Category Archives: Books

Uanon: The “Deep State” of Literature

August 22, 2020

One of the best parts of studying for my Ph.D. in Literature at UCSD was taking a seminar on Caribbean novels and poems with Professor Winifred Woodhull, and getting a chance to examine that region’s cultural cartography as a result of being a major nexus of the “Black Atlantic.” It was in her seminar that I got the idea for looking at Hart Crane’s sheaf of poem, “Key West” in relationship to THE BRIDGE for the ways in which that shorter project both revealed and concealed the imperialist ideology at work in his major long poem. I went on to write that paper in John Carlos Rowe’s seminar. I was really lucky to be there at that particular moment in the program: Louis Montrose, Marcel Henaff, Michael Davidson, Donald Wesling, Kathryn Shevelow, and Page DuBois were all there, too (Rowe was a guest professor for one quarter; he taught at that time at UC Irvine, and then went to USC.) My guess is that Kamala Harris’s mix of Caribbean and Indian genealogy will probably generate a renewed interest in the presence of Indian immigrants in the Caribbean and their impact on that region.

The election itself is going to be a tight race, in part because I can see how Trump is going to use Harris to demonize the Democratic Party. Harris’s ambitions are no secret; after all, she formally ran for the office of President in 2019 and was a candidate listed on several primary ballots. With Biden’s appointment of her as his candidate for VP, he has all but said to the white supremacists who voted for Trump, “Hey, here’s your president in 2024.” Biden is a corporate centrist, but make no mistake about it. He has challenged Trump in an area that he has no reluctance to exploit, and Trump is going to play that card to roil his followers with fears of a female version of Obama being inaugurated by John Roberts in 2024. From Trump’s point of view, if you can’t find a Willie Horton, then find a former district attorney who can be used the same way.

These prediction was first passed on to me in a secret coded message from Uanon (parody intended). I suppose it should be UAnon, but I like the lower-case “a” better.

The Glory Year of Momentum Press

August 21, 2020

***********. Alicia Ostriker. — Leland Hickman — Len Roberts — Marine Robert Warden ************

In the last week of 1978, I published THE STREETS INSIDE: Ten Los Angeles Poets, an anthology that reflected the editorial influence of Leland Hickman. I often wish that I had aimed for a book of 200 pages with 30
poets, each averaging somewhere between five and ten pages. This might have diminished the presence of the prose poem and the long line poem in the anthology, but it would have been far more representative of the various scenes.

Don Gordon
James Krusoe
Ron Koertje
Doren Robbins
Paul Vangelisti
Dennis Phillips
Alvaro Cardona-Hine
Holly Prado
Harry Northup
Carol Lem
Frances Dean Smith
John Harris
Wanda Coleman
Manazar Gamboa
Bob Flanagan
Jack Grapes
Charles Bukowski
Gerald Locklin
Eliot Fried
Deena Metzger
Aleida Rodriguez
Exene Cervenka
John Doe
Peter Levitt
K. Curtis Lyle
Kate Braverman
Leland Hickman
Dennis Ellman
Bill Mohr
Eloise Klein Healy
Joseph Hansen
John Thomas
Stuart Z. Perkoff
William Pillin
Luis Campos
Gerda Penfold
Michael Andrews
David James
Martha Lifson

Of courses that’s 39 names, so having an anthology of 30 poets would have meant telling several of the above that she or he was being left out. Well, in that case, go for 40, and consider whether to include Tony Russo, William “Koki” Iwaomoto, Frank T. Rios, or Bill Margolis, or Estelle Gershgoren Novak.

Most of the poets I’ve named were largely associated with with several points-of-refraction: Papa Bach Bookstore; Beyond Baroque; Chatterton’s Bookstore; KPFK-FM; Woman’s Building.

If you’ve reviewed the above list, and not said to yourself, “Wait a minute! Where’s BERT MEYERS?”, then you are not yet familiar with that period of work in Los Angeles, for Bert’s name was who I heard another poet immediately mention right after a reading I attended at the Evergreen Theater when Ben Saltman’s name was mentioned. “Saltman’s good, but he’s not as good as Bert Meyers.”

In fact, should not Bert Meyers’s poem “THE DARK BIRDS” have opened this revised, retrospective anthology? Or for that matter, his poem about Los Angeles: “The world’s biggest ash-tray.”

And would Robert Peters not deserve to have been included, too?

