Friday, August 4, 2017

Jim Carroll

A tiny excerpt from the long poem "While She's Gone" by the late great Jim Carroll -----


Conscience is no more than the dead speaking to us
It's hard to find comfort
In this world.

You brought that to me
That's hard to let go.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Bird Skinner

This post is in honor of my friend Michael Dougherty, who spent four years in the Pacific during WWII (Guadalcanal, Okinawa) and whom I visited in Waimanalo (Oahu, Hawaii) several times in my younger years.  He was the author and the publisher of TO STEAL A KINGDOM - PROBING HAWAIIAN HISTORY, an important, even crucial, well-researched and heartfelt text which influenced the Sovereignty movement in the islands. A sometimes cantankerous old U.S. Marine, he also demonstrated in his life the significance of Dylan Thomas's "do not go gentle into that good night."


Alice Greenway's powerful, and, in my opinion, deeply enduring novel, "The Bird Skinner" is not a book for anyone but the most serious readers of contmporary fiction; it is not an easy glossy read, but a difficult and disturbing tale structurally moving back and forth in time, and using, organically, not gratuituously, the life and work of Stevenson and Hemingway.  After a brief Prologue, it opens with a quote from RLS's (Tusitala, as he was known in Samoa) "Treasure Island" - "Yet some of the men who had sailed with him before expressed their pity to see him so reduced."  The figure of Long John Silver pervades the novel as does the protagonist's reseach into what might have been the actual location of the island.  "It was just the sort of place Stevenson would soon set sail for himself.  Taking his royalties from "Treasure Island" and his tubercular cough, the great writer would leave dour Edinburgh and bleak Britain for good. Sail to the South Seas, to the Gilberts, to Tahiti, and finally to Samoa, where he is buried....Jim finishes his drink and watches the sky light up across the cove.  Stevenson dreamed it all before, Jim thinks. He sent Silver ahead to scout, to reconnoiter, to lead him in." 

"Lowering his foot, he stretches his toes against the rough, scratchy weave of the sun-bleached kilim rug.  Catches an unwelcome glimpse of the stump in the bureau mirror.  The ugly, blunt rounded shape of the thing.  Its grotesque pink hue.  Nestled against it, his uaroused penis curled in its nest of gray hair....Welcome to old age, the final decline. He's still got his mind, as far as he's aware.  He's not sure in what order he'd like to lose his other faculties: eyesight, hearing, bladder.  The inevitable slide.  His set of toes looks lost, unmatched, unsymmetrical.  His one thin leg unfit for the task of hopping."

A dark novel, rooted in the Solomon Islands, and exploring how guilt and regret pervade the present.   

 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Jeremy Hilton, a new poem

transfigured



lovers wreathed like mists
in a star-sharp night
speak of a lost togetherness
amid the surfeit of separation
the strobes of chaos thrown
from tower-blocks like long ghost shadows
in these last human years
of homeless doorways and diesel air

they will shine beyond
the world they vanish from
until the night cries back
for want of their warmth and whispers

and once they've flown
past all the orbits of satellites and moons
we will find they left behind them
a dance of fireflies over the frosted town


     (after Arnold Schoenberg and Niall Wilson)





---Jeremy Hilton, one of Britian's most senior poets, has published 12 collections of poetry, and for over 15 years he edited and published the journal FIRE, some issues of which are online @www.poetrymagazines.org.uk.  

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Tom Raworth, an early poem

On January 23, 2017, Tom posted the following on his blogsite: "Parts of it have been fun and it's been a decent run."

This short poem was the opening text to his exceptional little book, LION LION, (published in 1970 by Asa Benveniste's Trigram Press).


the happy hunters are coming back
eager to be captured, to have someone unravel the knot
but nobody can understand the writing
in the book they found in the lions' lair



(Tom Raworth, 1938 - 2017)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Letter from Robert Creeley

This letter from Robert Creeley was rejected from inclusion in his Selected Letters.





