Made In The Shade 4-2

—But what is it about poets that irritates you so?

I get fed up with all the posturing. Poets are a crock, and poetry, by association, becomes a crock. Ted Berrigan once said, “Poets in America think you wait in line to get famous.”  I’m not interested in joining the literary elite on their self-proclaimed pedestals. I can’t belong to a club that would have someone like me as a member.

—All the same though, you feel that poetry is essential, right?

Poetry is essential. One way of focusing our lives is through metaphor. Something is always compared to something else. How closely the match is made is how its intrinsic value is established. Metaphor is what we place between ourselves and the mundane to renew experience. Symbolism is an attempt to synthesize, institutionalize metaphor, which is essentially a spontaneous act of consciousness available to every sentient being. The vitality of poetry relies on its ability to remain spontaneous.

—What fills your day?

I watch the clock. I get caught up in deadlines and delays. I procrastinate. I believe I’m going to resolve this dilemma by putting my life in order. I make notes, lists, plans, appointments with myself, and never show up. Then I set new deadlines and conveniently forget. The slips and tags of paper upon which I scribble my resolves collect on my desk and never get referred to again. Or if I do look at them again, I try to make poems out of them. Basically they become laments at the passing of time, a case of ubi sunt. My guilt provides me with an excellent memory for all these pressing details, which, with my mostly irrepressible optimism, I manage to project further and further into the future. Tomorrow, after all, is another day.


The dawn of rain is the color of rain. A morning of rain passes with no letup of rain. Buckets of rain slop over the eaves of rain. A glaze of rain spreads over the landscape of rain. Each drop of rain ticks off a second of rain. Minutes of rain turn into hours of rain. Days of rain turn into nights of rain.


11/7/90
Hunce died. We all expected it just not so soon. He was attended by those who loved him. Even if we didn’t realize it before we did now. We all walked around dazed and tried to assure each other that yes, the end had come, but still we gaped in disbelief at the man we had once known as skinny, even emaciated, now a bloated ball of gray skin, cold to the touch. With the life gone from him, he seemed so impersonal, so distant. He was never that way alive, always so engaging, so receptive. We clambered up and down the narrow stairways that he had fashioned to resemble catwalks on a suspension bridge as if they weren’t there. We did what we had to do. And the ambulance left and the volunteer firemen returned and the deputy took his report. Still we had to wait for the mortuary van to come for the body. Hunce didn’t appear to be in any hurry. We had the look of a party at which the guests were waiting for the host to leave. We toasted him with his champagne. He was a beautiful man with a beautiful heart. Hear, hear. He had a big heart. Yes, his body finally caught up with his heart. Hey, that’s cold. But then, so is he. When the van arrived we had to load him onto the elevator, the one he had constructed when he no longer had the strength or the breath to climb up and down the stairs. It was a 2-foot by 2-foot contraption that was powered by a winch bolted to the crossbeam of his three-story gingerbread A frame house. We had to lift him from the bed. He was at the very least two hundred and fifty pounds, closer to three hundred of, pardon the expression, dead weight. We wanted to let him down easy, with some respect. Try moving that bulk onto a four foot square platform, the elevator. And considering how narrow the passages were anyway (remember the catwalks on the suspension bridge), it was with bare respect that we tousled the naked body around those labyrinthine corners. After a couple of attempts and maintaining as much dignity as possible, we finally fit him on his winch driven chariot and played out the cable down to the bottom floor. There the guys from the mortuary loaded him onto the gurney and shrouded him, first with a white sheet and then a red velveteen wrap. They wheeled him out the door, down the steps, and across the mock suspension bridge. That was quite symbolic, that last. He went from one shore to another even if the river he crossed was merely a cement-lined trench he called a moat. After he was gone, we said our good-byes to each other, too, and went on our various ways to reflect on what we could no longer deny.

