Crystal Set #20: The Lily of St. Mark's by Steve Carey

The Lily of St. Mark’s by Steve Carey (“C” Press, 1978)—31 pages, side-stapled mimeograph edition of 250 copies. Printed at The Poetry Project. Cover art and interior portrait by George Schneeman.

In Alice Notley’s essay “Steve,” written as a lecture given June 19, 1998 at Naropa (digitized here) and collected in her book Coming After: Essays on Poetry, Notley describes first meeting Steve Carey in her apartment at 101 St. Mark’s Place: “He has a deep beautiful voice, from deep in a big chest. It’s the voice (I will soon find out) that all his poems ride, they’re conceived for that sound, fluid, changeable, playing…it will make up words for us, contribute permanently to our vocabulary.” “[H]is sensibility is responsive to every delicacy in words,” she writes, and this precisely the musical flexibility—mouthy jostle (to coin a Carey-esque phrase)—that permeate the poems in The Lily of St. Mark’s. I’ve coveted a copy of this book for a long time and just recently was able to get one. The bold intricacy of Schneeman’s playing card-style cover, even the title itself, which is such a quintessential late-1970s, New York School gesture—a wry and lyric gendered play that incorporates the hyper-localized geography of the Second Generation—make this book an irresistible object. It’s also the penultimate publication of Ted Berrigan’s “C” Press—which he revived in 1978 to publish Carey’s book and, finally, Elio Schneeman’s In February I Think. As Notley descirbes, “This title is after the song ‘The Lily of the West’ (sung by Joan Baez, and also and not very well by Dylan) suggesting Steve’s Westernness (he loves whitewall tires and smog and Ed Ruscha photos) and his pallor and esthetic purity) which Ted sometimes chides him for, as in Ted’s line ‘Absolute quality tells absolutely nothing’).” Carey’s recent move to New York City from the West Coast—and the quick dissolution of his marriage, as Notley describes in the above essay—maps over the song’s narrative. The allusion is as witty as it is sentimental, a warm mixture of feeling and intelligence that continues to be one of the little-discussed joys of poets such as Carey, Berrigan, Notley, and other “Second Generation” New York School writers.

A few years ago I wrote a short review of The Selected Poems of Steve Carey, edited by Edmund Berrigan (Subpress, 2009), which I’ve included at the end of this post. Everything there holds true for The Lily of St. Mark’s, but many of the poems in this book that don’t appear in the Selected are worth highlighting for their raucous, idiosyncratic swerves of phrase. This is also a way of saying that I’d like to create a record of the need for more of Carey’s poems to be easily available, and that a Collected Poems of Steve Carey would be a celebrated publication for poets and scholars interested in writers like Carey whose work has not been widely read or written about. Notley’s endorsement should be all we need. Elinor Nauen’s narrative of Carey’s last day alive—originally published in The Poetry Project Newsletter in Oct./Nov. 1989—is a strong portrait of Carey’s humor, devotions, and love. “There’ll be marigolds in my next poem,” he tells Nauen. He’d die of a heart attack the next day.

Carey’s sense of a line’s ability to whimsically bend, light up, usher in, and fizz is one of the core delights of his work. He is a genius of generating that odd-ball variation in a phrase that makes the most familiar language an unstable chemical substance. He rivals Ashbery and Koch as a list-making poet. His verbs are miraculous. His miniature collages of newly minted phrases are scenes of dramatic wit and care. His humor carries the effect of a TV-set constantly shifting between channels—voices, tones, contexts gently running together into poems that are neither sets of non sequiturs nor fixed narratives. He can make language into science fiction. And all throughout are his friends and his love for them. Carey’s work looms with spirited presence. It’s voice-y and thrilled. Its shine is its wit. It gets weird in any light. Check the poem “Wasi-Wasi” for examples of nearly all of the above.

Below is a quick inventory of incredible lines from The Lily of St. Mark’s:

“About Poetry (II)” for Keith Abbott: “But dizzy hailing worthies / I am light — I think I’m light — and toss / these options aft.”

“Folk Song”: “I have no lethal heavens, roaring plently.”; “Your plans, and sign surprise, and rout / Deep breathing, beef your weaving lean, / And cry, ‘Light! Die light! Die light!’”

“‘The Pills Aren’t Working’”: “Out—hamming fury—as I do”

“The Islands”: “To what you got to kneel beside / Female dusts will burgeon / Clutter and bind these hard hands / Where their song shall keep”

“Poem (Middle Distance)”: “creeping dream deprivation / roaring bores”

“Poem From a Line by Philip Whalen”: “Bless the all but silent sleep / conveying fabulous muddles of the kug / pictured to serve.”

“Slo-Mo” for Ted Berrigan: “as I (banking in a slow drop) / watch a dawn bump up at the far line.”

“Dread”: “Of the pave, / of the pave, / ‘Now there’s some music / I can drive to!’ // A penalty flag falls to the ground. // Slowly, I produce the knife!”

“About Poetry” for Bill Berkson: “There is herald all in tone.”; “Talking in our sleep… / The books grow bigger / And bigger. Fine books.”


From left to right: Alice Notley, Harris Schiff, Ted Berrigan, and Steve Carey at 101 St. Mark’s Place apartment. Courtesy of Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.

From left to right: Alice Notley, Harris Schiff, Ted Berrigan, and Steve Carey at 101 St. Mark’s Place apartment. Courtesy of Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.

Review of The Selected Poems of Steve Carey, edited by Edmund Berrigan (Subpress, 2009)—originally published in NOÖ Journal #17:

Steve Carey’s poetry is a jubilant assemblage of crystal phrases and sets, an ongoing practice in the delight and incongruity that emerges in and between uncommon lines, our living ghosts and singing voices. Carey, who died at age 43 in 1989, is associated with the fierce, joyous, trembling, visionary sounds of the Second Generation New York school poets, and his work shows an intimate overlap with the poetry of Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley, Bill Berkson, Philip Whalen, and others around the Poetry Project and Naropa in the 1970s and early 80s. But what’s a generation or a school do for readers who find Carey for the first time in this Selected, the first gathering of his work in over 25 years? I came to Carey’s work through a dedicated reading of Berrigan’s poetry, a microlineage that allowed me to trace a common devotion in language and sound rather than a canonical tradition. And in these poems, which are so funny and attentive, carried so pleasurably by the weird light of a phrase like “You’re swacked” or the miraculous turning music in “Sweatless in my place / Dear, dear gate,” we swerve so much and so gently in each line that we’re made into beginners, starting again along with Carey to be readers of ourselves and our shared musics. It’s a good thing to be a beginner in these poems—it leaves us radically open, without jealousy or anxiety, dreaming. Carey is describing his own practice, and telling us a secret about music, when he writes, “In each a rhythmic adjustment is made // ‘Everyone is haunted / Watch the water.’” Both meditative and fervently busy, we’re riding each phrase to its textured next of kin. One of the most terrific things about Carey’s poems is his use of punctuation, that language within language that (re)organizes so much of a poem’s music. In poems like “Julia” and “Joe Hill,” Carey’s use of parentheses, hyphens, and quotation marks make for a lush braiding that subnarrates the movement of thinking, line by line, like Dickinson, Howe, or Notley. He, like them, is “[t]urning her face to her sources,” living in a jeweled, far, unprecious sound. Anyone familiar with the New York School will be at home in Carey’s Selected, but these poems are a long drift past categorization. Edmund Berrigan’s selection of poems, from more on-site lyric arrangements to long open field poems to Carey’s incredible list works, like the unbelievably pleasurable “The Complaint: What Am I, Some Kind Of,” gives us the most generous shapeliness for reading Carey’s work. A true “sooth-brooder,” a wayward “Thinker of something else,” Carey’s voice is still here for new readers, critically joyous, crystalline, and tender. Tra-la, tra-la.

Full PDF of The Lily of St. Mark’s: click here

Full PDF of 20 Poems: click here

Tom Carey’s Papers, the archive of Steve Carey’s brother, recently became available at Yale’s Beinecke Library.

from  The Selected Poems of Steve Carey

from The Selected Poems of Steve Carey

Crystal Set #19: Phoebe Light by Alice Notley

Phoebe Light by Alice Notley (Big Sky Books, 1973). 40 pages, saddle stapled, an uncommon binding method for a Big Sky publication. Cover art by Alex Katz.


Today is the first day of Scorpio season, so it’s a good day to read any book by Alice Notley, who is a Scorpio. Phoebe Light is Notley’s second book but her first printed offset following the mimeographed 165 Meeting House Lane (“C” Press, 1971). Notley’s first four books—165 Meeting House Lane, Phoebe Light, Incidentals in the Day World, and For Frank O’Hara’s Birthday—are increasingly hard to find. It’s actually easiest to read 165 Meeting House Lane in its entirety by buying All Stars (there are copies for sale for less than $4), the 1972 anthology edited by Tom Clark, which includes Notley’s whole sonnet sequence along with long segments of work by Ted Berrigan, James Schuyler, Philip Whalen, and others. This is a considerable rare book hack since copies of 165 Meeting House Lane are always over a grand. Phoebe Light, Incidentals, and For Frank O’Hara’s Birthday all range from $100-$300. I got my copy two years ago for $50, which seems impossible now. Reading these books is important because they’re scarcely represented in Selected Poems of Alice Notley (Talisman, 1993) and Grave of Light: New and Selected Poems, 1970-2005 (Wesleyan, 2006)—”Dear Dark Continent” is the one poem from Phoebe Light that appears in either selected (it’s in both) and it was also published in Incidentals in the Day World, suggesting the value of that poem to Notley. I remember a conversation about “Dear Dark Continent” in Andrew Epstein’s New York School class, how it gave us a starting point for talking about Notley’s arrangements of self, family, and making a life in poetry, so I’m glad that poem has continued to be in circulation via Grave of Light. But the secret is that Phoebe Light is full of these incredible poems—31 in all—including ”To My Father,” “Poker Hand,” “Getting to Sleep, Chicago,” and “Creatures,” that show—not development—but the way Notley was starting to gather and amplify a sound. Phoebe Light has this stance to it, like it’s this mind that is all wit and music, with these slightly peeling edges of photographic clarity. I’ve been teaching a class on New York School coming-of-age narratives through books like Brainard’s I Remember and Notley’s Mysteries of Small Houses, and though this book doesn’t track a stark narrative movement, it does benefit from being read in the context of coming-into a life and world of thinking, especially in how these poems show the concerns that will become central throughout her books. Written in Iowa, Chicago, Bolinas, and New York—and written partly while pregnant with her and Berrigan’s first son—it’s an astounding early work that confirms the voice(s), themes, and departures that make Notley’s work so irreducible.

A range of kinds of poems are included in Phoebe Light, including “Conversation,”—a John Giorno-style two-column poem that staggers dialogue like a cassette tape constantly looping back on itself—”The Development of My Mind and Character”—a swerving faux-autobiographical prose allegory that ends “Then I became a lesbian, had a baby, killed myself, chatted much”—and “Free”—a one-line poem that reads “Inborn Tonal Memory.” Splashed across the book are the sort of musically punctuated, reverberating and quick lines that distinctly mark the colorful intricate lyricism of Notley’s work in the 1970s. The bright assortedness of a poem like “Poker Hand,” for example, feels like a textual equivalent of the collages Notley had begun making in the early ‘70s and also anticipates the condensed syllabic melodies of When I Was Alive (Vehicle Editions, 1980). The first couplet in “Poker Hand” is a wild neon flag of sounds: “Antediluvian bang in arched fur willful & exploded pussy / How brief you are how on how quick to validate tail.” Those are fun, tightly packed sounds, all leading to the wildly charming last line “Who taught you such verse & succour such pap,” which in the context of Notley’s pregnancy, scans as a line rhetorically interrogating the limited (or nonexistent) sources for a mother’s ability to write about the need for help (“succour”) and the bodily transformations of nurturing (the nipple-like “pap”). “I fear oblivion loss and destruction of works,” Notley says in a letter to Bill Berkson, the publisher of Big Sky, in response to his question about sending her more copies of Phoebe Light, “and feel like hoarding my books etc crazy pregnant lady, plus all imaginary people I’m gonna want to give them to.” There’s a sense of being unsure of an audience for her work, or a concern that as a young woman and mother, her poetry—and ability to be a poet at all being the person she was—would be marginalized. The attention to pain and vision that runs throughout the poems in Phoebe Light—concerns that are paramount across Notley’s work—reverberate with these concerns about what it means to be a woman and mother writing poems with no lineage, no line, no tradition to turn to. More than other poets, it’s actually actresses like Lauren Becall and Vivien Leigh who appear in these poems, a testament to Notley’s cultural wit in positioning these “stars” as a lineage for herself to inherit and subvert. As she writes in “Dear Dark Continent,” “but I’ve ostensibly chosen / my, a, family / so early! so early!” and what a family or lineage is—these people? this list of words?—is a central question in this book.

