8/1/92 the natural priority of my inclination words well up and I dip in my pen make space in table clutter hurry find something to write on poets need more self-advertising t-shirts than they do frames of mind no that’s not it but it is innumerable enlightened moments not all that different expressed succinctly across someone’s chest a revolution where elegant vies with vulgar and neither ever really wins certainly not a whole class of people dressed in promotional ware some plunk down a day’s wages easy for the privilege of wearing the label others get theirs with a carton of cigarettes the dialogue will continue after these messages “I don’t dare tell the voices in my head to shut up I might miss something” now you can shut those voices off and still not miss a thing with remarkable (another revolution) advances in neuro-electro recorders play back those curious fades and surges through your language center in those moments when nothing is coming across the wires or rent someone else’s at your local brain wave exchange plug into the electrochemical flux of someone with mighty synapses! 8/5/89 silent alarm 8/12/95 a private mythology repeated at odd vulnerable times the words an opening flower petal by petal the legend grows nothing but rubber bands aimed at a preponderance of guilt these are tangerine sunset days each breath a mistake no less a weight as well a cat on piano keys so random my own melody a wound down mainspring as a neglected clock shiny faced ticks away all the same 8/14/91 I don’t want to join your reality and have to believe in your bullshit the sooner you stop trying to convince me the sooner you’ll believe in what you know to be true VIRGO: The phone rings off the hook this week. You’re super popular. Everyone wants to get next to your classy touch.
At odds with electricity first off this morning the light bulb in the kitchen came on for an instant before it made that slight snapping sound that signals that its little tungsten backbone broke and blinked out forever (I always hate to throw them out so perfect and symmetrical there must be something that can be done with them besides gasoline bombs) then cleverly slicing tortillas in quarters and slipping them into the toaster I forget distracted by the children playing in the yard and the next thing I know I’m unplugging the toaster stomping out flaming wedges of tortilla seconds later the smoke (by now invisible) triggers the alarm which I have to smash with my fist once I get to it to get it to quit later vacuuming the motes of dust in the amber patches of light slanting in onto the living room rug the cord on its automatic recoil gets yanked out of the outlet producing an arc or spark and a tiny snake (more like a worm) of black acrid smoke the insides of the plug fried to a stub on closer examination I think of shaving thankful I don’t use an electric razor
CALLING ALL POETS
Aram “my arms are warm” Saroyan had to back out as the radio show co-host with Andrei because he would have trouble getting from Bolinas to KPFA, the radio station in Berkeley. No more trouble than Andrei who didn’t drive. Or me, who didn’t drive either, and whom Andrei, at the last minute, had asked to fill in. We traveled either by bus or by thumb. And since someone had torched the Greyhound bus in the parking lot in Monte Rio one night, the bus didn’t come up that far any more. Alice or Gail could be counted on to run us around locally, but when it came to long distances, we were generally on our own.
Once getting down to Berkeley was solved, we made plans as to what we were going to do with the half hour slot once a week that KPFA had so generously offered Andrei. I suggested a poetry call-in show. Andrei wanted live on-the-air interviews with guests. We agreed to do both. For the first program we contacted a few friends and told them to call in with their poems. That worked fairly well, and when there was a lull in the program, one or the other of us would read from the works of Ted Berrigan or John Ashbery, and make snide comments about news items we found in the Poetry Project Newsletter or Poetry Flash. Before we knew it, the half-hour was over. We were exhilarated, flush with success.
The next week we hitched back down, having primed our friends again beforehand, anticipating a repeat performance of our first success. We had to work a little harder this time and there was a lot more dead air. The poets we had expected to be dialing up obviously had got cold fingers. Some people did call up. One read a poem in Spanish, and another, a rather long and stupid paranoid rant. Then one guy called and recited a suspiciously disjointed poem that repeated a woman’s name over and over amid gasps and wheezes. Andrei’s raised eyebrows told me that he was thinking the same thing. Our first obscene phone call! But there was still time to burn. Andrei dialed up Tom Clark’s number in Bolinas, but Tom must not have been listening. We let the phone ring over and over the wide-open air waves before Andrei hung up. I read from a calendar of events and by then, thankfully, time was up. That was hard work, we decided, and we would have to be better prepared next time.
