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.)

  

Sunday, June 28, 2015

David Gitin

A gentle American poet, under-regarded except by some other poets (Anne Waldman and Lyn Hejinian published blurbs for David's newist book, Woke Up This Morning,  a selected poems 1962-2014), died just yesterday.

His wife, Gloria Avner, posted for him on Facebook.

A mate from Buffalo days, here is his poem "Blessing" from that fine book of his.   



waters run gold with black silt
volcanic

yellow moon yellow moon
no matter the road





And from that same book:

Yer Blues

words
bound of dread

birth
not right

world
I did not do

not know



Horse Ankles

horse ankles
deer thighs

they say I have my mother's
eyes



The Sway of "A"

a life
alive all 





R.I.P., man....

Monday, May 4, 2015

MayPac

Sunday, May 3, London. - Monday May 4th..  Thinking of the people of Nepal - a poor but proud mountain people, and waiting to watch a rerun of the "big fight" which I saw last night "live" on TV ($35 to see in UK, and reruns allowed for 24 hours).

Never saw either before except Pacquiao being flat out cold on his face against Juan Marquez (a fighter Mayweather had defeated, but there was no rematch).  I assumed Mayweather would win unless Pacquiao knocked him out.  As has been said, he would have had to at least knock him down.  He no longer had the punch to do it, although he rocked him once or twice, and Mayweather said after the fight that he was "a good puncher."  But I was not impressed with either.  Am just a lifetime fan of the sport, that's all, by no means an afficionado -  "Greatest Fights of the Century" on black-and-white TV (10 p.m. east coast time saturdays was it..) when I was growing up sort of thing....   

The fight might have ended the same way even if both were in their primes as boxers.  (Paul Simon's song "The Boxer" comes to mind but one hopes that never happens, although I always relate that song to Joe Frazier, a good man, and the ferocity Smokin' Joe had in the first Ali fight, persistent and enduring, with the punch to back it up, would have been necessary for Pacquiao to break down Mayweather.)

I don't follow the sport much anymore.  I had never even heard of Pacquiao until De La Hoya, but I think his after-fight comment that Mayweather "didn't do anything" for him wasn't inaccurate, and personally, though Mayweather won, I thought it wasn't as clear-cut as the Judges and most others would have it/are having it.  Pacquiao was the aggressor, made the fight, but it was clear he wouldn't knock him out, and Mayweather was ready with his right as Pacquiao must have remembered Marquez was. Then there was that shoulder injury as he claimed. Since it became unlikely a knockdown of Mayweather was to be, it also became clear that Mayweather was bigger and stronger and had significant reach advantage although the left seemed to serve simply to keep Pacquiao out, and to measure.  

I heard that Willie Pep once won a round without ever throwing a punch, and Mayweather's own claim that he was as good as Sugar Ray Robinson (or even Sugar Ray Leonard), is a bridge too far.  Ali was faster as a young heavyweight than either of these it seemed, watching on TV or on the big screen in Buffalo the night he fought Cleveland Williams, whoa, - Ali's speed of hands not just feet, was unbelievable to see.  The hard straight left jab that got through the defense, etc.

But it was a good clean fight! Though Mayweather (on second viewing) did seem to wrestle a bit besides ducking and dodging.  



Well, never mind about all of that, all of this.  (and thanks to Allen Fisher, for publishing my previous short essay on a boxing match, "Frazier-Ali" - in SPANNER (number 6), and in the first SPANUAL anthology.  (For the best long and serious essays on boxing, there is Hazlitt's classic, "The Fight" and in a more modern era, Norman Mailer's pieces. )





("Same Day, Later")

My father died in 1984 and left me enough money to leave my dead-end part-time job as an Adjunct teaching Composition at Temple U. (a job I had held for 18 months to pay the rent, and for which I had been glad to have, returning to Philadelphia after a hard decade in London, much of it south of the river), and to travel for a time, so I collected myself, and was able, after two years, to journey to India via a stopover in London, and a pre-booked flight to Nepal from - where was it, from Calcutta or Varanasi....

After five days and nights in Kathmandu, I departed....I wrote this poem during my time there. (It was published in 1988 by John Rety (Hearing Eye) as part of my chapbook "Glimpses  of India and Nepal").

The allusion to "Rapunzel" is to the Kumari Devi.

There was the murder of King Birendra and his family by one of their own, and the attempted armed takeover by the latest version of Maoists and God knows what else, and the everyday life of the people, and now the earthquake. "Namaste" is a Nepali word which I was told translates literally as "I salute all divine qualities in thee" and is a greeting, like Shalom, or Iaorana.  Perhaps the "20 years" should have been 20 eons.