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“To My Father” approaches this most directly in Phoebe Light, a poem that begins by acknowledging the speaker’s failed attempts to impart the most central parts of her self and life to her father: “I’ve meant to tell you many things about my life, / & every time the moment has conquered me.” What follows is an incredible self-portrait of grief and uncertainty free of images, anecdotes, and metaphors that directly and musically undoes the genre of the confession poem (and exceeds the confessional poem). ”The centre of me / is always & eternally / a terrible pain— / a curious wild pain—a searching / beyond what the world contains, something / transfigured & infinite—I don’t find it, / I don’t think it is to be found.” I love this so much, and read it, in part, as a way to begin to describe the trajectories of Notley’s poetry and thinking in the nearly half-century since this poem was published, especially “I don’t find it, / I don’t think it is to be found,” which seems to be as much about the self as about a poetry, a style, a voice, therefore requiring, as the poem concludes, a lifetime “of gentleness & cruelty & work.” This trifecta of labor and feeling is echoed in the poem “Frozen Dance, Southampton,” which suggests a process of composing “[t]hrough mirth insight collision,” a collage-like process that binds the physical, intellectual, and emotional while embracing both “rage” and “wild despair.” Phoebe Light is full of Notley “saying / an intricacy,” as the poem “Early Works” describes, showing an already fiercely potent orchestral-like sound in her poems.

Or take the poem “Getting to Sleep, Chicago,” with its opening into a soft portrait of a winter night alone in Chicago as a young mother. Initiated by the titles of two books that Notley was likely reading—Raymond Chandler’s Trouble is My Business and C.P. Snow’s Last Things—the poem sways into sonorous lists and accumulations of seemingly ephemeral facts like “Pearls are protective secretionary bodies” that, like mother and baby, indicate a preoccupation with the nature of care between bodies. Written during Notley and Berrigan’s first stint in Chicago at their apartment at 911 W. Diversey right next to Diversey train station—”the comforting El rumble”—while Berrigan—”el marido,” her husband—”he’s away,” the poem tracks the winding down of a day and a honing of inward attention to a scene of intense care and, as the last line suggests, a kind of reciprocal worship. I love that alcohol and jewels are the image-occasions for such intimacy and care, and to read the mid-poem lists out loud is an incredible recognition of Notley’s precise, resonate ear for music—there’s a world and a life built in those lists alone.

I also love the title Phoebe Light, perhaps a reference to Phoebe MacAdams, the wife of poet Lewis MacAdams, who Notley had recently met on a visit in Bolinas. But aside from the named reference, Phoebe Light becomes to me a phrase about insistence and refusal for a poet writing into her world. What is poetry? I hear Notley asking, and responding in “Equinox Time,” “to burn fur / drown velvet.” Whatever your ideas are, Notley insists, “No, let me change your mind.” PennSound hosts a 1971 recording of Notley reading from 165 Meeting House Lane and the poems that become Phoebe Light in Bolinas with Joanne Kyger, and it’s great to be able to listen to such an early reading by Notley, who was 26 years old at the time. A poem in Phoebe Light, “We Arrived & What We Did,” also appears in Notley’s MFA thesis from Iowa, showing the gathering of her process from even earlier, in 1969, and the value of some of her earliest work as a poet (as she describes in “As Good as Anything” in Mysteries of Small Houses). And even here, Notley’s attention to trance, dreams, visions, and the voices that are available and congregating in those spaces is vivid. “Everyone else is here / waiting to be in my dream,” she writes in “Bedtime Dawn,” and though these poems are difficult to find it’s important to note how completely they are part of the dream of Notley’s lifework. It’s worth asking what else we can learn about Notley’s epic, visionary work of the last 25 years by returning to books like Phoebe Light, and it’s also worthwhile to come back to the books that have been out-of-print to see how a poetry was forming and already, full of light, insisting. “No, let me change your mind.”

Postcard from Notley to Berkson after seeing the Alex Katz cover images for  Phoebe Light . Courtesy of the University of Connecticut Special Collections.

Postcard from Notley to Berkson after seeing the Alex Katz cover images for Phoebe Light. Courtesy of the University of Connecticut Special Collections.

Crystal Set #18: Language by Jack Spicer (White Rabbit Press, 1965)

Language by Jack Spicer (White Rabbit, 1965; second printing 1970). Offset, 66 pages, "Designed and printed at White Rabbit by Graham Mackintosh - June 10, 1965." This copy from the second printing. [Cited page numbers for Spicer poems refer to My Vocabulary Did This To Me.]


Colored by love and judgment, constructed through a series of unmoored metaphors crossed with appearing-to-be-rational syntax that sheds as slight repetitions accumulate across sets of lines, built to showcase the otherworldliness of syllables simultaneously coalescing and floating off into a field of meaning constantly calling on the echo of myth, distant and funny and ragey—this is Jack Spicer’s Language. It feels like an ur-text for an entire poetics (i.e., Language), or a way to consider disobeying how a book functions, which is what nearly each of Spicer’s books seem to generate. Maybe because Spicer is so willing to be against something in his work, and to be so wickedly intimate and mysterious in his refusals, that reading Spicer’s poems always feels like a tremendous relief. Here is a poet showing you how to rage so sharply and strangely. I love that obscure, uncompromising music.

The entirety of Language is republished in Spicer’s Collected, My Vocabulary Did This To Me, but it’s different to read Language as its own discreet book. Not only are the poems laid out differently in the White Rabbit edition, with each poem occupying a single complete page rather than the condensed framing in the Collected, but the cover of the White Rabbit book is my favorite of any of Spicer’s covers, which are all notably just really good. Spicer’s covers aren’t merely decorative but clever, well-designed opening salvos in the critical and mystical aesthetic arguments his poems are the material of. Like the cover for Book of Magazine Verse (White Rabbit, 1966)—a facsimile copy of the then-cover of Poetry Magazine that Spicer uses as a send-up of the academic culture of respectability and professionalism tied to such publications—the cover of Language establishing a lineage for the book itself as it talks back to Spicer’s career as a professional linguist by reproducing the cover of the still-publishing flagship linguistics journal Language in which Spicer’s only professional publication was included. Daniel Katz’s description of the cover in The Poetry of Jack Spicer effectively describes the context and gesture:

“Indeed, the famous cover of Language can be seen as an assertion of this very fact: here one finds faintly reproduced a sepia green photocopy of the cover of the July-September 1952 number of the linguistics journal Language (which contained Spicer’s one publication as an academic linguist) but messily scrawled across it in a large bold red hand (probably Spicer’s own) stands the title “Language” and the name “Jack Spicer.” In truth, however, the book represents less poetry asserting its rights to language over and against those of linguistics than a different figure which the cover also suggests: the over-writing or overdetermination of a palimpsest.” (141)

You can actually read Spicer’s name on the original journal cover underneath the “ck” in the red handwritten “Jack” given as John L. Spicer, the name he would also be buried with (and which would prohibit his grave from being tracked down until just a few years ago). Spicer and his mentor David Reed’s essay “Correlation methods of comparing idioletcs in a transition area” is fascinating to skim through if only to see into the specialized interests of Spicer’s academic training (a PDF of the essay is available here). Copies of the first and second edition of Spicer’s Language are still available online from $40-$300, making it one of the still more accessible Spicer books to find, though it’s increasingly scarce. I especially love the paperclip that appears on the top center of the cover, as if casually left there while making copies of the journal cover. Katz’s description doesn’t mention this detail, though the paperclip seems to me a vivid indication of how Spicer’s relationship to publication as a fiercely local, small press-based activity within particular communities of artists anticipates the zine aesthetic of the ‘80s and ‘90s.

I’ve always read Language as a parallel text to Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets, not because Berrigan’s sonnet sequence and Spicer’s serial poems are directly related (though there is meaningful resonance between their work and attitudes, as I’ve suggested elsewhere), but because of an associative attention to repetition, seriality, wit, and the range of performative rhetorical gestures that both poets make. They’re also contemporaneous publications, with The Sonnets appearing in 1964. I like how reading one against the other generates new ways to describe their respective work. Even a title like Spicer’s “Thing Music,” which is the first serial poem in the book (see Anthony McCann’s awesome 2014 book Thing Music), feels like a Berrigan-esque title, a both serious and oddly humorous phrase that ambiguously calls on a range of referents and ideas. But it is only Spicer who could, over the course of these poems, refer to his heart as being made both of “silicon” and, later, “green cheese” (a particular kind of Spicer goofiness), and write lines like these: “Meow, meow; meow, meoww / Is it really on top of a yellow giraffe / Meow, meow, meow, meow. Meow, meow” (374). I get such a kick out of these lines, their nursery rhyme-resonate silliness, the “ww” anomaly that unloosens the repetition into a conceptual space, and the idiosyncratic, musical note-like use of punctuation. Or take these lines from later in “Thing Music,” which resonate with Berrigan’s attention to simultaneity but glow through Spicer’s unexpected metaphor: “Take each past, combine it with its present. Death / Is a tooth among / Strangers” (378). This frightening, magical statement becomes an aesthetic proverb in Spicer’s mythic-aural pantheon of wicked lines. Here are a few more irreducible lines from throughout Language: “the / radio dead but alive it can connect things / Into sound” (376); “Going into hell so many times tears it / Which explains poetry” (383); “And look at stars, and books, and other people’s magic diligently” (384); “Take a step back and view the sentence” (384); “We make up a different language for poetry / And for the heart—ungrammatical” (390).

But please, can we take a moment to appreciate how incredibly well Jack Spicer uses the word “fuck” in his poems, and to acknowledge that him, Alice Notley, and Amiri Baraka, really, are the ideal models for how to curse in American poetry. These lines from the series “Morphemics” are case in point: “Us exiles dancing on the banks of their fucking river. / They asked us to sing a sad song. How / Motherfucker can I sing a sad song” (391). This is some stunning incredible vicious insistence. The double expletive here becomes the dancing and singing that refuses to emote on the proper, sanctioned level. Or there’s Spicer’s casual virtuous spite folded into daily observation, exemplified by a line like “But real unfucking rain” from “Graphemics” (398). These lines are shrines from which to devise the future of literature.

Finally, I’m thinking of these lines near the end of Language from the sixth poem in “Graphemics”: “Walden Pond / All those noxious gases rising from it in the summer” (401). For a long time I’ve thought of these lines as a description of the pastoral and transcendental toxicity of sanctioned American poetic lineage, literature, and literary spaces that Spicer railed against. But looking back at the poem recently, I remembered an article in The Guardian about a new environmental paper on the ecological health of Walden Pond that describes how Thoreau’s happy lake is quickly becoming a phosphorus-dense sludge ball because it’s full of pesticides and human pee. Having been a person who swam in Walden Pond about 10 years ago, I found this alarming, accurate, and totally appropriate to Spicer’s poem and the nature of literary tourism. The article specifically mentions the use of pesticides on the pond in the 1960s, a likely candidate for the summertime “noxious gases” caused by increased algae growth from the chemicals in the water, which is perhaps what Spicer is referring to. One imagines Spicer visiting Walden during his short tenure working at the Rare Book Room of Boston Public Library in the mid-’50s, maybe even going with Robin Blaser or John Wieners and enjoying the abject landscape they found in the heart of America’s New England literary history. Language is cut through with these moments of joyous pessimistic vitriol, devotion, and mystical intelligence, a completely Spicerian trinity of aesthetic tenets, but all of Spicer’s work deserves to be read and reread, especially for its defiance and derangement of male literary heritage and tradition. In moments of tenuous and fraught inheritance, I’m often thinking of the last lines from “A Poem For Dada Day at The Place, April, 1, 1955,”: “‘Beauty is so rare a thing,’ Pound said, / ‘So few drink at my fountain.’ / You only have the right to piss in the fountain / If you are beautiful.” It turns out Walden’s urine-saturated fate is bound up with Spicer’s Duchampian irreverence more than he could have imagined.

Crystal Set #17: Country Rush by Maureen Owen (Adventures in Poetry, 1973)

Country Rush by Maureen Owen (Adventures in Poetry, 1973). Mimeo side-stapled, 28 pages, with cover and drawings by Yvonne Jacquette.


