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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

Basil King’s The Spoken Word / the Painted Hand from Learning to Draw / A History

Basil King’s The Spoken Word / the Painted Hand from Learning to Draw / A History

(Marsh Hawk Press, 2014) http://www.marshhawkpress.org/BKing3.html

Basil King emigrated from South Chingford in 1947, attended Black Mountain College from 1951-56, and subsequently became an abstract expressionist painter and poet / writer. He continuously moves between painting and writing, and is highly regarded both sides of the Atlantic. His artwork has been included in poetry books by Amiri Baraka, Paul Blackburn, and Allen Ginsberg.

This warm-hearted collection of wide-ranging essays, one of which was published in Tears in the Fence 60, moves effortlessly between prose and poetry in a freewheeling style. The essays are highly informative drawing upon King’s extensive knowledge of art, artists and their experiences, as well as history, film and autobiographical detail. There is great charm, self-deprecating humour, running throughout the book which has the repeated refrains of ‘Leave home. Meet strangers. And learn to draw’ and ‘Be Rich. Get Rich. Be Rich. Get Rich’. The refrains gain piquancy as one reads on. A typical sequence from an essay on ‘The White Tablecloth’ follows:

‘The origin of the table knife is attributed to Cardinal Richelieu. He wanted to cure dinner guests of picking their teeth with the point of a knife. Later, in 1669, King Louis XIV of France banned pointed knives in the street and at his table, insisting on blunt tips, in order to reduce violence.

A man and a woman sit at a table
Without a tablecloth
Another couple sits at a table
With a white tablecloth
Both couples use knives and forks’

PAUSE

According to Sir Isaac Newton white light is the effect of combining the visible colors of light in equal proportions. White is all colors combined to make white. Black is the absorption of all color. So black and white are opposites.’

It is an absorbing collage of anecdotal memory, knowledge and gentle argument full of insight. In his essay on why the miniature is as important as the mural King insists that light abstracts the smallest thing. As part of his argument he moves from his work at Kulicke Frames in New York in 1963, to Jack Odell, the self-trained engineer whose inventions led to Matchbox toys, Giacomettti in Switzerland, traditional Japanese garments and miniature sculptures, to his own collection of miniature vehicles, and onwards to the intricacies of the Book of Kells, Olemic murals, Walt Disney’s obsession with miniatures, the German miniaturist painter, Adam Elsheimer’s Flight into Egypt (1609), the first moonlit night scene in European painting, a quotation from Philip Ruben’s lament at Elsheimer’s death, and Velazquez’s painting of dwarfs and half-wits as people with personalities. The impact is cumulative and thoughtful, allowing a larger picture and frame of reference to emerge and yet still allowing for the smallest of details to have impact. It is clever and thoughtful writing.

I note that King’s Black Mountain tutor for History and Literature was that polymath with an enquiring mind, Charles Olson. Like Edward Dorn, another of Olson’s students, one has a sense of the practical and lived going hand in hand with the perceptive intellectual. The whole book is a joyful engagement.

David Caddy 23rd January 2015

Artists, Beats & Cool Cats by Jim Burns

Artists, Beats & Cool Cats by Jim Burns

Penniless Press Publications 2014

http://www. pennilesspress.co.uk/books/ppp

 

Jim Burns’ fifth collection covers an extraordinary range of artistic, literary, film and music activity through a series of interlocking essays that show extensive reading. Written in an engaging, clear and non-academic manner they were first published in magazines between 1973 and 2013. The topics range from the history of Paris Dada, the Cornish coastal artistic communities, Sven Berlin, the letters and lives of Jackson Pollock’s brothers, the American radical documentary film tradition, the stories of Dorothy Parker, Jack Kerouac’s magazine writing, the history of Black Mountain College, the work of literary magazines, such as Origin, The Noble Savage, Art and Literature, the music of Billie Holiday and West Coast jazzmen, the Objectivists, Olympia Press, early Beat criticism, and the Bohemian scenes of Tangier and Soho, and so on.

 

Burns is adept at debunking generalized overviews of literary and artistic movements, uncovering key figures, lost connections, neglected links and understands that there are those that find prominence and others that do not but might well be of equal stature or interest. He gently points out some of the beautiful failures, the underdogs, and the omissions of critics and anthologists. He is brilliant at uncovering contrary readings, positions that offer less conventional viewpoints, the role of marketing and magazines, and has a healthy disregard for official versions of literary and artistic movements and periods.

