MY BREAKFAST WITH ANDREI
A haystack of grated potatoes emits columns of steam; bright yolked eggs float on a thin film of oil which a diminutive, hair-netted woman tends with the crook of her spatula. The napkin holder is flanked on one side by catsup and mustard dispensers, salt, pepper, and a silo of sugar on the other. They are enclosed at the far edge of the gray Formica by a half corral of chrome which also encompasses a pot of relish, a metal cruet of cream (perpetually empty), and a tiny glass ashtray—there are four of them, with the same compliment of condiments, stationed down the length of countertop. The stools at this end of the Knotty Room, mounted on chrome pillars, swivel, crest-like backs upholstered in red vinyl. Andrei has an incredible stack of mail in front of him in the form of little magazines and review copies of small press poetry books. He orders the magazines by size on one side of his coffee cup and the review copies on the other side. Directly in front of him is a small but impressive pile of correspondence from publishers and famous writers as well as just plain fan mail. I can always find Andrei down at this end of the narrow diner after I’ve been to my post office box and retrieved the few postcards, rejected manuscripts, and bills. We thumb through the literary fare, incisively commenting on various aspects of various achievements. We create our own gossip, smug, sip from our cups of tepid river brown coffee. When the morning rush is over, we commandeer a knotty pine booth with the same red vinyl padding on the benches, similar Formica slab, and against the knotty pine wall, a corral of condiments and a jukebox selector with an “out of order” sign hastily scribbled on the back of a guest check taped to the curve of glass. Having seen the film, we wish to eat the book and order hash browns, eggs (over easy) and a raft of bacon, strips of which we had perceived earlier as having been constrained under a press of some sort and which led me to comment “must be some pretty fresh bacon.” Jeff falls into the booth looking very very bad, his forehead seeming to crush his eyebrows, an expression that confirms how painful that must be, a letter in his hand from a collection agency ripped open with what looks like frustrated violence. He drinks his coffee black with the finality of a man downing a shot of whiskey. He recounts with bored insolence how he went over the side of the road with his newly purchased ‘54 Ford, saved from rolling fifty or so feet down the embankment when the front end wrapped itself around a big redwood tree. We all agree to a refill from the roving waitress and nod understandingly at how we are all propelled through this life by the cosmic winds and our own hot air.
Days that have gone fled waters under the bridge tread the mill granted this species to be able to repeat genetic mistakes over and over clues to behavior locked in the vaults of ancestry I will never escape stare me in the face as do my own children flakes of mental dandruff gather on the dark shoulders of ambition the fragile furniture of my life gets rearranged without notice frequently drugs I take women I romance still don’t make the front page distracted by the brandy in my cup and a song on the radio hooked for a moment the way I will always be remembered “ain’t it good to be alive”
4/1/82 Disapprove of this last phrase 4/4/83 Bob Kaufman came to dinner. He didn’t speak much, if at all. His sinuses were continually draining. His companion, Lynne, did most of his talking. He would aspirate a word if absolutely necessary. “Want another burrito, Bob?” What passed for “yes” snuffled out over the toothless gums. Afterwards he recited poems as if in payment for the meal. It was legal tender as far as I was concerned. He mushed out Olson’s The Kingfisher and the opening to Prufrock. Lynne had to give us hints as to which poems were which otherwise they would have been unintelligible. But there was a spirit to Bob’s intonation that made them poetry. Most of the time though, he was silent, resembling, at one point, a large caramelized rat hunched over the remains of the third burrito, a primal intelligence possessed by brilliant eyes. 4/5/85 Wild spring Scudding clouds O life! Dark stream of swirling bogwater on which appletrees have cast down their delicate flowers Eyes of girls among the leaves Girls demure and romping All fair and auburn no dark ones They blush best Oh yeah! 4/7/83 Read what I wrote last night. Vague words for a vague emotion.
