What a disaster! Wanting a change (of venue) following election week TV, we head for Santa Cruz' Del Mar to see RACHEL GETTING MARRIED. It's Nov. 7, Opening Night. Theater less than half full and, soon, as folks trickle out, less and less and less... reviews (those we saw) were favorable. Awful, awful! The "wedding" musicians and interludes of jazz, those brief reliefs, were superior to anything else RACHEL had to offer... "Let's go upstairs and see WHAT JUST HAPPENED?" I say, and my wife and I walk out. Others do the same. Theater manager says OK, "...just go to the box office and exchange your tickets. What makes this movie a waste of time? For starters, no real story line, no character development (we hung in there for 40 - 45 minutes), and, witchy sister Kym (Anne Hathaway), a former model or something, just out of rehab, smokes and smokes, poor woman, and croaks out putdowns, while The Father, played by Bill Irwin, and the Wife, played by Anna Deavere Smith, have nothing much to do. Talented actors and actresses, but they're seriously underemployed. One reviewer called the movie a "polycultural tornado." Good, that's the best of it. And the jazz... but the movie just lurched along, one scene after another, on and on, witchy and jarring... after pain, some relief... we get to go upstairs at the Del Mar and see WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
Message today : "We regret to inform that ___ Books, San Jose, CA will be closing (or sold) within the coming months. We have 9 copies of Heavenly Sex and 6 of Rosicrucian in the Basement on consignment. Can you have them picked up - otherwise they may be subject to donation or disposal. Thank you, Manager." I read there 2 - 3 years ago and three people turned out, my wife, my co-reader, and the bookstore owner. Poetry readings. Starting in 1957 at the University of Iowa I attended readings by Stephen Spender, Donald Hall, Allen Ginsberg... two or three readings a week... and on to the present, readings, readings, readings... it's my favorite way of "getting" poetry. But I read too, books... and now, more and more, online. But I buy 'em, independent bookstore when I can, Amazon.com when I need to... Lately attended another, this time in Santa Cruz. Scribbled notes, "this time feeling 'out of it, though one reader a good and long-time friend. His reading is why I came... for friendship, for news of what he's up to... and his WAS memorable... in the mid-1960s at the Huntington Hartford Foundation (no longer in existence), a poet's wife said, "If I get one memorable line, one outstanding moment in an hour, I count myself lucky." My friend's reading provided several such moments. He sustained the "memorable" -- unusual. I plan to write about it, what he did that was original. I like to see what people do with their poems, I like to see how they 'hear" what they've written. Even T.S. Eliot, a bad reader, I felt, provided some illumination into what he was up to. So at best it's a sharing with them what they've done. I think of Gertrude Stein and her weekly salon and what that must have been like. Am I resistent, emotionally "withholding..." what am I wanting? And then the people on a program with three or more readers who have already read more than their allotted time, who ask, "What time is it? Do I have time for one more poem?" How I've come to hate that. There's only one answer to the question, "Do I have time for one more poem?" No, you stupid fuck, you've read too long as it is. I catch a phrase here, a phrase there... then lose the thread of the poem as a whole. And then the ones who read into the page, who scarcely look up. How about a teleprompter? Or memorize your goddamn poems. But I've failed to memorize my own. Dana Gioia has memorized all his poems, says them effortlessly, as did James Wright... and those were two of the most successful readers... if I could I'd go back and hear 'em both again. And again. So I go through my notebook, things I've jotted down, often at readings: - Zeitgeist.com, a movie? Someone said something about Zeigeist.com. - The brain, "a three pound enigma." - Neuroplasticity, how the brain re-grows, regenerates... learn to play the violin and your brain does what it needs to in order to perform in this up to now unaccustomed way. - Then there's this dog I'm writing about who says things that find their way into poems. I have no muse these days except this somewhat imaginary dog, a monologist. I wouldn't know what to do if I had such a dog. But then again I DO have such a dog. And he's my muse.