               View evolution
                         as a totally whimsical
                    process
                              poetry simulates
                         that play
               if not
                    extinction
                    give people what they want
                                   a good time
                         code for failure
                    but magnificently
                              learn from mistake
               what’s taken years to perfect
               take the easy way out

               “I was the first crazy person
                    I knew”
                              says Jack

                         I believe him
                                   yet
               there’s risk involved
               chance mutation
                              over the eons
                         like shifting light
                    kills time
                    complexity grips
                              like a mesh glove
                         the predictable
               thankful for that
                              go on to something else
                    the future
                         a worm in the apple

EIGHT BALL

What skill Andrei lacked at eight ball (had he ever held the pool cue the same way twice?), he made up for with telekinetic talent. To call him the “king of slop” would be a vast underrating. Andrei and I occasionally got together for a game of pool at The Pink Elephant, the Monte Rio biker den where the term “iniquity” was still in a protean state. The dim smoky interior, the rank ozone of stale methane, and the hulking, hairy, unwashed shapes who supported themselves on the available furnishings appealed to Andrei’s perverse European vision of the States where saloons resembling those of old Western movies actually still existed. At any moment, Gary Cooper or Bob Steele could be expected to exit the men’s room, buttoning up. He also enjoyed the dangerous irony of exploring the finer points of trigonometry while quaffing a thin domestic brew and exchanging veiled witticism about the clientele with me. It was as close to living on the edge, and still have math, as it got. Of course as the day progressed and more and more of the amber bliss was consumed, the fabled telekinetic ability had the tendency to become befuddled and then to call him the “king of scratch” would be a vast underrating. But this particular day was not one of those. Andrei had played, or “not-played” as the case may be, practically all afternoon, and had won by default more times than not. The rest of the time he had made multi-ball, multi-bank shots that were either geometric marvels or simply blind luck. In fact, he made almost all his shots with his eyes closed as if picturing the lay of the balls on the green felt and letting his imagination do all the work. And he could have continued winning on into early evening were it not for the sudden awareness of the looming shadow of a mass of humanity. The bar had suddenly filled with Hell’s Angels up from the Bay Area on a weekend run. They were jolly enough sorts, on the surface, at least. One of the larger and hairier than normal bikers in leather vest and leather pants plunked down his quarter on the edge of the table where Andrei was playing, thus signifying that he was next in line, as is the custom. At that very moment, Andrei allowed his worthy opponent to scratch on the eight ball. He sized up the situation. His next opponent wouldn’t be one who appreciated the subtle nuances of telekinesis. Yes, it was time to relinquish the table. He bowed to the man he had just defeated and admitted that he’d won by default one too many times that afternoon, and it was only just and right that he give up the honor of playing through. The man was genuinely thankful and could hardly believe his good luck. That is, until he turned and looked his new opponent square in the tattoo. The giant biker cranked his pool cue into the blue chalk cube, crushing it. “I’ll break!” he announced. By then, Andrei and I were already making our way out the door.


11/10/89
“Stay tuned to 1420 mhz”19
implores the cosmic DJ

11/11/98
fuel filter needle valve
vapor lock or maybe voltage
regulator plug wires or
distributor all I know is
the engine’s missing
the brake lights don’t
overcome with bone numbing
lethargy a symptom of 
the most modern of malaise
helplessness in the face
of overwhelming technology
I retreat into my cave
lick my wounds and review
the alphabet in front of
my personal computer
at the back of my mind
the glimmer of a fear
when was the last time
I backed up my files
there’s just no escaping 
the grip of techno-neurosis

11/15/90
How can I arrive at these monumental discoveries if not through the miniscule details of day to day—suddenly the mundane reveals itself to be of a universal order: the cosmos in a mote of dust, galaxies whirl, cream white, on the solid black surface of this morning’s second cup.

11/18/89
Doubt and a certain lethargy accompany me on my appointed rounds. I’ve lost touch with my work, my words, and in the reacquainting, there doesn’t appear to be the same fervor of intent. The work of review is deadly, once wonderfully pithy and sage lines thud with a heaviness that recommends them for the ash heap. Dogged by the persistent question of “why bother?” blaming the weather is no longer as effective a solace as it used to be. 