I wouldn’t operate machinery in this condition but everything else should be a lot of fun the question is why would anyone one want to operate machinery under any condition the perfect machine can operate itself man is a perfect machine in one sense but only in that sense otherwise hardly that leaves a lot of room for other things imperfect half-formed thoughts and ideas that come as visions or out of nothing a kind of conjuring that comes from doing and lets the body get next to itself some half of wit joined to some equally inept fragment of universal consciousness accidents collisions all the things a machine could never hope to survive a machine can correct my spelling as I sip from a glass and crush a butt I think of how incredibly stupid I can be but a machine can only be correct I get the privileged fact of my mistakes I get out of control but it’s an ancient thing to do not that that’s why I do I can remove myself from where I am but a machine can only be where it is flying high I can laugh at it knowing that if it could (I’m thinking of TV) that it would be laughing at me a machine fulfills its particular role mine fill scrapbooks in alphabetical order the laughter of my kids activates me and I become a robot of love and affection a machine in the industry of family
Dear Richard —
Thanks for sending the manifesto—I appreciate your time and effort. I can’t say that I disagree with the essence of much of what is said. On the other hand, there are little things about the manifesto that bother me. There seems to be a suggestion of elitism in phrases like “writers we feel are worthwhile”, and in particular, I don’t like the way “expressivist” is used, or its connotation: “expressivist” = “recidivist”. In many ways this edifice of literary theory that “they” are building is a shadow Academy, a bulwark of Neo New Criticism, the elevation of the “professional” ethic (possibly a contradiction in terms) over that of a creative esthetic. I can’t blame anyone for wanting to legitimize their practice as a poet, but to parrot an already corrupt hierarchy of values is self-defeating. Besides the self-aggrandizement of some of the text, which is also in part self-deluding, the entire tone is humorless and severe as if the reader were being proselytized by an iceberg.
The other problem with it is that while there are some fairly strong points, the manifesto as a whole goes nowhere. And as a basis for further discussion, it is rather flimsy. There seems to be a yearning to be accepted back into the womb of mother university, or for an academic acceptance that would legitimize their work. And to a certain extent they have succeeded. The texts and publications that they themselves cite in the manifesto should be enough to garner well-deserved attention. The question that comes up eventually is whether or not the poet is required to operate under the rubric of the university/academy, establishment or shadow. Can the poet leave the fold of the school or must there be an umbilical that is continually feeding him/her the latest in self-perpetuating professorial trends? That can be as great a rut as anything in mainstream poetry can be imagined to be. No denying that there is a crust of establishment poetry that is almost impenetrable to all but the most vapid compromises of intelligence and creativity. That, in most respects, is a given. The majority of poets writing today have encountered this. The politics of poetry (who is in and who is out) is a rat’s nest of backrooms and bedrooms, of favor mongering and toadying, none of which was addressed in the manifesto. Rather there is a choosing up of sides, a territorial imperative, a jargonistic imperialism which would create yet another class system to distinguish the haves from the have-nots. And of course there’s the obvious fact that while the theories, grand and altruistic as they are, have a certain intellectual merit, the poems that purport to follow this ideology have very little to recommend for themselves.
Finally, there is the point of where the writers of the manifesto stand politically, and how they feel that the reaction against them is Rightist. Though this could very well be, personally, I could never consider them anything but Young Republicans, and at their worst, neo-Nazis. As avant-garde as they would like to think themselves, they come across in just about all their writing as conservatives.
I hope I’m not being too unfair. A lot of their work I find very interesting. The importance of their writing shouldn’t be underrated. On the other hand, it might be unfortunate that their polemic overshadows their work as individual artists. My personal relationship with these poets I would ascertain as being pretty frosty. Life Of Crime came rollicking through town right during one of their more serious periods and the laughter, name dropping and ruckus was not appreciated. Their general animosity towards those they considered beyond the pale (or the literary “incorrect”) goes back before that, however. Ted Berrigan asked me to be on his panel at 80 Langton, commenting that he needed someone on his side. One of the few times one of that group ever talked to me was that night of the panel, before hand; he said, “Let’s not let Ted get away with this bullshit.” He was referring, I later learned, to Ted’s invectives of the previous day.
Otherwise there has been the wall of silence and disapproval from those folks. I’d take it personally if I really cared.
