WHAT I SAW AT THE ORONO CONFERENCE 2000
Wednesday, June 28, 2000
Charles Bernstein asked people on the UC Buffalo Poetics List to report on the recent Orono Conference on "North American Poetry of the 1960s." I was there and I made a few notes. As usual, so many impressions jumbling in that I couldn't think about them clearly, like trying to pass out drunk with the room keeps spinning in one's head. Every couple of years the University of Maine, Orono, has organized a conference on poetry, inviting scholars and poets and everyday people to give papers and moderate panels. Maine's pretty far from where I live in San Francisco but they do get a good turnout. Apparently their most prominent alumnus is the horror novelist Stephen King and it's said that he helps underwrite this event (he lives a few miles away, in Bangor, and last time around, he came to the Lobster Banquet and I got his autograph, hooray!) Overall I had a marvelous time and can't think of a single flaw in the arrangements or execution of this event, though I can imagine others carping (in fact, I heard some of them). Malcontents, though we always need malcontents don't we.
Dodie Bellamy and I got off a plane in Portland on Wednesday, June 28, 2000, and drove a few hours North to the campus in Orono, a bucolic part of Maine so familiar from all those Stephen King novels and right past Lawndale Cemetery-the original of "Pet Sematery" & just as spooky in real life. Then we got to the registration building to "check in," you should have seen Dodie's face when we found out we were sharing a room with Keith Tuma, Alan Golding and George Bowering! Talk about frightening! But all turned out just fine because they really meant a "suite," a form of dorm living they didn't have when I was a college boy. All was civilized and on the up and up. Before I knew more, it was time to repair to the greeting ceremony in the "Ornamental Gardens" of Orono where all kinds of eats were laid out on trays-hamburgers, chicken, cole slaw, potato salad, garden burgers, and the reddest hot dogs I've ever seen, that I found out were called "Maine red hot dogs" (a regional treat), though only lemonade and iced tea to drink which quashed the cocktail party atmosphere, or sedated it I guess, still the lovely pink roses of Maine, that seem to breathe salt like fish, made this very festive, etc., while we sat while various University dignitaries welcomed us. I decided then and there to compile a Fashion Report on the best and worst outfits people were wearing (so shall share with you some of my knowledge) as well as decide which panels, plenary talks, readings, etc., were good and which were ho-hum. To tell the truth, I was panicking a little because, in this garden display, I recognized only a few familiar faces and was thinking, my God, all these strangers, and probably all of them on the Poetics List with only a limited opinion of me. Shallow? Perhaps, but this was a crowd growing unruly with no cocktails and a hard look to them, like a bunch of Jack Elams thirsty for gin and blood in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. Then the line parted and Amiri Baraka, whom I had never met, showed his face, and the unruly mood of the crowd changed to something reverent and sheepish. He is very little, like all stars when you see them in person, little and with a big head, again, like the stars. For some reason, watching him on TV and seeing all those photos I thought he'd be a big Michael Clarke Duncan sort of fellow, but just the reverse. Anyhow, this auspicious (if tiny) beginning in this elegant country garden was only the prologue to the Conference's big drama events, as you'll see.
The conference proper then moved to a long, low, tiered theater called "Corbett" in which I was to spend, in the week ahead, many of my most sleepy hours ever. Don't know why, merely that the oxygen, filtered through charcoal, would put me in a stupor every twenty minutes from which only the brilliance of what stabbed through me from on-stage woke me up like smelling salts-sometimes. The first two papers were delivered to all, Marjorie Perloff spoke with customary verve and speed through an incredibly difficult series of calculations, subtractions and speculations regarding the figures of the "Watchman" and "Spy" in the eponymous Jasper Johns painting, linking Johns' practice to that of O'Hara and Cage and causing kind of a stir by hinting that, after all is said and done, O'Hara was really a 50s kind of artist and has to make way, in retrospect, to Johns and Cage (fundamental 60s artists) in history's long cool view. The second plenary followed immediately afterwards, by Michael Davidson, who gave a talk called "Missing Larry" (Eigner) that evolved into a compassionate plea for a new "poetics of the disabled" which might someday encompass a greater understanding of how disabled people, like Eigner, who was born with cerebral palsy, work within and without the field-a paper which I found very moving but afterwards I was wondering how this poetics was really going to work and how the poetry of disabled people is different (or is it supposed to be?) from that of everyone else. So, one wanted to see this paper written down instead of trying to remember all of it with a memory as faulty as mine. But, together, this one two Perloff-Davidson punch gave a taste of the range of topics touched on at the conference-very rangy indeed, except a distinct lack of plenary sessions about women writers of the 60s-I think that Lynn Keller's paper on the early work of Rosmarie Waldrop, Kathleen Fraser, and Fanny Howe was the honorary exception-and Albert Gelpi gave one on the correspondence between Denise Levertov & Robert Duncan-not the fault of any particular speaker, but maybe indicative of the anti-feminism of the period? Also, Waldrop, Fraser and Howe are not my idea of sixties poets anyhow, but that leads me into another conundrum of Orono, the slippage-
Slippage of 60s and 70s, so that we had readings from many poets who didn't seem to be of the sixties at all, but perhaps put forth some early poems in high school or university, testing the waters so to speak, so it was all very odd and maybe a reason why the organizers seem to be tiring of the "decade" custom they have followed over the past several years? That's only speculation on my part.
Actually all through the first plenary session Dodie and I could hardly tear our eyes away from Douglas Rothschild who showed up in a guise new to us, he, the former pesky mosquito to NY Language Poetry's tetchy donkey, and now magnificently arrayed and coiffed in a retro seventies disco/leisure/high fashion series of suits and boots, slimmed down, curled up, and looking very John Leguizamo and relaxed.
Aldon Nielsen gave a short, impassioned introduction to his former professor Amiri Baraka, and then the man himself took the stage. He said that he had missed the first plenaries but heard that there'd been some "character assassination of a friend" going on earlier-a reference, or so we took it, to Perloff's paper on O'Hara. Baraka then hurled through his poems, humming little music snatches, brilliantly blending monologic, lyric and "spoken word" styles with nary a pause, shouting it out, dropping to a whisper like James Brown, the crowd went nuts and once we saw Maria Damon clapping with her hands above her head we joined in resulting in standing oration for Baraka, the first of the conference. Finally, we had encountered an actual 60s poet, revolutionary fervor undimmed by time and dates and anything else.
The events continued, though after so much thought I missed one session and so failed to hear "Poet of the 60s" Gene Frumkin so I still have no idea which one he was or is nor what he did either then or now. Instead we repaired for an open area of a building nearby our dorm where a bar was set up and ordered drinks hastily and ashamedly. I remember still thinking, gee, none of these people look familiar. There was to be, as every night, an open reading with conference attendees who could sign up as belatedly as five minutes before, and we encountered our fellow Californian K. Silem Mohammad, anxious perhaps about his reading to come, and wishing out loud that he would be able to meet two particular poets, Jacques Debrot and Michael Magee, whom he had never met except only through the portals of the internet. I looked behind me and there were Debrot and Magee, wondering aloud the exact same thing, so was able to introduce them to "Kasey" and end the suspense. Apparently they all three got on thick as thieves because for the next week you had only to look at the one to find the other two.