 

The essays take the reader on a journey through the prominent points of understanding and analysis as well as suggesting other viewpoints. They are perceptive, highly informative and, at times, personal. His essay, ‘Words For Painters’ on the impact of abstract expressionism has a wonderful personal slant that helps the reader appreciate the impact more profoundly. He writes:

 

‘It is the personal effect that the paintings have had which interests me. I’ve always found in much of Willem de Kooning’s work a wonderful reaction to the city. I recall coming out of the Tate Gallery in London after a de Kooning exhibition in the late-1960s and realizing how alive I was to the colour, noise, vitality, and variety of the streets. In Dore Ashton’s fine book, The Life and Times of the New York School, she says of de Kooning. “He loved the complexity of the cosmopolis, and he found in its physical appearance an excitement and beauty that he consciously tried to reflect in his paintings.” I read that a few years after first encountering de Kooning’s work, and it confirmed what I’d felt about the paintings.’

 

The essay is beautifully constructed, effortlessly moving from the personal to the critical, to apt use of sources and quotation, from general to localized reading.

 

‘With a painter like Franz Kline, possibly my favourite of all the abstract expressionists, it similarly struck me that his large black and white canvases were also representative of urban life. It maybe a tougher street-wise version of it when compared to de Kooning, whose European sensibility still came through despite his years in America. Kline was once described as “a night person, drinking with friends first, painting later, and sleeping during the day. Kline’s nighttime joy, his love of night as a congenial time permeates the warm, expansive blacks in several of his abstractions. Like night itself, these paintings are filled with unpredictable encounters with light: incandescent flashes and glowing reflections.” Interestingly, it always seemed that Kline was the least talked about of the abstract expressionists, both in terms of conversational focus and critical evaluation.’

 

The essay, which is typical of the collection as a whole, moves economically forward covering a lot of ground on Kline, his contemporaries and their work, and leaves the reader wanting to view the paintings and read more about the painters.

 

This is an exceptionally strong collection of diverse essays, which serve to illuminate and widen understanding. The reader finishes the book in a happier and more informed mood.

 

David Caddy 17th June 2014

 

 

‘One makes many’: Laurie Duggan’s Allotments from Shearsman

‘One makes many’: Laurie Duggan’s Allotments from Shearsman

One of the two epigraphs to Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems is the phrase that the poet overheard in 1953 at Black Mountain College when the cook, Cornelia Williams, said ‘All my life I’ve heard one makes many’. The phrase struck a chord with Olson and in his copy of A.N. Whitehead’s Process and Reality where the Ramsgate-born Mathematician and Philosopher had written ‘the term many presupposes the term one, and the term one presupposes the term many’ he scribbled ‘exactly Cornelia Williams, Black Mt kitchen, 1953’.

On the back of this beautifully produced new Shearsman collection of 100 short poems Fiona Wright has written ‘The small poems…slowly build up to a much larger narrative; a narrative of time and memory, of thinking and being in the world, a kind of history that is happening on the sidelines.’Or, to put it in Laurie Duggan’s words in ‘Allotment #62’:

 

to make much of little

where perception and act are one

 

each thing in its place

spread over the garden

 

poppy seeds of various hue

stolen from elsewhere

 

The delight of many of these poems, ‘Pansies’, pensées, is the sure touch of language in which that ‘perception’ and the act of the words on the page cohere to form a picture, a vignette. Some of them are just that: a picture, a photograph clicked in an instant:

 

a robin lands, curious

as I grub weeds

(‘Allotment #41’)

 

One can see the curiosity of the robin as though a head tilted to one side were there on the page; the movement from lightness of the bird to the more ponderous work of the man is caught in the contrast of sound between ‘lands’ and ‘grub’. The coherence of the picture is given to us with the dual meaning of that second word.

