MIKE AND DALE'S YOUNGER POETS
SELECTIONS FROM SUMMER 1997
From The Notebooks of Araki Yasusada
Mad Daughter and Big-Bang
December 25, 1945*
Walking in the vegetable patch
late at night, I was startled to find
the severed head of my
mad daughter lying on the ground.
Her eyes were upturned, gazing at me, ecstatic-like...
(From a distance it had appeared
to be a stone, haloed with light,
as if cast there by the Big-Bang.)
What on earth are you doing, I said,
you look ridiculous.
Some boys buried me here,
she said sullenly.
Her dark hair, comet-like, trailed behind...
Squatting, I pulled the turnip up by the root.
[*In the aftermath of the bombing, many survivors moved into the foothills of the Chugoku mountains surrounding Hiroshima. This was the case with Yasusada and his daughter.]
by Philip Whalen
HOPELESS FUCKUP BEATNIK COCKSUCK MOTHERFUCK
NOGOOD BASTARD EAT SHIT RUN RABBITS
AND BARK AT THE MOON
*From Highgrade-Doodles & Poems by Philip Whalen, previously published 9n Coyote's Journal, 1966
by Ron Padgett
It was fun hiding under the dining room table. Up in the nooks and crannies of its underside, I had concealed rolls of coins that I had stolen from the small desk a few feet away. In fact, at the age of four, I had salted away a small fortune, with which I could buy great heaps of candy bars. It was the first time I had ever stolen anything, and although I knew that I must keep it a secret, I didn't feel guilty. I felt exhilarated, partly by the power of greed, partly by the thrill of secrecy and hiding. How my parents discovered my cache remains a mystery to me; all I remember is feeling crestfallen as they shook their fingers and scowled at me. But soon the bad feelings wore off and I went out to play. Later, Mother fixed dinner and Daddy did Daddy things. A few days later, my petty larceny had become a funny story they told their friends, who looked at me and laughed and touseled my hair. I smiled. I was one of them.
A Story of History
by Hoa Nguyen
You shall hear the story
You shall hear how Pau-Puk-Keewis danced
at Hiawatha's wedding
The student cried "Hurrah!"
The student cried "Now you have it!"
I must have more light
I must have what I ask for
Your presence will not be necessary
from The Collected Works of George Sanders
by Owen Hill
being a person
of the highest taste
I am continually
it gives me no
to think that actors
more mediocre than
I are hailed as great
it merely proves
taste most people
in art proficiency can be obtained
but in life little more can be done
than to make the best of a bad job
AN INTERVIEW WITH EDWARD DORN
The following interview was conducted by Michael Price and Dale Smith in Denver, Colorado on July 19, 1997.
Dale Smith: Would you say that you write from a Protestant disposition?
Edward Dorn: I am a Protestant. I've always been a Protestant and everything I've ever written has been from a Protestant disposition. And it's been against all centralized authority, beginning with Rome. Unlike Boulder and San Francisco, that really hasn't changed. Rome still rules. Of course, you're from San Francisco, how could you have missed that?
Dale Smith: Did this lead you to write about heresy in your current project, Languedoc Around the Clock?
Edward Dorn: When Jenny and I went to France in January of 1992, on exchange at the University of Montpellier, I had became interested in the Cathars and Albigensian heretics because she was reading a book on the subject of Montaillou by LeRoy Ladurie. She interviewed him, in fact. I taught two days a week, Tuesday and Wednesday. On the other days we traveled the length and breadth of Languedoc, from Bezier up over past Toulouse. Not a very big area when you're from the United States, but big nonetheless. And France is a big country. There's a lot about Languedoc that looks very much like the American Southwest. You can translate the juniper bushes you see in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona and replace them with rosemary bushes and various kinds of, you know, that spicy chaparral. You also can see headlands and mesas, almost thinking you're in New Mexico. It's astonishing. So that motivated me to write about this too. But the heresy, and the heretics, became a metaphor for the oppression of the state. Because that's really what my interest in it is about, in the various forms of leger demain the state can perform to divert the public from the state's only mission: oppressive and corruptive control. Now, it is very important to understand that the Albigensian inquisition was way before what most people mean by the Inquisition. The latter was contemporary with Columbus. What interested me was beginning around 1209 when Simon de Montfort started marching down the Rhone toward Bezier, where he cooked about 20,000 people in a cathedral fire at the behest of Innocent III who made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He was allowed to take everything he could seize as long as he got rid of the heretics. I mean everything: property, people, treasure. No matter what, he could have it. That's a good deal, you know. He could have it all. So he went for it and really slaughtered a lot of people, and many of them were not heretics because he didn't really have the means for that kind of investigation. And so a lot of the people died because they were the friends of the wrong people. A lot of scores were settled in this campaign, obviously.