          What difference does it make
           elevated
                    or slime
           whatever it is I want
                              I have
                                   I need
           to get to it
                the exquisite is fine
                until it turns to shit
           see what I mean
                         go for it
                    cause
           I see geniuses
           who smoke the same cigarettes as me
                down some blind alley
                         looking for a light
           jump the gun
                              flat out
           up for grabs
           sort through the noise
           calculate substance
                         predict
           the delicate paralysis of anticipation
           so far so good
                         but I tarry
           looking for the right mistake
           I do it all myself
                         and ask no quarters
                large denomination currency           
                something else again
           finally acknowledge
                              there’s no last word

I took up the collection of rain in the church of rain where the prayers of rain were answered with an abundance of rain. The confidence of rain grew with each passing storm of rain. I spent a weekend of rain rapt in the meaning of rain. I watched as the spirit of rain rose out of the carcass of rain as a fine mist of rain. In the empty house of rain, the answering machine of rain picked up.


11/17/97
Dear Huncie —
     This may be hard to believe. I dreamed last night that you had faked your death and were living with a woman. The old gang was all there, Randy, Tammi, Rodney, Chad, the Teddy Bear Twins, and they were furtively, though with your consent, sheet rocking over the wood paneling. Your wife was a harried, raw faced woman who bit her nails to the quip, I mean, quick — maybe it was just Jeff without make-up, you know dreams. . . .  At any rate, I woke thinking of you. You who, while the world raged around you, maintained that priceless innocence and relentless intransigence, unwavering in your belief that you would live your life your way and make it a work of art, no matter what. You had a sacred bull named Oceanpeace penned in your pasture, a dog named after Hart Crane’s famous poem and your masterwork, and Veggie-kitty, the cat. The moat surrounding the glass, wood, cement, and brick A-frame sculpture you called home enshrined and memorialized your autobiography in dioramas of sculpted concrete (Mt Shasta, scenes from Death in Venice, miniature versions of the Brooklyn Bridge, Apollo, sodomy, etc.), and was traversed by a walkway made to resemble the fabled bridge. Your diet consisted of macaroni and cheese, V8 juice, and gumdrops, enlivened, on occasion, by a veggie weenie. You cut quite the figure up here in the country in your sweat stained sombrero covered with anti-war buttons, feathers from various fowl, and stalks of grass. You also sported a Boy Scout kerchief that I used to think was merely sly symbolism till I found out later that you actually had been an Eagle Scout. I’m sure that at one time you represented the quintessential hippie to the local folk. Your parties were legion and legend, clothing optional as always. There was the orgy. And I don’t hold a grudge for not being invited. My question now is: why only one? On the other hand, there were your annual Hart Crane birthday parties to which I always felt honored to be invited. You set the table with your mother’s best china and sliver. And when your guests arrived, and after we had toasted Hart with Cutty Sark and read from his poems, you served your specialty, macaroni and cheese, from a silver tureen. I’ll never forget the pretentious female poet who exclaimed, “this isn’t Kraft, is it?”  You replied indignantly, “Certainly not, madam, it’s Rice-a-roni!” To which someone added, “The San Francisco treat.”
      Irene remarked on an eerie coincidence recently, typing up this manuscript. It reminded her so much of her transcription of the manuscript for The Bridge, your work in twelve volumes. The fact that I was using the same “volume” organization for my “big” work struck her as similar, as did some of the more obvious affinities for the arcane that we share. I felt like I should comment “and we’re both on the same path to obscurity,” but thought I’d wait till now to address it. Our bids for fame are foolish, secondary to the making of our art. Of all your published books (Hart Crane’s Voyages, Gumdrops, Sillycone, and Up The Revolution, to name just a few), your final work was the vehicle of your years of scholarship and musing on the various themes in Crane’s great poem. It was the means by which you could consolidate, with mature vision, the swirling galaxy of literary and metaphysical elements that were a part of your creative universe. That great work, where is it now, where is it known? Where is it renowned? Pity that you died before finishing.
     I admired your meticulous preparations for death, obsessive to a point, and obviously a way of distracting yourself. There was so much work to do and so little time. Irene would come by after school to do the typing you could no longer do in a mad rush to get it all done before that end date, which I realize now, you knew precisely, Hindu astrologer that you were. I don’t think you were concerned as much with your physical deterioration as you were with the realization that your life’s work would most likely lose its greatest advocate, that your place in the annals of literary history might be nothing more than a bookmark. You began to look over your shoulder. You became desperate. I watched it happen. And I realized, too, that this is the fate of those of us at the edge of the circle, to spin out of the mainstream, blissfully self-indulgent and ignorant of what is occurring at the center. So now, in conducting my present enterprise, I see your footprints on the spiral path ahead of me. It is, as you must have finally realized, all illusion. Our words will live on, however, perhaps as free electrons recycled into the slipstream of the unconscious rather than as pre-packaged clumps of language with the half-life of plutonium.


