Saturday, April 30, 2005
--A.G., epigraph to Kaddish and Other Poems (SF: City Lights, 1961)
As his student I found that Allen transcended his persona and that he utterly loved poetry and music -- his knowlege was vast -- and he was completely engaged in the world and its many probelms to the end. I found him generous, attentive, and thought he had a wonderful sense of humor. I have an essay, with many first hand living details to back up what I write here, published in The Tricycle B. Review online, I'll have to find it and post part of it. His fame made him a target (and in many ways he was wide open to it -- esp. his frank and candid talk) from people from many different places, but his poetry and his great spirit endures -- he was an important teacher, major poet, and lighting rod cultural icon -- I am still trying to absorb and honor his example.
There is a song Allen wrote called "Gospel Nobel Truths," (it's not something he's going to be remembered for), but it's something I hum every now again as I walk around -- it's a tender little song:
Work like the sun
Shine in your heaven
See what you done
Come down & walk
Sit you sit down
Breathe when you breathe
Lie Down you lie down
Walk where you walk
Talk when you talk
Cry when you cry
Lie down you lie down
Die when you die
Die when you die
Die when you die
Lie down you lie down
Die when you die
Thanks for collecting so many Ginsberg entries - intriguing range of perspectives. I'm wondering, though, where you initially heard of this new wave of trash talk. Was it anecdotal evidence? If so, I don't want you to rat out the person(s) by name who were making these charges - as we both know, that's not a productive road to travel. But if there were articles or books or interviews or whatever that contained these charges, I'd love to read published accusations like that so I could feel like I really know what's going on.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
The list of participating poets:
Maria Mazziotti Gillan
Many thanks to all of you who took the time to participate in this Q&A,
Allen Ginsberg would be 79 years old this year. Although he has always been a controversial figure, a floodgate of vitriol against him has been released since his death. He has been publicly branded a misogynist, a pervert, a clown, and many other things. Not that he wasn't called these things in his lifetime, but since his death there has been a particularly intense wave of criticism coming from many different sources.
Are you familiar with these things I'm talking about? If so, would you care to comment?
Also, what does Ginsberg's work mean to you and your own poems?
What else do you have to share with us about Ginsberg? Please tell us, thank you.
Q1. Ginsberg is a misogynist a pervert and a clown.
Ginsberg's misogyny is something I have increasingly come across since being in the States. From the lived account of female poets. The extent of his despondency and disdain towards female peers has quite shocked me. Perhaps it shouldn't have. His work is very clear about what it rejects aesthetically (broadly, explicit artifice) and it is also profoundly unconcerned about a great number of things (ie. existing female figures/poets, though not his own feminised fantasies) which might have otherwise informed the movement he became such a central figure of. Diane Di Prima and Anne Waldman are very clear, in that documentary Beat Generation, about how the male poets had a tendency to speak among themselves, to develop their own social codes, to avoid close fraternising with female poets, thus making sure to keep Beat to themselves and for themselves.
There is in this a particularly old-fashioned form of male homosexual and homosocial bonding, which is at the root of these short-sighted and deeply problematic attitudes towards gender (their own notwithstanding!). Very conventional views about art and genius as unquestioned male domain are also obviously at work. If this is still more or less a norm among artists in the late 50s early 60s, it is suprising how he and his pals never much bothered to change with the times, and seemed never to include gender (or even their own masculinity as gender) as part of their ideas of social change. The many different reactions to the Beats' anti-intellectuality and unquestioned poetic subjectivity which followed, later in the form of LANGUAGE notably, is in this respect a welcome relief to this rather stifling aspect of the era/aura.
In a sense, it is punk music, punk writers, inspired more by Burroughs than Ginsberg, of the mid- to late 70s, the rise of performance arts and the insistent fact of feminism's stronger cultural foothold in the arts since the 60s, that forced change in this gender imbalance and let through gendered anger, gendered fantasies, and generally a more sexually and also culturally diverse, complex and queer view of poetic sexualities. Now of course, there's been so much of it that many think we've gone past politics of gender and more or less past politics of sexual difference. After barely 100 (50?) years of collective work! The climate is such at present, and in England and parts of Europe too, that soon we might well find ourselves squarely back at square one: the fear of sex, the horror of human bodies, and a reindoctrination into two antagonised (essentialised) genders.
Q2. What Ginsberg means to me and my work.
Paradoxically, given my own work and comments above, Ginsberg has become quite important to me as a reader. His work only affects my work indirectly. Although the list I wrote for my piece GONG may well owe something to his poetry. Just a few years ago, I read Indian Journals and loved both how distant it seems culturally and yet how fresh and unhinged the writing is. A dream diary in late surrealist vein. At the same time, I came across Patty Smith's gorgeous, slumberous reading of his "Footnote to Howl" in her Peace and Noise album. This sent me back to my battered copy of the text and other pieces. Very recently, I've enjoyed the seminal Composed On the Tongue series of essays and interviews. His interest in verbal breath and vibratory practices for a form of body poetry is of particular interest to me. His interest in the highly formal yet spontaneous structures of the blues. Also the long notes on the audio compositions of the Whichita Vortex Sutra. There's a great piece by Michael Davidson in Sound States on the Beats' use of the tape recorder for writing.
What attracts me the most in his poetry is his generous sense towards his teachers and peers. His long epigraphs. His emphatic yet structured lines. His use of repetition and devotional vocabulary for poetic purposes and for line punctuation. His flattened mix of autobiographical and public imageries. His robust and uncompromising inclusion of homosexual desire and sexual appetite in his poetry long before Stonewall. His social conscience and the way he believes in poetry as being able to affect social change through individual awareness.The sloppiness of many of his later poems and the fact that he is quite peaceful about letting it all be published. The way he argues for writing more poems than one could reasonably read. There is in this an acknowledgment of the inevitable imperfection of art, and of living, yet also an enjoyment of its ephemeral, temporary nature. There is in this a deep understanding of one's own (short-lived) timeliness.
Q3. What else I could say about Ginsberg.
I've recently come from spending many years in England where Ginsberg is not as prominent as he ever was here and where the shower of insults you mention doesnt seem to have had the same strong emotive hold. But then Ginsberg is fundamentally, importantly an American, a whitmanesque, poet and it is here that his legacy will always affect, offend and irritate the most.
The problem is the lack of depthful conversation, writing and thinking about Ginsberg's work. It's much easier to talk about him as a figure because that, generally speaking, requires very little effort of mind at all. There is no Allen Ginsberg-as-social-phenomenon without his poems, and the poems, right up until the very end (read the title poem in Death and Fame, for instance) are utterly unique and often astonishingly good. To point to "Howl" and maybe "Kaddish", bow to their altars, and move on without a word to anything else is a cop out, but there are a lot of folks doing the culture war boogie on both sides that like to play cop. The complexity, spirit and range of Ginsberg's poetry, if we can begin to articulate these things beyond the pseudo-democratic language of surface culture and the bullshit that is literary/intellectual fashion, will outlast his attackers.
Allen was a complicated person, whose private and public generosity has benefited all poets. If you doubt it read the transcript of the Howl censorship trial. All poets have benefited from this, period. I would guess Allen’s contributions greatly outnumber those of his critics. This really can’t be overstated. Of course Allen was a flawed person, like everyone else, and probably paid more attention to young attractive men in general. But he had strong friendships with women and that’s probably easy for people who didn’t know him to overlook. Allen’s honesty about his life, his body, his thoughts also make him an easy target for those who wish to take issue, or criticize his work, but I count this among his strengths, personally & professionally. Allen was unique, we were lucky to have him, and I think about him with pride and a sense of duty. It seems that he left us right when we could’ve used his clarity and directness. Allen’s contributions as a political writer and activist are strongly reflected in my generation, again, prodigiously in both women and men. This is not to say he was on the forefront of feminism, this is to say that his contributions surpassed his person and spread far beyond it.
I would also say that I’ve only known Allen as kind, wild, energetic, honest, and positive in all my personal interactions or public observations of him, and he comes up often in my thoughts.
Yes, I'm answering my own question!
There have been many attacks on Ginsberg since his death that I have witnessed, heard of, and even taken part in defending the poet. Not blindly defending the poet mind you, but insisting the attackers make themselves clear about their accusations.
More often the argument has been that Allen Ginsberg was a misogynist. Okay, let's talk about it I'd say, but all I would ever add up in these debates were vague feelings that a certain woman poet here or there felt ignored. I mean, really, is that evidence? Well I have met plenty of women who knew him, studied with him, taught with him, etc., who have had nothing but marvelous things to say about the man Allen Ginsberg, about how generous and amazing he always was. If anyone has an actual firsthand account that is contrary to this, then bring it on!
I'm not afraid of listening to what you have to say. I'm not afraid of discovering that Ginsberg might have been a misogynist, but I AM afraid he was most certainly NOT and is now being wrongfully accused. "Misogyny" is a terrible thing when it is true, or can be a terrible weapon if it is not.