Who sent me this copy of Country Rush? Cassandra? Greg? It's gorgeous, with a perfect single-splash coffee stain on the cover. And this copy originally belonged to Frances Waldman, Anne's mother, with her name written in pencil at the top of the first page. Country Rush is Owen's first book, published by Larry Fagin's Adventures in Poetry in the midst of Owen's incredible editing of Telephone magazine and books. As far as I know, there's been no critical attention to Owen's Telephone magazine, which alongside Notley's Chicago and Waldman's editing of The World make up a powerful collection of women-edited mimeo mags from the late 60s through the 70s. [Correction: See Stephanie Anderson's interview with Maureen Owen in Chicago Review Vol. 59, No. 1-2 Fall 2015, a significant, wonderful conversation about women small-press publishers.] In a 1977 radio interview on the program "Expressions" with Doug Lang, "a review of small press books, mostly poetry," for WPFW, a Washington, DC-based station, Owen describes the editing of the magazine and press, publishing the work of younger and more unknown poets (like Susan Howe!), and using the mailing list at the Poetry Project to send out copies. Other than being an incredibly rare conversation with a women solely about small press publishing made during that era, the interview is a wonderful portrait by Owen of what it meant to run a small press in the 70s, from using mimeograph, Xerox, or off-set publishing techniques, how to handle distribution, and the economies of poetry publishing. It's absolutely worth listening to in full (just over 14 minutes long), especially for the complexity of these sorts of exchanges about gender and publishing:

Lang: There's one other thing I wanted to ask you about the selection process for Telephone, which is that Telephone Books seems more predisposed to publish more women than men.
Owen: That just sort of happened, I think, because it seemed like there were more young, not even young, but unpublished women whose manuscripts I'd come across. It seemed like there were more opportunities for men to get published at the time that I was starting. I don't feel tremendously feminist in mine--there's so many men whose work I'm so enthusiastic about. I think it's just simply because I get more manuscripts from women because they don't have the other outlets. It's just not as available.
Lang: That's certainly the only work in book form I've seen of Rebecca Wright, Rebecca Brown, Susan Howe.
Owen: Yeah, all terrific writers. I mean I can't understand sometimes why they're being neglected.
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Lang: It does seem amazing to me that someone like Susan Howe, who is one of the most remarkable writers in America, I think...
Owen: Yeah, really.
Lang: only available to a very select audience who knows small press publishing and has come it through that.
Owen: I know. I think anyone who wants to read terrific poetry that's going down now should make a terrific effort to find out what small presses are available, what books, because there's something terrifically beautiful things being published by tiny presses in really limited editions.
Lang: They'd do well by buying all the Telephone Books to begin with.
Owen: That would be a start!

In a 2016 interview with Pat Nolan, Owen reiterates what it meant to be editing and creating Telephone among the community of artists at the Poetry Project: 

I was meeting some terrific unpublished poets, so many of them women, and though The World was publishing great works, there were those not finding a way in. I wanted to give the women writers I was finding and that outlier community a voice. At readings I would be knocked off my chair by their stunning poems that were nowhere in print. It’s so incredible to discover poems that take your breath away. I’ve always craved making things, hands on, making collages and such. So naturally I thought I could create a magazine. I wanted it to be eclectic and open to all like the telephone book. So I christened it Telephone. Almost immediately I realized I would do books too. I would call the press Telephone Books! Once I put my idea out to myself, it felt the most natural thing of all.
So I asked Anne if I could use the Gestetner mimeo machine at the Project to do a magazine.  In her typical utter generosity, she said “sure!” Of course I had no idea as to the process. Larry Fagin kindly gave me instruction on how to type a stencil:  How to Type A Stencil 101. And Tom Veitch offered to teach me how to run the massive Gestetner, add ink, load the stencils, etc. Often, after I put the boys to bed with Lauren or a neighbor watching over them, I could be found working alone upstairs in the big, dark, spooky and haunted church, the loud clunking of the Gestetner echoing as I rolled out the copies. St Marks is notorious for being haunted by Peter Stuyvesant. It’s said you can hear his wooden leg smacking the floorboards after midnight. There alone, I heard his walking many a night as I cranked the big wheel on the mimeograph machine and turned out page after stunning page of glistening wet black letters that floated on the white paper.
Tom ran off the initial issue of Telephone magazine for me. It was a magic moment when the first pages rolled off the drum. It seemed both a miracle and a magic trick that all those typed stencils were working. I had done illustrations with a stylus, holding the stencils up against a window to trace the original. They appeared fully perfect. I was astounded.

About Country Rush Owen says: "It was mimeo with a stunning cover and original drawings by Yvonne Jacquette. When I first saw Yvonne’s drawings for the book I felt as though she had magically pulled the images straight out of my head. She had captured images that resonated to an unbelievable degree with the poems. Her drawings were the very objects that I had been looking at that summer in Minnesota on my uncle’s farm. Starkly focusing on one telephone pole against an infinite sky or one corner of a barn roof pushing into infinite space, it was cosmic!"

There is a cosmic attentiveness in these poems, swaying between a Buddhist pleasure and knowledge of the natural world, of ecological systems, that tracks "Nature's / out & out extravagance" ("Land O Lakes"), and a kind of playful social ruckus and personality, like in these lines from an untitled poem: "Perhaps I'll develop the limping stride / of Byron / people stepping back as I jerk through." Owen's proximity to the Beats during her time in San Francisco and years in Japan during the 60s are clear influences, including a poem dedicated to Gary Snyder. Though as she traces in her interview with Nolan, she was already plugged in to a Tulsa-cum-New York School aesthetic via her early friendship with David Bearden, the poet playfully memorialized in Berrigan's The Sonnets, "I wonder if David Bearden still dislikes me." I pick up that lineage in lines like "The true measure of reality      an attitude" from "Farming Country" and "under these stars full of beer & power" from "Gravel Rush." There's a lush flair in Owen's attention, like she's having to say things quickly because of the pressing demands of the day, limited time, and this tension pushes the poems' wit and energy. I love these last lines from the poem "Goodyear," which sort of erupt from a meditation on dream and love: "Incidents while we stood under the drupaceous branches / fondling mammoth peaches with our tongues." The poem's willingness to acknowledge and hold how dreams and self (interchangeable?) have the ability to be what "washed in to blunder the details of life" is refreshing. In all of the rushes of the book, there's also Owen's "Body Rush," an ecstatic, funny, and horny catalog of excitements and care. Like Notley's first book, 165 Meeting House Lane, published two years before Country Rush, the female body is irreducibility present--never a metaphor, never owned--in a position of pleasure and refusal. The play on "country"--the rural and the sexual--is painted across the book, and the "rush" is an ongoing excitement, both music and a way of being in the world against the stillness of narrative.

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You can also see a lineage from Owen's work to Bernadette Mayer to Lisa Jarnot, with her lyric attention to the natural and domestic that doesn't exclude the fantastic or the incantatory, and for her wonderful devotion to lists and the nouns that populate them, like in the poem below "for Lauren." Mayer's Midwinter Day, written in 1978, is full of such catalogs that reframe what it means to describe a day. Jarnot's books also revel in associational and sonic joys of including words like "spice bush" and "false solomon seal" in a poem. 

Owen's poetry book Amelia Earhart (Vortex Editions, 1984) won an American Book Award in 1985. Audio recordings from 1970s through 2012--the image of Owen to the right is from a 1978 "Public Access Poetry" video--are available on Owen's PennSound page.


Crystal Set #16: Locked From the Outside by Susie Timmons (Yellow Press, 1990)

Locked From the Outside by Susie Timmons (Yellow Press, 1990). Softcover, 57 pages, with cover by Alex Katz and introduction by Alice Notley.


The poems in Locked From the Outside are like catalogs of looking, sculptural vulnerable intellect, being sharp and invisible in a way, considering what it means to use words to see when one is being prohibited from vision--by war, by gender, by sex, by general shittiness--but still seeing something else entirely. And while the world of things is idiotic and hilarious ("a troupe of seventeen year old / Iron Maiden freaks puking inside their tent"), these poems' attention to the vibrating presence of the self-in-the-world, of thinking working and working against--charged by Timmons's wit and care--deliver an imaginative refusal. When her poems come up against the second person pronoun there's always some sort of gentle fire spreading around those lines, like in "Bamboo Union," such an awesomely weird title that juts up against the malaise of its first line, "One day is the same as another to me." But the poem continues, the "you" dropping in mid-poem to be aimed at: "I know you hate me, but too bad, if you hate me // Amazing audience tells you whats banned / my pussy, that's what, ostrich feathers." I mean, these lines are amazing. They remind me of Alice Notley's short poem "Fuck You, Man: Or Rose Take Me Back": "I'm sorry I've / pissed you off for the / last fifteen years, / but I haven't." Is Susie Timmons a Scorpio, too? I hope she is. More of that color of refusal: "What is an insult, or what is 'cute'" ("Locked From the Outside"); "I guess I'm supposed to be envious / out of control and full of regret" and "I tell you what to read" ("Forty Yous"). I like that. Or is she a Capricorn, or even a Leo? From "A Ghostly Shark": "all I ever wanted the only thing I ever wanted / the one thing I ever wanted out of life / was to be King of the People." Which then becomes "all I ever wanted the only thing I ever wanted / the one thing I wanted out of life / was to feel you up. / and burn you up, baby, if I may be so bold // detergent." Amazing. And Timmons always wins out, like the Katz painting on the cover, by answering with a hard look. From "Locked From the Outside": "here is where you cause something to happen   I mean you have a body / liable to the subjunctive / to do / MAGIC.    namely / as opposed / urgently desiring transcendence." I like reading this as "opposed [to] urgently desiring transcendence," but she gets it both ways. The hard look is "to do / MAGIC," to carry that in the imagining body toward what's possible. "I'm going to stand at the bus stop now / I'm going to launch all my worries / Into the pale blue atmosphere / Today, where sexy clouds will treat them to oblivion" ("Boulevard of Ghosts"). But Timmons's wish is also to stay deeply in the world to "experience description / examine the urge to describe / feelings" even if, or because, "description is impossible" ("Baby With a Gun"). Which leads to the last line "How can I make this place?" It's fun to spend time in Timmons's making, like in the poem "Little Life, Belgrade," who associative attention is an "I dream this, I dream that" rewrite of New York School dailiness: "Four new records, 20 voices / the lush particulars of a moose herd on 14th St. / antiquarian or a snap to / black and white photo of traffic, noonday / Belgrade, November 19, 1963. / Frank O'Hara, Adventures in Poetry / in the half light." 


Timmons's three books were recently collected in Superior Packet, published by Wave in 2015. Until now it hasn't been easy to get ahold of Timmon's earlier works, Hog Wild (Frontward Books, 1979) and Locked From the Outside. Cassandra Gillig sent me this copy a few years ago. In 2007, CA Conrad wrote an enthusiastic little essay for the Poetry Project Newsletter on trying to track down Locked From the Outside on the recommendation of Eileen Myles. "We need this book back in print!" It's back now. Locked From the Outside was the winner of the inaugural (and only?) Ted Berrigan Award from the Yellow Press, selected by Notley, Robert Creeley, Anselm Hollo, and Ron Padgett. Notley's introduction is a gem. I've retyped the first paragraph on the rationale for the Ted Berrigan Award:

One of the more pronounced themes of Ted Berrigan's poetry career was his encouragement of younger poets: he spoke & practiced an ethic of encouragement. Partly he was obsessed by the fact that he had managed to become a poet in spite of obstacles of class background & everyone's & his general obtuseness about poetry. One thing he used to say was to the effect, 'All I've ever wanted is to be a poet, & I've gotten my wish... And I didn't say "great poet"--I don't want that--I said "poet."' The implication was that to want to be a "great poet" was a slightly inferior aspiration; to be a poet was magical & complete. (Whether or not he was a great poet is another topic.) But, in his view, poetry was also a profession, like others, a very honorable one, & not exclusive or special. Anyone who really wanted to be a poet should of course be welcome into the guild, whatever that person's aesthetic persuasions. In his years of teaching--both in universities & institutions & on his own in our apartment or on the streetcorner (he continuously taught)--he actively searched for new poets, read anyone's manuscript, talked to anyone who might be willing to serve poetry out of the love for it. He catalyzed many people into the profession. And though he seemed to proselytize for the New York School--because he had found his kind of wit & inspiration there--he liked all kinds of poetry & understood very well different poets' different drives & needs. So the idea of a Ted Berrigan Award to a young poet, with book publication as the prize, is not only fitting, it's obvious. I'm pleased to announce the existence of the annual Ted Berrigan Award, given by the Yellow Press, & that the winner of the first annual Ted Berrigan Award is Susan Timmons.

About Simmons, Notley writes:

Lately it's been rare for me to begin reading a book of poems & want to keep reading it. Since I did want to keep reading Susan Timmons' LOCKED FROM THE OUTSIDE, I began to wonder again about what keeps one reading. It's not "ability" or "talent," "mastery of form" that keeps one reading: no one's that interested in another person's merits. One thing that makes the reader read is something fluid & life-like conveyed, a voice, a personality, a drive, a style of wit. I'm interested in the fact that Susan Timmons' poetry voice has wit, has personality, never tells us what's really going on (is not confessional or even explicit, though there's a lot of apartment & city decor) & yet manages to effect in the reader a sense that the experience of a given poem is complete. As I turn from page to page of the book, I just want to know what's going to say next: & this mysteriously has to do with the poetry's content--as if its content is its engagement with myself the reader, in the process of its speaking to me, simply speaking. As the title of the book might imply, the reader has the key to unlock the poem, by becoming the person spoken to. These are lonely poems, along-in-a-room poems, but they are very amusing & rather unsettling.

Crystal Set #15: POEMS: The Location of Things, Archaics, The Open Skies by Barbara Guest (Doubleday, 1962)

Poems: The Location of Things, Archaics, The Open Skies by Barbara Guest (Doubleday, 1962). 95 pages, hardcover with cover drawing by Robert Dash.


