Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Proof!

My final proofs arrived yesterday. I am going through the normal stages of proof grief. Elelation, abject horror, confusion and overwhelming, denial, and acceptance.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

& Two Days To This

Jorie Graham, Part One

Jorie Graham begin The Errancy with some of my favorite contemporary poetry lines:

Shall I move the flowers again?
Shall I put them further to the left
into the light?
Will that fix it, will that arrange the
Yellow sky.

Of all the poets I have read, I think Graham has been the one who has influenced my work the most. For me, Graham was love at first sight -- or rather love at first hearing. She read a a small church at Harvard with Ashbery and one other famous artist/poet whose name escapes me. The reading was so packed that about 100 people where turned away. However, they broadcast the reading live into Harvard Yard. Anyone who has heard Graham's voice is aware of the sulty sexiness of it. I was addicted. I immediately ran to the bookstore (which was open until 11 PM) and bought Dream of the Unified Field. Ahhh, what bliss.

What attracts me to Graham so much is so hard to explain. First, I feel like I might have to defend my passion. I rarely hear any one of my contemporaries mention Graham. My feeling is that it is probably unpopualr to like her. First, there is the entire scandel of her picking one of her students for a book prize and the backlash against her because of it. (As if that has never happened with any other poets before!) Then, there is the thing of Graham being a poet perpetually blessed with luck: education in Europe, marriage into the Graham family, books from Ecco, and jobs at Iowa and Harvard (just to name a few). I would argue, however, that when I think of poets that have maintained this attention in America (Pinsky, Garrison, Kooser, and so on) Graham certainly deserves where she has gotten. I mean, she CAN write!

What attracts me to Graham's work is how it moves easily between the obscured and clear. It does have a narrative, but, unlike Kooser's work that I read today, the narrative isn't easily apparent. The reader has to work at these poems, she has to swim through them.

The Hood River Oregon library doesn't have much in the way of poetry books, but here's what I did get:

Ted Kooser
James Wright (as per Andrea and Chris)
Jorie Graham -- who I will write about shortly
Eaven Boland
Meanwhile, I am page 555 of Of Human Bondage

& here is the view:

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's up!

Hello Friends,

We have a new issue of SES hot off the press.

Poets include
Nancy Kuhl
Michael Leong
Changming Yuan
Jason Fraley
David Wolach
Jennifer Firestone
Maryrose Larkin
Larissa Shmailo
Translation of Dante by Anna Akhmatova
Susanna Fry
Kristin Abraham
Carolyn Guinzio
Meredith Quartermain
Stephanie Strickland
Gil Fagian


Now, it's time for vacation!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Talking Poetry

The Pride Festivities waylayed me from poetry momentarily.

In Lisa's class, we've been looking at Tom Raworth's website website and old copies of InFolio magazine. Infolio, if I'm not mistaken, Infolio was supposed to be a daily and included everyone. The mention of Raworth led me, as many things do, back to my father's seminal book "Talking Poetry." It wan't until I was in graduate school that I really delved into "Talking Poetry." I did my master's lecture on So-Called Language Poetry. This was sort of a rebellious act, as I went to a narrative school, Vermont College (after being rejected from Bard & Brown). Vermont College struck me as a school in which I strongly did and did not fit in....but that's another story.

"Talking Poetry" carried me though my work. Published in the 1980's it includes essays by Clark Coolridge, Theodore Enslin, Clayton Eshleman, William Everson, Thom Gunn, Kenneth Irby, Michael Palmer, Tom Raworth, Ishmael Reed, Stephen Rodefer, Nathaniel Tarn, Diane Wakoski, and Anne Waldman. Someone at Vermont stole my paperback copy, so I have my dad's hardback. Glued on the back page is a note from Diane Wakoski that says, "To Lee, who has helped contemporary poetry more than anyone I know." The book is out-of-print, but you can get it on Amazon.

The entire East Coast, West Coast Poetics have always been a disappointment to me. It bothers me that my father, Bill Everson, and even poets like Michael Palmer (who started in the East as George Michael Palmer) are laregly dismissed by Easterners.

