much concerned with an image of how poets have worked in this world, and of the "magic" source by which they have survived. Poetic faith, Coleridge's plea for a "willing suspension of disbelief," the timeless acknowledgment of the other , such things may, or may not, depend upon the matrilineal institutions which Graves exhaustively discovers. But his working premises of conjecture, of a formulative (basically) rather than an analytic ordering of the "what happened," are, I would argue, the only ones which will work in this area. He is right that the poet is a man peculiarly fated to move by such alphabets as he restores, and by such sidewise containment of knowledge as "The Battle of the Trees" demonstrates. Philosophically enough, the poet is here to prove nothing but the continuance of that which was given him on his arrival. The Muse, "the White Goddess . . . the Mother of All Living, the ancient power of fright and lust," etc., is both source and denial; seen as "generation" there is no other relevance possible. Because if you are a poet, you will know that presence of fate, against which you might, even effectually, interpose your own will—if you covet a quick death, and the loss of all you thought to honor. The principle of the animate, in language, is that "things" can become absorbed by their presence there, until their life, in that character, equally represents their force in other, more "literally" given, characters. This, in turn, can generate a power of reverence and recognition capable of continuance. The Goddess, whether characterized as the ultimately personal, or impersonal, wife, mother, queen, or simply the generically "unknown," is the most persistent other of our existence, eschewing male order, allowing us to live at last. The obedience of a poet's gratitude, for this, is the authority which you hear in his poems, and it is obedience to a presence which is, if you will, that which is not understood, ever; but which he characterizes as all that can happen in living, and seeks to form an emblem for, with words.

Otherwise poets, like other men, face the necessities of this life, in terms of the money needed to support themselves and their families. Graves has found his solution in making prose support his verse; and thinking of the diverse occupations which poets in this


country have used to accomplish the same end, it appears happy for him that he has so managed. But the evidence indicates that this way has had its problems. Five Pens in Hand , a miscellany of his criticism, stories, etc., is reminiscent of the schoolman's "Publish or perish . . ." With few exceptions (e.g., "The White Goddess," "Prologue to a Poetry Reading") nothing offers much purchase for the problem with which Graves has been elsewhere concerned. If nothing in the collection represents "any task or . . . any relationship . . . inconsistent with poetic principles . . . ," again "nothing" is the explanation, by being what is said. The book documents, painfully, what is necessary to manage self-support by writing; how persistently one must be entertaining (cf. "The Whitaker Negroes"); how able to rise to any occasion (cf. "Legitimate Criticism of Poetry"). The process is the more uncomfortable, since the ingenuous good nature back of it all will expose whatever the dictates of the situation ask for—a situation as endlessly of no use as the minds of the editors who create it.

Fairer purpose, better game, for this process is one which allows a firmer grip on such "occasions," as Graves' historical novels have previously shown. Two books, each in its own way, give quick example, i.e., his translations of Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars , and of Apuleius' The Golden Ass . In America we read Latin poorly, if at all; and translation is a thing on which we are more and more dependent. Graves' translation of Suetonius demonstrates a very certain "poetic" facility, an intuitive response to another man's mode of speaking; and the text is thereby restored to wit and precision, which are things often lost in the translation of Latin. Equally, his transformation of The Golden Ass from a somewhat bawdy "classic" to a whimsically moving, full-fledged "religious experience" is token of "poetic" insight, notable here since the vision of the Goddess (pp. 268–71) in other hands might have proved full of doubt or awkward acknowledgment.

But it would be better to forget all of these books, to keep hold only of The White Goddess , an act of poetic faith if ever there was one—when you read Graves' poems. Coming from such a Hydraheaded intelligence, they are nonetheless small, lyric, and often commonplace in their concerns. When one thinks of the sheer bulk of prose written in order to support their creation, one is staggered; but that too is like the day, which passeth away. The point is, it does not really matter how you write a poem, so long as you write it.

A poet's "handwriting," whereby he may be known, Graves has


termed the rhythms peculiar to his work; to which I would add, it is also the rhythm of his thought, of the ways in which he sees the "out there," and the "in." Graves' forms are primarily traditional, which fact may blur them for a careless reader; but he both uses and informs them in a manner unlike our own current "traditionalists." By which I mean that he is at home in them, thinks with them, and shapes the content of his obligation to their pattern with a good grace:

The Door

When she came suddenly in
It seemed the door could never close again,
Nor even did she close it—she, she—
The room lay open to a visiting sea
Which no door could restrain.

Yet when at last she smiled, tilting her head
To take leave of me,
Where she had smiled, instead
There was a dark door closing endlessly,
The waves receded.

A constant acquaintance with any woman will take humor; it is the only footnote possible. No poet ever quite dares to make such reference to the Goddess, but a deep humor grows also from that association. This element is a constant in Graves' poems; "Questions in a Wood," "Woman and Tree," and many more, some funny outright, and some much more quietly, give evidence of that one male prerogative he has used for sustenance. Others, at last with bitterness, strike flatly on despair:

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie . . .
("Counting the Beats")

Despair or not, like it or not, the faith which Graves defends comes of belief, and is a renewal. You die many times to acknowledge one birth.


A New Testament

Some years ago I had the opportunity to publish a section of this novel[*] in the Black Mountain Review (No. 7). I felt then (and continue to feel), that it was an extraordinary piece of work. At that time I also saw the book in manuscript in a form substantially different from the one which Olympia Press published in 1959. It had a more discursive manner, being in fact three books, one of which had been published in the United States as Junky (under the pseudonym, William Lee) and the other two having the titles Queer and In Search of Yage .

These books, then, made a trilogy progressing into the observation of a despair, with all possible terms of degradation, of commitment to sensation as an alternative logic to organizational 'goodness' or 'purpose.' The present book does that too, but in a form so much more telling in itself that it is immediately remarkable in that way also. For example, this book has no 'historical' logic of any significance. It follows a more real apprehension of life, as significant (or insignificant, the same) memory of detail, of frustrate invention upon the mock taboos of society, of humor used to weigh possibility, of echoing loneliness and repetition. This novel pictures society by coming from it—just as the image of The Rube comes from the cover of a Saturday Evening Post , with the catfish in hand, and recurs as innocence converted to use out of the pressure of needs the society itself has taught. The dirty words, so to speak, which the book contains are not the simple "shit," "fuck," "cock,"

Outburst , no. 1, 1961.


and so on, that society has made use of from time immemorial—or rather they are here played upon for what they are, for any of us, the power of fantasy, of an ultimately successful touching, carrying with it all the fearful load of suggestion that any ad for a brassiere can demonstrate. It is that "fuck" here is fuck, not the guffawing punch-line to a giggling joke, but horror, ultimate in its free term. If we had the money (say it), what wouldn't we do . . . The inventions Burroughs plays upon the organizational man, the square gone rigid with logically coherent method , the sunken man or woman with the "condition" ("You think I am innarested to hear about your horrible old condition? I am not innarested at all."), the forms of authority or societal control taken to satiric limits of fantasy so naked it cannot remember the way any longer to another term or situation:

Old violet brown photos that curl and crack like mud in the sun: Panama City . . . Bill Gains putting down the paregoric con on a chinese druggist.

"I've got these racing dogs . . . pedigree greyhounds . . . All sick with the dysentery . . . tropical climate . . . the shits . . . you sabe shit? . . . my Whippets are Dying  . . ." He screamed. . . . His eyes lit up with blue fire. . . . The flame went out . . . smell of burning metal . . . "Administer with an eye dropper. . . . Wouldn't you? . . . Menstrual cramps . . . my wife . . . Kotex . . . Aged mother . . . Piles . . . raw . . . bleeding. . . ." He nodded out against the counter. . . . The druggist took a tooth-pick out of his mouth and looked at the end of it and shook his head. . . .

"Wouldn't you?" Which, and why? The vacuum that is the condition, the nightmare without sound except that it is —and waits, patiently enough. Which control do you choose?

Burroughs says: "There is only one thing a writer can write about: what is in front of his senses at the moment of writing  . . . I am a recording instrument . . . I do not presume to impose 'story' 'plot' 'continuity' . . . Insofar as I succeed in Direct recording of certain areas of psychic process I may have limited function . . . I am not an entertainer."

The terms of this book are responsible in that they make the responsive areas of intelligence and sensation their logic—beyond any hierarchy of social purpose, good men and bad, evil seen as a side issue (beside the side issue of the nominal 'good'). Its form is an increasingly narrow range of recall, of stories told and retold, in shortening phase, so that they end as an echo of a page, paragraph, sentence, phrase, word: Wouldn't you?


There is no way to explain need except to state it. You can solve what you will as you will. We assume that to prevent such issues as Burroughs derives content from, we need only cut them out, away from ourselves. So much of the world has been tidied up in this manner that it is probable that very few people either want to, or can, recognize the anguish their own faces make clear. But Burroughs has written from all the evidence of his own body and mind their testament as well as his own.

(Note written for Grove Press, which plans to publish Naked Lunch this year.)


Ways of Looking

Parvenus and Ancestors , by Barriss Mills. Flushing, N.Y.: Sparrow Magazine, 1959.

Experiment Theatre Anthology No. 1 , edited by Carol Ely Harper. Seattle: Experimental Press, 1959.

Kô, or A Season on Earth , by Kenneth Koch. New York: Grove, 1959.

Mexico City Blues , by Jack Kerouac. New York: Grove, 1959.

A Red Carpet for the Sun , by Irving Layton. Highlands, N.C.: Jonathan Williams, 1959.

The Heart in Naked Hunger , by Judson Crews. Ranches of Taos, N.M.: Motive Book Shop, [1958].

The Feel of Sun & Air upon Her Body , by Judson Crews. Eureka, Calif.: Hearse Press, [1962].

There are many things to tell us the nature of the world in which we live. A pragmatic response to such nature, for example, would place the house where water is to be found, and would avoid, equally, the desert or whatever other situation might be supposed impossible. Our reference is this nature, and in our use of it we cite the nature of ourselves, the needs and suppositions which describe us as actual. Perhaps at last it is all a dream—as they say—some ultimate mistaking of purpose. That aside, in poems as elsewhere

Poetry , June 1961.


a description is, like it or not, made use of, to speak of worlds and to live in them. Adaptations of form and of purpose follow as an outline, an acknowledgment of exterior presence.

Barriss Mills works between a part-time wish and (also hopeful) a rejection of an easy taking, of anything, so that his poems are, often, wryly wanting something he feels may not be had. An image of his father becomes:

                          . . . Remembering
now my father and the begonias
he could love and they, thirsty, silent
accept unknowing his silent care.
("Remembering My Father and the Begonias")

Is that given as the despair, or the triumph, of care; or is it habit, maintained to secure a continuity? The problem, as ever, is meaning—and relationship, as Iago elsewhere says:

                   . . . I'll prick them
till they've lived (and felt
the world rush in upon them)
a moment, before they die.
("Interlude: Iago Addresses the Audience")

Mills feels, I think, the nature of women as both a relief and a curious threat, or problem, of adaptation, in the ease of relationship suggested, not with men but with all that men fumble in, the world of things and intention:

No man can feel it—
the aplomb women are born to.

The poems in his book are often a happy balance of good humor and a wistful attention to discrepancies. They are small in the range of their attention, and seem even meant to be so, e.g., notes on the "classical" moon, Venus, "Everybody Cried at Our Wedding," Pygmalion's "icy art," and money: "The money? nobody knew / by now where it had gone." In that sense they are occasional—or better, purpose described as provoked attention not so much lacking as falling beside a more deliberate sense of purpose.

Purpose itself, of course, may well be ridiculous, implying relationships where none may exist—so that no tunnels to China succeed. The Experiment Theatre Anthology fails partly in this sense. It is not so much that one rejects, just like that, "the petit drame or One-


Minute Play" which the preface to this book describes, nor even the "arena theatre in every living-room." But to say that "We can develop a Shakespeare so in a hundred years . . ." strikes me as pretentiously overhopeful.

The plays themselves, insofar as they depend on poetry for a means, seem garbled and cribbed, echoes of a high-school "Shakespeare," who is all too present as it is. Bad writing stays bad writing no matter what the occasion, and it is a poor trick to attempt to blur that fact by removing it all to a play:



Jacob, hear me now,
For I am yours, as night has been our vow:
You cannot love, I see, but give me room
To lay my heart, and God will bless my womb.
                                                               ("Jacob Hofstädter")

Which is unfair, out of context, and there are many other "tones" at work in the collection. For myself, however, there is little of interest and/or it is a world so cutely begged that it becomes offensive, the Living Room qua Ultimate Refuge for pains quite real enough but never, I believe to be exorcised in this manner. Our world seems desperate enough to make us want to turn all possible occasions to use. But to say with the complacency of Carol Ely Harper, "We have taught young poets, unfamiliar with playwriting, to make the One-Minute Play from one's own poem, preferably an unsuccessful one . . ." makes cosy what is not cosy, and turns such art as her Shakespeare's into a harmless pastime.

It is this sort of easy reference (which the Experiment Theatre Anthology implies) that Kenneth Koch lampoons with a very gracious viciousness. It is a character of the urbane to play upon discrepancies, and to leave the unifying and observing intelligence—with final limits of sky and ground and people thereon—as the only real term. Koch's "epic," mocking and clever, marches upon all sorts of things, the cliché of Great Baseball Teams (the Dodgers) and of Great Events (the Coronation) among them. The hero, or one of the heroes at least, is, rightly enough, Japanese, and the progress of the story, so to speak, leaps about like a kid flipping stations on a television set. The villain of it all is Dog Boss, whose farcical origins are much attached to a German shepherd, who had bitten his mother's seducer, etc., while all were living on a houseboat, etc.:

Dog Boss was there, a child of five; tears welling
In both his eyes, he ran to shore to farms


And cried for help, but none could understand him.
'Twas summer, blazing. Then a cool breeze fanned him,
And he saw at his side a German shepherd
With wagging tail, who understood! They hurried
To where the lust-crowned living-boat was tethered
And found the pair. The shepherd roared and buried
His teeth in Blickly's thigh, whose muscles severed.
From that day onward, sailing down the Surrey'd
Be nothing to the boy, without a dog;
Sheep could not substitute, nor could a hog.

Finally the whole thing comes to a fading end, because the problem with such work must be that it can, patently, go on forever. As can likewise the world which it reports, with such inventive humor. But laughter, like love, among the ruins seems a reasonable act. It doesn't change things, so to speak. It simply makes them entertaining.

If Koch's world depends upon a satiric response to a chaos of value, then Jack Kerouac's becomes a simplification of that chaos, familiar to us now in Zen teaching. For example:

You start with the Teaching
     Inscrutable of the Diamond
And end with it, your goal
     is your startingplace,
No race was run, no walk
     of prophetic toenails
Across Arabies of hot
     meaning—you just
     numbly don't get there.
(113th Chorus)

Kerouac's book is a series of improvisations, notes, a shorthand of perceptions and memories, having in large part the same kind of word-play and rhythmic invention to be found in his prose. It seems likely that much will exasperate because we are wary of that which does not make use of familiar continuities. We like the "story" of usual thought, and we are apt to distrust what so unembarrassedly wants to throw that all away. But Kerouac says:

Like running a stick thru water
The use and effect
Of tellin people that
                           their house
                            is burning . . .
(126th Chorus)


So I write about heaven
Smoke for the scene,
Wanta bring everyone
Straight to the dream.

If you could only hold
         What you know
As you know it forever,
Moving from griefy to griefy,
         lament to lament,
Groan, and have to come out
        and smile once again . . .
(196th Chorus)

Perhaps the "big words" will be missed, or more, the manner which contains them—and the forms of wiseness and security which that manner of investment secures. It is not that simple to find a language whose emphases will be common perhaps. I mean that Kerouac may well distract and irritate more than he will teach. But the attempt is useful, with its clutch of old songs and childwise wordplay, jogging the mind to a simplicity, making the old wiseness foolish, the old foolishness wise.

Irving Layton also distrusts the deceptive distances in manner which the more academic poet is apt to fall heir to, that remove from the terms (if not the situations) of a common existence with other men and women, in a common place. For example, in his preface to A Red Carpet for the Sun he makes very clear the position he has chosen for himself:

 . . . What I've written—besides my joy in being alive to write about them—has been about this singular business of human evil; the tension between Hebrew and pagan, between the ideal and the real. The disorder and glory of passion. The modern tragedy of the depersonalization of men and women. About a hideously commercial civilization spawning hideously deformed monstrosities.

With that intent there can be little misunderstanding of his commitment, and the poems themselves (here happily collected into one substantial volume from twelve others which came before it) make clear the range possible to this kind of sincerity. Layton is, all at once, the most tender of men, and the most purposefully satiric. He uses the provincialism of his situation (Canada) to keep himself awake to the alternatives, and, being a Jew, he holds to a tradition of intelligence and compassion. Most simply, he writes in this way:


The Madonna of the Magnificat

I shall wander all night and not see
       as much happiness as this infant gives
to his plain sisters who are adoring him
and his mother cradling and covering
       him with her love.

She has borrowed the white moon from the sky
       to pillow his golden curls
and at her magical cry the dark roofs
the length of the street lie down
       like quiet animals.

The night will wear out and disappear
      like soiled water through the city's drains
but now it is full of noise and blessed neighbours
and all the tenement windows fly open
      like birds.

A world so made possible (in the mind of a man who will not give in to its pain) must be true beyond all contradiction.

What to say, then, of all those other worlds, equally the intelligences (or lack thereof) which have created them? It becomes less and less a "world" one may witness as an "objective" phenomenon. Nor does this seem a recent problem if Wyndham Lewis can write in 1927, "The material world that the human intellect has created is still there, of course; but as it is a creation of our minds, it will no doubt be found that we can even physically disintegrate it." That we can now do without question. Yet that hardly proves a relief.

Judson Crews has, for some time now, lived outside of the common areas of recognition, surviving by his persistence and by, as well, the respect those who have read his work with care have come to give. He asks for nothing and lives sparely in his work, a place for survival, where the test of a life is that which is possible in it, terrors of image, dream sensualities, hard thought, all given place. The twists of language (which his titles most quickly describe, e.g., "Sated in Lucid Devine," "Bale Thaw") define this same character of test, of meaning, curiously, of statement against statement, word against word. The problem of meaning itself is defined by him in this way:

Of the Self Exceeded

The page itself was part of the meaning
and the man reading was part


The sky above is part of the meaning
and the bird drifting like a feather

Because the page is as perfect as meaning
and the sky is as perfect as air

The mind is startled in face of perfection
it hides from the limitless air

The bird is perfection of air, of air
but the mind is lost short of meaning

Both books (The Heart in Naked Hunger and The Feel of Sun & Air upon Her Body ) have this hardihood of thought; and both as well use the device of occasional photographs, of nudes, of flat building fronts, of many untoward things, let us say, to shock the mind awake with a somewhat wry invitation.

I find my own relief in such "worlds" as Crews and Layton have worked to make actual, admitting that such a feeling is a feeling—yet either man is openly concerned to make a way common to all, despite the seeming difficulty of Crews' images at times or Layton's insistence on values which must (fairly enough) discriminate. It is the size of the area involved by them which proves distinctive, and it is not that they make a world apart from that given me—which could only prove a competition. In one sense, we are all "nature" poets these days, and whoever can show a nature of world still possible, to others as well as "me," ought to be commended.


The Fascinating Bore

Poems , by Algernon Charles Swinburne, selected, with an Introduction, by Bonamy Dobrée. The Penguin Poets. Baltimore, Md.: Penguin Books, 1961.

Swinburne: A Selection , edited, with an Introduction, by Edith Sitwell. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1960.

Early in his book The White Goddess , Robert Graves provides this description:

The Goddess is a lovely, slender woman with a hooked nose, deathly pale face, lips as red as rowan-berries, startlingly blue eyes and long fair hair; she will suddenly transform herself into sow, mare, bitch, vixen, she-ass, weasel, serpent, owl, she-wolf, tigress, mermaid or loathsome hag . . .

He continues, "The test of a poet's vision, one might say, is the accuracy of his portrayal of the White Goddess and of the island over which she rules. . . ."