The room started to crowd up and soon there was a long line of people snaking through the space looking for a drink. There was Asa Watten, the 13 year old son of Barrett Watten and Carla Harryman, plaintively wandering through the assemblage looking for someone to play chess with. He carried a whole chess set in his knapsack. This wasn't even remotely interesting to me, though I've been a fan of Asa's for many, many years. After an hour or so the open reading began. I can't remember everyone who read but I heard some interesting readings from a variety of poets from all over the world (very few Californians). About 1.30 a.m., feeling tired, I returned to my "suite," but I hadn't reckoned on my canny suite-mates who had slipped out, bought their own liquor, and were having a party of their own in our charming common room (just like BRIDESHEAD REVISITED!) -- I snapped a photo of the party then went to bed, however after about 20 minutes located another room a few doors down, with a big fireplace and a TV, and booted the rascals out into this room so I could try to sleep, and that was only Wednesday.
Thursday, June 29, 2000
I woke up startlingly early. Breakfast, 7:00 a.m., seemed so early but then I figured, oh, if I was in my regular life I certainly would be up by 6.30, so managed to fool myself for quite a while. I crept out of my room to have a cigarette and was confronted in the hallway by an amazing number of beer bottles, empty half-pints, soda cartons and crushed plastic cups brimming with old Kool butts. The Capricorn in me rebelled and I pulled a big trash liner to one side and began cleaning up, my thoughts roiling, nervous for some reason. In ordinary life I work for a large janitorial company and in my head I could imagine the scorn and contempt with which the Orono janitors would be thinking about the poets and scholars they were cleaning up after. This was so Felix Unger of me I could hardly believe it myself, but all of a sudden a finger's tapping my shoulder and a courtly voice speaks through the gray dawn, "May I be of some assistance, young man?" Curtly I grunted, turned around and came face to face with John Wieners, whom I hadn't seen in ten years or so. "I slept like a top," he cried out, "then I came to my senses and wanted a smoke." He looked great. Okay, not great, but if you'd been through what he's been through you'd probably look worse.
We sifted through the glass debris like a pair of ragpickers from a painting by Jean-Francois Millet. Chancing upon a disgusting bottle of Labatt Blue, Wieners paused. "This beer is Canadian-Fred Wah must be here," he deduced, growing agitated like Sherlock Holmes at the Reichenbach Falls. "I must see Fred Wah and his two children and Pauline!" He speaks a bit more slowly, haltingly, than most Bostonians I've known, but with exacerbated finality and righteousness. But also a kind of sweet demureness I've never known elsewhere.
"I have a present for you," I said, hauling it out of my pocket. Have any of you seen the new book THE BLIND SEE ONLY THIS WORLD (Pressed Wafer/Granary Books) in which 30 or 40 poets pay tribute to John Wieners? The volume climaxes with a new poem by Wieners himself, in which he waxes lyrical about forgotten stars of his youth, including the one and only Edie Adams, a blond comedienne/soubrette who long ago starred in the Broadway musicals "Wonderful Town" (1953) and "Li'l Abner" (1957). The day the "Blind" book came in the mail, Dodie and I had a chance to meet Edie Adams and we took the book to her gingerly enough and asked her to sign it "to our friend the great poet." She claimed to have known, in her Hollywood heyday, both Allen Ginsberg and Carl Sandberg ("all the burgs," she boasted) so poetry was no big thing for her. "Was John Wieners ever in San Francisco?" she cried, a tiny wrinkle crossing her forehead. "If so I met him in 1959 with Ernie!" (Ernie Kovacs, her late husband.) As this was just possible, I nodded bumptiously, showed her where to sign. I produced the book now for Wieners. "Look what she wrote, "FOR JOHN WIENERS, HOW EXCITING FOR ME, I LOVE YOUR WORK, LOVE, EDIE ADAMS, SAN FRANCISCO 2000."
John held the book from different angles, peering at it above and below his face-a-main, as though it would bite him. "I thought surely she must be deceased!" "No, and Dodie took pictures of her signing it." "Please let me examine the shots," he begged. I showed him two that I'd tucked into the book-one shot of Adams grinning into the camera, her white powdered face bigger than the Cheshire Cat's. The other showed her querulous profile as she sat lost in thought, trying to remember the good old Hotel Wentley days I assume. "I'd like one of these, Kevin, for my own," John said. "But only one. And I can't decide which shows the sheer insouciance of Miss Adams to best advantage. May I decide later?"
"We are all so excited you are here among us," I said. It's hard to talk to someone with Wieners' personality without lapsing into his particularly affected lingo-at least it's hard for a Capricorn. "Take all the time you need!" So saying I slung my garbage bag over my shoulder like Ralph Kramden and went to breakfast and a day of panels.
The regular panel sessions: always or so it seemed, so many good ones all at the same time so that one was forced to make these agonizing decisions and usually they each turned out wrong. For example, the first choice was among a panel called "Echoes of the 1930s," then one on John Ashbery, a separate panel on NY School poets, a Baraka And Others panel, and one called "A Sense of Place." I don't know, I just figured "A Sense of Place" sounds dull, though maybe I'm wrong. So that was out. "Echoes of the 1930s?" That was a possibility because the abstracts of the papers sounded so intriguing and sometimes one feels, oh why go to a panel on someone like Ashbery, why not go and find out something about someone more obscure, how else will I ever learn anything? So this "Echoes" panel had papers on Ramon Guthrie, Carl Rakosi, and Thomas McGrath, poets who were still active in the 1960s tho productive as early as the 1930s, and I know a little bit about Rakosi and McGrath but nothing about Ramon Guthrie & I still don't. I wound up taking the better part of valor, by attending a panel I knew would have at least one good paper, because I had heard Lytle Shaw give a paper before and knew he'd deliver value for money, so to speak. This panel, chaired by the dapper, French-cut, exhausted Steven Evans, was on "In and Around New York," and Lytle's paper outlined the possible connections in life and in poetry between Frank O'Hara and Ezra Pound, a subject on which I had never thought it possible to write even a sentence let alone 20 minutes worth of paper. Turns out that O'Hara had written a poem on THE PISAN CANTOS and later, in a different frame of mind, a mind turned 100% towards Personalism, made Pound one of his subjects in BIOTHERM! From these two angles Lytle developed a theory that clarified the different attitudes towards audience that O'Hara and Pound each worked from. Funny that Pound wound up outliving O'Hara, who must have thought Pound such an old man when he began to write. At Orono these kinds of thoughts came to one often. I looked at the classroom we were sitting in, and remembered back to four years ago. This was the very classroom in which the top of my head came off after a particularly brilliant brace of O'Hara papers given by Steve (Evans) himself and by Ben Friedlander during the 50s conference. And now, as though it had been some sort of audition, both Evans and Friedlander have been hired by U Maine Orono! This must, I decided, spell good luck for Lytle Shaw!
