Monday, December 11, 2006

bay poetics cento

bay poetics cento with first, last, and middle lines from kari edwards (1954-2006)
by Franklin Bruno

maybe at the next stop; a double feature with buttered popcorn


a city in which order is not yet established
there are those who pronounce flaneur
and sent geek armies to reinforce language
but consumed by patchwork
for the smack so personal bleeds color from the mind
the clumsy flutter surfacing to air
of crashing it unites the way of unites
to spare you the Palo Alto allegory
in the place where computers come to die
“cut ways in it,” they said


narcoleptic parking lot/in my head
street cleaning
in my cocktail uniform
a partnership or a criminal action
will always get a seat on the bus
coupled legs/and a birdbath
in the corner and vegetable crates
risotto of morels, spring onions and chervil
cut edge of spring
grace knocks on my door, too


two lines of pencil seal the same true thought
try and encompass and you cannot
a health of the mass, from which to register
the mostillusion mainstream
to be in California
another bogus radicand
an abstraction grounded in the material sensibility of division
a mixture of stock footage and miniatures
connected by passages of poetry
without even an imaginary or dead person (attached)


they grew apart and he wrote a song
did we ever live without
music and the act of being selfish
they would rather it was not there at all
“we are not required to agree”
to pronounce Britney stupid
(or co-opted, if you must)
It is satisfying to cut, cut, cut
she cannot spin straw into gold
she reads to me about utopias


I am the word the available thing
I am connected to a phone tree
it is my country and I am sorry
I do own a shoe rack
I too cut my hankerings, but promptly
“I’m channeling some heavy shit”
I worked as a ghostwriter for an illiterate
I am not able to get off work
I think I still believe that
i knew i would dream


i keep asking for a door with meaning


I think of poems that founder that are mid-
Repetition. Day’s lily like this.
BlakeOfEquinox sings to Numb
the -------- of gravity
iblical tea timed TV cut
glish scratches
Words like dreck make the scene
suffering [meaning
a self]


no set hours to go in and work
but they are paying me $75 an hour
and water was my dirty name
she cut the thick substance forming between them
the whirlwind drawing in
one was born trackless
having survived, because of the hard seed
we report flash floods in north
north of market’s shopping center mecca’s
the power plants and dams – containers made of steel


you read the spines from the books
through a vivisection
a smoothie wasn’t so smooth the second time
we can feel it in our lungs
in practicality’s overpass where charred bodies now hang
they certainly like nausea
where divine things factor their dicks out
grace = cash
could have been spent on dentistry


the forced door of weather
cuts the thought, at once
wine forces your focus
one never gets to say so anymore
and you my bright particular
thank you is that where music
functions as frosting
one song, the song added or
cakes in great number
the refusal of the birds to change their ways


this is how to cut it
the granite grace of terror
not like gardens, but underneath
the popcorn seller is shown to possess the same character
been raped is getting up again
to go on, past the draperies
the extended season of mandarins
incomplete without her pencil and circular “o”
can’t fuck with bedrock, so good thing it’s not bedrock
like having the power to move around taken away


i am lollygaggin’ towards separation, going west, following the sun

Original Post at nervous unto thirst


Thursday, November 30, 2006

When First Looking Into Bay Poetics

When First Looking Into Bay Poetics: San Francisco Responds
by Patrick Dunagan

Stephanie Young assembles a diverse crew. She “asked friends” and friends of friends. Terrific. I’m certain many a happy gang bang and orgy executed to the enjoyment of all participants slowly came to in just such fashion. Why not? There’s a certain pleasure coming up against the unexpected in such a situation. How did that get here, and whose is it? For myself there certainly is enough work by friends, mentors, and would-be crushes presented in this anthology that I would seriously entertain the thought of attending such a bash.

Ever the purist, I read poetry for poetry’s sake. I adore the gossip and all (Sadly it’s lacking here. I’d really like to know just who is fucking who, or has. Which women prefer women, which men prefer men. To leave it out of the work and distant is such a bore. The only gossip available is gossip about the thing itself. How Williams is that.), but the durability of the work arises from what is on the page alone. I object on general principle to shoddiness. I don’t care whether it comes from Kathleen Fraser erecting her half-corpse of influence to thrust out shoddy imitative Susan Howe or a fellow like Stroffolino bemoaning his lack of “influence” in the poetry/rock/acoustic/radio (which is it Chris?) world taking up space in a text of supposed Poetics. It’s a sacred act for some of us. For others it appears a smudged half-shot for stardom and glory among the living dead of blogs and cyberspace.