In January 2017, Brandon Shimoda sent me a message on Twitter that he had a copy of this book by Barbara Guest, he said, "which is ALLEGEDLY signed by Ted Berrigan, though I never believed it...It does say Ted; the book's in rough shape...Anyway, not knowing you, I thought of you...Do you want it?" He had bought it in Fayetteville and offered to send it to me for free. I said I'd love to have it. "I mean, there's no way (is there?) that TB signed a book BY Barbara Guest, but so the store claimed; it's where Matt Henriksen used to work. I bought it for something like $5, which only confirms the lie, but I guess the lie is also part of the legend, however much of the gutter, idle fantasy." I replied "It's totally possible that it is Ted's signature, but I wouldn't know anything without seeing it. He did sometimes sign his name in copies of others' books and signs his name in pages of his journals, etc, as a kind of performative framing. I don't know how it'd get to Fayetteville. But objects are wild, and you're right, hold the lie." This remains one of the best things that Twitter has ever allowed to happen.

It turns out that this copy of Guest's Poems is actually signed by Berrigan, which for books that came through Ted's possession isn't an uncommon occurrence. This book Berrigan gave as a gift, as his signature appears on the first blank page in pencil with a brief note, "Happy Birthday etc. Love, Ted." A bookmark for Dickson Street Bookshop where Shimoda bought the book is laid in with the note "Signed by Ted Berrigan." The handwriting, especially the large loop on the 'd' in "Ted," looks like other examples of Berrigan's handwriting from the early 1960s not long after he moved to New York City, so he likely bought (or stole) the book when it was new in 1962, soon before offering it as a gift to a friend. But why would such a rare New York School association copy of Guest's first book on a major press (only preceded by the Tibor de Nagy edition of The Location of Things) only cost $5? The book's personal history gets more complex on the inside of the back cover where in pencil the bookseller has written: "Note dated poem by Ted Berrigan and signed at front" with an arrow point to the left, where the book's final page would be. However, this note has been crossed out, underneath is written "STOLEN," and the book's final page, where the handwritten poem appeared, has been completely torn out. You can see the edge of the torn out page against the binding. It's terrible to be missing the handwritten, original Berrigan poem--likely a pre-The Sonnets work--and also to be missing the context given by the date. Ted regularly wrote in copies of books and magazines, sometimes adding one-off, original poems as he did here, but it's unclear who he gave this copy of Guest's book to. One would like to think Berrigan gave the book to Gerard Malanga on his birthday, who then reviewed this copy in the Spring 1965 issue of Kulchur magazine whose reviews section was then being edited by Berrigan. "In Barbara Guest," Malanga writes, "we have a poet of a sensitivity far removed from direct influences, a poet who has added fresh, even humorous, associations to her subject matter by a hallucinatory power of juxtaposition." (See the full review below.) 

Regardless of who Berrigan actually presented the book to, it's exciting to wonder if the scant marginalia throughout the copy, mostly vertical lines along particular stanzas or X's by the titles of some poems, all in pencil like the dedication and signature, could be Berrigan's own. The last stanza in Guest's poem "Les Réalités" is one of the marked stanzas, and I can see how its sonic oddnesses and off-kilter play with symbolism would have appealed to Berrigan's sensibilities. Then first experimenting with amphetamines in the early 1960s, he might have also have found some humor in the lines "as this pharmacy / turns our desire into medicines."


Guest's "Sunday Evening" is one of the few poems with an "X" marked by the title. Playing off Wallace Stevens's "Sunday Morning," the poem's colloquial, mysterious direct addresses, juxtapositions, formal repetitions, slightly bent images, and even the sonic texture of its vocabulary are all qualities Berrigan would have been attracted to. It's a little uncanny to read this poem with Berrigan in mind, as it starts to feel like a palimpsest for the moves and sounds in The Sonnets. Guest's lines "In the red, in the air, in what is falling through us / We quote several things" could act as an aesthetic description of Berrigan's collage of lineages in his poems. I'm not sure anyone has even attempted to read Berrigan and Guest in proximity, and I'm glad Shimoda sending me this book could lead to this sort of idiosyncratic reading. Books like this one, which are evidence of how oddly and magically books move through the world as these records of people, devotions, moments, thinking, care, lostness, and mystery, are exactly why I started writing the "Crystal Set" series in the first place. Objects are wild and attending to their wildness, acknowledging how their material residues refract and alter exchangeable narratives, can help us to reorient how we imagine the work of scholarship.

Read Erica Kaufman's excellent review of The Location of Things in Jacket2:

This dichotomy of inside/outside, voyeur/actor resonates throughout the book and continues to remind the reader that women do not have the luxury of occupying space in the same way men (her male contemporaries) do/did. In these early poems, we see the surfacing of Guest’s commitment to poetry that works as painting or architecture — poetry that demands the reader look at the thing in front of him/her and then let it teach them to occupy space, with one eye on object and the other on the gendered body that views it. 

And listen to the May 1984 recording on PennSound that include's Guest reading "Sunday Evening.

Gerard Malanga's review of  Poems  by Barbara Guest in  Kulchur  17 (Spring 1965)

Gerard Malanga's review of Poems by Barbara Guest in Kulchur 17 (Spring 1965)

Crystal Set #14: Circus Nerves by Kenward Elmslie (Black Sparrow Press, 1971)

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Circus Nerves by Kenward Elmslie (Black Sparrow Press, 1971). Perfect bound with cover image by Joe Brainard. This one no. 66 of 200 hardcover copies signed by Elmslie. 

I bought this copy of Circus Nerves last summer at The Captain's Bookshelf in Asheville, North Carolina--one of my favorite bookstores--along with the 1968 Something Else Press edition of Geography and Plays by Gertrude Stein and the 1948 first American edition of The Moment and Other Essays by Virginia Woolf. I've always loved this Brainard cover image--the subtle sexiness of the offset torso, the primary color bonanza of tattoo parlor staple images arranged into an almost occult figuration. The exaggerated, cartoonish curves of the female nude contrast with the realistic but anonymous nude (we assume) male body it's printed onto. These nonverbal symbols of mid-century Americana and heterosexual masculinity are tweaked into a celebratory, queer portrait of the male body as canvas and subject, as art itself. I think my grandfather, a World War II veteran, might have actually had the exact same bald eagle tattoo on his arm. Brainard made a series of works featuring tattoos throughout the early 1970s--one was featured on the cover of Artforum in 2001--and tattoos of anchors and butterflies would appear throughout his work. Tattoos make sense as Pop art images--endlessly repeated and recycled bodily ads of the cultural imagination--and Brainard handles them with his quintessential humor and vulnerability. Even the gorgeously typeset title page anticipates Elmslie's cross-genre American imagination. It's all energy, performance, and attraction--a good visual primer for Elmslie's buoyant, charming, and powerfully weird lyrical gymnastics in Circus Nerves.

I say "weird" with the greatest adoration. Reading the first poem in Circus Nerves, "Ancestor Worship," in which "[t]he young master / coughed himself inside out one day, and bravo! // rematerialized as a red cactus" and "grandfather sat naked and cooled, / singing of traffic organized like a factory, rashly," you'd be forgiven for not noticing that the poem is, in one way of describing it, about giant insects eating the world. Whether or not you remember when the monstrous "[a]nts chomped at / the jigsaw puzzles, ground with their hideous mandibles // treey landscapes and Venices at sunset," a mishmashed environment of American surrealism cum sci-fi European classicism, there's something to enjoy and wistfully read through at every turn. The poems' scenes and sources, like the work of Elmslie's close New York School friends, are constantly shifting and unexpectedly inclusive. One of my favorite sets of lines in the book are from the end of "Ashtray Offer" where while working Elmslie and Brainard are listening to the 1970 song "Contact High" by Ike & Tina Turner: "'Contact High' is a lovable old new tune / collages everywhere and no oasis // Joe hunts for bones / and me: black stones." Or the incredible "Nov 25" with its inventory of New York School names amidst the media-rich atrocities of the Vietnam War, which ends: "we'll wrap our bombed friends in palm fronds // and become a singing people (did you enjoy your turkey) / hey we are a singing people (the wing part tasted metallic)."  Like Kenneth Koch's "The Circus" from his 1962 book Thank You and Other Poems, to whom Circus Nerves is dedicated, Elmslie stages these grand processions of lines--a parade of vibrant, glitter-spazzing nouns and ricocheting narratives--that, mixed with a little cute abjection shaped into the comedy of sonic slippage, fete and disorient a reader into a sublime, rogue dreaminess. Just working to write these descriptions of Elmslie's poem is a joy. His work amplifies all the bent wonder that serious thinking requires.


Always, though, there's an elegiac lostness tied into the circuits of daily affect. Take his "Entry (for Mary Clow)," in which despite all the fun of Anne Waldman's birthday the news of a friend's passing spurs the observation that "Anne'll never again see 24." Aware of his "Taurus Depression," he leaves the celebration to lock himself in his room where "rock throbs blast through floor." Alone, he inventories the events of the day in uncharacteristically spare fashion, almost a darker version of Berrigan's "10 Things I Do Everyday": "morning news / answer phone / friend dead // feed face / head for heat / sweat and fret // see movie / grieve in the dark / in middle: leave." These are the nerves in Elmslie's circus, the living connections but also the raw, untethered ends. The last poem in Circus Nerves, "First Frost," which addresses the death of Frank O'Hara, is a moving example of the tender brittleness layered in Elmslie's imaginative vision. Beginning in what could be an idyllic landscape of beauty and comfort, the scene triggers Elmslie's memory of a few years before in 1966 when "that summer stopped / fragments and remnants" and he "returned to NYC / scared I'd wake up in DOA City / holocaust: no Frank O'Hara // audible chasm: no Frank O'Hara." Colored by the rhetoric of the ongoing Vietnam War, Elmslie imagines New York City transforming into "Dead On Arrival" City, a national, political, and aesthetic "holocaust" in which a whole world, the world with his dear friend O'Hara in it, is annihilated. The "fragments and remnants" of the rest of the poem, also the "fragments and remnants" of O'Hara left with the living, like "snatches of his voice in certain intonations," are housed in these clean-looking staggered tercets that hold up the wobbly oscillation between pieces. Like the simultaneously "frozen" and "spewing" milkweed, these pieces hold together as they fall and separate, gutted by the absence that animates their movement, that "audible chasm: no Frank O'Hara." I can't get over the last stanza with its intricate loveliness and the grief that looks to earlier lines for an almost pleading sequence of isolated repetitions. Referring to John Giorno's Dial-a-Poem service that started in 1968, Elmslie is perhaps referring to O'Hara's contributions to the project, these recordings of "Ode to Joy" and "To Hell With It," the former of which repeats the iconic line "No more dying" and the of latter which is prefaced by O'Hara's explanation that "The occasion of the poem is not that two friends of mine died but obviously it was in the back of my mind if not the front when I wrote it, and I think that probably after the initial shock death makes me angrier rather than sadder as an event." Though the first Dial-a-Poem LP wouldn't be released until a year after Circus Nerves was published, Elmslie is already listening to "Frank sing." 

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Some of the poems in Circus Nerves were first published in Power Plant Poems, one of the early run of books from Ted Berrigan's "C" Press. Published in 1967, Power Plant Poems includes this awesome portrait of Elmslie in sunglasses by Brainard. Ted actually appears in Circus Nerves in the poem "Awake on March 27th," a description of waking up before his guests one morning at his home in Calais, Vermont. Before describing Brainard, his longtime partner, sick with the flu, being as hot as "a jalopy in the tropics," the poem begins: "my thoughts turn up / always the first one up around here / Ted's god-fearing farmer red Hi Folks beard / with its growth of unabashed pseudo-pubic hair / mebbe's scratching kinkily against the clean maiden / sheets as pellets of old speed sift through his system / asleep on top floor." While not clearly the most flattering portraiture, it's absolutely Ted, and I love the description of his "god-fearing farmer red Hi Folks beard." He and Ted were close friends. In the Autumn 1965 issue of Kulchur, Berrigan had reviewed Elmslie's 1961 pamphlet Pavilions, published by Tibor de Nagy. A great example of the wit and intelligence of Berrigan's prose in his early reviews, I've always adored the anecdote (apocryphal?) from Tom Veitch about the Elmslie altar. Here is the complete review transcribed:

Kenward Elmslie is the least well-known of that group of poets mis- but aplty-named (by John Myers & Don Allen) "The New York School," whose roll (I think) would include John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, Frank O'Hara, Barbara Guest, Bill Berkson, and not Edward Field. (And Kenward Elmslie.) At the moment I'm not at librerty to reveal its location.
(Also, as a matter of fact, James Schuyler is making a strong bid for Kenward's title. However, with regards to both these writers, an underground group of young Turks seems determined to "get the manuscripts" from them and "plagiarize their works!")
I know that reading Kenward Elmslie's poems has had a strong effect on my own writing. For one thing, he has made me very aware of individual words, their sweet eccentricity. For another, and most important to me, the way his poems ARE (i.e. 'take place') Right Now is tremendously exciting. He is able to include a kind of daylight nostalgia in his poems without sacrificing any of the present to the past, a very sexy and useful trick in making right now be Right Now. He is a very personal poet though he tempts us often to forget it. Like Ashbery and Koch and O'Hara (each in his different manner) Elmslie is an American poet with an absolutely non-UnAmerian style (voice). Offhand I would guess that he owes less to Apollinaire than his schoolmates, and perhaps more to hardcore Surrealism. (That's a pretty unbelievable sentence, wonder who I've been reading?) As a matter of fact, Kenward Elmslie's poetry is almost nothing like Surrealism. I remember when I first met Tom Veitch, about four years ago; one day he noticed my copy of Pavilions and he told me that some friends of his at Columbia had built an altar to Kenward Elmslie in their room to pray to during exams. It wasn't so much his poems, although they liked them a lot, it was his name: Kenward Elmslie. They thought that that was really a great name. Prayed to it every day.
[Berrigan reproduces in full Elmslie's poem "The Dustbowl" as published in Art & Literature #1]
The Elmslie poem Ted references at the end of his review.

