Tag Archives: Amy Gerstler

Tom Clark (Poet; Editor; Biographer): R.I.P.

Tom Clark (March 1, 1941 – August 18, 2018)

No sooner had I finished a draft of yesterday’s blog post than I learned of Tom Clark’s death. I had known that Frank Rios was dying, for it was a great disappointment a week earlier to everyone gathered at KCET’s video recording for the Venice West segment of “Lost Los Angeles” that Frank was not well enough to attend the shoot. Clark, though, was killed as a result of being a hapless pedestrian in an area of Berkeley regarded by automobile drivers as their privileged domain. The abruptness of his passing has shocked his many admirers and friends.

Along with Ted Berrigan, James Schuyler, and Peter Schjeldahl, Clark was one of the leading influences from various strands of the New York School of Poets and their poetic progeny on the Los Angeles scenes between 1978 and 1985. Certainly his poem, “Baseball and Classicism” was among the favorites of AIB (Artists Interested in Baseball), an informal group of poets and artist friends who attended Dodger baseball games as a group back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Baseball and Classicism”
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47076/baseball-and-classicism

http://www.baseball-almanac.com/poetry/po_clmt.shtml

The best two commentaries I can pass on to you at this moment are Terence Winch’s commentary and Erik Noonan’s long article in Tupelo Quarterly.

http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/the_best_american_poetry/2018/08/tom-clark-try-to-look-upon-death-as-a-friend-terence-winch.html

A Calmer Unease: Tom Clark’s Truth Game

Noonan’s article is long and substantial enough to catch the average reader off-guard, if only because so few poets receive an in-depth consideration of their books in the 21st century. Clark taught at the New College of California for many years, and it’s possible that Noonan’s critique reflects his appreciation for Clark’s work as a teacher and mentor.

Clark’s literary efforts were fairly comprehensive. In addition to poetry, he wrote biographies of several other poets (Edward Dorn; Charles Olson; Ted Berrigan; Jack Kerouac, and Robert Creeley) and a fair amount of reviews. He was one of the few critics outside of Los Angeles to pay attention to the poets in the scenes here back in the 1980s. Not only was he one of the very first to take notice of Amy Gerstler, but he also had considerable praise for another much under-appreciated project, Peter Schneider’s Illuminati Press. My guess is that Clark will be the subject of more than one biography. He certainly will be a presence in many other biographies, if only as an antagonist who made it clear that poetry was a matter of serious gambling: one is playing for the whole casino. Nothing less is on the table. The fact that Clark grew up in the Midwest, attended college in Michigan, and was then a major presence in New York City in the early 1970s and Bolinas, California in subsequent decades will enable Clark’s biographers to work with a shifting backdrop of landscape and cultural horizons. It is a tempting project.

The Southern California Poetry Festival

Saturday, September 10, 2016

THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA POETRY FESTIVAL — Long Beach Renews Its Compact with Poetry

I have lived and worked in Long Beach, California the past ten years, and while there are a few local reading series, such as the one at Gatsby Books and another recent start-up by liz gonzalez, I usually have to head north to Beyond Baroque or the Armand Hammer to attend a reading. Due to my workload at CSU Long Beach, however, and the age of the vehicle I drive, I have a limited amount of time I can spend on the road. Fortunately, in recent years, I have been able to use my position as a member of the English Department at CSU Long Beach to bring over a dozen poets to campus, and I am grateful for the generosity of these poets in accepting a very minimal honorarium.

This weekend, though, the Southern California Poetry Festival is taking place in Long Beach, and I hear that the event is sold out for both days. I myself wish that I could have attended at least one or two of the events, but putting in a request for a ticket has been at the bottom of my “to do” list. With the exception of a lovely, but all too brief visit with Larry and Nancy Goldstein, and the dozen or so hours given to self-contemplation during the UCLA Oral History interviews conducted by Jane Collings, this past summer was devoted to improving the living situation of my 94-year-old mother. The past eight weeks have been especially consumed with that task, and there is no indication of a let-up in the challenges posed by her deterioration. My mother may well recuperate and regain her footing to enjoy the upcoming birth of her first great-grandchild, but I suspect the hard work of being among the very old is even more daunting than she anticipated.