               “All right
                         but just for a minute”
               called away
                    by the holidays
                    my work piles up
               half sentences
                              and words
                         (some halves of wit)
                    clutter the desk
               the redundant lumber
                              of my thoughts
                         log jam
               “wonder what it tastes like on bread”
               “great if you’re a termite” she says
               “I haven’t looked lately maybe I am”
                    (minor identity crisis)
               back to normal 
                              or close enough
                    the rain continuous
                    awakens a frenzy of activity
               “I’ll be right back
                                   ok”
                    and I disappear
                    into the underground
                                   dingy fetid stale
                                   (this is where I work)
               boxes of paper 
                              some with words some blank
                              some mine some not
                         through which I pick
                         a bag lady
                         pausing over the discarded
                    to repossess
                                   the imagination

11/21/85
They are conducting an assault on the crumbling edifice of literature. They are armed with arcane knowledge. Little do they know emptiness awaits them—wild flowers among the ruins. Disappointment etches those sad lines around the eyes and mouth, eats away at the underpinnings of hope and collapses a life into a heap of bitterness, mocks those who claim that it will never happen to them. Swallowing disappointment only leads to heartburn.20

11/25/88
boundaries the body expects
can recede or expand
depending on the quantity
fear over any variable
you name it as an
afterthought disaster horizon
the tap on the shoulder
past suddenly present
blots out the future or
some other grim prophecy

11/27/91
was I born yesterday
perfect in a flawed world

“adult enough” as in “I’ve had adult enough of that”

Partnership sinks as the rain continues. A sharp sense of duty hidden by hostilities stays hidden, out of the way. The bleak magistrate recalls relations out of fondness. Words spoken give clues by accident. A continued telegram evokes the nerves on display. Foolish attention bargains long into the night and the unbearable, active as a lung, pulses at the window. Its outline, rendered to a degree, awaits recognition and flies into the night, the face of which is turned away, no longer ample or kept afloat, but, sincerely, yours.

down spout roof repair
house paint and plant
yard a yard at a time
trees to shape or bend

11/30/87
The sound of rain follows me from room to room and when I settle into my easy chair away in my private corner I can allow the regular beat of drops on the roof and porch to lull me into an incomparable feeling of cozy well-being—also known as “drip therapy”

Virgo: All signals you emit are potentially resonant with values and intensities beyond those of bare information, i.e., inventory. Repetition is reality, and it is the seriousness of life.

           Hardly the miracle on Forty-Second Street
           but the frenzy of the season holds sway
           the slow days of discipline hasten nightfall
           harsh rain-stricken trees turn to brilliant
           as flares before the absence of color
           this is the way it’s done year after year
           thus this so familiar apprehension
           easily said in a completely different way
           body ache dread accumulates fallen leaves
           the sensible would have abandoned long ago
           and winter’s snow announced in advance
           by the chill autumn dawn’s rich deep glow
           the kernel of all meaning in a nutshell
           
           I went to all the wrong places
           
           “hey!
                    take off the mask!
                Halloween’s over!”
           
           ancient justification
                         spoken here
           
                 “ready to roar”
           
           I’m not about to pass up any opportunity
           if I can help it
           “I do just like all the rest”
           language personality language
           linked strange as it seems by passion
           even I was surprised
                    and I knew all along

—Being a poet, do you claim to live by certain unshakable principles?

