"Hunter's Moon," by Molly Fisk
"Arrows in Mid-Air," by Jack Foley
"The Poet as Heretic," by Richard Silberg Subscription Information
Early December, dusk, and the sky
slips down the rungs of its blue ladder
into indigo. A late-quarter moon hangs
in the air above the ridge like a broken plate
and shines on us all, on the new deputy
almost asleep in his four-by-four,
lulled by the crackling song of the dispatcher,
on the bartender, slowly wiping a glass
and racking it, one eye checking the game.
It shines down on the fox's red and grey life,
as he stills, a shadow beside someone's gate,
listening to winter. Its pale gaze caresses
the lovers, curled together under a quilt,
dreaming alone, and shines on the scattered
ashes of terrible fires, on the owl's black flight,
on the whelks, on the murmuring kelp,
on the whale that washed up six weeks ago
at the base of the dunes, and it shines
on the backhoe that buried her.
From Listening to Winter, by Molly Fisk, volume four in the California
Poetry Series, Roundhouse Press, Berkeley, 2000.
Molly Fisk is also the author of a letterpress collection, Salt Water
Poems; a spoken word audio tape, Surrender; and Terrain, a book of
poems written with Dan Bellm and Forrest Hamer. A San Francisco native, she
now lives in Nevada City, California, where she teaches creative writing.
Issue 284, February/March 2000
Arrows in Mid-air
American Zen Bones: Maezumi Roshi Stories, by Philomene Long, Beyond
Baroque Books, Los Angeles, 1999, 108 pages, $10.00. Available from Small
Press Distribution, Berkeley, www.spdbooks.org.
The old Chinese Zen masters were steeped in Taoism. They saw nature in its
total interrelatedness, and saw that every creature and every experience is
in accord with the Tao of nature just as it is. This enabled them to accept
themselves as they were, moment by moment, with the least need to justify
--Alan Watts, "Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen" (1958)
"When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good
bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself."
--Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1970)
There was North Beach in San Francisco, Greenwich Village in New York, and
Venice Beach in Southern California.
Of the three, Venice Beach has been studied least. It was the subject of
Lawrence Lipton's sensationally successful The Holy Barbarians, published
in 1959. More recently, John Arthur Maynard produced Venice West: The Beat
Generation in Southern California (Rutgers, 1991). "Venice, California,
has seldom been an entirely respectable place," writes Maynard. "If there
are no plaques dedicated to the poets and artists who made it famous as an
enclave of the Beat Generation in the late fifties; it is because if they
were still around in force, respectable people would undoubtedly be making
plans to chase them away":
[The artists'] contempt for middle-class people and their values was the
equal of any New York intellectual's and they cheerfully paid a higher
price for it--complete and voluntary obscurity. By their own transmuted
version of the Puritan ethic, a fully realized human being was one who
lived for art, friendship, love, and candor, and whose devotion was
expressed through undistracted, unrelenting, and unrewarded work. [T]he
[Greenwich] Village rebels really expected to transform American
civilization; the Venice beats did not. Most of them remain unknown because
they refused to cash in on themselves.
Tony Scibella, one of the poets Maynard interviewed, described "the
powerful 'drive for nonrecognition' among Venice poets and artists."
The central figure of the Venice poetry scene was Stuart Z. Perkoff, a
brilliant writer whose work has finally been collected by the National
Poetry Foundation. Voices of the Lady: Collected Poems appeared in 1998.
Perkoff was also a marvelous reader: I have some very rare tapes, and they
Philomene Long was with Perkoff when he died in 1974. When she met him,
says Maynard, she was "thirty-three, dark, mercurial, and very, very
Irish." An "artist, a poet, film-maker, and a former nun," she was to be
Perkoff's "friend, soulmate, and principal flesh-and-blood 'lady' for the
remainder of his life."
Long was the daughter of a naval officer. She grew up in San Diego, went
to Catholic schools, and graduated from Our Lady of Peace Academy. Her
vocation as a nun came at age seven, and she entered the convent "as a
rather wild teenager." She became, Maynard says, "a rather wild nun." A
friend in the convent told Long about Venice and told her as well that she
was a "beatnik." When Long asked why, her friend replied, "Because you
spend so many hours looking at the sky." After a failed marriage, Maynard
goes on, "she moved to Venice to write poetry, shoot film, and live exactly
as she chose." She became "a regular feature of the Ocean Front in her
tennis shoes, black thrift-shop dresses, long, straight hair, alarm-clock
pendant, and heavy silver cross." She met Perkoff in 1973. After his death
she continued to live in Venice--and, twenty-five years later, she is
"still around in force."