The next time was in the middle of a fund raising marathon and so the show was relegated to fifteen-minute segments, which made things a little easier. Calling All Poets was allotted four such segments. While we were down on the street during one of the pledge breaks, who should come strolling by but Darrell Gray. We shanghaied him to be our guest on the next segment. He was surprised, pleased, and accepted it as his due, managing to pontificate and giggle on literary matters in that fifteen minutes of air wave fame. Then Andrei left for a book promotion tour and I was left to do the show by myself.
I introduced something called the “in-house critic” which was essentially a laugh bag, a joke shop item that produced an annoying, obnoxious laugh. I’d play it after someone called up with a particularly bad poem. But listeners weren’t calling in much anymore. So I arranged with the radio engineer to cue up a couple of spoken word records ahead of time, and when there was a lull, I would sign to him and he’d play the record. I’d say, “go ahead on line one, you’re on the air” and on would come the voice of Ezra Pound booming out the Cantos, or Dylan Thomas, or Williams, or Eliot. And once in a while, a real person would call up to read a poem or to say that what I was doing was stupid.
The frequency of the show was down to once a month by the time I got Michael-Sean to be my guest one sunny Saturday afternoon, and believe it or not, it was in the middle of another pledge week. The format was a little different this time. Before getting to the meat of our show, we had to chat on the air with the program director and a woman writer he’d brought as his guest. We were supposed to extol the virtues of listener-supported radio. Everyone said their piece as to why the listeners should call up and pledge their support of the station. All except for Sean, who was uncharacteristically quiet during the on-air conversation. Finally, the program director, hoping to draw him out, asked him how he felt about listener-supported radio. Sean had an opinion and since he’d been asked, he stated it. “Public radio sucks! The stations never plays any good music (i.e., metal) and there’s always some stupid people in boring conversations about things no one cares about!” The director’s guest wanted to add something of her own to defend the programming but Sean touched her on the arm to tell her that he wasn’t done yet. At this point, the program director said, “Don’t touch the guest.” Michael-Sean stood up to emphasize his six-foot plus frame, scrapping the chair loudly across the floor, and indicating to himself with his thumb, replied, “I am the guest.” Needless to say, when Andrei got back from his tour, the show was no more.
8/16/87 to Jack bursts of great writing were more important than maintaining a perfectly balanced prose and pose have you ever lifted that cup to your lips with more heft than was actually needed in some moment of absenteeism and basically missed your mouth dribbles on a clean shirt attest 8/17/87 revelations from behind the goat cheese curtain quaint and hideous 8/18/89 They reburied Frederick the Great today next to his sixteen greyhounds free floating anxiety a man chasing a dog southbound highway seventeen e-pi-pha-ny it lasts about as long as it takes to say it “blow out the candles” and don’t beat the crap out of your friends for touching the presents they brought you 8/20/93 vouz avez trouvez une autre amour I know you less now than I knew you before were there any songs that didn’t remind him of her 8/24/85 T-shirt ideas *Art is the alternative to money, it doesn’t dirty your hands* *Entertainment is not reality, poetry is not technique* *Ambition is like a gun pointed at your heart, it will rob you of integrity* rule #1: get an editor rule #2: get a second opinion
Wait the sun’ll break through the fog yet the whole world relies on memory for its existence what I remember becomes later light glancing off the tops of trees as cool morning recedes experience and live through it sometimes some things have to be relearned like tying the laces of my shoes enhancing the moment almost forgot or cued by a song I begin the intricate fantasy surrounding music I can see myself as if it were yesterday I find I write not to recall the events of my life but renew each time I come upon the page
— I seem to shun literary society. Why?
—You often claim to be misanthropic and this is admittedly a self-protective ploy to keep certain people or a certain type of person at a distance. Too much attention and conversely not enough in a social situation have the same disruptive effect on your sensitive yet gigantic ego. Literary events often take on the air of a trade show and it is disturbing to see so many of your fellow authors prostitute themselves to public opinion, sink to the lowest common denominator, merely to ensure acceptance in the eyes of a fictive and elusive public. As well, you are extremely jealous of any attention lavished on anyone but yourself. For all your lip service to the uniqueness of each artist in their own right, your incredible competitiveness seems to undercut this particular altruism. That you are aware of this, even peripherally, is probably the motivation behind your reclusiveness and your professed misanthropy.
