Sunday, September 1, 2019

1946 (excerpts)


In the posthumously-published Selected Poems of Robert Duncan (New Directions, 1997), editor Robert J. Bertholf writes about the year 1946,

It was the beginning of a dynamic period for poetry in the Bay Area. Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser became friends and together they devised “serial form” for a series of poems linked by repeating themes.

• New Directions publishes The Selected Poems of Kenneth Patchen. From that book:

THE FIGURE MOTIONED WITH ITS MANGLED HAND TOWARDS THE WALL BEHIND IT, and uttered a melancholy cry

It was rumored on the block
Ethel is going to let go tonight.
I made big about it, strutting
Down 5th eyeing the babies over,
Thinking they look like mudhens
Next to my little piece of tail.
She was hard to get. Her old lady
Was saving her for dough, but hell
I had class, want the moon, kid?
And I’d give it to her. Funny thing
Though, this is all a lie, I never
So much as touched her hand, she
Thinks I’m dirt, nobody else ever
Always got the wrong end of the stick.

I’d carry the mail for you, Ethel,
Stop running around with that pup,
He’s got a car, sure, and jack to throw
Like water but what does he want?
What do they all want? something easy,
Something that somebody else worked for.
Ethel, lay off rich kids, you’ll end dirty.

Join the world and see the army
The slime is quiet tonight, along the Jersey coast
The chippies discuss Democracy in awed tones
Breathes there a heel with man so dead…
Shoot the liquid fire to Johnnie, boy
With every rendezvous-with-death we are giving away
An autographed photo of J.P. Morgan taken in the frontline trenches

They took him down stone steps
To a cellar thick with rats.
The guard gave him a cigarette
And slapped it out of his mouth.
Moral. Don’t ever knock off a cop.
Ethel, looking like a movie queen,
Descended on his cell in a mink coat.
When they fitted the black cap over his head
He knew that he’d never have another chance to be president
.

*

Wikipedia on Kenneth Patchen: “Though he denied any direct connection, Patchen's work and ideas regarding the role of artists paralleled those of the Dadaists and Surrealists. Patchen’s ambitious body of work also foreshadowed literary art-forms ranging from reading poetry to jazz accompaniment, to the kind of poetry and prose identified as ‘Beat,’ to experiments with the oblique approaches to language found in post-modernism, to his late experiments with visual poetry (which he called his ‘picture poems’).

Patchen was born in Niles, Ohio. His father made his living in the nearby steel mills of Youngstown, Ohio. Patchen began to first develop his interest in literature and poetry while he was in high school.
          “Patchen’s first poem was published in the New York Times while he was still in college. He attended Alexander Meiklejohn’s Experimental College for one year, then left school and traveled across the country, working itinerant jobs. He later attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and while still an undergraduate, met Miriam Oikemus at a friend’s party. Though they lived far from one another at the time, they soon fell in love, got married, and moved to Greenwich Village, where Patchen struggled to make a living as a writer.
          “A major tragedy occurred in Patchen’s life [in 1937] when he suffered a permanent spinal injury while he was trying to fix a friend’s car. This injury caused him an extreme amount of pain and required multiple surgeries. Although the first two surgeries seemed to help with some of his pain, a botched third surgery ended up disabling Patchen for life.

          “Patchen and his wife also spent much of their lives in California where Patchen became an integral part of the West Coast poetry scene. Then, in Patchen’s final years, the couple moved to a small farm house in Connecticut where Patchen eventually created his distinctive painted poems.”

Modesto-born (1913) James Broughton makes his first film, a collaboration with Sidney Peterson called The Potted Psalm. Broughton’s first solo film, Mother’s Day, follows in 1948.

• Harcourt, Brace & Company publishes Filipino writer Carlos Bulosan’s America is in the Heart: A Personal History. His The Laughter of My Father appears from Bantam Books.

• Lesbian Feminist poet/philosopher Elsa Gidlow (born 1898) purchases five acres of land above Muir Woods National Monument along the coast. She names the place “Druid Heights.” Secluded at the end of a long winding dirt road above Muir Woods, the land originally was a chicken farm, but Gidlow turns it into a Zen-inspired retreat of California-style lodges with names such as “The Moon Temple.” Alan Watts and Catharine A. MacKinnon reside there, as do many artists and musicians. Born in Hull, England, Elsa Gidlow had lived in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1927. In 1923 she published On a Gray Thread, the first openly lesbian book of poetry published in the United States. Gidlow was at one time attracted to the Theosophical Society and the writings of Yeats’ mentor Madame Blavatsky, but she was put off by the homophobic attitudes she found among theosophists. She turned to Eastern religions and developed a devotion to Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. She also studied Celtic lore. With Watts she co-founded the Society for Comparative Philosophy. Liz Highleyman writes 

