Thursday, March 23, 2017


Joanne in the Himalayas 1962, photo by Allen Ginsberg

e-mail to Linda Russo from Ron Silliman

Date sent:     Tue, 28 Apr 1998 05:00:30 -0500 (CDT)
Subject:      Re: Silliman on Kyger

On 04/27/98 20:10:48 you wrote:
>Dear Ron Silliman --
>you maybe recognize as a sometime poetix listperson --
>i've been only skimming posts lately (busy) but I was wondering if you
>could say more abt. Joanne Kyger being the most influencial progressive
>woman poet of the 60s - 70s. She's been important to me & it does seem,
>considering the scope of her work, that she *should* be important, but
>doesn't seem so considered. So i wonder if you'd be willing to tell me a
>thing or two, or maybe point me to something you've published re kyger.
>thanks --
>Linda Russo

Dear Linda, 

Been thinking about this myself over the past few days. Kyger's not in the [Paul] Hoover [anthology Postmodern American Poetry] or the [Douglas] Messerli [anthology From The Other Side of the Century] and absent even from Moving Borders [ed. Mary Margaret Sloan], an anthology I imagine as having been premised on precisely this sort of omission (though I argued over this with Margy Sloan, who simply doesn't know the work and doesn't have the historical depth I wish she had -- she told me that she was only using writers from the late '70s onward, so I was surprised to see Niedecker, Guest and Fraser, all of whom are contemporaneous with Joanne or, in Lorine's case, even earlier).
Joanne Kyger was a student of Hugh Kenner's at UC Santa Barbara in the 1950s who moved to SF where she became the only woman to participate as an equal in the otherwise remarkably misogynist Spicer circle. She married Gary Snyder and traveled with him to Japan (and, also with Gary, to India where they traveled about with Ginsberg). Back in SF she was also best friends with John Weiners and is the Miss Kits he refers to in his Scott Street journals. She worked for awhile as a TV producer for the local PBS station (this was 35 years ago, when such a job was not impossible for somebody just roughly creative and intelligent to go get), then moved to "the Mesa" which is a hill overlooking the ocean in Bolinas (there are two other neighborhoods to that small town, a section by the road coming in, neighboring -- literally -- a lagoon that's one of the great birdwatching spots in northern California, then the downtown itself, nestled betwixt the beach, the lagoon and the Mesa. During the early 1970s, Creeley and Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Lewis and Phoebe Macadams, Larry Kearney, Peter Warshall, Bill Berkson, Bob Grenier, Richard Duerden, Tom and Angelica Clark, were all living in Bolinas, a town with a population of just 300. Phil Whalen was there for awhile also before his duties in the Zen Center became full-time.
Joanne's influence on Grenier is palpable, it really is the connection between his fascination with Creeley (he edited RC's first Selected Poems), and his own later work which is so much about how thought emerges. 

Joanne has never ever been one to push her own work, but there was a time circa 1970 when every poet I knew owned a copy of The Tapestry and the Web, her first book (I have no idea where my own copy disappeared to -- I'm certain I never sold it, although it may have gone off in my divorce from my first wife back in '72). In 1975, Berkson published her second book, All This Every Day, and Kenward Elmslie I believe was behind the 3rd one, The Wonderful Focus of You, John Martin publishing Just Space (poems 1979-89) from his Black Sparrow press. There's also a chapbook that contains a poem based a local indian tale, Up My Coast and most recently a big book of her Japan and India Journals from Tombouctou. SPD would still have whatever is in print. There've been other chapbooks, I know. The National Poetry Foundation is talking about doing a big selected poems sometime in the future, although there needs to be (I hope) a book of the poetry since 1989. 

The very first poetry reading I ever produced, in 1974, was a benefit for a Bay Area prison reform group. My readers were Creeley, Kyger and Dorn and in the context of SF in that year it was very much a line-up of people recognized as equals. 400 people attended. 

I've written at some length about the disappearance of poets and how it reconfigures history into something unrecognizable to those present at the event. This isn't always bad -- Ferlinghetti was shocked to see that anyone was still interested in Spicer as recently as a year or two ago. But all too often it leads to this sort of erasure of a major writer. 

I don't know if you know Joanne's work. It has its closest affinities, I think, with Whalen, Grenier and, though I don't know how well she knows him, Anselm Hollo (Joanne has a terrific sense of humor in her writing, which may in fact actually work against her being taken as seriously as she deserves). I know that Bobbie Louise Hawkins has wanted her to come and teach full-time at Naropa for years, but Joanne (who has no visible means of employment, though she must live on very little money) seems willing only to do the occasional workshop there. 

She's one of our hidden treasures -- the poet who really links the Beats, the Spicer Circle, the Bolinas poets, the NY School and the language poets, and the only poet who can be said to do all of the above. 