The type of slander that has been thrown at Ginsberg gets whispered down the filthy streets and soon enough everyone just believes. Everyone gives up and just believes with lazy ears and lazy hearts. Until someone brings me a solid argument defending this slander I will argue and argue and call bullshit bullshit!
But was he a pervert? How delicious! I hope so, and I hope he had fun! So long as we're dealing with legal age adults who are having consensual relations, then anyone getting in their way should just piss off and get a life! I had an argument about Ginsberg on the Buffalo Poetics List with one such poet who needs a life. The homophobia he displayed about Ginsberg made me certain he has had more than his share of fantasies about men, to his horror, in his dreams, when and where he cannot control the action! Ooo my!
On the other hand, joys of perversion aside, it still bugs me to this day that Ginsberg supported NAMBLA. As far as I know he did not ever have, or claim to have, or claim to be interested in having sex with boys. Boys meaning boys by the way, not 19 year olds, but meaning 8 year olds. When I first started working at the queer bookstore in Philadelphia I had no idea the store sold the NAMBLA bulletin, until I had to ring it up. Oh BOY, I mean, Oh MAN, I mean, I mean it really was weird having it there and not knowing. I had a HUGE argument with my boss who THREW Allen Ginsberg in my face while defending it, and it is the only time in my life I ever said, "I DON'T CARE WHAT ALLEN GINSBERG HAS TO SAY ABOUT THIS!" It really was shitty of my boss to use Ginsberg like that, but to be honest, well, he wasn't making it up, so, was it really unfair to use Ginsberg? I wish I had had the opportunity to discuss NAMBLA with Ginsberg, because I believe he defended it the way my boss did, which was by way of First Amendment protection. Maybe I'm wrong though, maybe Ginsberg DID advocate having sex with boys. Whether he did or not, defending NAMBLA really is defending having sex with boys, destroying boys. Boys don't want to be fucked and beaten, they really don't. I was a boy, and I didn't want it, and I knew lots of others boys when I was a boy and none of them wanted to be fucked and beaten either. Boys want joy and care and to have fun, like girls, only different. Well, I actually liked the toys the girls had better than the toys of the boys, but that's something else of course. But back to NAMBLA, it's an organization which has NO shame or understanding about what they advocate. They are this weird organization that seems to want to bring everyone together like one big cozy, what? I won't hate Ginsberg for this because he wasn't a pedophile himself, like my boss. My boss was not a pedophile, but as I pointed out to him he was aiding a crime with a lifetime of trauma as a result. Defending the right for NAMBLA bulletin to be printed is along the lines of defending the Klan for cross burning. It's where Free Speech tests us like nothing else.
On the other hand...
The importance of Allen Ginsberg to my first awakenings as a poet is so powerful it's nearly impossible to word. I grew up on the verge of the internet in a dusty, working class rural town where the books you found were all the books that existed as far you could tell. That library was unaware of the ocean, and a young poet studied the puddles wanting more. But HOWL, when HOWL came to me there (HOWL really was and is everywhere, as I'm sure you are very much aware), HOWL helped me flinch into other possibilities. And I'm confessing now that when I moved to the city and saw the ocean for the first time I put HOWL off to the side. Looking back now I can see that it was an immature gesture, a simple psychological trick to not remind myself of my poverty. It wasn't until I heard Allen Ginsberg read a few years later in Philadelphia at The Painted Bride Arts Center that I was finally aware of how important he had been and continued to be for me, and for poets everywhere.
That reading continues to be one of the most powerful events I've ever experienced. Granted I was a little stoned, and with my older boyfriend Barry who insisted I jerk him off during "Sunflower Sutra," but Ginsberg filled the room with what many have once called Magic. Magic is one of those words that seems to embarrass some when saying it. Well I'm not embarrassed, and I know it when I feel it. And I do mean FEEL it, because the energy the air your blood everything bends into the curve they are creating, and Allen Ginsberg shot us to the curve over and over that night!
For the love of Ginsberg! Missing him!
I haven't actually heard those charges made. Certainly there's some element of truth to each, though none are essential to the man, only aspects of him or, perhaps more accurately, byproducts of the persona he cultivated. Was AG a misogynist? Well, he was a gay man, and paid an inordinate amount of attention to men. That's the nature of the beast, ladies. (Although his best poem - Kaddish - is about a woman, his mother.) My guess is that that's probably what a lot of this is about and whoever's leveling that charge - of misogyny - is simply giving voice to their/her own homophobia. In my experience, the "woman hater" label, when applied to gay men, usually comes down to the accuser's own petty bourgeois prejudices. Ditto for the next charge. Pervert. That sounds like an epithet Ralph Reed, Jerry Falwell or some similar type of cultural brownshirt would fling. What exactly constitutes perversity? Anything outside the missionary position? I suspect this one is about AG's decided - and unconcealed - admiration for young, i.e, under 21, men. That is a desire shared by far more people - of both sexes - than would ever actually own up to it. AG was simply guilty of honestly expressing his fantasies and desires, and his technique - which consisted of arranging notebook material in poetic long lines - made it inevitable that these would see print. Philistines may bristle - it's always about subject matter with these people, isn't it? - but by doing so he considerably extended the range of subject. His brilliance - and his contribution - was to create a tone & form that allowed for discussion of what had previously been considered inappropriate, or tasteless.
As for being a clown, he was merely guilty of having a sense of humor and the skill to make it intrinsic to his work.
Is it possible to envy the dead? Apparently so.
I encountered AG's poems at age 16 thru friends. (This would've been in 1969 or 70.) The great thing about his books/poems were that they presupposed acceptance of the writer's self-referenced homosexuality, yet were hip & forward thinking enough that few challenged this implicit transgression. He became one of the poets I shamelessly imitated. Like many 60s teens, I found myself committing whole sections of Howl to memory. His reinvigoration of the catalog poem - which I suspect he picked up from the French & Spanish surrealists, rather than Whitman - provided a model I've always found useful. He remains among the poets I periodically re-read and inevitably with pleasure. Time has shown his work to be energetic & original.
AG in person was extraordinary. I encountered him several times in contexts of readings/tours & was amazed at his cool detachment from the attendant hysteria & groupie-dom. He was completely free of self-importance, which, to say the least, is highly unusual in the poetry world. I served as his host for several hours at the Painted Bride Art Center prior to introducing him at a reading that, I believe, drew the largest crowd ever to that august Philadelphia institution. This would've been in the spring of 1990. "Do you have a boyfriend?" he asked, at one point, as we were sitting in the dressing room talking. No, I told him. He seemed genuinely perplexed. "Imagine that," he said to someone a few feet away from us who was adjusting lights or something. "He doesn't have a boyfriend." I was at a dinner with him a few years later, in St. Paul, after he had just given a kick-ass reading at a local college. Where many celebrity artists seize the floor & never yield it - Robert Duncan was infamous for this - AG was polite, low-key, funny, inquisitive. He had humility, and it was genuine. The older I get, the more I admire that, especially in someone so accomplished.
First of all I want to say that the convention of referring to a writer by his or her last name flies out the window with Allen Ginsberg -- I met him a few times but that's not why "Ginsberg" sits on the edge of the ear and doesn't rest. He was Allen, and so I hope he will continue to be.
I don't think we're seeing a post-mortem backlash. What I do think is that the criticism has continued to grow while the critical re-appraisals and contextualizations have yet to come in. The arrival of Allen's defenders is so belated partly because the Allen industry (the late Mr. Ginsberg CEO) treated him as a posthumous author from the 1984 collected poems on. Biographies during the life -- how many other poets get that kind of respect?
My sense is that when Allen is reread over the next ten years, yes the discussion will have to cover his stubborn tone-deaf support of NAMBLA and the stories of his protective/abusive behavior toward people in his circle, but also we'll get to say goodbye to the canard that he wrote two or three masterpieces and that's about it.
Allen didn't single-handedly bring about the tumult of the 60s, but he didn't mind being the international symbol of radical change. As the pendulum nears the outer edge of its swing in the other direction I hope, we're seeing constant vicious attacks on FDR, even. All in all I think the bad guys are letting Allen off easy -- they're going after Ammiel Alcalay instead, which tells me that I haven't given Ammiel enough credit.
Also, what does Ginsberg's work mean to you and your own poems?
It took me a while to get over his cool distance and near-complete obliviousness to what seemed to me was interesting in his own work. I got over it. His prosody is unstoppable (that's a good thing), his epithets are bulldozers, and his spirit will not be diverted. Love those two-to-four word noun clusters. I remember wanting to do what he did without the repetitiousness -- to dream the impossible dream...
What else do you have to share with us about Ginsberg? Please tell us, thank you.
I was very proud when, during a Valentine's Day reading at St Mark's, he gave a poem of mine a Bill Luoma-style hearty laugh. And I was amused when, at Kenneth Koch's apartment, he asked me how Kenneth treated lineovers in his typescripts.
That's all I've got right now -- thanks for asking.