So now we’re pushing beyond well beyond 40 poets. Indeed, this is the degree of poetic diversity within Los Angeles at the time. It is within the above context that Clayton Eshleman is editing Sulfur magazine in Los Angeles, and Dennis Cooper, Amy Gerstler, Jack Skelly, and David Trinidad launch the next generation of Los Angeles poets as they make Beyond Baroque a “must read” place for East Coast poets such as Tim Dlugos and Language poets such as Ron Silliman and Barrett Watten. Within two years, Dennis Cooper’s LITTLE CAESAR press would be putting out a volume of poems by Michael Lally, whose career as an actor never quite matched Harry Northup’s cinematic performances, but whose HOLLYWOOD MAGIC in 1982 provided the perfect maverick complement to Northup’s huge volume, ENOUGH THE GREAT RUNNING CHAPEL, which was highly praised by Los Angeles poet JAMES CUSHING.

And I have to admit that the above anthology would have been far more useful as an introduction to Los Angeles for poets who would be arriving very soon in town: Suzanne Lummis and Charles Harper Webb, in particular. Lummis and Webb would discover that a young poet who reviewed THE STREETS INSIDE in the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, Laurel Ann Bogen, was intent on making her mark on Los Angeles poetry, too, and would by the end of the next decade become known as one of its leading STAND UP POETS. Those poets would find support from a magazine in Long Beach, PEARL, edited by three women, including Joan Jobe Smith.

(Take another look at all the poets I’ve named, by the way, and ask yourself how many had received NEA Creative Writing grants at that point (1979). Three: Charles Bukowski, Deena Metzger, and Robert Peters. Hansen had received a grant, but it was for his prose.). The denial of a grant to Lee Hickman at this point remains a sore point with me.

I devoted most of 1979 to getting the next round of books ready for publication, and it turned out to be “glory year” of Momentum Press. Here are the four books I published in 1980, and the reviews they received. Leland Hickman’s poetry was republished by Nightboat Books, and Alicia Ostriker’s book remains in print, and is available on Kindle.

TIRESIAS I:9:B Great Slave Lake Suite – Leland Hickman
(Momentum Press, Bill Mohr, editor and publisher)

Nominated by the Los Angeles Times as one of the five best books of poetry published in the United States in 1980.

Great Slave Lake Suite is a book-length section of a longer poem, TIRESIAS, which Leland Hickman began writing in the mid-1960s. Parts of TIRESIAS first appeared in New American Writing, edited by Richard Howard; Beyond Baroque magazine (edited by George Drury Smith and Jim Krusoe), and Bachy and Momentum magazines, both edited by Bill Mohr. Leland Hickman’s poems had also appeared in Hudson Review and Trace magazine.

Great Slave Lake Suite combines, in a symphonic structure, narrative and meditations revolving around the author’s homosexuality from his childhood and his adult life, centering on a jonrey to the Great Slave Lake region of the Northwest Territories. Hickman’s ability to interweave a staggering variety of rhythms is hypnotically alluring.

Leland Hickman (1934-1991) was an editor as well as a poet. In addition to working on Bachy for its final nine issues, he also was the editor and publisher of Temblor magazine from 1985-1990. Temblor, which featured many poets aligned or associated with the “Language” movement” as well as maverick figures in the avant-garde, was “one of the most important magazines of its day,” according to Douglas Messerli. With the editorial assistance of Bill Mohr, Stephen Motika’s Nightboat Books published TIRESIAS: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman in 2009.

For an article in French on Hickman’s poetry, see:
https://www.cairn.info/revue-francaise-d-etudes-americaines-2015-4-page-10.htm

REVIEWED IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES by Peter Clothier (October 5, 1980)

“(T)he “principle of identity” asserting the essential continuity between man and world, self and other…. is the deep romanticism of much poetry today – the search for the recovery of this principle. Thus, the continuity between self and world emerges as a major theme in L.A> poet Leland Hickman’s GSLA, a song of the self alternately confessional and prophetic, lyrical and bardic. The books guided by the loose, a-chronological thread of a personal history – childhood joys and trauma, boyhood games and adolescent awakening to homosexuality, brutal transition into young manhood and final growth to maturity. The intense, pain-and-love-ridden relationships with father, mother, friends and lovers form the core of work whose larger perspective is the endless variety of the California landscape and cityscape.

Hickman’s long poem moves readily from easy-going, sometimes painfully realistic narrative into passages of ecstatic, even hallucinatory incantation, and still others into quiet lyricism, through a remarkable range of emotional intensities. In an established American tradition, he works additively with language, image and rhythms, allowing them to build into a broad, coordinated tapestry, well-woven to the fullness of his vison. The potential for movement from “re” into “love,” from separation to identity is not only the theme but also the process of the book.”

