Tuesday, March 28, 2006

archival notes: what i remember & what i forget

Thanks to Lea Graham's recent visit, I was forced to clean up much of my apartment. Here are some books I happily found while I was digging around my bookshelf (etcetera) for three weeks, leading up to her arrival.

Lorine Niedecker, Collected Works. Ed. Jenny Penberthy. University of California Press, 2002. I'd only been six months digging through my apartment looking for this, and found it while looking for another book entirely (a Lisa Samuels poetry collection that I still haven't found). It's a collection I found in hardcover, remaindered at Benjamin Books in the Rideau Centre (they still have softcover copies; at least they did last week) a couple of years ago. It seems interesting to me, somehow, that all this Niedecker work is being done by someone teaching in Vancouver (at Capilano College); didn't the guy who wrote the Robert Creeley biography teach at York University in Toronto? (Who says we have no cross-border poetic…) As Penberthy writes in her introduction:

Though it was the Objectivist issue of Poetry that had initiated her contact with Zukofsky, Niedecker would never count herself among the original Objectivists—Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, and Carl Rakosi. At the time, she was drawn to its affinity with her own writing: "Thank god for the Surrealist tendency running side by side with Objectivism." She admired the priority Objectivism gave both to the nonreferential, material qualities of words and to a "non-expressive" poetry that rejected a too-prominent sense of the poet described by Zukofsky as "imperfect or predatory or sentimental." It appears that her enthusiasm for an object-based poetics was limited. Instead, she pursued abstraction. (pp 3-4)

How can anyone not be moved for the pieces that exist in For Paul and Other Poems (previously unpublished as a unit), written for Paul Zukofsky (son of Louis)?


Understand me, dead is nothing
whereas here we want each other,
silence, time to be alone
and Paul's growing up—
baseball, jabber, running off to neighbors
and back into the Iliad—"do you really believe
there were gods, all that hooey?"
And his violin—improvising

made a Vivaldi sequence his,
better than I could have done with poetry
at twice his age…
so writes your father, L. before P.

A start in life for Paul.
The efforts of a life
hold together as Einstein's
and lead to expectations of form.

To know, to love…if we knew nothing,
Baruch the blessed said, would we exist?

For Paul then at six and a half
a half scholarship—
turn the radio dead—
tho your teacher's gone back to Italy
stumped by American capital.

In my mind, the child said,
are rondeau-gavottes 1 to 11,
here is number 12. (pp 138-9)

There's just so much to go through in this collection that I've barely scratched the surface; but for George Bowering mentioning her name on the SUNY-Buffalo Poetics list-serve a year or so ago, I might never have heard her name. There is so much still to be learned.

I've been quite taken with the collecteds that University of California has done over the years, as I slowly learn & acquire copies of the most recent The Collected Books of Ted Berrigan, for example, or copies of older selecteds of poems by Robert Creeley & Charles Olson; did you know they're (supposedly) publishing a larger selected/collected of Creeley's next year?

poems for jessica-flynn by michael dennis. Ottawa ON: Not One Cent of Subsidy Press, 1986. Another book I spent six months looking for, so I could include a piece or two in an essay I've been tinkering with. This was the first collection of dennis' that I found, written during a month of writing as he sat in the window of the now-defunct Avenue Bookshop on Bank Street in Ottawa (where the Herb & Spice is supposed to be, now), from January 7 to February 7, 1986; I attempted my own version of the same project (somewhat less successful than his), spending the month of June 1995 in the window of Octopus Books in the Glebe (who writes in a window in the middle of a heat wave? Even Frank magazine made fun of me for that), writing the chapbook we live at the end of the 20th century (Ottawa ON: above/ground press, 1996). An important collection in my consideration of being a writer, & the city around me, the poems about places I knew & things that I saw really resonated, especially with pieces I was reading in 1991 of sitting at the original Royal Oak Pub at Bank & MacLaren Streets (I made the pub my home for nearly ten years, before they managed to wreck it; I was very impressed when I was twenty-one, sitting in the pub that Ottawa poet michael dennis had written in, writing my own youthful, terrible verse…).