I know a lot of people (poets) aren't very high on the Kashner book, WHEN I WAS COOL. But one thing that really came across in it to me was how Ginsberg managed to A) actually help get a poetry school up and running and B) maintain his steez in the pastel hinterlands of 80s America -- the book actually made him (Ginny) even COOLER in my estimation. Weirdly enough it made me nostalgic for the excampus 80s life (similar in that book to what I experienced in the Codrescu-&-pals--tinctured LSU scene in Baton Rouge) -- I didn't realize that this first decade of the 21st century would make that time seem raw and (gulp) "authentic" in its way.
Thusly, I've come to appreciate more and more with time GInsberg's investing of all the apparatuses of life with poetic grace and malady. By temperament and inclination, I hewed more naturally as a youngster to the likes of Berrigan in his more romantic way of glowing up the soda can or other li'l bits of the everyday, which I still love, but also dig increasingly the Ginsberg method as time goes on. There's just something about his maniacal dating and cataloging of his work that raises it not only to the Blake point but also the stuff of stiff timber such as any good accountant would beef out his file drawer with.
MARIA MAZZIOTTI GILLAN
I believe that Ginsberg has often been the subject of controversy;however,the kind of nastiness that appears to be emerging since his death is very disturbing. The summer after his death, I taught at Naropa, a place he helped to found and support, where very disrespectful comments were made about him in the presence of a tent full of students and faculty. I felt called upon to defend Allen who had always been very supportive of the Poetry Center and of my work in Paterson with poetry. - I was particularly disturbed that these disparaging remarks were made at Naropa, a place so much associated with Allen.
I believe that Allen was responsible for radically changing American poetry and that in particular, his books, Kaddish, Howl, and America, taught us the value of specificity and directness and honesty. I believe that he also made room for women poets and poets of many ethnicities, races, and sexual orientation, and that without him, those voices would not have been heard. He told me once that William Carlos Williams suggested to him that the sonnets he was writing when he was at Columbia, those deadly poems about waterfowl, were not what he should be writing. He suggested that Allen write about Paterson and the life he had experienced. Those letters and conversations with Williams resulted in Allen's book, Howl. The publication of that book is the demarcation point for a radical change in American poetry, a change that gives it its vitality and power.
Lastly,I'd like to say that at Ginsberg was always generous about helping younger writers. I recall a reading that he gave for me as part of conference on Williams and the poetry of urban experience. Allen had recently had heart attack and he agreed to participate in the conference anyway. Even after the conference was officially over, Allen agreed to go over poems by several poets and to allow young film=makers to interview him for a documentary. He must have been exhausted after signing books and posters and after a conference that ran much longer than we had thought. I think that generosity marked him clearly as a truly exceptional human being and poet. Allen would find a level of humor, I think, in the small-minded people who are attacking him; I feel t;ese attacks are fueled by jealousy adn by the knowledge that Allen's place in America's literary history is secure.
Maria Mazziotti Gillan,
Executie Driector, Poetry Center, Passaic County Community College
I'm not really aware of the floodgate of vitriol, although if it does exist, it is perhaps an inevitable counter to the (for me, hard-to-take-) hagiography that has surrounded Ginsberg for so long. I am not aware of any notable misogyny from Ginsberg -- certainly no more than was emitted by other male members of his generation, even those with "the best minds" (gag). There is the weird part about his mom's crotch in Kaddish, but you could almost read that as a love poem, and as weird as the image of his mom's crotch is, it is certainly memorable.
I am not surprised that people think of him as a pervert, but it is not my place or my nature to judge him as such. It always seemed to me that his approach to sexuality was somewhat abject, rather than abusive, and I haven't heard about anyone coming forth to say that they were tramautized by him. And while I do believe that children need some kind of protection from experiences they are not ready for, or that they do not want, I don't necessarily believe that the legal definition of "a minor" can or should apply to everyone in all circumstances. Pretty much everyone I know has been sexually active jailbait at some time in their lives, often with much older partners. And besides, the times in which Ginsberg presided in the center of the right place at the right time were exceedingly liberal, and the "normal" norms (such as they are in 2005?!?) didn't always apply. I have heard that his pick-up line to attractive young men at parties was "Do you want to make me come?" You have to admire his direct approach.
That he was a clown is what I treasure most about him. He was a wonderful entertainer and cantor. I remember seeing him perform splendidly at Naropa in the 90s: "Don't smoke don't smoke don't smoke smoke pot smoke pot suck cock..." (a loose paraphrase). And my very best memory is of him leading a whole-audience reading of Shelley's Ode to the West Wind. That was perfectly enlivening. It made me understand why people loved him so much, although most of his poems have always seemed pretty weak and chatty to my ear. Of his crew, I prefer the poems of Corso, Whalen, McClure, and Kerouac, in that order. Especially Corso and Whalen.
If you mean his work in popularizing "marginal" poetry and his empassioned scholarship and style of declamation, I suppose it means a great deal, but his actual poetry has no direct influence on my poems that I can discern.
When I saw him in person, I was surprised by how petite he was.
He looked like he could be a relative of mine.
I enjoyed reading about him in Joanne Kyger's Japan Journal. That's a really wonderful book that helped sustain me during my own Tokyo years.
I can think of many other poets who should be at least a tenth as famous. Sigh.
Not really, not aware of such a "flood of vitriol" ... I'm sure the NeoCon Gang presently in power don't approve of him.
Well, once your dead, your fans and enemies tend to crawl out of the woodwork ...
Allen's work was epoch-making. "Howl" is a seminal poem of the past (20th) century. It changed lives, it changed poetry. While I have never consciously emulated his style, I am sure that his work, and his vision, has influenced my own considerably.
I knew him for forty-odd years, and I am still teaching at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics of Naropa University -- which school he and Anne Waldman founded thirty years ago.
I came to Ginsberg early on, as do many poets, I think – it was his work, along with that of Kerouac, Corso, and McClure that really blew things open for me late in high school and on into freshman year of college. (I swear I have a memory of reading the Allen “New American” anthology in my high school library, amazed that it had been sitting there on the shelves in the first place, but maybe my brain manufactured that particular moment after the fact.) In the dorms freshman year, this guy from New York, Andy K., would do amazing comedic readings of the randy rhyming material from “White Shroud,” and I’d love to think Ginsberg would’ve gotten a kick out of it had he been a fly on the wall on one of those hazy eves. Later Ginsberg got mixed in my mental blender with plenty of other voices – first Creeley, then the American Tree folks, etc. – but the sheer breadth of his work keeps me coming back, now and again, for inspiration. And I teach “Howl” and some of the others quite regularly, always knowing that it’s going to rev up or somehow incite the class.
I think part of your question is about his public persona, no? Here I’m referring to the bit about if he was a “pervert,” “misogynist,” etc. Was he all of these things? I mean, my guess is he was all of that and more. Is it a stretch to say that perhaps he contained a Whitmanic multitude of voices, personas, and the like, often contradictory but somehow cohesive when you step back to see the Big Picture? I dunno. But what really jumps out at me is that people gave (and continue to give) a shit at all. I mean, he was famous in a way that we may never see again, really, what with the sheer number of poets publishing, and reading, and generally making the scene these days. Poets of all stripes at least knew his name, even if they didn’t know his poems, right? That’s an amazing thing – his overall impact on popular culture, his ability to inspire and provoke even after his death. That said, I confess that I didn’t realize the debates around him and his work were even more heated after his passing. It’s interesting, though, that the critiques you speak of all address his politics, essentially, rather than the actual work itself. Again, I reckon this just speaks to the enormity of his cultural impact. But these are interesting issues you’ve raised, and I’m curious to see how a range of people respond…
i had no idea that these things were being said about ginsberg.
Also, what does Ginsberg's work mean to you and your own poems?
ginsberg's poems for me are celebratory, playful, social criticism. at their best, they are publicly integrated and liberally introspective, which is a balance i strive for in my own writing (and life!).
What else do you have to share with us about Ginsberg? Please tell us, thank you.
i like that ginsberg made stuff that was bad. like, his collaborations with the musician don was are just awful, but he was obviously feeling it. this kind of thing reminds me that you've gotta do what's right for you, even when projects may not be valuable to other people. that said, i don't know that everything we make ought to be shared. i don't like that ginsberg appeared in ads for the gap. i mean, the gap! that same summer (1994) william s. burroughs appeared in nike ads. i guess it's good to lose some heroes when you're young.
I wasn’t aware that this kind of backlash worsened after his death. Is being a pervert or a clown a bad thing? Sorry, I didn’t realize. On a serious note, the only reason someone like me can comment on the private life of Allen Ginsberg is because he lived with a kind of Diogenes candor that all but abolished the private. So this is my luxury, to pick apart the dead. Because of Ginsberg’s openness, he left a lot of meat behind to clean from the bone.