The Elmslie poem Ted references at the end of his review.

Lately Kenward Elmslie's poems have been appearing in C, in Aram Saroyan's Lines magazine, in Mother magazine and Arts & Literature; and for those interested, he has had work in Gerrit Lansing's Set, in Locus Solus #'s 2, 3, and 5, in The Hasty Papers and in A New Folder, just to mention a few. He also did the libretto for the Opera Lizzie Borden which premiered in March at the New York City Center. And he and Joe Brainard have collaborated on a beautiful Baby Book (available at 8th Street Bkshop) which I presume will be reviewed in this magazine sometime. Of the poems in magazines, the one that shouldn't be missed is Elmslie's long, beautiful and very major (what the mans) poem, "The Champ," in C #10. Now to end let me quote the poem containing the great line I've read in anything, anywhere. 

If you're not familiar with Elmslie's work, an issue at least since Berrigan wrote his review in 1965, I recommend reading through his Routine Disruptions: Selected Poems & Lyrics published in 1998 by Coffee House and likely easy to find. In a review of Routine Disruptions, Alice Notley begins with this incredible description: 

Contemplating writing this review of Routine Disruptions: Selected Poems & Lyrics by Kenward Elmslie -- an excellent collection -- I've been unable to dislodge a picture from my mind. It is of Elmslie during a reading several years ago, with a large "hat" on, made by an artist, that used as its primary image a large brassiere. A man reading poetry with a brassiere on his head! This is an icon, for me, of Elmslie's work, its wild funniness, theatricality, brazenness, its love of art and objects. Cleanly designed strange or beautiful objects, as in poems, as poems, words as objects, but . . . this is not a doctrine, and the face below the bra-hat, Kenward Elmslie's pleased bemused own, never disappears.

Says Michael Silverblatt in the introduction to the recent print by Song Cave of Elmslie's The Orchid Stories:

Kenward Elmslie’s perverse, scabrous, gorgeous poetry and prose have astonished his fans for over fifty years—decades during which he remained the pride of small presses, the happy secret of cognoscenti—but it is safe to say that the vast audience his work deserves doesn’t know what it’s missing. He’s the most extravagant, and extravagantly overlooked, poet in America.

Says John Yau in his review of The Orchid Stories, "The Great Kenward," in the perfectly frank prose that makes Yau's writing the best:

It’s great that Song Cave has brought The Orchid Stories back into print. Elmslie is the perfect writer to begin reading in an age that worships profligacy and the collecting of luxury items and art trophies. As in the sentence about coffee that I just cited, he can morph from a realist opening shot (“One finishes one’s coffee) to a cartoon image at the end (“like an old-fashioned baby spoon”) while passing through a moment of extreme, self-destructive violence (“one hacks it with one’s spoon…). Next to Elmslie’s sentence, Jeff Koons’ “Balloon Dog” looks like what it is, expensive contrivance.

But really, one should start by watching this selection from the documentary Poetry in Motion, produced by Ron Mann in 1981. Of course, Elmslie is a celebrated lyricist and writer for musicals, including The Grass Harp, a musical adaptation of Truman Capote's novel that was first staged in 1971, the same year Circus Nerves and another poetry book, Motor Disturbance, were published. Watching this video and listening to this recording of two additional songs from an undated performance at The Poetry Project, I'm imagining "Prairie Home Companion" joyfully erased from our world and in its place instead we have Kenward Elmslie hosting a public radio variety show called "The Tunnel of Fuzz" or "Unshaven Mystery Bomb" or "The Violin Rallies." I love Elmslie's poems and hope you do, too.

Crystal Set #12: No Hassles: An Unhinged Book in Parts by Anne Waldman (Kulchur Foundation, 1971)

No Hassles: An Unhinged Book in Parts by Anne Waldman (Kulchur Foundation, 1971). Perfect bound, 151 pages, and dedicated to Edwin Denby, No Hassles is a fun, enigmatic book from early in Waldman's career that seems to be rarely mentioned in the limited scholarship on Waldman's work. Joanne Kyger quotes from it repeatedly in a 2005 essay "Anne Waldman: The Early Years... 1965–1970" in Jacket. Kyger writes: "33 St. Mark’s Place became familiar over the next year after poetry readings, on visits. Lots of people. Lots of funny outrageous behavior. Why are Ted Berrigan and Carol Gallup staying so long in the bathroom? I was still watching 30 minutes later, but everyone else had forgotten." And Kyger again, to set the stage for No Hassles: "In 1970 when Anne is 25, Ted Berrigan writes of her poetry (on the dust jacket of Baby Breakdown) as “an open circle with her many selves at or near the center, and those selves deal honestly and openly and passionately with what is happening to her, all of us, right now. That’s what Anne Waldman’s poetry is. NOW. Technically, she is impeccable. If her poems are clumsy in places, those are clumsy places. She knows what she is doing.... This book is an ordinary miracle.”

Cover by Brigid Polk.

Cover by Brigid Polk.

No Hassles is a textual performance of what Ted calls Anne's "many selves," filled with art work by Joe Brainard, Donna Dennis, and George Schneeman, photographs, and collaborative pieces with Berrigan, Michael Brownstein, Ron Padgett, Bill Berkson, Lewis Warsh, Kenward Elmslie, and others to present a book that, rather than a typical poetry collection, is slightly "unhinged" from our expectations about how poems might be presented in a way that reflect and embody the social and aesthetic intimacy the poet has with her friends, many of whom are artists. Described on the title page as "poems, stories, heartaches, collaborations, comics & photographs," the book acts as an early experiential encyclopedia of New York School aesthetics. It's really just very fun to read and bounce around in. The title is doing the double work of sloughing off traditional literary expectations, with the cover image by Brainard of Waldman writing the book's title illustrating the straightforward, on-the-spot spontaneity and intimacy of her aesthetic, while also embodying a generational state of mind in the immediate post-60s Lower East Side, like, get off my back, we're living no hassles. It's also just a great little strange sound -- "no hassles." There's a huge American imagination in the book as Waldman is building this set of communities together in herself and in her work, linking the East and West coast poetry scenes, being with and in the work of all these artists and poets, driving around the country, running the Poetry Project. It's about being "in touch" in all the ways that resonates. The book kind of reminds me of Notley's Watlzing Matilda, if only because it's a longer book that includes this range of forms (poems and prose) and a long interview Alice did with George Schneeman, which is incredible. It's an irreducible, idiosyncratic book that way. It doesn't let you get all the way around it. You go through it and let it break all over. Some of my favorite poems in the book are "Bernadette," which is just the one word "cigarette," and the poem "Answer to Them," dedicated to Peter Schjeldahl that reads "Fuck all those guys in power! / We'll take care of business / with a little help from Anonymous." I also love the ending of the poem "Movie (But You'd Better Not Cry)": "Now more than ever it seems necessary to embrace them // & take into consideration / the full meaning of Jim."

"BOAT RIDES from photo of author by Michael Brownstein taken Oct. 1969 in Chicago," from "Some Credit Notes."

"BOAT RIDES from photo of author by Michael Brownstein taken Oct. 1969 in Chicago," from "Some Credit Notes."

Anne was just here in Atlanta for two days for the opening of an exhibit at Emory's Rose Library, "The Dream Machine: The Beat Generation and the Counterculture, 1940-1975." There's this main stereotypical narrative that Anne is somehow "the last living Beat" because of all her work with Ginsberg founding and running the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa, because of the performative nature of her work, the way she trances the page into song in the tradition of Ginsberg, and her long path into Buddhism. There are definitely later books where a "Beat" thing is coming in and being remade for Anne's purposes, which are not Kerouac's or Corso's purposes, for example. But in early works like No Hassles Anne is completely a New York School poet, second generation or whatever, having a lot of very smart fun. Talking with her this past week about this book she told me that Lita Hornick, the publisher of Kulchur, showed up at the release party for No Hassles with all the copies of the book actually unbound, in these piles, because she had taken the subtitle "an unhinged book in parts" literally. "You can imagine," she said, "I was terrified." Nevertheless, the book was eventually printed and actually bound, and Anne went on to do a lot of amazing things, which she's still doing. Anne is irreducible and a very tender, funny person. See "BOAT RIDES" to the right for evidence. Below are a series of pages from No Hassles that give a sense of how special and varied the book is, including a comic with Brainard that, I believe, doesn't appear anywhere other than this book.

"Spirit-Graph" from "Weekend" by Waldman, Warsh, Berkson, Elmslie, and Brainard.

"Spirit-Graph" from "Weekend" by Waldman, Warsh, Berkson, Elmslie, and Brainard.

Left: "OUT TO LUNCH drawing one of those fold-over-pass-to-the-next guys in 4 parts done with Ted Berrigan & Lewis Warsh & ?, sometime 1967." Right: NARCOLEPSY my first collaboration with Ted written at 33 St. Marks Place, NYC Fall 1967."

Left: "OUT TO LUNCH drawing one of those fold-over-pass-to-the-next guys in 4 parts done with Ted Berrigan & Lewis Warsh & ?, sometime 1967." Right: NARCOLEPSY my first collaboration with Ted written at 33 St. Marks Place, NYC Fall 1967."

Page 1: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 1: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 2-3: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 2-3: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 4-5: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 4-5: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 6-7: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

Page 6-7: "WHITE NOISE with Joe Brainard Calais Vermont 1969-NYC 1970."

CRYSTAL SET #11: Hymns of St. Bridget by Frank O'Hara and Bill Berkson (Adventures in Poetry, 1974)

Hymns of St. Bridget by Frank O'Hara and Bill Berkson (Adventures in Poetry, 1974). Stapled with a cover by Larry Rivers, the book is 20 pages long and includes 9 poems written together by O'Hara and Berkson, as the back matter says, “between 1960 and 1962, mostly in New York. Some of them appeared in Evergreen Review and Chicago.” Every poem’s title has something to do with Saint Bridget, like “St. Bridget’s Hymn to William de Kooning” and “In the Summer House (With St. Bridget).” The idea for the collaboration started when Berkson and O'Hara were walking down First Avenue and noticed the bent steeple of St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church. Berkson then wrote a poem in imitation of O'Hara about the steeple, “Hymn to St. Bridget’s Steeple,” which became the first poem in the book. Berkson showed the poem to O'Hara, who responded by suggesting they write a series of St. Bridget poems together. The “limp and ridiculous” steeple, as Berkson describes it, also appears in O'Hara’s well-known poem “Steps,” written on October 18, 1960, the same time he was writing these poems with Berkson: “How funny you are today New York / like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime / and St. Bridget’s steeple leaning a little to the left.”

Wikipedia tells me a lot of good things about Saint Bridget, including that “as a child, she once gave away her mother’s entire store of butter. The butter was then replenished in answer to Brigit’s prayers,” but most importantly for Berkson and O'Hara, Saint Bridget/Brigit was “a woman of poetry, and poets worshipped her, for her sway was very great and very noble.” (This is a terrific use of “sway.”) Also, Bríg, the Celtic version of Bridget, invented keening, a combination weeping and singing, hence the “hymns.”


These poems map out the physical, emotional, and social space of Manhattan for the two poets, as Berkson signals in the first lines by locating St. Bridget’s on “ninth street,” but then quickly turning to “it doesn’t matter, you are my dream / of an actual winter.” The second poem, “St. Bridget’s Neighborhood,” is maybe the best poem in the book, and is written in couplets with small caesuras separating phrases. Instead of describing the poem I’ll just quote two amazing passages. First these lines from about halfway through the poem: “I have a headache / I want to have heartache   (to begin:) // My heart is corresponding oddly and with odd things and I / sometimes wonder if the future holds nothing // but the Surgical-Dental Supply Co. and Disney / the light is getting dim and a softness is settling // over the aluminum appliances and the fire escapes / and a fresh green paint over my royal flush heart.” And these lines, which end the poem: “I rather like these minor attentions when I / am not alone and it is nice for me when you are not alone // An orchestra is never alone   St. Bridget is never alone / although she must feel lonely when we ask her such questions // Is the nest an animal too?”

I was also super stoked that yogurt shows up here, in “Song Heard Around St. Bridget’s,” because O'Hara has some great poems with yogurt in them and it’s important to keep track of those. “When you’re in love the whole world’s Polish / and your heart’s in a gold stripped frame / you only eat cabbage and yogurt / and when you sign you don’t sign your own name.” Yogurt actually comes up again in this poem but I’m not going to overdo it and quote more yogurt lines.

