Ammiel Alcalay


For David

Tree Issue 5
Tree, Issue 5
edited by David Meltzer

Asked to participate in this immense task, I've chickened out and decided to mainly rely on David's own words, in a grab-bag composition of the bits of correspondence below, the random wisdom of a stand-up poetics that never quits, 24/7. I'd probably gotten ahold of Journal of the Birth (Oyez, 1967 edition) in mid-teenage-hood (maybe around 1969, I'd say) and can't imagine I really knew what to make of it then, though I distinctly remember going back to it more than a few times, at the age of 14 or 15. Between that and then and actually meeting, so perfectly configured by Steve Dickinson during a longer stay in the Bay Area, there was much more reading and thinking about David's work: the poetry, interviews, music reviews, Tree, work on and around the kabbalah, the perfectly boiled down theory of theories in Writing Jazz, the music, always more music, and the continuing example of a profound human intelligence unwilling to submit to anyone's program, taking the sweet with the sour and the cosmic with the comic. There are those -- whether they be writers, waitresses, truckers, plumbers, plasterers, mechanics, cooks, sailors, the occasional doctor, people in all walks of life who are able to convey the sense that you've come to the right place and are speaking to the right person -- it's this sense I got the instant I met David. That I'd come to the right place, I'd gotten in on the proverbial ground floor, that anything he'd say to me or write about would have to be taken in its true weight and measured against everything I already thought I knew. My gratitude is boundless:


These days grow darker despite media's sun. The spin gets away & against everyone.

What are you listening to & why? This instant.


Immense pleasure to blather w/ you & Steve in the oblivion of Musical Offering where 'early music' soothes academics & students into an increasing remove from the difficulties which they will no doubt assign their moment into nostalgia.

Everyone it seems 'looking for a home' like the boll weevil in the antebellum song. Ha-makom, where is it? how is it known or unknown? Is it fixed or uncertain?


I'm a kid from Brooklyn, awakened & deepened during the WW2 epoch; lived in multiple old worlds as well as those anxiously assimilating into the new world, ever alert to the hideous metaphor of 'the melting pot.'


Am reviewing the current reissues of Charlie Parker for the Guardian, & reminded again of the urgency  (& emergency) of creative intelligence (ruach) to proclaim & reclaim its core.


Am intrigued w/ the Gnostic notion of 'alien', the call, written & spoken word  -- & the failed creation which is the basis of their collective theology.


Dueling canons.

&, irregardless, it removes rather than confronts. 'Doing' politics is possible in institutional settings which remain sound stages for a masque, a theatrical concealment behind which real rage uncoils.


You shd check into my two jazz anthos -- 'Reading Jazz' & 'Writing Jazz' -- not to burden you w/ more 'text' to scan but to get to the heat of my own refusal to allow the obvious & support it.

&, yes, how to be 'productive' when so much of it collapses spirit, reductive &, simultaneously, maddeningly articulate.


In response to yr NYT piece: all those modes of reproduction have short shelf-lives. I have evaporating cassettes, powdering reel-to-reel tapes, vital documents of readings by the late greats -- plus solarizing videotape of major events. We now realize that time-defying CDs are not immune to disintegration. Despite the digitalizing of prior life soundtracks, the shellac cracks & crumbles & vinyl erodes & fractures. Wire recordings wiggle out of shape & snap & often have other uses for household emergencies. We're left w/ sandblasted particles of immense presence shattered beyond (yet within) reach. Like those relics dug up out of the desert or caves. Shards to reassemble out of context into a tense present.


Gramsci's 'organic' intellectual makes sense to me just like Pasolini or, in a different sense, Eco's newspaper columns. Or Rexroth writing a weekly column for the SF Examiner decades ago when it was owned by Hearst. Where are we as poets & thinkers if not wherever we hope poetry & thought should be an active & transformative power challenging the pacifying acceptance of power that deforms? Agghh. Such ping pong of verbiage!


Everyone's turf by definition gets stuck in a belief & faith in boundary. (What's the famous quip of Koryzbski's? -- 'the map is not the territory.') Divided they conquer. Not wanting to belong is much more of a struggle. The apparatus (& the self it seeks to abolish) craves incorporation. That grotesque emblem of the 'melting pot' haunts my recoil to xenophobic certainty. I don't know where I belong & see that as an opening not a closure. The 'cold war propaganda machine' is, as experienced, the way one defines 'hegemony' to students. Gets back to the constant: how do we know what we know? Do we know or are we known in order to be unknown?