NAMASTE

for over twenty years & still
the restless yearning lonely souls
have come togther
on the streets of Kathmandu

King Birendra's in his Palace
But there are beggars on the street
White Lighnin's at the Red Square
Steaks are at KC's
Rapunzel's in the Durbar Square
rarely to be seen.
There are curries at Sunkosi
Tibet is not yet free.

And all the restless yearning souls of planet earth
Will come together one last time
In the Hindu Buddhist heart of Asia
in the streets of Kathmandu

And the children they go barefoot
In the Himalayan foothills
The women work like horses
In the mountains of Nepal.
The poor man always struggles.
His house is cold in winter
While the rulers live like Maharajahs.
But holy men are chanting
In the dusty night-time streets of Thamel
Electric bodies turn the prayer wheels
In Kantipur

And all the restless yearning souls
Will come together one more time
In the Hindu Buddhist heart of Asia
- the streets of Kathmandu

Sunday, April 26, 2015

3 new poems

3 short new poems written in London this year and a photograph of how I look now at age 74 (2015) on the site of Prague Writers Festival (www.pwf.cz), in the subsection "Fear"....

These poems complement (sort of) the 2 poems on the same site in "Cafe Central" from February 2009, and a photo from younger/happier/more hopeful times.

Thanks to the President of Prague Writers Festival, American poet Michael March, for continuing to publish my work - if one can call it "work"....



earlier poems on-line in sites other than my six related blogsites can be accessed via www.poetrymagazines.org.uk.

(1) Poetry Review, numbers 3 and 4 (1976/77).

(2) Fire, numbers 9, 11, 12, 17, 26, and a guest editorial in #8.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

on expatriation

"A day comes when these old people grow ill and helpless, far from the familiar sights and sounds of their youth, self-exiled for reasons which have become dim in their memories, in an alien place which they never saw as it is and quite understood...."

(Luigi Barzini)

(quoted by John Cohassey in his book "Hemingway and Pound")

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Response to an e-mail from Pat Bohnet in Niagara Falls, NY

Who asked me (referring to the very brief excerpt from "The Later Letters of Charles Olson and Frances Boldereff" I had posted on New Year's Eve) why Olson was so desperate, and also asking (referring to the previous post): Why is "Moby Dick" so important. What follows is my edited response to her queries.

Olson imagined Frances Boldereff to be the great love of his life (though in my opinion, if they had gotten together for more than the very occasional fling it may not have worked (she wanted it to at first, but he wouldn't leave his wife).  Olson was quite lonely the last years of his life after his second wife  (both common law marriages) died in a car accident outside of Wyoming, N.Y. (about 40 miles from Buffalo) where they were living.  Some think it was suicide, but there is no evidence of that.  He was fortunate enough to have one child from each of the marriages, but after the death of Betty, his second wife, he was not able to look after them and they went to live with relatives.  He was never "himself" so to speak after 1965, and pretty much lived alone in his apartment at Stage Fort in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a working-class district of that city.  2 volumes of letters to Frances, the 1st volume embarrassing and does his reputation no good at all - just sentimental wallowing, but the later letters are much better, when he realized they were never going to get together (though she was a bit of a tease).  But simply he was very lonely.  "Charles Olson in Connecticut" by the late scholar Charles Boer, deals with some of Olson's compulsive behavior during a few of these latter years.

re: Melville.  Although Moby Dick can be boring and hard slog, it is more a work of philosphy and cosmology than it is a novel, really.  I recommend you buy Olson's "Call Me Ishmael" and only read Moby Dick when you have the psychological time and space, preferably on or looking at an ocean, though Niagara Falls will do nicely.  I'm sure you have read Billy Budd.  It is worth reading the best exegesis I know on Budd, a chapter in Andrew Del Banco's biography of Melville, which you can get at your library.  An excellent good read, but he skims over much too lightly Melville's quite formative years in the South Seas.

There is what I think is a major vision change in his writing after Moby Dick to a very dark pessimsim after he realized (as I too have realized in my own life - though I am not in any way comparing myself except in this respect) he would never be able to return to the South Seas.  In fact his wife wanted to commit him to an insane asylum and went so far as to ask Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., to sign the commitment papers. Melville took off for the Middle East ("The Holy Land" as he put it) and except for Budd, wrote only poetry the last decades of his life.  In Moby Dick, the only Polynesian character is Queequeg, whereas in his first three books, Typee, Omoo (set mainly on Moorea then called Aimeo), and Mardi, there is Polynesian Romance to the nth degree.  

I would put Moby Dick favorably up against any other text, the Russian novelists, Marquez, even Shakespeare.  Melville was the greatest writer America has produced, and Moby Dick is his masterwork.   