Over the years Long has published many books of poetry, including two
collaborations with her husband, poet John Thomas: The Book of Sleep and
The Ghosts of Venice West. She has also made films: The Beats: An
Existential Comedy, with Allen Ginsberg, and The California Missions,
with Martin Sheen. Her interest in Zen began in 1968. In 1974 she began to
study with Maezumi Roshi and continued with him until Maezumi's death in
1995. This book arises out of that relationship. "Two major pioneers of Zen
in the West," Long writes, "were Suzuki Roshi, who came to San Francisco,
and Maezumi Roshi, who came to Los Angeles":
America was fertile ground for them. There was a reaction here to
post-World-War-Two materialism. Old structures and thought patterns were
splitting at the seams, coming apart.
In the 1940s and '50s, when America's youth looked to the sky, we saw not
only a blue expanse. We saw a bomb. Another kind of cloud. With small
expectations from a world that could explode at any time, our response was
to live from moment to moment. This young American gaze met Japanese Zen.
Two arrows meeting in mid-air.
Zen: living in NOW. The smile of direct experience.
American Zen Bones: Maezumi Roshi Stories is neither a memoir nor a
biography. It is precisely what the subtitle says it is: a storybook. The
title suggests Paul Reps' collection of Zen and pre-Zen writings, Zen
Flesh, Zen Bones, which also contains many stories:
Not the Wind, Not the Flag
Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: "The flag is moving."
The other said: "The wind is moving."
The sixth patriarch happened to be passing by. He told them: "Not the
wind, not the flag; mind is moving."
That is exactly the kind of thing we find in American Zen Bones, except
that Long's stories are all centered in Maezumi Roshi (if they can be said
to be 'centered' in anything: Watts points out that the Zen master "no
longer feels that he is an ego. He sees that his ego is his persona or
social role, a somewhat arbitrary selection of experiences with which he
has been taught to identify himself."--"Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen").
Here is a sample:
The Purpose of Zen
Maezumi was asked, "What is the purpose of Zen?"
He replied, "To be stupid. To be really stupid."
Is Maezumi being rude? Yes, of course he is, but he is being rude in the
best tradition of Zen masters. Is he saying that the person who asked the
question is stupid? Again, yes, but with some qualification. The master is
sensing a somewhat self-congratulatory quality in that question. The person
asking it believes himself to be asking an important question--a question
about purpose. But such a question cannot be answered in Zen terms. The
question implies a sense of the asker's intelligence: he is asking a
serious question about a serious subject. Maezumi's answer deliberately
pops that bubble. Zen is the opposite of the implications of such a
question; indeed, in the context of such questions, practicing Zen is being
"really stupid"--unintelligent. The question is turned in upon itself and
made the subject of the answer. Beyond this, the questioner is being asked
to make some fundamental changes in his own life. He thinks he is
"intelligent." He must become "really stupid." Of course he is "really
stupid" already, but not in the right way--if there is a right way. And
how would a "really stupid" person know whether there were a right way?
The brief exchange suggests that proper intelligence is stupidity and that
proper stupidity is intelligence. Etceteras. Mind is moving.
It is with such considerations in mind that Long claims her book "is not
about Zen. This book is Zen." Though the book deals with Maezumi Roshi, who
had a real, historical existence, we cannot quite trust it to be telling us
the exact historical truth about him. Long says, "I have taken a certain
amount of creative license, in the spirit of Maezumi Roshi." In the
concluding piece she tells Maezumi that she is putting him in a book. She
asks, "Do you want to know what I have you say?" His answer is, "Make it
up." She does. Maezumi is the catalyst. It is through him that Long finds
"the moment of transmission between East and West, the impact, the instant
of touch." But the point is not the catalyst; the point is the
But make no mistake about it, American Zen Bones is not a work of
fiction. Despite Long's "creative license," we get plenty of genuine
information about Maezumi Roshi. We learn that he was born in 1931, that he
came to America in 1956, and that in 1967 he founded the Zen Center of Los
Angeles. He was a poet and a calligrapher as well as a teacher, and there
are samples of his calligraphy in the book. The stories are all dialogues,
and Maezumi emerges as witty, evasive, direct, caring, energizing. At
times, speaking of himself, he is quite moving: "I am always tired. I am
always hurting." Long's stories arise out of the community of his
disciples--she is often quoting people--and they all bear re-reading.