After the first panel, all spilled out into the lobby of Corbett Hall and drank coffee and talked about which panels and papers had been the best. All papers, or so it seemed, given by anyone named "Jonathan" had been noteworthy. (I didn't hear any Jonathans, alas, during my entire stay.) Dee Morris introduced me to Richard Quinn who, or so everyone said, had just given a great paper on Albert Ayler, John Coltrane and Amiri Baraka on the "Baraka and Others" panel. I wondered how the "Sense of Place" people had done, and then the program book told me there were two upcoming readings at 10 and at 11 by Ted Enslin, Nathaniel Tarn and Toby Olson, people one would never ordinarily get to hear in San Francisco, and this made me reflect that "Sense of Place" studies were never stronger than in Maine.
In the afternoon, after lunch, I didn't have as much choice about what to see, because I had committed to chairing a panel, and so had Dodie. We both missed the "Baraka and Others II" panel, the panel on Brooks, Rukeyser and Rexroth, and the panel on Dickey, Eckman and Snyder. Again a few Jonathans took the field. The first Louis Zukofsky panel was in this slot too, and apparently this was one of the very best of the week. Dodie told me hers went well, with Linda Russo taking off on Barrett Watten's Hettie Jones take, and Matthew Pifer giving a research-based paper on Detroit's twin streams of counterculture and revolutionary mimeo work in the 1960s (like John Sinclair).
Alas, our dear Nick Lawrence did not appear due to illness, a virulent South African fever felling him, ironic since his paper was to have been called "Mimeo Fever." (He eventually did arrive at the conference, a bit frail, and some were heard to make ebola jokes.) The panel I chaired was great, even if I say so myself, for I had leapt at a chance to be the chair for a panel featuring 3 of my favorite poets, Tony Lopez, Marjorie Welish, and Kasey Mohammad on "The New York School." Welish speaks so precisely and learnedly and wittily in every sentence--some unexpected verb or adjective pins down her thought like Nabokov his butterflies. Kasey whom I now regard as one of our California homeboys did us proud by giving a very very close reading to a particular Ashbery poem I can't remember which one now (but it's the one that ends a stanza with the word "The"), and Tony Lopez brilliantly read Ted Berrigan's sequence "In the Early Morning Rain" as a way of explaining how the Sonnets were constructed, managing to inject some controversy by soundly rebutting some other recent article about Berrigan by Libbie Rifkin, an admirable scholar indeed. I only wish Rifkin had been there to get her own two cents back in-now that would have been exciting, like a night at the WWF.
I was startled then to see Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop walking through the hallway, for their lack of interest at conferences has long been a truism of poetry, like the reclusivity of Jess or the hair of Jorie Graham. But there they were, she, with the piquant looks of a younger Luise Rainer, and the voice of Glinda the Good Witch, and he, with that freaky Charles Manson hair and beard that might scare a child, except he has the open, sweet, appealing face of one of the Teletubbies. "Why are you here?" I called to them in disbelief.
Turned out they had shown up out of personal loyalty to Steve Evans and to Jennifer Moxley with whom they had worked for many years in Providence at Brown University. In the excitement of the rencontre I forgot to ask either Waldrop, Evans or Moxley if any of them had ever met Father Peter McGuire, the Catholic priest in whose Providence rectory the faded screen star Betty Hutton was discovered, in the 60s, working as a housekeeper and washing dishes and acting Catholic and old-a defining moment of my youth.
The plenary sessions that evening were just as spectacular. One was by Frank Davey on "Regressive Poetics of the 1960s." Briefly he described the ways in which Canadian poetry was turned on its head in the 1960s in ways which had not entirely positive effects for its state today. Davey was part of a large Canadian contingent we were very happy to greet, as the conference this year had changed its emphasis slightly to include the formerly rebuffed or excluded Canadians, I wonder why? Anyway Frank Davey wins our Fashion Award hands down with his beautiful Haspel suit, in a lightweight cotton so highly pressed it seemed metallic, bought (or so we later learned) on the eve of a trip to India in April 1982.
Barrett Watten followed Davey with a slide and video presentation about the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of the mid-60s and successive manifestations of revolutionary fervor (the Black Panther Party, the People's Park riots). This was a talk with a lot of carefully wrought argument that was wonderful to look at and listen to, framed in poli-sci theory-Ernesto Laclau's checklist of emancipations, Chantal Mouffe's arguments about power as mother to the social-but in the end Barrett's talk struck me as being extraordinarily personal, as though the breakdown of the revolution had resulted in one salutary effect, Watten's own graduation from UC Berkeley in 1969 and the birth of the Language Poetry movement (foretold when, asked for his opinions about some Berkeley protest march at which he was present, Allen Ginsberg thought for a minute and then began emitting a Sanskrit mantra, resulting in a perplexity and turning inside out of language that Watten, et al, were to take to even greater heights). This is the event that Matt Richardson has reported on to us on the Poetics List, in which "Baraka attended this reading and finally lashed out at Watten for being a 'hyper-rational pseudo-radical' and for 'pimping' radical politics for his own academic benefit." Coming in late, but carrying a whole sheaf of notes, Baraka called out from the back row to Davey and Watten, "I don't know your names, so I'll call you First Person and Second Person." He accused them of a great betrayal, of trashing the 60s so that their academic careers would prosper. The debate grew so heated that a conference organizer (Ben Friedlander) took the unprecedented step of scheduling an ad hoc panel in the middle of the cafeteria on another day to stage a formal debate between Watten and Baraka. But more of this later. In the meantime I'll just say that the entire conference was a happy illustration of Laclau's (and Mouffe's) "agonistic pluralism," during which I never heard before so many contradictory impulses and desires so well spoken and so well listened to (see HEGEMONY AND SOCIALIST STRATEGY by Laclau and Mouffe).
The adrenaline high, the bar opened its doors, and happily there were Liz Willis and Kristin Prevallet who, shopping at the local IGA in Orono, came upon a display of Tab, the 1960s Coca-Cola-made soft drink to which I became addicted quite early, and which was withdrawn from sale in California about 3 years ago. And Liz and Kristin brought me a case of it, the best gift I ever had, and so I spent the remaining days of the conference quite drunk on Tab which, I understand, took its name from a NASA prototype and stands acronymically for "Totally Artificial Beverage" the way "TANG" used to mean "Totally Artificial Nutrient Group," thus completing the 60s motif (for me) through a regressive synaesthesia. And then the open reading started up and I read and Dodie read and we felt well-attended and safe, far from home, and that was Thursday, pretty much.