“(Hickman) immerses his psyche in the melodic, the rhythmic and harmonic densities latent in his own natural language and mercilessly pursues them to reveal ‘the hidden’ in himself … The achievement I sense in it so far is that of a stylistically sure and emotionally complex poem whose tone and entire sonic movement feel totally natural and authentic, wiry but not strained, an exhilaratingly disciplined ‘open’ improvisation with scarcely a wasted move.” – Stephen Kessler, Bachy magazine

“The craft and intelligence which Hickman wields in forming this vivid work makes the publication of this book a vital event for poetry in America.” – Martin Nakell, SULFUR

“I bow to Hickman’s grueling and powerful honesty and ability to sustain an affirmation …. His monolithic drive is really quiet something to pull off today … the power of the kicking Coltrane-like stanza heaves… Hickman’s work on the father is undoubtedly the most thorough since Olson, less mythic, and much more open to background, especially child sexuality.” – Clayton Eshleman, POETRY NEWS

“He’s the real thing …. It’s a work of such vivid beauty, of such obsessive honesty that it srartles, illuniates another part of that shadowy scroll, Truth …. A stunning work.” – Laurel Delp, LA WEEKLY.

“I know of nothing else written today quite like Great Slave Lake Suite. It reminds m=one of Dylan Thomas or Gerard Manley Hopkins, sometimes, in the sound play of its diction. It is a “word-rain” that draws its own parallels to Beckett and Faulkner and that asks (but not in so many words) to be compared to the first edition of Leaves of Grass, the ambitiousness of which it mateches – in the breakthrough of its lines and eroticism of its mysticism.” – Rudy Kikel, GAY SUNSHINE

“One of the most ambitious poems of growth and sexual history ever attempted by an American poet … passages of overwhelming energy and beauty.” – Robert Peters, SMALL PRESS REVIEW

“(His) art requires considerable attention – both for its intense linguistic brilliance and for its moving courage. With relentless yet shifting rhythmic intensity, the Suite is sustained for 100 pages and leaves the reader exhausted, stunned and inspired… The voice in the poem is distinct, utterly personal in the best sense of the word…. The poet has put himself at the service of the poem, not the other way around, and as a consequence we (as readers) find ourselves inside a psyche which is taking us places we’ve never been before.” – Stephen Kessler, CONTACT II

“A first-rate work of poetry, real quality, and an attention to structure and resonance.” – John Rechy

HE MOTHER/CHILD PAPERS — Alicia Ostriker (Momentum Press, 1980)
This volume of poems established Alicia Ostriker as one of the rising figures in American feminist poetry. The Mother/Child Papers would subsequently be republished by Beacon Press in Boston and by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

“Alicia Ostiker’s The Mother/Child Papers describes, first, the birth and nuture of the author’s third child. Secondly, the book fall under the demonic shdow of the 1970 invasion of Cambodia and the 1975 evacuation of Phnom Penh. But on the third and most telling view, Otriker’s work details the achievement of a connection between personal history and public fact as both present themselves to a very intelligent and interesting writer … I would, in short, like to see more book-length journal work from Alicia Ostriker, who has important judgments and saving observations to draw from the richness of her life and mind.” — Mary Kinzie, AMERICAN POETRY REVIEW (July-August, 1981)

“Defense of motherhood is a plucky undertaking for a poet these days, perhaps; Ostriker’s joy in it, not as an institution, but as a generous human experience, provides a warm emotional center to the work.” – Peter Clothier, LOS ANGELES TIMES (Feb. 1, 1981)

COHOES THEATER – Len Roberts (Momentum Press, 1980)
HONORABLE MENTION – Eliiston Awards, 1981 (University of Cincinnati)

“Cohoes Theater proves Len Roberts to be a skilled crafman. Each poem is a hard honed unit like the house the poet built near the Delaware River. It is rare to find lines worked so tight and taut which do not betray the labor and time put in them …. Whether floating through the air or skinny-dipping in the quarry, or lost in the memories of Boney’s Grill, this poet has things to share. But, of couse, we all have stories; the few who tell them so well should be welcomed company.” – Louis McKee, Small Press Review

“What Len Roberts says is terribly important, and beautiful, and moving and original. He will last!” – Gerald Stern

“I read (Cohoes Theater) at one sitting, tranquil and interested in your own calm humanity…. Curiously tender and intelligent writing.” – Allen Ginsberg

After Momentum Press published Cohoes Theater, Len Roberts (1947-2007) went on to have another half-dozen full-length books published, including From the Dark; Black Wings; and Silent Singer: New and Selected Poems (University of Illinois Press, 2001).

*. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *. *

BEYOND THE STRAITS – Marine Robert Warden (Momentum Press, 1980)
“Warden took the time and effort to master literary craftsmanship before attempting this opus. His care results in poetry that can stand beside Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird and the work of Jakov Lind…. emerging as Mary Shelley wrote of her Frankenstein, “from that twilight zone between sleep and waking.” A section of erotic love-poems following the war-poems offers an appropriate counter-point.” – Robin Michelle Clifton, SAMISDAT

Luchita Hurtado (1920 – 2020)

August 18, 2020

I remember seeing several paintings by Luchita Hurtado at the Hammer Museum in 2018 and not being alone in my admiration. Her work has that kind of charisma that can make total strangers feel relaxed enough to share their reactions to it with a casual exuberance that normally might betray one as naive or unsophisticated. In particular, I recollect one of the young people next to me was an artist from St. Louis, and she unabashedly said that she hoped to be that good an artist some day.

In taking note of Hurtado’s death this past week, news articles remarked on how long it took Hurtado time to get what little recognition she received, She herself understood the problem of her approach to imaginative work: “”Maybe the people who were looking at what I was doing had no eye for the future and, therefore, no eye for the present.” I remember telling someone that I wrote poems with a sense of what people in the future might want to read in order to learn what it was like to live at the present moment. My guess is that Hurtado and I are not talking about the same exact intentionality, though that might seem to be the case because of our use of temporal displacement. Her statement infers a more profound sense of imaginative context. Part of that context is the continued presence of the Woman’s Building in the cultural and social evolution of Los Angeles. For those who need to see the future of the past, I would urge you to visit the website of Woman’s Buildings archives at the website of the Otis College of Art and Design.

Quick quiz: read the first paragraph again. What did you imagine as the racial identity of the “young artist” I cited? The following obituary contains photographs that will give you a sense of Hurtado’s contribution to “Made in L.A.”

Bukowski’s Centenary: A Birthday Homage

August 16, 2020

Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994)
“Even the dead are growing old.” — Philip Levine

Los Angeles poets “of a certain age” have an odd relationship with their best-known peer. Fifty years ago, he provided a response to the out-of-town taunts that none of us were known outside of Southern California. While he certainly was not as famous as Allen Ginsberg, he was well enough known to provoke a counter-attack:”Oh, Bukowski’s not a poet.” The exclusion of Bukowski from any serious consideration didn’t let up as the years went by. It was sometime in the late 1980s that I spontaneously decided to address the neglect, at least on a local level.

Things were not particularly propitious in the late 1980s. Ronald Reagan had made life horrific for people in Central America, and the Savings-and-Loan debacle had pretty much been an economic tsunami in the United States. For reasons I never quite understood, a poet who was a fairly successful businessman named Victor di Suvero showed up in Los Angeles with the intention of organizing a poetry festival. I don’t remember who told him to contact me; it might have been Suzanne Lummis, whose poems he published in a chapbook in 1990.

I remember I met him in a very modest, narrow restaurant on Fourth Street in Santa Monica, with a counter and a set of booth along one wall. Di Suvero sat across from me in a rear booth and eventually got to his main pitch: he wanted me to organize some poets for a special event. He was visibly disappointed with my lack of enthusiasm. I had been active in the various scenes in Los Angeles poetry for over 15 years by that point, and I could see little reason to give time that had long been detoured into supporting other people’s writing into yet another ephemeral public presentation. Most readings turn out to be primarily private memories, whereas an issue of a magazine or a book can more easily straddle public memory. There it is, on the library shelf, and anyone can check it out.

Things were quiet for several minutes. Neither of us said much. Suddenly, a possibility presented itself to me. “I’ll tell you what,” I said. “How about an evening to honor Charles Bukowski? I’ll get together a dozen writers and we’ll talk about why he has been an important poet to us.”

Di Suvero agreed, not that he had much choice if he wanted me to be part of his publicity for his festival. I got together the poets, who included one of Bukowski’s oldest friends, John Thomas, as well as Michael Mollett, Brooks Roddan, and Susan Hayden. I did not contact Bukowski, and the publicity — what little I did for the event — emphasized that he was not going to appear. This was going to be nothing more than a super-sized panel. A decent crowd showed up, and so did Bukowski, much to my surprise.