4/11/89 know what White-Out is imagine a bottle of it now find that place in your memory where you store my name and white it out paper clips keep my shit together that’s how bad it is discouraged by the myopia of an overambitious editor 4/14/87 An awkward resumption of all those things which accompany uncertainty or even just the inconvenience of not knowing what to do next and then not doing it. The law of diminishing returns and its applications. 4/15/89 I feel careful funny historic stuck up modern more rested playful archaic scientific rich that alive electric hooked lucky clever international alone loved wise superstitious free foolish sexy rough mysterious wet wired vulnerable cheated ecstatic together satisfied sad ok. 4/21/91 subtle matter overheard: “Not that I want to make you self-conscious or anything like that, but with a laugh like that you must be great in bed.” the assembled rumble of an arriving vehicle in search of one’s self follow the trail to the old gods—there, in partial obscurity, unclothed of our present trappings and assumptions, in the damp half-light of a dim but palpable past, you can find yourself pencil fades missed out on the big sex orgy at Hunce’s—wasn’t invited 4/22/87 limp home
Since everybody’s been there before me I’m the only one here when I arrive everyone I thought I’d be meeting was long gone by then I wasn’t using my real name (debris) adult child conflict confusion on everyone’s part can lead to much crying and near hysteria resolve and placebo a laugh track makes it all better how oppression can be ignited from such a small flame what was I trying to say there are times when these words are nothing compared to the wail and cry of some two year old language refines raw power I give myself the run-around
4/23/91 big rain storm fooled everyone our own image on a smooth metallic surface is a portrayal of the ripples in the mobile electron sea caused by the rays that have reflected from us 4/23/95 forever at the door of the inexpressible8 getting up the nerve to knock same as same time is a commodity it serves us well 4/24/90 I’m pulling myself out of this skin a sweater once large now too snug and me once too foolish now just smug room for rent please inquire within I’d tear my hair out but there’s this big Latin word for it and I’d end up a weird segment on the evening news trying too hard but I must be strong just can’t go forcing these situations that’s easily breaking and entering 4/24/95 There is an unimaginable gulf, one that shows up on no map but which is continually mapped though never accurately or for very long. It is too vast, too deep, and ever changing. urine trouble Virgo: The next three months will be the happiest, most productive of the year. Though you’ll often feel pulled to center stage (to receive the plaudits you deserve), much of your most creative work will take place alone. This is the chance of a lifetime to take a creative challenge and fly with it.
It’s all blank tape black tape I want to spill my guts all over the page but I don’t want to die I look down the tree-lined street as it goes on forever the majesty of the milling gray sky and wonder if that’s the best I can do days whistle by in my ears stir the trees as in time-lapse photography the hair on my face has taken over and I feel like a cop behind a signboard advertising what won’t mean much for long we’ll soon all become lawless and hairless a sure sign of advancement a green light to the traffic jam known as evolution a process akin to the slow cracking of ice at the heart of a glacier the seemingly haphazard crystallization just another statistic in a long line of probability I am more lenient of a fanatic than some (apparently) so why not become Buddha what else is there to do head like a rock faceted or smooth shiny when wet in the throes of a tantric TV tantrum I need something a remote to change my mind
—I’ve stopped thinking of literature as something solely to be enjoyed; it is, rather, the substance upon which I feed. I write and many times it doesn’t go beyond that. This attitude doesn’t help my feelings of isolation and alienation much. Am I wrong to feel this way?
—As a poet you often write for yourself alone. “Writing settles nothing.” as Kerouac so succinctly put it. Once it becomes a part of your page it becomes other than it was. Once you have written it, written is what it is and inherently immune or oblivious to the rules and laws that governed it when it wasn’t. It becomes the thing written. It will bear only passing resemblance to anything but itself. Imagination in the written word remains a world of its own, a de facto parallel universe invariable, unique of necessity. Its facts apply strictly to what is written and will be written in a world of tangled but viable complexity. Based on what was and what might have been, it becomes.
—But I want my poetry to say, “I wanted that chocolate malt so bad I spilled it all down my front” and mean it.