Friday, June 30, 2000
Again I had Hobson's Choice on Friday morning, June 30th, but certainly I felt fresher than most-bodies were littered all around as though after a tornado after the all-night party that had engulfed our dorm. Should I attend the panel on b.p.nichol, George Bowering, Fred Wah? The three Canadians giving the papers on these men were new found friends-sunny and smart and (okay, in the case of Scott Pound, dark, glowering, shaved-head-bald and sexy and ordinarily I would have listened eagerly to anything they had to say. But what about the George Oppen panel that featured two fine and wizard pals Stephen Cope and Alan Golding, plus another fellow I didn't already know? [
And plus, a pesky angel on my shoulder kept whispering to me, I had promised Barbara Guest I'd go to "her" panel and scurry back home and fill her in. There was a Robert Lowell panel which, if it didn't sound good, had that New England rectitude I'd travelled thousands of miles to get a purchase on. And what about "Points of Resistance?" I never did find out much about that one.
Why indeed was I up so early and sitting in the front row at a panel on "Black Mountain and St. Mark's"? In a building undergoing asbestos restoration no less? Every worker in the place was wearing protective cotton masks around their lower faces, but no, we scholars and conferees were mask free! Why, Kevin, why? Two words: Miriam Nichols-the Vancouver critic, poet and biographer of Robin Blaser-who was giving one of the very few papers on Charles Olson. Has Olson's stock dropped? Hard to believe when he used to furrow so many foreheads in the 1970s. It takes today a brave woman to plunge ahead into the waters of Olson, as Miriam did, to come up with a fresh account of the SPECIAL VIEW OF HISTORY and its attendant philosophy of reading. But, had Miriam Nichols been speaking on grooming French poodles, I would have been there in that same front row. Years ago I had met her here in San Francisco at the very first Spicer Conference in the 1980s. Now she seemed younger and more stunning than ever (all that fresh air?) so that she seemed to be channelling the glamor of Dorian Leigh in that Avedon picture with the elephants. Every time she popped up in some exotic orange ensemble she seemed fresher and more invigorated, and more unearthly. Even her toenails, Dodie noticed, were painted orange. We declared her our Maine "It Girl."
But, I also learned a lot from this panel and from Burt Kimmelman's paper on the systematic exclusion of Blackburn, Di Prima and Oppenheimer by the poets gathered around the St Mark's journal "The World." And then I got a Gothic charge out of Daniel Kane's primary research into the origins of the Poetry Project-pretty explosive if you ask me. I can't paraphrase all the ins and outs, and we'll have to wait for Mr. Kane's book on the subject, but apparently St. Mark's Church began the Poetry Project by boondoggling a huge ($200,000) grant from the Federal Government earmarked to get Latino youth off the street in the days of "juvenile delinquency." Needless to say, the young people who flocked to the Church in its early days were almost all white middle-class bohemians who had been run out of the Metro and the Deux Magots. Ethical problem in accepting federal money at the height of the Viet Nam war? Or was the thought, if they spend it on us, they won't be spending it on napalm? Anyway, Daniel Kane seemed a little conflicted about this, but I was lapping it all up, thinking of the Church now as a kind of House of Seven Gables, born in sin, dragging the sin behind it like the albatross, real Goth and suffering through centuries, although as Kane pointed out it has only been 34 years.
Lost in this Gothic fog I wandered right through the exemplary readings by Fred Wah and George Bowering, worried about my own paper I was supposed to give that very afternoon. Faces swirled around me, pink and gray like Morris Louis paintings come to life. I plunged my gaze into my conference program, studied the afternoon's offerings. At 1:30 Lee Ann Brown would be presenting the re-stored, re-scored print of Helen Adam's 1963 film DAYDREAM OF DARKNESS (with other works of "poetic cinema"), with a new score.
It was great to have all these 60s poets in one place, but I wondered about the backstage negotiations and how it shook out that these particular ones appeared and other didn't. One British poet had already expressed his disappointment. "I crossed the fucking Atlantic and fucking David Antin isn't here!" So notebook in hand like a real reporter I cornered an organizer and asked him who they had hoped to get and couldn't. "Well, Creeley, of course. Barbara Guest almost came, but postponed til October. At one time we were almost sure we had Adrienne Rich." Dodie and I nodded, fascinated, seeing how the addition and/or subtraction of any one of these would have shifted the balance of the conference in one nebulous alternate-universe scenario after another. "Negotiations with June Jordan broke down," Deep Throat whispered (we were leaning against a pole). "John Ashbery, Ed Sanders, would have been swell. Ron Silliman. Joan Retallack." We gave each other knowing glances at the latter two--more poets of the 70s in the guise of 60s poets. Not that it wouldn't have been great to hear them, see them, hold them again! Our informant coughed as a passel of Canadians slithered by. We pretended we weren't talking. "And of course many of the leading figures are dead. Ginsberg, Dorn, Lorde, Zukofsky, Plath, Oppen, Eigner, O'Hara, Schuyler, Niedecker, Kerouac." Race against time in the noonday sun of Maine.
DAYDREAM OF DARKNESS was filmed over many months in 1963 here in San Francisco. The film, about 25 minutes long, once had a soundtrack (or did it?) (but perhaps a live track of a script of Helen Adam reading to music by Pauline Oliveros) and, when it was restored a few years back by the efforts of Kristin Prevallet, premiered to a tragic silence which some in the audience found oppressive. Since I thought it was fine in silence, I didn't know how I would like the new soundtrack, composed recently in New York by a group including Lee Ann Brown, Beth Brown, Nada Gordon, Drew Gardner and Kristin herself, but happily the new music track works supremely well, following the vague script outlines and featuring new renditions of some of Adam's own poems and songs.
Wait till you hear Nada Gordon singing! She is like this eerie cross between Anita O'Day and Linda Thompson! Dodie and I sat there spines tingling up and down with enjoyment and envy, because it isn't fair, it really isn't, that she should have so many talents! When the lights went up I gathered my bags and scattered across the campus to join a panel in progress. (This form of attending, or seeming to attend, as many simultaneous events as possible is, I learned, called "panel-hopping" and was extremely popular last week in Maine, the draft between speakers from the revolving door approaching gale force at times.) I rushed over to join up to the "Beat Women Writing" panel, but unfortunately missed hearing the paper on Lenore Kandel and wound up only at the very tail end of a paper on Ruth Weiss' DESERT JOURNAL. This may not be a familiar book to many of you but if you lived here in the Bay Area and haunted the thrift shops like I do, you'd know it was the book most often found on the poetry shelves there, it's always that and some ratty old copy of John Brown's Body by Stephen Vincent Benet and perhaps in the chic-er neighborhoods Thom Gunn's MAN WITH THE NIGHT SWEATS. Anyhow Kristin who had also ejected herself from the cinematheque took the stage to read her paper on Helen Adam as fitting between Harry Smith's "Anthology of American Folk Music" and Joan Baez's first album, but naturally keeping herself at a distance from both poles. An interesting discussion followed, during which my heart sank a little since the audience seemed completely conversant on every point I planned to make in my own paper. We were talking about the ballad genre and how freely it became mixed with pop music at a certain point in US cultural history, and how artists like Dylan and Baez seemed to "freeze" their versions of folk ballad material to a point where no one now is re-writing them to their own ends (perhaps copyright, that stern Minerva, has impaled artistic freedom once again) whereas in only the decade before, fluidity and potentiality reigned, and now, where does a recording like that Baz Luhrman sunscreen thing fit in? Kristin, by the way, always looked colorful and to-the-minute stylish, delivering her paper in elaborate shoes, clunky hip hop trainers that practically bellowed, "You can take the girl out of New York, but you (dot dot dot)."