I didn’t bring a camera, which I regret. On the other hand, I suspect that Bukowski by that point knew that I was no fawning acolyte. I never sent him poems asking for his approval, either before this event or after. On the other hand, he knew that I respected him enough to know that he deserved to have one of his best poems featured in my anthology, POETRY LOVES POETRY. “The Souls of Dead Animals” has one of the best lines in all of American poetry: “and the blood-smell begins to fulminate.” It’s surprising how few undergraduate students know what the word “fulminate” means. Bukowski had little use for meter, but it would take a determined academic to ignore how that line scans, and it’s not much different than many of the best lines in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Open with a pyrrhic foot, then a spondee, (caesura), then three iambs. In the midst of casual free verse, a moment of finger-picking on the blue guitar that has never stopped echoing in my mind’s ear.

So, manbe, Buckowski showed up because there would be no cameras, at least on my part. And no letters afterward asking him to help me get my poems published. Or simply begging for attention.

In fact, he read excerpts from letters from “fans” that night. “Dear Mr. Bukowski, / You probably won’t answer this letter…” Bukowski looked up at the audience, “You’re right, kid.” We laughed.

It was a small tribute; in recollecting it, I realize how little attention — serious attention — his work has received in the academy. Even at CSU Long Beach, I am perhaps the only tenured professor in creative writing who has consistently assigned a book of his in various classes; and I know of no other professor who gives extra credit to students who go to the special collections department and spend some time with the original edition of IT CATCHES MY HEART IN ITS HANDS. I’ve never had a single student say, “Oh, that was a waste of my time.”

If you are a fan of Bukowski’s work, you would do best to skip the kind of mainstream culture commentary that is to be found on National Purveyor Radio. The following article is embarrassing:

https://www.npr.org/2020/08/14/902456145/bukowski-at-100-remembering-a-literary-icon

Instead, if you are a fan, treat yourself to Laurence Goldstein’s POETRY Los Angeles, which has an entire chapter devoted to Bukowski’s poetry. Along with an essay by Robert Peters, Professor Goldstein’s commentary is one of those rare instances in which the candor of the criticism makes the praise glow. Indeed, I am grateful for several dozen of Bukowski’s poems. IF, in another hundred years, (or even sooner, by the centenary of his death) he turns out to be a minor figure in this period, he will be minor in all the ways that matter to the most memorable parts of human consciousness.

Wood Rose Anniversary

August 13, 2020

Today is the first anniversary of the death of my mother. I felt fortunate that my sister Joni was able to travel from Israel to Long Beach, California and to be with our mother when she died. When she returned to Israel, I gave her a small box that contained some wood rose bulbs that our mother had brought with her when our father (who was a career enlisted man in the U.S. Navy) was transferred after the Korean War from Hawaii to San Diego. According to the information on a website, this plant is categorized as an invasive species in Hawaii. Its seeds are also capable of remaining dormant quite some time. Since my sister’s return to Israel, a tiny wood rose plant has begun to grow, and she sent me some pictures to mark the occasion of this anniversary.

Wood Rose

The Retail Politics of Reality Island Elections

Tuesday, August 11

So Joe Biden picks Kamala Harris. This is like a rerun of Al Gore picking Joe Lieberman. Or Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro.

Everyone who has ever suffered from 24 percent and up interest rates on credit card debt can count on Harris to make Biden feel terrible about having facilitated that exploitation. And any college graduate floundering under student debt can count on Harris to make Biden feel equally bad about having retained that imposition when bankruptcy laws were revised.

Say what? — Just seeing if you’re paying attention.

Take note that it was easy enough in the primary debates for Harris to attack Biden about busing. You’ll notice she said nothing about his corporate allegiances. And that’s because she is even more firmly an advocate of economic exploitation.

Biden is proud of how he has kicked working people to the curb. Just like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

What choice do working people have at this point? Not much.

Trump is a monster. An illiterate monster. I found him utterly repulsive when he was a “reality TV star,” and he has only transmogrified in the years since.

On the other hand, both Biden and Harris are the opposite of Shirley Chisholm, who was “unbought and unbiased.” (When I typed that phrase, the computer changed it to “unsought and unbiased.”) The Big Banks are perfectly happy with the Democratic ticket in 2020. Unlike 2008, when Obama’s campaign might have given them a few sleepless nights, Biden and Harris will reassure the Big Banks from the start that they have nothing to fear.

The disappointment is not surprising.

What’s surprising is that I allow myself to feel disappointed.

* *. *

Post-Script:
According to the L.A. Times, I am not alone in my disappointment.
Both Tony Jolly, whose enterprise is the Hot and Cool Cafe in Leimert Park, and Melina Abdullah, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, wanted Biden to pick Karen Bass. I would say that all of us who wanted Biden to pick Bass are consoled by the fact that at least he made a choice that will improve his chances of defeating Trump.