This same figure is made use of in Mario Praz's study, The Romantic Agony , as a characteristic presence in Romantic literature, and it is in the work of Swinburne he believes "this type of Fatal Woman found its most complete form." Unlike Graves, however, who is himself involved in this same tradition, Praz depends much upon the sexual terms of such reference in Swinburne and the other writers with whom he deals. The question of Swinburne's al-

Poetry , August 1962.


golagnia—the association of sexual fulfillment with pain—is the key to Praz's own use of the work itself. For example, he summarizes Swinburne's "formula" as follows:

 . . . man, in his work, aspires to be 'the powerless victim of the furious rage of a beautiful woman [here quoting from Swinburne's The Whippingham Papers ]'; his attitude is passive, his love a martyrdom, his pleasure pain. As for the woman . . . , she is always the same type of unrestrained, imperious, cruel beauty.

Whether or not such emphasis proves fair at last, it makes unequivocally clear the source of energy in Swinburne's early, and I think greatest, work. He himself, in the curious innocence of his nature, found it impossible to accept finally—or he could not use it as could Baudelaire, for whom he felt great admiration. In her introduction to Swinburne: A Selection , Edith Sitwell quotes from a letter of Swinburne's to his friend and mentor, Lady Trevelyan, who had warned him he was being attacked "on the score of his personal morality":

I cannot express the horror and astonishment, the unutterable indignation and loathing, with which I have been struck on hearing that anyone could be vile enough to tax me, I do not say with doing, but with saying anything of the kind to which you refer.

It does not seem to me possible to answer as simply as does Edith Sitwell, "I cannot believe this extremely brave man was a hypocrite." Nor does it seem otherwise possible to settle the question as does Bonamy Dobrée, the other editor here involved:

One need not close one's eyes to these things in Swinburne; indeed to do so would be foolish. Most men and women have in them vestiges of such destructive impulses, which normal beings turn into more beneficent channels, or suppress, but which Swinburne had no wish to hide. Such things need not concern the reader who seeks in poetry for imaginative release, for support of the more directive energies, for relations he can contemplate and ramify; they belong, rather, to the realm of psychiatry, and, so far as this Introduction is concerned, will be left there.

It is a little ironic that Swinburne found just that "imaginative release" and the "support of the more directive energies" which Dobrée notes in the writing of the very poems which raise these questions. And there the reader must follow him, or else lose contact with all that ambivalence of experience for which the poems serve as means. Had it not been for the complexity of Swinburne's


sexual nature, his work would be only a thin exercise of technical virtuosity few in fact have so acquired, yet which, by itself, serves little. It was his genius that in these poems he could so resolve, with such art as he had, "such destructive impulses."

Even in Swinburne's sense of liberty, "what his poetry sings out loudly," as Dobrée puts it, there is much equally equivocal. Those familiar with the writings of de Sade—"that illustrious and ill-requited benefactor of humanity," Swinburne calls him in a letter to Monckton Milnes—will recognize the basis for Swinburne's own antitheism. For example, here is a brief instance of de Sade's argument in Dialogue entre un Prêtre et un Moribond .



Who can comprehend the vast and infinite designs of God upon man, and who can understand all we see?


The man who simplifies things, my friend, and especially the man who does not increase the causes the better to muddle the effects. What do you want with a second difficulty when you cannot explain the first? And since it is possible that Nature quite unaided has done all that you attribute to your God, why do you want to look for a master for her?

Swinburne makes use of a like argument in "Hymn to Proserpine":

Wilt thou take all, Galilean? but these thou shalt not take,

The laurel, the palms and the paean, the breasts of the nymphs in the brake;

Breasts more soft than a dove's, that tremble with tenderer breath;

And all the wings of the Loves, and all the joy before death . . .

More than these wilt thou give, things fairer than all these things?

O daughter of earth, of my mother, her crown and blossom of birth . . .

I am also, I also, thy brother; I go as I came unto earth.

Atalanta in Calydon , described by Edith Sitwell as "indisputably Swinburne's greatest work," was also his first published book. Our knowledge of it is now usually confined to the choruses, "When the hounds of spring are on winter's traces . . . ," and "Before the beginning of years . . . ," and perhaps others like these. We cannot read it as the great release from Victorian limits it then seemed.


Although Browning, with some accuracy, felt it a "fuzz of words," Ruskin thought it, symptomatically enough, "The grandest thing ever done by a youth, though he is a demonic youth . . ." The play is, whatever else, a beautifully maintained control of means upon a classical theme, of no great depth of thinking—on Swinburne's part at least, since de Sade is again the clue to its logic of argument. But if sounds alone can engage us—and Edith Sitwell provides much provocative comment on this score—then we should be satisfied with this:

And I too as thou sayest have seen great things;
Seen otherwhere, but chiefly when the sail
First caught between stretched ropes the roaring west,
And all our oars smote eastward, and the wind
First flung round faces of seafaring men
White splendid snow-flakes of the sundering foam,
And the first furrow in virginal green sea
Followed the plunging ploughshare of hewn pine . . .

Yet the most incisive of Swinburne's poems remain those in which he underwent the "test of a poet's vision," in Graves' sense—or when his concern with the terms of his algolagnia is unmistakable, as here:

As one who hidden in deep sedge and reeds
Smells the rare scent made where a panther feeds,
     And tracking ever slotwise the warm smell
Is snapped upon by the sweet mouth and bleeds,

His head far down the hot sweet throat of her—
So one tracks love, whose breath is deadlier . . .
("Laus Veneris")

The major part of Edith Sitwell's selection comes from Poems and Ballads (1866), and includes the whole of Atalanta in Calydon (1865). Dobrée ranges more out of necessity, since the Penguin selection intends to represent the whole body of Swinburne's writing. After Swinburne's "rescue" by Watts-Dunton (with whom he shared a household for the thirty years until his death in 1909), there is little of interest in his poems. Perhaps it was the confinement from his excesses that quieted his earlier energy. It was Watts-Dunton's assertion that, "From this moment (1879) Swinburne's connection with Bohemian London ceased entirely." But much had in fairness stopped before that, it would seem. Songs Before Sunrise (1871), written in hero-worship of the Italian political exile Mazzini, shows


increased diffuseness and verbosity despite the occasional interest of a poem like "Hertha" or "Hymn of Man." Still both these last become a tedium of accumulation and patterned manner. The intensity is gone.

It is doubtful to me that Swinburne can now be of much use to us. We have come, or have tried to, so far from the manners of that period, moving toward (as Grierson notes in his monograph on Swinburne) an increased use of spoken rhythms. This is why, perhaps, Swinburne's poems must seem so interminably artificial a contrivance so very often. Or perhaps it is, as Robert Duncan suggests, that Swinburne's "pleasurable pain/painful pleasure specialty may have something to do with his aesthetic in the actual poem—going on almost unbearably as he does. The fascinating bore in discourse is a sadist in that way."


Preface to Sticks and Stones

by George Bowering

The words will become a world, sustaining the occasion of thought—which is to think of things, in that complex of all that had been thought, might be, and felt equally. This is not, after all, to find an escape from what problems may exist in all senses. Feeling alone prevents it, and the impact of distortions, which make of common reality an immense tension of impossibility, must be first felt to then be dealt with.

But in the care with words, a world occurs, made possible by that care. For example, Williams writes, "If the language is distorted crime flourishes. It is well that in the unobstructed arts (because they can at favorable times escape the perversions which flourish elsewhere) a means is at least presented to the mind where a man can go on living."

Bowering begins to live at this point, finding a world opening to his sense of it. How can it be otherwise? And he has it:

so that it is the walking of the voice


opening of doors and the walking
on floors
and the closing of doors

the swinging of arms

and the talking of the voice . . .

George Bowering, Sticks and Stones (Vancouver: Tishbooks, 1963).


All senses come to their occasion in this use of them. And things are not hostile, let us believe it. If the means stay true to such occasion, all sense may then focus:

Thinking what?
happens in the
swing from one
step to the touch
of the next—

or otherwise, says "The older we got / the shorter the climb . . ." If one is to live, and what else would we have him do, then it must perhaps be that he take in hand all that first comes to hand, the sight, for example:

In the white moving
over the sky
there is no future shape
or any moment before . . .

Wise enough to know better, and to want to, beginning at the beginning, where taste, sight, air, a night's walk, or a morning, love found in another, all the perpetual occasions begin to take root—this seems wise enough.


"Think What's Got Away . . ."

The Hazards of Holiness , by Brother Antoninus. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962.

Traveling through the Dark , by William Stafford. New York: Harper & Row, 1962.

Imperatives , by Anthony Ostroff. New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1962.

Uncle Dog , by Robert Sward. London: Putnam, 1962.

Children Passing , by Richard Emil Braun. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962.

A Wedge of Words , by Frederic Will. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962.

A Local Pride , by Raymond Souster. Toronto: Contact Press, 1962.

Run with the Hunted , by Charles Bukowski. Chicago: Midwest Poetry Chapbooks, 1962.

Letter to an Imaginary Friend , by Thomas McGrath. Denver: Swallow Press, 1962.

My Friend Tree , by Lorine Niedecker. Edinburgh: Wild Hawthorne Press, 1961.

One tends to value any kind of statement for what one can take from it as a content, or a state of feeling some way about something, a viable association between what the statement has "said"

Poetry , April 1963.


and what terms of response it can gain in who hears it. We learn young that the way in which some thing is said, the tone of voice, the literal words used, and all the relations implied in the context of their use—all these say "things" too. It is equally a commonplace that in a poem such content may have, finally, a greater value for the reader than the literal facts the poem is otherwise making clear.

The work of Brother Antoninus begins, first of all, with a very emphatic content, characterized by him as follows: "A poem, like a dream, is a 'whole' to the extent that it registers the mystery of the psychic complex which produced it." The Hazards of Holiness is a collection of specific tests, of "scalps torn dripping from the skulls of interior adversaries," which last way of speaking will not outrage those who are willing to admit that a "Dark Night of the Soul" may exist for a man who attempts to find himself in relation to God. Again as Brother Antoninus says, "These are the terrible wrestlings his verse begins to register; and this is the harrowing ambiguity, so fraught with terror and mystery and meaning, that cross-riddles this demon-haunted realm."

Such a way of speaking will have, of course, an immediate impact, and it will either be one of respect and sympathy for the man who has so endured, to speak, or it will be perhaps a questioning of such an invention of agony in a world so substantially tormented. Either response will here depend on the reader's own relation to the literal facts dealt with, the faith in God which is the issue. But, in either case, there can be without such question a simple response to the ways the words are working, as here:

Christ-cut: the cedar
Bleeds where I gashed it.

Lance-wound under the narrow rib.

Eve's orifice: the agony of Abel
Enacted out on the Tree.

Blood gushed
From the gash . . .

The heavy, harshly stressed alliteration is sign of the intent, and it is, at times, a rhetoric that is present apart from demands of specific content; I find this most the case, for example, in the more dramatic poems, as "Saints" and the two parts of the title poem. I do not like—and it is my taste which qualifies: "Herodias, that corrosive female wrath, / Black grasp of the invidious breed, / Blanched, swore blooded reprisal . . ." But I cannot avoid or deny the force of


this language, despite my own characterization of it as often melodramatic, that is, an enlargement of occasion purely willed. What the poems effect is a language, itself a formality, a distinct way of engaging feeling, a testing of tones of response and recognition. They speak in one voice because their occasion—despite the variation of subject—is always the same, the search for substantial faith.

The poems of William Stafford are, in some contrast, much quieter in tone. But, despite the frequent colloquialisms, an equally conscious rhetoric seems to me at work. For example, it is present I think in this kind of balance of manners: "no acrobat of salvation, / I couldn't help seeing. . . ." Stafford familiarizes his reality, makes it often subject to a "we," generalizing in that way the personal insight. The primary tones of his work are those of nostalgia, of a wry wit, often, which can make peace with the complexities of times and places. He says "that some kind of organization / is the right way to live." The danger is simply that things will become cozy ("The earth says have a place . . ."), and that each thing will be humanized to an impression of it merely. When the irony can outwit this tendency, then an active intelligence comes clear. In the following poem I am put off by the personifications of the first verse, but, in fairness, they do underline what becomes the point of the second:

Found in a Storm

A storm that needed a mountain
met it where we were:
we woke up in a gale
that was reasoning with our tent,
and all the persuaded snow
streaked along, guessing the ground.

We turned from that curtain, down.
But sometime we will turn
back to the curtain and go
by plan through an unplanned storm,
disappearing into the cold,
meanings in search of a world.

Formalization of intelligence, or whatever to call it—that is, the manner which wants to invest subject with its own wit before there is any subject—can become a great problem. At present there seems still a "style of the period" which got its authority from the work of the New Critics, and which still lingers, heavily, despite the fact that it grows increasingly out of fashion. All fashion is a distraction, and perhaps old modes, in this respect, are really more pleas-


ant than new ones. But I must object, just that I lived through it, to the manner in which Anthony Ostroff writes. Here is the first poem in his book:

Matinal: The Stockyards

Wooly wooly

The bright brick shines

The sheep's feet peck there
All in a line

And lines in lines
Moves out on the wet

Brick in the light

The sheep forget

This is not the primary tone of the book, or, rather, the way in which the poems are usually organized or directed. The book is really a collection of literary manners, exercises, in conventional styles of our day. There is a "Dirge" ("Where are the lips, the breast, the thigh / That were such poetry . . ."), a "Folk Song" ("Sing deathily, deathily, deathily sing. / The crops are to seed and the seeds are rotting . . ."), and other usual visits to the country, elegies, "littlest sister," and so on. The technical means seem competent, although stiffly present—again, the will "to write" "a poem" is dominant. And the intelligence is so battered in the process of getting it all, just so, together, that very little otherwise gets said. It is taste, as ever, balking, but I cannot react any longer to tricks like this one: "The library thinks of itself I think . . ." I question that anyone is thinking at all.

Problems coming in pairs, Robert Sward joins Anthony Ostroff to drive the point home. What are literary "manners" and how can we be rid of them, so that poetry can become again an active investment of all the range of language and all the reality which can be found there? Sward's humor is a good sign, but why destroy the poem with banality:

Hello wife, hello world, hello God,
I love you; hello certain monsters . . .

And why insist, so often, that the range of experience dealt with has to be an itsy-bitsy business of tiny tots and their ironic elders? The assumption that all childhood memories—or these curious recollections that now pass as such—are intrinsically valuable baffles


me. In Sward's book there are also letters to a psychiatrist, take-offs on advertisements, odd animals (and again I wish these could be let rest), and other arch inventions. I like best those poems in which he does invent, wildly and wittily ("Beach Scenes—and Other Scenes" for one), but here also the wiseguy manner grows tiresome.

It is curious, if terrifying, to see how deeply a literary manner can cut into resources that must, at some level, be holding the whole unwieldy coherence together. Richard Emil Braun has a complicated and interesting mind, but he wants to say everything in one breath, not so much grandly as conclusively:

             The bodies of the children
whose characters I am hired to strengthen are grotesque:
        faces eruptive, extremities
      disproportionate, voices stridulous.
The ensemble, ugly with cruel, abrupt
        asynchronous growth cripples their minds
which I am paid to fortify by means of Caesar . . .

And I can sympathize with what's going on in his head, so to speak, having taught Latin to such children in the Southwest. But what happens, then, to the poem—is what I question. I am not, I hope, being sentimental. In any case, he tends to "subjectivize" the poem's content to that point where no possibility of what's outside him remains volatile, free in its own term, even when he "speaks" in the guise of the several voices he chooses, as in "Late Promenades."

When the literal thought of the poem has energy, then a sharper gauge of means seems to occur. There is not that working up of a subject so dulling in Ostroff, or so glib in Sward. Frederic Will writes in a traditionally developed manner, but he feels perceptions in a poem specifically:

Across the Street

Those berries on fire from fire:
I shall repair
Losses of passion here.

Memling would have held the instant
Sure in a cardinal's hat
Taking it down in sight.

I am less sure.
What will not cool from the word,
Ashed in the very instant?
Lost, when heard?


The last line gives pause, certainly, for reflection. I wish something freer, quicker, might have been found for the statement of the second two lines; Memling is also a distraction, though that is clearly my opinion. I don't like the "Ashed . . ." in the next to the last line. But the poem is interesting, it says something beyond a manner; and no matter what I may cavil at, I hear it.

In a like sense one hears this poem by Raymond Souster:

Morning Certainly

Coming back from away out, a darkness,
there is light at the window
my clothes are on the chair, as if waiting,
there is even
someone in bed with me.

After so much self-consciousness and preening, I like the flatness, the very openness of this language. It is simply said, but I had never thought of it that way, and I am left, quietly, with the perception.

But it isn't all that quickly an issue of a vocabulary because Charles Bukowski uses very open speech, and common sentiments and references. But not the same thing comes of it; " . . . hooray say the roses, today is blamesday / and we are red as blood . . ." does not think in the way that Souster's poem thinks. Souster also at times drops to a level of response that he knows too well, feels even too comfortably, despite the pain of the reference. The starved, the poor, the bewildered, the dragged, sullen reality of usual life does not want, or not want, to be a poem. The work is still to be done.

Even a life is no continuity, it happens here and there, now —then it was or will be. Letter to an Imaginary Friend , by Thomas McGrath, is very moving in the world it makes tangible in its opening sections, the harsh farm world of a young boy:

 . . . I couldn't quit. I came out of sleep at four
Dazed and dreaming and ate my food on the run,
And ran to the barn . . .

Then it tends to become programmatic, crossed by defined purposes, as are even the terms of love it meets with early. Approximations of reality take the place of literal orders, or, more fairly, the reader is given attitudes rather than precise contexts: "Now in the chill streets / I hear the hunting, and the long thunder of money. . . ."

How can such life be told? In his introduction to Lorine Niedecker's My Friend Tree , Edward Dorn makes a useful comment: "What


is in will come out, it does not always work the other way. . . ." And he ends by saying: "I like these poems because first they attach an undistractable clarity to the word, and then because they are unabashed enough to weld that word to a freely sought, beautifully random instance—that instance being the only thing place and its content can be. . . ." I cannot believe that there is anything, finally, to be proven. All we see, we see. By nature, then, and of course unfairly, I will stick with Miss Niedecker, who writes:

Remember my little granite pail?
The handle of it was blue.
Think what's got away in my life!
Was enough to carry me thru.


The Beat Voznesensky

Selected Poems of Andrei Voznesensky . Translated by Anselm Hollo. New York: Grove Press, 1964.

It is difficult to read Voznesensky's work apart from the various uses to which it has been put, and is to some extent still serving in this present collection. Immediately there is the fact of his being Russian, and young, and—most insistently—an evidence of the political thaw which reached a peak in the winter of 1962. There is, further, his relation with Pasternak (emphasized in Anselm Hollo's introduction) and the implications of that fact. And, finally, his public association with Evgeny Evtushenko has emphasized the social aspects of his activity. The jacket notes say that his latest collection, The Three-Cornered Pear (all of which is included in this volume), had advance orders of more than 100,000 copies prior to publication. Response of that order in itself defines a use of poetry rarely experienced in this country.

It is necessary, then, to make some qualification of the situation which he has shared with Evtushenko. Edward Dorn, writing of the latter in Kulchur 8 , makes a useful (if wry) definition:

 . . . For instance there is Yevtushenko. He is feeble-minded . . . in the way reserved for a modern intellectual, i.e., he doesn't say anything. He is precious about borders! He would campaign for a cheap international right-of-way. He likes it in the country. My My. He likes Ernest. A most exact indicator of a facetious taste. He desires the reign of the simple-minded middle class worker in enthusiasm and

The Nation , November 9, 1964.


sensitivity and his excuse is assured him because he is Russian without the wild Russian mind, in other words he is a member of the first of the world fraternities (used in the college sense): U.S.-Russia. . . .

If Dorn quickly summarizes what may well be a more complex instance of literary populism , I believe him accurate nonetheless. Evtushenko's poems—such as have been translated in the Penguin collection, for one—are very bland generalities.

Elements of this generality are also evident in Voznesensky's work. Here, for example, one finds an idiom derived from a loose reading of "beat" poetry, masked as "public" value:

 . . . Up into the mountains and into the beards
into the sea the rivers run dry the fish are dying. . . .
Rolls-Royces are fucking our women,
radiatoractivity. . . .
("Beatnik's Monologue")

But it proves a content equally vague in any idiom, and it appears in the earlier poems as "The artists take leave, / Bareheaded, enter / The humming fields and forests / Of birch and oak, like a church . . ."

Such writing seems a most tired sense of what we are literally involved with, as a political entity (the "people" notwithstanding), or as an individual entity—quite distinct from such apostrophe as "O you who had plenty soul"—which is the line directly following on what I have quoted from "Beatnik's Monologue."