Then it came time for my own appearance at the panel, "Dorn and Spicer" (Alan Golding said it should have been called "Cranky White Guys who Loved to Piss People Off") which was held in a lengthy science type room with all the chairs mounted behind long flat tables that stretched out for yards on either side. Plenty of frogs were once dissected on those tables, you could tell. Logically enough, as the room filled up, I sat there eyes narrowed to count all my true friends who showed up to hear me, Keith Tuma, and Charles Blanton, and made up a little list of those former friends who had taken it into their heads to attend the competition, which included yet another panel on Oppen and Bronk ("Bronk!" I cried out to high Heaven), a smart panel that travelled from Langston Hughes to the Black Arts Movement; a Berryman panel ("Berryman!" I screamed out, like Ignatius O'Reilly in that movie theater when they showed that Doris Day Rock Hudson picture-"Must he come back from the watery dead to disturb my rest!"); a panel on experimental women writers & the big event, the John Wieners panel with the man himself in attendance. Or, I know, some elected instead to take a nap, motor into town to buy more liquor, pitch pup tents in Acadia National Park or just to get out of the conference funk I had, with each minute, more mired myself in. So making this little list I listened to Keith Tuma's paper on the close friendship and literary retrievals between Dorn and Jeremy Prynne, which solved a textual problem while admirably raising as many questions as it purported to answer; and then heard Charles Blanton talk about the geography of "Idaho Out," with all the kick and pizzazz of the very latest in topographical studies. I felt I'd heard the last word on topos and concentrated instead on remarking to myself how very much Charles Blanton resembles the actor John C. Reilly (BOOGIE NIGHTS, THE PERFECT STORM, etc., etc). Then when it came my turn to speak I simply shut everything else out and spoke my 1400 words--one word for every two miles it had taken me to get there. (If anyone wants a copy of my paper let me know I'll send it to you via e-mail.)
The next event was the reading by John Wieners. Kathleen Fraser recalled how when she ran the Poetry Center at San Francisco State, many years back, she had invited Wieners to come give a reading but heard nothing from him again until the day before the reading when he rang the bell, suitcase in hand, announcing his presence. When she got back from work that evening he had a) re-arranged all her furniture; b) tried on all her dresses and c) written a poem for her, "For Kathleen Fraser and the Governor of the State of California."
On Friday I sat next to him in the front row and talked at him blithely enough while he continued writing a special poem he'd written. He kept turning back and forth the pages of a spiral notebook polishing it off. In large capital letters it read, at the top, "A MIDDLE CLASS VOICE." John had several bags with him, each one fitting into several others, and all to be dumped into a shapeless dark flight bag (that's what he called it, I'd call it a runsack), together with some clipping about movie stars, packets of hotel sugar, stubby pencil ends, scraps of worked-up paper, those devotional renderings of dead saints we used to call "holy pictures" when I was a Long Island altar boy, and each one had to go back in its rightful place before he could give his reading. "Kevin," he said, "I'd like to remind you, I would like the full-face shot of Edie Adams." Halfway through Steve Evans introduction, Wieners put the final period on his poem, capped his pen smartly, and lurched from his seat, then strutted with aplomb to the podium, where various copies of his books. Some microphone confusion, but the reading began with "A Middle Class Voice" then went on to include a pair of book reviews as a gesture, I take it, to his academic surround. One was on the wonderful MR. SKEFFINGTON by "Elizabeth," which I remember better as that great Warners 40s film where Bette Davis is the most beautiful woman in town and Claude Rains marries her only because he's got the money to save her once-proud family from ruin, and then she gets smallpox and he goes blind and he continues to think of her as beautiful and she doesn't discourage him but he knows anyhow, and she says, "A woman is beautiful only when she is loved." Well, Wieners mumbled and grumbled through many pages of BEYOND THE STATE CAPITOL occasionally raising his voice in an oratorical style, but never for very long. I had the feeling that many in the audience were confused, some moved to pity by the waste of it all, other cheered by Wieners' perceived control of his own performative style, still others fascinated by the Walter Brennan-style grubstake dishevelment of Wieners' "look" (his hair, for example, long hair which looks like a rubber band is tying back, but no, it's just the way it's been molded over the years) and most I think felt brushed by something profound tho' hard to name. I remember going to see, as a youngster, the lectures of Maria Callas during her "master class" at Juilliard and her once encouraging a student in some phrase or another by actually singing it herself, and the look of surprise and dismay that crossed her face, the mouth moving and the ears taking it all in, and the brain registering who knows what wiggly graph of time, grief and pride. Well, that's what I was feeling anyhow listening to John.
Afterwards they were all over him to shake his hand and or to renew old acquaintance and he must have been feeling pretty good about himself and about us. I gave him the full-face photo of Edie Adams and he found a place for it in what he called the "front" of his flight bag.
I went next to the plenary session that Bob Perelman gave on Melvin Tolson's HARLEM GALLERY. Not knowing much about Tolson, and in 45 minutes Bob managed to cram a good deal about the poem, but wow, he had a handout with 30 or 35 quotes from the poem, and 45 minutes into his talk, he was only guiding us through example 4. His enthusiasm carried him through however.
On the Poetics List Michael Magee has reported the denouement in which Marjorie Perloff, not persuaded by Perelman's eloquence, averred her opinion of Tolson as a "minor poet," comparable perhaps to Delmore Schwartz or Parker Tyler. On the face of it I'm ready to disagree and take Tolson for a major poet, but if the criteria are that Major Poet X has to have had influenced other, later Major Poets who knows? What's major anyhow (or why is it so important)? Tolson's utility to poetry may be in his extreme example as modernism turned both inward and outward at the same skewed moment-its difficulty matched only by its openings towards the public and the "outside" it (agreed Perelman and Perloff) had little hope of reaching while the 60s carried themselves on. Now that HARLEM GALLERY has been republished, it will be interesting to see what happens to it during the next 10 years. Apparently, like Ronald Johnson's ARK, all of it is written in lines completely centered down the middle of the page--what's that about? To me centered lines foreground themselves and enough is enough, or maybe I've just read too much Michael McClure??? Michael (Magee) has also given us a good account of Lorenzo Thomas' paper on the Black Arts Movement so I'll skip right ahead to the event I'd been waiting for all week, Carla Harryman's staging of DUTCHMAN by LeRoi Jones.