I realize more and more that poetry is a common property of the species, and that poetry has occurred to countless generations. The poetic gift is a given, and not out of reach of the ordinary person. It’s nothing to get puffed up about. The sole judge of poetry is the Muse, not textbook critics or publishers’ net sales. No public honor, no consensus of other poets, no stack of press clippings, not even the passage of time can give anyone more than the courtesy title of poet. As a poet, I feel reassured if, having written at the Muse’s behest, I find that I’ve said almost exactly what I meant. I reject dogma and patronage as contravening freedom of thought, and take care to live outside the literary establishment in the rough and tumble lay world. I give the Muse sole credit for my poems, and view what I’ve written as the Muse’s clarifications of my own confused thought, not as salable products or passports to fame. Poetry is a way of thought, non-intellectual, anti-decorative thought at that. Poets who serve the Muse wait for the inspired lightning flash of two or three words that initiate composition and dictate the rhythmic norm of their verse. Being a poet means that I believe in myself in a very basic way, that I have faith in the unknown. As a poet, as a genuine writer, I have to be a self-reader, a self-subverter of particular nerve and acuity. I test my intuitions, my need to “re-write the rules” against the historically formally available means of articulation. At a dread cost of personal means, at a risk more unforgiving of failure than any other, I, as poet, seek out the encounter with otherness where such otherness is, in its blank essence, most inhuman.


Endnotes
[19] 1420 megahertz — the common frequency of the universe, i.e., hydrogen

[20] The poem defines itself. It is either formal or informal. Its aim is always to be understood, preferably by everyone who reads it, but if not, then by a coterie of the enlightened and like-minded. Any poet will settle for the latter while preferring the former. Why else write? Anyway, why not write about “why else write?”  Call it a theory. All poets have them, even Han Shan. No one is better than another. All are valid at one time or another, within the space of an hour, within that of a lifetime. The poem sets its own limits. What counts is what is within these limits. Today there is a movement towards formalism even while informality becomes characteristic of every emerging lifestyle. All assumptions are suspect. All commentary is in itself an act of exile.

Subtext:
The twentieth century was over before it started. In a kind of premature ejaculation, the great innovations in art and thought exploded like a feather pillow within the first twenty years. After that, it was merely a retrieving of the feathers and trying to stuff them back into the case or make a pillow of your own. Still the world passes by none the wiser. Ninety years later these innovations are either taken for granted or still inexplicably ignored. Progress has plowed itself under. The one thing learned from all this is not to falter in the forward march (in other words, don’t look back) and make one creation the stepping stone for the next. Sisyphus aside, there is actually more than one rise to surmount. Be the bear who climbed over the mountain to see what he could see.

Cocteau’s Orpheus is listening to himself on the car radio, not his voice, but his words, even if they are attributed to the young poet. . .Orpheus had it right (or Cocteau caught it), that with radio (and now TV) our intermittent attention can pull in the random messages of language, as if the airwaves had suddenly joined the unconscious as the source of our poetry. . . Cocteau’s mirror leads to the unconscious. . .Orpheus as mushroom, ditto. . .the narcissus syndrome as part of the psychic experience. . .Jeffery’s death is Orpheus’ descent into the underworld in search of Eurydice (his muse) and he resurfaces as his manuscript which is edited and critiqued and then published (deconstructed) where it is found by some savages in the 25 cent bin where it sings to them occasionally. . .Jeffery’s death is also Orpheus’ death, torn to pieces by the maenads of opinion. . .his voice, however is still heard. . .he looked back. . .re: “yikes, o yikes!” (Cf. The First One’s Free)

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