Friday, August 30, 2019

1949 (excerpts)

Marcel Duchamp lectures at the San Francisco Museum of Art. His 1912 painting, Nude Descending a Staircase is exhibited.

KPFA is founded by Lewis Hill, once Yvor Winters’ student at Stanford. The station begins to broadcast April 15. Hill recites a poem at the end of each day’s broadcast. In A Life of Kenneth Rexroth Linda Hamalian writes, "[Lewis] Hill managed to launch the first listener-sponsored radio station, KPFA/FM, in the United States. With the help of Richard Moore, Eleanor McKinney, and funds contributed by John Marshall of the Rockefeller Foundation, the station, known as Pacifica Radio, was able to stay afloat."   A few years later [1951], [Kenneth] Rexroth would conduct a weekly book review program for KPFA/FM (and in the process amass a huge collection of reviewer’s copies). Other regulars would include Alan Watts on philosophy, Pauline Kael on film, Jaime de Angulo on Indian Tales, Hubert Crehan on art, Elsa Knight Thompson on public affairs, and Ralph Gleason on jazz.

♦ What would come to be known as the San Francisco Renaissance was launched. There were now viable outlets—not limited to academic institutions—for a sensibility that linked the life of the imagination with a pacifist-anarchist consciousness, and which rejected the detachment and impersonality of the New Criticism. The literature of [the] Japanese, [the] Chinese, and the Native American would equal that of Europeans in stature. The natural beauty of the West Coast would provide writers with inspiration and instill within them a commitment to promote ecological sanity. Soon the concept of poetry as performance would be revived and poetry/jazz would become popular. The creative energy dammed up by the war would burst into an exciting and spectacular literary movement.

Two books about the history of KPFA will be published in 1999: Matthew Lasar’s Pacifica Radio: The Rise of an Alternative Network (Temple University Press) and Jeff Land’s Active Radio: Pacifica’s Brash Experiment (University of Minnesota Press). The PFA in KPFA’s name suggests “Pacifica”—both the Pacific Coast and the notion of “pacifism.”

Jaime de Angulo begins to broadcast his “Old Time Stories” (later titled Indian Tales) on KPFA. The tapes he makes continue to be broadcast long after de Angulo’s death in 1950.

Centaur Press—co-founded by James Broughton and Kermit Sheets— publishes James Broughton’s first book, the verse play The Playground. In his autobiography, Coming Unbuttoned (City Lights, 1993), Broughton explains that he wrote the play “in response to Hiroshima and the apprehensions that followed. It mocked people who bury their heads in the sand when the fate of the planet is at stake.”  The Playground is subtitled “A Play for Precarious Grownups”—with adult actors playing at children’s games: “The scene resembles a large city playground in a park. However, all the usual apparatus and amusements look somewhat unusual here. Rising from the center of the wading pool is a pillar, upon which stands the bust of a blackbird crowned with laurel. The entrance gate has no fence or wall, but flags fly from its posts. In mid-air dangles a green traffic light, and also a string of lanterns. All of these are lit, for it is difficult to tell whether it is morning or dusk.” W.H. Auden’s 1947 phrase, “the age of anxiety” haunts the play—which is written almost entirely in rhyme: “O anxiety, abide with me! / Abide with me, anxiety!”  Broughton’s piece concludes on a note of cautious hope for the new postwar world—

O in the time that shall be that must be
the time to reenter the singing green weather
beholding boldness all afire:
Come widely with true love, come ripe and renew.
The cages are mendless, the reborn are due—
but fear (“anxiety”) is given more than its due:
What are you taking into the Dark Ages?
Do you think your umbrella is warm enough?
How are you preparing for the imminent tunnel
at the approaching fork in the road?
You had best be warned to expect
a little more than the usual discomforts of traveling,
the customary whims of the weather
and the unsanitary conditions of foreign lands.
The forecast for mornings is generally mouldy
and the nights will last from three weeks to a century and a half.
What are you taking with you into the Dark Ages?
Will you bundle up in your furry scar tissue,
button well in your woolly political issues?
How many trunks have you packed?
Reservations cannot be obtained in advance
and means are not being served in the summer dining room on the American plan
due to conditions beyond our control.
It is also likely that the ballroom will remain boarded up.
However, coronary thrombosis will be provided daily
through the courtesy of the management
at no additional cost.
So, what are you taking into the long winter evenings?
There are no round-trip tickets on this short-circuit express
and the itinerary does not even promise to be scenic,
but the stopover privilege is permanent.
How are you planning to impress the worms?
You had better not rely on the fortuitous conjunction
with Venus in your horoscope;
you might as well abandon
the insurance policy in the icebox,
the savings-account in the jelly closet:
what value will your nest-egg be
(even from your goldenest goose)
to what possible Museum of Natural History?
Locking the portmanteau at the last moment,
have you forgotten anything?
Are you sure?
In your vanity case which is your essential elixir?
Did you remember the one item that never needs ironing, moth balls, or keys?
Did you overlook the single imperative
for the traveler on perilous journeys?
Did it occur to you as you checked your final list?
Do you even know what it is?
(A shivering silence. The wind howls.
The Raven’s pillar falls limp.)

Broughton and Sheets continue Centaur Press for five years: “We intended to print volumes by all our poet friends, but mine of course was to be the first.” Among the books published by Centaur Press are Robert Duncan’s Medieval Scenes, Muriel Rukeyser’s Orpheus, and Madeline Gleason’s The Metaphysical Needle.