Here are more great lines from other poems: “no more fuzzy fatigue / though we’re still asleep / walking through the gardens of Sceaux / to the frozen dahlia exhibit / lying there like income tax forms” (from “St. Bridget in the Metro”)

“you are attractive and poor   you are a horse” (from “St. Bridget’s Efficacy”)

“you are not unlike a blue and pink and bong / de Kooning” and “bravo bravo bravo bravo as usual / because I was not logical I was crying and I flushed / the tears down the drain back to the salt like on / the wharf the pier the pier-ess   Two becomes one often / enough to keep the floodgates closed against art / or any abstraction which might make us one / instead of two singular steeples necessarily / together” (from “St. Bridget’s Hymn to William de Kooning”) Obviously here Berkson and O'Hara are describing the act of collaborating that incorporates gender in a really amazing way.

The last poem in the book, “St. Bridget’s Hymn to Philip Guston,” has an epigraph from Gertrude Stein, “Why do you beat Sunday” (can’t find what book it’s from) and is pretty long, 6 pages, and plays with separated columns of lines that can’t be read be horizontally, so it’s like the two columns have to be read by two voices simultaneously a la Ashbery’s “Litany.” The de Kooning and Guston poems are both longer and look, on the page, like O'Hara’s poems from the time with the long lines and spacing of poems like “Ave Maria” and “Having a Coke with You.” The word “eagle-nutted” also appears in this poem.

“Us Looking Up to St. Bridget” includes the lines “St. Bridget may not protect you but she / does keep you alive if that’s your idea of a good time.” This line stayed with Berkson for a long time, maybe in a way tied to O'Hara’s death, and later became the title of the collaborative correspondence book assembled between him and Bernadette Mayer, What’s Your Idea of a Good Time? In a letter to Bernadette in response to the question “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Bill writes, “I was incredibly mean to Frank O'Hara one time: I shouted at him for liking the sound of his own voice too much. I think now it was out of envy. It’s one of the few things, maybe the only one, I feel a physical hellfire damnation about, partly because he was so vulnerable to the attack, he didn’t retaliate.” Like so many of the other New York school collabs, Hymns of St. Bridget is an incredible record of a friendship of thinking and loving together, a difficult, expansive necessity.

“I am the cushion of your soul your ambition your beauty

and I am glad and that is my hymnal next to the Bowery

that is my bower next to your beautiful Self that’s IT”

CRYSTAL SET #10: Bolinas Journal by Joe Brainard (Big Sky, 1971)

Bolinas Journal by Joe Brainard (Big Sky, 1971). Printed in a run of 300 copies, the book is 45 pages of undated journalistic entries with drawings throughout, including excerpts of a comic made will Bill Berkson with a Pop-Eye dick and Nancy vagina, versions of posters for readings given during his month in northern California, drawings of friends (a great one of Berkson), a map of Bolinas, a portrait of Joe by Philip Whalen (with “Joe knits up a careful tennis shoe white thread” written underneath), a little poem written by Ted in his hand, and handwritten introductions for Joanne Kyger and Bobbie Creeley by Joe for a reading in San Francisco (the poems read by Bobbie were her Fifteen Poems, republished by Belladonna* in 2012). The cover is a reproduction of the classic black and white Mead notebooks. It was the first book published by Berkson’s Big Sky Books.

Brainard wrote Bolinas Journal from May-July 1971 while on an extended visit to Bolinas, CA from NYC to spend time with friends, including Bill Berkson, Lewis Warsh, Philip Whalen, Joanne Kyger, Robert Creeley, Bobbie Creeley (now Bobbie Hawkins), Diane di Prima, Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley (Ted and Alice visited around the same time as Joe), Tom Clark, Lewis MacAdams, and Donald Allen. Anne Waldman and Kenward Elmslie are also mentioned (via mail and phone calls). He stayed with the Creeleys and then lived in a house shared with Whalen (one page is a drawing Joe made of two notes Whalen left him in the kitchen). I’m pretty sure Ron Padgett mentions in his memoir about Brainard, Joe, that Bolinas Journal was planned to be published all along, which makes sense. Not that the writing is premeditated, it’s the same sort of frank, self-conscious, funny, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes totally glowing prose as I Remember, but reading Bolinas Journal as a project is interesting, and with as much as Brainard obsessed and flamed his own anxieties about “work,” Bolinas Journal is a prismatic example of pleasure-as-work, and vice versa, or what it means to produce work as an artist traveling, or what a community of artists is or does (especially since Bolinas is often referred to as the west coast hub of the New York school).


Regardless, it’s a really good book. In a review of Brainard’s Collected WritingsMarjorie Perloff describes Bolinas Journal as “boring,” saying about his journalistic writings and interviews in general that they are “not profound” and that “there is something missing here.” About the Collected as a whole she says, “300+ pages of such material may be too much.” I wonder what Perloff means by “boring” – as in nothing happens, or that it’s tedious? She probably means trite or shallow or inconsequential, i.e. “not profound.” The tired critic’s contradictory tropes of excess, both “too much” and “something missing,” betray the hollowness behind Perloff’s aesthetic devaluing, that Brainard’s particular and astoundingly unique dismissal of genre (both in his visual art and writing) doesn’t conform to received (or even progressive?) notions of literary purpose or beauty. Overall, she seems to find little value in Brainard’s writing other than that it is occasionally “amusing.” Leaving aside the critic’s larger political-aesthetic project, it seems to me difficult to read Bolinas Journal and not be equally delighted and decimated. If anything, this book has a kind of frayed elegance. And I mean frayed in the most permissible, potentially terrifying (for the writer) way, that it exposes the effects of a strain, the strain of being openly gay in the mostly heterosexual community of Bolinas and the strain of being an artist with deep anxieties about the quality and process of his own work. Brainard picks at these strains throughout:

“Being queer isn’t an easy habit to break. And usually, I have no desire to….And I do think that being ‘queer’ is an unnecessarily limiting as being 'straight.’”; “How I can be so shy and insecure, and such a conceited ass at the same time, is beyond me.”; “As for me - I was a bit embarrassed by my New York City diaries. (So melodramatic) And I wonder about my being somewhat 'primitive,’ and knowing it. And taking advantage of it.”; “The funniest things are hard to admit. Pills. That’s a hard thing to admit. That I take them. No, that’s not hard to admit. What’s hard to admit is that I needthem. (Sometimes) Thank God I’m vain enough not to let myself get carried away tho. And I take them only for work.”

Does Brainard calling his own homosexuality a “habit” point to anything less than a crisis? And I don’t mean that in a dramatic sense of personal disaster, but that referring to being queer as a habitual burden and then immediately observing that dichotomous sexuality is socially constructed, a deft turn to say the least, is exactly that frayed elegance Perloff misses, where the crisis is the writing’s own irresolvable position. That Brainard does this so simply (I want to say “does this with a surface that is also a depth,” but a surface that never trusts the stability of itself as a surface is probably better) shows how full and charged (over-full, glamorous, exuberant) the choices are in this writing. Also, how are these not two of the best sentences you’ve ever read?

“Another thing nobody likes around here is the postmistress Rose.”

“A little girl wants a quarter. Giving her a nickel she mumbles 'mother-fucker’ and walks away.”

There’s also this brief story about Joe losing a very old and expensive baroque pearl and emerald pendant on the beach during a 4th of July party, which is accompanied by a drawing of the lost pendant on the page next to it. The baroque pearl reminded me of the recent conversation about the baroque as aesthetic sparked by Stephen Burt’s essay about the “Nearly Baroque,” where the contemporary baroque (overwrought, visceral, decadent, excessive) is founded on a kind of deficiency (Perloff’s “something missing”). Joe’s reaction to losing the “imperfect” baroque pearl is compelling, and it seems, if you wanted to, that you could lay these sentences right on top of the Perloff/Burt argument, as if Brainard’s “loss,” which he experiences in a positive way as surprisingly casual affirmation of value, is exactly where critics might respond negatively to a lack of profundity:

“Funny tho, instead of reacting to the loss, I somehow got outside of myself, waiting and watching to see how I would react. Which I didn’t. I mean - I just more or less said to myself 'Well, it’s gone.’ Let me tell you that it really was a beautiful pearl. Very valuable too. And my most favorite thing.”

There’s a lot more to say about Bolinas Journal, how it deals with friendship and gossip, how it confronts sexuality and gender (and how it may be complicit with traditional values at times), how it refuses overused tropes about the New York school, how it performs the concept of illustration, how it works as a collaborative book, and so on. Copies of the original Bolinas Journal are rare (this one is ILLed from Arizona State), but it’s worth getting Brainard’s Collected, where it’s reproduced in full, if only to see the drawings. The last line of the book is:

“My idea of how to leave a place gracefully is to 'disappear.’”

CRYSTAL SET #9: Polar Ode by Eileen Myles and Anne Waldman (Dead Duke Books, 1979)


Polar Ode by Eileen Myles and Anne Waldman (Dead Duke Books, 1979). I found out about Polar Ode on the ABAA site looking through book listings late at night. I was surprised to have not heard about it before since there were so few female collaborations in the 2nd generation New York school. Polar Ode was written back and forth by mail between, as the end of the poem notes, New York, Boston, Cherry Valley, San Francisco, and Florida for “a reading at Zu, NYC December 22, 1978,” the winter solstice, and also the same day Bernadette was writing Midwinter Day in Lenox, MA, which is a cute nerd fact. The back matter notes that Polar Ode was printed at The Poetry Project in an edition of 350. The cover is by Steve Levine. A Secret Location on the Lower East Side lists four titles under Crony Books/Dead Duke Books in 1979-80, which was run by Greg Masters. At some point Dead Duke became Crony, which still exists now and recently published At Maureen’s, a collaboration between Masters and Bernadette from 1981 about staying at Maureen Owen’s house in Connecticut.

Like how Waldman and Ted Berrigan’s Memorial Day (1971) was written for the occasion of a reading on Memorial Day, and so moves through themes of death, loss, and remembrance, Polar Odewritten for a reading on the winter solstice, marks the movement of fall into winter and moves through ideas of cycles, seasons, and the subtle ways that bodies and time are kept or patterned, both on a large scale and in terms of personal movement and identity. The mythopoetic tropes of the seasons, especially how seasonal changes correspond to sexuality in Greek myths, become a way of approaching feminine sexuality, particularly being an openly gay woman poet. The gossip around Myles’ having come out in her poems at a reading (there’s a part about this in Inferno) repeats a few times, and a critique of “acceptable” femininity and sexuality runs throughout the poem, moving between flirting (“I mean, um, do you come here often”) to camp (“need more jewelry in this poem”) to abject (“And / as you’ve been taking oatmeal baths / I’ve been ‘eating it’ each morning”) to punk (“I like a good fire, / a good fuck”) to mystic (“that the goddess Parvati is having a business to do to be holy in this world, that Dickinson’s poems will make you cry, that you will cry”) assertions of female power and ability. There’s also this great movement between astrology and science as a way to open up ways of thinking about sexuality beyond heterosexuality’s mostly dichotomous codings. What it means to be hot or cold (summer or winter/turned on or turned off), in the city or out of the city, and having made it or not made it also recur as ways of interrogating sexuality and bodies, and behind that is this tension of being in the poem or out of the poem: “I once asked Blank to do a collaboration / and she said she didn’t do that sort of thing // I thought she was being snotty” (Based on what comes directly after this in the poem, my guess is that “Blank” here is Alice Notley.)

This leads into how fraught even the poetry community of the late-70s/early-80s in New York was when it came to including queer women: “Couldn’t be queer / until I was legit” and “I am curious to be queer young poet / for the first time / etc.” The poem quotes a number of lines from other poets that directly or indirectly address queerness, including from Frank O'Hara, Notley, and William Carlos Williams, to display the sexual marginalization embedded in their own avant-garde tradition. The phrase “asexual daze” repeats as this condensed acknowledgement of the violence of being forced to assign yourself a clear sexuality, but there’s also this attempt to throw off the assumption that it’s “a big deal” to be openly gay in a poem: “there was some comment, my dear, / on a recent poem of yours / using the pronoun "she” / for the first time / referring to a lover // was this a big step? // double brrrr. I took a pile of valium and / turned on the tube, / become one with her. A true truce.“ The avoidance of a direct answer with this gloriously decadent moment of fuckmerging attests to the poem’s audaciousness when any either/or distinction seems on the verge of splitting the poem, splitting the writers. There’s this great part where they’re playing with this 2nd wave feminism Wittig-cliche "all women are lesbians” and saying, Yes totally we’re all lesbians which means straight women are actually “deviants on ice,” which is funny since ice skating keeps coming up in the poem. Race, the canon, music (The Ramones, Rolling Stones, Talking Heads), the issues/difficulties of collaboration, drugs, spirituality, health, and capitalism all play a role in the poem as well. The last line of the poem, which is in quotes, is “'So, do you want to go to bed together?’”

On an unrelated note there’s also a great drunk John Ashbery moment (the “you” here is Anne): “John Ashbery, inebriated & coming on / the other night at / Jimmy Schuyler works reading: 'I want to SEE you!’ / 'But I’m going to Florida in the morning.’ / 'Don’t give me THAT!’”