Praising Maezumi, Peter Matthiessen observes that he "moved beautifully,
leaving no trace." At one point Maezumi tells one of this pupils (all of
whom seem to have taken Japanese middle names: "Lorraine Gessho Kumpf,"
"Robert Joshin Althouse," "Bernard Tetsugen Glassmen") "an old tale about a
man who had seen through to the inseparable nature of the Buddha-Dharma."
The pupil responds, "Oh, that's a lovely story, Roshi!" The master answers
angrily, "It's NOT a STORY!!"
The stories in this book are NOT STORIES, too.
In Zen and Western Thought Masao Abe writes that "Zen is neither
absolute knowledge nor salvation by God, but Self-Awakening":
In the Self-Awakening of Zen, each individual existence--whether person,
animal, plant or thing--manifests itself in its particularity as expressed
in the formulation, "Willows are green, flowers are red," and yet each is
interpenetrating harmoniously as expressed in the formulation, "When Lee
drinks the wine, Chang gets drunk." This is not an end but the ground on
which our being and activity must be properly based.
It is the purpose of this delightful, life-changing little book to touch
that ground. Long tells us the "Presently, there are more Buddhists in
the United States than Episcopalians." Reading American Zen Bones will
give you an idea of why that might be.
The Poet as Heretic
High West Rendezvous, by Edward Dorn, Etruscan Books, South Devonshire,
England, 1997, 60 pages., $12.95 paper. Available from Small Press
Edward Dorn began his career at Black Mountain, a school whose artistic riches seem to have gleamed in inverse proportion to its money flow. And with the exception of Robert Creeley--and Denise Levertov, who was never a student or a teacher at the college--Black Mountain writers, including Charles Olson himself, suffered the same fate. That is to say, they're known only to poets and literati. Yet, though their books never sold, and are mostly long out of print, though they never starred on the academic reading circuit, their writing was rich and fertile, sheathed itself potently in the great American unconscious.
Only the Illegitimate are beautiful
and only the Good
proliferate only the Illegitimate
Oh Aklavik only you are beautiful
Ah Aklavik your main street is dead
only the blemished are beautiful only
the deserted have life made
of whole, unsurpassable night
only Aklavik is life inside life inside
They have gone who walk stiltedly
on the legs of life. All life is
in the northern hemisphere turning around
the radicals of gross pain and great joy
the poles of pure life move
into the circle of
our north, oh Aklavik only
the outcast and the ab
andoned to the night are faultless
only the faultless have fallen only
the fallen are the pure Children of the Sun
That's the opening of "Thesis," from The North Atlantic Turbine, published in 1967, an earlyish book of Dorn's poems. It's projective verse, clearly Black Mountain influenced. See how "Good" hangs ending the second line, drives into the "proliferate..." third line that seems to catch and scatter on the second "only" then come to rest on the slant internal rhyme of "Illegitimate." Each of these lines, like the "only"-islanded sixth, the ninth that stre-e-etches into the smile of the single word tenth, the eighteenth with its radical visual break on "ab," dead stop, and flow into the "andoned..." (and oned?) nineteenth, signals Olson's celebrated "breath," signals, in its odd, truncated break, the bodily and soulful inflections of the writer.
"Thesis," despite, and across, its oxymorons ("only the blemished are beautiful..."), its conundrums ("...only / the deserted have life made / of whole, unsurpassable night"), is lyric poetry, aches in the singing of its language.
But if Dorn began as a lyric poet, the poet of the 1990 book Abhorrences or the key poems in the book we've got in front of us is a satirist of politics and social mores. Maybe he developed from one to the other, or maybe, very likely, those two modes have always coexisted. Whichever might be the case, though, the connecting poem, that goes between and partakes of both modes, is Dorn's most famous book (another oxymoron?), an American epic, metaphysical cartoon, Gunslinger. In Gunslinger, I think, he left the creative field of gravity of Black Mountain to fly freely into his own poetic space.