During the past few days we'd seen so little of Carla and of her cast, for they were in continuous rehearsal, and having worked in the past with Carla I envied her actors the experience they must, I thought, be undergoing, the deep, deep immersion into a sometimes intractable text so that, when the light breaks, it breaks with a Vermeerian simplicity and beauty. Carla had chosen a noticeably thin cast--I mean literally, physically, Lee Ann Brown so supple and small, Lorenzo Thomas as the narrator (and conductor) cleverly playing both parts and himself so dashing and slender, and Steve Benson, the veteran Language Poet and now Maine-based psychiatrist who came to visit the conference, a happy reunion for me, for the Bay Area lost a certain je ne sais quoi of gravitas the day he left us, and Steve almost preternaturally thin playing a drunk strap hanger in the NYC subway, weaving almost thinner than the strap itself he clutched, and all this set off marvelously by Mark McMorris with his solid dependability as the hero, Clay, a comfortable cuddleability that Carla brilliantly worked with and against as the rebel psychoses of Clay made themselves known during the brief 40 minutes of the play.
But first there was the suspense, of course, that, owing to the [friction?] between Barry Watten and Amiri Baraka of the evening before, would the two empty chairs reserved for Amiri and Amina Baraka be filled? Carla held the curtain until the very last moment, until the Barakas indeed made an entrance as dramatic as anything that ensued, and then all eyes were riveted on the stage. After almost forty years, the play still holds up, albeit the extreme violence with which Clay dismisses Lula (is that her name) has this nasty overtone of misogyny maybe it didn't have in the original production? Carla chose to underline this ugliness by freezing Lula's body across Clay's lap like a Pieta; a break out of theatrical representation on a different scale than her other innovations. (Maybe I'm wrong about this?) Maybe, also, there's a little bit too much of a Rod Serling feel to the very very end of DUTCHMAN, with yet another white woman approaching Clay, so the audience feels, we are in the middle of the twilight zone of endless repetition till the cycle of abuse comes to an end? If so, it had a period charm that took us right back to the 1960s whether or not we wanted to go. I sat right next to Asa Watten who was videotaping the entire thing and Asa, if you're reading this, I'm sorry I said the other day that you were 13 when of course you're fifteen! It seems like mere minutes ago I was hauling you on my shoulders over and over in that sunny Mission Street loft during the months of rehearsals for MEMORY PLAY!
And also for implying that you had no other interest in the conference than playing chess, for out of all of us, you were at the same time the most engaged and the most welcome in every circle I saw you in. But you will forgive me with the quickness of youth, I hope-love, Kevin.
It might have been at the bar afterwards that one conferee, lacking a name tag so I don't know who she was (or what was her speciality), told me that she had read Dodie's article in the Village Voice in the week before's issue about our marriage, and what she wanted to know was, if I was a transsexual (and her tone seemed further to ask, if so, what kind)? I was so flabbergasted I didn't know what to say! Shut up for once, and all I could say was no, I didn't even say, I wish I was! But, shaken to the core, I have to stop here now and won't even try describing the rest of the events of Friday night, June 30!
Saturday, July 1 and Sunday, July 2, 2000
By Saturday morning our horizons started to shrink, as we noticed that all panels, formerly held in many different college buildings, were from now on to be given only in one building, Corbett Hall. With this miniaturization of scale we began to notice that some of us had slipped away. Maybe a cue from the popular TV program "Survivor"? Anyway on Saturday at 8:30 I was up and at em, moderating a panel on Lorine Niedecker, with three panelists all of whom came, as I did, from California-Susan Dunn, Tiffany Shockley and Elizabeth Willis.
Is California the center of the Niedecker nexus now? One version of it anyhow. Susan Dunn pulled out a terrifyingly thick stack of large index cards and proceeded to read Niedecker as a nature writer in the vein of Rachel Carson or Aldo Leopold or Thoreau. What was interesting most about this reading was the specificity of detail La Dunn was able to dig up concerning particular legal and societal challenges faced by Wisconsin environmentalists in the 50s and 60s. She showed a rare (library) copy of Niedecker's rare collection NORTH CENTRAL that had the bibliomanes in the audience drooling, asking us to consider it as a work not only of collage but of recycling (I think). Liz Willis's imaginative take on Niedecker concentrated on that one poem, oh, what is it called, but you will remember there's a watcher in the woods who comes out from hiding to witness a church wedding? Anyhow Liz connected this poem (and others, like "For Mary Shelley") to Niedecker's use of two Hollywood films, James Whale's Universal "Frankenstein" and Clarence Brown's "Possessed" (from MGM). (Is the final line in the woods-wedding poem "Possessed"?) Both films oddly date from 1931, evidently a banner year for moviegoing in Fort Dix. Liz related the plot of "Possessed" insofar as it presaged certain events in Niedecker's own life so of course I warmed up to this one quick. Joan Crawford plays Marion, a lowly assembly line worker in a Midwest paper box factory, who hungers for excitement and gets same when she meets wealthy playboy attorney Mark Whitney (Clark Gable). He's married though, so out of the deal all Joan gets is a fabulous penthouse and wardrobe and a ruined reputation. You can see a) Possessed is a pre-code movie and b) the Niedecker-Zukofsky story laid bare? At any rate the strivings towards glamor and the high life we sometimes miss when we read Niedecker's work. How about Crawford's later film from her Warners noir period, remarkably enough also called "Possessed," where she has that insanely strange crush on Van Heflin and his whole family, breaks down to primitive theremin soundtrack, winds up staggering through the streets of Los Angeles with amnesia. Isn't this the Niedecker of the bewildering "For Paul" poems? I'm kidding. Kind of.
Also at Corbett were the next two plenary sessions, Albert Gelpi's discussion of Levertov and Duncan, and Lynn Keller's survey of the early poetry of Kathleen Fraser, Fanny Howe and Rosmarie Waldrop. I 'm afraid I had to slip out of this latter one a bit early in order to gobble down some lunch before the main event, the long awaited debate between Amiri Baraka and Barrett Watten. It was first of all strange that the only place that could be found at short notice to stage this debate was the cafeteria itself, where we had all spent so many convivial hours introducing ourselves to Maine cuisine such as Whoopie Pies. And in the middle of lunch hour too, so it reminded me of Civics Day in high school, or even earlier, that school where you brought in 3 cents and they gave you milk, but you're too young to remember that. Tables cleared, Baraka and Watten sat down, with Ben Friedlander and Maria Damon (moderator) nearby, to tackle some of the issues raised in the heightened space after Barrett's talk on Thursday, "The Turn to Language after the 1960s." Well, I don't know what to say but it was extraordinary.
