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Building Stonehenge by Marc Maurus (Arroyo Seco Press)

Building Stonehenge by Marc Maurus (Arroyo Seco Press)

     Marc Maurus’s Building Stonehenge is revealing and vulnerable in the way that Kevin Ridgeway and T. Anders Carson’s is, allowing his readers to have access to the complex interior life that many people hold secret. It is a work that comes not so much out of a suicide attempt, but at the vitality and life that followed it. Maurus intentionally drove into a concrete barrier at sixty miles an hour without an air bag or a seat belt and lived but experienced extensive brain damage. His doctors told him that his only possible path forward to recovery was by reading constantly, which he did, and against the odds, that treatment worked. What followed was a period of exceptional creativity, introspection, and even joy, and these poems are a result of that time. On my first reading of the collection, I thought of “The Day My Life Stood Still” (51) as the central poem of the collection because it describes his injury and cause of it. I think that was a mistake however. I think what is central to the collection is what brought him back to happiness and healing.

     Healing came out of a time when he read every moment that he was awake, and certain authors, especially Beat poets like Kerouac and Ginsberg, found their way through several of these poems. He has a gratitude for them. He constructs the cento “Timothy Leary’s Dead” out of a number of sources, but relying on these poets for key lines and understanding to his meaning. What he creates is not simple nostalgia, but a way of reseeing the old ideas and reapplying them to our world now. He does not reference only these writers by any means. They just seem central to his thinking. His poems convey a broad sensibility and a good deal of reading the books that he loved. Because of his brain injury, he would read these books again and again, and to me it feels like they have become a part of who he is and how he filters experience. This is not a bad filter.

     Another theme that runs through the book is a kind of call to humanity and to recognize that everyone is deserving of the human experience. Now that he is in recovery, he is able to hold a job, and one of those is as an ice cream man. He describes a moment when he gives a child who has little money an ice cream. This basic kind of dignity seems to be the mission that all of his reading has led him to. He inspects his own complicity in the poor race relations of the United States and looks to himself to improve, showing others a way forward. He praises those who do good and exhorts us to do the same. For me it functioned as a reminder of what kindness is and how to express it.

     It is no surprise that constant reading leads to kindness. Anyone who reads deeply knows that it helps to develop empathy. I think the great take away from the collection for me was that reading and thinking deeply leads people to their best selves. It has certainly let Maurus in a positive direction.

John Brantingham 4th June 2021

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

This issue features along essay by poet, Ron Loewinsohn on the North Beach, San Francisco scene in the mid-Fifties before City Lights bookshop, Allen Ginsberg became famous and made the area a mecca for beats and hippies. Loewinsohn was encouraged to write and submit poems to LeRoi Jones, later Amiri Baraka’s Yugen magazine, by Ginsberg. This eventually led to Baraka publishing his first book, with an introduction by Ginsberg. The memoir centres on the April 1956 Berkeley Community Theater reading hosted by Kenneth Rexroth and featuring Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, and how it transformed poetry reading events in the area from the literary equivalent of a polite piano recital to an informal gathering with the distinction between poets and audience blurred. On stage the poets commented on each other’s poems as they were being read and cheered good lines, along with the audience. It was here that Ginsberg gave the first full reading of Howl:

… pacing himself so that the intensity of his delivery built to three separate climaxes at the ends of the poem’s three sections. It was an extraordinary performance. It was far more than a recitation to a passive audience. This interaction between the poet and his audience affirmed the community that had been formed by the occasion: the poet articulated the community’s values and its ethos, while the community then affirmed the poet as its spokesman.’

Jerry Cimino writes about the re-discovery of Neal Cassady’s ‘Joan Anderson letter’, which inspired Jack Kerouac’s writing style. Eric Shoaf is interviewed about his career as a bibliographer and collector of William Burroughs literary works. Dan Poljak interviews Pierre Delattre, who was part of the North Beach scene in the late 50 and 60s about his memories, in particular of the arrival and influence of the Black Mountain College alumni and also Colin Wilson’s The Outsider.

Jim Burns’s essay on Discovery magazine, the paperback pocket-book size journal, edited by Vance Bourjaily, details its relevance to the Greenwich Village scene. Kevin Ring offers his thoughts on Tom Waits reading of Charles Bukowski’s Nirvana poem, on a film set in Forest Hill, London, and Paul Lyons essay on John Wieners quotes heavily from The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959 (Sun & Moon Press, 1996) and delineates its background.

The joy of Beat Scene is always in the discovery of forgotten writers, poets and magazines and its extensive review section. Here David Holzer writes about Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court, All Change (1961), an English beat novel, republished by Five Leaves Press in 2012 in its New London Editions. The novel has received a strong review in Modern Review describing it as ‘an essential piece of literature that, as Kerouac’s On The Road or Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, sums up not only a generation or movement, but a sentiment of restless youth and rootless verve that lives on in today’s society as much as in any other’.

As ever, there is much to enjoy in Beat Scene. Subscriptions are 4 for £26. Email: kev@beatscene.freeserve.co.uk

David Caddy 28th January 2015

Poetry Penguin

Fifty years ago this year Penguin started their series of volumes each containing the work of three poets. Penguin Modern Poets was a startling and splendidly eclectic venture than ran to 27 volumes over the next thirteen years and it says something about the faith a publishing firm had in both its readership and the value of the poets published. In 1962 the first volume must have sounded a safe note with its choice of Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings and R.S. Thomas but by the following year Christopher Middleton was there and the American West Coast scene was represented by generous selections from Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. To suggest a measure of the importance of the Penguin venture here it might be worth recalling that Andrew Crozier’s American supplement to Granta and Charles Tomlinson’s Black Mountain supplement to Ian Hamilton’s the Review did not appear until 1964. The series continued its highlighting of the Americans in 1967 with Penguin Modern Poets 9: Denise Levertov, Kenneth Rexroth and William Carlos Williams. Number 12 presented the punchy world of former San Quentin inmate William Wantling and in 1969 Charles Bukowski appeared alongside Philip Lamantia and Harold Norse. The series gave some context for the use of the word ‘Modern’ by re-issuing work by David Gascoyne, W.S. Graham (17), Adrian Stokes (23) and offering space to the more recent voices of Tom Raworth and Lee Harwood (19). It was a remarkable achievement and Geoff Ward’s comment in The Salt Companion to Lee Harwood is worth bearing in mind in terms of what it tells us about the poetry world of 1971: ‘Tom Raworth, packaged alongside John Ashbery and Harwood in volume 19 of the Penguin Modern Poets series, offers work that is broadly comparable at this early stage in its insistence on present tense actualities, rather than their ironised recovery by experience at a metrical remove.’

The Biggest Poetry Meeting in the English Speaking World – A Documentary

On 11 June 1965, 7000 people witnessed the first meeting of American and English Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso and Ernst Jandl. Someone made a documentary, Wholly Communion, about it.

Hard to imagine poetry attracting an audience of that magnitude these days.

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