Dorn tips his hat to Gunslinger here in his new book High West Rendezvous, both mentioning it in his short introduction and including a brief excerpt from the poem in ...Rendezvous's opening section, along with a poem from a 1965 book, Geography, and two poems from The North
Atlantic Turbine, the one whose opening I've quoted above and "An Idle Visitation," in which a "Gunslinger," doubtless the very one, stars.
High West Rendezvous is a peculiar book. It's called "A Sampler" on the front cover: as mentioned, it begins with excerpts from previous work--the back cover tells us that this is Dorn's first English publication in twenty-one years andthat these earlier poems are included to "reflect my sojourn in England half a lifetime ago"--and its main body consists of sections from four works in progress, Denver Skyline, Rocky Mountain Spine, Westward Haut, and Languedoc Variorum. Dorn, himself, in the introduction, however, says that the first two of these "are a simple relief from the greater responsibilities of the larger works," and so it's the last two that I'm going to look at. But what's not mentioned anywhere is that he's almost certainly dying. You can see the skeletal man in the back cover photo--I saw him personally in one of the more moving readings I've ever attended last spring at UC Berkeley. [Editor's note: Ed Dorn died in December 1999 after a long fight with pancreatic cancer.]...Rendezvous takes the form it does, this brief fanning of works past and present--I'm rather sure I'm telling you the truth here--because it could be the last live book from this extraordinary poet.
The Dorn of Westward Haut and Languedoc Variorum is virtually all satirist, both funny and savage; a poet of wordplay, cartoon imagination, and elegant, blood-honed intellect.
Here's the opening of "El Peru / Cheyenne Milkplane," a long poem that gives us our taste of Westward Haut:
Th' acetylene sun hung over the Ocean of Oceans
Flooding the quick afternoon of El Peru,
Casting the World shade on the gasaer jungle of Amazonas
Putting to bed the gene meat of the protein chains
Fueling the epidemia of cheap labor,
Cooking the slummy stews of cholera, cooling
The constrictors with its withdraw', slowly deepening
The tone of the washed out neon, mocking
The fitfull tungsten strung along in the shadows where
The Luminosa don their Chinese hardware.
Across the tierra helada the temperature
Plummets and cracks, beyond the altiplano
And the Eastern Cordillera and the Plains
The stranglers take another hitch, and the Lianas
One last jack and hoist as they reach for the fleeing light.
Everything trends toward gigantism, giant spiders
[Theraphosidæ} "the bird eaters,"
Roam the forest gloom, centipedes a metre long
Who feed on native children drop from the canopy
Onto the sanguinolent commerce of the jungle floor.
Dynastes beatles the size of a fist, Water Boa
With the girths of court eunochs haunt the galleries.
Butterflies, like the spectacular blue morphos
With a span of 50 centimetres, whose flash
Can be seen from more than a kilometre away
Send errant heliographs in the twilight shade
While within it swim fishes too terrible to class.
Who else writes like that? Just an eyelash flicker of the lyric there at the start, then it's full speed ahead and fertile, grinning horror. And that, as it's said in the joke "was only her head," or as Dorn has styled it, part of the "Proläg." I'm really at a loss to deal with the velocity, the combined intensiveness and extensiveness of these two works. I can only hint and quote little bits. Take the first title, Westward Haut; it's a pun on the English 'Westward Ho' that plays out in two languages, because haut in French means, more or less, 'high', and in German it means 'skin'. Now, shortly after where I cut the quote above, the "Proläg" ends, and we move on board a plane, where we start to fly along in a language which includes, among so much else, what we might call 'Franglish' and 'Germglish'. Here's a piece of that:
We hear the ostentatious piñoneo of their Israeli firearms.
Small groups of combatants establish a safe distance
and after making eye contact, khoreograph their punches.
The Sombreros immediately confess. The touristas
walk along with l'armée and lumpennarcos to a shed
where presto a plump sack of cocaine paste is waiten
--Colonel South has the nerve to charge admission
to this wooden performance.
His philosophy is that it doesn't _take_ a whole minute
to reproduce a sucker--that gap-toothed sonabishi
was definitely into der Schlupfwinkel heimlich big time,
runnen gunnen und hitten die bedeckung!
Hé, lighten up on das Deutsch, d'accord?
Kein Problem, Odin curred. I must say,
among my 'ped students, he's the least trammelled.
Setting him among his own kind is against their ethics
as it ought to be, but they do it all the time.
Odin lifted his lime and soda
To the Millennium of the Dogge, it is way long overdue!
...Of course none of that is on my card.