Bay Poetics thankfully does however have some surprises: James Meetze, that Whitmanesque failure; Alli Warren, those shifts of line; Tanya Brolanski, someone who actually cares; Cynthia Sailers, finally convincing blocks of verse; Brydie McPherson, somebody read their Oppen; Elizabeth Treadwell, I never knew!; Yuri Hospodar, fun and true, if a bit lite. & of course there are the Disappointments, why even mention: Hillman, Scalapino, Palmer, Cross, Cox, Cole, Koeneke, Nealon, Smith, Tuntha-abas, Kaipa, etc. Here because of time put in or friendships clung to, who knows or cares. & blessedly there are the Solids: Kyger (without doubt up in Bolinas wondering what the hell these people find in her work and how she got tangled up in their company), Ratcliffe, Berkson, Killian, Joron (thank god for his essay, a piece of thoughtful prose that is of actual use), Spahr, Robinson, Murray, Gluck, Ballard, Sigo, and Mackey.

Does this sum anything up? No, of course not. The reader will find her own highs and lows. This list is but the one meant for the city and its lovers. The bay is theirs alone.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Reviewed by Michael Nicoloff

Long ago—which is to say, about a year and a half ago—word began to get out to those of us toiling in the poetic boondocks that a grand anthology was in the works, one that would demystify such mysterious terms as “The New Brutalism” and confirm whether the rumblings of activity coming from that ever-active San Francisco Bay Area did indeed signal a full-scale invasion by a rabid poet-horde. “Such-and-such poet is featured in the Bay Poetics anthology,” we read in contributor’s notes; rumors of imminent publication dates shot fast down the raging poetic gossip wires. Between this anthology and her then-not-yet-released collection Telling the Future Off, editor Stephanie Young seemed to be synonymous with all things “hotly anticipated.” But then, time passed...and, well, nothing came. To say that accusations of impropriety flew or a scandalous “WTF?” phantom was in the air would be, to say the least, a bit dramatic, but some folks nonetheless began to worry that Bay Poetics had become the Chinese Democracy of small-press poetry anthologies and Young its W. Axl Rose.

But time continued to pass, things changed like they always do, some of us moved to the Bay Area and somehow, both sooner and later than expected, Bay Poetics emerged, and the sheer mass of this near-five-hundred-page brick makes the delays involved both entirely understandable and entirely forgivable. It’s hard not to marvel at the scope and impossibility of this project and the questionable sanity involved in taking it on with an eye towards, you know, actually pulling it off. As Young writes in her eloquent introduction, her intent to “take a photograph” of Bay Area poets and their poetry repeatedly came up against the harsh reality that “wide-angle or not, there is no image-taking device capable of getting a complete picture of Bay Area poetry and poetics.” Perhaps as we speak some mildly psychotic completist is compiling an extensive list of the missing poets in order to author a nit-picky critique, but I have no interest in being that asshole (nor could I be, having logged not even six months in the Bay Area at the time of this writing). The details here are, in my view, less important. What’s vital to address are questions that are much more global and practical—the questions of whether the snapshot this anthology provides is useful, and whether it’s fun to look at.

The answer to the second question is easy to give, because it’s a resounding “Yes.” Just look at the depth and range of work in this book: A quick sampling gives us the part-tech, part-Italian, part-whaaa? language of Bill Luoma’s menacingly funny “Some Math” (“in the stem cells of sulla of oppenheimers/looping isoclinus while the Frobenius norm/inaugurates the law of new nutshells/containing the kernals/of my very own tank”); Pamela Lu’s “Bridge,” a tight prose piece in which Lu considers the interrelated implications the structure of bridges and sculpture—particularly Richard Tuttle’s wire pieces—might have for our methods of reading complex texts; Dana Teen Lomax’s mapping of Bay Area life via the minute particulars of food (“DeeAnn’s garden lettuces with radishes, onions, asparagus, and morel toast”), clothing (“At this point the cocoons – and the caterpillars within them – are placed in boiling water, which softens the sericin and loosens the thread”), and shelter (“This home features sweeping views spanning from Twin Peaks, downtown SF and the Bay from the custom eat-in kitchen and living room with southern hills and tranquil garden views from both bedrooms”); the threat that “Now I really will kill the image” that kicks Judith Goldman’s “if all else fails” into pissed-off gear; the po-mo medieval woe of Tanya Brolaski’s “anxiety of the bullfight” (“I have been half-chlorinated by Love, a figure clowdily enwrapped, my muse fucked by someone other than me, my patron leaving me in the hall.”). I truly could go on for pages here. The quality of the work included is what ultimately makes or breaks an anthology, and in this arena, there’s simply no question that Bay Poetics is up to snuff.