—I’m being rather flip about all this. Obviously there’s more to my withdrawal than that.
—Of course there is. You’ve met some of the great names of your day, those who were in, even those who were out, and for the most part, they were a big disappointment. Also you saw yourself in their self-indulgent attitudes and it made you sick. You thought that if this is what poets are like then you didn’t want anything to do with them.
—I’m not only a poet but a near famous unknown one. Am I experiencing any disadvantage in being almost famous?
—There are those annoying moments when someone will come up to you and ask, “aren’t you someone famous?” Perhaps it’s the way you hold yourself, your posture, your particular aloofness at that moment which causes them to assume this. You are, of course, obliged to admit that you are, after all, no one in particular. On the other hand, there are times when it seems that someone is going out of their way to ignore you, withholding what little due you feel you are entitled to. This can be just as maddening. Were you totally famous, then you could be gracious in accepting your recognition and righteously contemptuous of those whose jealousy of your achievement is obvious by their awkward pettiness.
—So there are some real drawbacks to being recognized in the poetry world.
—Once you have the power in the poetry scene you immediately become the “enemy.” The principle of the poetry scene being that starved dog principle where you throw out a little scrap of food and all the dogs leap at it with fangs bared and ready to kill for it. Poetry scenes are like that. There are so few bones and so many dogs that the competition for survival immediately turns poets into back stabbing creeps just to get their names in print. That’s what it’s like in academic circles, that’s how it is on the literary grant circuit, and that’s the way it is with any of the hundreds of self-serving poetry crowds everywhere. And it has absolutely nothing to do with poetry.
—That’s a pretty scathing indictment. Are there no worthwhile poets writing today?—There are a half dozen American poets who are for real and not playing at it.
—Would you care to name them?
—That wouldn’t be polite.
—What do they have in common?
—A source in the primitive. In the pre-logical.
—Describe something of the Monte Rio, or as Codrescu called it, the California School of Poets, and say something of those days.
—Those days were very exciting and fruitful. Andrei was a comrade d’esprit. And he lived right around the corner and over the hill. It was a tremendous affirmation to my own creativity and direction. And of course there was the shared interest in French poetry as well as in recreational activities. Eventually we formed a friendship that transcended the fact that we were both poets. As for the “California School of Poets,” I’d be inclined to attribute that to our penchant for making things up, the amusing pastime of placing ourselves in the flow of history. It has a lot in common with defacing public monuments, drawing whiskers on the Mona Lisa. The people who take that kind of label seriously are probably lacking in their own lives. They’re like the guy who laughs because everyone else is laughing but has no idea what’s so funny.
—So what you’re saying then is that there is no California School of Poets?
—No, there could very well be such a school of poets, but I’m not aware of it. The California School of Poets Andrei alludes to in the notes to UP LATE is a mock campus, one that references the New York School, and in many instances includes writers associated with the East Coast scene. There was a smug satisfaction on our part in knowing that affixing that label to ourselves irritated the more sanctimonious and self-righteous on either coast.