Saluki shook her silky ears, Of Course!--
I hear you curren.
See that Dalmatian in the first row?
His spots overlap--no good for show.
Mais c'est la question-clef:
why would the homokorps
hire a canine (she said the word
with a certain elevation of her Showtime nose)
to instruct them in such arts against their own kind--
Many other aspects of this twelve page flight can be gleaned from that section: it 'deals' big time in violence, secret organizations, drugs, crime, global corporate exploitation; its genre, instead of science fiction, is 'science poetry' and/or 'science satire'; its cartoon mode takes up, in a sense, where Gunslinger left off; it's a whole lot of fun.
But who are the speakers Odin and Saluki? why do they 'cur' instead of say? why the "Millennium of the Dogge" the "Dalmation"? Because, my friends, our hero and heroine are "transgenic dogs," Odin a formidable Rottweiler of "wealth and fortuna" and Saluki precisely that, as Odin fancies her "one soignée Gazelle Hound." It can be deduced from there that the "homokorps" are people and that "'ped" is short for 'biped'.
What else makes sense to say about "El Peru..."? Obviously, it's not a poem that needs to be analyzed, simply savored, chuckled over, and marvelled at, as the audience did when he read sections at the UC Berkeley reading. It's keyed here and there throughout to 'actual people and events', like "Colonel South" above, like "Scwartzkopf," Pauline Kael, the "Gipper." We can take it that behind the laughter lies his corrosively serious view of the modern world. Let's give the last word on it to Saluki speaking just after we left off above:
Also, and it may be none of my businesskonzerne,
but the 'ped writing this must be the biggest nutcase
in modern poetry to lead with a Rottweiler.
It makes me nervös.
Languedoc Variorum gets its title from 'Langue d'oc', meaning 'the language in which 'yes' is said as 'oc'; that was the medieval name given to the region that's now the south of France, so called because the north said 'oui' while the south said 'oc'. In that southern region in the first half of the thirteenth century the Cathars, or the Albigensians--a name meaning 'people of [the southern town of] Albi'--were crushed, 'religiously cleansed', between the northern King of France and the pope, originally Innocent III, and the main 'attack dog' in a long brutal campaign that lasted some thirty years was a great lord named Simon de Montfort. The Cathars, a religious sect perhaps arising from the Slavic Manichaean Bogumils, called Paulicians in the Byzantine Empire, have come to be almost the historic prototype for the persecuted heretic, although, as we know, history affords us an ample, gory list of such persecutions, originally including the Christians, themselves. And this is Dorn's
essential point, his springboard in Languedoc Variorum, subtitled "A Defense of Heresy and Heretics."
Of course he's using 'heresy' in a sense other than--definitely much wider than--its strict denotation in organized religion. Here are his own, super swift, sideways comments in the first two paragraphs of the introduction.
It's a lot easier to be a heretic than it used to be. There are more
religions willing to kill you, there are more states willing to cooperate
with sectarian harassment, there are more laws cranking out more
crimes--when Karl Marx said the law couldn't flourish without healthy
criminals (appendix 2, Das Kapital), he was simply insisting on
recognizing an ordinary fact. But now, the world swarms with lite crimes
and their companions, lite heresies. Email is MEmail.
Then there is the Church of Turning Your Cap Around and Making Yourself
Stupid. The price for noncompliance in that church is not burning at the
stake, yet. Probably just a shot somewhere in the leg. Or maybe higher up.
We know whose side he's on, lefty in a country of global corporate capitalism, poet in a country of TV watchers, outside poet in a country of mainliners.
Two conventionally lineated poems, "Albi, a Day Trip" and "Do the Simon de Montfort / Do le Busard" [busard means 'buzzard'], run the last four pages of "from Languedoc..." The previous nineteen pages, though, divided into five sections, "Jerusalem," "Bogumil," "Shoko," "Tomás Torquemada," and "Notes on Béziers: the past as cauchemar" [cauchemar means 'nightmare'], are devoted to a dense, impressive literary invention that puts the juice to the 'variorum' of the title.