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-08-12/kamala-harris-vp-california-reaction

My Recommendation for Biden’s VP Pick: Karen Bass

Monday, August 10, 2020

I hear that a statement has been signed by 100 African-American men telling Joe Biden that if he does not select an African-American woman to be his running mate, he will lose.

I agree.

If a woman with the qualifications of Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar cannot be elected president at this point, then this country should at least do the right thing and elect a woman vice-president in 2020. And given the number of African-American women who are qualified to hold that post right now, that woman should be African-American. Of the four who are most prominent on that list, I would select the top three as being Val Demings, Karen Bass, and Susan Rice. While certainly Kamala Harris is more qualified than Dan Quayle to be vice-president, she does not bring the particular strengths that the three I named would bring to the ticket.

I am going to cut to the chase. Biden should choose Karen Bass, and the main reason is that the VP is the presiding officer of the Senate (and the tie-breaking vote). If the Democrats take the Senate, or if it ends in a 50-50 split, you want someone in that spot who knows how legislation gets done, and who has an extraordinary sense of political ambidexterity. Because of her long experience as a legislator and as a member of the House of Representatives, Bass will be able — as President pro tem of the Senate — to work with Pelosi to craft legislation that Biden will not hesitate to sign.

Yes, signed, sealed, and delivered. Let’s hear it for Karen Bass!

I hear rumors, by the way, that she has spoken at socialist forums. In case people have forgotten, a lot of individuals who voted for Sanders in the primaries are needing reassurance that their issues matter in this campaign.

Sanders, by the way, should he have won, would no doubt have chosen an African-American woman as his running mate.

Post-Script:

Susan Rice or Val Demings would be very fine choices, too. Demings brings electoral value to the ticket, in terms of coming from Florida. Rice would be able to be for Biden, what Biden was for Obama: a foreign policy representative able to log hundreds of thousands of miles of global travel in the rebuilding of international alliances. Granted, I am always suspicious of the corporate Neo-imperalisms (plural, deliberately) that mark the Clinton-Obama administrations, but such is the embroiling nature of governments at this point that contretemps must be vigilantly addressed to prevent catastrophe from catching us off-guard.

As for 2024, don’t be surprised if Tammy Duckworth makes a run for it.

The Collected Poems of Eugene Ruggles

Friday, August 7, 2020

ROADS OF BREAD: The Collected Poems of Eugene Ruggles (edited by Delia Moon; Petaluma Press, 2009)

The one and only time I met Gene Ruggles was in the Fall of 1982, when we gave a reading at the Intersection in San Francisco. Ruggles was in his late 40s and was best known for his prize-winning first book of poems, The Lifeguard in the Snow, which had been published in June, 1977 by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Several hundred libraries purchased copies, and Ruggles seems to have savored his success with alcoholic excess. I knew nothing about him other than his book when I agreed to read with him. I remember that I read first, and that there was a constant undercurrent of loud conversation and personal bantering between Ruggles and the friends he had brought along to the reading. When I asked Ron Silliman afterwards why the reading was so noisy, he informed me that Ruggles was well known for bringing a rowdy crowd along.

I didn’t stay in touch with Ruggles, who apparently hewed to a path of inebriation: “the demon of heavy drink” was the phrase used in a newspaper article about him shortly before he died. As he aged, he found himself surviving on disability, and by the late spring of 2004 needed a walker to get around. By 2004, he had a one-two punch of open-heart surgery and eviction from his hotel room in Petaluma, California, which he had occupied for 15 years. According to a newspaper article, his landlord had given him several weeks to find new accommodations, but within less than ten days after the article, Ruggles had died.

Five years later, ROADS OF BREAD: the Collected Poems of Eugene Ruggles was published by Petaluma River Press. In addition to reprinting his one and only book, this volume includes two subsequent manuscripts. I cannot speak of how much effort Ruggles made to get these manuscripts published, but perhaps it gives some indication of his indifference to po-biz success and acclaim that one of which was found in an abandoned cabin in which Ruggles had once lived. On the other hand, it may be simply a case of someone who believes that one book is sufficient to establish oneself as a worthy poet, and that one’s life need not be spent striving for the panorama of whimsical reputation.

At some future point, I hope that an anthology of poets who lived and worked for a significant amount of time on the West Coast will be assembled by some dedicated editor. Perhaps the project should wait for another 20 years, so that the book encompasses a century (1940-2040). Ruggles will not be the only poet who will be in danger by that point of being forgotten. How many people can say that they are familiar with the work of William Witherup, who also lived a picaresque existence, and who also wrote with a vivid imagistic brush.