There is no need that I can value to read a poetry imitative merely of terms the American has so much more sharply known , and insofar as Voznesensky writes "like" a beatnik (in Hollo's translations, at all events), he is dull indeed. He is not in any sense an Allen Ginsberg (who is not, be it emphasized, a beatnik ) nor is he possessed of like force. But there is a third point from which to measure, in the work of Lorca.

Lorca is a poet close to Voznesensky's attention—one, in fact, he particularly honors:

 . . . I love Lorca. I love his name, hovering lightly like a boat, humming like a gallery in a theater, vibrating with the sensitivity of the moon-disk of a radio relay station; smelling as bitter and intense as orange rind. . . .

("Lover of Lorca")

In this prose poem he speaks most clearly of his own sense of poetry, and the intensity with which he wants to invest his metaphors


takes as its example Lorca's—"Those wildly sprouting metaphors of Lorca!"

Comparisons are deceptive, but Lorca's use of America does make clear what Voznesensky's tends to make bland. In "Ode to Walt Whitman," for example, a language specific to the literal feeling occurs, and the revulsion felt by Lorca, in the pain of his experience, is explicit: "Agony, agony, dream, ferment and dream. / Such is the world, my friend, agony, agony. / Corpses are decomposing under the clocks of cities; / war passes with a million grey rats weeping, / the rich give to their mistresses / small illuminated moribunds, / and life is not noble, nor good, nor sacred. . . ." Against this, Voznesensky's response reads weakly:

 . . . Under the firehose spouting out endless driveways
my ears were turning like windmills
O godless gasoline poisonous America
Coca-Cola and tolling bells . . .
("Another Beginning")

When metaphor becomes a recognition of something more than echoed banality, when feeling gains the active transformation of literal things in relation, another Voznesensky comes into focus, and he is not the generalized intelligence of good intentions:

 . . . My cries have been torn onto miles of magnetic tape
an endless red tongue, snaked round a big spool
I have been taken apart dismantled and dragged to
    interrogations. . . .
There I am, crucified and transparent, riddled with photo
their fingernails, rusty, are trying to scratch at my heart
"Does it hurt Mr. Voznesensky?" . . .
("An Extorted Divagation")

It becomes a protest against all distortion, but most of all his own. Here as well it is possible to feel him one who, without sentimentality, fights for the preservation of an individual sensibility. It is from this paradoxically quieter sense of himself—the place I feel him finally to be—that he writes:

 . . . I have tried
                            in the shooting-galleries
for 100 points with 10 bullets
but thank you for not letting me make it,


for lighting up my small transparent guns
illuminating them like a red fist
appearing in a rubber glove;

"Andrei Voznesensky"—enough,
no word, no little doggie to be left behind . . .
("Autumn in Sigulda")


Judson Crews

It is a little hard for me to separate my own affection for Judson Crews—as a man who has so often helped me with such a quiet sympathy—from my sense of his work as a poet. I feel, in this case, no very actual reason to. He is an isolated man, despite the continuity of his various activities, as bookseller, printer, editor, in all of which one marks the persistence of his energy. But he is not a part of a 'group,' nor does he invite this kind of identification. His poems are singular effects of the constancy of one man's attention to the oftentimes 'faceless' reality of a world, which can baffle, hurt, yet call for an endless attention and response.

I am most struck by the character of his language, evident in the selection of poems which follows. He feels the words with a marked sensuousness; they are 'real' to him, which is to say, each one offers itself to his imagination as might the texture of wet sand, or silk's softness, or smoke in air. His words are volatile. They open into guises of feeling, of senses of things, beyond the literal nature of their meaning. Often they create a feeling of deep nostalgia, and of that blocked dilemma of feeling which will not be recognized by those to whom it is offered. The women of his poems are so lovely in their being, in that they contain forever the reality of touch. But access to them is neither simple nor to be taken for granted. They will never be 'there' so simply for the mind's intention.

This world, then, is real—as one comes to know it. In it men falter, grow confused; women grow tired of their prize. Yet the words hold them, in this man's care.

The Desert Review , Spring 1964.


A Note for Thread and Fielding Dawson

I have long been impressed by Fielding Dawson's abilities as a writer. His consciousness is in his writing and that is, for me, a rare and useful fact. Speaking of stories, he said once that unless they take a turn on their own , they can come to nothing. He meant, simply, if one write only what one intends, as some presumption always to be respected, then intentions are really all one ever comes to—good or bad. There must be a further place where all the assumptions of significance are lost, and some much more present instant of integrity can occur. Such location has its obvious dangers, and yet I do not see, personally, how they are not to be risked. It is foolish to define as 'control' an ultimately rigid formula of effects—'gimmicks' as they are called in the States, the cheap clichés of a tired so-called 'industry.' Control here means the recognition of a moment to moment term of possibility, which is not static, but rather so volatile in its nature it demands all possible articulation of attention—to give shape to smoke in air.

Fielding Dawson, Thread (London: Andrew Crozier, 1964).


A Note for Kenneth Irby

The sense of place in American poetry grows increasingly insistent, but it is not one simply of what sort of house you happen to have, or anything akin to mere description. It is, more deeply, that experience of location which is out of time, and the history of traditional order—a location which is, instead, one of the literal fact of space, and the ground which occupies it, literally under foot.

That fact is all the more evident in the writing of those who had the middle west as the first place they knew. For Kenneth Irby it becomes:

 . . . because it's me, and only there

can I go in—
the circle to focus

comes narrower,
the land

presses up
like flesh

toward the hand . . .

More, he carries this response, and measure, of his experience into all the terms of that experience, as he moves away from this place—yet always, to my mind, looks for the reality of the first known way of feeling.

Men as he, it would seem, had no easy way of being even where they first were. Historically, we know the loneliness and what it led to, in the first people to take root there. The woods shrank back,

Duende 8 (September 1965).


and the grasslands opened before them, seemingly an endlessly vacant possibility. Touch is not simple. Feelings tend to draw back from what they know as such emptiness. An endurance not at all romantic seems to take hold.

But the inner terms of feeling nonetheless survive, looking always for their possibility—calling to friend, to brother, to whatever can and will acknowledge them. I read that fact in these poems too, finding such an intensity of longing it is at moments hard to acknowledge—just that a man is facing so unequivocally what he has been given to accept.

The terms are common, however—ours as his. We will find a world only as he does, by loving it.


Frederick Eckman:
The Epistemology of Loss

The Epistemology of Loss , by Frederick Eckman. West Lafayette, Ind.: The Sparrow Magazine, 1963.

The title of this book gives an accurate sense of its content, and, as well, the manner of its feeling. It is an "epistemology" wryly considered, for the most part, and also one which moves from the feeling of knowing something to the ironic situation here of what is known, and how it is known—and finally, to that sense of 'what for,' which provokes the rhetoric of:

                                                . . . Mother of silences,
Invoke the blind rosebush below, whose round
And scarlet sounds ring fence-notes heaven-high,
That is the singing echo of swift wings
We choke not, chance not, fling not away
Our leaf and passport through this atmosphere;
But glide in cloudy echelon of rose,
Beyond the heat-streaked doppelgänger Now . . .
("July: A Devotional")

It is an actual nightmare which is felt, unrelieved, or if at all so, then simply as that 'relief' the intelligence may suppose when it has reduced the person it inhabits to something "Cold with terror, rigid as a beast/held in some pit or trap . . ." There is a persistent sense of an animal rage, and bafflement—a frustrated physical anger that wants to strike out against that which has hurt it. But

Elizabeth , March 1965.


there is also the continuingly ironic emphasis on the uselessness of such acts—as here, in a poem called "Hurry, Hurry":

Say: "Heart is a black stallion,
evil as midnight. His eyes
glint fire, his hooves can murder.
He thunders across the world."
Say & say. Meanwhile the heart
spurts out its fury, embers
to cold ash, calmly nibbles
gray grass in a gray meadow.

The book has, however, another way of speaking to my own mind even more moving—in which a quiet is left to "say" more than does the violence of what I have quoted. It is not simply that this tone is more malleable, or that it lets the reader develop his own assumptions—but that it comes so directly from what it involves, a literal pain which can only say what it literally feels. "Omega":

What is there
to be said
when everything
has been said?
Words? Words
are nothing!
This from you
in another spring,
& once more the
flowering Judas
betrays us, o the
sprawling wisteria
purples across our
crumbling wall.
The flowers, they
too will decay.
No, you are not
right, but neither
(o my lost love!)
are you wrong.

If—as Pound once wrote—"Nothing counts but the quality of the emotion . . . ," one has in this poem a measure of that possibility.


A Note for These Poems . . .

There is no simple way to say anything—unless by that accident which is feeling, one is given, literally, the words in their own terms. It is here it all begins, an endlessly possible world. No one earns anything by it, nor can it be come to as an intention. What it all means is insistently more than any one sense of it will offer. Again and again it will happen, and in that demand its own occasion.

I can no longer remember what it was led me to try to write poems. I had no articulateness, and no sense of a place where such activity might be possible. But I don't think one knows more than that one has to and/or does write as he can.

David Franks has equally no alternative. There is no other way to say it.

In a dream one sees it,
a tongue, his own, floating
in a small bowl . . .

A long time ago Yeats said, In dreams begin responsibilities  . . .

This one is adamant.

David Franks, Touch ([Baltimore]: Red Wheel Barrow Press, 1965).


Rainer Gerhardt:
A Note

I felt very close to this man—selfishly, because he gave me knowledge of a world I had otherwise no means of knowing. We were of the same age, but the life he had been given was far from that I knew. When he spoke of growing up in the Hitler Jugend , of the final chaos of his feelings and senses of possibility after he had been drafted into the army—of his desertion, then, to Tito's forces in Yugoslavia—finally, of all the world of chaos after the war, of his marriage and his two young sons who had to go daily through streets of collapsed buildings often with bushes pushing through the rubble—of the hope of a magazine, then small books, of what Ernst Robert Curtius characterized as the most hopeful sign to come out of postwar Germany , the first issue of Fragmente —when one witnessed the complexity of his life and all that it had been forced to acknowledge, there was no easy way to resolve all that he did, in his own person, force one to see.

I most clearly remember him, not tall, somewhat stocky, dark haired, his skin a little heavy with all the starches that made up the common diet—or more clearly, the curious concentration, persistent, often enthusiastic, but never a whim only or a momentary excitement. He took such care with things—of myself, when I came to see him with a friend, Ashley Bryan. We found them living in Freiburg in one room, Rainer, his wife, and the two children. They gave us their beds and slept on the floor. I had a pair of old, scuffed combat boots I was wearing, and found them the next morning

Work , Winter 1965–66.


polished to a high shine, by Rainer's wife. Then Rainer came back with myself and Ashley, by way of Paris, to Aix-en-Provence, close to which we lived in a small town called Fontrousse. He stayed with us there a week, and it was his hope that he and his family might immigrate to France. They never managed it. I remember the day before he was to leave, I had come down, it was morning, and he was standing looking out through a window in the door, at the long side of Mt. Sainte Victoire, that faced our house across the fields. He was crying without sound, one could see the tears on his face.

He spoke to me of what he felt to be the community, the complex of people any city or town describes. He felt that a writer was not distinct from such a unity, but rather helped very literally in its definition. In contrast, he felt an isolation in Americans which bewildered him.

What he hoped to do was so much, and is most simply illustrated by a partial list of the contents of the first two issues of Fragmente —all that he was able to publish before his death: Pound, Bunting, Michaux, Césaire, Olson, W. C. Williams, Montanari, Perse, Artaud, Alberti, Lu Chi. He wanted to bring back into the German context all that writing he felt the war had blocked, and at the same time he could not accept such makeshift 'official' translations as would leave out eleven lines of The Waste Land on the grounds 'they were too difficult.' He wanted it right with such an unremitting intensity.

The last year of his life I had too little sense of, involved as we then were with our immediate living. I realized that money continued a large problem, and his ability to get some income from radio scripts and like work had been affected by his increasing depression. They had lost the room they had been living in, and for a time depended on a tent. Another passing friend told me of having been in Germany, and of meeting Renate, Rainer's wife, standing out on the road hitchhiking in a heavy rain to the city where she hoped to sell some of Rainer's scripts. She told him that Rainer now went for long periods all but incapable of speaking, and that he would sit by himself in the park, where she would then go to sit by him, for what moments he could speak, or work, trying to continue with all that he had undertaken.

To speak of his poems is for me most difficult, because I could not read them simply in German, and, beyond that, had only a partial sense (very much so then) of what specific difficulties and possibilities German poetry had as context. He said once, the idyll is our weakness . Trakl was close to his own terms of imagination. Benn's


technical facility he respected, and he found, also, accuracy in the deep irony with which Benn characterized the world. But I was certainly aware that in his last book, Umkreisung (1952), all the care he had given to his translations of men as Pound, and Olson, and Williams, was beginning to find root in his own work. He seems to have read the necessity very deeply.

I felt such a bitter waste, at the news of his death. I feel it still, simply that he was so much the cost of his own time and place—and so incredibly brave in his confrontation of that fact in himself. There was no way to move in any easy sense beyond the past, and there never will be.

January 20, 1964


Introduction to Thongs

by Alex Trocchi

At times world (consciousness) seems containment absolute in all systems. As—"All Systems GO . . ." Expanding consciousness is burst out—as pressures "grow" in paradoxic isometric tensions. Patterns are, so to speak, points of the sphere—"points define a periphery." Blow your mind  . . . The truth is that all is —a living center.

For the Puritans—William Carlos Williams called them tight, small seeds of distrust and endurance—the experience of the outside is primary, and the edges of their world, in either "direction," are the terminals, the terms. Charge them, as you might a battery, and the organization, or organism, tenses and extends—the phenomenon of increase. It was the peculiar stroking of this life by the experience of space in the 17th century that affects the world in continuing forms—which the Puritans distrust and attempt to contain. Morphology—the logos of forms—in McLuhan becomes a "How-to" manual, and sells information in the modes it would qualify. It "shows" you so that you'll "know where you are."

Complex, then, of sexual possibilities: input, output—modulations in the terminal experiences. This way and that—leading to William Burroughs' Cut City—mind tapes, genetic taping—the great mart, distributes the world in substance .

"Puritan"—sexual possibility an inverse ratio to the degree of self-responsibility. "Is this trip necessary?" Must (a familiar expression to this "way of life") I do this, is it really necessary? Modes of people having this life-order seem to range from self-shrinking,

Alex Trocchi, Thongs (North Hollywood, Calif.: Brandon House, 1967).


convenient-to-others commitment, self -imprisoned paranoids to harsh direct noninvolved absolutists, whose actions never respond to what they experience.

Hurt me —so that I may feel pleasure . Each agency of thought in this situation effects the same condition—from the Old Testament to Samuel Beckett's How It Is . Pain is the measure of possible value, the primary in all cases.

Stendhal questioned, is pleasure the absence of pain? But the Marquis de Sade proposed, with a logic not unlike Freud's, that pain was perhaps the most formal means society had evolved for the experience of itself. In Thongs , as in the other novels he has written in this genre, Trocchi defines the isolation of persons in sexual rapport, and the facts of life as unrelieved in all possible senses. The two human conditions most evident seem the intellectual and the animal. There is no "love" felt as a convenience of possibilities for "other" relationships. Gertrude insists upon a Platonic experience of identity: "The triumph is in the rising beyond the painful into Pain. Once that leap out of the self has been made, it is an anticlimax to go back . . ." Insofar as other persons of the novel betray a sympathizing attraction to each other, or want, as Gertrude says, "to go back," they fall away, as Harry or the Prince in the closing section. Only Miguel is possessed of a like intensity:

I am alone. The Prince is alone. Miguel is alone. The Prince lies. He tries to tell me that I am not alone. Miguel tells the truth. He tells me that I am.

Miguel my love, be my executioner!

So ends the book. I leave these notes as they are in hope that the reader will find his own occasion to think of what "Puritanism" is, and to consider—with a little of that lovely wit Trocchi is so possessed of—just what it is, and has been, to love .

July 28, 1967



There is a sense to him that intrigues me—of an Ancient Person, a curiously insistent Messenger. We were sitting on the beach, talking, and it was a gray day, the tide well out, so that all seemed distant and level. The children were close to the water making forms with the sand. He has lovely clear eyes, a gray, and he comes from the water in that way, sea water, from some far off place as one says in the stories.

Momently we were in New York. He had knocked on the door and now entered, wearing a lovely Edwardian suit, a lovely cloth it was, wool. He handed my wife and myself the pipe, and again moments later, we were walking on the street, and into a charming old building where he helped me ascend the pulpit, and I read from the text though the winds about me roared and the waves did lash. It may be that he is the Caretaker—or taker of cares—and shows one the way.

I don't really know, nor perhaps does he. Again moments later he wrote us from India, was making divers pilgrimages, was climbing a mountain with the people, of all ages, wrote from the moment's calm as they sat, resting, drinking tea, the old and the young. The room filled with an icy air, possibly dust too, the mind was struck by what he said.

I will not argue his presence. I will respect what he has written here—a text in no need of qualification. What his words say, they say.

October 31, 1968

Preface to Alan Marlowe, John's Book ([New York]: Poets Press, 1969).


Introduction to Krazy Kat/The Unveiling & Other Stories

by Fielding Dawson

An instant motion—as when the road twists, suddenly, or else, dropped in the river, you see the ball float out, then, caught in the current, go on, round the bend. Perhaps Fielding Dawson is in fact incarnation of some wild Steamboat Captain, and certainly Mark Twain—in that both make words a literal condition of experience—is part of him too.

A few days ago, in Leavenworth, Kansas (which has four prisons and old-time spade bar with blackjack dealer practicing, at the table back of us white boys)—a man comes up, to talk, who is using a crazy vocabulary of midwest forties cliché, he's a good joe, I know the ropes —all like that, with sort of a sad smile too, just that his friends had faded off and the incredibly bulging blonde he'd picked up had gone too, while we were talking.

It's like that language, like an old album of pictures, one could make a collage of, but not a 'description'—rather, an enactment, of what that language continued to carry as its own condition. Movietone , in this sense, is a fantastic Cultural History—like they say—of a whole era.

But again, movement —I have never seen a writer capable of such fast shifts, so instantly, nervously, exact. Think of what's got to, with such unobtrusive statement, in Early in the Morning , i.e., how it's always there, in your eyes, and yet the hand is quicker than the eye, as usual.

Worte sind auch Taten  . . . It's funny it should be a German, Witt-

Fielding Dawson, Krazy Kat/The Unveiling & Other Stories (Los Angeles: Black Sparrow Press, 1969).


genstein, who tells us that—Americans, who always used language like an axe. From the twenties, people like Ring Lardner, from the thirties, Hammett and especially Chandler—who make of words a literal texture of place and person. I value Fielding Dawson as the present Champ of said possibility.

He also likes baseball. I'm sure it's as much the language as the game. He loves anything, where it really is. He's a deeply gifted writer. He's a very lovely man. Open the goddamn door and say hello.

May 9, 1969


For Diane

I've loved women all my life, this one especially—and for once I think I really know why. Williams, in a late poem, ends by saying, "The female principle of the world / is my appeal / in the extremity / to which I have come." We stretch out long on the earth, as men, thinking to take care of it, to give it specific form, to make manifest our experience in how we take hold. Yet there is no one there unless this other person of our reality take place too, with a generosity only possible in that act. Diane di Prima is fact of that "female principle" whereof Williams speaks—not simply, certainly not passively, but clearly, specifically, a woman as one might hope equally to be a man.

I am not speaking of roles, nor even of that political situation of persons she has so decisively herself entered at times. Nor of children and homes, though she has made both a deep and abiding pleasure in her own life and those related. It is some act of essential clarity I value—which in these initial occasions of her writing is already moving to declare itself: food, places, friends, nights, streets, dreams, the way. She is an adept and flexible provider of the real, which we eat daily or else we starve. She is kind but will not accept confusion. She is beautifully warm, but her nature balks at false responses. She is true.

Growing up in the fifties, you had to figure it out for yourself—which she did, and stayed open—as a woman, uninterested in any

Preface to Diane di Prima, Dinners & Nightmares (New York: Corinth Books, 1974).


possibility of static investment or solution. Her search for human center is among the most moving I have witnessed—and she took her friends with her, though often it would have been simpler indeed to have gone alone. God bless her toughness and the deep gentleness of her hand!