In order to read this 'poem', you've got to peruse along on three tracks. At the top of the page, above a frieze of tiny paragraph signs, there's a conventionally lineated, narrative 'poem', what we could call the main text. Below the paragraph signs, on the first page, stands the title "SUBTEXTS & NAZDAKS." The "subtexts," presumably, are the middle track, in a smaller type face, prose form, divided by normal size paragraph signs. At the bottom of the page, beneath a frieze of aggers--which also look, let us note, like crosses--runs what clearly must be the "nazdaks," all caps, a kind of abbreviated 'headline' talk divided into bursts by dashes. The three tracks run sideways, page to page, ending where the above titled sections end.
So he turns the wattage of the 'academic apparatus' way up, each page a typographical metaphor for what went on, say, shuffleboard, below decks, and sub-below-boiler room on the Titanic; or, more current, the ethno-religio-nationalist-socio-economically subdivided streamings of the information age. Texts, subtexts, and nazdaks, are to my reading very loosely, essentially ironically, related, and the voice of each, quite naturally, is Dorn's, foxy fleet, erudite, caustic, and sometimes devastatingly funny.
As with "El Peru..." I can't do much more than dip a spoon in the pot. Let's pick a page--virtually any page of this fierce type swarm will do--page 41, second page of the "Bogumil" section. Part of the text track:
They taught a singular conception of the Trinity--
all three names applying to the father
where in the end the Son and the Spirit flow back
not forward to some corporate jerkus
in a wheelchair--because they held that
even if God was human, the corpus was naught.
There's greek for all this--
They pictured the Father as ancient
(born in Babylon) and the Son
an adolescent, and the Spirit a beardless youth.
Nothing else has stayed so current.
the first paragraph of subtext:
The violence of a violent Church, now transmitted through a media in
thrall to Rome, shifts attention away from Big Resentment of the
Organizatzy and the Biznessmen (the priests of Corporation world). The
"mafia" is simply the wild (as in sync) subdivision of the corporate state.
All of it is "wiseguy fascism" and one of the engines of the rise in the
popularity of enforcement--the Church, pulp fiction, fundamentalism, Bill
as a lapsed Baptist in a skull cap, you name it--it's the new Catholicism:
what to do in Denver when you're dead--which is probably easier than what
to do in Denver when you're not dead.
and the entire nazdak for the page, since they're always short [the last 'headline' on the previous page starts "POUND (IE EZRA) TAKES A"]:
BATH--GENDER FASCISM UP 90%, INVESTMENT IN POGROM FOR EUROAMERICAN MALES--ACADEMIC MARXISTS STEADY ENTRENTCHED PRICING--REPRESSION OF THE MARKET IN STANDARD WORKS--NAZDAQ PLUNGES, LITERATURE FORCED INTO BANKRUPCY--BURGHERS OF THEORY REPLACE SAMURAIS OF LITERATURE--
So there's a sense of the three voices; you can imagine them triple-tracked on this conceptual page, which is the essential inspiration in "Languedoc..." potentially extensible as far as his rage-wracked mind wants to blaze it. Let me skip around and add a few more quotes, essentials or simply my favorites.
The first section, "Jerusalem," begins with the triumphant entry of the crusaders into the besieged Jerusalem in the "Culmination of the 1st Crusade, Friday, July 15, 1099." On the next page, 38, the text describes, with Dornian glee, the ensuing slaughter:
No imaginary violence designed to take up
The time of yawning hick audiences with their
Sucker-punch habits and soundtrack bullets
Could remotely approach that day, that hour--
For three days the Crusaders slaughtered the Moslems,
Men, women, children. The Christians
Waded up to their ankles in blood. The Jews
Were burnt in their synagogues.
Seventy thousand Mohammedans
Were put to the sword. Within days
The infection from the masses of bodies and gore
Produced a wave of pestilence
Biblical in its power and repulsion, yet
Even so, less than the preëmptive AIDS
Of Sodom and way prior to the dark Ebola
The savagery was Ruandan and Ugandan.
Here's the entire subtext of page 40, a single paragraph that, probably better than any other, encapsulates his argument:
The struggle between the three dominant one-god systems has a great deal
to do with class and ¦conomic oppression and very little or nothing to do
with religion and theology. And in fact the hierarchs of each system
conspire at the top. They show up at one another's funerals and they all
participate equally in the satellite auctioning of the public's
"privatised" property. The Sheiks of the Gulf have long rendezvoued in the
Riviera and the Seychelles, the domain of Romanist dopers and drinkers. And
they collect in the floating capitols of transnational capital--it's really
the one and only culture. However, the nonempowered just try to get on with
their Jihads or the daily culture. However, the nonempowered just try to
get on with their Jihads or the daily reading of the Bible as a realtor's
prospectus to the Holy Lands. Unlike the hierarchs, they haven't got
theirs, have never had and won't ever have. To them, "Peace Brother" is
just another exhortation to cease and desist from messy and disruptive
attempts to take a little weight off the other end of the balance. Hijack a
Concorde with a kitchenknife would be the ultimate lo-tech solution. So it
is, so it increaseth. The police proliferate, the prisons multiply.