The question, though, of whether Bay Poetics provides a useful tool with which to understand “Bay Area Poetry Now” is a bit more knotty. Young writes that
In arranging the book I attempted, in almost all cases, to trace [the conversational] ecology between writers, connections both social and aesthetic. Drawn as a map, it would look more like overlapping circles with some points and clusters around the edge. But the necessarily linear progression of a book required that I go forward, piece by piece, looking for and highlighting both the obvious and more submerged threads between people.
The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, Donald Allen’s school-shaping and statement-making editorial masterpiece, is always the specter haunting anthologies of innovative poetry, and Bay Poetics is no exception. But Allen’s hard divisions of poets are definitely not on order today; in most cases such categorizing imposes a certain rigidity on what is a more complex and fluid social dynamic, but given the anti-definitional stance most poets seem to hold these days, these divisions seem especially specious. Yet swinging to the other extreme and assembling one’s chosen poets in terms of mostly subjective criteria like “flow” or “balance” risks the creation of an incoherent mess—a common occurrence that provides us with a permanent stream of anthologies destined for the remainder tables of bookstores nationwide. Young’s choice to cut a different path and base her anthology on a kind of social montage strikes an interesting balance between these extremes by mirroring the way that the poet world operates—individual poets clump together through, we presume, social and/or stylistic connections, yet the presentation is not so tightly wound that it blocks the lines of connection between poets who on first glance might have little to do with one another. This soft frame makes the structural detective work one could perform on any anthology turn in this case into a worthwhile experience rather than a pointless slog, and it lends the book a unique literariness not often found in these sorts of collections. All this serves to open up a space for exploration, discussion and debate rather than put an oppressive, canon-building fix on the proceedings.

And yet, like in everything, there is no perfect choice to be made, and while Young’s method of organization does create a gorgeous and shifting poetic mass, it also runs the risk of limiting its user-friendliness for anyone outside of the Bay Area poetry scene. One can easily imagine the scenario in which a fresh-faced poetry child, scanning the shelves at a college library/local bookstore/scrubby weirdo’s house, comes upon this tome and, knowing few or none of the names therein, is overwhelmed by this seemingly undifferentiated poetic madness and can find no clear entry point into its undulating folds. Who is who, who’s fighting with whom (in the aesthetic sense, of course), what the defining moments in this scene have been—in short, the basic history of this vibrant group of writers—is included only in obscured fragments. Sometimes the bios help; sometimes not as much—I mean, as much as I adore Alli Warren and think that her self-identification as “Present King of France (PKOF)” provides a more useful lens through which to read her work than any standard bio ever could, I have to wonder if many readers might need a little bit more than that to make do. This montage of poets may indeed, for an informed reader, make for a much more accurate representation of the way this scene (and scenes in general) operates. But in the absence of other contextualizing measures—Where are the (for the most part) absent poetics statements? Where are the reprints of defining blog exchanges? Where are the personal histories, like Young’s own “Biased Cub Report from Oakland on the New Brutalism and Poetry Blogging”?—one can’t help but think that a few more knocks in Allen’s direction of the continuum would’ve made for an easier approach to this text as well as avoided inadvertently reproducing the circled-wagon insiderness that innovative poetry communities are often accused of perpetrating.

But let’s not get so bogged down in thinking about hypothetical readers and poetry politics that we lose sight of the remarkable fact of what we now hold in our hands. Bay Poetics is, indeed, a beautiful photograph of a place in this wide world that’s bursting at its seams with a remarkably diverse set of wonderful poets, and more than anything else, the book gives this set of writers a venue in which to state the fact of their existence—and to be celebrated—as a group. Criticisms aside, the way Young has put this book together makes reading through it an oddly moving experience. Knowing that Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy are married in real life but also, since they’re placed side by side here, get to be “married” in the book, too; seeing, as Young points out, K. Silem Mohammad’s dedications of several of his poems to other poets featured in the anthology; noting the repetitions of names of important streets and landmarks running through widely disparate work—not to be quaint, but it’s all just so sweet. It’s not a common thing to feel as though a poetry anthology has been built on something more substantial than the egomaniacal gestures of a deluded king-maker. But where Bay Poetics paints its clearest picture is in its demonstration of just how much these writers really care about each others’ work and each other as human beings. It’s an anthology built—yeah, let’s say it—on love. It’s the most heartwarming book I’ve read this year.