ON MY WAY TO THE KOREAN WAR… —For President Dwight Eisenhower On my way to the Korean War, I never got there. One summer afternoon in 1952, I stood instead in the bow of the Attack Transport Menard, with an invading force of 2,000 battle-ready Marines, watching the sun go down. Whales and porpoises, flying fish and things jumping out of the water. Phosphoresence— Honolulu behind us, Inchon, Korea, and the war ahead. Crew cut, 18-year-old librarian, Yeoman 3rd Class, editor of the ship’s newspaper, I wrote critically if unoriginally of our Commander-in-Chief, Mr. President, and how perplexing it was that he would launch a nuclear-powered submarine while invoking the Lord, Crocodile Earth shaker, Shiva J. Thunderclap, choosing the occasion to sing the now famous Song of the Armaments, the one with the line “weapons for peace”: O weapons for peace, O weapons for peace, awh want, awh want more weapons for peace! At sundown, a half dozen sailors converged on the bow of the ship where, composed and silent, we’d maintain our vigil until the sun had set. Careful to avoid being conspicuous, no flapping or flailing of the arms, no running, horizontal take-offs, one man, then another, stepped out into space, headed across the water, moving along as if on threads. After a while, I did the same: left my body just as they left theirs. In-breathe, out-breathe, and leave, in-breathe, out-breathe, and leave. Leave your body, leave your body, leave your body, leave your body, we sang as we went out to where the light went, and whatever held us to that ship and its 2,000 battle-ready troops, let go. So it was, dear friends, I learned to fly. And so in time must you and so will the warships, and the earth itself, and the sky, for as the prophet says, the day cometh when there will be no earth left to leave. O me, O my, O me, O my, goodbye earth, goodbye sky. Goodbye, goodbye.
Favorite walk... end of Meder Street, walking distance from our home, surprise! a 246-acre natural park, Moore Creek Preserve inside Santa Cruz City limits. Since it's posted "Be aware this is a mountain lion habitat... if you encounter a mountain lion, do not run, raise your arms to appear larger, speak in a loud voice and pick up small children..." one tends not to encounter many people. Of course there are also ticks... "If you become ill after being bitten by a tick, consult a physician," says brochure. Everything costs. I dunno. It's my favorite walk. And, still unable to break the coffee habit, I'm wired (loaded up again today at Peet's) and it's a way to unwind. We once walked from Highway #1, adjacent to ocean, to top of M. C. Preserve. Anyway, this is home. And who are _you_ who's reading this? And why am I writing this? And why does anybody care?
I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting in picking up a copy of Mark Doty's DOG YEARS. I'm writing about dogs, writing in the voice of dogs, Shelby (my daughter's dog) in particular. I liked the cover, warm, welcoming image of a golden retriever. And then page 1, "No dog ever said a word, but that doesn't mean they live outside the world of speech. They listen acutely. They wait to hear a term--biscuit, walk--and an inflection they know... Because they do not speak, except in the most limited fashion, we are always trying to figure them out..." Then, browsing, flipping pages, I come across lines that say something about the nature of lyric poetry, elegaic poetry. "I did, after all, grow up with apocalyptic Christians who believed the end was near, and that this phenomenal world was merely a veil soon to be torn away. This is great training for a lyric poet concerned with evanescence." And if ever there was a book concerned with evanescence, this is it.
Continuing to use blog --in part-- as extension of my journal and habit of scrapbooking, i.e., including quotations / passages from what I happen to be reading and want to preserve. Right now I'm engrossed in "Japanese Death Poems" Written by Zen monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of death. Compiled and edited by Yoel Hoffman. Learned, e.g., that WW II Kamakazi pilots often wrote death poems before embarking on suicide missions. "...warriors dying a martyr's death..." and writing death poems reflecting bravery and resignation to fate. Much amusement in this book as well. "But for the deeply rooted conservatism of the Japanese people, their culture would not have preserved itself so well through so many centuries. Such conservatism, however, sometimes borders on blind worship of tradition and customs, with results that are often somewhat ridiculous. We have, for example, the ironic story of 'a man who asked his poetry teacher to compose a death poem for his wife.' There is also the story of Narushima, a man who, 'fearing that he might die without warning and be unable to write a farewell poem,' began writing death poems at the age of fifty-odd years, sending them for criticism to his poetry master Reizei Tameyasu (18th Cent.). At the age of 80, he wrote: For eighty years and more, by the grace of my sovereign and my parents, I have lived with a tranquil heart between the flowers and the moon. As usual, he sent the poem to Reizei, who replied in this wise: 'When you reach age ninety, correct the first line.'"