Buffalo, N.Y.
March 8, 1973


Foreword to The Sterile Honeycomb

by Arthur Axelrod

It's very hard to think of Arthur gone. His cranky, dependable humor had become a real part of my own life, and I think I depended on him as much as he did on me. When one's older, so to speak, the young tend to rush past, and if they stop, it's to check out what one's got that might be of use, and then to be off again. That fact is certainly human, but I'm moved also by those with whom one can share some certain recognition of the human place—and realize it is both particular and common to all.

In that sense, I'll talk to Arthur as long as I live, which has an obvious human limit also. It isn't that I, or other friends relating, didn't know the pain and confusion and intensity of Arthur's feeling of isolation, or that we wanted to leave him in it god knows. He took me off that hook many times by that same humor which relieved me in other dilemmas of my own. Despite what seemed at times his insistent demands on his friends to respond, he had a very specific perception and generosity, which let them go about their own lives. He was extraordinarily tough, humanly brilliant by any measure I'm aware of, and if he exhausted people, no doubt they were there to be exhausted.

My first meeting with Arthur must have been in Ed Budowski's Student Bookstore on Main Street across from the university. In 1966 that bookstore was a center for a lot of people, particularly for the poets local or visiting. Ed told me that Arthur was even at that time an habitué, first brought by his parents, but subsequently arriving on his own to check out the new books and to meet the divers

Arthur Axelrod, The Sterile Honeycomb (Buffalo, N.Y.: privately printed, 1975).


visitors. I was impressed and intimidated often by his encyclopaedic knowledge of contemporary poetry—or call it simply poetry , because his range of information even at that early age wasn't limited simply to what was topical or in style. No doubt at first I must have felt him some quirky, diminutive kid, reveling in poets the same way one might in football stars or opera singers. But the more we talked, the more I learned that his commitment and clarity were facts of his life, not tokens of a time in it. The first poems of his own that he showed me (some of which will be found here necessarily, whether or no he himself would have included them) were characteristically young man poems, concerned with all the old young problems in an expectedly usual way. Underlying, however, was a kind of texture, a movement, of the words which no one 'learns' arbitrarily—a gift, in short, as actual in Arthur's experience of words and his use of them as it is in any other poet one might name. So the thing said , in those early poems, was one thing, common as the age sixteen, but the apprehension of an almost tactile sinuosity, a substantive feel for the conjunction of this word and that—this grace was unequivocally particular.

I might have said then, he didn't write like me—which was paradoxically a pleasure. I didn't want disciples, and he was poorly equipped to be one, thankfully. Our meeting ground in this respect could be Denise Levertov—we both thought she was terrific—but we'd then disagree as to Allen Ginsberg's The Fall of America , which I wanted to praise sans exception and which Arthur wanted to toss out as too blowsy and rambling. Thus we'd argue, usefully, and Arthur never gave nor expected quarter. I in turn learned a lot about my own assumptions.

A few weeks before his death he asked me if I'd do a prefatory note for a collection of poems he had in mind to put together. My answer was certainly yes, in no way equivocal—I thought he counted, and as a friend, I was pleased to be of that use. One sad fear he had was that what he did didn't matter, that it would be not only forgotten, but never really considered—and, humanly, we must many of us have known that lonely feeling. The poems here collected will many times return to it. Finally, it isn't to the point that we may fail one another—but that we never even know we've lived in the same world together can't be accepted. Arthur's life was short, often bleak, often isolated—but also with guts, with heart, with intelligence and response, with places of inexplicable grace and clear beauty. He loved it, he hated it, he lived it. These poems were his resource.


Gee Gerry G . . .

Keep it personal, I tend to think—so, lovely flashes of memories, of this dear person. Like time he was doing TV children's program, the loping monster spider they could hardly freak out at it was so benign. Viz., himself. I love the shy excitement of his voice, the particularity with which he catches to consonants. Likewise his eyes, of a faded flashing blue. He's got a great beard now, reddish, a kind of Anglo-Scots Santa Claus.

He's always been good to me, god knows. Times he was restless and couldn't sleep nights in early days Vancouver, he'd drop in and we'd drink and talk, round and around. He told me once that something like two generations of his family had had the same English teacher in grammar school—grounds for life in one place, surely. He's often a bird who seems to be sitting on the roof for awhile, just looking down with bemused regard for those below.

When he moves, language, body, mind and eye, I get a sense, even a whiff, of some post-gun-powdery smell. Which is so good, quick, to the nose. He's a very fast, sweet perceiver, the sweet Jesus of local streets. No cross ever finally necessary. Or, as he would say, "save the postage & come yourself!"

Well, standing here in the wings, so to speak, could put it, "Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the greatest show on earth," which is , after all the distractions, human , and right here and now. You're

Introduction to Gerry Gilbert, Grounds ([Vancouver]: talonbooks, [1976]).


going to love it, because it loves you. So—ticket's in your hand, eye's in your head, ear's in your body. Let's go.

Placitas, New Mexico
August 22, 1976



First flash memory of Lew Welch is at party after some event at Berkeley Poetry Conference '65, and we're on interior, upper balcony, swirl of dancing people below, and he's pointing to one thus extraordinary, a pounding, muscular woman wet with sweat and visible ecstasy as she keeps the beat, like they say. That was Magda, last companion of Lew's life, who could speak here far more usefully of what he was, and continues in heart to be, as complex human being. What I knew, and that all too briefly, was fellow poet and man —literally one from whom I could learn in that respect.

I'd met him much earlier, at celebration for Gary Snyder's first going to Japan—a mussel feast on McClure's Beach mid-fifties—spare, quick seeming man, recall running into surf with him, wow, cold! But not much subsequent till conversation mid-sixties, when at one point he was telling me how he & friend at Reed had made intensive study in order to locate the theoretically ideal place to live in this world, climatologically and elsewise speaking, and settled on Santiago, Chile—where, as Lew said, river runs fresh from mountains to east, direct through city, then to western sea. Terrific—all in the delighted mind. He was an intensive perfectionist, hard on himself in this respect since he felt that many of his own poems were lacking and so refused their publication often. "Alice Herlihy had hard hands . . ." He's saying that now (on tape playing next

" . . . where ring is what a bell does": an appreciation of Lew Welch , collected by S. Fox. Boston: The Stone Soup Chapbook Series no. 10. Boston: Stone Soup Poetry, 1976.


room, generous talking to students, California, April 22, 1967). Can you hear that ear? As he emphasizes, taking it from Williams, "melody in American speech is percussive . . ." You have the information apart from the literal poems, where it's all come true, in How I Work as a Poet —great, clear compilation of his own insights and commitments.

Lew's loves, Stein, Williams, docks and people yakking it up, language in the physical mouth and ear—all prove the actual, energizing world (a man's lifetime), and words, the substantive things of speech you must listen to as much as understand, viz., "Let's take out the car and park it/ at the big new supermarket . . ." He's singing it.

In fact, seeming simplicity of Lew's statement masks delight of melody , if you only read it with eyes. Like abstract items make lasagna on page of cook book tasteless, if no actualizing goodies meld with simmering heat, etc., etc. Like—don't just sit there, do something.

He did, risks of mind, risks of body—heavy drinking till depressions got impossible weight. Still—there he specifically was, in his own hands.

Buffalo, N.Y.
September 19, 1976


A Note for Hilda Morley:
A Blessing outside Us

Hilda Morley I've happily known for years now, one of those insistent sisters who invite the world with seemingly innocent provocation of its own dumb vulnerabilities. Put more clearly—I recall so freshly the fact of her then, like some extraordinary English milk-maid, walking along through 'Black Mountain' as on some summer day. One time she and her dear husband, Stefan Wolpe, invited Olson and myself to dinner, paella , as I remember—which was excellent, and we ate with great satisfaction until a small bit of Brillo surfaced in Olson's plate, occasioning disgruntlement on his part, but I like to think I would myself have eaten it, had the honor been mine.

It is now, of course, years later, and I read these extraordinary poems with another sense of honor, and wonder for their physical clarity, their reliance on sensual dimension, whether or no the terms of human life elsewise the case be simple. Possibly the despair at some times confronted, the painful sense of anguish, even the frailty or weakness a human reality has finally to admit, are survived, literally, by virtue of the body's appetite, to move, to see, to feel, to know, to eat.

Her grace is truly of that order. As she says, "so the heart's fire was shaken/ into its powers . . ." Robert Duncan remarked that American poetry is not characteristically sensuous —as if the Puritan tradition we have had, each one, to survive had left this specific mark. In contrast—and despite what they have otherwise at times to 'say'—these poems dance with such a human body, and that health survives all.

Hilda Morley, A Blessing Outside Us (Woods Hole, Mass.: Pourboire Press, 1976).


Foreword to Sojourner Microcosms

by Anselm Hollo

There is a quality in Anselm Hollo's person and poems which I value absolutely, and would call, for lack of a better term, a persistently integral manhood . For myself, the world is often a flux of shifting centers, a diverse and irresolute complex of 'points of view'—as if, each time, what might stay as measure of acts, either those of others or of my own, had insistently to be discovered in the moment. Which may well be the fact of one's Americanism, that this world has no incremental experience or habit with which to take hold and make judgment.

But, truly, the point is that Anselm Hollo is not only 'European' but a Finn, which is to say he has both the solid human realness of the Nordic and also the intensive visionary mind of those specific people. There is always a laughter in him, an extraordinary chuckling roar that is not mocking or contemptuous. It is literally the laughter of a man who lives daily, humanly, in the physical event of so-called existence—and, despite its trials and troubles, finds it good.

Here, then, the wit, the deftness, the active life of a primary man come again and again to form, to a thing said in the abiding pleasures of that possibility. No one will ever know more or less.

Anselm Hollo, Sojourner Microcosms (Berkeley: Blue Wind Press, 1977).


Introduction to The Manner Music

by Charles Reznikoff

A story is an extraordinary human possibility, and people have been making use of its resources no doubt since time, like they say, began. There are, of course, many stories, and many ways of telling each story—many, many variations and points of view and opinions as to what, after all, was the point. What happened? Well, it was like this  . . . So the story begins, or might, to tell what happened , or might have happened, or didn't.

One had not known, sadly, that Charles Reznikoff wrote novels. That a man should have such quiet and singular genius so modestly put aside (by himself) is regrettable. So much does shout at us, belligerently claiming attention for its style or its intelligence or its newness, that a story such as this one, so shyly assertive of what it so truly knows, is, humanly, such deep relief and reassurance—that one of us can care. The circumstances involved with its writing are briefly summarized by its present publisher, John Martin, as follows:

I have recently gone through Charles Reznikoff's lifetime accumulation of manuscript, and was thunderstruck to find a carefully typed, completed novel, which he apparently never mentioned to anyone, or submitted for publication. It was, I think, composed in the early 1950's and is called "The Manner Music ." It is autobiographical, with one character, the narrator of the story, representing an aspect of Charles himself—the Charles who worked as a drummer, selling

Charles Reznikoff, The Manner Music (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1977).


ladies' hats, who was disillusioned at trying to find the leisure to write, at getting his poetry accepted, etc. The protagonist of the novel, called Jude Dalsimer, is the Charles who never doubted his worth as a poet and who was determined to live out this destiny regardless of circumstance. A third character in the story, called Paul Pasha, is a portrait of Charles' most faithful friend for many years, who was a successful motion picture producer.

I believe this novel was written in response to a letter William Carlos Williams wrote Charles in the late 1940's, at a time when Charles' career was at low ebb, urging him to continue writing at any cost, and if possible to write a novel . . .

Stories are changed in telling, of course, so this one is not a simple rehearsal of a part of a man's life. There are, in fact, many stories here, "the manner, music ," an interweaving of a complex of "things" happening, being recalled and told. The plot is an ageless one, the story of two men who have known each other since they were boys. One tells us what he knows of the other's life, as he is witness to it but also as the other tells him of it. Times are reasonably good, then are not, then come to the anticipated disaster. Jude Dalsimer, whose life is the novel's center, will not give up his music , which is not a secure means of livelihood as his friend well knows, having himself yielded similar hopes for a more dependable job. But, for Jude, it is the means of transforming all the welter of emotion and event into an articulate form. Neither his wife nor friend, nor anyone else, for that matter, can understand it. But, as his friend finally says:

If Jude had wanted to write music and had not done his best to do so, he might have lived longer and more pleasantly but, as he might have explained, it is as if one enlists in an army or perhaps is drafted: he must fight and may fall but may not desert. Most do, of course. I did, I suppose . . .

However, the bare bones of the plot tell little. As the two meet recurrently, over the years, each time Jude rehearses for his friend the circumstances provoking the music, which he then plays for his patient listener. This "background" can be the hauntingly provocative fact of a dog's having followed him, or a party at the house of his boss, the movie director, Paul Pasha, where the conversation leaps from "subject" to "subject":

All this learning was pleasant to the guests who were covering much time and space with little trouble .


Or it can be, instantly and harshly, full fact of the times:

Then the chairman called on a young German who had escaped from a concentration camp. "I was to speak on the literature now written in exile by the refugees from Germany," he said, and the diners leaned forward to listen, although he spoke English well enough and clearly. "But I cannot talk about any such subject now, for I had an experience today I must tell you about  . . ."

Then that story follows, as do others, layer on layer, arriving at no simple point or conclusion, but, instead, gathering into a multiple density of impressions, and impacts, events, of literally common people. The two friends frequently eat together, and there is always an overt calculation of the provision, of the people employed in it, a comparison of its resources as against another's. There is the Jew in the Gentile's world, the explicit or tacit confrontation. There are the successful men and women, and, as the story goes on, the unsuccessful and destitute. There are insistently places, so plainly yet vividly remarked one will never forget them:

Further on, the lonely street passed the foot of a cliff and suddenly among the boulders, right above a drop of twenty feel or so, a man stood up, face as grey as stone, clothes dark with dirt: he might have been a wild animal that had made its home there, almost indistinguishable among the rocks, and he, too, looked at me. I saw a path, at least a slope, down which he could come if he wanted to and his nerves were good enough. I suppose they were, to stand where he did. But he did not move. The cliff rose above him for a hundred feet or more to the cement foundations that outmeasured the houses themselves. Then he turned and began to pick his way slowly among the rocks along the cliff.

The friend, who is listener and witness, has no exceptional judgment to make. He tells the story as it is told to him, and otherwise recounts his own observations and impressions. One feels that his interest in Jude is fact of old loyalty, and some curiosity to find out, each time there is the possibility, what has become of his old chum. His own life is not primarily involved, nor told, except for the brief information of his selling trips. He has feelings, criticisms at times, but he has nothing to say that will change a thing. His life will go on, certainly, with or without Jude Dalsimer.

How common a situation—someone one used to know. Nothing finally so remarkable about that fact, or any other like it. Certainly nothing heroic in this case. And yet it seems to change everything, with its futility, its despair. Why is he telling me this, one wants to


say—as no doubt Jude's patient friend must often have said to himself, or playing me this, this music I neither like nor understand.

I am afraid, however, that I listened to other of Jude's enthusiasms as I listened to his playing—politely but at heart indifferent.

Why can't that be understood. And yet—it seems to change everything. Charles Reznikoff's power as a poet, always, and now in this novel, without exception, is his singular ability to state the case—not the right answer, or the wrong one—but the case . Put most simply, as he himself does in a manuscript found among his papers at his death in 1976, "First, there is the Need":

With respect to the treatment of subject matter in verse [or in this novel] and the use of the term "objectivist" and "objectivism," let me again refer to the rules with respect to testimony in a court of law. Evidence to be admissible in a trial cannot state conclusions of fact: it must state the facts themselves. For example, a witness in an action for negligence cannot say: the man injured was negligent in crossing the street. He must limit himself to a description of how the man crossed: did he stop before crossing? Did he look? Did he listen? The conclusions of fact are for the jury and let us add, in our case, for the reader.

San Feliu de Guixols,
Spain, 1977


Preface to Nolo Contendere

by Judson Crews

It's presumption indeed to interrupt another man's altogether competent conversation, especially before he's even had chance to begin. But—Judson Crews is a modest man and a most honest one, and he won't tell you himself what I think you have right and reason to know. For one thing, he is a man of absolute principle, by which I mean that he has taken explicit care to consider the world and he has come to some conclusions—not to lie, not to cheat, not to murder, not to kick one's fellows when they're down. You'd be surprised how few people ever get around to thinking about such things, much less to taking a stand.

For years Mr. Crews lived in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, with his wife and two daughters, working as a pressman for the local newspaper at one dollar an hour. At the same time he published a number of little magazines, Suck Egg Mule, Poetry Taos, The Naked Ear , among them, and a series of his own books—and usually he put a photo reproduction of a naked lady in each one, as much as to say, if you can't 'understand' these poems, you might test your powers on this person; i.e., I'm sure that God loves us all.

Coming from the East, I had a larger than lifesize sense of Texans. When we were still kids, a friend of my father's just back from Texas brought us a donkey in a taxicab from Boston, after having got it that far by train. So it was clearly a real place, and when I later read of the Alamo and who was there, and how they literally held

Judson Crews, Nolo Contendere (Houston, Tex.: Wings Press, 1978).


out till the last man went down, I hoped one day to know the people of that state because it seemed they might well be a little bigger, a bit more ample, more generous, and factually finer than their somewhat bedraggled countrymen. Sadly the events of the past twenty years have cut that dream down to very meager size—and I'm sure we've all met a lot of Texans, like they say. But I'd still like to remember, as a company, Sam Houston, Robert Rauschenberg, Janis Joplin, Judson Crews, and Freebelly Norton, just that he was the first Texan I ever met (it was the Second World War) and certainly he was no disappointment.

So what does this have to do with Mr. Crews' poems? A great deal, in fact. You can't make an omelet without breaking eggs. You can't get an egg to break without a chicken to lay it. Mr. Crews is not so simply an autobiographical writer, and I don't know whether or not he's done all the things he talks of in these poems. I'm damn sure someone has—and that their wry, laconic, sensitive perception is fact of very human experience. Integrity is a very apt word for Judson Crews' way of being human. He won't do what he doesn't believe in doing, nor will he say something for simple convenience. That's cost him a lot at times, jobs included, but you can no more be a little bit committed to telling the veritable truth than you can be a little bit pregnant. So you might as well go for broke.

One day, when we're all, as Jack Kerouac put it, "safe in Heaven, dead," I'm sure that Judson Crews will be both remembered and honored for the loner wisdom of what he had to tell us and that wild down-home elegance of what one might call his delivery. Like in that knife fight when the one guy says, you never touched me!—and the other says, just try to move your head—maybe it will take time to catch up with this dear man's delights. But if you're reading this, you're surely getting close. Onward!

Placitas, New Mexico
June 30, 1978


Preface to The Blind Receptionist and Other Poems

by Robert J. Richkin

The reality of world, as it were, has become increasingly a pre-occupation with secular, social, and political aspects of person. If a previous and insistent rationalism had argued our virtues only as habituated roles—fathers, mothers, husbands, wives—the present would define us equally as an ideology, a this or that seen primarily as social and economic within the pattern of a community no less remote than heaven's itself. But it would seem that the farther we come out, into a daylight world of explicitly tangible states of things and feelings, the more an equally decisive part of us lives with compensatory intensity inside , forcing us to survive the nightmare split of identity. Because we are not one, but two, or three—and we cannot exorcize the old stories by telling, simply, new ones.

These poems tell a story of a literally archetypal pain —which must have begun with consciousness itself, recognizing desire as that which would take it beyond itself, into a world where its own presumption of integrity would be shattered like a mirror. There is a simple ritual of numbers, for example: one/I; two/you; three, the world. That crisis, of the step from one to two, is unremitting, and there is no return.

The thread of story here, then, is a primal mythos: "You can be known by anyone/ who is willing to watch you die . . ." All things given, valued, yielded make not only no difference but fail with the silence of snowflakes. An absolute silence is the only answer—to all entreaty, cajoling, endearment, contempt, and, at last, despair:

Robert J. Richkin, The Blind Receptionist and Other Poems (New York: Blue Mornings Press, 1978).


my childhood forever descending
into the tunnel of dreams
colorless and crying for sleep
little bedrooms
neatly arranged in my head
and mine, maybe
in some other tender memory
in some other tender heart
for the love
of some other life

In the old stories it was the hero's own life which was given in pledge, beyond any hope of redemption—and so the fact of being human was entered deliberately, painfully, step by bloody step. Who could say where it would lead, or end—and can one now say, we know? I do not think so. Yet there is no other way, for any of us, and if there is some one of us willing to offer his life as forfeit, even we may find means to live.


