Monday, June 10, 2024



            What I had intuited about the possibilities of the poem were confirmed by [Robert] Duncan and his circles (both at Black Mountain and in San Francisco): that a poem was obviously not a static commodity, it was an organic system living in time and space.

Any new title by Jackson Heights, Queens poet Lisa Jarnot is equally exciting to a new title in The Bagley Wright Lecture Series produced through Wave Books, and Jarnot’s FOUR LECTURES (Wave Books, 2024) manages to provide both simultaneously. “I seem to have the mind of a poet,” she writes, near the opening of the first lecture, “which makes me good at poaching and weaving, and not so inclined to traditionally academic discourse.” There is something delightfully and deceptively uncomplicated about Jarnot’s language across these four lectures, set into a cadence of intimate complexity. If you aren’t aware, I’m a big fan of The Bagley Wright Lecture Series as produced through Wave Books, although at times I’m often too busy responding to and through such generative texts via my own writing to be able to properly respond to the books themselves through the space of a review, although I have managed to post reviews of Rachel Zucker’s The Poetics of Wrongness (2023) [see my review of such here] and Dorothy Lasky’s Animal (2019) [see my review of such here], as well as mention Joshua Beckman’s Three Talks (2018) via the substack a while back.

Jarnot is the author of a small mound of poetry titles, including Some Other King of Mission (Providence RI: Burning Deck, 1996), Ring of Fire (Zoland Books, 2001; Salt Publishers, 2003), Black Dog Songs (Chicago Il: Flood Editions, 2003), Night Scenes (Flood Editions, 2008), Joie De Vivre: Selected Poems 1992-2012 (San Francisco CA: City Lights, 2013) [see my review of such here] and A Princess Magic Presto Spell (Flood Editions, 2019) [see my review of such here], as well as Robert Duncan, The Ambassador from Venus: A Biography (Berkeley CA: University of California Press, 2012). These four lectures offer an insight, across a wide critical landscape, of how Jarnot the poet got to where she is now, writing on grad school, beat poets, errant youth, interacting with Robert Creeley and the incredible fact of her being able to catalogue Robert Duncan’s papers and archive, and learning the depth and the breadth of his work through that particular process. If you are a reader of Duncan, or even if you aren’t, the tale she tells of helping save and salvage the legendary scattered manuscript of what was later published as Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book (University of California Press, 2011), edited by Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman, is absolutely wild. “The H.D. Book became the single most important influence on my understanding of a poetics. And not a single page of it disappointed.” she writes, as part of the second lecture. Jarnot’s lectures provide insight to how she developed an approach to understanding and acknowledgings the traditions but also working to break through to what might follow, as she writes early in the second lecture, “ABANDON THE CREEPING MEATBALL,” an essay subtitled “An Anarcho-Spiritual Treatise”:

The first room is not just a room but also a book. The room is in a house on the north side of Buffalo in the late 1980s. The book is The H.D. Book by Robert Duncan. The house, at 67 Englewood Avenue, housed an anarchist collective, or at least we, the inhabitants, imagined ourselves that way. There were usually about ten of us living in that house at a time, in our late teens and early twenties, mostly students. I’ve been trying to remember what drew us all together there. Our scene was a little bit queer, it was very much to the left of center, and I think we were mostly coming from tight places, economically, within our families of origin. We were mostly of the first generation in our families to go to college. Two instincts were very alive in that moment, in that house: first, a fierce resistance to the culture around us; to the educational culture, to the social expectations, to the state, to religion. And we did identify as anarchist with a capital A: we were very clear that anarchy never meant “helter-skelter” chaos, but that it meant listening for more organic alternatives to the inscribed laws around us. We were looking for natural orders of community. And that resistance to the culture made room for a lot of revelation about potential alternatives.

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