My sister, Joni, flew to the United States from her home in Israel about a month ago to lend considerable assistance, and this was her second trip here to help out since the late spring. Of our mother’s half-dozen offspring, we are the pair most currently involved as advocates of her care, as well as the ones most directly giving her solace and nurture. If my blog has lagged at times over the past three years, it is not just the need to give my students the attention they deserve that has caused my absence from posting. My mother has been steadily declining since about 2008, but she has stubbornly resisted acknowledging the encroaching fallibility of old age. She only gave up her driver’s license shortly after turning 90. She had driven over 70 years without ever getting in a single automobile accident, not even one caused by the egregious neglect of another driver. I have to give her high marks for quitting while she had a perfect record in that regard.

The closest I will get to the Southern California Poetry Festival, therefore, will be having Laurel Ann Bogen stay over tonight with Linda and me in Long Beach. Laurel arrived earlier this afternoon and has gone off to a movie with Linda to give me some time to read and prepare for classes. I just finished Faulkner’s “Spotted Horses,” which I will teach on Monday with the same pleasure with which I read it once again.

I especially regret not being able to hear Jax NTP read this weekend. Jax is a graduate of the CSULB MFA program and I have been delighted to see that she has continued to write and to start getting her work published in magazines such as Larry Smith’s on-line edition of Caliban magazine. I also would have enjoyed hearing the panel discussion on the Poetics of Southern California, featuring Marilyn Chin, Suzanne Lummis. Luis J. Rodriguez, and Ralph Angel, and moderated by David Ulin. In addition to Laurel Ann Bogen, other poets who will be reading this weekend include Gail Wronsky, Robin Coste Lewis, Mike Sonksen, Douglas Kearney, Griselda Suarez, Amy Uyematsu, Paisley Rekdal, Billy Burgos, Charles Harper Webb, Nicelle Davis, Frank X. Gaspar, Brendan Constantine, Sarah Vap, Judy Kronenfeld, and Amy Gerstler. The only scheduled poet who I have heard read before and whose work is not particularly interesting is Henri Cole. Any festival that can have such a high ratio of interesting, vital poets is a major success. I hope all who attend enjoy the weekend as much as I would have, should I have been free.

Mike Kelley Retrospective

August 1, 2014

THE MIKE KELLEY RETROSPECTIVE

The one and only time I happened to see the late Mike Kelley was at Beyond Baroque in one of his first major public presentations. I was not as impressed with his performance as I was with Johanna Went, whose work was also being featured at BB around this period. The younger poets showing up at Beyond Baroque at the time, however, such as Dennis Cooper, Amy Gerstler, as well as fiction writer Benjamin Weissman, were enthusiastic about Kelley’s flare for self-centered intensity. Kelley seemed to have the charisma of the undeterred: what other choice was available, his taciturn presence on the stage seemed to insist.

Kelley’s charisma, it turned out, derived in part from his desire to subvert some inner dichotomies that he knew he was not responsible for. If post-modernism denied the transparent culminations of any knowledge-oriented project, Kelley was not about to succumb to some easy road to absurdist consciousness. Flamboyantly concise and expansively precise, Kelley’s work exuded a commitment to a mission from which few return less damaged than at the start, and make no mistake about it: this society’s post-World War II ideologies ran ramshackle over Kelley’s youthful sensitivities. One piece in particular summed up the traumatic origins of Kelly’s angst. On a wall near the large scale model of his childhood’s institutional indoctrination sites, one could find posted a “Suspected Child Abuse Report,” which the following comments were registered: “Raised by Zombies / Brainwashed by a Cult / Take me back, please.” If the first two comments suggest a prickly revulsion akin to Bob Dylan’s line, “Is there a hole for me to get sick in?” the third comment reveals how difficult it is to escape from the black hole of one’s bleak childhood.