—The original sin of art is that it wants to convince and to please, like flowers that grow in the hopes of ending up in a vase. You write poems without expecting anything but the profound joy that you feel in making them. You can’t be preoccupied with the finished product. Sure, some things, everything must have a certain finality. When you start thinking about it, hidden doubts surface: the only finished products are the dead. These dead things, extinct, vanished, rubbed out, then can become tangibles of an imagined perfection. To live up to these expectations, you only have to die.
Death comes night and day I learn of it in black and white and if it’s someone in entertainment especially music radio’s full of reminders that the good die young meteors astonishing before they blink out the better die later warm to the touch forever a kind of magic formula that just rolls off the tongue in the immortality of numbers “some people tell me the worried blues ain’t bad” other worlds call I have a set of shelves a tree to fall landscape yard hang door plumbing all in my immediate future it makes no sense but that’s what I like about it after all moment frozen in time’s just another ice cube the ideogram for river love birth love death love birth love etc I go with the flow a movement that doesn’t stop for anything
4/25/90 “There is no need for you to leave the house. Stay at your table and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t even wait, be completely quiet and alone. The world will offer itself to you to be unmasked; it can’t do otherwise; in raptures it will writhe before you.” —Franz Kafka 4/26/95 utter chaos isomorph of the cosmos day becomes a bludgeon pulverized by a vast angst 4/27/90 Oldfatheroldartificerstandmenowandeveringoodstead9 4/28/87 Familiar and popular as sex and violence, pop organ rhythm bar voice over flat monotonous primal exercise. “The time to hesitate is through.” Power, lust, resentment, base competition, and if you want a good example of clone, take a look at the poetry scene which is a microcosm of self-perpetuation and outright cannibalism of the fittest, a kind of backasswards literary Darwinism. It is through this gush and pose bewilderment some, unknowing, must pass. It makes no sense, thus endures. If you chose poetry as your life, don’t let your intellect write a check your ass can’t cash. 4/29/91 do I have any imagination or is it just one big gigantic repressed memory
 The assignment of meaning in poetry is a shifting, kaleidoscopic play, probably below the threshold of consciousness, certainly outside the pale of discursive thinking. The imagination that responds to poetry is personal and associative and logical, tinged with bodily rhythms, tinged with dreams, but concerned with a wealth of formulations for its wealth of wordless knowledge, its whole knowledge of emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling. Because no assignment of meaning is conventional, none is permanent beyond the word that passes; yet the brief association was a flash of understanding. The lasting effect is, like the first effort of speech on the development of the mind, to make things conceivable rather than store up propositions.
 There is a matter of elongation, a stretching of meaning and sound to move from one level to another and once that is reached another step has been taken as all things now and forever are in the past. The delight is in the opposition of meaning and sound as in homonyms, but in this case the multi-syllabification allows syntax to enter the picture and force the subject away from meaning into action.
“. . .‘Don’t look back,’ the three little words whispered to Orpheus by Persephone, have a resonance that echoes up from the underground like a hollow laugh. What exactly does that mean? Don’t look back or your memories will become lifeless monuments of stone? That seems like the obvious answer. After all what is past is gone and even if, like O, we wish to try to regain it and accomplish the feat, it is merely an illusion, and when we try to affirm the illusion with the appraisal of a backward glance, there’s nothing there but air. O may have thought he sweet-talked the gods into returning Eurydice to him, but he had essentially fooled himself. The greatness of his power convinced him that what he set out to do had been accomplished. Don’t look back had been planted like a pea under a mattress. It was the loose end of yarn that unraveled the fabric of his illusion. The princess of his unconscious had planted it there. In an uncontrollable fit of vanity, big O looked back to admire his triumph, his victory over the forces of life and death, his challenge to mortality, and what he saw was the transparency of his vanity, that is, there was nothing there. A lesson then for poets who feel compelled to examine too closely the illusions they create and feel the emptiness that crowds their lifeless words. Don’t look back. Believe in your accomplishments. Press on. . .”
Days pass in a trance or they are danced away in the skeletal jig, the deadly two-step performed day in and day out to a thread of music passed through the eye of a diamond needle which sews up the day in the shroud of night, deliberate as a fugue left to chance. An enormous patchwork quilt of every single moment (more or less) stretches out over the bed being made to lie in.