Of course he was a clown! And a scholar, activist, cheerleader & public intellectual. It seems critics of his role as joker have issues with the public nature of it all. There is an ugly sense that class plays into the motives of his detractors. He took his arguments out of the universities and onto television. Who else was talking about Blake on American TV in 1968? Maybe it’s ridiculous, maybe it’s genius. Maybe it’s a hustle. Privileged classes never respect a good hustle, because they never needed one. Yale wasn’t going do deliver Ginsberg to the masses, so AG found a way to make it happen. What a gift. I only wish today’s intellectuals were a little less logy & a little more loki. To paraphrase the magnificent Brit poet Tony Lopez, “Allen, where are you now?” *
I’ve heard stories about Ginsberg sleeping with his (adult, albeit young) students. Okay. I don’t teach, but I know enough to know that it’s not a good idea. It’s not criminal, but it’s certainly unethical. I could also provide a laundry list of straight (male & female) poet/professors who have slept, or continue to sleep w/ their students. So he was lecherous perhaps, but not alone. Again- AG was flagrant about it, while his amorous colleagues continue to hush-hush their transgressions.
Misogyny? Maybe specifics will come to light from others when I see the answers, but so far I’ve only heard condemnations in the vaguest possible terms. To my knowledge, Ginsberg was very supportive of women poets around him- particularly later in life. I’m not saying AG was not a misogynist, by the way. I am asking for someone to reveal specifics. I have zero interest in defending misogynists, just as I’m not interested in smearing someone’s reputation without just cause. Someone please fill me in…
I can talk about Ginsberg in terms of reach, which I think is remarkable. No poet in the 20th century (or since) has touched more Americans outside the university than Allen Ginsberg. No other poet has brought sexy radicalism to America’s neighborhoods. So many who encounter his work from these communities respect his fearlessness, thus eventually respecting his sexuality & politics, where they otherwise wouldn’t have. If for nothing else, bless him for that.
* "In Memory" from Devolution (The Figures, 2000)
In my experience, I haven't noticed a particular INCREASE in criticisms of Ginsberg since his death. What I have noticed, however, may be worse: a gradual erasure of his importance in recent years, in both the so-called "experimental" and "mainstream" poetry scenes. I don't simply want to rehash the comments I've made in, for instance, the 2004 FULCRUM ANNUAL about this trend in which the "fresh air" many of the "new American" poets brought to poetry in the late 1950s has become rather stale, even by many of the people who oh so politely respect the Beats as history. But like many people on the so-called "left," there's a sense that now we can rest on the laurels of the great social and cultural progressives of that period (from Martin and Malcolm to Lenny Bruce and Baraka, etc.). It's sort of like "if Christ came back today, he'd be crucified by many who call themselves Christians." "Oh, yeah, sure, we'll teach Ginsberg and maybe even Corso and Baraka as important historically, but if any young poet dares write that way, we'll call them uninformed, unsophisticated, and too derivative; of course if they write like Duncan or Spicer or Merrill or Bishop, we won't call them as derivative." I personally such attitudes (whether explicit or, as is more often the case, implicit) are at least as destructive to the health of contemporary American, and world, poetry, as any UPSURGE in criticisms of Ginsberg that may be happening in recent years (with Homeland Security, Campus Watch, Attorney General Gonzalez, etc.). I'm almost tempted to say that any upsurge in public controversy might be exactly what's needed to help shake many poets from an institutionally legitimized complacency that has, in effect, lead to a insidious "self-policing" since the "60s generation" decided to settle down and (perhaps unwittingly but nonetheless hypocritically) nip in the bud later generation's attempts to do what they themselves did when they were young, on the grounds that "oh, it's been done before; WE did it before; so don't waste your time." Ah, no zealot like a convert.
Also, what does Ginsberg's work mean to you and your own poems?
Personally, as for many I know, Ginsberg was an early galvanizing force. He brought many into poetry that may have otherwise not considered it relevant to them. I don't know how much influence he's had on my own poetry in any stylistic way. I knew quite a few who've "studied" with him, and had to laugh at the kind of formal criticisms he would often make---often involving removing of articles, etc. I could go into this more in depth later, but the point I need to stress is that the FIGURE of Ginsberg as a cultural worker remains important. I personally witnessed him talk people out of bad acid trips, for instance, and just as importantly, it was his role as public spokesman, as bridge between "high culture" figures like Shelley and Blake with his championship of (or one may even say crass commercial shameless self-promotion by glomming onto the energy and fame of figures like) Bob Dylan and The Clash. This was certainly not the ONLY option for a "successful poet" when I was coming of age (and even he would admit there was a decay in the intensity of his WRITING as he got older), but it WAS an option in a way that it's not so much today for many poets. In the course of the history of poetry, perhaps then the kind of public role Ginsberg celebrated and embodied, can be seen as an anomale, but for those of us who grew up while he was alive, the loss of that possible role is lamented in a way that it is not for many of those who first began writing and publishing poetry in the late 1990s and since. The hope, for me, is that this may change. The existence of a figure like Ginsberg or Baraka DOES NOT THREATEN the existence of a Jorie Graham or Peter Gizzi; at least in my opinion. The WRITING isn't always the most important thing.
What else do you have to share with us about Ginsberg? Please tell us, thank you.
If you want to look at my piece (about meeting him) on Gary Sullivan's blog (click HERE),feel free. I'd paste it in here, but I've already gone on pretty long.
Initially, a web search for "dirt" on Allen Ginsberg came up zero. No dirt. Or barely any. I found lots of praise for the man and poet who befriended criminals, was an "out" homosexual in a time when this was not condoned, fought the law on an obscenity trial and won, admittedly took drugs when american culture "just says no", wrote about subjects that at the time were "taboo," protested the government and it's various wars, and so on and so on.
I began to summarize my argument contrary to the statement, "a floodgate of vitriol." All I could find was that Norman Podhoretz slammed him (and if you want to listen to this name-dropping, opportunistic, pompous neoconservative who wrote a hysterical essay called: World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win go right ahead), a friend of Ginsberg said he was arguing with him (meaning: Ginsberg could be difficult), he did drugs, he liked young boys (and had some association with NAMBLA), his poetry was too self-conscious and narrative (re: his later poems are weak), and I surmised after reading bio after bio of him, despite his Buddhist practice, he had the ego the size of New Jersey, his home state.
I typed in "ginsberg is a clown" in google and I was looking for a number of things, first his writing, and second his life. I surmised a number of things:
1) clown as trickster/ego/clown
2) clown as drugs
3) clown as poems
1- I took as his personality, a trickster mentality, an ego.
Although he was Jewish and an American Buddhist, he had elements of trickster, tho he did not bilk but he may have cajoled. He may have preened. It's understandable why some people did not or do not take him seriously. I saw Ginsberg perform in winter 1990 in Brattleboro VT (with my mom and Sean Cole - the place was packed but on the other hand, VT is a "blue state."). He "behaved" for a while and read poems, then did a performance piece called "Don't Smoke" (cigarettes that is). He stripped down to a loincloth, banged on a drum and chanted "don't smoke, don't smoke, don't smoke" over and over for a good 7-10 minutes. I'm sure many in the audience had visible question marks over their heads, translatable to: what the fuck? On the other hand, my mother was completely won over and bought a few books of his and has been a fan ever since. She owns 5 books of his; I own zero. I do, however, have an mp3 recording of his reading "Howl." I don't remember what I thought, but it was probably something like: I wish I had the balls to pull off something like this! Meaning: I want to make a complete ass of myself in public and get away with it and why not? It looked like Ginsberg was having fun, with himself and with the audience. If one can pull that off, great.
2- I took his drug use as something to consider
Regarding his drug use, it didn't seem to be a problem for him and in fact, he was open about it, The Yage Letters, for example. Yes, drug addiction and alcoholism are problems, but he wrote that if the united states would legalize marijuana (which is not physically addictive and actually beneficial in some cases) and had better treatment for addicts, we might have a more tolerant society.
I don't know if we would have a more tolerant society, but it would probably be less punitive. And I agree that our drug laws need to be revamped. It seems to be a sin just to drink alcohol these days. Of course he had no clear plan. Nor does anyone else, but he erred on the side of rehabilitation. How is this any more different than a drunken night out on the town? Well, only a little in that, marijuana, hash, opium, and such are harder to obtain and illegal. It seems that the united states wants to go for the bit time user vs. the real culprit: the us government. Those cocaine field in Columbia, those poppy fields / fuel Afghanistan...anyone?
I would advocate legalizing marijuana (for starters) but I don't trust the government these days. I don't have a problem with any writer's use of drugs and alcohol unless it causes a problem or kills them outright. Tho I'd like to point out that drug and alcohol use is contrary to one of the 5 precepts of Buddhism. and Chögyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, a mentor friend of Ginsberg, from the stories I read, had a big problem with alcohol.
3- I took his poems as a cursory yet serious reading
What worked for Ginsberg was a style that didn't vary all too much, long lines and phrases with a great influence by Walt Whitman. His early work is of course political and at the time transgressive - hence Howl's obscenity charge, which propelled the myth of the "beats" and made them famous. San Franciscan's have been complaining about the tourists and gawkers making their pilgrimage to North Beach ever since. Ginsberg's legend supersedes his poetry, especially his later work. "Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb" from the poem America, is a great line. My comment about his later work: maybe first thought wasn't always the best thought. Read: where's my editor? For someone's first introduction to poetry, Ginsberg is accessible, plainspoken, carefree and gay (in all senses of the word) as well as critical, a little whiny, angry and not bitter, and in short - human.