 64 Amherst Street
 Buffalo, NY 14207-2748
 (Presently San Diego)
             
 March 30, 1994



Dear Bill,

We've managed to get ourselves to edge of charmingly vast Pacific, and if wishes were wings, we'd head for Moorea this very moment.  Ah well!  I love poem of Phil Whalen's that has line: "Let's call it the Pacific."  One of the few "lines" I've remembered ever after (along with "Little Orphan Annie came to our house to play" and "The road was a ribbon of moonlight." etc. etc.)  So San Diego is hardly where you are at (or so I imagine) but it is a great relief for this brief week after the characteristic hanging on winter of Buffalo.  So good to be somewhere where one isn't endlessly having to think of inside and outside "edges".

I don't know finally what to think of Cid's quite evidently flat finances.  As Puritan I would mumble he "wanted it that way" but that's not true.  His ventures, as the restaurant in Boston, or the teahouse scene there in Kyoto don't make it apparently, despite his wife's incredible labors and devotion.  Anyhow I just don't know finally.  But I do know he committed all his attention to his imagination of poetry years ago and that's been the point of it all, good or bad.  I don't therefore have to feel guilty.  All in all, he's had remarkable response, given he all but rejected it so often.  You'll sense, like they say, that there's an aspect of Cid's scene that both drives me up the wall and down into doldrums--worried I don't deserve etc. etc.  But no one deserves nothing, if that's the question--figure Cid's where he figured to be, and Japan is not next door to 51 Jones Avenue, Dorchester, Mass.  So be it, as the Zen Buddhists say.  Onward!

All best as ever,
Bob

                                                                                                                     




Saturday, January 30, 2016

Letter to Teuruna

Mauruuru for your card, and for thinking of me, remembering me.  I always have kept a suitcase packed and am still ready to return to Moorea.

There is so much to say, yet words cannot express it properly.  I do remember everything and everybody.  I know it was not all milk and honey for people there and I know how privileged I was to be there so many times, and to experience the magic

I hope you and Marc are well.  And your younger sister, Sidonie.  You were my "lagoon guru" of course, and it was so wonderful on the motu - the picnics, the pakelolo, the grilled Maohi corned beef.  The Saturday night show and barbeque; and the Sunday feast: uru, fafa, poi.  The lovely dinners of lamb and taro you cooked in your fare....

So many have died.  Paul, to whom you were so kind.  My friend Michel (yes, I know he was raving drunk so often, but a great artist) - we had deep discussions about art and poetry even though his English was as bad as my French!   Teva, who died so young.  Andre.  Ben.  Monsieur Gendron.  Didier.   .....     I still have a carved coconut and black beads from the Marquesas Paul gave me.

Remember when you and Caroline took me to where Roonui was living in a little fare and he thought I was completement fou for wanting a tatoo the traditional way until you convinced him I was okay.  Jewish people are not supposed to have a tatoo, and the very day I got one my house I then owned in Feltonville in Philadelphia was burgled.  Very strange!  (I hope Caroline is okay, and that she has forgiven me for being insensitive to her when she was planning on visiting me in New Jersey.)

Well, there's always more...I remember William (the gardener) often having a smoke with me on the porch of my bungalow before he began work.  And Dahlia.  And Julienne.  And Christina (Logue), but that's another story...

It does get lonely here on my own in London, but I am 75 now - ancient!  Lucky to be alive. As you must know, I daydream of going back to Moorea one more time. Still ready to snorkel in the lagoon!

I remember when Marc surfaced there after his service underwater in a nuclear submarine - he must have thought he died and went to heaven!

And I think of all the others in that extraordinary community of Moorea (and Tahiti) - Donny, Jacques, Ron, Lee and Paola, Jean, Omaha Pat, Tea, and everyone else who made my life in Polynesia the happiest of times.

Be healthy and strong.  Blessings to you.  Faaitoito.  

Bill (Mahi).




Wednesday, October 28, 2015

ALONE IN LISBON AGAIN

So much of my life now spent
& I see
the great Portuguese poets
of the past 100 years & more
all dying young
Pessoa, Cesario, Florbela

Should I be grateful for old age?

Everyone who loved me
- said they loved me
though if it were true
it was only in the moment -
They are all gone now, died
or with others
or disappeared from my life

Did this begin to happen
When, (without knowing it!)
My Faith left me
-or I abandoned it ....

