Blogging offers a forum for musing about the craft of writing and the events that surround us in a very frustrating and yet exciting time, as we are faced with many issues similar to those of the 1960s: A government that lies to us, neo-colonial incursions into other countries, repression of ideas and serious threats to the well-being of the human race, while offering bread and circuses at home in the form of rampant materialism. A groundswell of protests against authority again reflect the response that was given by youth in the 1960s. Writing once again can explore those moods and present an alternative.
The host pointed to paintings on the Gallery walls, “Water, water, water” the theme. Mud patterns in a drying lake, ocean waves breaking, the Napa River vigorous and full, the same river this year: a trickle.
The feature looked like a Dr. Frankenstein experiment! Two rows of stitches angled across his shaved cranium, each four inches long.
Nothing like a monster, though, when he read. Kid stuff, energetic and cheerful.
Lucy hit a homer,
I saw it, I was there!
And by the way her bat cracked,
I knew she hit it square.
Showing the forty-some, mostly white elders a little joy of life?
She took off running like the wind,
Toward first base, and more,
Her team was losing by a run,
Her hit could tie the score.
Gary Turchin made his living reading to school children and it shows. He touched the stitches and quipped, “You can’t fault me for narcissism. Who else would love me?”
Did you know the Moon is gregarious?
That cumulus clouds are full of themselves?
That the Sun has a shy side, but we don’t see it?
That lightning and thunder are at odds, and have been for centuries…?
Tongue in cheek provocation, “because there’s no substitute for the truth.” What if everything was wrong, and there is no truth?
What if the Universe was a chalkboard,
all chalked in,
and God: the Eraser
creating space between?
Turchin has an aggressive Parkinson’s disease. Those stitches show where surgeons probed his brain. “Before they routered … with their elegant science,”
A young security guard chased me into the crosswalk…
Demanding to see my receipt.
I yelled at him, “You don’t know anything,
He was young and stupid,
and hadn’t yet learned to distinguish ‘handicapped’ from ‘thief’…
The surgeons probed around and Turchin talked, to show what functions they touched. “Don’t mess with the poetry nodes!” Louder, “Let me keep my ability to speak!”
Turchin extended the theme in “The Geometry of Water,” asking water for its measurements. “It will laugh, scoff even, ‘You dividers and geometers….’” Water took on a voice with signature directness, listing how water transforms itself, magically. The poem concluded
“If I am not your God,
I am the mother of your God.” …
Surgeons will insert a battery in Turchin’s chest, hoping to override the earthquakes running through his nerves. Do we need special effects?
Someone yelled, “When will they turn on the battery?”
“That’s for me to know and you to guess.”
The Gallery’s next theme is “Color Matters.” You can bet they’ll bring a telling palette to racism. Find out how at 1805 Ashby Avenue, or downtown in their walkway between Center and Addison Streets, or at www.expressionsgallery.org
(This entry originally appeared as a column in the Berkeley Times December 3 2015 print edition.)
“Sensuous, a touch of sadness,” said host Richard Silberg of the reader on Hiroshima’s 70th anniversary. “We forgot, for the occasion, to set off a small nuclear device.”
History was highlighted.
Marc Hofstadter read personal poems so calmly, did he think life’s of little account? His new title, Memories I’ve Forgotten, echoed that possibility:
Mary and I, naked, three years old,
in the 96th Street penthouse garden,
a hose sluicing chilled water in,
droplets beading on our brows,
limbs cold, laughter filling our mouths
with a fullness I seek now,
sixty-odd years later,
in a coffeehouse in San Francisco,
where a small courtyard fountain
The audience was all white, eleven men and four women, like Hofstadter bracketing 70, with two twenty-somethings eavesdropping. The poet: tall, dignified, paunchy, with semi-Einstein hair.
When the young poet learned to switch the lamp:
On, it lit the room
with a suffused glow.
Off, it made the world disappear:
me, the walls,
A crush, before he understood he was gay:
I noticed his straw hair and red skin,
for three months aware of nothing else.
Trees, walls, people disappeared.
When the world surged back,
I had no memory of what had happened.