So I then typed in the phrase "ginsberg is a misogynist" in google. What came up was web links accusing Hillary Clinton of being "misogynist," Serge Gainsborg of being "misogynist" and Gregory Corso of being "misogynist." If of those three, I'd say Corso was more the culprit. The standard definition of "misogynist" is one who hates women. Did then Allen Ginsberg hate women? I don't think that would have been within his Buddhist nature, on the other hand, during the 1950s one could argue that the culture was "misogynist." As in, look at Ginsberg's company: Burroughs, Corso, Kerouac and to broaden the sphere, Spicer, Duncan, Blaser. Let's face it, do a cursory study of the 1950s and on the surface you will find sub-cultures replicating learned cultural mores. You will find this more with Kerouac than anyone, he being the most troublesome. Most if not all of the "beat" writers (and I've only named a few) seemed to be misogynist. It was an old boy's club. Half preferred men as sexual preference and the rest were horrible to their wives and girlfriends. In William Burroughs's case, he killed his wife in a stupid drunken William Tell "accident."1
When I speak of "cultural mores" I do not mean they are sanctioned or even reflect all of America. When Eisenhower was showing Khrushchev our American kitchen appliances, concurrently the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Blitis were founded, America was under McCarthy laws and any subversive Hollywood writer was blackballed (see: Dalton Trumbo). Any personal anecdote to Ginsberg being a misogynist isn't something I'm privy to. Did he prefer men? Certainly. That should be obvious. When women who knew him complain about this, are they listened to? Certainly not. Bc after all, we're all hysterical according to the essentialist argument. Except when we get to item two: "ginsberg is a pervert."
"Ginsberg is a pervert" either gave me salutations, exultations and exonerations of his being a "pervert" or conversely, those on the right wing who practically accused him of child molestation, and those who accused him of such, were male. Imagine that, the same self righteous sobs who are running our country and conducting mass now lecture on morality! Not only that, but running the phrase through google brought up more hits bashing Ruth Bader Ginsberg than Allen Ginsberg. Some liberal media. The issue here of his being a pervert is a) he's a homosexual b) he likes boys and c) he was affiliated with NAMBLA.
a) homosexuality is not perversion, no matter how much the right wing/christian wackos want it to be
b) more iffy
c) more iffy
Two and three are more iffy, but on the other hand not. I will side line this with a description of a calvin klein billboard ad in nyc. Name any. Pre-pubescent young men and women in various stages on half-nakedness on a billboard or on a side of a bus selling underwear. You have tv advertisements of women who lost 108 pounds dancing in a bikini bragging that they can eat steak and not gain the weight back. Name the mainstream obsession with Michael Jackson's so called and as of yet not completely unsubstantiated by law complaints that he molests 12-year-old cancer patients. Name any product that uses the phrase "anti-aging crème."
Name for that matter the age of consent and how it has risen from year to year. 100 years ago or so if you weren't married by age 21 you were a lost cause. In fact, there were no age of consent laws, the law was the father. As if "father" could be trusted...
Did Ginsberg like young boys? Seems so, yes. Do I understand this? No. Twelve year old boys were and are inept and stupid and awkward. I guess to some people this is endearing. I didn't find this the case when I was 12 and checking out boys. Does his affiliation with NAMBLA then condone "consensual relationships" with older men and younger men? I suppose so. Would this be any worse if he had affiliation with the John Birch Society?
Note that I am not condoning "non-consensual" sex, and I might be letting Ginsberg off the hook easy with his predilections, but on the other hand, the right wing / christian fundamentalists often accuse homosexuals of "sodomy" and "rape" and of "corrupting the young" hence that they don't want gay couples to marry or have children. Not only that, but by judging the websites I encountered, the men were more hysterical than the women. Men with a PC who seem to see themselves appointed by god to point out the wickedry and evilness of homosexuals. These same people never seem to get their briefs in a knot when daughters are being molested by their fathers or uncles. These same men have a heart attack about single women with two kids on welfare and food stamps, as if that's a sin. To be single. With children. On food stamps. Section 8 Housing. The horror! Our society will break down!
Yes there's a lot of sickos in the world, unfortunately sometimes the "sickos" preside in your own home instead of the "eccentric old man" in your neighborhood.2 Nor would I want to bring us back to the "idyllic" 1950s where the current administration would rather bring us, in that, war is natural, competition and strife were given, alienation was inevitable and that we should all put up with shoddy leadership for the "better good." And oh yes, keep your mouth shut. Don't ask; don't tell. You're either with us, or you're with the enemy.
In short, I'm not going to argue that Allen Ginsberg was our greatest poet. I'm not going to beatify him as others do, I'm not going to carry on the mystique of the "beat" writers. What I do and did like about him were the parts people had problems with. He was subversive, queer, outspoken, a little weird (well, a lot) and when I think if there was anything to like about the united states, I would put him in the "what's good about america" category. If you visit the american library association's web site of top 100 banned books, you will find a good portion of books "banned" are children and young adult books. I don't see Howl on that list. I do see a lot of Judy Blume tho...
1 This is why I haven not read much of Ginsberg, none of Burroughs, a poem here and there of Corso, some Ferlingetti, don't like Gary Snyder, did read Ken Kesey, and none of Kerouac. I didn't include other folks bc I'd be getting off topic. I found this group of people to be predominately a bunch of macho, sexist writers. I have in fact avoided these writers bc they have historically treated women like...objects. Maybe some day I will read On The Road, and maybe by then there will be less baggage surrounding them. They might have their merits; I might have missed the merit. They are a part of a "poetic history" but I'm not interested in hero worship. I am also sick of the "romanticism" regarding them. Does their literary standing merit this? It's quite possible I'm sick of their legend and cheap imitators. But if I haven't found Kerouac, for example, influential for my writing by now I never will. The legend of the "beats" is probably more of an influence than their actual work. We shall see.
2 Yes, NAMBLA is a little fucked up. Or not just a little, but on the other hand, I'm waiting for someone to propose an association called: I Love My Daughter Just A Little Too Much Association. And it's also called: Hey, Children Are Sexual Beings And Aren't We All Freaked Out About That? Conversely this is called: Our Society Is Too Fucked Up To Deal With That So We Need A Scapegoat. Conversely this is called: Sex Is Evil So Therefore The Condom Is Not Your Friend. Conversely, this is called: The Current Administration's Position Means The Missionary Position Between A Man And a Woman Is The Only Position.
In a rough time I worked amongst the stink of newish carpet, indoor fountain, and bestseller. This in my hometown of Berkeley. One day Allen Ginsberg came through to do a reading, imperious and stocky through the back door, next to which I stood manning the ‘cashwrap.’ He was whisked, and strode, into the awestruck crowd. A whiff of history, reality in that stodgy, corporate, dead-end space.
Later, just a bit, I lived for years near the Allen Ginsberg poetry garden on Milvia Street. I didn’t give it a lot of thought, in fact related most easily to Joanne Kyger’s descriptions of his boyish tyranny in her travelling diary*.
But I appreciate him and certainly live a bit in this atmosphere he helped create. It’s a nice tribute, the garden -- set in a little plot on the grounds of the arts-magnet elementary, with rotating displays of the kids’ poems on thick paper wrapped in plastic against the rain.
* Strange Big Moon: The Japan and India Journals: 1960-1964, North Atlantic Books, 2000.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Thank you CA, for being a great friend.
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Because Frank, this is for you,
surprise and looking forward to the next ... landing,
p.s. anyone else wanting to share, by all means write me, CAConrad13@AOL.com
or write, ThePhillySound@hotmail.com
from Alicia Askenase
For starters, I would like to say that the La Tazza series is one of the best I have ever attended. And in the Philadelphia area, it’s number One! It has been a magical “scene” for me, (often, wonderfully, bordering on magic-realism as the post-reading evenings progressed…)
A series in which with Kyle Connors, Greg Fuchs, Maggie Zurowski, and then impressively on your own, you managed to consistently present a remarkable group of emerging and established writers—all under the modest, totally cool roof of the La Tazza café. Writers many of us would have never heard or met otherwise. You wrote amazing (and entertaining!) on-the-mark introductions, and were generous and savvy in terms of your pairings of out-of-town and local writers.
The series has been a sanctuary to the many writers and appreciative audiences who were fortunate enough to gather, and be transformed there. I know I was.* My participation in this community has been very important to me, both aesthetically and socially. In the last two and a half years I’ve rarely missed a reading, and have always looked forward to them. The series has offered everyone who entered its microcosm this great warmth, camaraderie and sense of and joy. And Frank, I have cherished it—thank you so much.
Your contribution to the independent literary life of this city and beyond is immeasurable. I’m hopeful this is not the end, but the beginning of another installment we’ve yet to imagine…and I look forward to seeing you, where and whenever it re-emerges, which it undoubtedly will.