Two terribly brilliant men, well matched in oratory, and with the stakes raised about as high as they could go. And yet Baraka's contestation, that Watten-and by extension almost everyone in attendance at the Conference-had judged the 60s a "failure" for one reason only, to achieve safe, respectable, cowardly bourgeois careers in academia, was on the face of it a difficult one to prove, though it did make for some lurid headlines. Before long the debate had become a series of Socratic jabs, as Baraka made Watten back up before every statement to define his terms. "What *is* Language Poetry, can you answer me that?" "And that makes it different *how*?" So the audience was pressed back, back, further into the original terms of debate. This might have grown boring had not Baraka often varied his approach with a different kind of questioning, sometimes jocular and comic, sometimes wildly improvisational. We learned that despite all his faults Allen Ginsberg had been an anti-imperialist poet ("Fuck you America and your atom bomb") until a certain point in his career where Baraka had found himself reluctantly parting ways with his comrade. Ginsberg had fallen victim to the proto-Fascist Chungpa Rinpoche who had stripped W S Merwin and his wife of their clothes and forced them to appear naked. Ginsberg had also gone *too* gay to the point where he came mistakenly to value gay liberation above the liberation of all peoples and the anti-imperialist struggle in general. Still, Watten had no right to defame Ginsberg as he had. This take on Ginsberg seemed at variance with anything Watten actually had said about him and, I can tell you, wasn't getting much sympathy from me. (I had a sudden fantasy of directing my own production of DUTCHMAN, in which the main characters would be played by LeRoi Jones and Frank O'Hara, O'Hara as Lula, the older, vivacious, sex-mad white woman of the Homintern who must, finally, be punished for her Personalist importunity.) The talk grew most heated over the point about which percentage of Language writers were now academics. All of you, as Baraka thought? Or "3" as I heard someone call out from the audience. (This issue will, or so I take it, be more fully explored in Andrew Epstein's investigative article soon to be published, is it in "Lingua Franca," anyway one to which I'm very much looking forward.) And hadn't, Watten asked, Baraka himself taught in the university system? All of a sudden it was very strange and ugly, but the tape will tell the tale and I believe all those interested in this magnificent passion play should avail themselves of the audiotape, then play it back yourself and revel in its drama and sturm und drang. At one point you'll hear Maria Damon ask Watten which books of Language Poetry she could recommend to her students as anti-imperialist, and he responded by describing briefly Bruce Andrews' book "I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up, or, Social Romanticism" (searching for the right title for it) and I asked him, later, why he hadn't told her about his own "Progress," surely one of the most beautiful, savage, moving and trenchant long poems I've ever read. Finally Barrett smiled and said, "You know why."
I left before the very end of the debate in order to catch the next pair of readings, those of Rosmarie Waldrop and Kathleen Fraser, back in the theater at Corbett Hall. Waldrop read first from the charming "Pro and Con" poem ("positions and junctions") and then settled into the meat of things with several selections from her novel RELUCTANT GRAVITIES, which she described as a series of conversations interrupted by meditations. "Basically it's prose poetry," she hinted, and this made my soul curl up a little at the edges, since the prose-poem mania that has infected the Bay Area has resulted in a swarm of hideously bad writing of every stripe, but then as she began to read I'm thinking, Oh thank God, this isn't prose poetry at all. What can I say! It was terrific, with real characters spouting a kind of miraculously eloquent and unreal dialogue like the best of Oscar Wilde crossed with the oblique strategies of Marguerite Duras, and so funny it would make a corpse sit up and grin. I could have listened to it all afternoon, yet even while I drank it all in so greedily I was on the other hand marvelling at the way in which Waldrop's theatricality, that tiny, vulnerable, assured voice gave one the illusion of being in the presence of someone really wise, as though she'd had all the answers since birth and was dispensing them with the generosity and fierceness of the Oracle. A tremendous illusion like watching Ruth Draper and seemingly so effortless you knew it must have taken decades of practice. On the other hand Kathleen Fraser posed no answers, only more questions than you might have ever guessed existed, in her equally fine reading from her Selected Poems IL CUORE/THE HEART. A function, I guess, of the contingency in her writing, where nothing at all is stable and all is predicated on the swirling masses of political and psychic energy surrounding the subject. Again, she might have read these selections aloud dozens of times before, and yet the awkwardness and difficulty of her delivery--itself a skilled tonal gift--made them seem brand new as though these had only just occurred to her, maybe last week. Obviously I'm stressing the differences (between RW and KF) with too heavy a hand, as though they were embodiments of Leslie Fiedler's discredited "paleface" and "redskin," and obviously they don't exist in this duality of warm marble and cooling lava. But anyway by the time the last notes of "Wing" issued out, and Jeanne Heuving was dashing in front of Kathleen to perform this Marcel Marceau time is running out gesture, several sides of my nature were well sated. I stumbled out into the bright sunlight and my God, there was David Kellogg, having missed several days of the Conference apparently while waiting for different planes to take off and having to sit up all night in the Airport, finally arrived with his brother just in time to give his paper at the next round of panels, a heroic voyage for sure like the Relief of Mafeking. But, there I was with my cigarettes but no matches and I had to get into the car for the first time in days and drive up to the IGA and get some matches, and some more Tab. Lee Ann Brown came with me and we idled away, feeling vaguely guilty we were missing some important papers and panels, and yet also with the divine sense of freedom that comes from such devilry. We discussed her performance of the night before playing in DUTCHMAN, and then who among us in Orono was the cutest and/or most available, and why it's really not wise to have a poet as a boyfriend but on the other hand how other kinds of people don't really make good boyfriends either, because they just don't understand, and before we knew it we were back in the Parking Lot running into a panel on, mmm, "Marginalities."
Unfortunately we must have missed Mike Basinski's paper on "Dangerous Poetry of the 1960s" and wound up about halfway through Chris Alexander's talk on Jack Spicer's BILLY THE KID.
I gather that Alexander was coming at "Billy" via a series of approaches that included, to my great pleasure, a discussion of Spicer's troubled relationship with the Mattachine Society, so that on the one hand (in the period) you had the uplifting and sentimental love stories of the Mattachine and their literary movement (say, the stories in "One," the official Mattachine handbook/zine), and on the other, you had the terrifying narrative of the Senate Subcommittees on Homosexuality that tied gayness to treason (both forms of "weakness" inextricably linked), and BILLY THE KID somewhere in the middle: as a kind of "realism"? Lots to think about there, and then John Landry took the floor and gave a paper on a poet I had never heard of before, called Bob Lax. Anyone within hearing distance of John at this conference now knows the details of Lax's life, but for the uninitiated he's still alive, extremely old, in some Greek island, Patmos I think, but once upon a time he had been the best friend not only of Ad Reinhardt but of Thomas Merton and Robert Giroux, and Billie Holiday cooked for him in New York. Not really a concrete poet but sort of. Nineteen films have been made of his life and work. Having missed all of them, I felt like I wasn't on the circuit, hadn't watched enough films or maybe just too many Joan Crawford ones. Meanwhile in another room at Corbett, Dodie was moderating the first panel on Plath and Sexton, and I gather that Susan Gilmore, who was that very pregnant woman you saw everywhere so beautifully dressed, gave a presentation that involved playing an actual tape of Anne Sexton's late, derided entrée into performance poetry backed by a rock band ("Her Kind") which captivated Dodie completely. To the point that, in the days since we've come back, Dodie has gotten in touch with Diane Middlebrook and found out how to get her paws on the complete unreleased tapes of this strange marriage of sound and music (Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas Austin I guess). (But first she searched for bootleg copies on eBay.) But these, the Lax presentation and the Sexton "Kind" tape, were the kinds of paper that I had missed, in a way, the revelation of something entirely new or previously dismissed, shored up by research and discovery. In the men's room at Twitchell Village, to all kinds of noisome accompaniment, Mark Scroggins related, in the perturbed tone of one biographer to another, how he had attended every Zukofsky paper given at the Conference, and while several of them were excellent, not one of them revealed any "data," he said, pounding the urinal tap for emphasis. I nodded knowing just what he meant.
In the strange quiet--again, the feeling that we were being abandoned, that we were shrinking, that people's rooms were empty now, like Agatha Christie's AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, I wandered into Corbett again and into the theater space where, I realized later, the Jay Wright panel was winding up, with Lorenzo Thomas striding across the space fielding comments from the scattered audience members. Then Alec Marsh stood up and ended the session in order to bring on the man himself, Jay Wright. For crying out loud, this guy is incredible! And I really felt like a hick having really never heard of him before a few months ago when we were beginning our campaign at Small Press Traffic to bring Wright to San Francisco, and giovanni singleton patiently led me through the details of his life and career and all his glittering prizes, without once betraying by nuance or gesture how ignorant I am of this particular strain of African-American poetry. (So obviously there's this double thing going on here; one's hungry for what one doesn't know on the one hand, and yet when confronted with that thing one's embarrassed on a naked, primal level.) Anyway, coming at this relatively late spot in the Conference, Jay Wright's appearance was what we show queens call the "eleven o'clock number," the electrifying star-making turn that you need to keep your audience from catching their last train. He looked great for one thing, in this excellent suit coat and tie, and he has one of those weary, amiable seen it all faces like Harold Nicholas (only younger of course) (in fact watching him up close you couldn't put an age to him, not really, I wonder if he ever was young or was he like Dietrich the embodiment from an early age of great emotional resonance and a timeless if ravaged beauty.) They say he doesn't submit to interviews any more, nor will he allow his work to appear in future anthologies, and as you know from my coverage here this kind of star trip always appeals to me. His voice is remarkably musical, and he can switch at the snap of a syllable from English to Spanish and back so that the stage seemed filled with voices like Prospero's island, and deeper and deeper into this world we sank so when the lights came up again a great quake crossed our minds and most everyone was drawn, like lemmings, down to the foot of the stage where he, Jay Wright, prepared to greet his fans and sign copies of his books, just I think for a closer glimpse. He had a paper bag filled with vintage copies of some early books, poof! They all went, just like that. Standing on line to meet him was like standing on line, as a child, to meet Santa Claus-I mean that magical and that exhilarating and un-real.
I think I'll truncate my report at this juncture, though there were many fine events and spectacles yet to come. The lobster banquet, the joint appearance of Michael Davidson, Bob Perelman, and Barrett Watten, the "Fluxus" event arranged by Bill Howe, Michael and Natalie Basinski, Keith Tuma and Lisa Phillips among others, during which Bill Howe mimicked vomiting to an amazingly realistic extent and for a really, really long time-mimicking the pent-up energy of the audience, who'd been force-fed simply tons of information and indeed booze for a week-and yet mocking us-and yet sympathetic to us.
One final fashion award: Lisa Phillips for the most confident sartorial panache. When Kathleen Fraser laid eyes on her at the Fluxus event, in her snug velvet skirt and skinny tank top, she exclaimed to Dodie, "Who is that magnificent creature?" Phillips delivered her paper on Frank O'Hara and the visual arts, reading directly from her laptop, wearing nothing but another skinny tank top and a blue printed cloth tied sarong-like across her hips--like a California Gauguin. Dodie marveled at how perfectly her bra straps, visible on her bare shoulders, exactly matched the turquoise of her tank, the way 60s women used to dye their satin shoes to match their gowns. Wow!
Dozens of more readers, including all the brilliant ones David Bromige has named. Then the next morning when Andrew Epstein and I met, like two bargain-mad housewives, at the table where the official Conference T-shirts had been slashed to absolute basement level, and each picked one up. Inquiringly we looked at the woman manning the table and "No," she replied, "they're not gonna be reduced again." Shrug! The next morning when Robert Bertholf and I slunk into a panel on Robert Duncan and Ronald Johnson, while back in our "suite," Dodie began to pack for the long trip home. I'm sorry I missed the final plenary, in which Maria Damon was going to unveil her magnificent Sangreal: actual photographs ("data!") of Bob Kaufman actually working for the National Maritime Union in the early 40s.
But by then we were speeding to Portland in order to stew at the airport for hours. I wandered out into the Maine night and again, smoking a cigarette under the lighted lobby windows, watching the party animals one last time.
Kasey Mohammad, Michael Magee, Jacques Debrot, clicking the mouths of their beer bottles together in the rueful acknowledgment of the Three Musketeers. It all seemed so transitory and so precious, I thought of Lisa Robertson's words in XECLOGUE: "They wished to experience thought as we would be compelled to remember it; it became a languid impossibility. Their heart was lodged in an inaudible sentence. They wore nervousness on their spine and wrists. Their small, soft, edgy world was an intoxicant. The superb crumbling of the afternoon, so secret and so intense, identified itself as history."
1. Amiri Baraka
2. Jacques Debrot, Michael Magee, K. Silem ("Kasey") Mohammad
3. John Wieners
4. Edie Adams, Kevin Killian. Adams expressing devotion to Wieners
5. Linda Russo
6. Rosmarie Waldrop, Keith Waldrop
7. Frank Davey, Susan Rudy interviewed about Davey's incredible Haspel suit
8. Scott Pound
9. Hobson's choice: Mark McMorris and Kristin Prevallet studiously consulting program with plethora of choices
10. Charles Altieri and Miriam Nichols
11. Screening of "Daydream of Darkness"
12. Alan Golding
13. John Wieners, Kathleen Fraser
14. John Wieners flanked by Pauline Butling and Marjorie Perloff
15. Bob Perelman
16. Steve Benson, Lee Ann Brown, Mark McMorris, in Carla Harryman's staging of DUTCHMAN, by LeRoi Jones
17. Asa Watten, the man of the hour
18. Niedecker panel, Liz Willis, Tiffany Shockley, Susan Dunn (note can of TAB in foreground and Patrick Pritchett in background)
19. Barrett Watten, Amiri Baraka debating; Maria Damon and Ben Friedlander moderating to one side. Cafeteria setting.
20. Amina Baraka, Kevin Killian, Amiri Baraka
21. Chris Alexander
22. Jay Wright
23. Jennifer Moxley reading at Fluxus event
24. Lisa Phillips and Alicia Cohen
25. Maria Damon
26. Dodie Bellamy, Alan Golding, David Bromige, Kristin Prevallet, Lee Ann Brown, Star Black, Jason Wiens (way foreground), Stephen Cope (from behind), Tom Orange (leaning), Lytle Shaw and Andrew Epstein (standing), Mark McMorris (seated).
All photos are by Kevin Killian except #4 (Edie Adams, Kevin Killian. Adams expressing devotion to Wieners), by Dodie Bellamy; #20 (Amina Baraka, Kevin Killian, Amiri Baraka), by Aldon Nielsen; and #22 (Jay Wright), by Alicia Cohen.