Dear Steve —
My literary advisor and guru has suggested that I bail out, claim a three year abscessed tooth as being responsible for Life Of Crime. That’s stretching it a little, though it would be easy enough to disavow much of what we printed. A lot of it was incredibly lame. But there’s something about Life Of Crime that’s too dangerously ruthless a thrill to pass up. From the outset, I realized that we had to work with the givens, spruce them up with all the wit we could muster in a kind of kamikaze editorial desperation. Dealing with such sheer stupidity made us reckless, a thrill in itself. We began by blasting and lambasting people we were fond of, playing it safe because we knew most of them could take a joke. By the second issue, strangers and bystanders had joined the fray and the mudslinging took on pandemonium proportions. I remember being surprised, pleased. We began attracting subscribers. The Artaud piece14 kicking off the third issue was an excellent slap in the face aimed at everyone who read (or wrote for) Life Of Crime. Then some who became mired remembered that they didn’t particularly enjoy being sullied and took their mudballs and went home (or retired to the sidelines to watch from there). They were the smart ones. Because that’s when things got serious. Axes were brought to grind. Some of these idiots were after blood, and Life Of Crime became the vehicle through which they could vent their spleen. It took the fun out of the original idea. Even so, I never wanted to disassociate myself from Life Of Crime even if the faux pas of others became my own. I tried to be accommodating to all views, no matter how hysterical, and was thus perceived as pathological, or at least rabid, paranoid, and vindictive. Life Of Crime will continue in whatever format you or I decide, individually or collectively. We will continue to print the drivel we receive, exchange gossip, spread rumors, and just generally be disagreeable. Our respective esthetic will grow apart not because of any meaningful difference, but simply for the sake of dissension and the heat it creates. As you well remember, Life Of Crime was originally an idea for a screenplay about poets. Not so much a “lives of the poets” as a docudrama detailing the day to day existence (or non-existence) of poets as well as delineating certain character types common to the milieu, a soap opera of sorts, but an honest appraisal just the same. Everyone I talked to about it thought that it was the most boring idea they’d ever hear — everyone knows poets are ultimately self-centered and consequently boring. Why is that? Anyway, a newsletter makes much more sense (though I’m not all that convinced). The means are at hand: typewriter, mimeo machine, paper, ink, a modicum of wit, and no typing skills required. Basically, the same problems, poets and poetry, are dealt with in these pages. Poets are the inspired and the foolish. Usually only one or the other, and the latter at that. The follies and successes can be examined against a backdrop of pettiness, pretension, charlatanism, ruthless ambition; all the factors of drama in the futile quest for the unattainable. A tid-bit of gossip here, an innuendo there—pretty soon you begin to get the picture. The lives of poets, lives of crime, unfold before our very eyes.
Since none of this matters here goes the intricacies of saying something lost on listeners who hear only what they want to hear behind the words that make all this up a major philosophic discovery was “I think therefore I am” now the question is “who the hell are you?” petty bourgeois or both silence broken internal combustion’s rush of air caused by unusual speed (this used to be a quiet neighborhood) mammal blink “feel like making love” think about dinosaurs whose direct descendant I begin to feel like (too good for my own good) a cloud of volcanic ash passes over the upper end of the food chain snuffing anything with its head stuck above tall grass and brush
 “All writing is garbage. . .people who come out of nowhere to try to put into words any part of what goes on in their minds are pigs. . .the whole literary scene is a pigpen, especially today. . .all those who are masters of other languages, all those for whom words have meaning, those who represent the spirit of their times, and who have named those currents of thought. . .I am thinking of their meticulous industry and of the mechanical creaking which their minds give off in all directions. . .are pigs. . .those who still believe in an orientation of the mind, those who follow paths, who drop names, who recommend books. . .these are the worst pigs of all.”
Surrounded by the technology of our wildest dreams, still we dream. That should tell us something about ourselves. We should be happy. Not that we’re unhappy but more correctly in a state of seriousness, a terminal state. Why don’t we see the humor in the fact that we’re still the same Paleolithic monkeys who’ve learned to manipulate symbolic characters in an attempt to determine our fate? All the tangled webs of allusion we weave, all the hypothetical talk will not change the limits of the physical facts. And our assumed progress, that linear illusion, will remain unlimited only in our dreams.
“. . .’Police?. . .The Poet’s Café. . .there’s a riot!’. . .A SINGLE GLASS OF WATER LIGHTS THE WORLD. . .MIRRORS WOULD DO TO REFLECT FURTHER. . .the police show up with a black Mariah, a quartet of plainclothes flics (trench coats and fedoras) and a squad of gendarmes, and wade into the knot of brawling poets. . .can you imagine that many poets under one roof without some words being exchanged. . .the tribunal questions Orpheus. . .’Your occupation?’. . .’I’m a poet.’. . .’Your file says you’re a writer.’. . .’It’s almost the same thing.’. . .traveling the backside of a mirror when the mail man arrives. . when you get back from the dead, the mail’s most important. . .”