With many great memories,
* (I don’t mean transformed by the chocolate martinis here, but please note Conrad’s April 8 post, in which he says, “My love for poetry and the chocolate martini go hand in loving hand”!)
from ALEX THE GIRL
Dear Frank-At the last reading I was speaking with Tina Darragh and she asked me how I knew you all. After explaining the connection, she remarked --so you like the poetry? I said it was more than that; the series, including both the poets you bring into read and the people who are moved to come out reading after reading, grounds me. To some it might sound silly, that words, spoken, written and shared could be one's earth. However, even if I don't always agree with those words, even if I wouldn't have used those words myself or even if those words are not in my vocabulary the words become a shared garden. Thanks for keeping it watered for so long!lots of love,Alexthegirl
from Anne Cecil
I met all of you through Alex at the LaTazza series so it has meant a great deal to me on many levels. I acquired an entirely new circle of friends who welcomed me, included me and supported my work in the visual arts. I have learned a great deal about poetry, delivery, and publication. I have had provoking thought and challenging discussion on a wide variety of topics. One of the things I most enjoyed though was the haven that the consistency of the series offered. Even though I couldn't make every one, I always knew that on "poetry" night I would have somewhere to go where I would be welcomed and stimulated.I hope to see you all soon and that there is a continuation of this excellent series.Anne
from Sydney Coffin
Dear CA and Frank,
Despite my absence from downtown Philadelphia and the poetry series, I think of you often and miss you all dearly. You are my favorite group of friends and I appreciate the community we have had through the series at La Tazza. I feel like Alex, who disappeared for a year, and yet I'm only a half hour away. Please continue to meet. I will return when I have written my opus.
from Charles Bernstein
I wanted to write to you about how the great importance I attach La Tazza and related, long-running bar/cafe series. Such series are the heart of a local poetry community. When Ted Greenwald and I started the Ear Inn series in 1978, we were doing something similar to what you Frank Sherlock does with La Tazza. Over 25 years later, the old Ear Inn series continues, now at the Bowery Poetry Club, but still the same time and with Segue Foundation coordination -- and with a surprising continuity of readers including of course an entirely new generation. My own recent reading at La Tazza was a great pleasure and I appreciated the chance to read there in what now turns out to be the final days of the place. But, surely, the La Tazza experience can continue, even if not at La Tazza.My first reading in Philadelphia was in the late 70s. Bruce Andrews and I were invited to read at McGlinchey's. We read with Ernest Robeson (about whom Bruce later wrote in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E). I wonder if anyone has a recollected about that series, seems another era in Philly poetry ...As our dear friend Bob Creeley would have no doubt said: Onward!Charles Bernstein
from Jules Boykoff
The La Tazza Reading Series is a hotnest of poetic action & Philafriendliness that I have long appreciated. In the weeks after September 11, 2001, I was scheduled to read at La Tazza, thanks to the generous invitation of Frank Sherlock & Greg Fuchs. I remember at the time some people were suggesting that maybe we should take a little break from poetry, that we should suspend the reading for a while. I also remember Frank & Greg nixing that idea and demanding that we press forward with grit & gumption, as it seemed the world needed poetry more than ever. I always appreciated that decision & I look back fondly on that late-September reading as one of my favorites, less for what & how I read, but more for the memories of meeting Frank for the first time (a poet whose writing I greatly admire) as well as many of the other wonderful poets in Philadelphia. Thank you for your courage, determination, & perseverance, but also for your laughter, beer drinking, & your understanding of the need to have fun.--Jules Boykoff
from CINDY BURSTEIN
hey frank,i have an interesting history with the series, but that aside, meeting you was certainly a highlight. dare i mention that the venue selection was my idea (hee hee - i just did), and way back when...I made Greg acknowledge me one time for that. This is all to say, I'm a poetry agent & a great fan of yours. I would certainly encourage you to seek my advice if you're looking for new venue (hee hee, again). Even though I used to joke about the poetry crowd's subdued laughter during a reading (akin to the soft, polite clapping of a crowd at a golf tournament), you are certainly keepin' it real. you rock, and so do the folks you bring together.
from Allison Cobb
Wow, I can't believe the La Tazza series is closing after all these years. Philly is losing something crucial that even city-sponsored wireless internet access won't soothe! Frank Sherlock was an amazing curator, bringing in poets from all over the country to introduce them to Philly's vibrant scene, and vice versa. I first met the Philly folks through reading at the La Tazza series, and the simultaneous cohesiveness and diversity of the poetry community there has inspired me ever since. La Tazza, it seemed to me, was a central piece of that. We poets outside Philly also mourn its loss!
from Jennifer Coleman
I'll always be grateful to the La Tazza reading series for introducing me to a whole gang of poets that I very much admire; but the series has meant more to me than simply an introduction to the Philly talent. La Tazza has also been important to me as a model for what a writing community can be: diverse, dedicated, exciting and both serious and fun-loving. From La Tazza and the vivacious, inventive community it gives voice to, I'm continually reminded and inspired to be generous and courageous in engaging the poets around me. I think the La Tazza series is a critical link between poetry communities, both aesthetically and geographically. And though many of the same poets read in other series and venues, La Tazza is distinct in its uniquely Philly character and spirit. For the series to end would be a loss both to the Philly community and to the larger community of innovative poets.
from Buck Downs
Frank has a better track record of presenting poetry as real life rather than literature than anybody I know.
& I'm an out-of-towner & so must be excused of ignorance, but it looks like La Tazza has been the only series in Phila to do this at all lately, and do it without the benefit of a parent institution to boot. The existence of an unaffiliated space in which to work "love's life-giving vulgarity" is not all that big of an emergency to most of the poets I know, but it is eventually if not immediately necessary to anyone who thinks and lives in a city. Frank is one of the relative handful of people I know who has chosen to give that gift to his friends.
That said, if Frank wants to retire or take an extended vacation from this planning nightmare I for one say, why not? A new space, a fresh face, and new names need to be put together on a regular basis, living proof that this thing we call community actually works.
Best of luck to the Next Frank Sherlock!
from Erica Kaufman
reading at la tazza was by far one of my favorite reading experiences. and, my best out-of-town reading experience. i thought the space was wonderful, but what made the space so wonderful was having such a generous host and a crowd of warm, kind people. I think it is a great idea for a series, to have one local poet, and one out-of-towner, as a way of creating community within communities and the atmosphere the attendees of that series create definitely makes for a fostering of poetic bonds. if i were to start a new series, i think i would definitely look to la tazza, frank, and all you philly poets as a model.
from Pattie McCarthy
Dear Frank :Thank you for your years of dedication, good spirits, friendly events, & interesting choices at La Tazza -- which was the most comfortable poetry series I've ever attended. It was also the most love-filled series I've ever read in (I think your introduction the first time I read there nearly made me cry with appreciation) -- & I am so grateful to you for that as well. When we finally decided to move back to Philadelphia, I thought with great relief & joy : & we'll be able to go to La Tazza all the time now. Your contribution to the Philly community has been immense, & I beg you to find a new location & to continue the series -- it must, it simply must go on.yours,Pattie
from Chris McCreary
What has the La Tazza series meant to me? Even as the location has changed over the years from the Highwire to our beloved La Tazza – and even as my life has changed drastically over that same span of time – it’s always been a crucial hub for me socially and artistically, and I’d love to think that the series, or some new mutation of it, will live on somewhere, somehow.
If I sat down and really thought it through, I could come up with a multitude – dozens, probably - of miniature reading reports to share here. But off the top of my head, I remember seeing Carol Mirakove (the night I met her, I’m quite sure) read with Frank at the old space and literally being blown away by the pairing. It was one of those moments where I really thought, yeah, shit’s starting to happen here. And seeing Jenn read with Buck was another one of those great ones… which led to a show by Brett Evans’s band skinverb… which led to a house party at Frank’s (was Chris Stroffolino there eating blueberries? do I really remember a five-year-old scuttling around in the post-midnight mayhem? why was I sitting in a tiny rocking chair toward the end?)… which led to a very, very brutal sunrise… one of many we witnessed during that general era.
By the time the readings moved to LaTazza, many of the original crew had either departed town or were on their way out – Greg Fuchs, Brett, Kevin Varrone, Pattie McCarthy, and others had hit the road, at least for the time being, but it really felt like a crew of regulars congealed in the space at La Tazza and could always be counted on to show up over the years. In fact, I always knew exactly where Don Riggs would be sitting, what he’d be eating, and how the glass of wine would be situated in relation to his plate. As Jenn and I moved into the realm of parenthood and the like, I took great comfort in knowing that, even if I couldn’t get out of the house, I could picture where my friends were and what they were doing! And rather than start to dash off a haphazard list of favorite moments in that space, I’d rather just say how much I appreciated its consistency and Frank’s efforts to keep the ball rolling. Based on what I was seeing the last couple of times I came out to readings there, it looked like a larger core was finally building, with the same faces coming back time and again amid the many one-shot audience members – students coming out to see their friends, maybe, but then actually coming back week after week, which was how it should’ve worked all along, no? And that to me suggests that there’s still a hunger out there for this sort of series.
from Cathleen Miller
Since I have lived in Philadelphia, poetry has been a very important part of my life. To have a regular series that includes a social element is really important. The series at La Tazza brought some great people into my life...people who care not only about the academic and philosophical, but those who are willing to put their words into action. I am happy to be a part of this community of poets and activists. I hope that the series continues in another space. I would really miss the poetry and the after-poetry conversations.