Originally published in Traffic 2

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more Bay Poetics. certainly this anthology displays editorial acumen. Stephanie Young speaks of her selections as snapshots. as I said, you probably won't feel you grok the nature of anyone's work here from what is presented. surely your taste bud will be tickled, inciting you to see more, but I think that aspect is secondary to another, perhaps larger, aspect. Bay Poetics, wtf. okay, it's a region anchored by a couple of cities and lots of schools. more powerfully, it is a scene. I know that's a drastically icky word in most cases. in Boston, it sure means exclusion, not even hip exclusion. elsewhere it means righteous hipster. I infer, being no witness, that the Bay Area that Young sees differs from that twaddle. she's suggesting a community of writers, even a collaboration. there's no discernible Bay Area school here, just a good environment for poetry. I return to what Joseph Torra pointed out on saturday at the Olson event, that no local tenured professors attended. none could detach themselves from their Harvardy strictures, the ominous academic condition. or conditioning, I should say, the conditioning of canon. Harvard's just happy to have Dickinson as a cash cow. Eliot's still edgy here and, like, his early stuff is now public domain. so what I see in BP is a community sense, a place of poetry. both Garrett Caples and Andrew Joron have essays (essays!) that mention George Stevens, a Bay area decadent poet. Young placed the pieces contiguously, perhaps to suggest interrelationship (community), and perhaps to indicate some defining energy of the area. I don't mean to sound utopian, but I think some effort has been made Out There to make a living place for poetry. there is breath out there. here we have claustrophobic Groliers Bookshop, and Harvard looming over all.

by Allen Bramhall
Original post to tributary dated 25 May 2006


Dreaming Bay Poetics 2

Reading Bay Poetics by candlelight last night due to giant power outage in the East Bay. A Tonalists are all about the darkness though so I was okay with it.

Reflecting on the Sunday's celebration, it occurs to me that the making of the anthology (according to Stephanie Young’s description of her process in the introduction) was mirrored by the event. In fact Stephanie commented that putting the book together was more an activity of assembling than editing. Assembled then at the New Yipes space were friends, interlocking affinity groups, lone wolves both in and not in the anthology, people new to the scene and people who have been on the scene quite literally since before Stephanie was born (revealed in the anthology to be 1974). I wasn’t on the scene at the time of the Stephanie birth but some quick math tells me I was the age of several of the younger contributors. Energy was very high among those drinking, talking, skulking, sulking, lurking and posing for pictures. If Stephanie had thrown herself out into the poet mosh pit her feet need not have touched the floor all evening.

One could observe people hanging with writers they were placed with in the anthology (or avoiding them) and there were also many other groupings in what is clearly now a chaotic Bay Area primal soup of poetics. I observed many A Tonalists, writers who have used the term New Brutalist in a poem or comment, surrealists, Beats, language poets, members of the New York School and Flarfists. Could it be that there was one person who was all of the above? Was it Bill Luoma?

The presence of many younger writers in the anthology and at the event seems to be the key aspect of the whole project. Their poetics are quite various and they are at different places in their writing practices and their careers, but they are there (here) in force and are way ready to take over. A number of younger writers are among my close friends and I had a teacher’s (archivist’s, mother's, publisher’s, distributor’s) pride in their power and was reminded of why it is good to show up on the actual scene once in a while.

Bay Poetics is not inclusive and doesn’t really have a poetics other than being experimental. (Poetics being a code word for experimental.) It does constitute, as Stephanie has pointed out, a snapshot of the scene. In that way it seems like an ideal teaching tool. Teaching it would allow students to read younger writers along with their teachers and important influences. The fact that it isn’t complete would allow one to teach books by the not included writers and talk about community. It would be a very different experience from the one I had being taught the New American Poetry in Ron Loewinsohn’s class at Cal in the 70s. The difference is that it feels, as it did on Sunday night, like you can walk right into the book.

by Laura Moriarty
Original post to A Tonalist Notes dated 24 May 2006


Dreaming Bay Poetics 1

Listening to Cynthia Sailers read Norma Cole last night during the celebration of Bay Poetics I was thinking how one thing leads to the other and how the text is really the context for the scene and all that is left of it, though not all that is there in the reading.

There is a confluence of incident and comment. One is in the back while oneself is being read. Or one is at work while reading or writing. The gesture is only itself.