In her New Yorker article (Feb. 9, '09), Another Country, James Baldwin’s Flight from America, Claudia Roth Pierpont describes Baldwin’s 1961 arrival at a party in Istanbul. “Baldwin’s arrival at his Turkish friend’s door, in the midst of a party, was, as the friend recalled, a great surprise: two rings of the bell, and there stood a small and bedraggled black man with a battered suitcase and enormous eyes.” I remember the eyes and something similar when Baldwin read at Cornell University in 1963. The Fire Next Time had just been published and Baldwin, I believe, was on tour. I was transfixed by that book and by Go Tell It On The Mountain—and my former wife and I offered to host a reception for Baldwin at our home. I was junior faculty and teaching creative writing. Baldwin accepted and we were somehow, miraculously, able to accommodate 60 – 70 people in our little home. Something of the man’s amazing presence, strength, vulnerability combined with a readiness to engage… what else to say? I was also moved by Baldwin’s graciousness... ah, how do you describe a too brief encounter with a man whose work has so affected you, whose background and experience is utterly unlike your own and yet, and yet, at some level he’s altogether familiar? Turned out to be one of those life-changing events, life-changing and not necessarily for the better. For hubris did me in. How Hubris Did Me In Successful writers sometimes remark on how fans can’t wait to meet them, have them sign their books… and what they really want to do is talk about themselves. Unexpectedly the President of the University turned up at our reception and we had a cordial exchange. I don’t know what else you call it. Thereafter I felt myself part of the academic community in a way I hadn’t felt before. And that same year I received a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry and in January informed the Chairman of the English Department that I would be taking up the Fellowship in the Fall. He said, "No you won't. Wait a year… and then you can take up the Fellowship." "But I’m working on a book," I said, "I have this opportunity to write full time." "No. Wait a year…" At last he said, "Well, you’ll never teach on the East Coast again." It was too late. I couldn’t back down. And at that time, with book publications, etc., I felt I’d take my chances. Hubris. Hubris. I lived to regret it.
Last night for the first time since the 2001 Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Conference in Palm Springs, I connect with two East Coast friends, Mike Neff of Web Del Sol and Doug Lawson of Blue Moon Review. Both, it turns out, are newly settled in Northern California and we get together at Aqua Blue Restaurant in Santa Cruz. Dear friends who I had long associated with the East, Mike from Washington, D.C. and Doug Lawson from Virginia, where, like Mike, in 1994, he founded and began editing one of the few consistently high quality literary eZines. I was privileged to serve as contributing editor to both Mike's Web Del Sol and to Doug's Blue Moon Review. It was Doug Lawson who published, among other things, my 25 page Earthquake Collage, and did so with imaginative tweakings of photos I took following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which destroyed 70 percent of Santa Cruz' downtown. Earthquake Collage, BTW, will be published soon by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History (MAH). Aqua Blue, a seafood restaurant, coincidentally decorated with several blue moons, i.e., large spherical blue lamps… the word spherical, it turns out, can refer to astronomical objects and spheres of ancient astronomy. By chance… what follows seems to have some connection with these two old friends. Ferris Wheel in the Sky, A Dream. Mountain. Then a still higher mountain behind the first. Then, at "end" of dream, a giant ferris wheel fully lit and filled with people as at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, only this one is rotating, it seems, in the sky above the second of the two mountains. At first I simply "see" it, then I see it rotating. What's that about? Begins: I'm "inside" in some bare, bland community room at a yoga meditation retreat. Then I'm called out to join the others and am amazed to see first one mountain, then another, higher, taller, steeper just beyond the first. First thought is, This is the Sermon on the Mount, it is that kind of mountain. It seems a combination of the Old Testament and the contemporary Santa Cruz Boardwalk as when, for example, the ferris wheel begins rotating. It seems nothing out of the ordinary and yet totally