Sometimes
the loneliness
is overpowering

I rent a flat in London
but don't like living there
cold climate, so many people,
a filthy city
few poets ever celebrated
except to wade
in praise of its darknesses
and lack of joie de vivre

And in America?
What is left there for me
Save further depression

Every day
Death on my mind

Well, a little holiday
in a pricey hotel
-seeing a few things here again-
after almost 15 years
dinners and a bit of time
with Anabela


damn this self-pity
& the nightmare el cheapo flight
back tomorrow
the crush at Immigration
the coach or train after
travelling by myself
after the heart attacks
the strangulated hernia
the deafness & tinnitus
old man shut up
your time is almost finished !
where is God?
I am obviously not Job
Everywhere here still
The Temptations of Saint Anthony!




Monday, October 26, 2015

Homage To Cesario Verde

"....He was a simple compadre
 who walked around the city as if lost in his own freedom"

-----Alberto Caeiro.



He loved a woman named Clarice
And lost her, and then his demise in 1886
Tubercular and gone at 31,
His brother and his sister
Also having succumbed
To the shadowy plague
Haunting the twilight streets of Lisboa

Disregarded in life
His friend Silva Pinto
Gathered up his poetry which Pessoa read
"Until my eyes began to bleed."

This great poet of love and melancholy
Who would not tie the knot in church
"La Nessa E Que Nao Caio!"



          II

I saw a man in the streets of Saldanha

It might have been a woman -
Hard to tell, except from his girth and stride
Wrapped several times over
And on his head and feet
In layers of waterproof plastic
Black and thin
Completely covering him
Without even a visible carrying bag
Twice in several days I saw him
Not even begging, only slowly
Moving amidst the affluence of the square.
Catching his eye the second time
(Perhaps I was looking to give him a few Euro)
He turned quickly away
With such a hard jerk
That I thought he had somehow recognized me

From a time long gone,
Distant, when his fortunes
Still stretched out before him
I caught the pain in his eyes
as he yanked his face away
& kept on walking



          III

(The Remembered Joy)

Ocean of Margate, New Jersey
feeling the salt water immersing the body
as you dive under a wave
or ride one in to shore
the oft-derided New Jersey shore
despoiled some now
by the greed of those
who porkbarreled to build the artificial dunes
where the people don't want them
changing the sand quality
protecting nothing the bulkheads cannot (*)

or of snorkeling
out by the reef
in a far away place I loved



          IV

There is no charm in London
Not one poet who has resided here
Has written of enchantment
(Allen Fisher's Place comes closest) 
Only its plagues and poverty
The dull grey cold and the chill
What a relief it would be
To leave this fouled "city of dreadful night"
Its cultural hype and celebrity wealth
The knives and gangs the literati seem to revel in!
"It's my sewer" poets here say.
"Piss off" people say to me on the street,  we
Don't want you here.
Beggars and rough sleepers and "po-faced" shave-headed youth.



          V

Cesario channels Camoes
holding aloft his manuscript Os Lusiadas

as he swims to shore after the shipwreck near Cambodia
and the death of she whom he loved 



(*)  The "dune project" - building artificial dunes on the beach, interfering with nature, lining the pockets of local and state officials, and the army core of engineers, was voted down in Margate, twice; yet, the bullying right-wing governor continues to viciously excoriate the people of Margate - one of only two barrier island towns to refuse the project.  In recent storms, "sandy" and "jonas", flooding was bayside not beachside, and bulkheads protect from ocean's rages, but the megabuck corruption of the governor's obsession to line all New Jersey coastal towns with man-made dunes rather than to repair and raise the bulkheads continues.  (Footnote added January 26th.)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ketan Ben Caesar

Ketan Ben Caesar has died.  (News of his passing came to me here in London, England, via Mbali Umoja's facebook post and group photo with Ketan on her site.)

For 40 years he organized poetry readings in Philadelphia, more by far than any other poet in the history of my old home town, and in a great variety of Goodisville places like McGlinchey's, Bacchanal (with Chris Peditto), and Fairmount's London pub.

Ketan was a highly spiritual man, beloved and respected by many (although not by the pseudo-avant-garde academics and their circle at the U. of Pennsylvania who never would have dreamed of offering a street-poet like him a reading at their claustrophic venues).  This despite the fact that, in my opinion, his Black Hand was the finest (even the most frightening and profound) and wildest performance poem-piece I have ever heard!