Recent books & News From the Factory

We are slowly inching toward vacation. The new issue of Saint Elizabeth Street should be launched tommorrow morning. I will keep you posted.

I recently dipped into a number of books. I love CD Wright's Tremble. I think Wright has enormous talent. Although not all the poems caught my interest, the lion's share of the book is good in some way. I was also proud of myself for reconizing a reference to Michael Palmer in a poem called Lake Echo (See Notes for Echo Lake). I also have an homage to the Palmer piece in a long unfinished poem called Notes for Los Alamos. I also peeked into Rachel Zucker's two books. I think Rachel's poem of childbirth should be required reading for pregnant families. I think they should give it out in Lamaze class! It provides such a lyrical, real portrait of what it means to give birth. Strangely, I liked Rachel's first book better than the second, although I still enjoyed Eating the Underworld. For me, books based on myth are difficult because I feel like you have to bring so much knowledge to the plate, and I am so lacking in mythical history. I also, credit to Lisa Jarnot, discovered George Oppen. Oppen is probably one of the best poets that ever lived. If you haven't read him, you're missing out. I didn't like Simic's Hotel Insomnia. It left me feeling empty handed. The same for the few James Wright poems that I read. Wright, who I discovered via Anne Sexton's biography, strikes me as a lesser Pinsky or Kunitz.

We are nearing the end of The L Word. Other than good outfits and girls cute enough to make a straight girl gay, this show doesn't have much substance. But there was this one scene....Tina and Bett have a baby. Since Tina is the birth mother, Bett has to apply to the state to legally adopt the child. This is intense enough. But then, the state worker who does a family visit with them uses a wheelchair AND she is a complete bitch. She is prejudice and harsh and ridiculous. Then, Alice comes crashing in and hits the woman's car. Alice says, "Why can't you have a 'normal' car." This is layers and layers of prejudice. It shows how people who are considered outsiders from the norm are still prejudice toward OTHER outsiders. Not to mention that people with disabilities are supposed to be cheery and nice.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Review of case sensitive by Kate Greenstreet

A fine definition for Kate Greenstreets first collection, case sensitive, can be found within the text:

What is the appeal of a mystery? Someone is looking for something,/actively.

case sensitive uncovers the mystery of the ordinariness of life unfolding. In most parts of the book, Greenstreet shows a talent at balancing the best type of poetry just enough narrative to ground the reader, just enough strong, lyrical language to make the reader want to know this narrative.

Although I may be mistranslating, I feel as if I know exactly what Greenstreet means when she writes:

I believe we need light

inside the body:


“Taking turns
as the groaning, screaming woman.

And as the nurse
who brought the doll. It gets more like this.

What child has not played at the adult world? Then, grows up to find that the
complexities of this world are, as my father likes to say, endless. While Greenstreet probably doesn't mean these lines to refer to childrearing, they certainly could. I have not read such an accurate description of motherhood since Woolf's frustrated mother in To the Lighthouse. Interestingly, neither women have children. How can they be so right on the money?

case sensitive's testament to the magic of ordinariness is carried further in the second section of the book [Salt]. Greenstreet writes around a most common, boring household item. And one we couldn't live without! Each opening quote is taken from Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky.

I love the odd vastness of Greenstreet's influences. In other parts, Greenstreet quotes or mentions my three favorite artists: Basquiat, Lorine Niedecker and Agnes Martin: the latter two of which were/are two grossly underrated geniuses. Be honest, how many people do you know who've read Corman and Niedecker's letters? On can see traces of these womenÂ’s work in Greenstreet's. Work that relies heavily, if not exclusively, on subtly.

I am largely disinterested in humor in poetry. Humor in poetry is largely displaced. As trite as it might sound, I want poetry to tell the human condition, and/or to stretch the language to its full potential. Ironically, that is why I think the moments of humor in GreenstreetÂ’s book works. Andrea Baker once said something to the effect that Frank O'Hara makes humor an element of his poetry, but it doesn'intregity the integity of the poem. I think this applies to Greenstreet who uses humor in spots, but never slips into the easiness of making the poem a joke.

From Book of Love:

“Then the aliens come

and take our planet
and eat our food
and talk the world time about the better food they had on other planets.”