The Grasshopper’s Man & Other Poems by native Californian and Activist poet Rosalie Moore is published as part of the Yale Younger Poets series. 

Equinox Press in Berkeley publishes William Everson’s A Privacy of Speech. The very first book issued by Equinox Press, it is written, designed and printed by Everson and has block print illustrations by Mary Fabilli.

• 1949-1952: R.H. Blyth’s monumental, four-volume Haiku appears from The Hokuseido Press. Sections of the opening volume, “Eastern Culture,” include “The Spiritual Origins of Haiku,” “Zen, the State of Mind for Haiku,” “Haiku and Poetry,” “The Four Great Haiku Poets” (Bashō, Buson, Issa, and Shiki), and “The Technique of Haiku.” In The Dharma Bums (New American Library, 1958), Jack Kerouac mentions seeing Blyth’s volumes, along with “the complete works of D.T. Suzuki,” on Gary Synder’s bookshelves. Beat poets Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure and Lew Welch all take up haiku. In the “simple” form of haiku, they can find a kind of double escape from “suffering.”  Haiku may function as immediate description, “the real thing…without literary devices or fanciness of expression,” as Kerouac puts it; as the poet merges with the object before him, he loses the ego sense which is the major feature of his suffering. Yet, as a meditative form, haiku is also capable of mystically transcending the world, of escaping it entirely. As R.H. Blyth presents it, haiku offers the pleasures of a religious practice blissfully free of some of the deep problems of Western spirituality. “To the Japanese mind,” writes Blyth, “there does not exist that tremendous gulf between us and God on the one hand, and animals, trees and stones on the other.”  The Dharma Bums records a conversation about haiku between Jack Kerouac and Gary Snyder (“Japhy”):

“Look over there,” sang Japhy, “yellow aspens. Just put me in the mind of a haiku…
‘Talking about the literary life—the yellow aspens.’ ” Walking in this country you could understand the perfect gems of haikus the Oriental poets had written, never getting drunk in the mountains or anything but just going along as fresh as children writing down what they saw without literary devices or fanciness of expression. We made up haikus as we climbed, winding up and up now on the slopes of brush. 

          “Rocks on the side of the cliff,” I said, “why don’t they tumble down?”
          “Maybe that’s a haiku, maybe not, it might be a little too complicated,” said Japhy. “A real haiku’s gotta be as simple as porridge and yet make you see the real thing, like the greatest haiku of them all probably is the one that goes ‘The sparrow hops along the veranda, with wet feet.’ By Shiki. You see the wet footprints like a vision in your mind and yet in those few words you also see all the rain that’s been falling that day and almost smell the wet pine needles.”
          “Let’s have another.”
          “I’ll make up one of my own this time, let’s see, ‘Lake below…the black holes the wells make,’ no that’s not a haiku goddammit, you never can be too careful about haiku.”
          “How about making them up real fast as you go along, spontaneously?”

Later, James Broughton—under the influence of Alan Watts as well as of various “substances”—will push the form into the realm of what he calls “high kukus”:

They keep cutting me off,
said the Whisker,
but that will never stop me.
There’s nothing I like better,
said the Sun,
than throwing some light on the subject.

Occident magazine publishes “The Poet and Poetry—A Symposium.” In it Jack Spicer asserts that “pure poetry bores everybody”: It is even a bore to the poet. The only real contribution of the New Critics is that they have demonstrated this so well. They have taken poetry (already removed from its main source of interest—the human voice) and have completed the job of denuding it of any remaining connection with person, place and time. What is left is proudly exhibited in their essays—the dull horror of naked, pure poetry. Live poetry is a kind of singing. It differs from prose, as song does, in its complexity of stress and intonation. Poetry demands a human voice to sing it and demands an audience to hear it. Without these it is naked, pure, and incomplete—a bore...  Orpheus was a singer. The proudest boast made about Orpheus was not that his poems were beautiful in and of themselves. There were no New Critics then. The proudest boast was that he, the singer with the songs, moved impossible audiences—trees, wild animals, the king of hell himself.  Today we are not singers. We would rather publish poetry in a little magazine than read it in a large hall. If we do read in a hall, we do not take the most elementary steps to make our poetry vivid and entertaining. We are not singers. We do not use our bodies. We recite from a printed page.  Thirty years ago Vachel Lindsay saw that poetry must connect itself to vaudeville if it was to regain its voice. (Shakespeare, Webster and Marlowe had discovered this three centuries before him.) Our problem today is to make this connection, to regain our voices. We must become singers, become entertainers. We must stop sitting on the pot of culture. There is more of Orpheus in Sophie Tucker than in R. P. Blackmur; we have more to learn from George M. Cohan than from John Crowe Ransom.

In Jack Spicer (Western Writers Series, Boise State University Press, 1991), Edward Halsey Foster comments, “In 1949 Spicer…claimed that poetry should be genuinely popular and that there ‘was more of Orpheus in Sophie Tucker than in R.P. Blackmur.’ A decade later, Spicer was still virtually unknown outside a small group of poets and readers of poetry—and much less ‘popular’ than, say, [Robert] Duncan. He had completely reversed his
position, and the fact that he remained largely unknown was seen as a virtue to be cultivated in a world where poems were almost certain to be misread.”

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