Foreword to Running Grass:
Poems 1970–1977

by Peter Levitt

Peter Levitt tells a charmingly useful story of himself, to wit: He was one day walking the streets of Los Angeles, and a classic black heavy comes up to him and asks his help apropos the following. It seems a local bartender owed him some money but wouldn't pay off, so he figured that if Peter were to come with him, not get involved you understand, but just stand in the doorway where the man could see him, then he'd come across. So Peter, being of sympathetic disposition, accompanied his new friend to the bar, took his position at the door while the other went in to accost the bartender—and then, to his wonder, he sees him pull out a gun, point it at said person, and ask for all the money in the till. At which point Peter splits.

The point is, it truly takes a "willing suspension of disbelief," as Coleridge put it, to get into this world at all. It isn't just taking a chance, to see whether this or that will pay off, but climbing out on the proverbial limbs forever, no matter the cynical laughter of the very probable observers. Jesus, a poet , man? You got to be kidding. What do you do for real?

I was young once, like they say, and I've hardly forgotten what that all was like. Certainly love —of all that would stand still for it, and of the words you could give them instead of the rent. There's a very close company between so-called con men and people of Mr. Levitt's and my disposition. I suppose the only difference is that

Peter Levitt, Running Grass: Poems 1970–1977 (Point Reyes, Calif.: Eidolon Editions, 1979).


they're trying to get out, while we are trying to get in. Again it's our wistful naivete that saves us.

It's a particular pleasure to be even this small part of this active demonstration of what poems can do. For example, consider the shopping list here turned to mantric power: tomato sauce/ mushrooms/ and dog biscuits  . . . Or the melos of let seeing, let/ sighing, empty/ persons filled/ with love,/ be enough, ever . Or the whole damn world: Landscape for Han-shan .

Finally—because there's a definite Chinese edge here—consider Pound's translation of this Confucian analect (XVIII, 1.): "He said: Those who know aren't up to those who love; nor those who love, to those who delight in." Fair enough.


Xmas As in Merry

Robert Duncan tells the story of a professor at Berkeley who began his lecture on Melville's Moby-Dick with the rather provocative announcement, "You've heard a lot about this novel's being symbolic of this and that, but to me it's nothing but a whopping good sea story . . ." Shyly, in part, I'd like to make the same pronouncement about Gilbert Sorrentino's novels, which begin, years ago, with The Sky Changes , the classic first novel of young love, its occasions, persons, and ultimate despairs. Knowing its author, I knew how specific in fact this book was to his life, and that moved me, rightly or wrongly. There is, for example, a Christmas Eve scene which I've never forgotten. It's a bleak night in a barren apartment. The kid's mother has gone out with one of a multiplicity of "uncles." Under the terrifying tree, if you can call such a meager collection of shedding sticks that, is the single small present, which, after some bemused consideration, the kid opens. It is a tin, mechanical, wind-up pig. And the kid's question, which echoes through all time and space for me, is, who would want it?

That pig comes back in the latest of Mr. Sorrentino's novels, Aberration of Starlight , although he's mentioned only in passing, simply an instance among many of the ex-father's sleazy presents as noted by the boy's mother—recalling that the pig had a little drum it beat when wound. So the question had been, who would want a little tin pig that beat a drum . . .

What briefly I'd like to emphasize is the moral disposition of

The Review of Contemporary Fiction 1, no. 1 (Spring 1981).


Gilbert Sorrentino's writing, both prose and poetry—and the fact that an initial detailing of the world, as his first two novels, The Sky Changes and Steelwork introduce the persons and place significantly his own, emphasizes his explicit concern as to why the human world suffers so remarkably and so stupidly its persistent inabilities of judgment and perception. There are moments of intense anger, contempt, compassionately ironic sympathy, even a yearning disposition to save something, in Mr. Sorrentino's narratives. One can hardly not recognize how much this writer cares about the qualities of feeling and act in the human world he shares with others. Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things (the title itself a quotation from an equally moral writer, and a significant model for Mr. Sorrentino, William Carlos Williams) is an intensive judgment of the specific world of artists and writers of the New York sixties, say, Max's Kansas City Before the Fall. It engages its various subjects most intentionally—real details from real lives—so that two thus, feeling themselves maliciously parodied, will not speak to him ever again, etc. But this is a risk the writer presumes to take, in this case with full responsibility. The necessity to make judgment, to define value, is always primary in this writer, no matter the formal means employed or the technical pattern.

In short, I feel Gilbert Sorrentino's continuing preoccupations as a writer have insistently to do with factors of relationship, really of the most usefully obvious kind (mother to son, husband to wife, friend to friend), and with the senses of place qualified as a time , that is, lived in and remembered. He will run a great many changes upon these possibilities—often wryly, nostalgically, with wit and a secure invention. Splendide-Hôtel is, in this way, not only a tour de force upon the possible categories of alphabetic 'order' and language but also a whimsical self-invention and recall including heroic "models." (Myself there, for example, in the reference to Mr Blue , I came upon much as an old photograph, and deeply enjoyed the permission.) We all make ourselves up, if that's the point. Mr. Sorrentino's competence in respect of his technical resources is part and parcel with his long time admiration of Louis Zukofsky's abilities as a poet—which, characteristically, he made most emphatically public in the NY Times Book Review . (Here one should check out all the critical writing he has done—for Kulchur , for example. Note that he always writes in the imagination of an active responsibility of anyone apropos the kind of world humans do make in which to live. He puts his values very unequivocally out front .)


Therefore one distraction for me, as reader and fellow writer, was to come upon this in the jacket blurb for Aberration of Starlight: " . . . stories that Mr. Sorrentino further enriches by using a variety of literary methods . . ."—which fact, somehow, is none of the publisher's or reader's business, dumb as that sounds. Or it was disappointing to find this same novel reviewed in the NY Review of Books from the same 'point of view'—Sorrentino's resources as stylist (as we used to say). But I've not read Mulligan Stew , the novel which brings his work this location—but I will, and have the gall to presume I can accurately anticipate the nature of its pleasures—which will be terrific. And so . . .

It's most interesting that some of the most impressive moral writing ever was done by prose writers capable of exceptional 'stylistic' invention. E.g., Melville, Sterne, Joyce, Céline, Lewis, et al. Feeling, even more than necessity, may well prove the crucial 'mother.' Gilbert Sorrentino may not approve his general life's company very simply, but he markedly and persistently cares, and in that feeling makes language the instrument of response and judgment it must, of necessity, be. If he has demonstrated a master's skill in how a novel may be put together these days, you can be certain that what has to get said is still his point. It's still a possible Christmas somewhere, and there are still kids—and tin pigs.


Poetry of Commitment

Endless Life: Selected Poems , by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. New York: New Directions, 1981.

Selected Poems , by Daryl Hine. New York: Atheneum, 1981.

Only the Dreamer Can Change the Dream , by John Logan. New York: Ecco Press, 1981.

Selected Poems, 1958–1980 , by Gilbert Sorrentino. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Black Sparrow Press, 1981.

It wasn't so long ago that many of the poets of this country had intentionally and intensively to do with political and social terms common to us all. Whatever their disagreements otherwise, they came together in the integrity of their public commitment. Even now one may regain some sense of those days in Norman Mailer's The Armies of the Night with its vignettes of political protest in which the unlikely company of Denise Levertov, Robert Lowell, Ed Sanders, and many, many more all stood up and were counted, and took the consequences. Our lives these days have certainly grown quieter, more muted, and the oblique blandness of much of the poetry now written must be an effect of the national temper. Even the proposed emotions seem largely symbolic.

These four books of selected poems—by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Daryl Hine, John Logan and Gilbert Sorrentino—are therefore a

Washington Post Book World , August 2, 1981.


curious recollection of a time some of us only remember faintly, and some not at all.

Endless Life: Selected Poems (New Directions) is Lawrence Ferlinghetti's own selection from some 40 years of his work, and I think the result proves a sturdy rehearsal of his virtues: tough, public humor and accessibility. If J. Edgar Hoover (remember him?) once said of this poet, "it appears Ferlinghetti may possibly be a mental case . . . ," he is surely that person we dearly want the wit of, faced with such "institutions" as Hoover suggests, inside or out:

                        The world is a beautiful place
                                                                          to be born into
if you don't mind happiness
                                              not always being
                                                                            so very much fun
                                        ("The World Is a Beautiful Place")

From the early poems, with their wry, backhanded literacy and good-natured hope, to the final poem, a "work-in-progress" in which the insistent repetition of "Endless" is both an ingenuously proposed belief ("Endless the splendid life of the world/ Endless its lovely living and breathing") and a bitterly ironic emphasis ("Endless the waiting for God and Godot/ the absurd actions absurd plans and the plays/ dilemmas and the delays . . ."), one is made to recognize the public consequence of any personal existence. We don't, we cannot, live alone:

Home to the bed we made
and must lie in
with 'whoever'
Or home to the bed still to be made
of rags & visions
the bed whose form is pure light
(and unheard melodies
dark despairs & inchoate ecstasies
longings out of reach)
Who to decipher them who answer them
singing each to each?
("Home Home Home")

No doubt this will read nostalgically to some, appropriately enough. There is, however, another kind of nostalgia present in Daryl Hine's Selected Poems (Atheneum). That part of Canada from


which he comes, British Columbia, has still a significant incidence of literal "colonials" and, in yet another sense, the place of his "home," Vancouver Island, is self-consciously more "British" than the mother country. So one feels an unexpected kinship in his tone with writers as various as Edward Braithwaite and Alan Curnow, who are also far from the initiating places of their imagination. Therefore Hine's poems often read as tests of some imagined order, demonstrations of a questioned ability, although who has so questioned him or thus set the test is never clear. There seems some haunting specter of taste as well, a demand for a practiced urbanity, cosmopolitan and cool in bearing, yet often forced to a shrillness tacitly hysterical:

Ithyphallic, dactyI,
Such cosmetic measures
Seem preservatives or
Spices to embalm the
Evanescent sentence.
Metrical devices
With corrective lenses
Bring the phrase in focus.
Form is recognition
Of an underlying
Symmetry in something
("My Optics")

Of course this is a put-on, and becomes rather brutally more so. But it is an isolating use of humor, and it may be noted that much of the writing has the tone of a private joke, if not the fact. I am most moved by the poem no doubt the most ineptly vulnerable, "A.B.C. Diary," concerning the return of its author to his home. It is a grimly unfunny text despite the omnipresent "wit":

My family present me with a bill
Overdue and unreceipted still?
I'll pay it if it kills me, and it will.
Funny, under so much natural beauty
To discern the dull death's head of duty
Fixed in an uncompromising grin!
We resident aliens end where we begin.

That particularly common wish to be one of the elect, to have the final authority of a generalized and generalizing "we," seems to me antithetically distant from the person of John Logan's selected


poems. As he says, Only the Dreamer Can Change the Dream (The Ecco Press), and it proves of necessity a lonely and harshly difficult undertaking. If there is to be, finally, no appeal to a securing system, of whatever order or need, then measure and judgment have only the fact of one's life as context, and that situation would define the specifically human. This, I feel, is John Logan's undertaking, and the poems record, densely, compactly, the progress of both art and life in a remarkably explicit communion. From the very first poem his "we" is the factual company of friends, and the "I" of his writing is unabashedly—Americanly , one wants to say—the real John Logan of his own perception and experience. He shambles, dances, feels and falls as he is able, and if one occasionally grows impatient with his sometimes sentimentalizing affections, one would hardly chide him for their being here—because he is here, and that is the humanly endearing point.

In fact, no one of these poets can be more eloquently present than he, and that is a very large value in these times of proliferating masquerade. There is a lovely poem included here which, when I first heard him read it, brought the proverbial tears to my eyes—it was so nakedly present in its feeling. It's a poem found late in the book, a poem of a little over seven pages so it cannot be fairly represented. However, here is some suggestion of its power:

And you—you danced with me,
sometimes led
                          sometimes followed.
I knew what loving meant
and for the first
time pointed myself toward your woman's heart—
tried to touch it with my groping, masculine hand
as I felt you grip
                                   and ungrip me
with your closing and opening body.

The great, bright, moon shaped crab creature
rests, having just crawled up on the shore.
Land leans away from the sea.
A giant cloud, changing shape, leaves the sky
black or blue or gray.
The crimson crowned, great eyed king is dead,
but long live his shriveled child!
Every troubled, dreaming young man


lets go the girl in his hand.
And the tired parents of each of us
turn over to sleep at last.
("New Poem")

If Logan echoes the great, tender hopes of the old-time High Modern and can recall such weirdly provocative puns as "Germs Choice" while, incidentally, admonishing Hart Crane for committing suicide, then Gilbert Sorrentino's Selected Poems, 1958–1980 (Black Sparrow) reads as a remarkable survival of that appetite all those masters had for language, for what one could make, literally, out of words. Sorrentino is the only writer of the present company whose authority extends equally to the novel (Mulligan Stew brought him international acclaim in 1978) and whose work as a critic (specifically, his unyielding support of the late Louis Zukofsky) was often a daily affair as well as a lifelong commitment.

The physical solidity of this book, the literal bulk, is a great complement to what Sorrentino has put into it—said simply, a lot . Though I have known his work for years, I am fascinated to have so much of it in one ample collection, so that one may see the continuity of his invention, his delight in the toughness, the humor , of formal design, the playful echo of those he has loved and used, such as William Carlos Williams. He is here as he imagined all those years ago one might learn to be, and he is very good. Best therefore to let him have the last word with what is the last poem in his book—"the latest," as Charles Olson would say:

To wear those old moccasins with the backs
Broken down and sockless as well was a fashion
Germane to certain modes of departing. All now
Dark as the grave and silent and the streets
Though trafficked as always are not trafficked
By them. The awesome nonchalance with which things
Disappear. Not to be thought of as complaint
But as a kind of knowledge that is incommunicable
Because who cares? Who relentlessly peers
At his own materials his impedimenta Blotters
Paper flowers yearbooks photographs faces
That were young a minute or two ago and
Experience sits as it sits ten letters
Useless but to get "the story" told to prove
Again oh again and again that love although
Insanely difficult is as they say It.


A certain turn of the head the registration
Of laughter and all of it always going away
Going away as Who sits words skirling out
Of him too seeled in a mode of departure
Stepping out smartly toward the silence death.
("Bright Nightgown," by permission of Black Sparrow Press.
© 1981 by Gilbert Sorrentino.)


First Prize

Although I didn't know it at the time, the title of Douglas Woolf's first novel, The Hypocritic Days , comes from a poem of Emerson's, "Days":

Daughters of Time, the hypocritic Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands . . .

It's a curious beginning, this echo of a determinedly New England root, for a story that has to do with the LA aches and pains of becoming a so-called person. But that's not really its point either. Better (again Emerson)—"Things are in the saddle / And ride mankind . . ." Or—"Give me truths; / For I am weary of the surfaces, / And die of inanition . . ." There has been persistently in Douglas Woolf's writing an unremitting judgment of the grotesque banality of such "surfaces" and a remarkably tender allowance of those trapped 'between,' as it were, a nonexistent 'top' and 'bottom.'

Anyhow! My own relation to this all begins with getting in the mail in Mallorca, sometime in mid '54, the manuscript of the novel. I had (and still have, in obvious ways) a disposition that wanted one of each , and the fact we had published, as The Divers Press, (my) short stories, several collections of poetry (Paul Blackburn, Irving Layton, Martin Seymour-Smith, who was my initial collaborator on the press, and Katue Kitasono, in his own translation), and a kind

The Review of Contemporary Fiction 2, no. 1 (Spring 1982).


of belles-lettres, Olson's Mayan Letters , meant we now needed a novel to prove the range of our competence and serious intent. So at least I thought, and reading Douglas Woolf's novel, I recognized the very lucky coincidence of what we both wanted.

But so much more—corny as that will sound. I don't know about you, like they say, but remember this was the first novel I'd published. (Apropos, there's a story of Thomas Seltzer, the publisher, which Henry Wenning told me years ago—he was trying to compliment Mr. Seltzer on his exceptional list of authors, e.g., D. H. Lawrence, but Seltzer kept demurring, saying that they were simply the only ones he could get.) I don't recall that The Divers Press paid anybody anything—it was my first wife's modest income that kept any of it going—and so our choices had to be limited to writers as existentially defined as ourselves. Later I came to know that Douglas Woolf had literally rejected a patrimony that would have made things much easier, although the presumption is large (and offensive). I think he forever rejects any situation that 'signs him up,' 'provides for him,' makes his own qualifications and responses necessarily secondary to the 'big one'—whatever. His book was very good. Somehow one had not anticipated that, something out of the air, nowhere, so extraordinary, so specifically written :

 . . . But then it invariably happened, as it now did, that his father smiled at him with the appearance of such genuine fondness that he was compelled to admit if any love at all were in this room it was he himself who at the moment aped it.

It's twenty-five years later and the people of this painful rite of passage stay vividly in mind: the dwarf father, Chick; the senile Uncle Sam with his upside-down flag; the sort of Beach Boys gang, who make a usefully puerile company for their crippled fellow, Lloyd; Mr. Lippincott, Lloyd's father—who's responsible for the ending; his mother, faint and inept; Charles' girl friend, Jan. His friends Rollo and Billy Hart. Even the way the pornography Mr. Lippincott apparently switched into a usual film has a gritty, unexpected tenacity: "At first his stunned mind wanted to believe the girl had merely ducked her head to nibble a banana, a large, ripe banana the man held in his fist."

Possibly it's the fact that Douglas Woolf has a tone, always, of wry, persistently awake question, of a superficially bland but harshly abrasive content. Ed Dorn writes very usefully of his work: " . . . satire is only one of the pointed elements. And even then, taking the dictionary as a guide, irony is more the important rule for him.


A dissembler of speech . . ." ("The New Frontier," Views , p. 57). There is no way off its hook, no shared laugh that lets it all fade out, which, significantly, is the title of his second novel—which has the one happy ending I recall, of sorts at least. Again—certainly as age approaches—one will not forget simply the hero's trying to sell Xmas cards with his crony, or the awful, graceless, unremitting and unfair battle he has with his granddaughter, Gloria. There is a way in which Douglas Woolf vindicates the mawkish American pitch of "Give me your etc etc"—he gives them deathless representation at least, the old, the mad, the hopeful, the fucked up. There's nothing funny about it, no matter one laughs.

Given there's more and more, and will be, and that the times now move to some convenient epiphany of Woolf's World, I'd like to think of the honors he might be afforded, i.e., I think we can afford them, at last. Of all the others of his various company, from Wyndham Lewis to Nathaniel West, from Socrates to Sorrentino, there is no one quite like him, so quiet, so quick, so gentle on your mind, so truly at your throat. Let's give him everything .


Cowboys and Indians

It's always impressed me that Bill Eastlake was born in Brooklyn, just that he's so particularly and adamantly Western, however vague now that term becomes. Much like Edward Abbey, with whom I first went down from Taos to meet him in the mid '50s, that wonder of an imagined place had somehow met with its actuation in fact, and the intensive demand both men bring to anywhere they are, being Easterners I'd like to say, got response in this otherwise gritty, barren, wind-blasted, inhuman, godforsaken and altogether dear desert, the so-called Southwest. As it happened, I had written Bill his first fan letter, from Mallorca, having read a story of his, "Little Joe," in Accent (Autumn 1954). I was trying to get active prose for the Black Mountain Review , and his writing, with its asperity and singular (almost 'existential') point of view, call it, caught me instantly. This story, be it said, was far from the setting of his subsequent writing, involved as it was with children and their teasing of a bigger one, "Little Joe," who is retarded—and a tree they variously climb, which still sticks in memory as a wondrous, literal center. Bill took my letter as some signal of international recognition, which thankfully and deservedly he did finally get but not that year. I, in turn, never did have a chance to publish him in the magazine because it collapsed very shortly after. It wasn't till Donald Allen invited me to collaborate with him on the editing of New American Story (1965) that that could happen in any respect.

The Review of Contemporary Fiction 3, no. 1 (Spring 1983).


At the back of that book are printed brief statements by the writers included (Ed Dorn, William Burroughs, Amiri Baraka, Michael Rumaker, and Jack Kerouac among them). What Bill says is writ large but its legitimate emphasis becomes, if anything, more clear in the years since:

Someone has got to believe in a future. Someone has got to give us a religion we can go by, and the truth is defeatist. Only the artist can give us the emotional ecstasy, the defiance in face of facts, the joy of life that will make us conquer ourselves and go into the future, a future as bright as a mirror and colored with all the imagination of the young. If there is no future then the artist will make one. It is the unique ability of man and the supreme triumph of the artist. The artist is the best in us all. He is the true creator and art is the only religion worthy of man.