“statement is as statement does Resist repeating on paper, its yellow edge enriched by relief of the victim by the role of the suffering victim Suddenly her voice a phrase precise Hesitancies from sight to mind”

from “Suddenly Hesitancies Quietness," Norma Cole (in the anthology)

Also by Norma:

by Laura Moriarty
Original post to A Tonalist Notes dated 21 May 2006


we bought and now have our copy of Bay Poetics. I'm pretty psyched. the vibes are good and that's pretty much all I'm going on at this moment. the book's regionalism is somewhat in quotes; participants are from all over, tho certainly some Bay area connection exists in all cases. I think the point is that everyone in the anthology fits in the Bay Area scene. the whereas consists simply in that no one really wants to say they are Boston poets. Boston poets? that means you are exclusive and clique-ish, doesn't it? it feels like that. me and Michael saturday felt that our quoroum could say that, at any rate. I thrum the pages of this book and feel its energy. honestly. maybe it's not Fiddler's Green there in the Bay area, but it seems pretty good from this distance. you won't say you've grokked any of the poets here represented if you read this book, but you will have a sense of what is happening. what's happening is wide and splendid. the book's 1st poem is a short untitled piece by Brenda Hillman. it's a poem you must read slowly, that's its pace. 23 words, stay with each one to inhale the essence (sorry, that sounds unduly phony--I only want to be duly phony) (but I am not being phony--sincerity still works). Stephanie Young (editor, I should've mentioned that up front) bravely and sensitively chose a quiet thoughtful thing to lead you into the book. I suppose the average age of the writers in this anthology is around 4 or 5 in dog years, but there's a goodly showing of older folk, Kyger, Vincent, Hejinian and so on. and connect with this: there's varied poetic styles, prose and a nice range of whatnot. brings to mind Olson's idea of achive. Chris Stroffolino's offering, following Hillman's, is a sort of reminiscence on music scenes. how curious! that's the extent of my actual reading, so far. Beth and I sought out the inestimable Jack Kimball today to procure this book, throwing our dwindling funds into his bottomless treasury (Jack lives in a castle made of sugar cubes and he owns the movie rights to NH's late lamented Old Man in the Mountain) BECAUSE this just seemed news that stays news. just shy of 500 pages, with a lot of names that I can attach a sense of work to. Boston, that squid-torturing pu pu platter of snotty ass, cannot produce an anthology such as this. the walls are too high. sad. sad. sad. Stephanie Young is the ace and deuce. so's Jack, but don't tell him. the preceding has been an unpaid skim review that forebodes further ruminations.

by Allen Bramhall
Original post to tributary dated 21 May 2006


Boston Poetics

Reading through Stephanie Young's massive and exciting Bay Poetics (Faux Press, 2006) anthology, one of the things I'm considering in relation to my own writing is the presence of place in a poem. As I get ready to leave Boston in a few months, I think of this city's influence on my reading and writing habits. Although I was born in Cambridge, and studied here during high school and graduate school, my last seven years in Boston haven't made me feel any more connected to this place. When I leave, I will only miss my small group of friends and certain landscapes in & around the city. This is partly because my relation to Boston is complicated by allegiances to Tampa and Caracas, two other cities that have figured in my writing much more than Boston. I often feel fated, or drawn, to a permanent state of migration, returning to certain cities but never to stay.

In her introduction to this anthology, Young comments on the impact of the SF Bay Area on the 110 poets whose work she gathers together:

"While most writers are clustered around San Francisco and the East Bay, my choices had as much to do with a person's felt presence in particular communities as they did with geography. Any picture of an urban center will include the constant flow of people in and out of the region and this is no exception..."

My own Boston is a complication of various decades and moments. Hippie fragments of Cambridge in the early 70s. A flash of insight, or poetry, in the woods of Essex under the winter sun in the late 80s. Aesthetic combat against fellow poets and some professors at BU at the end of the 90s. A mushroom-induced millenary awareness of the historical and present-day violence that undergirds Boston. The astronomically high rent & no money of recent years. Swimming in Buzzards Bay most summers of my life. I feel lucky to have met and heard John Wieners read a few times while I was here. I think of his work as representing the parts of Boston I've been able to admire and learn from. As with Caracas and Tampa, I love and dislike so much about this city.

Back to Bay Poetics, I like the following piece from David Larsen:

"Speak to me as a holy person would,
but speak to me!
Very well,
Some soap got spilled in the soup,
but it wound up tasting not at all soapy.
Anything else?
But here's one for the sidekicks:
How will you put up with
what you cannot

by Guillermo Parra
Original post dated 12 May 2006


Stephanie Young’s description of how she put together her anthology is worth looking at more closely:
I started with my friends, and then the writers important to my friends. I followed lines of personal relationship because I was curious what formal or tonal connection might emerge between those who share their affection. I tried to include both the known and the unknown, pairings and groups whose interrelationships are wildly complicated.
It sounds at first like a prescription for a closed – possibly even elitist – conception of what is currently going on in Bay Area poetry. And, as I suggested rather indirectly on Monday, the gathering of 110 current poets seems to have missed the School of Quietude (SoQ), almost entirely, as well as the neo- (or perhaps retro-) Beat scene. Interestingly, the book leads off with an untitled poem by Brenda Hillman, a poet who has sometimes been associated with the SoQ:

The lord is its shepherd and i

am its color captive

its color color color captive

in the tree that

has no
One could hardly call that a traditional anglophile verse form, not even with that twist of prayer in the first line. If anything, the poem points toward a post-division poetics, neither SoQ nor post-avant, something more than a few of the younger post-avant poets have called for in recent years. Putting this poem first is perhaps this book’s most polemic moment, a call for the conception that Bay Poetics is also a new poetics altogether. Similarly, I take it as no accident that the collection ends with Kathleen Fraser’s work, using typefaces as large as 60 points, visually the most striking (most “experimental”¹) in the entire book.