All best,
Ron Silliman

Labels: ,

Friday, February 24, 2017


Tour de France

Reading & Interview with Martin Richet
Sunday, March 5,  2:00 pm
Maison de la Poésie de Nantes

The unique place
Quai Ferdinand Favre, Nantes
Admission free

Part of the Atlantide Festival of Literature

Poets & Critics Symposium
Tuesday, March 7, & Wednesday, March 8, 9:45 am-5:00 pm
Room 830 (8th floor of the Olympe de Gouges Building)
Université Paris 7 Denis Diderot, Bâtiment Olympe de Gouges

with translations by Martin Richet
Tuesday, March 7, 6:30 pm
Hall de la Bibliothèque des Grands Moulins
 5, rue Thomas Mann, 75013 Paris

Reading & Discussion with Martin Richet
Friday, March 10, 7:00 pm
centre international de poésie Marseille
entre de la Vieille Charité
2, rue de la Charité
13 236 Marseille Cedex 02

Events organized in partnership with
Double Change, the House of Poetry of Nantes

& the International Center for Poetry, Marseile

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, February 20, 2017


Not to be confused with the Vichy regime being set up in DC and elsewhere. The following are Twitter accounts for the legitimate government of the United States.


Wednesday, February 08, 2017


Tom Raworth

1938 -- 2017

A link here to the Poetry Foundation's recording of Tom Raworth reading "Gaslight":

a line of faces borders the strangler’s work
heavy european women
mist blows over dusty tropical plants
lit from beneath the leaves by a spotlight
mist in my mind a riffled deck
of cards or eccentrics
was i
a waterton animal my head
is not my own
poetry is neither swan nor owl
but worker, miner
digging each generation deeper
through the shit of its eaters
to the root – then up to the giant tomato
someone else’s song is always behind us
as we wake from a dream trying to remember
step onto a thumbtack
two worlds – we write the skin
the surface tension that holds
what we write is ever the past
curtain pulled back
a portrait behind it
is a room suddenly lit
looking out through the eyes
at a t.v. programme
of a monk sealed into a coffin
we close their eyes and ours
and still here the tune
moves on


Tom Raworth died this week. He was a giant as a poet, and a gentle, sweet fellow. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was a simple phone call from him -- how he got my number I do not know -- telling me that my book Ketjak was "alright." 

I knew him slightly during the years he lived in San Francisco in the 1970s, was in the audience at New Langton Arts when he gave what may be the shortest talk ever, and was fortunate to see him whenever he came through Philadelphia in recent years. 

I was once told (by a poet I respect) that Americans were too quick to declare him the finest living British poet. Just the opposite, I suspect, the far reaches of the Commonwealth have been far too slow to recognize the wonder of his work. After Bunting, Tom was the Alps. He himself could not have cared less for accolades, but the weak tea that is so much of British conventionalism is just so much piss-water alongside this stronger brew. I will miss him and we will all miss his work & wit.

Here are two pieces I wrote on Tom's work some 14 years ago. 


Read Tom Raworth’s poetry aloud & you begin to understand almost instantly why, or more accurately how, he developed his reputation as – at least until Miles Champion showed up – the fastest reader on the scene. Try reading aloud the following stanzas from “Survival,” a poem in Clean & Well-Lit: Selected Poems, 1987-1995:

later she would walk
asleep on his feet
to the brink of inspiration
with lacquered nails
paused in mid-phrase
discounting – discrediting
the epic sweep of stars
devising stratagems
shrunk back in his head
until the day was filled
creating an illusion
radiating orange lightning
sucked into a vacuum
past ponds, down hills

nothing better than to re-claim
duck with its head swinging
knife – a blue pencil
only bad things that affect
the opposite still she came
a tall black vase
fluttering her arms
always displeased
moving every year
around protected by the wind
shook the plate in front
did not scream when he fell
outside down the stairs
poured all her brains

the adaptations
to differences in colour
associated with food
regarded as the simplest forms
stuck together in lumps
are irrelevant to survival
the struggle towards
countless changes
exhausted from hunger
sounded like water
beginning to burn
or an extinguished star
fading with darkness
smiling at the skull

feelings belonged to the past
his stomach churned
the breeze blew
through thick underbrush
following him around
out onto the highway
and grinned
flailing about
not to touch his cold flesh
you could smell it
from deep in the earth
watching the smoke crawl
from his straining lungs
with its icy purity

The line here represents one phrase, almost as though each were a single stroke that, together, accumulate into a large, complex canvas. In general, the lines contain between four & eight syllables – the two shorter exceptions in the fourth stanza above are the first such exceptions in the poem, which is already 16 stanzas long at the start of this quotation.

A different poet who focused on the phrase might vary the segments of language actually used line by line more than Raworth does: a quick tally of the 56 lines above shows 21 starting with verbs – only one is a variant of to be – with another ten starting with prepositions. It’s precisely this combination of line length & syntax that propels Raworth’s text forward so rapidly. A career of reading texts such as “Survival” in public would speed up anyone’s reading style.