Barely two pages later, she flows easily back:

what connects us
to the Saints;

The only issue I have about case sensitive is that it could be edited down a bit, and/or perhaps transformed into two books. Greenstreet has said that the book is comprised of five chapbooks. At 117 pages, case sensitive is quite a bit longer than the average introductory poetry book. There also seems to be a dichotomy in the book. Most of the poems rely on the strength of Greenstreet's talent for mixing lyricism and narrative. However, some poems, particularly those in Book of Love and Diplomacy slip into a modern obliqueness than I can not connect with. The poem "informant" begins:

"If x = x,
y =x,
abc = x, etc."

I confess to being alone in this opinion, however. Currently, it seems, many small journals are having a backlash against lyricism and obliqueness in perferred. I do think that, in poetry, beauty has to be number one. And, for the most part, Greenstreet gives it.

In Great Women of Science and Salt the reader meets interesting characters.

I want to know more about the lover who sits around wondering

"when the Bronze Age was."

The person who drives away from their lover to stay under
"half a neon cowboy"


"ripped out everything: shelves, cabinets, wallboard."

Most of all, I'm smitten with the strange mother who, at turns, cries, sleeps, and
needs constant attention from her daughter - who gives it to her.

"I was icing this cake for her,
but it was crumbling
(It wasn't a very good-looking cake.)"

While the last two "chapters" are not as interesting as the first two, Greenstreet does return to the characters a bit. She also ends with some moments of (as Nan Goldin mind say) "High Art." The one political poem in the book "If water covers the road" is sensitive and poinent. The final prose poems are lovely and engaging. Best of all are philosophical thoughts about memory on the last page (which you will have to buy the book to read).

Finally, if you have never heard Greenstreet read, I highly recommend it. Matthew Hendrickson wrote (on his blog) of her reading,

"Kate is about the best damn reader of poems I've heard......Greenstreets voice, like this poetry is steadfast and dead pane. It is, at turns, like case sensitive, lyrical, narrative, mysterious, and full of wit."

That about says it.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Poetics of Smallmindness

I am finding that poetry is more and more the opposite of what I think it should be. One of my definitions of poetry would be that it is a place to expand our minds.

Instead, so many poets work so hard to make "poetry" an exclusive place that is so hard to get into. The Language Poets hate the St. Marks Poets. The Iowa Poets hate everyone. So many people want to lay claim to the word experiemental, but that word really has no meaning anymore. What is "experimental?" Is it Stein, Fanny Howe, Clark Coolridge, Jorie Graham, Norma Cole? One could give a concrete argument for why each of these poets would or wouldn't be called experimental. In his time. Eliot was certainly experimental....and what's so great about that tiny word anyway? Robert Hass, Stanley Kunitz, Anna Ahkmatova, and Denise Levertov are/were all great poets too, and they're not the "e" word.

There was a uncomfortable moment in my workshop last week when a guy I really like suggested that I read Simic. He looked at another guy waiting for the critical ax to fall. Then, he second guessed himself saying that he knows it's not cool to like Simic. That is the rub. Many people have divided poetry into what's cool and what's not. There's an agreed upon system that everyone must adhere. But this is so sophmoric. The great poets (like Ginsberg) read everything. Some poets (like Everson) never read poetry at all. His library was full of non-fiction. Also, I was saddened because a poetry blog I like to read was made private. What is that all about? I thought people wanted readers. Or perhaps the reasoning is like the "I'm not a plastic bag" bag. If you make yourself into a hot item, people will wait in line for you.

I wish, for one week, everyone would go read the opposite poet of whom they normally read. I think the world would be a better place.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


In addition to reading, we have been making progress here at the factory. We are leaving on Thursday for Oregon. If you rob our house, please take our cats with you! Only one of them isn't toilet trained. I'm not telling which one.

The boys are hoping to ride bikes, hike, and swim. I'm looking forward to buying clogs, going to Powell's small press shelf, and seeing Rufus in concert in his favorite town.