ROADS OF BREAD includes the work from two unpublished manuscripts as well the final drafts of a few unfinished poems. It is likely that this writing would not have become available to readers unless Delia Moon had made a fairly heroic effort to get this book out. It deserves to be in more libraries, if only to demonstrate that there were poets for whom the politics of race stayed central to their imaginative inquiries into social power. When Ruggles was writing the poems that went into his final manuscript twenty years ago, few other poets were concerning themselves with DuBois’s”problem of the color line.” One could read several of Ruggles’s poem within the current context of Black Lives Matter, but we should remember that Ruggles did not have that context to encourage to write such poems as “Busing Justice Through Freedom Summer” and “You May Do That,” which is dedicated to Rosa Parks; and “You and Rodney King.” Nor is he an outsider to the community of the disaffected and marginalized; he, too, has waited for the meager share allotted to those without a claim to property:

The lives of the poor and the sick
are recorded in the history of lines.
So many millions upon millions have gone
to their deaths in lines, waited for bread in lines.
You will not find the names of wealth
and power in the history of lines.
(“The Line at the Social Security Disability Office in Santa Rosa, California”)

Ruggles is more than a poet of stark, direct protest, however. There is most certainly a critique in poems that come out of his experiences working in the merchant marine:

Overhead the moon
has thrown open a sack of tides
and the waves reach upward,
this wind tied to their backs.
The ship falls between them
running in a. thick underbrush
of spray and salt.
Her propeller turning
without a footfhold of water,
trying to climb what moves
toward us like a landslide.
Beneath her cuts of rust
are tons of oil.
Remembering a long body
and pouring itself at a steel cave.
And the sea has our smell.
(The Chase – Oil Tanker in a Storm”)

Ruggles retained a skill with figurative language throughout his life as a itinerant poet who eventually washed up near the Petaluma River. That this book has salvaged work that might otherwise have gone lost, and the book is worth your effort to find it. Imagine a version of James Wright who lived outside of the academy, and who associated with poems aligned with the Beat movement, but was not himself a Beat or of their kind, and you have a hint at the poems that await you. If Ruggles’s poems are not part of the avant-garde, neither can they be accused of being complicit with the school of quietude. He earned his place in the anthology of major mavericks, and I can only hope that a future editor cultivated the friendship of those who have long memories.

*. *. *

Note: The newspaper article depicting Ruggles near the end of his life can be found online. “A room of one’s own / Pioneer poet Eugene Ruggles faces hard times with illness, search for a new home” by John Geluardi, Special to The Chronicle Published 4:00 am PDT, Friday, May 28, 2004

Covid Cartoons

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

I scripted a cartoon called “Trump in a Hazmat Suit” a couple weeks ago, and since then other ideas have continued to arrive. Once again, you’ll have to do the drawings in your head.

Number One:

A MAGA-hatted crowd, with T-shirts reading “I”m C-19 Positive,” cheers Federal troops who are launching tear-gas at BLM protestors:
“Make those anarchists stop wearing masks!”

**** ******. *******.

Number Two:

Beach scene: Young, lithe bodies, scantily attired.

An old woman, wearing a mask, says to a young woman stretched out on a beach blanket, “The virus is glad to see that your face has less covering that your breasts.”

Would this be considered a sexist cartoon by feminist scholars?

One way to understand the privilege of patriarchal culture is to consider the entire “communication circuit” of the Cold War’s containment culture. If this pandemic had happened in 1975 or 1985, I can imagine a cartoonist pitching the editorial staff at Playboy magazine with the same drawing, but with a man wearing a mask, and holding binoculars in one hand. The caption in that case would read one of two ways: “Too bad your face has less covering than your tits”; or, “Too bad your tits have more covering than your face.” Regardless of the caption, the gaze of and at the audience reinforces the access to domination represented by the allure of representational power.

*. ****. ******

Number Three:

Trump in a baseball locker room, holding up his jersey (Number 45): “Of course they should retire ny number.”