These are not the sentiments of a postmodernist; that is, such regal hopes or measures for human potential would find no place in that disposition. But as he says, in this same note, " . . . writers never grow up. The artist is forever a child, a child in that he has that first wonder for the world." In other words, this is not a situation of world intellectually disposed, however intelligent participation in it may be or recognition of its nature may prove. It is a vision, a dream, we variously recognize, so that Bill is, if anything, a very old-style writer indeed, a storyteller who knows that the wonder is the telling, always was, always will be, and that it is only by such apparently discursive address to it all that anything, of anyone, anywhere, anytime, will ever get said. I.e., you don't know it. You are it. So tell it like it is . . .

I think I can say fairly his heroes were Faulkner and Hemingway. I know he greatly respects them and put himself to their texts as measure of his own. He strikes me as a Hemingway with a sense of humor, a Faulkner with wider, more complexly simple space to move in. Or something to that effect. Comparisons are truly odious, if there's to be no factual engagement of terms—and that one can most simply manage for oneself, i.e., read all three. The cowboys and Indians of Go in Beauty (1956), The Bronc People (1958), and Portrait of an Artist with 26 Horses seem a perfect métier for his information of that world he both proposes in imagination and also daily lives in, as objectively determined fact. That dryness, that fact of the specific thing to be dealt with, that vast roominess the displacement of an inch might well crowd, a time without seam or accessibility, and person, often, a furious small Stephen Crane-like


dot in the sand—this is neither human place nor time to be thought through and therefore settled, once and for all. Insofar as humans propose to deal with this world, consciously, they will forever be perversely separated from it, balanced on its edge, at best, looking in. So it is one of his charming Indians can truly say, well, at least I didn't go to Yale . . . . And anyone with any wit at all must forever hanker to be in The Bronc People 's incredible white convertible as it leaves the so-called road and plunges straight out into the river—and on, by god, still going!

There's a part of Bill that will always be hooked on teasing, on poking his finger through the obvious hole. I recall an evening he spent largely questioning Joseph Wood Krutch as to how he could have spent a life devoted to an author as inhumanly dull as the one who wrote Rasselas . I think he even expected an answer, though I don't think he got one. Likewise he put much the same effort into catechizing kids of an intensely Catholic family as to what might be their sense of it all. He is merciless in these preoccupations. Another time, when we were visiting again, he sent Ed Abbey out into a veritable blizzard (so it proved) to check the horses in a pasture some distance from the house. After some time Ed did finally make it back, but as he would tell you, it hadn't been easy in the blowing snow. He told Bill he'd come very close to x-ing one of the horses, slitting its belly and crawling inside—an old survival tactic that Bill didn't take to at all, at least not that night with, proposedly, one of his dear horses the sacrificial victim.

Both Bill and his wife have been so specifically good to me and mine over the years I can't end any such note as this without particular instance. For example, when we'd come back from Guatemala the early summer of 1960, they contrived to get us use of her brother-in-law's place, an old institutional conference house up in the mountains above Cuba, and so we could relax and regroup sans the awful dilemmas of no place to live with four kids and no money. I had an oddly persistent wheeze that summer, accompanied by a low but tenacious fever. The prognosis was bleak, i.e., either lung cancer or tuberculosis (which last meant I'd lose the prospective employment at U.N.M., if I did in fact have it). I was supposed to take it as easy as possible, but Bill, thank god, had other plans. He showed up one day to roust me out for a ride up to the high mesa of those mountains which go all the way east to Santa Fe. Once up and out, I found the world becoming a wondrous place as we rode higher and higher, threading through the oak brush, meeting with Indians trailing horses, spotting the occasional old-time home-


steader who might well have got there before the territory had become the present New Mexico (1912?). Then we came into the meadows, with creeks and knee-high grass, and miles and miles of open sky and mesa. No wonder he has spent so long in its spell, and has so adamantly insisted upon its measure as against the tediously convenient and small fact of this or that passing appetite. This world, at least in mind, will forever be before and after all others. It is the one, so to speak.

Finally we were coming back down and Bill's horse, a wildly good-natured but dead-mouthed quarterhorse, Poco Mas, managed to lodge Bill and himself smack up against a barbed wire fence, so that Bill's left wrist was caught between the pommel of the saddle and the wire. I managed to back the horse off without problem and then wound a bandana I characteristically had with me in those days tightly around his wrist. Then we headed down to his car and drove in to see Dr. Johnson, the bright woman who had the clinic in town and was the only medical resource for many miles indeed. After asking me what I was doing out of bed, she checked Bill's wrist and gave him a tetanus shot. I remember her showing him photos of classic broken wrists—they look like a fork, she said, the way they go—so as to reassure him his was ok. So that was that, except for a lovely echo sometime later when my wife was talking with his, during a visit. You know, she said, Bill thinks Bob is a great writer . Somewhat surprised, my wife answered, I didn't know Bill particularly cared for poetry. No, no, was the answer, not writer, rider . . . . You be "the great writer," Bill, because you damn well are.


Ted Berrigan's Death

Ted Berrigan's death leaves a hole of adamant loss. There won't be another like him, ever, and what's left as always to do is to remember that, and what his writing was all about, and how, with such disarming simpleness, it could hold the largest imagination of human relationships and the world in which they are given to be.

Robert Duncan spoke of him as a genius of pathos , a power that could move the heart so commonly, simply, as in one of his great poems, "Things to Do in Providence." His insistent ritualizing of his friends' names, his lovely rehearsal of them, often as a poem would begin, to make the company of his life become the place where all authority of speech might then occur—what a generous and American act! I recall a British friend's irritation on hearing him do this, at a reading he gave with Jim Dine in London years ago ("Ted / is ready. / The bell / rings . . ."), and saying something like, "I don't know those people . . ." She missed the point altogether because Ted would dearly have liked her to know them—they were the greatest friends in the world.

He was an Irishman from Providence, which always moved me. Together with Charles Olson and John Wieners, he was my particular New England—certainly all I ever knew or believed in. I loved the way he took on New York and not only made it but so permeated its New York style, like they say, that I do think he's finally as evident in that manner of poetry as is Frank O'Hara, whose work he so loved. But the pace and rhythm of his poems, the

Exquisite Corpse 1, nos. 8–9 (August–September 1983).


seemingly open way of the words, the commonness of them, the literal action of what happens, the content at once so obvious and so resonant, all that is inimitable, however large the appetite now to possess it.

Then, as with Mr. Wieners, he remains forever in mind as a great gentleman, an exceptional one. He taught manners, and common caring, by his own example. Despite he was a hard man to interrupt (!), he certainly heard you. I remember my own applications to his attention got always a courteous reception and response. He had great honor—put most simply as he did, "Give it your best shot . . ." "I'd like to take the whole trip . . ." He made an extensive, particular, possible world of his life and lived there difficultly sans complaint.

The raw shock of his death, no matter he or anyone else expected it, makes no room now for spelling it out further. You will hear his wild tremulous wistful reflective engaging way of saying it in any work of his that you read or hear him reading. Thankfully there is the substantial collection of his poems, So Going Around Cities , and the reissued Sonnets , and much else. It won't bring him back but it's what he left, solid as a rock.


William Corbett:
Two Books

Columbus Square Journal , by William Corbett. Angel Hair Books, 1976. Reissued by United Artists, 172 E. Fourth Street, #9B, New York, NY 10009.

Runaway Pond , by William Corbett. Apple-Wood Books, 1981. Box 2870, Cambridge, MA 02139.

The sturdiest preoccupation in poetry at the moment seems to be that with language-centered writing. It's given a singular genius like Larry Eigner a whole and very useful new ballgame, and on both coasts its principals have the character of self-determined and remarkably coherent activity in publishing as well as in composition. It's to the point that William Corbett shows up occasionally in this company—as critic as well as contributor. If one thinks of specific friends of his life, Clark Coolidge, for example, or Bernadette Mayer (one of the three dedicatees of Runaway Pond ), or Michael Palmer, Lewis Warsh, Lee Harwood, et al., then one may recognize a continuity from elders such as Ashbery or Schuyler to the younger Charles Bernstein or Michael Davidson. But, like so many attempts at such doctrinal neatness, putting Corbett in boxes fails entirely.

I would sooner say—like they say—that Corbett shares very remarkably with Robert Lowell a tonal quality, a specific surface of words and how they sound literally, I find almost not at all in other poets. It's a texture made vivid by an ear I'd think as good as ears

American Book Review 5, no. 6 (Sept./Oct. 1983).


get, a playful, persuasive ear (unlike Lowell's droll and often violent ironies), a charmingly nostalgic ear (a Charles Ives of idioms!), and a physically precise one, which its owner obviously values as a means of getting around in the world. The densities of the writing come from the particularizing of consonants:

 . . . Myself, I spent summers
of my childhood in the northeast
corner of Pennsylvania East Mauch Chunk
later Jim Thorpe and miss driving out
at dusk to look for deer the sweet
langour of those long summer nights
close TV nights safe watching
wrestling after greeting those out
for a stroll from the front porch.
(Runaway Pond , page 32)

More, both texts are "developmental," accumulative and reflective, often, in their content. Both are proposed as "continuities," Columbus Square Journal a "day book" of writing from "12 October 1974–12 October 1975" with recurrent moods, things in mind, echoes of others—and Runaway Pond is also well anchored in a day's place , albeit several, with turns of season, city to country, past to present, a dumb loss of pond to sad absence of father, equally willful and resonant.

What gets said in any of these poems is complexly familiar:

                                                  7 January
I gave up my husband
then my wife. He moved away
I walked out on her
got a writ, a lawyer
wrote out our lives' garbage
not for love or money.
The children looked after themselves.
I lived alone together
alone apart. He was a bully
beat me until I let
the world know. She was cold
without heart two years
out of eight we kept
going away we kept coming back
to piss and moan, to pick fights


getting close to cutting loose
from each other. White Red Black
Come then blood then ink.
(Columbus Square Journal )

Narrative is a dependable resource but a story forever beyond solution or resolve. It is specifically a life , which again makes a parallel with Robert Lowell's work but equally with poetry as various as Charles Olson's or John Wieners'. Possibly it is New England which demands such witness, both of it and oneself. The tenacity of place in all its emotional and physical presence is unique in Corbett's writing, certainly in relation to his contemporaries with very few exceptions.

Finally one wants to say so much more than one can, in brief, because this poetry (and these are but two of its collections, however remarkable) has such capable and ranging articulation, so quietly present. There is no one more gifted with respect to knowing how and doing it. But were it a case even of such brilliance, simply, there would be, finally, much to compete with it. One believes with Pound, therefore, that nothing counts save the quality of the affection , and only emotion endures . The ground, the world so recognized, is of primary human value:

 . . . I want
to roll out of bed and get it on paper
before the water has boiled, the hours
pass and my arthritic hands clench.
(Runaway Pond , page 40)


No Matter What:
A Note for Collected Poems

by William Corbett

A friend here had remarked recently that when he was in school, the proverbial one-room schoolhouse, in fact, they were taught to identify the local wild flowers and plants by means of large placards, the reproduction of the plant on one side, and the data relating on the other. So one could therefore walk out into a specific world of a shared and common information. Despite the fight now to save the environment, which word shares with 'world' a very wide application, there is little place indeed one is taught so to recognize and admit, to know by those ageless means of "habits and haunts," in Charles Olson's phrase, the particulars of where one physically is.

D. H. Lawrence had early nailed the wistful American aggrandizement of nature in his note on Crèvecoeur in Studies in Classic American Literature: "NATURE. I wish I could write it larger than that. N A T U R E. . . ." Such 'nature' is, of course, confined to the country and goes along with bears and bobcats and blueberries. But this is City Nature , what another artist of William Corbett's habits, Claes Oldenburg, had argued was just as actual as the rural kind and being intensively the fact of human nature, finally far more interesting.

The skills of this poet are so quietly and firmly established in his work that one is apt to forget about them in either reading or hearing—which is, of course, their mastery. If one takes as gauge the following proposal of Zukofsky, then the genius becomes apparent:

William Corbett, Collected Poems (Orono, Me.: National Poetry Foundation, 1984).


How much what is sounded by words has to do with what is seen by them, and how much what is at once sounded and seen by them crosscuts an interplay among themselves—will naturally sustain the scientific definition of poetry we are looking for. . . .


Corbett's factual love for words, his trust that they will say his mind and feeling, that they literally matter, is profoundly engaging:

A sleigh's wooshing hush
running fresh
jolly comice pear wobbles
on the table    white bells
let nothing you dismay
["Montpelier Biscuit"]

Nor has any poet more fixed a place in language, called it to be there as all that knowing it, and recalling, and having a life, lives, there, with all that these mean and have to mean—all that that ever can be. "February 29th," for one instance. Or the complex "Runaway Pond"—or "Vermont Apollinaire":

I cannot carry a tune
Not in a bucket one note. . . .

Whatever it is that poetry asks for, what it needs to survive and to be listened to, I can hear or see none of it without a human pattern, that stain or wear or humor or fear that it not last, that makes things said a hopeful enterprise, a whistling in the seemingly endless dark. Much like the story of the boy walking through the grave-yard, who sings because he is afraid, I need a company, even my own voice if there is no one else's. But how dear to hear another's! What relief to know that someone is truly there.

Waldoboro, Me.
July 3, 1984


An Afterword to Splendide-Hôtel

by Gilbert Sorrentino

I've been trying to pay respects to this work since first reading it in someone else's home, in that curious disjunct that made it theirs and not mine despite I was a person of its text and was probably more there, "heading toward Indianapolis," than I was even in reading it. I too loved Rimbaud, that wildly youthful genius who had changed all of French poetry forever before he was even twenty years old. I pondered his "Voyelles" and tried, in careful manner, to deracinate all my senses. In the early 1940s, with the whole world blowing up around us, it seemed a sufficiently modest proposal. So I note with interest that Splendide-Hôtel was first published just about one hundred years after the first of the Illuminations were written.

Albeit there are many presences in this remarkably particular book, the two who make context for the imagination it "so much depends upon" are, of course, Arthur Rimbaud and William Carlos Williams, and Gilbert Sorrentino's homage to Williams' authority is always emphatic: "'Look at what passes for the new,' the poet says." Rimbaud is source for the title, both it and the motto being taken from the first of the texts in Illuminations , "Après le Déluge," in which "As soon as the idea of the Deluge had subsided," there begins a divers coincidence of actions, some sophisticated and reflective and some of primal innocence. "Caravans set out. And Hotel Splendid was built in the chaos of ice and of the polar night." Or as

Gilbert Sorrentino, Splendide-Hôtel (Elmwood Park, Ill.: The Dalkey Archive Press, 1984; reprint of New Directions edition, 1973).


Sorrentino writes in his second sentence: "Thus, any story." It is in just so simply seeming a manner that words become the reality we had only believed them to be issue of.

Rimbaud's heroic definition of the artist previously mentioned would be immensely attractive in itself, but even more to be valued—as one thinks of the hundred years—is the formal improvisation he was able to make hold against the canons of French literary style. Baudelaire's Paris Spleen , which one presumes him to have known, would be a useful precedent, but it does not anticipate the genius of his own invention or the impact it will have on all formal device in French poetry. "For Rimbaud," as John Porter Houston aptly says in The Design of Rimbaud's Poetry (1963), "a style is a system suited to a specific poetic conception and not to an author's characteristic mode of expression."

With that useful point in mind, one can then judge the parallel of Williams' situation in the composition of Kora in Hell (1920) or the Improvisations , as he also calls them: "I let the imagination have its own way to see if it could save itself. Something very definite came of it. I found myself alleviated but most important I began there and then to revalue experience, to understand what I was at—" (Spring and All , IX, 1923). Ezra Pound's response was wryly abrupt: "But what the French real reader would say to your Improvisations is Voui, g(h)a j(h)ai déjà (f)vu g(h)a g(h)a c'est de R(h)imb(h)aud!!" The quotation comes from Stephen Fredman's Poet's Prose (1983) and is used, paradoxically, to emphasize that Williams did not know Rimbaud's work specifically—or, to quote another of Fredman's sources, Mike Weaver: " . . . as Williams informed René Taupin, his knowledge of French culture was visual and not literary."

So it is, curiously enough, Gilbert Sorrentino who serves as their introduction in many ways indeed. As one might well expect, the factors and habits of his attention are solidly American, as are Williams'. Thus Rimbaud's A in "Voyelles" ("black hairy corset of the bursting flies which buzz around the cruel stench, gulfs of shadow") becomes ground for more thoughtful consideration in Sorrentino: "On the bookcase, a fly. In the mind, A."

So too the d of the word "glazed" in that most familiar of all Williams' poems:

so much depends

a red wheel


glazed with rain

beside the white

"I take the d of that word as my excuse for this chapter" ("D")—which has been at such pains to separate writing from the simple excuse of an intention. "One wishes to say simply that the writer cannot escape the words of his story, he cannot escape into an idea at all."

Neither can he escape the compacted habit his life has been given. "I walk through the world, aging with each step. It is the only world I have, and I am compelled to accept its raw materials, that is, those materials it is given me to deal with. One must find some structure, even if it be this haphazard one of the alphabet." There is no securing point, no compelling and relieving reason. Yet, as with Williams, he knows the perfect: "K-K-K-KOUFAX!"

There is also the moral of the writing, any writing, that he shares with Williams, "the government of words." "They want politics and think it will save them. At best, it gives direction to their numbed desires. But there is no politics but the manipulation of power through language. Thus the latter's constant debasement." So it is that the "President" is simply a figure precise to an imagination and conduct, "who takes care to cross all his t's. Yet he cannot hear this tolling bell." Or, "the true President of the Republic," Lester Young. The Prez. "He holds a tenor saxophone. On the bed is his clarinet." For C .

But all this seems to have been said, or about to be, in that such work as this takes one far beyond the limits of a prescription. Always something, like they say. Always room for one more.


The Gentle on the Mind Number

The caveat that death makes adamant is significantly ignored by all who keep on breathing. In this case, it is no different nor would Brautigan presumably have wanted it to be if he was at that point in any sense concerned. Despite the meager industrial interests already at work on the bleak legend, i.e., those who will tell us the true story, of what deadend circumstances, etc., the fact is still that Richard took responsibility as ever, and killed himself as factually as he'd do anything, like turn out a light or write a novel. He was not sentimental in that respect, albeit he could cry like a baby if drunk enough and with sufficient drama in the occasion. But he could stop it on a dime, and I can't believe, drunk or sober, that he ever finally looked on the world with other than a cold eye—not hostilely but specifically.

What's often forgotten is that he was a remarkably articulate writer, a determined one in its resources. His particular teacher was Jack Spicer and there is no one who more called for, literally demanded, that writing be intelligent, perceptive, conscious recognition and employment of words and the complex system of their event. Brautigan's writing seems so simple, " . . . the lobby is filled with the smell of Lysol."

The Lysol sits like another guest on the stuffed furniture, reading a copy of the Chronicle , the Sports Section. It is the only furniture I have ever seen in my life that looks like baby food.

Rolling Stock , no. 9 (1985).


It's like an ultimate dominoes, ultimate attachments, endless directions and digressions, but all a surface or a skin of unvarying attention, a wild, patient humor, an absolute case in point.

Trout Fishing in America is dedicated to Jack Spicer and Ron Loewinsohn. There's a great picture of Loewinsohn and Richard they used for the cover of a magazine they edited together in the sixties, Change . Brautigan was in his middle thirties before the big time hit him. He said once his average annual income had been about $950 up till then. His childhood was classically awful, dirt poor, mother, step-father to whom he's given when the two separate and his mother takes his sister. He told a story once of cooling himself in his sister's hair, locked in fever, in some bleak motel they were living in. He hauled himself up from nothing to be the most influential writer of his specific generation, prose or poetry, you name it. You could hear him and you didn't forget it. It was like, think of this, this trout, like this . He was a great pro.

He was a loner and that didn't seem to be easy except for the situation of writing. He loved his daughter very much and tried to be and was a careful, resourceful father. He was very proud of her.