“Survival” is the longest poem in Clean & Well Lit, which – with the exception of the sequence Eternal Sections – represents eight years of writing, post-Tottering State, Like the “14-line poems” of Eternal Sections – Raworth pointedly does not call them sonnets – “Survival’s” 14-line stanzas carry that familiar quantity about them. Raworth’s reluctance to employ the S-word makes sense, as the logic of these stanzas is anything but sonnet-esque. Rather, the propulsion of the language carries the reader ever forward, ever faster. If the syntax does contribute to the onward motion of the language, it never really resolves up to the level of a sentence – those little moments of closure are themselves deferred or displaced.

I’ve sometimes wondered if it is a function of Raworth’s phrase-focus that makes his work so eminently accessible to U.S. audiences & note, just to use these four stanzas as an index, that only the spelling of colour marks his text in any way I think might be recognizable to a Yank as British. Do the British really use phrases differently? I’m not enough of a comparative linguist to know, although I’m aware of the stereotype propagated by so many BBC dramas on U.S. PBS television stations suggesting that fully formed sentences with many dependent clauses are “British” in a way that the more telegraphic, interruptive mode of Yankee discourse is not. Of course nobody in those dramas sounds like Linton Kweski Johnson either, or even appears to have come from the north. Still, the complaint I once got from a young poet with partly British heritage that “there’s waaaay too many ‘experimental’ poets who like to think Tom Raworth is the only poet in England” reflects, among other things, the enormous respect & passion Americans do have toward his work.

Raworth’s Collected Poems is about to be issued from Carcanet in the U.K. & is already available for sale over its web site. Every single blurb for the book is from a Yank.


It’s big. It’s yellow. It’s beautiful. It, in this instance, is the Tom Raworth Collected Poems, just out from Carcanet, making an early bid for the “best book of 2003” sweepstakes. The volume has 557 pages of text, plus some 18 of “front matter” & another 20 given to various indices. At one pound, 13 ounces, it’s a brick. A brick with a cover illustration by the late Franco Beltrametti.*

Not long ago, I had a discussion with poet of my own generation whose work I’ve praised on this blog, whom I informed that I longed to see a collected works of his poetry. He argued, with surprising vigor, against the idea. His primary points were two – first, that as a young poet he had not always known when works should be held back & not published. There was a lot of writing in his first books that, in his opinion, were “not ready for prime time.”** But even more problematic from his perspective was the way in which “collecteds” eliminate shape.

Shape is a question, I agree, with any such gathering, as is detail. Perhaps the most notorious example of how placement can alter & undermine the implications of a text in such terms are the poems from William Carlos Williams’ Spring & All as they were included in his own Collected Earlier Poems. Thus did “red wheel / barrow” become something it never could have been in context, coming as it originally did 78 pages into a dense argument, leading directly to a discussion of knowledge, categories, democracy, education & confusion. There also is a distinction between collected & complete with which all such volumes must contend. Thus there are rumors afoot at the Collected Books of Jack Spicer will some day be supplanted by a much fuller edition. & we have just seen how radically different the new Collected Works of Lorine Niedecker are from her two earlier “collected” poems, T&G and My Life by Water.

There also are discrepancies in this vast edition of Raworth’s – moments that will stop a fond, familiar reader short. For example, the stanza-per-page structure of “Defective Definitions” in Clean & Well Lit runs 4-2-1, though all are quatrains. In the Collected, the stanzas are run together. Raworth himself credits the Clean & Well Lit formatting to “happenstance,” insisting that ultimately there is no such thing as “correct.” Thus Ace is a long thin poem*** in a single column in the Edge Press edition I currently own, yet appeared in double columns in the editions of Tottering State published by The Figures & by Paladin. It doesn’t appear at all in the O Book edition of Tottering State & is again in double columns in the Collected. Indeed, the three editions of Tottering State all differ substantially. The provisional nature of it all is enough to make one suspicious of a project that calls itself Collected.

Which might well be the point. As impressively well-written as these works are – & I’m one who could be persuaded that we live the Age of Raworth – Raworth’s poetry itself argues for a definition of verse as “what a poet does,” a condition that offers quite a bit of latitude. But I don’t think it’s latitude that Raworth is after, nor does his stance have anything to do with an approach to the poem as “art language” the way that David Antin’s performances do. Rather, the books like the poems themselves, are arguments for a perpetual restlessness that amounts to constant attentiveness to the conditions of the real. It’s in this sense that the Collected Poems represents an achievement of major proportion. These works are not “the alps,” as Basil Bunting once characterized Pound’s Cantos, not because the accumulation is not massive, but because there is not a sedentary moment in this book.

* Far more beautiful & colorful than the washed-out thumbnail of it on the Carcanet web site suggests.

** I don’t agree.

*** I originally typed “long thing poem” – it’s that too.

Labels: , ,

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?