We will have the long awaited new issue of SES up and running before we leave. Our [still nameless] reading series will start in Sept at WORD with a reading by Kristin Prevellet. In October, we're hoping to host Jennifee Knox and Shanna Compton, with my own book party soon to follow. We are hoping to have our tribute to Gene Frumkin compiled and up by September. The librarian interviews are still in the works. I, myself, will be attending Queens College MLS program in Fall unless the DOE offers me a sweet job. I'm not holding my breath! It's too bad I can't teach poetry. I'd be so good at it. It just doesn't seem in the cards.

Hal Sirowitz

Although I usually do not fall for straight narrative, I was completed charmed by Hal S's "Mother Said." Sirowitz has a very unique sense of humor that I think really steps out of the typical Poetry Slam genre, which is not my favorite work. His poems remind me of a strange Charles Bernstein quote from A Poetics in which he says something to the effect of poetry should be like television. We rarely find good poetry that is. Poetry does many things for us. It gives us beauty, it keeps us company, it holds up a mirror to our lives, it helps us know the pain of others, it expands the language. It is rare that good poetry is easy. It makes us work. Perhaps this is why people dread poetry so much. Hal doesn't make the reader work to hard, but the work is substantial in its own way. He is a true wit.
Today's Sunday Times presents yet another misguided response to poetry.

In his review of four new poetry books James Longenbach makes a point of noting " the field's [poetry] status lets poets pursue art for its own sake." True, poetry itself may be marginalized, but interestingly enough, two of these books were published by Houghton Mifflin and a third by Norton. If this is the height of the ignored, where do the rest of us lie?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Library Visit

I check out a number of books from the library in order to catch up on things.

I got:

Hal Sirowitz, Mother Said
Rachel Zucker's first two books
Jack Spicer's Collected Poems
George Oppen's Collected Poems
Michael Palmer's Without Music
Marie Howe's What the Living Do
A Selected Zukofsky

I've started to shift through them.

Jim & I have also been watching "The L Word."

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Word As Such is not a new idea, but derived from the Russian Futurists writing in the early nineteen hundreds. The poet Khelbikov and his contempories devised the theory of Word As Such or "laying bare the device." "In order to revitalize their obsolete language, the new poets scorned any idea of literary fame and thumbed their noses at public incomprehension and committed themselves to increasing the volumn of the poetic vocabulary with the aid of arbitrary, derived words." (Sound familiar, anyone!) This statement lay the basis of ZAUM, a transmental language made up of words that were either wholly invented or derived from existing roots. In addition, their manifestos claimed to "cease the view of structure and pronounciation in accordance with the rules of grammar." Zaum was an answer to the problem (as they perceieved it) that "speech and thought cannot keep up with the experience of inspiration" and the artist must be "free to express not only in ordinary language but personal language."

Meanwhile, in a different part of Europe, a young lady named Gertrude Stein was working hard to form her our version of "zaum" or way of making the language new. Stein, never one to be shy about tooting her own horn writes of "a rose is a rose" (which some might not realize is actually from her children's book "The World is Round) "Now listen! Can't you see when language was new - as it was with Chaucer and Homer - the poet could use the name of a thing and the thing was really there. He could say 'O moon, O sea' and the moon and sea and love were really there. And can't you see that after hundreds of years had gone by and thousands of poems had been written, he could call on those words and find they were just worn out literary words. Now listen, I'm not a fool! I know in daily life we don't go around saying is a...is a...is a... Yes, I'm no fool, but I think in that line the rose is red for the first time in English poetry in a hundred years." Here, she is setting the path for poets such as Palmer.
Probably the first use of the term Language Poets was applied to the group in Ron Silliman's anthology "In the American Tree" which included Andrews, Coolidge, Grenier, himself, and other. And those published in Language magazine - including Watten and Hejinian. The work was refered to as "language-centered, minimal, and non-referential formalism. Not a group, but a tendency of many." Silliman writes of "Rejecting a speech-based poetics and consciously raising the issue of reference (i.e. narrative) to look at what a poem is actually made of - not images, not voice, not character or plot - but the invocation of a specific medium - language. (And) if nothing in the poem could be taken for granted, then anything might be possible."