Like Bunting, Ketan believed that the human voice was the instrument which brought the score, the notes and rhythms of the poem, to life, and he consistently (even obstinately) refused hard-copy publication, so deep and even courageous his belief in the oral tradition.

He was a physical man with a powerful ego, but a kind-hearted and sensitive person behind the sometimes gruff exterior of his Tuscan birth and South Philly upbringing. 

I had the pleasure of doing an Afterword to his eccentric long reading in Ocean City, New Jersey, in 2011, to commemorate Human Rights Day, sponsored by Amnesty International.  It was clear when I collected him at the Atlantic City train station, that he was in pain from his arthritis, but he carried on without complaint nevertheless, and his humanity was such that he secretly donated his $100 reading fee to Amnesty, saying to Georgina Shanley, head of South Jersey Amnesty, that he had lost the cheque and just to forget about replacing it.

Ben Caesar's strong and passionate voice is one I dearly miss tonight.  He was a good and true friend, and he dedicated his life to poetry.  

    

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Dave Etter

It was only a week ago that one of Britain's very best poets, Lee Harwood, departed from this world....  Today I received the news that my "favorite" American poet, Dave Etter, died just the other day.  I wrote a brief review of his last book, a chapbook, actually, "Blue Rain" on Amazon, noting that although Dave was now in his mid-eighties, there was no loss of power.  He was neither "experimental" nor "avant" and had said: "I'm a regionalist.  How arrogant it would be to think of myself as national or international....You tell me how it goes in New Hampshire or Tennessee and I will tell you how it goes in Illinois.  After all, William Carlos Williams, that superb regionalist, spoke the truth when he said 'The local is the universal'."

Etter was perhaps the last great "populist" poet - a tradition now either overlooked, derided or denigrated in academia.  His work was rooted in the landscape of the American midwest, where he lived most of his life, and he did what to me was quite improbable: making the disappearing small-town semi-rural life there appealing and Romantic.  His work was deeply empathic, compassionate, and exhibited an exceptional humanity and a feeling for others, and love of life.  The ironies were always organic and light, and when he delved into the political, his words had weight and tone.  He agreed with Archibald MacLeish that "placeless poetry, existing in the non-geography of ideas, is a modern invention and not a very fortunate one."

In his large early masterwork, Alliance, Illinois, he stands "Spoon River" on its head, giving voice to the living.  Here is "Marcus Millsap" speaking in "School Day Afternoon":

I climb the steps of the yellow school bus,
move to a seat in back, and we're off,
bouncing along the bumpy blacktop.
What am I going to do when I get home?
I'm going to make myself a sugar sandwich
and go outdoors and look at the birds
and the gigantic blue silo
they put up across the road at Motts'.
This weekend we're going to the farm show.
I like roosters and pigs, but farming's no fun.
When I get old enough to do something big,
I'd like to grow orange trees in a greenhouse.
Or maybe I'll drive a school bus
and yell at the kids when I feel mad:
"Shut up back there, you hear me?"
At last, my house, and I grab my science book
and hurry down the steps and into the sun.
There's Mr. Mott, staring at his tractor.
He's wearing his DeKalb cap
with the crazy winged ear of corn on it.
He wouldn't wave over here to me
If I was handing out hundred dollar bills.
I'll put brown sugar on my bread this time,
then go lie around by the water pump,
where the grass is very green and soft,
soft as the body of a red-winged blackbird.
Imagine, a blue silo to stare at,
and Mother not coming home till dark!

In a late-life letter to me on Keats and other matters: "Damn, the man died way too soon....It would be nice if we could meet.  I hope so.  Keep on going Bill."

Alas, I was (and am) in London and never did get to Lanark, Illinois to sit on the "Front Porch Swing":

And maybe
close neighbors
with cold beer
and a banjo
will walk up
under the drooping
sycamore leaves,
mosquitoes
stabbing
their sweaty
arms and necks,
and we will sing and swing
way beyond
the ten o'clock
news of the world,
and who cares
if the rusty
chains creak?

 
(Dave Etter was the author of 32 books of poetry.  For further information about him see poet Carrie Etter's post (also on 5 August), @ carrieetter.blogspot.co.uk.)