Monotheism grows ever more desperately cruel and bloody and implacable,
battering the countless hapless against the stone wall of its singular
Now, just for fun, let's throw in two more nazdaks, the first, bottom of page 37:
TELEFONUS INTERRUPTUS--BREAKFASTUS INTERRUPTUS--MENUMENISCUS
LUNCHCHECK--UPCHUCK--DUMP IT--EERIE THEORY UP AN EIGHTH--DREARY THEORY UP A QUARTER--LEERY THEORY UP A HALF--QUEERI UP A QUARTER--DUMP IT QUICK--SPEED OF THOUGHT DOWN A FIFTH--HELMHOLTZ UP AN
and this one, bottom of page 50:
ON THE SINGAPORE INDEX, PREMIUMS ON MONKEY BRAINS, UVE AND QUIVERING AT THE TABLE--GOURMET FAR EAST MONKEYS UP A QUATAH--WITTERUNGSVERHäLTNISSE WORSEN, DARK NAZDAQ--WESTWARD HAUT--I AM NO GREEK, QUOTED--THE BEARS YAWN, THE BULLS DALLY WITH THE FIXERS--
Witterungsverhältnisse can be translated as 'weather conditions', and "I AM NO GREEK" is taken from the last section of Charles Olson's breakthrough poem "The Kingfishers," the first quatrain of which runs:
I am no Greek, hath not th'advantage.
And of course, no Roman:
he can take no risk that matters,
the risk of beauty least of all.
Climbing through these nineteen pages is a unique experience, arduous, not much like any other writing I can think of, a spectacular spite machine. This whole book of poems, like its poet, is virtually sui generis. High West Rendezvous roughes out--in extreme foreshortening, dots and dashes, bones--the trajectory of Dorn's writing life.
It leaves me impressed, lit up--but also troubled. I'm imagining a bridge between the lyric poet and the satirist, the flesh of their wholeness ("...whole, unsurpassable night"). We might conceive of "Thesis" and "Languedoc Variorum," to name the poles of a continuum, as light to shade, or a body to its shadow. In this sense--speculating that Aklavik might be, say, an Inuit settlement, or a trading post set up by invasive, money-hunting white men-- "Thesis" would be singing the victims where "Languedoc..." flays the conquerors. Still, there's that split between the modes, lyric and satire. Lyric poetry, if not written simply with the 'heart', certainly arises in the body and soars in the flight of its emotions. Satire, on the other hand, is written from the head, and its principle emotions are angry, emotions that constrict--we can feel that, anger, spite, bitterness, hatred, how they squeeze our hearts. In satire these angry emotions use laughter for their artistic effect, for release and, if not transcendence, maybe triumph.
So that's what troubles me, has really for years in my reading of Dorn, the loss or retraction of his lyric emotion, the unrelenting savagery, bitterness of his vision. True, these are bitter times; there's truth, or powerful--and useful, even liberating--half truth in his satiric vision. But poet and man pay that constricting price.
I don't feel that I much understand him or why he's written as he has. Doubtless he, himself, or people who intimately know him have much more illuminating things to say, the story of a complex human being and the circumstances of his life. Being a softie, I imagine him as tender; clearly he feels deeply, has deep sensitivity. And so I imagine him being stung, let's say by America. I imagine Westward Haut and Languedoc Variorum: a Defense of Heresy and Heretics, in all their humor, the sparkling of their language and form, as a rage of stung tenderness.
[Editor's note: The Sun Unwound: Original Texts from Occupied America, poetry from the Aztec and Inca to guerrilla leader Che Guevara, much of of it never before translated into English, edited and with translations by Edward Dorn and Gordon Brotherston, has just been published by North Atlantic Press.]
Richard Silberg is Associate Editor of Poetry Flash. His most recent book of poetry is Totem Pole. He teaches"Writing and Appreciating Contemporary Poetry" for UC Berkeley Extension.
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