Perhaps "non-referiality" is the wrong term. The idea of non-referiality in the purest sense does not exist because the words (unless nonsense) will always point to something. JLM writes, " Then, perhaps the term "non-referential" implies that disjunct 'references' and intentions' do not add up; if you say 'dog, watermelon, racine, Wisconsin, Jupiter, to quarter above the...' each member of the string has meaning in itself, but the string as a whole does not." But, even LP are not this extreme. I am not sure that a poem CAN be written without intent. JML writes, "I doubt that any such works, whether aleatoric or conciously composed through calculation or intuition are truly ' empty' of all content, even when the authors have none in mind - when they do not intend to say or imitate anything. Thus, it may be correct to call such verbal ways 'perceiver centered' rather than 'language centered.' This is asking the reader to take an active part, to use her imagination, and move away from the accademic notion that there is a teacher who 'gets' the poem and will teach it's exact meaning.

This, by the way, is the reason that poetry is in a state of crisis in America. The general population is not taught that you can or should read poetry on a visceral or emotional level. School teaches - per-k through grad school - that there is meaning specific to the poem that the reader must get correct. This has led to the fact that even the most intellegent people in our country (and people who do read) do not read poetry. LP force the reader, in my opinion, to respond viscerally, because the story is so slight.
Gluck's poem (which I do like) tells a story through the persona of the grandmother. While this is obviously not a confessional poem (the character may or may not represent the poet's own grandmother - perhaps she made it up). Gluck uses particularly vivid images

"The drugged Long Island summer sun."
"My children have their husband's hands."

She is witty when she alludes to the grandson as a pig, "Squealing in his pen."
Gluck makes a staement with her poem - "I have survived my life." Gluck uses metaphor, simile, language, and son to get a point across. Therefore, the poem becomes a means to an ends. This has historically been one of the purposes of language and poetry. But, there is also a different type of poetry - where the means IS the end.

"Dearest Reader" serves a completely different purpose, if any at all. The title is a bit of a misnomer, Is Palmer "really" speaking to the reader and, if so, what does he mean to tell us? Thre poem is a painting - a scene where "there were trees formed of wire, broad entryways" and so on. Many questions arise that would come up in the typical workshop setting - what is exactly going on here? What is the narrative? Meaning? These questions become obsolete in the poem. The strength of the poem is in it's raw beauty.


Sunday, July 08, 2007


I want to recycle some stuff I wrote at the start of the blog. I'm going to put up some parts of my essay on LP and my essay on Nathaniel Tarn. The Deborah Garrison review is a few notches down the blog.

In the meanwhile, books checked out of the library: Duncan's Selected, Carl Phillip's The Rest of Love, and K Hahn's The Artist's Daughter.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Marxists With Trust Funds (Finding Meaning and Beauty in So-Called Language Poetry)

“When I wrote it only God and I knew what it meant. Now only God knows.” Robert Browning on “Sordello.”

Michael Palmer is a West Coast poet originally from New York City. After taking degrees in comparative literature from Harvard, he moved to San Francisco where he has lived since 1969. Palmer, who began publishing in the early seventies, is often classified with the so-called Language Movement in poetry. Palmer was not necessarily a part of the LM, but rather a precursor and seemingly influential on poets such as Bernstein, Watten, Hejinian, and Harryman.

Of his ties to the LM Palmer said in an interview with Jubliat,

“It goes back to an organic period when I had a closer association with some of those writers than I do now, when we were a generation in San Francisco with lots of poetic and theoretical energy and desperately trying to escape from the assumptions of poetic production that were largely dominant in our culture. My own hesitancy comes when you try to create, let's say, a fixed theoretical matrix and begin to work from an ideology of prohibitions about expressivity and the self—there I depart quite dramatically from a few of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets."

What Palmer describes as having in common with the LP is an attempt “to bring into question surfaces of language, normative syntax, and so on.” Opening up the possibility of experimentation with what Palmer calls “a necessary naming (for everyday language) but is arbitrary in terms of the thing itself.” Palmer goes on to say, “ If I were to ask you if a particular chair where free and you started wondering about the meaning of the term free, we’d never get anywhere. But, in the poem, when one has the possibility of multiple layers of meaning, that is when you have something that will open up unique areas of function.” (To my knowledge, these ideas derive from Wittgenstein, a favorite of the LP.) Interestingly, similar ideas were developed by Yoko Ono through visual arts when she wrote the words “This wall is blue.” on a white wall.