He seemed an ordinary boy enough.
Seventy-plus years ago Robert Duncan’s academic essay, for a few, brought legitimacy to homosexuals. In the 1950s Ginsberg proclaimed gayness loudly as did John Wieners, as misunderstood tragedy: “Fairy friends who do not fail us Mary in our hour of despair.” Over the years acceptance increased. Ron Schreiber’s volume Dear John comes to mind, among others.
Is Hofstadter’s tranquility an anomaly? It’s a strength, tinged with some existential humor. He’s able to go to the core without avoidance. Taking no exits. That, plus a kiloton of courage, allows such brief, complete, and casual-seeming poems.
Even at eleven,
I was the bottom,
you the top.
We ignored our “disgusted”
tent-mate as well as
the camp’s teaching
team, and manhood.
Summer passed in a whirl.
I never saw you again.
I had been thin and frail,
you strong, sinewy.
How many hysterias did Hofstadter avoid? You list them, they’re obvious. Speaking so comprehensively on this topic is historic. The change took one life-time.
The twenty-something. who’d come from the Slam, agreed: “Thoughtful. Mature.”
“Dear Reader,” about the end of life:
It’s only the start
of a long night
I fear I won’t
be able to bear,
but I tell myself,
is facing the worst
without anyone else
knowing you’re toughing it out,
I make it,
no one aware
Will the next reading be an historic marker, too? A quiet bomb? Go to www.poetryflash.com and guess.
(This entry originally appeared as a column in the Berkeley Times November 5 2015 print edition.)
First time in a decade? Language poet founder Ron Silliman and Laura Moriarty read alongside devotee Brian Ang, who projected lines in a pure monotone. With great conviction!
Taken own postmodernist discriminating unless insisted extreme
Claimed lead perfect statistics relinquishing both climatic framework festivals tell
Seven women among thirty men, half elders, all but one white, listened in respectful silence. No fidgeting! This was serious stuff.
Pigeonholing nature’s concocted alphabet assassin moderns arrested body
Envied found parental [real] energies throne average probe sole released
You understand this? You’re kidding! Words like a strong wind peel off layers of the psyche and expose the core. The mind dances, searching for a pattern — where there is none. The dance is intriguing. Watching one’s own instinctual process is revelatory.
Ang ended with “Thank you” in that same monotone. No eye contact.
Moriarity had stylish appeal, in an elegant blouse and chic bob, and considerable limbic content. She made eye contact during her introductions, but while reading? None.
The revolution came and went
While you were dead…
As I dreamt
Your voice rough
(My) head empty (my)
Heart out of its mind
We rioted then
Taking things apart
Individually and as a group…
Like someone not dead
Memory disguised as threat
Brilliant lines alongside precise observations that zoom halfway to the void. Love poems and compact narratives in a deliberate, narrow range of expression. And, tacked on the end, Moriarty intoned a flat “Thank you.” She calls her poems “Tonalist” – look it up.
Silliman, in comfortable, folksy style, plaid shirt and cowboy hat, read from Against Conceptual Poetry. Well, Language poetry has no concepts! But the book presents insightful, humorous, and angry conversations with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.
Silliman has returned to his original interest. A political organizer in the 1970s, he saw that language subverts our hearts and emotions – our limbic system – without our awareness. Highlight the sabotage that people were referred to as “he,” extend that concern to all words, and you have Language poetry strategy.
Assange on U.S. journalism. “…but, come on, actually…it’s always been very bad…especially when you are involved in something yourself and you know every facet of it and you look to see what is reported…in the mainstream press, and you can see naked lies after naked lies…so appalling I don’t think it can be reformed.”
Suddenly the reading fit the decor! Dreams of a previous generation thrive at Art House, 2905 Shattuck Avenue, with Hendrix, Joplin, and Ginsberg in colorful, swirling paintings on the walls.
And a fundamental value of the Beats? Tell the truth.
Will the next reading at Art House be as provocative? Sign up at email@example.com and find out.
(This entry originally appeared as a column in the Berkeley Times August 13 2015 print edition.)