1st in a series of poems from a bookstore window

so, i'm finally here
sitting in a bookstore window
and trying to write
of all things, poetry

you have to get everything right
you have to be sitting in the perfect position
with the typer at just such an angle
you have to be feeling a certain way
and then you can do it

you can let go
of whatever it is that controls you
whatever it is that sets the rules
and you simply go the other way

that's exactly what i'm doing
here in this bookstore window
in the middle of winter

I admired the immediacy of dennis' writing, & even went on to eventually help put together a selected poems of his, This Day Full of Promise, that appeared through my cauldron books series published by Broken Jaw Press. dennis published a number of collections over the years, including a chapbook with Maggie Helwig's Lowlife Publishing, a trade collection with Pulp Press in the late 1980s (what later became Arsenal Pulp Press), & later chapbooks with my own above/ground press. Even though he was easily the most published poet in Ottawa throughout the 1980s (over seven hundred magazine/journal publications, supposedly), he hasn’t participated in as much over the past decade or so; but rumours have him still writing. There was a small chapbook that came out last year, but I never saw a copy. Will we ever see anything else?

The Lost Roads Project: A Walk-in Book of Arkansas. Ed. C.D. Wright. Photographs by Deborah Luster. The University of Arkansas Press, 1994. With all the talk with Lea Graham about Arkansas, where she grew up (though born in Memphis), the same place that bore & bred American poet C.D. Wright, I returned to my favourite poem in this collection of the local, a piece by James Whitehead. I remember, a few years ago, including the poem in a letter I sent to John Newlove (before he died, yes; even though he was roughly a block away); there seemed a particular kind of overlap between what he did & what this author was doing; particularly in the final stanza. According to Graham, the state of Arkansas has many corners still difficult to reach by road, since the waterways worked so well for so long (so road construction wasn't seen as necessary).

About A Year After He Got Married
He Would Sit Alone In An Abandoned
Shack In A Cotton Field
Enjoying Himself

I'd sit inside the abandoned shack all morning
Being sensitive, a fair thing to do
At twenty-three, my first son born, and burning
To get my wife again. The world was new
And I was nervous and wonderfully depressed.

The light on the cotton flowers and the child
Asleep at home was marvelous and blessed,
And the dust in the abandoned air was mild
As sentimental poverty. I'd scan
Or draw the ragged wall on the morning long.

Newspaper for wallpaper sang but didn't mean.
Hard thoughts of justice were beyond my ken.
Lord, forgive young men their gentle pain,
Then bring them stones. Bring their play to ruin.

James Whitehead (p 28)

Is there anything C.D. Wright can't do? I kept hoping to get a copy of that long poem she wrote sometime back on women prisoners, taken from photographs by Luster, but I haven't seen a copy of it yet. Apparently Whitehead (at least at the point of publication of this anthology) is the author of the collections Domains (Louisiana State University Press, 1966), Joiner (Knopf, 1971; University of Arkansas Press, reprint, 1991), Local Men (University of Illinois Press, 1979) & Near at Hand (University of Missouri Press, 1993). I don't know anything else about him (& I wouldn't let Graham take this anthology home with her, much to her disappointment… maybe someone out there wants to get her one for her birthday? Maybe someone wants to get that newer Wright/Luster book for mine?).

Holding the Pose by Sharon Thesen. Toronto ON: Coach House Press, 1983. There is something wonderfully & utterly charming about the earlier poems & collections of British Columbia poet (she's somewhere in the interior now, after years in Vancouver, but I can't for the life of me recall where) Sharon Thesen. In this, a poem from her second collection (watch for her new one out this spring), watch for the sly link to her first collection, Artemis Hates Romance (another book worth finding, if you can). I've written about Thesen recently here & there, so when this was under a pile of things & then another things, I quickly put it on the top of another pile, somewhere on my little desk.

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On Saturday mornings we meet to talk
women and poetry in the heated air
the charming song of the chanteuse mocks
unwilling our heavy coats and voices bare
that wish to say the things we daren't say –
draped in fur but not in Paris, no rouged lips
or horny sailors nor poets freshly off the ships
o'erwhelmed by this our beauty that will slay
them suddenly – oh no, this place is snowy
where gray days break through paler gray
and yonder waitress moves quite slowly
encumbered by necessity. O sanctuary brave
wherein we think our little hymns to Artemis
no unencumbered song, no earthly heaven this. (p 45)

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