Of personality in poetry, Palmer says, “I’m not interested in myself- that’s just some guy sitting here drinking coffee and making a fool of himself. A self that’s transformed through language interests me, though….It seems reductive to me exactly at that point where you focus on the self alone and thus end up with a poetry of personality, and that exhausts itself as soon as the personality exhausts itself.”

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Eignerautobiographical prose.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I missed class Lisa's class yesterday. I was out with Jim involved in an anti-war subversive public art project. Sorry to be so vague. The people in charge of the project created a blog about the project. The NYPD found the blog and sent them a threatening message. Don't those guys have any criminals to catch?
My book is on Amazon!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Rukeyser, Wheelwright, and Olson

Today, I had my first experience in a library archive. At the nudging of Lisa Jarnot, I visited the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library. I was supposed to be researching magazines, but got distracted by the fact that the library contains a Muriel Rukeyser archive. I was limited on time so I chose to read the letters of two poets who had written to Rukeyser, Olson and Wheelwright. In a reprinted letter to Cid Corman Olson refers to a type of poetry that is "o not pretty yet but will be (Rukeyser or lazy leftists)." This quote made me wonder about Rukeyer's relationship to Olson. Was he being sarcastic? Or did he really dislike the communist movement? I later found out that Olson was heavily into Roosevelt and a worker for the Democratic party. I did find one letter from Olson to Rukeyser in the archive. Note: with one exception that is a secret between my father & I, this was the first orginal letter I have held in my hands. The letter was very warm. It was addressed to Muriel in Venice, Calfiornia and made note to something pertaining to a script. I was particularly touched because the letter was written right after Rukeyser gave birth to her son, and Olson send them his warm wishes. Peter Bear (who grew up in Gloucester) told me that when the Maximus poems where published they were sold at the local department store right between "The Sound of Music" and "Summers in Gloucester."

The second group of letters was from John Wheelwright to Rukeyer. I learned of their friendship while looking through the database before going to the library. Wheelwright is a poet with little or no attention. He struggled to make his poetry known during his life time and it has largely disappeared sense. (Ashberry, however, wrote a brilliant essay about Wheelwright -- I don't have the title of the book right here). Wheelwright is of special interest to me because he was related to the aforementioned Peter (great-uncle by marriage although not Wheelwright's own as he was homosexual). I didn't know that Wheelwright and Rukeyser were friends and collegues. Rukeyser also planned to publish a magazine (Housatonic) for which she had accepted Wheelwright's work. In the letters Wheelwright says the strangest thing: Nothing has happened to me except that I have not married. The tone in the letter is sad -- yet why would he marry? He also mentions a resistance to going to Yaddo -- a scene of which Muriel was part of at the time -- and seems insecure that he will be included should he want to attend. The letters are full of these kind of insecurities. The glue that most held these two poets together was their commitment to Communism.

While both poets had difficulty with noteriety in their lifetimes, Wheelwright, however, did not find the posthumous (sp?) success that Rukeyser did through the feminst moment and the great folks at Paris Press. Although her books were out of print throughout the 70's, 80's, and early 1990's, she had a comback with "Out of Silence" in 1992 -- twelve years after her death. During her lifetime, she was notably excluded from Donald Allen's anthology for reasons which are unclear to me.


Today, I am misisng a cat. I can't find Muffin anywhere. I think she might be hiding from the noise. The city is tearing up my street and the noise is horrendous. It reminds me of the story William Rukeyser tells of his mother: "She believed in the nobility of labor, but she recognized the absurdity of a lot of it. I remember her closely observing, from her bedroom window, a Con Ed crew at the corner of York and 88th, That crew dug holes in the pavement, covered them with steel plates, and then paved them over." William, who Muriel referred to in her letters as Laurie, describes his mother as a strong poet full of contradictions unwilling to tow any party's line, except her own. She was a lesbian, but slept with men. She was a feminist, but focused more in her writing and activism on injustices against the poor and Blacks. She was a poet, but wrote prose, children's books, and biographies.