Saturday, January 10, 2015

John le Carre

Because of the cloak-and-dagger nature of his subject matter, his novels do not receive the praise of tastemakers and academics; however, his books investigate moral ambiguity in all of its deepest aspects. The protagonists, some of whom, like Melville's Bulkington, begin by being good men, and naive men, in a world of shadows. Melville disappears him from the Pequod and Moby Dick early on; le Carre makes him someone whose illusions are stripped bare, so that he cannot even utter "The horror!" as Conrad's Marlowe does since he is not looking into the abyss but is inside of it.  Nations as entities, imperialist entities, and men seeking power within these structures, cause chaos, downfall, and death.  His language is so precise in his novels that the noir-ness impales the reader in a web of conflict, a spider's web of confusion for the characters in his novels who are pawns, wittingly and unwittingly, willingly and unwillingly, for the forces which control the world and our lives in it.

His protagonists, like the haunted characters in the novels of David Goodis, for example, commit, in the end, to honorable action and even to love, but it destroys them.  Right from the beginning, from his first novel, Call For The Dead, le Carre is certain of his direction, and the character of George Smiley is introduced, and the figure of Mundt, who features prominently in his taut masterpiece, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.  A friend had told me this novel was even better than the film, which I found hard to believe, but it is true. The characters played in the film by Richard Burton and Claire Bloom are portrayed in the novel in a way which make their transformations doomed, and, in the end Alex Leamas, counter-intelligence agent, opts for a humanity, despite the plea of Smiley, the head of "the circus" - MI5, and MI6, the British domestic and foreign spy networks, so called because the headquarters are in Cambridge Circus, a street near London's West End.  But this is no James Bond world; it is a black-and-white nightmare, where nothing is clear, only grey, where goodness is betrayed in the name of national security.      

Smiley suffers personal betrayal in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the le Carre tale adapted into the extraordinary TV series with Alec Guiness as Smiley, and in Smiley's People as well, for which LeCarre wrote the screenplay. (Both these brilliant and engrossing TV program series feature Beryl Reid as "Connie" the Sovietologist who first brought the double agent activities of the "Cambridge five" to light, and who was the first to name Philby as a traitor.) Smiley's deep analytic intelligence and careful commitments allow him to rise above his masters and contemporaries, even if his coldness, his calculating nature and investigative mind and cynical disposition deprive him of his emotions due to love lost (in spite of his maintained loyalty to his country).

Absolute Friends is an exceptionally ambitious novel attempting a kind of overview of what the world is really like when all illusions are shattered. It is a novel reminiscent of Fitzgerald in its precience - the knowledge that the wealthy phillistines have emerged victorious and have left a waste land behind them. Published in 2003, one of the two protagonists, Sacha, le Carre names him, was also the code nickname of Litvinenko, the secret agent who was the first victim of private nuclear terrorism, murdered in London via the ingestion of Polonium 210, in 2006.  An odd literary co-incidence or even a literary misprision (as Harold Bloom might say), but the world created by le Carre, seemingly old fashioned cold war and post cold war, is almost Burroughsian under the surface - a world where, as Burroughs had said (first to Eric Mottram): "A paranoid is a man in possession of all of the facts."  A world where Dr. Benway calls the shots.  A world where politics is for the naive, where people and nations are no longer in control of their destinies, where "no good deed goes unpunished" (Wilde), and where loyalty and friendship and family are consistently undermined, where the male bonding, a kind of Greek agape, between Sacha and the British recruit to the Secret Services, Ted Mundy, must be destroyed, inevitably.  le Carre, despite his distaste for what Britain has become, a nation steeped in secret hypocrisy,  reserves his greatest disdain for the CIA, picturing the shoot first ask questions later attitude of the American empire, as the most extreme form of coarse anti-intellectualism which the author despises, yet never denying its effectivness in the struggle to maintain a kind of "freedom" against overtly dictatorial regimes, and their servants, represented more often than not by the governments behind the old iron curtain.
                        
le Carre was employed as a spy for a time by British intelligence, and a biography is due out in October. Long after Kim Philby was exposed, le Carre was offered a meeting with him by the British secret service, but le Carre (whose cover Philby had blown resulting in le Carre's early retirement from British Intellgience) declined.  In his eighties now, his last two novels, A Perfect Spy (said to be his most autobiographical) and the most recent text, A Delicate Truth, reinforce and further explore earlier obsessions and continue to leave no doubt that to meet betrayal and desperation with a sense of fatalism is the most honest course of action.  Like Hawthorne, there is little light in his books, only a sounding of the darkness of man's heart, and the belated striving of his protagonists to understand and to transcend it.