CRYSTAL SET #8: Ceremony Latin (1964) by Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair, 1975)


Ceremony Latin (1964) by Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair, 1975). The book is 23 pages with no front or back matter and the Angel Hair address stamped on the inside of the back cover. The year 1964 is in the title because that’s when the book was written, so it is Bernadette’s “first” book, though it was her fourth published book following Story (1968), Moving (1971) and Memory (1975). In a July 17, 1989 lecture at Naropa, Bernadette describes Ceremony Latin (1964):

The structure of this book is simply the duplication of a journal that I kept when I was about 17, and it includes translation from Ovid, “The Golden Age,” and sort of funny journalistic notes and poems and things about how much I hated my grandfather. So all I did was print the journal itself and the reason I wanted to do it was because the keeping of this journal was what had inspired me to really want to become a poet, so I thought it might be beautiful and useful to other people.

Here’s a link to the full lecture: would have been 18/19 in 1964, but 17 is a fair stretch. Ceremony Latin was reissued in 2006 by Shark Books, which is only $6 at SPD and worth buying. They also did a reissue of The Baskbetball Article. I ILLed an original copy from Ball State that’s been maimed by being unbound and restapled into unmarked hardcover vomit brown flaps, though the cover and interior pages are in pretty good condition.

The book begins with a translation of Ovid, followed by pages of what look like poems but could be lists of notes and imagistic jottings, some “formed” poems, quotes from Psalms and Genesis, and transcriptions of dreams. For as disjointed as the materials in the book might appear, and for as casual as Bernadette makes the book’s preparation seem (“simply the duplication of a journal”), Ceremony Latin has a deliberate structure and accumulative movement that show the early formation of her poetics. The integration and appropriation of multiple voices using quotes and quotation marks, rich syntactical juxtapositions (“smells / lemon satchet”) that led to Bernadette’s importance for Language poetics, the mixture of the contemporary and antiquity (“the western party, Vestal Virgins”), and a vernacular prosody that integrates dream into the consequences and crises of the everyday – all formal choices that would become important to works such as Midwinter Day – are at work throughout Ceremony Latin. At one point “Christ” and “Billy Budd” parallel one another. At one another point she writes “A couch is but an imprimatur / for farts.” I cried, on the beach, when I read that. 

Her poems’ interest in desire, sexuality, and gender are also present here, most obviously in lines like “I masturbate with you I hope and my love is greater / than yours,” but in more subtle ways as well, like when she dreams of two women, “One is 189, the other 144 years old. Their breasts are / large and firm. They do not know how they can be so old. / Their conversation is trivial,” which echoes her earlier quote from Genesis, “And Lamech lived a hundred & 82 yrs and begot a son. / And Lamech lived after he begot Noe, five hundred & 95 yrs / & begot sons & daughters.” The tension here is between how men control the privilege of time, of being named, of being progenitors, and how women, despite their bodies, or perhaps because of how their bodies are compartmentalized based on male desire, remain anonymous, confused, trapped in “trivial” speech. Bernadette’s poems have never stopped insisting on the unacceptability of this paradigm, of confronting its violence, and forming movements through its difficulties. Later in the book she writes, “A nun helps me climb back up. I cling to her wondering / how my body feels to her. It is natural for me to be / clinging to her and not a man.” Her Catholic upbringing, and her struggle with its orthodoxy, is apparent throughout the book. The title Ceremony Latin, implying both the monolithic power-language of Catholic mass and the potential liberatory gesture of the poet-translator’s ritualistic attention to a “dead” language’s constructedness, foregrounds this question of language’s role in restricting/allowing certain ways of being in the world.

Overall, the book is funny, painful, and audacious, especially in its interest in the abject. How it is a book is also amazing to me, that it begins with a translation and moves through these various forms beyond a simple conception of “poem” and really kind of all collapses and rises together. It reminds me of the contemporary books I’ve been most obsessed by, how they break our idea of “poetry book” and “poem.” There’s also just no anxiety at all about this 23 page text being a book and not a chapbook, which is maybe a distinction we put too much weight on because of institutions. I don’t know, but I like how this book works as a book, and how it insists on being a book despite even how Bernadette tells us it is straight from a journal.

This is totally subjective, but the part of Ceremony Latin that most reminds me of “later” Bernadette poems is this page about halfway through the book, so I wanted to quote it in full. There’s no title. She mentions her sister, Rosemary Mayer, who became a visual artist, and Vito Acconci, who Bernadette edited the magazine 0 to 9 with in the late ‘60s.

Dream more real than life. Every old woman

is a fetus at a phony saints feet. There are no works

of art without sentiment. I doubt Rosemary’s interest

in art. I never dream about Vito. My conscious feeling

about him must be more real than dream. Jealousy is

worse than morality. Instead of a harmless father image

he has turned into a lover image and I was too slow in

realizing it I have committed my self to a whole set

of institutions superstitions prejudices projections and

customs which I denied & deny in my mind. Marriage

like this is half old and half new. I love queers.

The last page of the book has this one line on it: “Scorpions when threatened by fire commit suicide.”

CRYSTAL SET #7: Back in Boston Again by Tom Clark, Ron Padgett, and Ted Berrigan (Telegraph Books, 1972)


Back in Boston Again by Tom Clark, Ron Padgett, and Ted Berrigan (Telegraph Books, 1972). I found out about this book from Aaron Fischer’s Ted Berrigan: An Annotated Bibliography. It’s a small book, 7x4.5 inches and 48 pages, with a foreword by Aram Saroyan, “Forward,” and 3 short sections, one each by Tom, “Ten Things About the Boston Trip,” Ron, “Back in Cambridge Again,” and Ted, “Ten Things About the Boston Trip: An Aside to Ron & Tom.” The picture of the cover is of Chris Martin’s copy of the book, which I was coveting on his couch in Minneapolis last week. I asked Chris to send a picture of it because the copy I ILLed was rebound in one of those generic hardcovers and they removed the original front and back cover, which is very stupid, because the photograph on the cover is by Rudy Burckhardt, the photographer and filmmaker associated with the New York school who was Edwin Denby’s bff. The cover photo has a kind of Cornell box-like arrangement. Burckhardt made a series of short films with Joseph Cornell in the 50s, some of which are up at UbuWeb. I recently found a copy of Burckhardt's Films, which collects his collaborations with John Ashbery, Jim Carroll, Denby, and many others.

The entry in Fischer’s bibliography gives some background on the press: “According to Victor Bockris, Telegraph Books was a collaborative press that he founded late in 1971 with Andrew Wylie and Aram Saroyan (who indicates that the word "Forward” is not a deliberate misspelling.) Back in Boston Again was the fifth of ten titles published in the course of the eight to ten months that the press was active. At the time, Bockris was working at Folcroft Press, which was located in ‘an obscure suburb of Philadelphia’ and dedicated to reprinting out-of-print literary criticism. He used its facilities to print and bind all the books done by Telegraph.“ The back cover has the Telegraph Books logo, where the "T” looks like a telegraph pole, and the price of the book, which was $1. The back matter lists a few other titles published by Telegraph, including Saroyan’s The Rest and Gerard Malanga’s Poetry on Film. The copy I ILLed is signed by Tom Clark. Chris’s copy is signed by Ron Padgett.

Back in Boston Again is about Tom, Ron, Ted, a few other people going to/meeting up in Boston where Aram was living at the time. You can read the book really fast, just a few minutes. Aram’s foreword is brief and dryly funny as he “introduces” his three friends, basically noting that Ted talks a lot, Tom is smart, and Ron likes to read. Tom’s section is a series of short poems in quatrains that mostly play with using a lot of names in short lines but come off as very bro-y, or maybe like he’s trying to be “cool” about being on this trip with Ron and Ted. I bought his Easter Sunday at The Haunted Bookshop in Iowa City last week and want it to be good and not bro-y.

Ron and Ted’s sections are both made up of short prose pieces. Ron’s read like James Tate narratives, a la Return to the City of White Donkeys, but seem entirely “real,” other than one about a woman who says she has plastic bones in her leg. They’re funny and warmly odd and straightforward in that Padgett way and about how he doesn’t know what a lilac looks like and getting yelled at making Xerox copies and not being able to order a chocolate malt. Here’s one in full where Ron says “zonked,” which is such a Ron thing, and drops a Yeats reference:

Aram had expected only Tom from New York, and in the afternoon, so when Larry, Ted, Tom and I banged on his door at 11 a.m., he came down the stairs, still zonked by sleep, opened the door, could hardly trust his senses when he saw the four of us standing there in the brilliant sunlight, all very tired from not sleeping the night before, all of us excited, all of us talking to him and each other and ourselves at once. The center was not holding. When I break-the-icingly suggested that we try again tomorrow, he invited us in. Someone asked about coffee and Aram said, “Yeah, man, come on in the kitchen.” He led us to a doorway, over which hung a curtain of red burlap. We parted the burlap and stepped in…to the bathroom. We must have stayed there several minutes, no one daring to mention the fact that we weren’t in the kitchen.

Ted’s section is very funny and more wrapped up in the literary side-trips of the trip to Boston, like what book he got for free at Grolier Book Store in Harvard Square (now Grolier Poetry Book Shop), and going through back issues of The Harvard Advocate in the Lamont Library looking for old poems and stories by Frank O'Hara, “one of which, called NOT WITH A BANG, was hilarious. It made me think of Rene.” He means Renépart of an early 19th century French novel by Françoise-René Chateaubriand. (Note: an email from Aram Saroyan corrects me on this point, saying that “Rene” is likely René Ricard, which makes much more sense.) Saroyan’s foreword says they took the trip to Boston a “few years” ago, so probably 1969 or '70, only a few years after O'Hara’s death. Ted’s devotion to O'Hara’s work and its influence on him are well documented, but whenever I come across Ted mentioning Frank, especially in less discussed texts, it really shows how deeply Ted revered O'Hara, how sacred and deep that love was. Even in the early 80s, just before his death, Ted was still copying down O'Hara poems and quotes into his journals. In a journal I looked at with Dan at Emory, one page has O'Hara’s “Poem to James Schulyer” written out in full with what looks like a newspaper picture of Frank pasted onto the page. It’s a very deliberate, careful act of love.

Ted made Xeroxes of everything he found of Frank’s in the Harvard Library, which is when Ron had a hard time and got yelled at by the copy guy. Ted’s section also talks about how he got a sunburn, bought a striped polo he wore every day of the trip, and broke the zipper on his pants.

After getting Xerox copies made of the works by Frank, I went to the Men’s Room, when after a brief interval for the greater inconvenience, my zipper broke and my pants were rendered useless. I had no underpants on. I closed my pants as best I could, which was not at all, and sauntered out of the Library, across the street, and into a men’s clothing store, where I purchased a pair of light brown LEE trousers. No one else on the Boston trip mentioned my new trousers, even though my former pants were blue-and-yellow striped. I left them at the store.

The idea of Ted walking around Boston in blue-and-yellow striped pants and a striped polo like a burly Bob Dylan sailor is amazing. Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” could totally have been a source for the title Back in Boston Again. At one point everyone is hanging out listening to The Beatles. In another piece, Ted talks about smoking a joint on a park bench in Cambridge. “I thought about Frank. I was smoking grass.” The last page of the book reads, “I was in that park about a year. Never did feel in a hurry. I was in love.”

Crystal Set #6: Memorial Day by Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman (Poetry Project, 1971)

Memorial Day by Ted Berrigan and Anne Waldman (Poetry Project, 1971). In the last few years Memorial Day has received some attention, first in 2012 when the audio recording from Ted and Anne’s initial reading of the poem at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church In-the-Bowery on May 5, 1971 was found in Robert Creeley’s audio archives and posted on PennSound. Michael Hennessey has an article, “Recovering ‘Memorial Day’” at Jacket2 about finding that recording: What I love most about the article is Anne saying she had “a recording of a recording of a recording” of the poem made by Clark Coolidge. This note, along with the tape showing up in Creeley’s archives, especially after it had been considered lost for so many years, shows how valuable this poem was to a wide variety of poets. And not only the poem itself, but the event of its being read and heard. It is a poem that needs to be heard.

Then last year a video of Ted and Anne reading Memorial Day was posted on the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art channel. I don’t think anyone had any idea it existed. The video description says: “This reading of Waldman and Berrigan’s poem "Memorial Day” was performed as part of a reading series at 98 Greene Street Loft curated by the poet Ted Greenwald. The video was shot by Sandy Hirsch on the only video format that existed at the time, ½ inch open reel video, often referred to as Portapak, and like any video shot in this format from the late 1960s to early 1970s, it is now a very fragile historical document. Digital preservation of this video allows us to now view it and share it with the public for the first time in decades. The Archives thanks the Berrigan estate, Waldman, and Hirsch for their generous permission to share the video on our YouTube channel": I had just found the audio recording of Memorial Day last year like a week before this video surfaced, so my seduction at the hands of the recording immediately became an obsession as I watched the video over and over.