Dale Smith: What made one a heretic?
Edward Dorn: The Cathars were heretics by definition, mainly because they held that they were perfect. And that's a major heresy right there. The Church can't handle that. And they called themselves the Perfecti. They believed in direct transmission between themselves and God, and that's bypassing the priesthood which is bigger than a sin. They believed in love in that sense. In other words, they didn't need the church, and you could not say that. There were lots of other minor reasons, but when you get right down to it they just saw through the ruse of the mechanisms of the church as a means of control. Let's face it, every religion, basically, is a control program. That's what religion is. No religion admits that because they say the opposite. This religion is going to give you peace and consolation and it's going to deliver you to wherever it is that you trust religion to deliver you. The West is really into overt authority. The view of this poem is that the Protestant Reformation was the only revolution that actually counts because the other revolutions devolved from that. 1789 is unthinkable without Luther. The Protestant Reformation made every other revolution possible. It certainly made the American revolution possible and it made Jefferson's statements possible. All these things are unthinkable without the Ninety-Five Theses nailed to the door. But we live in a time when the Protestant Reformation is not even talked about, or even mentioned, and a lot of people don't know what it is. They know what Protestants are because Protestants are in bad odor now. They seem to get somehow confused with Christian fundamentalists. And of course that's not what the Protestants, who made the revolution, were at all. They were just Catholics who were tired of getting abused by the monks. But I mean, the revolt was no less outrageous because of that.
Dale Smith: What else are you working on now?
Edward Dorn: My other project is a poem called Westward Haut. I'm pronouncing it Ho, Westward Ho. It's a poem of the Great Plains, using I-80 as the kind of spine of the east and west. And then I've invented this other axis which is Lima/Cheyenne. The main character on I-80 is Joe Ochenta, which means I-80. The thing about I-80 is that it was the first transcontinental highway. It was called the Lincoln Highway, and it began in Hoboken. That interstate was planned to go from Hoboken to San Francisco, two very similar towns if you really think of it. But I'm not using the Hoboken part. Just Chicago to San Francisco, because it's the High Plains. So these dogs, Odin and an Arabian beauty named Saluki, are traveling on this plane and are doing all sorts of deals. And they are meeting Joe Ochenta in Cheyenne. It's like it's the other part of Gunslinger, but there's no Gunslinger. I mean, there's no centralizing character in that respect. This is more like a crowd, but it takes care of the other part of the West. It's not the Southwest.
Dale Smith: Is I-80 the focus in a sense?
Edward Dorn: I'm just treating it like the longest strip town in the world, which is what it is. There are truck stops. Joe Ochenta is a trucker. There are Little Americas. It's also just saturated with that kind of Western symbolism. And it's just like the motorized western expansion, but now it's not covered wagons and horses. It's people burning oil.
Michael Price: How has criticism affected the way you write?
Edward Dorn: I think one of the most felicitous things that happened to my generation was that we had no critics. And in fact, speaking personally, I was able to get on with it and generate systems of poetry that were anathema to criticism. And the motivations of criticism would have been a great waste of time and quite detrimental to me. But, you know, for the people writing before me there was a kind of criticism that was formal and it had an intellectual pursuit that was mostly honorable. After that, of course, it was utter nonsense. So I don't feel critical myself. Sometimes it's an art. Shakespeare criticism, for instance in the 20's and 30's, before the war, was sometimes an art. That was about the last time. But that still kept to a tradition Johnson had reintroduced as a skill. Of course, he actually invented criticism from his time to the beginning of World War II. And so the last people to practice that were of his school, whether or not they had all that much respect for him, because after all, he hasn't been fashionable for a long time. But still, that is what was meant by criticism, an analytical look at what had been done with a view of increasing the power of the act of writing. But the war set the big standard for destruction, and therefore a lot of intellection and a lot of criticism became destructive. You can say deconstruction or whatever else you want to put on it. But it's just destruction pure and simple. And it had to do with people's unresolved guilt. This is the condition we're still in of course. And that guilt, I think, is very often derived from intellectual laziness, a lack of fortitude and will, and obviously massive doses of dishonesty. This guilt has been unquestioned and has also been a very convenient cover for lots of cons. And so it obviously infected criticism, as well as motivating it.