          Gidlow lived with her long-term partner, Violet Henry-Anderson—known as “Tommy”—for 13 years, until Tommy died of cancer in the late 1930s. Even in the pre-liberation era, Gidlow later recalled, “We were profoundly sure of our right to be as we were, to love and live in our chosen way, we were happy in it.” Several years later, Gidlow began a relationship with a Caribbean woman, Isabel Grenfell Quallo, with whom she lived for about a decade. In her 70s, Gidlow had a shorter relationship with a woman some 50 years her junior.
          Gidlow was as unabashedly open about her radical politics as she was about her sexuality. An activist on numerous fronts, she was a member of the first U.S. lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, in the 1950s. During the McCarthy era, she was accused of being a Communist sympathizer and questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee; however, Gidlow told the committee that she was an anarchist and considered Marxism an oppressive ideology.
          In the 1960s and 1970s, Gidlow was an active participant in the psychedelic subculture, the antiwar movement, and the New Age and alternative spirituality communities, embracing both paganism and Eastern religions. By the time lesbian feminism emerged, Gidlow was already in her 70s, and was soon hailed as movement foremother; her standing was strengthened with the publication, in 1975, of Ask No Man Pardon: The Philosophical Significance of Being Lesbian (Druid Heights Books). 



• While in San Francisco on furlough, William Everson purchases a Washington hand press. After being discharged from alternative service at the Conscientious Objector camp in Minersville, CA, Everson sets up his hand press in the apple dryer at Ham and Mary Tyler’s Treesbank Farm, near Sebastopol. Here he meets poet and artist Mary Fabilli, whom he will marry in a civil ceremony in Reno in 1948. Initially a lapsed Catholic, Mary Fabilli begins to find her way back into the Church by reading the life of St. Ignatius Loyola. She has been working in the Kaiser shipyards and reads the book because she is designing a program for the launching of the S.S. Loyola Victory. Everson attends Mass with her and studies Catholicism, becoming absorbed in Augustine’s Confessions. At the Christmas midnight Mass in a San Francisco cathedral, he undergoes a conversion experience which he will later describe in his memoir, Prodigious Thrust (Black Sparrow, 1966). He begins to associate with Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Thomas Parkinson, Philip Whalen, Philip Lamantia, and James Broughton. In William Everson: The Life of Brother Antoninus (New Directions, 1988), Lee Bartlett quotes Everson on the power relationships of the emerging writing community:

In San Francisco, [Kenneth] Rexroth was our group’s paterfamilias, but on the Berkeley side Duncan was its energy. He was indefatigable in his arrangement of poetry readings as our key creative outlet, since the dominant centers of publication were largely closed to us.

Robinson JeffersMedea, adapted from Euripides, is published by Random House.

• Painter Clyfford Still begins to teach at the California School of Fine Arts.

• Oakland-born Robert Duncan meets Los-Angeles-born (1925) Jack Spicer at an anarchists’ gathering. Both are students at the University of California at Berkley; both are studying English literature and medieval historiography, the latter under the great German émigré scholar Ernst Kantorowicz, whose vehement refusal to sign UC Berkeley’s Loyalty Oath will eventually remove him from the university. Duncan and Spicer form the nucleus of a “circle” of poets, modeled to some degree on the Georgekreis, the circle around German poet Stefan George. (Kantorowicz had been a member of the Georgekreis.) The Duncan/Spicer circle is bound together by a sense of opposition to the official literary culture and canon as well as by an interest in occultism and homosexuality. Half jokingly, Jack Spicer refers to the productions of the group as “The Berkeley Renaissance.” 
          In “The Dreamers” Duncan, thinking of the group, writes, 

The magic in convolutions of our company
winks its lights. Its touch is slight
and vital. But we are bearish magickers,
makers of lightnings in half-sleep of furry storm.

It is the magic of not-touching,
not-looking sharpenings of the eye,
dim thunders of imaginings. Half-loves
kept short of love’s redeeming fire….


The deliberate holding back of erotic energy—“the magic of not-touching”—was immensely important to the group’s “magic.” Yeats’ concept of the poet as magician—as conveyer of occult forces—is at play here as well. Commenting on his early work in The Years as Catches (Oyez, 1966), Duncan remarks, 

"I took the art of poetry to be essentially a magic of excited, exalted or witch-like (exciting) speech, in which the poet had access to a world of sight and feeling, a reality, deeper, stranger, and larger, than the world of men’s conventional concerns, and I took the craft to be a manipulation of effects in language towards that excitation…Since I believed from the first in the magic of the poetry of Ezra Pound, I would try again and again to find the efficacy of passages in the Cantos where I could not make my way…but it was Pound’s autohypnotic evocation of a world in which gods and elemental beings moved that I loved.