In Ted Berrigan: An Annotated Checklist, Aaron Fischer quotes Anne Waldman about the making of the book:

“Ted & I were scheduled to read several months in advance at The Poetry Project on Memorial Day. Not sure we originally requested this date, but the day fell out that way and we were psyched, having an 'occasion’ to focus on that would also jar some collaborative writing. We were both living that spring in Long Island. I was in Bridgehampton, renting a house with Michael Brownstein Kenneth Koch later bought. Ted and Alice Notley were in Southampton in Larry Rivers’s place there. Ted was always somewhat 'charged’ by the subject matter(s) of death, loss, friendship and the energy & challenge of bumping up against another poet in 'making’ work. Some friends of ours had died by then and we saw the potential piece as an homage, a commemoration, a meditation, and we definitely composed it with the oral reading of it very much in mind. It was kind of a psalm, hymn, litany all blended together that allowed for story (epic that you tell the heroes’ tales) - some decidedly musical form. We weren’t living far away from each other but decided to collaborate through the mail. So we went back and forth at least five times. As the time for our performance drew near it fell on me to 'organize’ the text which were 'clusters’ to my mind out on the Bridgehampton studio floor and letting my eye and ear jump around with scissors and paste. I think we both (after the initial organization) looked it over & Ted went with my arrangement with very minor emendations. The decision on the last part (’& Now the book is closed’) was mutual and we orchestrated it with great intentionality (pretty much alternating lines) for our public performance. The 'closed’ chant originally came from hearing Chris Gallup (Dick & Carol Gallup’s daughter) saying that things were 'closed’ as she drove a street or highway in a car (possibly on Long Island?). Ted had picked up on this and I went with it wholeheartedly. Larry Rivers did a terrific collage work that we translated into a flyer for the event (Nice To See You, p.119). We were in great form, the performance felt exhilarating and powerful. Ted 'borrowed’ the audio tape made that night which he played on numerous occasions. Where is it now?

The cover is by Donna Dennis who I think has a section in Nice To See Youwhere she talks about spending time with Ted and making the cover for Memorial Day. There’s an alternative cover included there, too. The line "Nice To See You” comes from Memorial Day; the words Ted says he’d like on his grave. Frank O'Hara’s death is a huge part of the poem, too, and I’m sure the idea to write a Memorial Day poem had a lot to do with Frank’s “Memorial Day 1950.”

The audio and video recordings are breathtaking, each in their own way. I feel like I’ll never get over this poem, but that’s just as much about the poem as it is the banter at the beginning of each recording, especially the audio. How Ted and Anne joke with one another explaining the poem’s process, Ted putting on his tender bravado, Anne’s wit mixing with his performative masculinity. Then this incredible joke: “Anne and I have been married for twelve years now and we’re living testimonial to how marriage can work,” Ted announces. Everyone laughing. “Go ahead, honey.” “Ok, baby.” And they start reading, exchanging sections of the poem back and forth as they read. “Today / Open: Opening: Opened:” says Anne. And then Ted: “The angels that surround us / die / they kiss death / & they die / they always die.” It’s so clear how much they love each other.


I had been obsessively listening to the 1981 recording of The Sonnets for a while before I became familiar with Memorial Day, but it was really Memorial Daythat bound me to Ted’s work. Last summer Carrie and I wrote a long poem after Ted and Anne’s poem called Labor Daywhich is about work in the way that Memorial Day is about death, that was recently published as a double collaborative chapbook, along with Tyler and Layne’s Collected Feelings, by Forklift, Ohio. Writing with the people I love is such a part of that love. Ted and Anne are so good at showing us how our love existed before we did. It’s significant that Memorial Day is included in Ted’s Collected Poems, a rare inclusion of a long collaborative work in a space that is typically restricted to a poet’s singular output. One imagines Ted would have insisted it be included, too.

I ILLed the original stapled mimeo pamphlet, which is the one handed out at the initial reading in 1971, and read it today, Memorial Day, while listening to the recordings of them reading the poem. I sat on this couch and Carrie sat on the other couch. The original is so gorgeous, the lines spread out on the large pages, all the little typos, the shaky, uneven typewritten font, how the ink bled through onto the back of the pages. Maybe the most amazing thing about it is that the back cover is another front cover, as if the book’s beginning and ending had been confused, as if it didn’t end. Ted believed in cycles, and this object bears out that sense of how time collects, returns, and is revoiced. Carrie just said to Jared on the phone, “I’m glad you’re okay. I’m glad you’re okay.” Later we’re going to eat a watermelon we took from a dumpster last night. Our grave is going to say THE PONIES WERE JUST HERE.

Crystal Set #5: The Basketball Article by Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair Books, 1975)

The Basketball Article by Anne Waldman and Bernadette Mayer (Angel Hair Books, 1975). I think Cassandra sent me a pdf of The Basketball Article. I printed it out and stapled it together. It sat on a shelf for a while, then I read it, re-read it, saw there was an essay about it in The Color of Vowels that I didn’t read, saw it mentioned in an essay by Daniel Kane about Angel Hair, read it again. This is Bernadette’s note at the beginning, dated July 15, 1975:

THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE was conceived in November 1974 & written in April 1975 as an assignment for OUI magazine. We got to go to all the Nets games we wanted through Barney Kremenko, Publicity, but Jim Wergeles of the Knicks balked, “What do you girls really do?” We heard he was a jock. We went to the first women’s basketball game held in Madison Square Garden. We wrote a review that was rejected for being too technical. We tried not to make THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE too technical so it was rejected by a group of editors a few of whom thought it “was a minor masterpiece,” the others “couldn’t tell what the hell was going on” in it. We were rejected by the Village Voice for whom the work was not technical enough. An agent told us THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE was fragmented and could not be handled. We never got into the locker room. A purely prophetic work in the tradition of social realism, THE BASKETBALL ARTICLE is duplicated here in an edition of 100 copies, by a Gestetner 420 mimeograph machine using green film stencils no. 62. We express our thanks to Mr. DeBusschere, Mr. Kremenko, Mr. Padgett, Mr. Rezek, Mr. Robertson, & Mr. Warsh.

Is there a school for sports announcers? They should all have to read this. The note is such an amazing performance of the intricacies and tensions of how the female poets of the “second generation” New York school fucked with and played against the warp and mess of gender expectations in the 70s. The whole book takes those issues of male dominance and exposes them in the scene and celebrity of basketball. Two women conceiving together in spite of the jocks, how technical mastery or a failure to master (mister) is noticed/received/reviled, what it means to be seen and given access (publicity/privaticity), to have or not have titles, to be whole or in pieces, what it means to (mis)represent an ideology, to be rejected/accepted/handled/owned/duplicated, the clout of expertise and the disregard of being inept, the prophetic in the easily reproduced and popularly reported. “We never got into the locker room.” To be a charlatan, to be marginal, and to write out of and through the thrill and profanity of those deficiencies not as deficiencies but as channels of renewal. Joyful, flamboyant little aporias as the clock ticks down.

The Basketball Article predates the funny ESPN office commercials by 30 years, and undoes all of them. It’s only 13 pages long, but the prose has this irreducible audacity that so excellently combines Anne and Bernadette’s hilarious charm with their insistence on performing the complications of consumption and desire attached to being a female body. They talk about wearing lipstick to the games and flirting with the players. “We begin to dress in red, white and blue, we do not stand up for the national anthem.” They talk about how baffling they are to players, managers, and the press. “We enter their consciousness. We carry a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets with us.” They talk about their female bodies and the male bodies of the players and the exaggerations of bodies. “It’d be interesting to put Oscar Robertson into a dream laboratory. He never crossed his legs.” They talk about how they love it and couldn’t give a shit less. “We were sitting in our hotel suite at the Plankinton House in Milwaukee drinking Tequila Sunrises.” It’s really about pleasure, the pleasures of ritual and attention, how sports direct our pleasures, how poetry directs our pleasures. It wants us to talk about that space. The fact that they called it The Basketball Article, with the emphasis on the definite article “the” and how it names the text as a singular, authoritative gesture, like saying we, Bernadette and Anne, are going to write the article about basketball, is totally indicative of their audacity on a larger scale. Also, there’s a joke at the end of the book about Full Court Press, an amazing press that put out Frank O'Hara’s Selected Plays.

The picture on the cover of The Basketball Article is of a man speaking, who looks like a basketball player at a press conference, and a woman not speaking looking at the man. The picture really foregrounds the problems of reverence that Bernadette performs in her introductory note when she thanks the basketball people along with “Mr. Padgett” and “Mr. Warsh.” Anne Waldman and Lewis Warsh, who edited Angel Hair together, used to be married. Bernadette and Lewis started seeing each other in 1975 and were having children together soon after. Anne and Bernadette’s shared pleasure in making this book, and their shared pleasure in these men, and how they articulate that pleasure on their own terms, is an incredibly radical sexual-poetic statement. It’s funny that Ron Padgett is mentioned though. Ron seems to continually end up being the butt of the joke whenever Bernadette, Anne, Alice, or Eileen talk about their relationships with male poets during that time. I’m writing this in Minneapolis where today someone told me they saw Ron read at a Swedenborgian Church. I want to play basketball with all of the poets at the Swedenborgian Church.


CRYSTAL SET #4: Book of Magazine Verse by Jack Spicer (White Rabbit Press, 1966)

Book of Magazine Verse by Jack Spicer (White Rabbit Press, 1966). I don’t know if Jack prepared the book for publication, but it was published the year after he died and the chronology in his collected poems does say he wrote it in spring/summer of 1965 and sent some of the poems out. According to the SF public library website White Rabbit put out 63 books between 1957-1968, including Jack’s After Lorca (1957). Book of Magazine Verse has 7 sections, each one titled something like “Two Poems for The Nation” or “Seven Poems for the Vancouver Festival,” the conceit being that Jack wrote each set of poems as a submission for that magazine, or whatever else, knowing they would likely be rejected. So the book is this joke about how writing poems becomes this business of publication and how editors police aesthetics. This kind of gesture seems in keeping with Jack’s snarky wit, sometimes remembered as him just being an asshole, but the book also represents his insistence that poems are not of this world, that they aren’t made to be discrete objects held in place under some lit mag’s temporary clout. This is the book’s dedication: “None of the poems in this book have been published in magazines. The author wishes to acknowledge the rejection of poems herein by editors Denise Levertov of The Nation and Henry Rago of Poetry (Chicago).” I don’t know how much it had to with the press, but in 1960 Spicer tried to start an art space in San Francisco called “White Rabbit College,” the name being a slight fuck you to Black Mountain College. Lisa Jarnot’s biography of Robert Duncan is the place to go for more about the intricacies of Spicer and Duncan’s relationship, one that was often very fucked. I remember one story where Jack sent a young male poet from his entourage to Vancouver with a message for Duncan and the kid saw him at a party, was all excited to given Duncan this message, and said to him something like “Jack wants to know if you can tell the difference between a poem and a streetcar” and Duncan freaked out on the kid, like who the fuck do you think you are, get the hell out of here. Years earlier, when they were very close, Spicer and Duncan had said about a poet they didn’t like that he couldn’t tell the difference between a poem and a streetcar. An amazing example of how far Spicer would go out of his way to piss someone off. But from our perspective 50 years later it also seems like such a devoted gesture. It’s hard to imagine Spicer, despite all the fights and shit talking and protesting against other poets, didn’t love his friends.


In the notes to his collected it says the cover, which is a replica of an old Poetrymagazine cover, was designed by Graham Mackintosh and Stan Persky. Each section is printed on a different kind of paper to simulate the kind of paper used in the magazine the poems were written for, from the glossy pages for Ramparts, a 60s-70s expensively produced political/lit mag, to the leafy brown newspaper-like pages for The St. Louis Sporting News, a section made of 4 poems “about” baseball. The poems remind me of Berrigan’s sonnets, maybe because they look similar on the page and have these off-kilter repetitions, but also because a whole poem repeats from one section to another. A note from Robin Blaser shows how this was in keeping with Spicer’s beliefs about dictation: “Jack did not know he had duplicated a poem until he read the poem to Stan Persky and me and we pointed it out. He looked surprised, checked them, and said that was the way they had to stand.”

I bought The Book of Magazine Verse at The Captain’s Bookshelf in Asheville, North Carolina, a place Steven Karl, Alexis Orgera, and I stumbled upon after eating vegan sausage on our way to Raleigh. Asheville is the Portland of North Carolina, a hill city still weird and thriving a few miles from Black Mountain College. The Captain’s Bookshelf is poetry dork heaven with a ton of rare editions and a poetry section full of treasures. I also bought a first edition of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. In the back the owners, who were so stoked to talk to us, showed us a painting that is a portrait of Kenneth Patchen with light and energy streaming out of Kenneth’s head. I think it was called Kenneth Patchen as a Spiritual Being. The Whitney Museum had just visited to appraise it for their collection but they didn’t want it because it had been mounted or something. Kenneth Patchen is from Ohio and one of the greatest least talked about poets and seeing this painting, I was kneeling on the ground looking at it, is one of the most important moments in my life. This is all to say that how I came to own The Book of Magazine Verse is bound up in some intense magic.

The Book of Magazine Verse is the last section in Jack’s collected and the last poem is about Allen Ginsberg with the first line “At least we both know how shitty the world is.” The poem is such a complicated articulation of the difficulties of love and freedom in terms of the public and the private and, because of its insistence on that difficulty, a totally incredible last poem for a book and for a life. Kevin Killian recently tracked down Spicer’s grave and you can read about that here: Daniel Katz’s new book about Spicer is also really good: