Friday, April 30, 2004

I have a friend who finds the difference between a poet and a non-poet is that the poet thinks of death all the time. don't know exactly if this quite matches because we all at some time in our lives become acutely aware of our lives being finite, really short even, really, really short.

even a long life goes by so fast to the individual. reading a few obits online last night about Thom Gunn I found he died in his sleep, apparently a heart attack was the cause of death. and I realized that he died the death we all, at least I do, want to die: in bed after a long full life beside someone you love.

and yet, 74 is not so long a time to live. I was born in the Summer of Love and I can't believe time for me has moved so quickly, and even quicker still.

and so without irony my word for the day: carpefuckingdiem.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Anna woke me up at 5:00 this morning to tell me Thom Gunn died at age 74. Gunn is one of those rare poets who enjoyed living to the fullest, and whose work collapsed literary divisions. he was a formalist poet who wrote some of the best free verse I know. he has written brilliant essays on writers as diverse as Yvor Winters, Robert Duncan and Basil Bunting. Gunn never shied away from troubling subject matter whether it be the bath houses in SF or the cannibal practices of Jeffery Dahmer.

I heard him read only once last spring in a little dive bar called Sweetie's. a poet friend Andrew Paul Sullivan and I drove to SF to hear him. I was awed by his verse as by his appearance: close-cropped grey hair, black leather jacket and motorcycle boots, earring and a tattoo on his right forearm. he looked like an old biker or punk rocker than a man who made his career working as a part-time lecturer at UC Berkeley. he was in fantastic form during the reading and he kept calling out to August Kleinzahler who was in the back of the bar.

afterwards, I walked up to Gunn and asked if he could sign a couple of books. he didn't have a pen so I handed him mine, a Pelikan, a writerly fetish I bought several years ago when I made dirt wages. he was distracted by all the noise and people and being high from a brilliant reading he pocketed my pen. I said, Hey man that's my pen. upon which he retrieved it from his pocket and handed it back. I feel it was an honor to have my only writer fetish lifted by Gunn. the pen is in my shirt pocket even as I type.

here is a poem of his that is a favorite of mine for it is an example of his tremendous humanity.

Courage, A Tale

There was a Child
who heard from another Child
that if you masturbate 100 times
it kills you.

This gave him pause;
he certainly slowed down quite a bit
and also
kept count.

But, till number 80
was relatively loose about it.
There did seem plenty of time left.

The next 18
were reserved for celebrations,
like the banquet room in a hotel.

The 99th time
was simply unavoidable.

Weeks passed.

And then he thought
Fuck it
it's worth dying for,

and half an hour later
the score rose from 99 to 105.

Collected Poems (FSG, 1994)

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

just learned The Pixies have reunited and now are on tour. they broke up, what, a dozen years ago? and they will play The Greek Theater in Berkeley in Sept. Anna and I saw Elvis Costello at the Greek last July: the best fucking performance from Costello I've ever seen. now if XTC should, hope against hope, tour again. . .

Monday, April 26, 2004

it is a very good day. Tom Beckett's book Vanishing Points of Resemblance arrived today. the book is filled with wonderful nuggets of language:

I'm a poet. I think in fragments, feel in waves.

* * *

A poem looms like a drink of water. I'm so fucking thirsty all the time.

* * *

I used to want to be a woman. But that was too much work. Now I try to write. Which is almost as bad.

* * *

I caress myself, pretend to be touching someone else.

hope Tom does not mind my quoting from his book, but it is filled with lines that snap with the vital energy. I've only read this book once so I will refrain from making any pronouncement on it, it demands rereading. still Beckett's examination of identity, his courage to write of very personal matters, and the form the book takes as a kind of novel or notebook that uses language as its fuel for velocity announces a triumph.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

I'm very, very happy to read Steve Tills writing about the poet Jim McCrary, for I have a tremendous admiration for McCrary's work upon discovering it in First Intensity a couple of years ago. I've since googled his name and read everything I could find of McCrary online: a tremendous pleasure.

there is often a question of whether a writer has any influence on an individual, say his/her reading habits. the answer: hell yes. I read this review by McCrary on Ed Wood, Jr.'s novel Death of a Transvestite which made me seek out and buy the book. and yes, this novel is by that Ed Wood, the infamous writer/director celebrated by Tim Burton a few years ago in a film titled simply Ed Wood.

and so McCrary's essay on Wood leads me back to the enigma of the director/writer. Wood was a known cross-dresser. he loved pink angora sweaters, I gather from an oral biography I picked up last year in a used bookstore. I love this passage illuminating Wood's experience as a Marine in WWII:

Joe Robertson: We were both in the Marine corps,
he was in the invasion of Tarawa. 4000 Marines went in. . .400 came
out. He was wearing pink panties and a pink bra underneath his battle
fatigues. And he said to me, "Thank God Joe I got out, because I
wanted to be killed, I didn't want to be wounded, because I could never
explain my pink panties and pink bra." He said, "If I'm wounded, I'm
going to be in trouble, if I get killed, nobody gives a shit."

Nightmare of Ecstasy, by Rudolph Grey (Feral House, 1992)

it is wonderful, that passage, full of humor and a deep, abiding humanity that seems mostly absent from our workaday world of commerce and politics. and I am pleased McCrary digs the artless beauty of Wood's work.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

thank you Eileen for not only sending Schwabsky's book Opera for getting right the typo in Catherine Daly's poem but for sharing your book Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole too. a beautifully designed book with many, many gems inside.

really, really looking forward to holding and reading Tom Beckett's latest book Vanishing Points of Resemblance. I remember discovering Beckett's work in college when I spent more time in the stacks of the library then I did in the classroom. that was a magical time, and absolutely unrepeatable. one discovery after another and another and another. I still love to hang out in libraries. I'm lucky in a way because the central library here in Sacramento is just a couple of blocks from work. often I stop there after a long hard day to browse the titles, pick up a book and read a page here, a poem there. and I still hang out at my university's library when I have a chance. though I must say that the periodical section is getting smaller and smaller. the college library has a pretty good run of Sulfur but stopped subscribing to it in the early 90s. guess there ain't much interest in it or no money for renewing. ah, fuck it, so much for learning, I guess.

Friday, April 23, 2004

what should poets do for a living? well, according to Susan Yuzna it sure the hell ain't in the unemployment line. I read this article in today's paper and it has haunted me all day. not Yuzna's plight, I understood her experience of unemployment to be fairly typical of a writer, but the question is whether poets must be teachers to be accredited a poet at all. I know many good writers who are also teachers, but teaching for a living ain't the only option to make a living for a poet. a good friend shuttles to and fro as a part-time assistant instructor at two area community colleges. it is one hell of a way to earn a living. poetry mandates a variety of forms, visions and sounds for it to maintain its health. it follows then that poets must live, work, read and write from many, many variables and attitudes for health. it means poets can, and they do, live and write outside the guild structure of academe. they must: unemployment for anyone, writer or no, fucking sucks.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

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