Older poets working in newer forms, younger poets – like Stephanie Young, whose poem I cited on Monday – using combinations that haven’t been conjoined previously, a key element in Bay Poetics – indeed, the reason why it’s called Poetics and not Poetry – is an assertion, never fully voiced critically, that poetry in the Bay Area has arrived at (is arriving at) a new place altogether. When one looks at the influences that are visible among the 110 – New York School (multiple generations), langpo, New Narrative, echoes of the New Coast moment in Buffalo, the indelible (but distant) presence of Chain, the always surprising (and surprisingly gentle) after-image of New Brutalism – one confronts American poetry as it has evolved over the past 20 years, only here it’s got this dual focus of the Bay as well, which accounts for the stereoptic effect.

Earlier collections of Bay Area writing often begin with a myth of origin that usually dates the scene to the day Kenneth Rexroth arrived from Chicago, the same day coincidentally that George Sterling – then the dominant figure in the Bay scene – committed suicide. One of the relatively few critical texts in Bay Poetics is Andrew Joron’s calling this into question, looking back at Sterling & the less well known Clark Ashton Smith, the nexus of what was, in the 1920s, called California Decadence. Garrett Caples, in a piece that precedes Joron’s recalls that when Ambrose Bierce was asked whether Lincoln or Washington was the “greatest American,” replied:
I should say that the greatest American that we know about, if not George Sterling, was Edgar Allan Poe.
Bierce’s logic was that the work of Sterling & Poe would outlast that of Lincoln & Washington. It’s a sign of the School of Quietude’s near total amnesia of anything even remotely outside of the box that Sterling, whom one might read as an antecedent, say, of James Merrill, has been almost entirely forgotten over the past eight decades.

While there are a handful of critical pieces – by such folks as Bob Glück, Elizabeth Robinson & Eileen Tabios in addition to Caples & Joron – there isn’t any sense of a party line here. In fact, except for the fact that Caples & Joron are both touching on the history, almost the prehistory, of Bay Area poetry, there’s not nearly as much of a sense of a shared project in the critical writing as there is in the poetry, tho that also presents a wide range of generally post-avant possibilities.

So Bay Poetics falls into a middle ground – too broad & democratic to be representing a movement, Nouveau Brutalism or whatever, but not “all things to all people” either. In a sense, I think the situation, or scene, as presented by Young, is much harder for an individual poet than it was circa 1970 when you had just two regular reading series – one at SF State, the other at Intersection on Union Street – for the whole scene. If there are 110 interesting post-avant poets now active between Sebastopol & Monterey & as far east as Vallejo if not Davis – and I think a realistic number would be more like 250, especially if we included the neo-Beat scene & a broader swath of the Quietists – having one’s work stand out is a genuinely daunting project. In that populous – I want to resist calling it crowded – scene, the absence of more rigorously self-defined tendencies pretty much reduces the challenge to “every man & women for themselves.” That still feels like an interregnum to me, a waiting until the Next Thing shows up. But the grounds sure are fertile.

¹ Only in the narrow sense that vispo, or any poetry with a visual component, is historically “experimental.” I think that Fraser knows exactly what she is doing, and in that sense this work is the product of a master craftsperson, not an experimenter.

by Ron Silliman
Original post dated 10 May 2006


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stephanie Young’s Bay Poetics is a stunning achievement. The attempt to put together any kind of representative collection of Bay Area poets is inevitably doomed at the outset. It simply isn’t physically possible. Even with the 110 poets contained in these 500 pages, there are more currently active, publishing poets in the roughly nine county region that makes up the metropolitan region who are not included here than poets who are. For example, not one of San Francisco’s recent poet laureates – Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Janice Mirikitani, devorah major or Jack Hirschman – can be found in Bay Poetics.

