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Wendy, Jimmy and I were talking about you and about salamanders, baby rats, tadpoles, lupines, and condors.
We hiked through underbrush of poison oak in redwood groves on the creek in Soberanes Canyon and recounted how far we got with John and Paul.
We talked about winter rain, about (unknown) houses, (unknown) rocks, (unknown) time and the trail and (unknown) you.
The dry rocky high slopes on the ridge were furred by this year’s rains, furred with invasive species of grasses like rattlesnake grass.
Prickly silver thistle stems bent under coronas of whitish spikes and rich violet petals, Wendy touched the wild (dense) purple delphinium, and the briza maxima drooped everywhere their shiny greenish rattlesnake rattles. Winds whirled out of the sky at hand.
At the rock outcrop Jimmy said his iPhone said we were 975 feet above the sea; we ate sandwiches overlooking the broad ocean crashing on the rocky shore with a distant cloudbank obscuring the far horizon (Wendy said she heard sea lions and I listened)—turkey buzzards and redtail hawks soared.
We had not stopped talking about housing foreclosures, powerful government support for Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, AIG and the bankers who destroyed the economy, it was facilitated and nothing done to prevent it again, they make the wars go on and on, and kids are asked to make their lives in the devastated economy in a shrunken, withering culture.
The grass on the high slopes marked with California poppies (poison oak cannot abide the dry rocky slopes)—there’s a protein in black Western fence lizard blood that kills Lyme disease from ticks—(sunning) living and dead lizards on the trail (the ticks live off the lizards that eat millions; Wendy said she’s seen lizards with ticks on them)—they go together. We described it as we talked about you.
Ana Mendieta (1948 – 1985)
Carlos Bulosan (1913 – 1956)
R Sonny Sampayan shares vicarious memories of celebrated Asian American writer Carlos Bulosan, the granduncle he never met. : http://thefilam.net/2011/02/22/%E2%80%98carlos-bulosan-is-part-of-our-history-so-it-should-be-taught-in-american-universities-%E2%80%99/
Ron Rivera (1948 – 2008)
Rachel Corrie (1979 – 2003)
After he served terrific roast beef with potatoes and great salad, David Lau, a Chinese-Mexican-white poet and I were sympathizing with and criticizing Chicano poet professors for criticizing white poet professors for criticizing and excluding them from their universities and publications and poetry, and we were sympathizing with and criticizing white poet professors for criticizing and excluding Chicano poet professors from their departments and their anthologies and their poetry discussions, and we were sympathizing with both sides for certain few cogent points and criticizing both sides for their 1970s categorical thinking. I said to Laura and David that I agreed with David, as someone who is half something and half something else, I could never abide by those reductions and the limitations of that thinking. Universities and the publications and venues they sponsor only respond to racist exclusion through those categorical politics of the 1970s, but that how can they think that in poetry? How would these professors who purport to be poets think that anything can be just one way? The red wine and the port were gone and I thanked David and Laura and walked out in the fine mist around the streetlights. And in the morning I read Juan Felipe Herrera’s poem, “Half-Mexican.” I read it fast and then I reread it slower.
If itself is a calipers not understood like the marigolds by a man with the pistol banging at the door.
Catachresis is at once nettles and dandelion in a set of hex wrenches faithful to many children at hand.
Lissome prepositions are needle-nose pliers of Spanish broom and yucca mistaken by cops blocking off the street.
The reddened subjunctive is a ball peen hammer on the tin of peppercorns unnoticed by the sheriff dept. SWAT team.
The U.S. attorney general himself overlooked from the start participles open in a socket extension of flores de calabasa.
And will become a phillips screwdriver of persimmon and fig for neighbors frightened awake at 4:40 AM.
sunday i read a piece at silver lake jubilee about the fbi & cops smashing down my neighbor’s door, arresting him and trashing his house (he started latinos against the war). yesterday somebody in camouflage with a pistol came to my door and bugged my daughter about where were her parents and what did they know about the neighbor.
is this an american poem?
i gotta finish my coffee and go to work.