“Educational Complex” was one of the last pieces I encountered as I worked my way through the major retrospective of Kelly’s work at the Geffen Temporary Contemporary, and it remains one of the three or four pieces I would most want to see again. It vibrates in my memory like a massive omphalos of sanitized ideology in which all the personal responsibility for the imposition of egregiously repressive social control has been utterly effaced. No one needs to utter the platitude of “I take full responsibility” because those who benefit the most from this structural edifice have already made their victims the only ones who are permitted to make such a confession.

I wish I had the time to read a few essays on Kelley’s work before posting this entry, but almost immediately after Linda and I viewed this show, I received a call from the Los Angeles Review of Books wanting to know if I would write something about Joseph Hansen and gave me a two-week deadline. I agreed, and that more or less eliminated any chance to go into any more depth on Kelly. As I have thought about his show, though, I have found myself wanting to rearrange the order of the pieces. I would love to have encountered the following sequence: “Abused Child Report”; “Educational Complex”; “Kandor”; the video of Superman reading Plath’s The Bell Jar; “The Greatest Tragedy of President Clinton’s Administration”; and “Pay for Your Pleasure.”

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned L.A. poets who were among Kelley’s earliest admirers.  One I didn’t mention was Bob Flanagan, who went on to become a performer in one of Kelley’s pieces mid-way through this exhibit. As I think about it, in fact, I wonder if Bob Flanagan’s self-portrait as “super-masochist” might possibly have been part of the germination of the “Kandor” project in which Superman’s hometown undergoes a version of whimsical gentrification. I must admit that I was rather enchanted by the scale model that one had to climb a short staircase to view. It was a full of radiant crystals, about two dozen towers in all, on a circular platform. No figures were visible, as if the only life were taking place inside these cathode tubes of utter peacefulness, a kind of mineral chrysalis.

“The Greatest Tragedy of President Clinton’s Administration” proved to be a belated caustis manifesto of sexual rebellion. Kelley’s half-dozen paragraphs choreographed the rhetoric of health with scathing irony. His logic was seething with self-evident obviousness: don’t people see how they’ve been swindled out of their birthright of pleasure? Kelley’s argument moves with a lucid ferocity from health care to sexual health, in which his recommendation is that rock figures should become the sexual servants of those who disempower their own libidos by fixating on the paradigmatic success of others.

“Pay for Your Pleasure” deserved to have a more pungent dialectical rebuke. One also wonders if Kelley at any point ever paused and thought to himself, “Hmmm, all males. In what way does my work differ from the effigies of figures that decorate the upper walls of the Boston Public Library as the fundamental resources of knowledge in Western Civilization?”  I will confess that “Pay for Your Pleasure”  did catch me off –guard with the intensity of a sudden desire to appropriate this piece and to stage it in Texas. In point of fact, what would it have meant for Kelley to have purchased and installed one of George W. Bush’s portrait paintings as the terminal point of this prêt-a-porter philosophical tour.

The video in which Superman reads portion of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was easily one of the most tantalizing parts of the entire exhibit. I would love to be able to use this video in a classroom. It was one of those rare moments when a combination of well-known cultural figures is a perfect blend, and one wonders why no one thoughts of this before. Michael Garvey’s performance of Superman deserves a special commendation.

“Infinite Expansion” (1982, Broad Art Foundation), which Linda saw as having a visual logic of “contraction,” has a chiastic quality of zig-zag overflow, as if it were an image of a fountain of rippling temporality. It served as a rare moment of respite in Kelley’s retrospective. Perhaps I am misreading this piece, but for once Kelley might have found a way out of duplicity of social manipulation and achieved a glimpse at a logic that frees the spirit rather than demolishing it under the pretence of human progress.