I hope that is good enough to post. I somehow feel like no matter what I write, it wouldn't be adequate praise. Frank has done a really great job putting together cohesive readings that are engaging and fun and risky. He deserves much thanks and much praise.
Talk to you soon.
from Carol Mirakove
My first reading in an away-from-home city was in the La Tazza series, then the Highwire series. Greg Fuchs and Kyle Conner were generous enough to invite me to read with none other than Frank Sherlock. This was in July 1998. That reading was without a doubt one of my most important experiences as a poet. Having come from DC, a city with a lively and dedicated poetry community, my sense of conversation and camaraderie in poetry was expanded tremendously that night, as I met Frank, Kyle, and Greg, as well as Chris McCreary, Jenn McCreary, Pattie McCarthy, Kevin Varrone, Barbara Cole, and several other people I was too drunk to remember. There was a big dance party late that night at someone's apartment. Greg had arranged for me and my traveling compañero to stay at his friend's apartment. We went to bed at 7am. And I took my cue from Greg, then, that a poet could make a home in multiple cities, as he then was splitting time between Philadelphia and Brooklyn. To this day, I feel at home whenever I am in Philadelphia, a city whose center is, for me, the La Tazza reading series. Last summer Frank granted me the great pleasure of guest-hosting Allison Cobb and CE Putnam at La Tazza, a privilege by which I gained only a sliver of insight into the tremendous effort that goes into running a reading series. I hope you have felt at least a sliver of my tremendous appreciation for all that you have contributed to the poetry communities in Philadelphia and beyond, Frank. Viva la Tazza!
Love, Carol [Mirakove]
from Bob Perelman
Dear Frank,I just want you to know that for me your La Tazza series was a central fact of the poetry scene here. All the classes, webcasts, blogs, and books in the world don't have anything like the same intensity of social information as a good poetry series. Thanks very much for your labors; they were appreciated. And, hey, if a new location presents itself, don't be shy about starting a new series!best,Bob
from Ethel Rackin
The La Tazza series has helped to bring so many of us poets and lovers of poetry together. It's made me feel good about being a Philadelphia poet and a poet period. It's created links between us and poets in other cities. Memories include the packed house reading of Samuel Delaney. Tom Devaney's reading in which we all surrounded Tom who stood near the bar as he read everything announcement-style without a mic. Frank's intros. All the readings I wish I could have attended but couldn't. Drinking and talking to Don Riggs who ordered a full dinner with a nice chianti. Talking with you (Conrad) about astrology, poetics, politics against the sofa wall. On and on...Thanks to everyone who made it happen. Especially Frank for keeping it alive.Ethel
from Kaia Sand
The La Tazza series is very important to me, and how I look at poetry. No white-cubed rooms, insular walls...this is a reading series that brings poetry into a lively space, one where not everyone is there for the poetry, and that keeps it interesting, exciting. Ambient voices mix in. The readings always seemed part of the fabric of all the bar's action. Another series that has served that very important purpose for a short time (maybe years 2000-2002?) was one that Susana Gardner ran in Patriot's Cafe (poets read with an American Flag backdrop) in Fairfax, Virginia. I have many dear memories of La Tazza Readings. Susana Gardner driving us to a reading for Jules after our car window shattered in DC. Driving up with Jules Boykoff and Tom Orange to see Jen Coleman read. The fabulous La Tazza component of the truly invigorating August 2003 Philly Sound extravaganza. The time Frank so generously paired me with Samuel Delaney (!!!)--that was absolutely thrilling-- for a reading. Greg Fuchs and Frank's introductions, which were such animated readings of the poems. The conversations pre- and post reading. The post-reading report emails, which I look forward to, and read, whether I received them in Washington, DC, Southern Maryland, or now, Walla Walla, Washington. Those reports always helped me feel vicariously like a Philly poet. Anyway. I add these comments to assert that La Tazza is absolutely essential to my sense of poetry in the current moment. So...Frank--thank you!
from Gary Sullivan
I was fortunate enough to get to read twice at La Tazza: once with Mytili Jagannathan and once with Sofia Memon. Both nights I got to meet many people I had never met before--including the two, both wonderful, readers. At the reading with Mytili, Frank gave me literally the most thorough, incredible introduction anyone has ever given me--I was kind of embarrassed at how seriously he took me and my so called "work." Talking with others who had read at La Tazza, it became clear that that was pretty much par for the course for Frank. I don't remember everyone I spoke with after the reading, but I do remember an interesting conversation with Mytili--who gave such a wonderful, punchy reading--about an artist she knew who was using those Amar Chitra Katha Indian religious comics as the basis of their visual art. A long, fun night out drinking with Tom Devaney after the reading.Before the reading with Sofia, me, Nada, Mytili, Frank and Sofia all met to eat at a great restaurant right near La Tazza. I felt almost like I was a long lost brother who had come back to town. Sofia read a great batch of poems that night, including a very sweet, funny kind of epithalamium she had written for a friend. Conrad was fabulous as Mozart in "Mozart & Salieri" opposite my (duh) Salieri. After the reading, me, Nada, Conrad, Alicia Askenase, and Hassen went over to the place where Conrad was staying and we all drank until pizza arrived. I think we may have eaten some pizza, too. I just remember drinking, smoking (outside), and laughing a lot. The next day, Nada & I went to the museum with Conrad--a great day, especially for Nada, who had never seen so much Duchamp live in one place.It was a great space--heck, the bartender evengave me a free beer after the first reading because she'd enjoyed it (so she said, and even if she was lying, it was a free beer!)--and a really great series. I got to meet many wonderful people I might not have otherwise: Conrad, Frank, Mytili, Sofia, Alicia, Hassen, Chris & Jen McCreary, etc., etc. Plus, what a convenient excuse to get on a train to Philly! Which I had never visited before participating in the series.It's sad to hear that La Tazza won't be having readings anymore. I imagine there are many people who will miss it terribly.
from Rodrigo Toscano
The La Tazza reading series is legendary. A favorite destination for serious poets all along the eastern corrider (and beyond), it joins that category of now-defunct series, like the Ear Inn and Double Happiness in NYC, Wordsworth Books in Boston, where what happens, from week to week, becomes the very bedrock from which the Local Scene is constructed. In no other place have I found the local poets more ready to engage what they just heard; to celebrate it, to critique it, but most of all, to keep the ball rolling. We can only hope that the series' brainchild extrordinaire, Frank Sherlock, finds a way to transpose the series to another locale.
from Kevin Varrone
I’ll say only this: when Pattie McCarthy and I dreamt of finding a way to traverse the Mason-Dixon and make it back to Philadelphia, we’d rehearse our cadre of gravitational forces: The Italian Market, Franco & Luigi’s Pizzaria, LaTazza. One can go to any number of readings (in Philly and Elsewhere) and hear talk of communities and poetry among the people, or one could go to LaTazza. And what better testament to the series than the way it ended: good poems, good friends, good drink, and Greg Fuchs materializing from thin air (if only he had on that paper mache monster’s head I remember from the wee hours of a morning long ago, singing and dancing to The New Birth Brass Band’s “Jesus on the Main Line”). Leaving LaTazza will be like when they moved Rocky’s statue from the Art Museum to The Spectrum--a definite sadness--but the stallion will ride again, I’m sure. Thanks, Frank.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
Where to send poems these days? I have no idea. But I do love this darn blog, so what the heck.
-- Chris McC
* * *
Broken colors of the mouth.
— Henri Deluy, “An (Enigmatic) Grammar”
If you put metal inside of a man
He can work much faster than you can
— Rasputina, “O Injury”
Between elevation and vertigo, a something inverted, a somewhat unnerved by enervation, somehow unshouldering these sacks of stones. In this settling into setting, a sudden sense of excess, a sprouted sag and swell even as sages shake in protracted contractions.
Having walked that route by rote. Having staved off this craving of cave-ins, having crawled forth from the wreckage of tectonic shifts and continental drifts. Yes, rest pressing down, account for the stillness of shadows and the filthy state of your neighbor’s shoelaces.
* * *
More mechanical than mammal, yet more reptile than replicant. Lacking a mirror to monitor movement, only a blank canvas against which to press one’s profile while adjustments are made for the paralytic flicker of frozen flames. Then lick this lilly’s gilding or grind for spinal fire, hope lotus folds back to blank the mangled hand, mingling such contrary measures.
Upon this turning, stilts tilt, twist, sink into sand, splinters splitting nail from flesh. Skin can singe, sound can drown. The charm of armor, its tensile plateau of thistles bristling in place of both clockface and sightline.
* * *
Flick of the wrist or is that tableau. The telltale freezing of lesions, be they premalignant strictures or merely the metaphoric nipple stiffened in the chill.
Cognizant of each blister’s rip, the muscles’ subtlest ripples caused by every splice, slice, cauterization. Vertebrae straightened, strengthened, a series of stitched strictures gone all avid amid avenues, tingling fingertips tangled within the vivid divide.