Compression & Purity
by Will Alexander
2011, San Francisco: City Lights Books
100 pages, paperback
Compression & Purity extends Will Alexander’s compelling vital projects. I saw Will read from this book with the tremendous poet Cedar Sigo at City Lights Bookstore a week ago. Sunny blustery afternoon with an old Chinese gent hanging his laundry on the fire escape across the way in Jack Kerouac alley through the upstairs windows of the bookstore, standing room only. Cedar’s mom came for the reading. I had a good seat as I got there forty five minutes early. Will read from the core of the book and both shorter and longer pieces were choice:
In “On Scorpions and Swallows” Will delivers the maximum present moment:
I go blank
& seize vertigo
& gain a forthright diplopia
so when I look skyward
a doubled swallow seems to swarm
in a flock of endurance
and in “The Deluge in Formation,” birds continue driving forward Gertrude Stein’s continuous present:
I am speaking of chastisement
or cross-referential super-imposition
within this condition
I am more like a crow from crucial underwater fires
a crucial underwater crow
neither Chinese nor Shinto
but of the black dimensionality as hidden underwater mass
—and in this poem the Blood Penguin of an earlier poem shifts through totemic corvids:
which persists by daring
which seems at the surface
a purposeless kinetic
or a pointless Mandrill’s infection
I consider myself a reddish Shinto crow
then just as strongly
a black anathema crow
—so the poet transmutes time into figures, nerve and thistle coronas rebraided into frayed cordage, knotted language like the Andean quipu taut between verbal present and living presence. In tensile lines that are his most direct ever, fraught with somatic pungency, graced with seemingly (and very wonderful) “purposeless kinetic” jolt, the poet folds Sun Ra into Garcia Lorca, Bob Kaufman into Cesar Vallejo:
I am speaking here of your disrupted seasons
speaking with Lorca in in nomadic transpicuity
with Artaud in fleeting glimpses
your life obscured by aesthetic linkages
by broken luck & betrayal
I am listening to the salt inside your hunger…
(“Combustion & Leakage: for Cesar Vallejo”)
—in an age old orality extending through Shakespeare’s sonnets to e. e. cummings and beyond the present, the poet pronounces varied poems’ intents and purposes in the figures of his lines, reflexively purposing his “content’s dream.” In this delivery Will Alexander bodies forth his poetics whole, elegantly edged and fully at our service:
they can’t see my approach
my wayward dorsal looming
my lettering in black drizzle
it is my approach
my sigil as curved embankment
I can never name myself
or plot myself
according to the sparks or splinters from the work bench…
…I am considered
as pointless positron without image
being leakage from a barbarous index province
The short poems are striking, and the longer sequences replete with moving, wild compressions:
the horizon being mist
& lines of summa
& blank imaginary braille
(“Horizon as Parallel and Sonar”)
Compression & Purity is wholly Will Alexander’s gift, thistle violet nerve steel.
1. Several people asked whether their poems were ‘good’.
2. Is your life good? What do you do with it, and how do you feel about that?
3. Is your breathing good, is it working for you? When you do it, it fulfills its functions doesn’t it? I’d suggest that poems serve you, too. Like breathing, even if you forget about paying attention to its regulation and effects.
4. The question of “good” should perhaps always be answered in the negative, for this reason. What I hear in that question is this other question: am I done?
5. No, your job is not ‘done.’ You must also live as a poet, see as a poet, serve as a poet. If your poems are to serve, serve your poems. Is a cook, a person whose vocation is cooking, or a musician whose vocation is music, done if they do one dish well, play one song well? Is a one-hit-wonder “good”? Getting “good” does not end.
6. That is, a poem is not merely an end product. It’s part of the process of living your poetics, serving your own poetics, seeing and enacting them in the world.
7. Have you defined your poetics so explicitly?
8. The short answer seems to me, is that if you can’t say how the poem serves your poetics, and whether the poem serves you, then you’re not feeling it. If you’re not feeling it, isn’t that your answer? Or a part of it?
1. You must write poems that serve you.
2. You must write poems that don’t. Then you can tell the difference.
3. I’d suggest that, therefore, you must always be writing bad poems. Some must be “bad,” for some to turn out “good.”
4. Some poets would call this “taking risks” with your writing. But what the hell is the risk? What’s going to happen if you write a terrible poem? Is your house going to fall into the hands of a banker? Are you going to get struck by lightning? Are people going to laugh at you on the street outside of bars? They only put people in jail for writing good poems, and mostly in other countries. Bad poets are as safe as the reproductions of paintings in motel rooms.
5. Feelings are real. The clichés of 18th & 19th century Romantics left over hundreds of years later in pop music are not, not on the same level. They have been copyrighted. Are your feelings copyrighted in advance? Are your feelings somebody else’s ideas? Don’t equate one with the other. Even if you believe in the emotional fundamentalism of Romanticism (who doesn’t now and then?) or as Sarah Campbell put it in her review* of Poems for the Millennium: Romantic and Postromantic Poetry, (2008) edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey C. Robinson, “The Romantics are more contemporary than we are. The Postromantics are more alive than we now living,” you still have a different poetics than Kenneth Goldsmith.
6. Read to find what is useful to you about that tradition, and what is not.
7. Define your poetics (and poems) in that way: is the poem useful to you? Is it working for you? Why or why not? Define your poetics by writing poems.
8. You already figure that some techniques, whether personification or appositives, synecdoche or metonymy, allusion or juxtaposition, are perhaps the right tool for the right job at the right time. You would intuitively just do it. (Maybe after a lot of previous work and thought.) You wouldn’t say “catachresis is always better than parataxis.” Instead, you would be engaged and, in a sense, in motion. In which direction?
9. You get to have fun with that. You have to have fun with it. Intellectual or somatic or aesthetic or social or sonic joy is simply required.
10. I repeat, fun is required. Whether you are writing about being in pain, or living in a fucked up world, or, like Paul Guest, surviving as a paraplegic. If you are not having fun with joy and grief, take a break. Start over.
* Sarah Campbell’s review of the Rothenberg, Robinson vol. 3 of Poems for the Millennium is here: http://www.goldenhandcuffsreview.com/gh12content/18.html
and Now a Word about City Lights Bookstore:
http://www.avclub.com/video_embed/?id=56568<br /><a href=”http://www.avclub.com/articles/san-francisco-city-lights-books-birthplace-of-a-li,56568/” target=”_blank” title=”San Francisco: City Lights Books, birthplace of a literary revolution”>San Francisco: City Lights Books, birthplace of a literary revolution</a>