extraordinary. At first I'm facing outward toward an open field where yoga classes might be held and I see people, Esalen like scene, everyone relaxed, picnic-like atmosphere, quiet, peaceful… a partially clouded yet sunny afternoon. That's the setting and, asked to join the group, I choose an unoccupied reclining chair, a rather old worn wooden lawn chair with a folded meditation mat or blanket. Nothing special. Then I'm aware of someone nearby to my left, a male figure dressed in a loose, khaki-colored robe. I put out my arm to touch him and he withdraws… the gesture is unwelcome. At once I realize the seat I've taken belongs to this man, the leader. I never actually see his face, but imagine him to be a man in his mid 40s or 50s. And I'm embarrassed and want to vacate and I want to do so quickly, quietly and without notice. Suddenly self-conscious… I'm about to move elsewhere… I turn 180 degrees and it's then I see this amazing mountain, only this time animated… complete with a giant ferris wheel and it's rotating and there are people on it. And it turns out, in dream, that the "upper mountain," the one above and beyond the first, the one I'm calling the Sermon on the Mount mountain, is where people on this Zen Meditation Retreat sleep, where they're housed and it's from there they come down for classes or whatever goes on down below, so to speak, in the area where I'm sitting, the one with the large open field. That’s a long way to come, I think, but somehow realize at the same time that it's only walking distance, from mountain top to the main yoga or instruction area. Tassajara. Big Sur. Esalen. I wake thinking the ferris wheel is Web Del Sol, my friend Mike Neff's website extraordinaire. Web Del Sol. Web of the sun. It's a ferris wheel, spinning, with 60,000 visitors a day or a week or something… Dream connected somehow with Mike Neff and Doug Lawson, and our friendship, virtual, virtual friendship that goes back 14 years, to early Internet, early eZines, when WDS and Blue Moon first began publishing. Following dinner last night, I worked on Robert Dana's Writers' Friendship essay on British poet Stephen Spender… and the awe and warmth Robert Dana expresses for his friend. I'm from Chicago, "transplanted" to Santa Cruz. Here since 1985, I wake asking myself, What am I doing having such a West Coast Esalen-like dream? I’m just a transplanted mid Westerner.
How did the world begin? What is the address of the beginning? *** All existence is God. God's presence fills the entire world. definition is spiritual idolatry. *** Prayer - it's a good thing. It gives you an edge. But God doesn't answer prayers. *** "You're prolific. How about a poem for your urologist?" she asks. "Okay," I say. "All I ask is that you keep it general and don't use my name." "Okay, but I'll need the first line." "I went for my annual."
So I'm doing this as something of a love song to coffee, parting with my lover. Began as a teenager in Korean War serving at Great Lakes Naval Training Station and lasted... and lasted... now, it's farewell to coffee. This morning, as former devotee, I found myself helping clean my wife's espresso machine, part by part, inside, outside, filter and all the rest... but it's the fragrance that really gets to me. A non-smoker I find I even have a certain craving for second-hand smoke, that is, having grown up in a household where Mom and Dad smoked... so there's a certain nostalgia that gets satisfied by a whiff of tobacco. People are crazy. People are really crazy. As for addiction, as for health, wife says I'm not getting up as much at night... most people sleep through. You don't wanna know, but I'm up a lot. So, combination of acupuncture and weaning myself from coffee, it makes a difference. Back to coffee. Reviewing my "Mr. Taste Test" article "Coffee Without Compromise," I'll pick up where I left off. Article included a sidebar with coffee facts. When you're in love with something, every detail every detail... it all matters... and I'm more obsessive than most... * It takes 3 to 5 years for a new coffee tree to yield its first pound of coffee. The average tree bears only 2,000 cherries, enough to produce a single pound of roasted coffee. * In 1984, each person in American consumed, on average, 7.7 pounds of coffee (up from 7.6 pounds per person in 1983). * The Boston Tea Party, protesting King George's levy on tea, set the stage for: 1. The American Revolution, and, 2. Coffee--the most popular U.S. beverage since 1733. Coffee-drinking in America began as an act of protest, a patriotic gesture of this country's independence from England.