Michael Price: But Abhorrences reads like a critical book.
Edward Dorn: That's not criticism in the methodical sense. It has some of the aggressions that criticism can have, bur really it's just a form. I've always been very interested in knowing what my form is. And in that sense those poems are essays cast in the form of a small poem. They are quite flat, and very prosaic, and except for touches of mocking, they are the opposite of poetry. Abhorrences is a kind of a running critical, essayistic journal of the 80's. I'd say that the published work was maybe a quarter of the output, because it was a rather daily and quotidian commentary. It could also be looked on as footnotes, not just about the time, but a place in the West. The shots of Orin Hatch and all the other portraits were meant to encompass a kind of geographic context or dimension. Abhorrences was a way of keeping check on a mentality.
Dale Smith: What do you think of American poetry today from that Protestant position we spoke of earlier?
Edward Dorn: Well, I think of American poetry today the way I've always thought about it. It's just a gutless wonder and it's totally under the thumb of Rome and always was. Because it admires centralized authority and coercion and nothing else practically, except some cash. It likes the cash flow. And in fact, poetry really is about the cash flow in a sense. And if you look at the people who have made money on poetry they've really managed to say almost nothing. Because the minute you say something, and you can be understood as saying it, and if you design your verse in such a way that there's no doubt about what you're saying, then you've lost the cash. Forget the cash. You're not ever going to be W.S. Merwin. You're not ever going to live in Hawaii. You're not ever going to do any of those things. You're not going to be poet laureate. Well, that's okay. The idea of a poet laureate in America is a bit of a joke anyway but, you know, you're not going to get the grants. You're not going to get the big ones. You're not going to be declared a genius by some board of trustees of a giant insurance company. But if you don't know any of that you're not a poet anyway.
Dale Smith: It seems that poets like Gertrude Stein are embraced while others, like Ezra Pound, are found to be inappropriate and offensive for whatever reasons.
Edward Dorn: Gertrude Stein is embraced because she is a big fat nothing. You can embrace this big fat nothing and it costs you nothing. There's no intellectual labor and every inanity you have makes it right and it encourages you to perpetuate all your inanities. She is a slug that should have had salt poured on her.
Dale Smith: Pound takes work.
Edward Dorn: Well you can put in as much work as you want to. The beauties of Pound will come to you without your doing a lot of work. I mean, that's another way that he is tossed off too. But if you want to increase the depth of your perception and so forth, of course you get out the indexes. After all, there's a big body of scholarship. But there's no body of scholarship around Gertrude Stein because there's no reference to anything accept to her own fatuous self narcissism. But that's not a system. That's nothing for anybody to gain from, it's not enlightening. It's a self-confirming despotism, actually. It cuts you off. In a strange way, one of the saving graces of this kind of childish petulance, which defines her, was that it never actually made possible imitators. Because if you were seen to imitate Stein, you would be a laughing stock. So that's good. We don't have all that trash breeding itself. But it does take up a lot of class room time when people should be learning something, like where Australia is. Anything would be better than spending time with her.
Michael Price: Do you think, instead, that poetry is a way to investigate and learn something?
Edward Dorn: In the end, poetry is a source only for those people who want to know, or to break open their skulls. What's considered your formal education is the preliminary to the long life ahead of you in which you take charge of that. Careerists need to learn well the things that are going to advance their career. For the most part that determines who's more successful than others. Plus connections, of course. Those are quite important. But that's not about curiosity or equating yourself with the world at large in a deeper way. Whether you think of yourself as a poet or not is irrelevant. I mean, a lot of people who think they are poets aren't and a lot of people who don't are. Again it's just this attitude. Because it isn't really a career. I mean, it's a career only if you want to work the other side of the street where the grants are. And that's a great study in itself. It takes a lot of concentration. That's a corporate way of thinking, cultivating those connections. It's not really that different from being the CEO of your own grant gathering corporation. You can do that without the slightest bit of curiosity. These are not necessarily bad poets, some of them are quite good. But they are not necessarily interesting because of their success in getting money. In fact, they are very often not very interesting at all, which leaves one to wonder what poetry's got to do with it.
TABLE OF CONTENTS NEXT