Nowadays who reads Patchen or, for that matter, Rexroth, Duncan, Everson, Jeffers or, more alarmingly, Olson? Pushing it further, who reads? (Auerhahn Press in the early '60s published a throbbing valentine to Patchen that I wrote. McClure, who was at one time close to the Patchens & in many ways inspired by the poetry, told me to write an essay on Patchen acknowledging 'our' generational debt to him.


it's all part of the ongoing work, no real separation or disintegration; but we're en route, rooted to our moira, fate, destiny; when I started as a kid I never thought there were divisions or distinctions that divide, despite the immense insistency on separations & the seductive arguments of uniqueness they employ.


My afterwords in 'Writing Jazz' were boiled-down from an even larger maze of text. Like you, I want to go to the ur-core & then beyond it, shatter the familiar w/ new amazement & provocative disjunction.


'Listening' signifies what? That's an intriguing challenge: the why, what, where, when, we hear. Also, 'who' we hear when we hear what we hear as direct to our sense of self.


Nationalism, tribalism, frozen power rigor mortis, rule the cruel global gobble. The range of inhumanity towards brother & sister humanity remains stupefying. Am preparing my Fall class in grad Poetics on 'modernity' & it seems all roads lead to closing, rerouting the morphing map into the void of words resonating promise & empowerment. At the heart of the enterprise (or heart's prize) is: what is to be human? We all know its opposite.


how is one a specialist & generalist simultaneously? is it possible or probable? am referring to the curricular pie-cutting contest of who's allowed to speak for the unknowns. meanwhile, the bodies stack up in palestine & SF newspapers bury it using abbreviated ny times releases which vary in sympathy & accuracy. am cramming for fall grad course on american modernism -- which is ultimately produced & reproduced in manhattan. but what's evident is how contained it was w/in a spectacular uprising of the new manifest in speed & privilege.


explain to me, again, the idea of vacation. vocation is no problem.


Tree Issue 5 back covergot back from work too late to call back. would've welcomed the dialogue. mixed feelings: grief for the instant dead, delight for the audaciousness: imperialism defiled & defied. then lost in the underwater surreal of TV, trying to contact my sister in Brooklyn who works for the mayor's office, then school yesterday w/ students directly or indirectly damaged by it. attempting circumspect hints to them about how people in the 'other world(s)' deal daily w/ random murder & destruction & suggest double-bind ironies regarding US govt weapons trade & military guidance available to any 'emerging' nation w/ enuf bucks to boost their ratings. deep sorrow for the immense betrayal of the immense hope. Jabes: 'The soul has no restraints./ /God is not the answer. As the diamond in its reflections, He is in the flash of a question.' 'Expecting what, if not death? And yet we dread it. Expecting, perhaps, to be forgotten by death.' (from: 'Desire for a Beginning/Dread of One Single End'.)


as it comes home, the struggle of art & the art of struggle get more demanding. am dealing w/ the manufactured 'news' w/ caution & remove. have sent you some counterpoints. my heart sinks in link w/ the lives erased, yet mind & spirit, as many of them, need to remain clear & defiant.


in the midst & mist of noise -- JATP 1946 concerts w/ all the old familiar
honkers & Nat Cole in delicate silly dialogue w/ Les Paul --
        then & now (there & here) the issues of race & othering & otherness
contradict & defy the intersection of  cultural greediness to submerge &
merge --
       the imagined process & actual paradise are always closer than
outside eyes are able to see & describe --
       Eleazar of Worms insists the 'entire discourse' can't be grasped --  it's
like coins spread out on a table -- separate yet contained on a  field
nobody claims as entire yet wants to be definitive --
       am ingathering --
       as always


the illusion of endless goods keeps the rotten egg from exploding. totally disheartened but no pasaran.



History makes itself up until others make it up --


Then it's stories, folklore, gossip, winnowing into the womb of myth which then becomes history that historians have to confront --


love (the most incomprehensible history & dare I say mystery)


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