White House SABREMETRICS

The Presidential Hall of Fame Statistics

Average Presidential Hall of Fame Statistics:
Number of Innings: 2,500 innings (accounting for terms cut short by assassination or illness)
(“Innings” reporesent one day in office)
Number of Earned Runs Allowed: 450
E.R.A.: 1.50
HRs Allowed: 275
Wild Pitches: 35
WAR (Win above Replacement: 60.50

TRUMP’s PRESIDENTIAL LINE:
Number of Innings: 1,461
Number of Earned Runs Allowed: 2,945
E.R.A.: (Too painfully high to calculate to the final decimal point, but over 18.00)
Wild Pitches: 873
Hit Batters: 382
HRs Allowed: 1,368
WAR (Win above Replacement): Minus 44

If I end today’s post with a baseball locker room cartoon, it is in part because I read in the L.A. Times on-line, on Wednesday evening, July 29th, that the Miami Marlins has had more than half of their active roster test positive for COVID-19. I have had that report confirmed:
“Major League Baseball has officially paused the season of the Miami Marlins until Monday now that half the active roster has tested positive for coronavirus.”
https://sports.yahoo.com/report-four-more-marlins-players-test-positive-for-coronavirus-141543553.html

Over two and a half months ago, President Donald Trump said that “(Covid-19) is going to go away without a vaccine. …. You may have some — some flare-ups …. Maybe not. … We’ll be able to put them out. …. eventually, it’s going to be gone….. that doesn’t mean this year, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be gone, frankly, by the fall or after the fall. But eventually, it’s going to go away.”

This is called playing footsie with the facts of how epidemics work.

https://www.factcheck.org/2020/05/trump-baselessly-claims-coronavirus-will-go-away-without-vaccine/

Crystal Ball: Trump’s “Concession Speech” _- November 4, 2020

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Now that we are officially less than 100 days away from the national election on Tuesday, November 3, it’s time to look into the crystal ball of my computer screen, and view how it plays out the day afterwards.

Date: November 4, 2020
Time: 8 p.m. (West Coast Time)
“Place”: MSNBC TV studio
Rachel Maddow on the screen, speaking to the camera

“Good evening. The polls have been closed for 24 hours. It is Wednesday, November 4th, 8 p.m. East Coast Standard Time, and we have yet to hear from President Trump. His campaign has announced that Vice-President Pence will be speaking soon at Trump’s re-election headquarters.

“The current results show a national vote total of 67,396,072 votes for Joe Biden and 61,048,753 for Donald Trump. It should be noted that Biden’s vote total is more than one million votes greater than Barack Obama’s winning vote total in 2012 as well as more than one million votes greater than the total number of votes cast for Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. Donald Trump has so far received one million less votes than he did in 2016. His campaign simultaneously claims that a huge number of mail-in ballots in his favor remain to be counted, and at the same time that the mail-in ballots constitute the most egregious instance of voter fraud in electoral history.”

(Rachel Maddow continues speaking as the cameras shift to a POV shot of the stage and central podium of the Donald Trump re-election headquarters. The tops of heads of some of the audience are visible in the foreground.)

“We go now to Trump’s re-election headquarters, where his son, Donald Trump, Jr., is about to introduce the Vice-President.”

(Crowd noise: “Forty More Years! Forty More Years!” Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” plays in the background.)

Donald Trump, Jr. strides to the podium: “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.” (He repeats these three sentences sixteen times.) Crowd continues to chant: “Forty more years! Forty more years!”

“I will begin…

(crowd continues chanting… “Forty more years! Forty more years!”)

“I will begin…. (Crowd begins to calm and the noise level slowly subsides.) I will begin this evening by asking all of you to join me in saying the Pledge of Allegiance and I am sure there is no here tonight who will take a knee and act ashamed of being an American citizen. Let us all stand straight and tall.

“”I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

“We also pledge allegiance to elections free of fraud, deceit, and manipulation. My father and I have had a chance to review the ongoing results of the reelection of Donald Trump and found even more massive amounts of brazen irregularities than we anticipated, especially in the states that constitute the swing vote in the Electoral College. We have filed demands for recounts as well as legal reviews of all of these attempts to subvert the will of the people and will be monitoring the outcome until we satisfied with the final report.

“My father has given his all to the cause of American renewal and unprecdented prosperity. I can assure you that he is not going away. You remain utmost in his thoughts. I now call upon Vice-President Pence to address you about plans to hold rallies in the next two weeks. At these gatherings, which you will have to present proof of non-vaccination in order to be admitted, the President will speak about our efforts to insure that no future election will ever have to endure such perverse treason by those who claim to be citizens, but who hate our country. May God bless all of you who love this country, and may He keep this nation ever in His care. God doesn’t back down, and neither do we!”

Vice-President Pence takes the stage….
“Our President both needs and wants your prayers. In specifically asking for this tonight, he hopes that God will guide him in the coming weeks, as he undertakes to save this country from succumbing to the deceptive campaign and falsified voting totals being touted by a poltical party known for its self-serving, radical left-wing, socialist agenda.”

Etc. Etc.

(Stay tuned.)