Jack Spicer publishes his first poems in Occident, the student literary magazine at UC Berkeley.

Jaime de Angulo, who had first arrived in San Francisco in 1906—just in time for the earthquake—returns to the Bay Area. He lives for some time in San Francisco’s Chinatown as a transvestite and earns his living by giving language instruction. Jack Spicer is one of his students. In 1948, de Angulo moves to Berkeley.

Philip Lamantia’s first book, Erotic Poems is published by Bern Porter. A native San Franciscan, Lamantia lives in New York during the 1940s. There he works as an assistant editor for the Surrealist magazine, View (1940-1947), founded and edited by Charles Henri Ford. Between 1942 and 1944, partly in response to View, André Breton publishes another Surrealist magazine in New York, VVV: only three issues appear. Lamantia’s “The Touch of the Marvelous” appears in VVV, vol. 1, no. 4, 1944.


Janet Lewis publishes The Earth Bound: 1924-1944, her selected poems, in a limited edition with the Wells College Press (Aurora, NY). The book is designed and printed by the famous printers, Victor and Jacob Hammer. This is Lewis’s poem, “Days”:

Swift and subtle
The flying shuttle
Crosses the web
And fills the loom,
Leaving for range
Of choice or change
No time, no room.

Wallace Stegner creates the Stanford Writing Workshop, the second Creative Writing program (after Iowa) in the U.S. Stegner supervises the fiction writing classes and fellowships, which will eventually include such participants as Raymond Carver, Evan
Connell, Harriet Doerr, Ernest Gaines, Thomas McGuane, Larry McMurtry, Tillie Olson, Scott Turow, Tobias Wolff, and Al young. Yvor Winters, formalist poet and New Critic, supervises the poetry program. Winters’ students will include Edgar Bowers, Thom Gunn, Donald Hall, Robert Hass, Donald Justice, Philip Levine, N. Scott Momaday, Robert Pinsky, Timothy Steele, and Robert Stone.

James Broughton, who took Winters’ poetry course in the early thirties, disagreed with his teacher strongly. Broughton writes in his memoir, Coming Unbuttoned (City Lights, 1993),

I even concocted a spoof manifesto parodying Winters’ rigid diction in which I insisted that the only form of poetry appropriate to the present age was the Anglo-Saxon; therefore poets should write in alliteration and litotes about heroic couplings.

Winters asked Broughton to leave the class and told him, “You could not even rise to the level of Ella Wheeler Wilcox or Edgar Guest.

In his poem, “Essay on Psychiatrists,” from Sadness and Happiness (Princeton, 1975), Robert Pinsky gives a very different picture of his teacher:

The Old Man, addressing his class
On the first day: “I know why you are here.

You are here to laugh. You have heard of a crazy
Old man who believes that Robert Bridges
Was a good poet; who believes that Fulke
Greville was a great poet, greater than Philip

Sidney; who believes that Shakespeare’s Sonnets
Are not all that they are cracked up to be….Well,

I will tell you something: I will tell you
What this course is about. Sometime in the middle
Of the Eighteenth Century, along with the rise

Of capitalism and scientific method, the logical
Foundations of Western thought decayed and fell apart.
When they fell apart, poets were left

With emotions and experiences, and with no way
To examine them. At this time, poets and men
Of genius began to go mad. Gray went mad. Collins

Went mad. Kit Smart was mad. William Blake surely
Was a madman. Coleridge was a drug addict, with severe
Depression. My friend Hart Crane died mad. My friend

Ezra Pound is mad. But you will not go mad; you will grow up
To become happy, sentimental old college professors,
Because they were men of genius, and you

Are not; and the ideas which were vital
To them are mere amusement to you. I will not
Go mad, because I have understood those ideas….”

He drank wine and smoked his pipe more than he should;
In the end his doctors in order to prolong life
Were forced to cut away most of his tongue.

That was their business. As far as he was concerned
Suffering was life’s penalty; wisdom armed one
Against madness; speech was temporary; poetry was truth.



Robert Duncan returns to Berkeley after a stay in New York City, where he has associated with Anaïs Nin and her circle. 

Gertrude Stein dies. Stein’s work has an enormous influence on the work of Robert Duncan, who in turn has an enormous influence on Bay Area writing. Another important poet for Duncan—who frequently describes himself in a positive way as a “derivative” poet—is the modernist H.D. (Hilda Doolittle, 1886-1961). From 1951 to 1952 Duncan produces poems he calls “Imitations of Gertrude Stein,” and his unfinished H.D. Book is a labor of many years.  Stein and H.D. also become important presences in the feminist movement of the 1970s.

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