To her great credit, Young tackles this problem head on in her (too) brief introduction:
[S]ome people are missing. Older poets who have kept (not necessarily pedagogical) contact with younger writers are represented to a greater measure than those who have not. Even a preliminary list of those not represented here would exceed the bounds of a paragraph – today I am thinking particularly of Beverly Dahlen, Jean Day, Bob Grenier, Etal Adnan, Alan Bernheimer. The same is true of my peers, so much so that I won’t even begin a list.
So we find Joanne Kyger & Larry Kearney here, but not Tom Clark, nor Maxine Chernoff or Paul Hoover or Michael Rothenberg or David Meltzer. We find Brenda Hillman, but not Bob Hass. Yedda Morrison, but not David Buuck. Leslie Scalapino, Lyn Hejinian, Kit Robinson & Laura Moriarty, but not David Bromige nor Michael Palmer. Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Truong Tran, Alice Jones, D.A. Powell, Edward Smallfield & Rusty Morrison all are missing. So are Judy Grahn & Aaron Shurin. Renee Gladman is not here, nor is Norman Fischer, nor Gail Sher, nor for that matter Curtis Faville. And virtually the entire local School of Quietude is absent: Eavan Boland, Morton Marcus, Alan Soldofsky, Joyce Jenkins, Richard Silberg, Dennis Schmitz, Joe Stroud, Robert Sward, Chana Bloch, Rochelle Nameroff. But so are Jack Marshall, Julia Vinograd, Richard Denning, Sotère Torregian, Jack & Adele Foley, Scott Bentley, Ebbe Borregaard, Harold Dull, Nina Serrano, and the California State poet laureate, Palo Alto’s Al Young.

It is, literally, an impossible task.

And Stephanie Young has tackled it very well indeed. Her description of her method is quite straightforward:
I emailed poets with my idea of taking a picture. I started with my friends, and then the writers important to my friends. I followed lines of personal relationship because I was curious what formal or tonal connection might emerge between those who share their affection. I tried to include both the known and the unknown, pairings and groups whose interrelationships are wildly complicated. They are roommates, collaborators, classmates, teachers, co-publishers. Some are married to each other. Others have worked together in offices or in the Bay Area’s many writing programs. And yet, among all this entanglement, I’m sure there are contributors who never have met one another.
The term picture is an interesting one. At one level, Young sought to, in her words,
take a photograph. Who is here now, and what are they writing?
But it carries a second layer as well:
I asked for poems but also maps, essays, lists, short fiction, poetic statements, neighborhood or walking tour reports, reading reports, manifestos, letters, diagrams, blog excerpts: notes towards the local expression of poets living in the Bay Area.
For what it’s worth, there are hardly any visual elements to this very text-centric book. Someone who seems to have taken Young’s request literally, such as Dana Teen Lomax, is the exception, rather than the rule. Tho one hears echoes of the idea in a title like Keith Shein’s “Rumors of Buildings to Live in” or in Young’s own “Poem for Small Press Traffic’s 30th Anniversary Reading”:
It’s 1974, quick, you are
getting born, also Leonardo di Caprio
and Jewel. Floppy disk drives, People Magazine,
Dungeons & Dragons, Happy Days, internet
Institute of Physics Library, Super Pong, Chinatown, Sterling Bank
Kate Moss, supermodel! Nobody gets the Pulitzer
for fiction or drama but Robert Lowell does.
Anne Sexton dies on October 4.
Karen Silkwood dies on November 12.
Nixon resigns.
George W. Bush is discharged from
the US Air Force Reserve. They’re putting
carnations in their guns in Portugal and bombs
go off in pubs, Dublin, the Tower of London, 107 meters
underground, India’s testing a Peaceful Nuclear Explosive.
It’s all happening now
Patty Hearst with a rifle in her hands
John Lennon is still alive
the oil embargo is over
Sonny and Cher are over
but the Talking Heads are getting together.
Japan is getting together.
The Grateful Dead unleash the wall of sound
the UN grants observer status to the PLO
Rover Thomas and the Krill Krill songs
UPC codes
it all started way back in 1974:
walking for exercise
pipeline construction
over 12 million donuts
the barrier
the project
King Crimson
Sears Tower
the Australian Forum for Textile Arts
my Queen collection
the International WONCA news
grass Oil for Men by Javan
the NewMath, where one must be
wary of empty formalism,
be, being, multiplactors.

It’s worth quoting this poem, if for no other reason, than because Young’s methodology of selection through a rhizomatic network of friends & acquaintances almost by definition has to find ground zero in her own poetry. This is a poem whose spirit is easily traced back to the notational pieces by Frank O’Hara in the 1950s (&, ultimately, to Dr. Williams back into the 1920s), but the exact, even encyclopedic use of popular references isn’t something O’Hara himself would have done – that’s a Ted Berrigan effect, carried forward here through research¹ – something Ted never did – since Young herself either wasn’t here or at least isn’t old enough to remember any of 1974, the year Barrett Watten & I shared a flat on Missouri Street on San Francisco’s Potrero Hill & I wrote Ketjak. So Young’s poem looks very traditional, tho in fact it’s a hybrid of multiple tendencies & influences, a poem that could not have been written in ’74. Today it seems very much at home in these pages.