This attempt to say something is a weird and lonely exercise. I hate it that no one was there to say goodbye, or hello—that he could be dead that length of time, almost a month, with no one's coming by. They thought he'd gone to Montana. The people there must have thought he was in Bolinas. I know that he didn't make it easy to get next to him, like they say. Still that's a distance no one needs.

One time we were leaving some chaos of persons together, in the 60s it must have been, and just as we were at the door, Richard, looking back in at it all, smiles and says, let's leave them with the gentle on the mind number . . .

Help Yourself

Sir Richard Comma
three dots for a dime

drummed into my head
abstract pavement

as opposed to dirt
no move from the end

to the middle. Style's
a hug, a friend's


true pleasure.
To be home

is to have a friend.
Van Gogh in Amsterdam—

streets an easy size,
the canal in harvest moon

moonlight, walking with
David Gascoyne, with

Michael Hamburger.
Richard's friendship—

dear Richard met me,
you know what talk's like?

Now he's dead. You figure it out, i.e., you got something to do you better do it now, friend. Onward.


With Crusoe, on Familiar Shores

There was a moment, just a few years ago, when a human, simply one of us, suddenly saw the world from such a distance in space that all of its surface resolved as a single sphere, that familiar globe of our childhood. One wanted heroic acknowledgment, words so to dignify this remarkable and pristine sight of Henry Vaughan's "eternity" that no human eyes had hitherto witnessed. But the voice, as I recall, said only, I can see all of Florida and part of the Mississippi basin  . . . Pragmatic though it was and even had to be, the statement said nothing either of the world left or the world come to.

Yet Defoe's story of an equal adventure, despite its determined fiction—it is the first novel to be written in our common English—became almost instantly the measure for all such tales ever after. Robinson Crusoe has had the respect of a bizarrely incongruous company, from Dr. Johnson to Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf to Alexander Pope. Mocking the romantic disposition of its enthusiasts, Rimbaud made a verb of this persistent novel's hero in one of his early poems: "Le coeur fou Robinsonne à travers les romans . . ." But in two lectures given in March 1912 for much-needed money, James Joyce proposed that Robinson Crusoe was a far more representative Englishman than John Bull ever was. The qualities of this person—"the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence, the slow but effective intelligence, the sexual apathy, the practical and well-balanced religiosity, the

Harper's , September 1985.


calculating silence"—are particular to a very substantial place and time, the early eighteenth century in an England of some 6 million people, 2 million of whom were by Defoe's calculation Dissenters, that is, Protestants who had been variously sympathetic to the Puritans and who, following the Restoration, were therefore held responsible for the excesses of the Commonwealth.

I take these facts from several sources (Richard Ellmann's biography of Joyce, for example, and James Sutherland's excellent study Daniel Defoe ). However, my point is a simple one—that our relation to this forthright story of shipwreck involves the recognition of habits most familiar, for instance, our unquestioning respect for someone who, as Joyce put it, "shipwrecked on a lonely island with a knife and pipe in his pocket," "became architect, carpenter, knife-grinder, astronomer, baker, ship-builder, potter, saddler, farmer, tailor, umbrella-maker, and clergyman." He can do so many things, as we say. Surely that argues well on his behalf.

In fact, it is a perverse delight that our "first novel"—whatever that may finally mean—is a narrative told in the first person, and that for over half its length there is no other voice at all except that of a parrot that has been taught to say, among other things, "Poor Robinson Crusoe! Where are you? Where have you been? How came you here?" It is an exceptionally real story for contemporary lives, having no island, it is true, nor any hope that some passing ship will find them, their money still wadded, stored up, in boxes, banks, or what have you. But the isolation, the intense value of things (any things), the preoccupation with keeping busy so as to assuage loneliness, the foursquare application of brutally simplistic principles—these we know indeed. In a changing social and economic disposition of what we had presumed to know, we are also cast away, washed up, forced to learn rigorously altered manners and methods. We peer from suburban windows with much the same question as Crusoe, who, having come upon a human footprint in the sand after fifteen years of no one, "the very print of a foot, toes, heel, and every part of a foot," can find no relieving explanation. And what does that dilemma provoke as feeling?

 . . . after innumerable fluttering thoughts, like a man perfectly confused, and out of myself, I came home to my fortification, not feeling, as we say, the ground I went on, but terrified to the last degree, looking behind me at every two or three steps, mistaking every bush and tree, and fancying every stump at a distance to be a man; nor is it pos-


sible to describe how many various shapes affrighted imagination represented things to me in; how many wild ideas were formed every moment in my fancy, and what strange unaccountable whimsies came into my thoughts by the way.

It is, of course, a pervasive, displacing fear—that a balance, however ironic, a place, however confining, will be lost, violated. He has become so one that no other can be recognized as simply another, a peer, human company and solace. There must be a hierarchy in which one is above or below, dominates or is subservient, wins or loses. It is to the point that Crusoe now becomes successful, secures Friday as tacit slave, outwits both natives and mutineers, and so on to the requisite happy ending, whose moral has a peculiar authority for us, whatever we may say to the contrary. It is that faith reveals an advantageous "Providence," one willing to strike a bargain and to pay its supporters a handsomely explicit reward. Nor need one wait. The arrangement provides an immediate return.

Defoe had been long acquainted with these tenets, being a businessman of various successful ventures, if an eventual bankrupt. He was also a committed Dissenter, who supported himself by producing pamphlets and tracts on topics of the day. One in particular, The Shortest Way with the Dissenters , a harshly satiric hoax, proposes that the government rid itself of the dissident group by executions and exile. "If one severe law were made, and punctually executed, that whoever was found a conventicle shou'd be banish'd the nation and the preacher be hang'd, we shou'd soon see an end of the tale; they wou'd all come to church, and one age wou'd make us all one again." This remarkable confidence in irony caused him to be attacked by both sides.

One might think that his turning to fiction (or, more accurately, inventing it, even at fifty-nine) was so inspired. But during the five years of that activity—beginning with Robinson Crusoe (1719) and including Moll Flanders (1722), A Journal of the Plague Year (1722), and Roxana (1724)—he continued to produce essays and pamphlets, employment that had sustained him since his bankruptcy in 1692. What one suspects is that his brilliant powers of reflection, surmise, and proposal wanted a less constrained occasion. He certainly knew the particulars of the world. The novels gave him the chance to use that information most amply. For example, the frequent reports of shipwreck during the period, including that of Alexander Selkirk, whose story is said to be the one Defoe used in the writing of Robinson Crusoe , have characteristic recourse to


divine will. But the making of this specific person, this curious Puritan amalgam, proves something far more complex and enduring. Crusoe's presence—his cranky determinations, naively effective presumptions, insistently pragmatic values—much echoes in our own.

Not that we need reminding that the Puritan disposition of our culture is the bedrock for all else that may inform it. We are usually persuaded by appeals to our own advantage, find touch almost always difficult, suppose ourselves lonely yet are easily displaced by any presumption of another, have what we consider tender hearts while being capable of great social violence. Though we are patently secular, we have a sense of inherent righteousness, as if a god were truly on our side. So it is that in times of imminent national crisis—an election pending and foreign and domestic relationships in tatters—we can consider the issue of the legal status of prayer in the schools to be of paramount importance. Such ability to have overbearing purpose, no matter how fantastic, mistaken, or unpleasant, is both our apparent need and our insistent determination.

Various readers of this novel have proposed its narrative as an allegorical "quest," a searching after divine reconciliation and providence. Surely it is that, even explicitly. But again in a fascinating echo of our habits, it is difficult to say which comes first, the desire or the need, the hope or the advantage. Possibly these pairs are, in fact, one. Certainly they are for Robinson Crusoe. The poet Charles Olson used to say, when Wordsworth starts talking to his sister Dorothy in a poem, Look out! Because that's where he gets sententious, where he begins finger-wagging and generalizing. Just so "Poor Robin," whose apostrophes to the footprint as manifesting "Divine wisdom" are as tedious as might be expected and not at all convincing. He is, by his own statement, far more apprehensive of unidentified "savages" than he is of any "Devil." With a canny argument he proposes that the Devil would never put such a mark in such a remote place, "where 'twas ten thousand to one whether I should ever see it or not, and in the sand too. . . . Abundance of such things as these assisted to argue me out of all apprehensions of its being the Devil. And I presently concluded that it must be some more dangerous creature. . . ." Verily, a true pragmatist!

He is also a peculiar enthusiast, for having settled in Brazil as a planter after all the early vicissitudes of his foundering existence, he is easily persuaded to act as "supercargo" for the purpose of securing slaves from Guinea. He has been one himself, but of course his situation now defines him as otherwise, and he is inevitably


open to the opportunity of the moment. This voyage provides the setting for his shipwreck, and for what readers over the years have always remembered as the story: his years as a castaway, the meeting with Friday, and their eventual rescue.

The book begins, however, with as impressive a panegyric to stay-at-home middle-class sentiment as one might hope to find. The "middle state," Crusoe's father tells him, is "the state of life which all other people envied," "the just standard of true felicity." But Robin doesn't listen, and by the book's end he has gained an affluence far more than a "middle fortune" might be thought to provide. This depends on our reading the edition that includes the final three chapters, which describe Crusoe's adventures following his return.

Otherwise, we leave him at that moment when he "arrived in England the 11th of June, in the year 1687, having been thirty-and-five years absent." A haunting, equivocal prospect, either in mind or in fact, not only because the present may be discovered as a place of utter unfamiliarity but because the past, all those claustrophobically vast particulars of physical, daily existence, is fading as surely as all memory, all elsewhere that ever was. I suspect that this aspect of the book's experience, which is common to any book once we have done with reading it, haunts us more than is often the case.

Whatever paradigm or moral it may prove, the wonder of Robinson Crusoe finally is in its writing, the word-by-word accumulation of feeling, of location, of a fibrous content of presence. Ostensibly the voice is Crusoe's. But of course a person is writing it all, pacing, inventing, appropriating, determining each detail, what shall be its company, whereto all shall be directed. There is a paragraph just after Crusoe has managed to reach the shore:

After I had solaced my mind with the comfortable part of my condition I began to look around me to see what kind of place I was in, and what was next to be done, and I soon found my comforts abate, and that in a word I had a dreadful deliverance, for I was wet, had no clothes to shift me, nor anything to eat or drink to comfort me, neither did I see any prospect before me but that of perishing with hunger, or being devoured by wild beasts. And that which was particularly afflicting to me was, that I had no weapon either to hunt and kill any creature for my sustenance, or to defend myself against any other creature that might desire to kill me for theirs—in a word, I had nothing about me but a knife, a tobacco-pipe, and a little tobacco in a box. This was all my provision, and this threw me into terrible agonies of mind, that for awhile I ran about like a madman. Night coming


upon me, I began with heavy heart to consider what might be my lot if there were any ravenous beasts in that country, seeing at night they always come abroad for their prey.

As the last sentence emphasizes, it is what everyone knows—the stock-in-trade truths, the prejudices—that makes this work so solid, so reassuring, no matter what it tells us. The grace of its writing is so undemanding, so common. The genius, then, of Defoe's invention is this painstakingly accumulated person, who, as any one of us, believes he can know, and so lives.


Kenneth Koch's Selected Poems, 1950–1982

Selected Poems, 1950–1982 , by Kenneth Koch. New York: Vintage, Random House, 1985.

Inevitably people seem bemused by humor, if not actively offended. Kenneth Koch has paid the dues of that situation in a number of ways. He's presumed to be confident in his laughter and to be certain of company concerning what amuses him. Neither is very true at all. No one of my generation remembers more accurately or more fully the seemingly incredible grounds for taste and right thinking that our youth had to deal with. Reading the present collection—and I've read him persistently—I recognize once again the heroism of his particularizing anger and the consummately learned abilities that have enabled him "to play a game" of such lonely condition and "to be serious" in a way so hidden from usual habits of recognition.

John Ashbery knows it well, and goes his own brilliant way. Frank O'Hara was its obvious genius also, but his characteristic casualness was more sympathetically open to the randomly met. Kenneth Koch was shier and therefore, paradoxically, seemed more secure. But if one read "Fate," for example, or the truly extraordinary "To Marina," some sense of the actuating experience and risk must come through.

In any case, my delight in this poetry and respect for what he's got done, as this partial selection demonstrates so substantially, are

The Poetry Project News Letter (New York: The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, NYC, December 1985).


very great. For one thing, he never forgot where we all began, so that in the poems there is often a wildly parodic judgment of the cul-de-sacs of that time, the dead ends then so touted. He notes that he could not take excerpts from Ko and The Duplications —which is a shame in that their singular force as narrative—Kenneth as master of any shaggy dog that ever lived—may therefore be passed over. But he is a very conscious formalist and knows that such pieces as might be taken out would forfeit the whole, like they say.

His odes have always been terrific, especially in times of one's own self-serious immolation. "On Beauty" answers a question that Keats left as an insistent solipsism, however movingly. Reading, one gets not only signs of the time but a time so accurate you could set your watch by it. So the future is where it always will be, and the past an active present at least that doesn't have to wait till Christmas to be opened.

Years ago Kenneth read at a public gathering a poem he knows I like especially, probably because it is less overtly, subversively, funny: "Sleeping with Women." The sounds, rhythms, so gather in that poem, so quietly, physically. I guess I felt entirely safe with it. Now I'd like to say how much I've felt about all he's written—that it's kept the faith immensely, and the human world its own significant fact, in mind, in heart, in common.


Gone Fishing

A Day at the Beach , by Robert Grenier. New York: Roof Books, 1984.

What locates in us as "information" has a diversity of patterns, of grids, places of various impingement and authority. We know without the least obligation of wanting to, that the language itself "speaks" insistently in its own "system," of syntax, of community, of all those bits and pieces that conjoin to say far more than any one of us might either intend or be capable of stating conclusively. The simplest seeming proposals—in fact, any of those which begin with that singular pronoun "I"—fade in the immense condition of common place, that so-called "world" in which all of necessity has to find itself. Robert Grenier is a poet, therefore, of great interest because his work takes place at the double edge of hearing and saying things—"things" which are neither simply one nor many, nor material only, nor abstract, but the complex conjunction of all such, as it leaves and enters simultaneously A Day at the Beach .

That, of course, says it with awkward, generalizing emphasis. But I want the occasion of this writing explicit. There are no didactic grids of imposed location more than the title itself makes evident—that is, no formal poems more than the instant coherence of language itself or the complex of feelings, thoughts, that move to

The Poetry Project News Letter (New York: The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, NYC, December 1985).


make use of it—with humor, reflection, sadness at times, and all the consummate ability to hear and make evident the sounding of words themselves:


I think almost without limit

Here the playfulness of the echo, of rhythm, of sound, makes actual what "limit" is.

A Day at the Beach offers, then, a remarkably specific place, and its ground is quite substantial. If one values the act of thought as it feels the world evident, thinks of it , like they say, and listens, then this book will be pleasure indeed. I mused for years on the reputed Chinese apothegm, "How is it far if you think it?" In this book also, the wonder is in what is.


From the Language Poets

In the American Tree , edited by Ron Silliman. National Poetry Foundation, University of Maine at Orono, 1986.

Whatever poetry may prove to be at last, the very word (from the Greek poiein , "to make") determines a made thing, a construct, a literal system of words. We are, of course, far more likely to think of a poem as a pleasing sentiment, a lyric impulse, an expression of feeling that can engage the reader or listener in some intensive manner. But, whatever our disposition, it is well to remember that there is a diversity of "poetries" in our world.

As Ron Silliman, the articulate and resourceful editor of In the American Tree , puts it in his introduction to this significant anthology: "The more pertinent questions are what is the community being addressed in the writing, how does the writing participate in the constitution of this audience, and is it effective in doing so."

The Language Poets—a qualification with which all seem uneasy and which Jackson Mac Low, an elder poet of this company, discusses in this book with provocative clarity—have been a vivid presence on both coasts for some years. Particularly in San Francisco, they have served to engage active political dispositions as to what is the requisite "nature of poetry" and who or what significantly informs it.

They are certainly "experimental" if the mental of that word is to be taken seriously, and their mindedness is an especially attractive

San Francisco Chronicle Review , September 28, 1986.


feature of their various work. That is, they enjoy thinking, they like the thingness of language, they presume—I feel correctly—that "the government of the words" is a most critical factor in our lives "since it is," in William Carlos Williams' phrase, "of all governments the archetype."

Because of these preoccupations, they have at times been confused with the academic Structuralists and, without question, they share much information with this more institutionalized company. The people found here, while predominantly white, middle-class, etc., are not primarily teachers; and, when they are, they are not of the authorized kind, as the "Contributors" information concerning Robert Grenier's background makes most clear. That is, although he would seem to have appropriate credentials, he cannot find a job.

I find it fascinating that they are such a self-determined "voice" from an otherwise all too silent majority these days—one which, seemingly, makes few moves of its own initiation. The parallel for the company here may well be the wunderkind of computer technology, or anyone who has made a determined response to the extraordinarily rapid shifts in the epistemological base—our fund of and access to what we once called "knowledge" but would now think of more often as "information."

Therefore, a great deal of the writing has active rapport with the resources that the system of language itself provides and plays upon patterns of syntax and reference with remarkable effect. Yet, in his introduction, Silliman emphasizes that such effects are not the final concern here but rather "what, in the last part of the twentieth century, it means to be human."

Put as useful parallel, language poet Charles Bernstein's point in "Writing and Method," his essay included here, makes much sense: "For both poetry and philosophy, the order of the elements of a discourse is value constituting and indeed experience engendering, and therefore always at issue, never assumable." The whole essay is well worth reading for its unique clarity and the compact summary of usual models of reading/writing relationship that it includes.

Certainly one will have favorites and I have a lot of them here, as it happens: Robert Grenier and Charles Bernstein, and also Barrett Watten, David Bromige, Fanny Howe, Susan Howe, Stephen Rodefer, Bernadette Mayer, Bob Perelman, and others. Michael Palmer's "Echo" must be, surely, one of the great poems of the period, just as Clark Coolidge's work is now a contemporary classic.


But that all sounds too much like chitchat at some gallery opening, however heartfelt. Trying to say why I value this work so much, I thought of Bob Dylan's "There must be some way out of this . . . ," this terrifying impasse of imagined worlds and all the language that has created them. The brilliance of the writers collected here is not simply literary. Their response to the world, however demanding, is intently communal. They are asking—often with great wit and heart—that we recognize that language itself is real and we must learn to live in its complex places.


A True Poet

All true poets are gay, fantastically humorous

There is insistent particularity to the writing of Patrick Kavanagh, a wiseness of local reference, as one says, whereby to locate the time, place, and person of all that may occur. As young men, we were long warned by Pound to go in fear of generality: "Any tendency to abstract, general statement is a greased slide. . . ." Of course, such concern might be set aside if the subject were love or war or our own immaculate feelings, yet it was clearly a help to know in some respect that it was ourselves we were talking about. The lure of meaning forever invites us surely.

I came to Kavanagh's poetry late, rather dumbly considering one is finally responsible for one's own information. It was the year he died, 1967, after his having been at the International Poetry Festival in London in July. Charles Olson had been there also, as had Ungaretti and Auden and others one might expect. There is an "Addendum" which his brother, Peter Kavanagh, includes as a small blue sheet in the present edition of The Complete Poems of Patrick Kavanagh (1972), happily reminiscent:

But since the arrival of the Beatles and the Stones
Anything goes

Patrick Kavanagh, ed., Patrick Kavanagh: Man and Poet (Orono, Me.: National Poetry Foundation, 1986).


And I am glad
That freedom is mad
Dancing with pot
Hurray hurray
I say
For this beautiful day.
(Extempore at Poetry International '67,
London, 14th July 1967)

Some time after, I'd asked Olson what he had thought of the festival and who had impressed him. Just two, as it happens: Kavanagh and Ungaretti. In the usual welter of professional and/or political maneuvering these two, he said, could make of the weather, or any such fact of common, human experience, a profoundly simple, wondrous music. Those are my words, of course, but it was his point that they were so unambitious to be apart, singular, different, and that what they said, the so-called subjects of their poems, was so plainly evident, open to all. Best that one give an instance:

The Ploughman

In these small fields
I have known the delight
Of being reborn each morning
And dying each night.

And I can tell
That birth and death
Are nothing so fierce
As the Preacher saith.

But when life's but a day
The womb and the tomb
Press lips in fondness
Like bride and groom

And when a man's a ploughman
As I am now
And age is a furrow
And Time a plough,

And Infinity a field
That cannot stretch
Over the drain
Or through the ditch.