While some of her poems are intensely romantic/sexual, Rukeyser was intensely private in her life. In one of the folios at the Berg, there is a series of unaddressed love letters and notes. The letters are full of such passion, one wonders for whom they were meant. An even more curious letter is one that Rukeyser addressed to herself in Provincetown Aug. 23, 1935 (even then, a mecca for gays and poets!) Rukeyser tells herself (or the later reader),

"I have wanted so wildly all these years without satisfaction that I think I could spend my life in bed with the Holy Ghost, Father, and the Son and still never be filled except in self-filling torment."

This has so many connations some of which verge of the sacreligious. In church we refer to being filled with spirit of the Lord, although Rukeyser was Jewish. There is also the cruder reading of a description of sex. The "letter" could also refer to the lot of a poet -- always craving more of poetry and like. The ending of the letter gives a glimpse into the cause of Rukeyser's depression. "See how a day can change your life....a telegram arrives...I smile, I smile."

Another correspondence which caught my notice was that between Rukeyser and Albert Einstein. I am not sure if this has ever been published. Rukeyser wrote a biography of the scientist Willard Gibbs. She asked Einstein to write an introduction. Einstein's reply in extremely harsh. (I will just put a few lines because one in not actually allowed to quote unpublished work).

"This (writing such a text) can only by done by someone.....grasp the material....personal side must be taken account of but it should not be the chief thing.....result is banal hero-worship....I have learned how hateful it is when a serious man is lionized....I cannot give my public endorsement to such an undertaking."

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Larry Eigner

Less marginalized than Rukeyser and Wheelwright, but still not as popular as Duncan, Olson, & co. was the great poet Larry Eigner. Eigner was born in early August 1927 in Massachusetts Bay near Salem and Gloucester. He "got" cerebral palsy during a birth accident. He had a amazing number of books supported and helped by the most know poets: Levertov, Grenier, Watten, Creeley, and Silliman's "In the American Tree was dedicated to him." Eigner has an extensive archive Buffalo's EPC, including audio of interviews and readings. Levertov refers to Eigner's work as a "Wide open field of vision in which objects disparate themselves." Or what Bernstein means when he says "it meant a luminosity of every detail." (Bernsteins' obit to Eigner on the EPC)

While I am stiil uncovering the details, Lisa Jarnot said that Eigner got cerebral palsy during his birth due to the fact that forceps were used in his delivery. This is one, among many, ways that CP can occur. CP isn't a disease. It's merely a catch-all phrase to descibe any number of motor problems that can derive from brain trama during or shortly after birth. Eigner's CP was severe. Cared for by his mother, Eigner spent the first fifty years of his life basically sitting on his parents porch. Jarnot notes this and urges her students to look at Eigner's particular way of looking. In a post on the EPC, Silliman writes that Eigner actually began to write (as a teenager) before he learned to speak & wrote on a typewriter. (He did do minimal handwriting -- I received a book signed by him last year for Christmas!) His limited physical ability and energy help account for his short lines and short poems. I hope Silliman won't mind me quoting him. Of Eigner's lines he writes, "the complex choreography of one whose total physical vocabulary is in use in the composition of the poem."

After his father's death, Eigner moved to Berkeley to live with his brother. He was 51 years old. My father, Lee Bartlett, who was an undergraduate at Berkeley remembers seeing Eigner "rolling down the street." Eigner says in the EPC interview that "physical excercise was the hardest part of his life, everything else was a vacation." I was surprised to find that the many of the people in my workshop were naive about Eigner's disability and still considered in a "disease."

I can imagine Eigner's life well, and where the poems come from. His body was completely non-functional. Yet, he was an absolute genius. One way to look at such a disability is that Eigner was not burdened by things like a job, family, or housekeeping. This is not to glamourize such a position, but to say that one wouild be able to devote one's entire time/life to poetry and thinking. I am sure he suffered great lonlinesses though. And while he was revered within the poetry community, he probably was rejected by mainstream society.