I think it makes sense to think of this poem as the book’s gravitational point, because Bay Poetics is very much a text of what’s happening in San Francisco & environs in 2006, not 1996 or ’86 (or the era that is the focal point for SF’s poet laureate program, rooted firmly in the sixties & seventies). Because Young is herself one of poetry’s foremost bloggers, it’s not at all surprising to find many writers here who likewise have (or have had) blogs: Del Ray Cross, Rodney Koeneke, Patrick Durgin, Brent Cunningham, Cassie Lewis, Tonya Brolaski, David Larsen, Pamela Lu, Magdalena Zurawski, Geoffrey Dyer, Eileen Tabios, Joshua Clover, Logan Ryan Smith, James Meetze, Catherine Meng, kari edwards, Barbara Jane Reyes, Stephen Vincent, K. Silem Mohammad, Alli Warren & Chris Sullivan. An even larger group of folks are those who were active in the SF scene even before I headed east in ’95: Brenda Hillman, Leslie Scalapino, Keith Shein, Larry Kearney, Joanne Kyger, Stephen Ratcliffe, Bill Berkson, Elizabeth Treadwell, Susan Gevirtz, Norma Cole, Laura Moriarty, Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, Andrew Joron, Lyn Hejinian, Juliana Spahr, Bill Luoma, Kit Robinson, Travis Ortiz, Stacy Doris, Elizabeth Robinson, Avery Burns, Bob Glück, Camille Roy, Vincent, Nate Mackey & Kathleen Fraser. To this, add the people who have come & made a big bang with terrific work in recent years – Mary Burger, Taylor Brady, Catalina Cariaga, Chris Stroffolino or Garrett Caples, for example – and you have the heart of an impeccably solid presentation.

Some of my favorite pieces here come from some of the “older” poets, people whose work I’ve lost touch with & am terrifically glad to see it again, looking so strong. One good case in point is the selection by Keith Shein, a tennis pro who was teaching at Dominican College last I heard (tho that may be many years out of date), living in the northern reaches of Marin County. Here is the fourth poem from the sequence I mentioned previously, “Rumors of Buildings to Live In.” It’s the first of his pieces in Bay Poetics:
The first time the hand goes out it’s only a hand,
when it comes back it’s only empty,
but when the hand goes out again, it’s an animal, hunted,.
and when drawn back, it’s the hunter himself.
She beats the child because she fears for him
and he won’t cry.
He takes the blows lifelessly though he hears her pleading.
He thinks, soon she’ll tire, then it will be my turn, and I won’t beg.
The street follows everyone home, even the homeless,
into rooms when doors open, beats on doors when they stay locked.
The street never ends.
He keeps his hands in his pockets. Not for the cold
though it is cold, for the dark where they might sleep.

Because I’ve known Shein slightly over the years, I see in his choice of the serial poem the influence of Gilbert Sorrentino (just as, in Sorrentino, I see the hand of Spicer). Yet here there is something that feels a lot like the kind of surrealism one gets in watery versions in Charles Simic or Andrei Codrescu. The edge in Shein’s work here feels so much sharper. Here is 14:
The TV is the national book, without pages or end,
which won’t close when you’re tired,
that reads itself to you while you sleep.
The TV is your own story told to you, for you.
The dog that growls, that’s you when you’re a dog,
which is often this hour.
But now you’re the man the dog chases, snapping at your legs.
You run, but are your equal, just as fast.
Before you die there’s a commercial:
you are a care owner, dabbing perfume, drinking a beer.
You’re thirsty, quenched, screaming as your paws scratch
you down, you growl, your jaws open for your neck.
Now you’re the doctor sewing your wound.
”You’re lucky,” you say, “lucky to be alive.”
You thank him, yourself.

Bay Poetics is a big honking book of fine work by some of the best writers around. It also just happens to be a possible portrait of one of the United States’ two great literary communities. You need to own this book.

¹ Echoing just possibly Juliana Spahr & Jena Osman &, behind them, diverse sources that would include C.S. Giscombe, Peter Dale Scott, Charles Olson, Ezra Pound.


by Ron Silliman
Original post dated 8 May 2006



Reading Bay Poetics is devoted to collecting and generating discussion of the anthology Bay Poetics, edited by Stephanie Young (Faux Press, 2006).

Potential contributors should email Tom Orange at tmorange[at]gmail[dot]com.