* * *
Cartilage closes holes, toughens, grows rougher as pores coarsen. The cut, the shunt, the clog of it all. Time elapsed as beneath the blackened scab, color was sucked upward and tear ducts began to abduct. Yet the excess pressure is pleasing, the crackle of excision even in slow burn.
Soak the lapsed synapse in early afternoon, your forehead embalmed in its subtle secretions. The sense of space between stretch of neck and stiffened lip, gasping to swallow shallow surface or drown amid the drainage, shivering brisk balm.
* * *
For this lithium picnic, a grey-scaled rainbow. For this tardy retreat, a half-assed tango, an erasure of the phantom bride so as not to awaken the easily elysian.
Muses cube, subsume, coil their soiled gowns around them amid fallen arches, sodden gauze. Should we halo or hollow this shallow grave, enshrine this sublimation of the shrouded strangers, or stoop to embrace this liquid image, a subtle shifting self.
* * *
Having bade farewell and embarked into darkness, a hypothetical damsel lost in the marsh yet sticking to her script, she could be waylaid by neither devil nor dervish as she awaited her savior, his limbs ripped from scrap heaps and stitched into sequence.
Within these detached retractions, an anhistoric anathema, an anthropomorphic sort of metastasy. And upon this avatar’s archival, she faints to fake the snake as neither saint nor stained.
* * *
Blinded by the bindings, the wary could neither sleep nor seep. Survived the extraction, then revived by boiling to the point of sterility. Cold control coaxed, sparked as charge.
Each ear an appendage as forehead’s distortion segues space synthetic. Squeezed the portal to orbit astral lapses, voyeur of borders, of utter abyss’s gape of holes all cosmological. A dsymorphic orgy of anorgasmic ecstatics, an existential eskimo highlighted by the underlining.
* * *
Fidget the frail, modulate to shape the gaze’s scrape. Shaking to break, to sunder the hollow, bowl of halo’s shudder.
A hand-written resignation burned to cinder, yet in its final lines, its surface disbursed. Signed this sounding, a slipping outside inner wiring, shading the graze of speech received via a lifted endless loop.
Friday, April 08, 2005
But I have to say, this Saturday's La Tazza we should try for a New Orleans funeral. Love, love and more love!
This post is something I wanted to write BEFORE the event, mainly because I'm not wanting to just write about what happens tomorrow night. La Tazza has been (no doubt about it) the most important reading series to me as a poet, period! And I'm sure it will continue to be, as it finds a new home.
When I received the e-mail the other day it seemed like a belated April Fool's joke. Man alive I LOVE that space! My love for poetry and the chocolate martini go hand in loving hand!
My deepest thanks to Frank Sherlock, Greg Fuchs, Kyle Conner, and Magdalena Zurawski for your years of dedication to the finest series Philadelphia has ever seen. The generosity has come to us in many layers, and you have asked for so little from us in return.
Some of my favorite readings have been at either Highwire Gallery, where the series began, or La Tazza. But I must be honest that I didn't attend too many readings at Highwire Gallery because the space didn't turn me on. But I DID come when I did because what was going on was so amazing!
In fact I was just talking the other day about some of those readings. It was the first time I heard Jenn McCreary, a very memorable reading, the kind that can only wow you into poems. And I was at that reading with a friend who doesn't care much about poetry and she wanted to know if Jenn had a book as much as I did. Also I think she wanted to know if Jenn was married, which of course she was/is.
I'll always remember that amazing event hosted by John Coletti on Joseph Ceravolo! What a great night that was! So many others, a list of names that just have to be mentioned for me to picture the event, hear the poems again.
It's not too difficult to recall a La Tazza reading, but I'm not interested in merely creating a list. Being fed so well on poems is not to be taken lightly, and anyone who has attended La Tazza on a regular basis knows what I mean...this being fed. Many thanks especially to Frank Sherlock for continuing the series and continuing to make it more and more interesting for us. Many of us hope you want to continue the series Frank, it's an invaluable asset to the history of poetry.
"to this history of poetry" sounds so dramatic, and I don't care. It's how we are taking in the poetry in our lifetime, gotta love it!
La Tazza equals the best we can expect,
Sunday, April 10th
8th & Wharton
for the fourth in an ongoing poetry series…
Pattie McCarthy's bk of (h)rs (2002) and Verso (2004) were both published by Apogee Press. She received her M.A. in Creative Writing-Poetry from Temple University, and co-founded BeautifulSwimmer Press with Kevin Varrone. Her work has appeared in many magazines and journals, including 26: a journal of poetry & poetics, American Letters & Commentary, ixnay magazine, Kiosk, and Pom2. She has taught literature and writing at Queens College of the City University of New York, Loyola College in Baltimore, and Towson University. She lives in Philadelphia.
Seth Frechie is a poet and fiction writer who lives in Narberth, PA and, more recently, central Mexico where he spends summers with his wife, the artist and designer Karen Kauffman. A graduate of Temple University’s Creative Writing Program, Seth holds a PhD in English Literature. He is Associate Professor of English and Communication at Cabrini College where he directs the College Writing Program. From 1992 to 1997, he co-edited “TO: A Journal of Poetry, Prose, and the Visual Arts,” which published poets including Robert Creeley, Nathaniel Tarn, and Beverly Dahlen, visual art by Phillip Guston, Jock Sturges, and Emmet Gowin, as well as writing by a younger generation of Philadelphia poets and fiction writers.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Conjunctions is posting tributes, remembrances, anecdotes, stories, poems, lamentations,and
thoughts as a living memorial to the man and poet.
Here is my post to Conjunctions on Creeley:
Last April 2004 I wrote about Robert Creeley's frank and robust collection, If I were writing this. The book is a moving engagement with friends, family (persons he has loved - both dead and alive), and fragments of literature as it lives on through more literature. Though elegiac in mode, the book is affirming in Creeley’s onward “do not go gently” way. At their most stirring there is an inviting gusto in the poems. In "Supper," for instance, Creeley writes:
Days on the way,
lawn's like a shorn head
and all the chairs are put away
again. Shovel it in.
Eat for strength, for health.
Eat for the hell of it, for
yourself, for country and your mother.
Eat what your little brother didn't.
Be content with your lot
and all you got.
Be whatever they want.
Shovel it in.
At the time I was reading the collection, I found a passage from the introduction to Selected Writings of Charles Olson. Here Creeley writes: "We are not here involved with existentialism. Camus may speak of a world without appeal, but the system of discourse he makes use of is still demonstrably a closed one. What he seems most despairing about is that language cannot make sense of the world, that logic and classification do not lead to conclusions and value - but open only to the dilemma of experience itself." For Creeley, physical experience offers its own guide for the perplexed. As he puts it toward the end of "Conversion to Her":
One cannot say, Be as women,
be peaceful, then. The hole from
which we came
The one to which we go is real.
Monday, April 04, 2005
1821- Charles Baudelaire born
1865- U.S. Civil War ends
2005- the final La Tazza reading
That's right. Say good bye to your favorite Center City poetry hotspot. They're closing the doors after five years of giving Philly the best in DIY entertainment. I encourage you to come wish Frank & Tammy well, & leave outrageous goodbye tips to Leslie. They've been very generous to independent artists like ourselves & great friends to Philadelphia poetry.
I would like to take this oppportunity to thank all of you for sharing your magic w/ me during the last five years. Those of you who have shared your poems, spirit & conversation have been, & will remain vital to my work & life. I am proud to be part of a community that sustained the longest running, top-notch, indy experimental poetry series in Philadelphia history. Be proud of yourselves as we continue on.
And of course- the reason y'all showed up, there's the poetry...
The Grand Finale-
La Tazza 108 Chestnut St. Philly
7pm cocktail hour
reading @ 8 sharp
Will Esposito presents Laura Solomon, Dorothea Lasky, Lauren Ireland & Yago Cura
Laura Solomon was born in 1976 in Alabama and spent her childhood in various small towns across that state and its neighbor Georgia. She is the author of Bivouac (Slope Editions, 2002) and a second manuscript Blue & Red Things, poems from which have appeared recently in journals such as Gulf Coast, 6X6, and Verse. A chapbook, Letters by which Sisters Will Know Brothers, is forthcoming from Catalanche Press. She lives in Northampton, MA, where she is completing an MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Dorothea Lasky's poems have appeared in Lungfull!, 6x6, Blue Mesa Review, Skein, and Phoebe, among others, and are forthcoming in Crowd and The Boston Review. From St. Louis, she currently lives in Boston, where she teaches English at the New England Institute of Art.
Lauren Ireland's poems have appeared, or are forthcoming in, the Black Warrior Review, the Colorado Review, jubilat, LIT, and Spinning Jenny.
Yago Cura is a very special no one in particular. He teaches English Language Arts to 9th graders at Discovery HS in the Kingsbridge sections of the Bronx. His poems have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, U.S. Latino Review, LIT, Skanky Possum, COMBO, New Orleans Review, FIELD, and Lungfull! His translations have been published in Slope.org.
We'll open up the mike after the reading for any final toasts.
See you Saturday,