Sunday, April 3, 2011

Often I Am Permitted

I love USAmerican poetics, and many of its practitioners. That was probably the real gift of my education at UC-Berkeley, the Bay Area being one of the greatest spots in the world for (free) readings and a heavy concentration of writers -- on the street, in the metro, at favorite cafés, that one with small round marble-topped tables -- bring a cardigan -- and the one with the inherited dark woods and tippy legs -- at the twilight, run next door, bring back fish and chips in newspaper. Malt vinegar.

The Castro, the West Oakland Senior Center, the Mission's murals and taquerias, creepy Japantown, Jack Kerouac Alley and City Lights.

Wheeler, Dwinelle. 94720.

Josephine Miles reading in the late afternoon, something about a swimmer swept to sea, or a benevolent ocean and a drowning, Pinsky's parade of sycophants.

Commune, commune, commune -- at water's edges, the Pacific, the bay, the packing district, watching you practice Japanese on notecards, watching you woo the girlish women in Greek School.

A summer of language and found poems, particularly in diners, possibly because of back-to-back booths and open seating (you were gifted in acoustics, in picking our place to be), people so sleepy in the mid- to late- mornings. They'll say anything, and we listened. You published, shameless, arty line breaks your personal permission.

I walked in broken sandals from Berkeley to the Golden Gate, that "thirty-five million dollar steel harp" (said The Chronicle in 1937), to Sausalito, then, refusing to look at my feet but finally acknowledging them, and my blood trail, took the 6:30 ferry, then BART, stomped up the hill from Shattuck to the International House.

That was the kind of thing I did before you. Things were more light and air and feet and muscles, also nipples, then.

I am a fan of Charles Bernstein and what he does, and in ferreting out this and that, I was introduced, posthumously, to his daughter, Emma Bee Bernstein. Yesterday, I posted two YouTube videos from her user account and feel even weirder about that impulse today. It was a foreign act that I wanted to pass off as a comfortable thing, even a celebration of this lovely young woman.

But I don't think her work is great, and so I am not, in turn, a great fan, but something like politeness and real sadness over what was certainly going to be greatness, denied, motivated the gesture. The iteration.

[Denied? Not deferred, certainly, though in these ketamine times, I don't claim a firm understanding of our realities, but not denied, either. Just not, I suppose. Just not. Just plain old very sad very wrong not.]

Anyway, videos sort of from dead people, facebook accounts of the deceased, still friends, still peering out, still protecting a useless privacy.

She only share some profile information with everyone. If you know her, add her as a friend or send her a message.

Charles Bernstein's Web Log is like an infusion of goings-on that I can access when there is need, and there is need, on average, three times a month. It's ugly -- I hate the colors -- I hate the fonts -- I hate the layout.

It's perfect.

And every instance of need births great gratitude but what am I supposed to do, thank him? Harrumph.

In much the same way I know anything, I knew that Jonathan Williams was likely dead, too. Dead with all the other dead people that seem to be peopling the poetic crowd of my advancing years. This -- dead writers -- is partly how I've come to treasure opportunities like the Poetry Audio Archive over at the Academy of American Poets -- for how I long to hear them -- again, or for the first time, or the thirteenth. You really do have to hear poets. Look at them, not so much, but hear them, oh, yes.

Of course, I knew (of) Jonathan Williams from my own Asheville era, and wish that that portion of my life were preserved, for so much remains only in staccato bursts of errant electricity. He made me laugh. He made me want to hear language, touch words.  I like baseball;  He did, too. 

And I forgot him, and most all like him that I ever knew. That's the value of something like Bernstein's Web Log. Between him and Ron Silliman, I'm golden.  I remember.  I backtrack.  I listen to their trusted voices.
Joel Oppenheimer and Francine Du Plessix
at Black Mountain College, 1951.
Photograph by Jonathan Williams

Oh, please.  You remember what it was like.  My commitment to poetry included a commitment to publishable poetry.  Also, I aided and abetted a visit to my campus by Joel Oppenheimer -- there was an ice storm, a very old tree fell, and we all wrote poems about it.

But by the time I came to like Jonathan Williams, I had no campus.  To speak of.

I find that when I read and skim Bernstein's postings, often reduced to announcements, I remember names.  The tip-of-the-tongue drive-you-crazy names.  I practically crow with delight. 

Guy Davenport!  Robert Duncan.


Is there a better way than to end with Robert Duncan?  (Do I feel odd for the absence of George Oppen?)
These various portals to grace -- Emma Bee Bernstein's videos from YouTube, her father's work, analysis of works, and selfless promotion of language, archives oral, archives visual, blogs and blogs and blogs, all these portals such gifts such gifts!

Places of permission.

Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow
by Robert Duncan

as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

Wherefrom fall all architectures I am
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved
whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words
that is a field folded.

It is only a dream of the grass blowing
east against the source of the sun
in an hour before the sun's going down

whose secret we see in a children's game
of ring a round of roses told.

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.

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