One's heard much of the attractiveness of Irish speech, of the gift of the gab, which is certainly to the point with respect to any poetry,


i.e., it helps. Kavanagh, it would seem, never shifts an accent or a movement against the common pattern of saying it, and his rhythms keep sensible to this measure whether placed in an explicit form or permitted to range more at will (as in the "Extempore" quoted):

Bicycles scoot by, old women
Cling to the grass margin
Their thoughts are earthy but their minds move
In dreams of the Blessed Virgin
For one in Bethlehem
Has kept their dreams safe for them. . . .
("Christmas Eve Remembered")

Reading this, curious parallels come to mind, widely divergent in time perhaps, but of the same kind as best I understand it: Villon, in the relaxed seeming doggerel which has such power of canny wit; or, much later, Tristan Corbière, specifically, "The Ballad of the Good Saint Anne" (which I first read in Pound's quotation of it in Make It New ); or my own contemporary, Irving Layton, "The Madonna of the Magnificat," for example. Burns, Heine, Skelton—that is, a tone , a prosody intimate with a voice speaking so that whatever is said with whatever result, that way of speaking is instantly clear. When it can engage a whole people's communal language, it becomes its collective power of expression, to put it mildly. If, as years go by and one gets older, there can be no transcendent resolution, or none more than a literal accommodation and the humor that permits it, then that is the truth of the power as well. It does not change things, so to speak, it reveals them. So Auden says rightly, that poetry makes nothing happen unless one consider such revelation a contradiction of his comment.

Apropos, I was impressed by Kavanagh's great care for Auden, putting him in company with Shakespeare, Dickens, Homer, and Swift. There would seem little in common between the Irishman's roots, as he puts it, in "the usual barbaric life of the Irish country poor" and the urbane Englishman's. Yet one hears the common voice in each case, and Auden has what Kavanagh most values, an insatiable appetite for all the possibilities that poetry offers: "A great poet is a monster who eats up everything. Shakespeare left nothing for those who came after him and it looks as if Auden is doing the same." More, "He is amoral" by which he means, beyond the limits of teaching or the hope to add "anything to life," and there is, finally, "no message but only energy," "detached from this


earth-bewitchment" as Blake or Pope, Swift, Cervantes, Homer. "For comedy is detachment, the view from above" ("Auden and the Creative Mind," Collected Prose , 1967).

It's proposed often that Kavanagh's most impressive work is "The Great Hunger," and one can understand why—given the limits of such choice. The poem, in fourteen sections, is the relentless narrative of a classic peasant small farmer, Patrick Maguire, whose locked, bleak life is given us without the relief of broad humor or generalizing satire. It is all too true, like they say, and what irony one finds is of acid clarity, only making the point drive home the more. As life increasingly passes him by, his last hope becomes thus meager:

The schoolgirls passed his house laughing every morning
And sometimes they spoke to him familiarly—
He had an idea. Schoolgirls of thirteen
Would see no political intrigue in an old man's friendship.
The heifer waiting to be nosed by the old bull.
That notion passed too—there was danger of talk
And jails are narrower than the five-sod ridge
And colder than the black hills facing Armagh in February.
He sinned over the warm ashes again and his crime
The law's long arm could not serve with "time."

Later Kavanagh spoke of the work with a reservation, namely that though there were "some queer and terrible things" in it, it lacked "the nobility and repose of poetry." He says this in a piece called Self Portrait , initially a television script. What he says also is of much use:

There are two kinds of simplicity, the simplicity of going away and the simplicity of return. The last is the ultimate in sophistication. In the final simplicity we don't care whether we appear foolish or not. We talk of things that earlier would embarrass. We are satisfied with being ourselves, however small. So it was that on the banks of the Grand Canal between Baggot Street and Leeson Street bridges in the warm summer of 1955, I lay and watched the green waters of the canal. I had just come out of hospital. I wrote:

Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal
Grow with nature again as before I grew. . . .

—and so in this moment of great daring I became a poet.


So too, at this point it would be tacitly useless to insist more than can one final quote from "The Wonders of Love," a late poem:

Do not delay, for the moon
Will be round at our back window soon
And we will see the cool sheaves
Of wheat with its golden believes
And plenty of room for a prayer
As gay and as wild as we are.
It is not a joke that I make,
I labour for happiness sake
And I ask you to dance with your thought
For all other pleasure is not.


Preface to The Leafless American

by Edward Dahlberg

The immense loneliness of this country's people has been an insistent preoccupation of its most articulate and characteristic writers. One thinks of the various heroes of Edward Dahlberg's imagination, Melville, Dickinson, Poe, and Thoreau among them. Even Whitman's great "epic" is the self's cry de profundis for an annealing company.

In his introduction to Dahlberg's initial book, Bottom Dogs (1930), D. H. Lawrence emphasized the great price Americans had had to pay for the settling of "the New World": "America was not colonized and 'civilized' until the heart was broken in the American pioneers. It was the price that was paid. The heart was broken. But the will, the determination to conquer the land and make it submit to productivity, this was not broken. The will-to-success and the will-to-produce become clean and indomitable once the sympathetic heart was broken." The very title of this present book and the poem from which it is taken make the same emphasis: "Homeless, denatured ghost of many/ leafy races, where do you blow? who/will gather you up?"

It may be that there is truly no hope for any one of us until we remember, literally, this scarified and dislocated place we presume humanly to come from, whether the body of ground we claim as home or the physical body itself, which we have also all but lost. Dahlberg has made this determined gesture of renewal and recog-

Edward Dahlberg, The Leafless American and Other Writings , ed. and with an Introduction by Robert Billings (New Paltz, N.Y.: McPherson, 1986).


nition again and again in his work, and if he is, as some feel, the necessary Job of our collective American letters, he is also a resourceful friend to any who would attempt their own instruction and survival in the bedlam of contemporary life.

Because we have neither a history simply available to us nor the resource of a community underlying our acts, no matter their individual supposition or nature, we work in singular isolation as writers in this country. Unlike our European counterparts who work in modes and with words long established by a communal practice and habit, we have had to invent a syntax and address appropriate to the nature of our situation as "the last first people," in Charles Olson's phrase from his work on Melville, Call Me Ishmael , a text with which Dahlberg was much involved as it happens. Therefore the extraordinary rhetorical resources of Dahlberg's writing are intensively American in nature and uniquely willed by the needs of the writer himself to fashion a world of significant human value and practice.

In like sense his irritation with and attacks on this country's binding Puritanism are focussed upon the loss of a physical life, an ability to respond sexually without guilt or confusion, to admit the body itself as actual. When he proposes "Our history is the tragedy of separation," it is "separation" in all respects, from place, from person, but most of all from one's own self.

But I presume far too much upon the eloquence of this writer's genius, and it is far better that one read him directly, much as one might a friend's significant experience and advice, rather than as my point of view, however admiring. He has much to say to us.

Waldoboro, Maine
July 16, 1986


Foreword to The Collected Poems of Marsden Hartley

Years ago, when I was importuning the ever generous Dr. Williams for some contribution to The Black Mountain Review , he sent me, among other things, "Two Pieces," the first of which was called "Beginnings: Marsden Hartley." "Beginnings" of what, I wanted to know—of Hartley's extraordinary genius as an artist? of a time in the world? of Williams' own insistent flowering? Characteristically there was no simple focus, but the details and the affection are very moving:

In one way I am not at all the man to write of Marsden Hartley. I know nothing of his sea-going ancestors, his down-east background. For that very reason, perhaps, since he spent his life, while I knew him, in an escape from that, seeking as a painter of pictures, to follow a life not as far removed from his hereditary one as might on the surface be indicated, I knew this phase and sympathised with him in it. He was in addition a poet, a writer with a delightful prose style which fascinated me. Besides I had had a father of the same remotely English blood who looked like Hartley, at least to the length of his nose, a nose, Dad used to say like the Duke of Wellington, a Roman . . .

One finds the same tone of warm respect in the way Williams remembers him in the Autobiography , clearly a man he was much attracted to over the years.

It is Hartley who brought together Williams and Robert McAlmon, which meeting led to an intensive friendship and the crucial

The Collected Poems of Marsden Hartley, 1904–1943 , ed. Gail R. Scott (Santa Rosa, Calif.: Black Sun Press, 1987).


magazine Contact . Hartley contributed to its first issue. Again and again Hartley shows up, so to speak, in the annals of the period as when one reads this passing reference to him qua explanation in Gertrude Stein's The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas:

We were fond of Rönnebeck [a German sculptor who was Hartley's particular friend at this time] and besides the first time he came to the house he quoted some of Gertrude Stein's recent work to her. She had loaned some manuscript to Marsden Hartley. It was the first time that anyone had quoted her work to her and she naturally liked it . . .

His rapport with active contemporaries is very impressive and they range from John Reed to Alfred Stieglitz, his primary dealer at 291 (1909). There is a lovely snapshot of him sitting with Pound and Léger at the Dôme in Paris, 1924. A year earlier his first book, Twenty-Five Poems , had been published in the same city by McAlmon as the Contact Publishing Company, whose other ventures included early work by Stein and Hemingway. He appears in the definitive journals of the time, Others, Poetry, The Dial, The Little Review , et al. Yet such a simple image of success is deceptive, and some sense that he shares in the intensive literary definitions of the period—as do Pound, Williams, Marianne Moore, Stein or yet another friend, Hart Crane—would be untrue.

Hartley's poetry is specifically personal, an expression of feeling, a various response to the world out there he feels he can afford. It is also, in Emily Dickinson's words, his "letter to the World/ That never wrote to Me— . . ." Recalling the painful situation of his childhood in Maine—born in Lewiston, his mother died when he was eight, and four years later, after marrying Martha Marsden (the source of Hartley's subsequent first name, to which he changed from Edmund in 1906), his father moves to join family in Cleveland, leaving Hartley with an older sister in Auburn, whose own family he not long after helps to support by leaving school early and getting a job in a nearby shoe factory at $3.00 a week—one must think that his art, no matter its sources otherwise or its exceptional gifts, has a great deal to do with what one can call, albeit loosely, compensation, an attempt to gain psychological respite or balance. For example, the family itself as a human term had almost fetishistic resonance for him as a letter of an old friend, Adelaide Kuntz, makes clear:

The last time I saw Marsden was on a hot summer Sunday late afternoon, just before he set off on his last visit to Maine. He had lingered late in town as if loathe to depart and as if saying many wordless


goodbyes. We met by chance in the Museum of Modern Art and I had with me my son, then sixteen, whom he had known from the time he was born, but had not seen for almost a year because the boy had been away at school. Marsden was overjoyed to see him again, and now almost a man, and very formally invited us to dinner "out of doors on a terrace." He finally decided to take us to the roof of his hotel, where we dined in the sunset overlooking "the towers of New York" which he loved. He seemed completely happy and proudly introduced us to some of the inhabitants of the hotel as we went to and from our table. "Now they can see that I am not just that weird lonely man they have thought, but that I have a family too—May I call you that?" It was infinitely touching to me, especially as I sensed his pride in being able at last, after all the years of fear of spending, to entertain his friends with some lavishness. I shall always remember him like that, with his extraordinary gaze steadfast under the glow of the late sun in his face . . .

The prosody of Hartley's poems is also "personal," which is to say, it is primarily his own invention, the heightening of a prose line so that it can move with the flexibility of music (which he loved indeed). The way he turns in (plows under , I want to say!) rhyming is fascinating in its effects, and his ear for cadence, especially in the late poems, is very articulate:

When the surf licks with its tongues
these volcanic personal shapes, which we,
defining for ourselves as rocks, accept
them as such, at its feverish incoming—
isn't it too, in its way, something like
the plain image of life?
Those restless entities disturbing solid
substances with a curious, irrelevant,
common fret— . . .
("Indian Point")

I recall first seeing this poem sandwiched in between those of Eliot and Robinson Jeffers in Conrad Aiken's Modern Library anthology, Twentieth Century American Poetry (1944), and finding it then, as now, unique.

Hartley emphasized markedly the objective resources of art, both in painting and in poetry. He was defensive concerning any sense that art came of itself, without an intensely conscious deliberation. Yet in a 1941 letter to McAlmon he writes: "All my poems are written first draft and left." That apparent ambivalence as to


whether one's art is deliberately or intuitively made is especially familiar to American artists, and the more so if, like Hartley, a large part of their background has been self-taught. His training as a painter was one thing, but as a poet he had only his own interests and instinct to guide him, and he clearly felt a vulnerability pertaining. However, his feelings are never absent in any instance of his art and like his hero, Walt Whitman, he so places himself in his poems that "Who touches this book touches a man . . ." As he says in "The Business of Poetry," a magnificently various discussion which he published in Poetry in 1919: "We present ourselves in spite of ourselves."

It is, then, this curious, reflecting voice that becomes so moving. Its authenticity, of course, is immense and it is both intensely local and universal at one and the same time. Its size is intently human, thinking the world into meaning, piece by piece. Again his friend, Mrs. Kuntz, says it most aptly:

He was not really a talkative man—but he saw more with his blazing blue eyes than anyone I ever knew, and he thought constantly and he wrote a great deal. His mind functioned with little rest—he told me once that he always kept pencil and paper by his bedside and that when he woke in the night and couldn't sleep, he could write down what he was thinking. Marsden Hartley was an honorable man, a really loyal friend . . .

Here he can speak for himself.

Waldoboro, Maine
July 30, 1986


Foreword to Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction

by Martín Espada

The common disposition toward poetry has been long schooled by determinations of privilege and similar academic investment. So taught, it colonizes in the strictest of senses, patronizing its hosts, exploiting the common ground of human feeling for isolating details of style or taste. So again in school we learned of its difficulties only, the oblique reference of its superior information, the presumptive authority of its diffident gestures. Thus qualified, poetry became a markedly foreign world, both alien and alienating, and we were rarely if ever its people. It would not speak to us and we were finally ignorant of its ironic language.

But the actual world, thankfully, is one in which a plurality of poetries exists—not simply this one, or any such one , but many. The poet William Carlos Williams puts it most compactly: "Therefore each speech having its own character the poetry it engenders will be peculiar to that speech also in its own intrinsic form. . . ." Whitman had said that to have great poets, one needed great audiences—those who might hear intimately, intensely, the common voice in the singular person. The point is that this art can never leave the common body of its own communal life. It is not an I but "the wind that blows through me," as D. H. Lawrence has written.

Martín Espada is a poet of great communal power and he is also, with equal resource, the voice of intensive isolation. He says, for example, that he began to write as an adolescent because "nothing

Martín Espada, Trumpets from the Islands of Their Eviction (Tempe, Ariz.: Bilingual Press, 1987).


matched me." Small wonder that he felt so when one recognizes that after his family leaves the projects in Brooklyn—he is then about thirteen—their various locations (Valley Stream, Long Island, several towns in Maryland) are far removed from the communal habits of their Brooklyn neighborhood, whatever its limits had been. Racism becomes an insistent qualification and response insofar as these new communities are instance of "White Flight," i.e., a social migration of the period formed by those wishing to maintain a racial privilege. In these malignant camps of entrenched prejudice, Espada feels "less and less in touch."

So, expectably, Espada says that it is the resulting sense of dislocation that moves him to write, but he also proposes that this experience of being an outcast is literally the determinant in all Puerto Rican immigrant life. It's an old saying that a Puerto Rican spends more time in the air than on the ground. Harshly, complexly, "The Spanish of Our Out-Loud Dreams" makes clear with consummate tenderness the irrevocable transitions, seemingly without end:

 . . . Last night you cried,
your black eyes shimmering darker
than the room
where we tried to sleep,
crying like your father cried
when you pulled away
from the hospital bed,
and for all the nights
we have wandered with stuffed bags,
not staying long enough
to learn the language . . .

As he said of this poem, it is the insistent theme of migration, "The Spanish, etc. The third verse is really what it's all about."

The book's title poem is, of course, the complement, the "islands," the places left, or that one is going to, or has come to, or is leaving. He says wryly, "We're always being evicted. The 'trumpets' are our resistance to that, through identity, or more actively."

He is by no means an old man—twenty-eight—and yet his life has been so many determining places. Like the University of Maryland, where courses in creative writing and modern poetry make clear that "whatever I'm writing, it's not this." He stops writing for three or four years, he says. He has no models at first. "I didn't


know it had a name." Certainly not those offered—Yeats, Eliot, Crane, Stevens—if the active terms and reference of his experience are to be respected and used. Finally, when he's about twenty and living elsewhere, a friend, Luis Garden Acosta, gives him a copy of Latin American Revolutionary Poetry (edited by Roberto Márquez and printed bilingually) with Pedro Pietri's classic poem of Puerto Rican community, "Puerto Rican Obituary," facing Ernesto Cardenal's rehearsal of Somozan corruption, "Zero Hour." "And the spark was lit. . . ." The connection: "People can write about substantial subjects. . . ."

At this point the father, Frank Espada, is an intensive key, I think. One can see, in fact, the bridge his life makes as definition for his son's in the title poem but even more complexly in the poem on the grandfather's death, "El señor está muerto": "son's body huge with a father's life." In turn, it is the literal community and person of Frank Espada which so invests his own son's commitment. It is his father's family and relationships that preoccupy the son finally. His father is a gifted photographer with determined political address and some of his work appears as an active complement to the poems in Espada's first book, The Immigrant Iceboy's Bolero (1982). He makes the point that his poetry "is always about more than me" and that it insists on the outside , echoing emotionally, politically, and esthetically determinants in the father's own life. He speaks of the fact that his father's photographs were "always on the wall" despite there being long periods of inactivity, and that he sees himself as a "black and white" poet, for whom the principal agencies are foregrounding and shadow.

There is also the sense of advocacy —it is such a pervasive voice in this writing!—that Espada has in so many ways engaged. Thinking again of those "determining places": as a student at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, his interests are history (this is the major for the BA he holds, and it contributes curious data, as he says, such as the fact that Douglas MacArthur and Carl Sandburg both served in the US Army in Puerto Rico), radio journalism (a three-part documentary made in 1982 from material gathered in Nicaragua and broadcast on National Public Radio and elsewhere is an early national advice of circumstances there), and film—ultimately too expensive. And poetry. His first reading is at a bar in Madison where he also works as a bouncer.

But the job of most significance would seem the one he falls into by chance while working as a clerk in the state mental health sys-


tem. The lawyer who had been responsible for representing the rights of patients leaves unexpectedly for a better job. So Martín Espada becomes the whole Advocacy Pool, simply because there is no one else so trained or at all interested. He had dropped out of college at this point, had just turned twenty—and must have been in some common crisis as to what his own life was finally to be. In any case, he "soon knew the statutes cold," as he put it, "Chapter 51.61: The Patient's Bill of Rights."

Again, advocacy is the crucial term—"speaking or writing in support (of something)" as the dictionary defines it. But the meaning is more active in Espada's own qualification: "persuasion, making the case, putting it in human terms, quoting directly from the people. . . ." He says of the poem "La tormenta" that it's a translation in part from the young boy ("A boy with wide ears / and one shirt, / he walked across Guatemala, / México and Arizona to get here . . . He wants to be called Tony / in the United States . . .") who was "quite mad. . . ." La muerte es una tormenta . "I couldn't say that, only he could say that. . . ."

As of this writing [April 1986] Martín Espada works as a lawyer for the META project in Cambridge, an organization involved with the legal context of civil rights for immigrants and with bilingual education laws in particular. He also teaches poetry to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at the Agassiz School in Cambridge, a very different world indeed. No doubt it is poetry itself he speaks in defense of—or simply makes real for the beleaguered young. That he's a lawyer too must amaze them—with a three piece suit! Perhaps he can save us all.

Whatever their circumstances poets make a world, piece by piece, as best they can. Those most able are most ample—like Pablo Neruda, a particular hero of Espada's. When the distances become inexorable, the language disjunct, the place and person lost in meager time and circumstance, when all that's left is what one can finally say of it (or anything), then painfully, particularly, poets remember, put back together the broken fragments of the dismembered community. It is the power and the glory of their art. It is also why there is not one singularizing poetry but rather a host of annealing and restoring poets, who are as related to the people as ever the people might be, in turn, to them. When one first hears the voice of Espada's poems, the determined dignity, the intense, quiet care, when the cadence of the language makes a movement having no didactic metric, rather a pace, an undulation, a way of


intent walking, or feeling, then one recognizes the presence of this power, which no one owns but some may and can have, as does he. One wishes him safe journey.

Ithaca, New York
April 1986


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