The connectedness between a sharply perceived ‘here’ and the shadow cast on the ground by a ‘then’ is held in

 

a moment’s silence

with Gael Turnbull,

Brigflatts Meeting House, 1987

 

later

on Hardknott Pass

November cold

 

(posted there

Legionaries

from Africa

(‘Allotment #49’)

 

The witty, almost mischievous, association between the surname of the founder of Migrant Press and the opening line of Bunting’s poem is never allowed to rest with the self-satisfaction that can come as the result of a pun; we have already moved on in time (‘later’) and the cold of the Pass bridges a ‘now’ and the builders of Hadrian’s Wall.

Laurie Duggan has an infectious awareness of history and his precision allows the reader to share moments rather like a pebble dropped in a well on the surface of which ‘stones ring.

 

Allotment #93

 

All Hallows approaches

the bar strung with rubber bats,

 

telescopes, astrolabes

obscure the windows.

 

Pepys drank in this pub

(the Thames, Wapping

 

above the tunnel

to Rotherhithe)

 

further out, rotten wharves,

hulks on the estuary bed

 

empty sea-forts

subject to slow rust

 

Ian Brinton 11th April 2014

 

 

Skylight Press

Skylight Press

Skylight Press (http://www.skylightpress.co.uk ) continues to impress with their beautifully designed books of literary fiction, poetry and the esoteric. Their recent books include some extraordinary publications, such as the reissue of Iain Sinclair’s Lud Heat: A Book Of The Dead Hamlets, first published in 1975, with an introduction by Allen Fisher, an afterword by Michael Moorcock, maps and illustrations by Brian Catling. As Andrew Crozier wrote:

     Lud Heat is ostensibly a narrative of a period of employment in the

Parks Department of an East London borough; this temporal

location, however, receives less stress than the spatial one with

which it intersects: that of the pattern imposed on the townscape

by Nicholas Hawksmoor’s churches, potent presences in the poets

working environment, around which accretes a second temporal

dimension, historical and mythological, which constitutes the

writer’s real subject.

Crozier concluded that ‘The book is a notable achievement, and an impressive indication of the real health of English poetry.’

Sinclair was inspired, in part, by the poets and poetics of Black Mountain College, where the poet and painter, Basil King, was educated. King left London’s East End in 1947 and subsequently studied at Black Mountain before becoming a New York based painter, seeking an art that moved ‘from the abstract to the figure, from the figure to the abstract.’ King’s Learning to Draw / A History, edited by Daniel Staniforth, an evolving, transformative narrative, mixing poetry and prose, documenting the memoirs of his life and times is one of the many significant titles.

Michael S. Judge’s thoughtful and strange novel,  … And Egypt Is The River, is similarly indebted in part to Charles Olson’s poetics in his fascination with etymology, and to quote from an interview, ‘the cartography of the attentions – personal, cultural, political, mythic, cosmological’. Egypt here is read as a state of being in a series of beguiling chapters that transmute the division between poetry and prose.

Tonight the star is hot with evil speech.

Tonight the star wants enemy to drink.

Tonight the star’s in coils that shock us when they’re wet.

Tonight the star’s back panel snaps and furnace cracks its wall.

Tomorrow night, we’ll say: There used to be a star.

Skylight Press is wonderfully diverse with many books on the magical and pagan traditions, and includes the recently published The Lost Art Of Potato Breeding by Rebsie Fairholm, in its catalogue. This book has practical instructions on how to make seeds from potato berries, cross different varieties, choose which ones to experiment with, and how to keep your newly created varieties growing in the future. I admire a publisher that embraces gardening and poetry.

David Caddy 19th February 2014

Robert Duncan

Two new books about Robert Duncan which will be reviewed in Tears 57.

 

Lisa Jarnot’s biography of Duncan, subtitled ‘The Ambassador from Venus’, appeared recently from University of California Press and it is likely to remain as the official life of this immensely important West Coast poet for many years to come. With so many quotations from previously unpublished notebooks this biography is a mine of wonderful things. From his early days teaching at Black Mountain College we can read this notebook entry:

 

‘In search of the makings of poetry we are going to turn back to the very seeds of language, back to that first beginning to distinguish words which is a beginning of newly distinguishing the world.’

 

This is the time of The Opening of the Field.

 

Michael Rumaker’s account of Robert Duncan in San Francisco was first published by Grey Fox Press in 1978 and it revolves around that year 1957 when many fellow Black Mountain students were migrating since the close of the College. It was the summer of the famous HOWL trial where Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Shigeyoshi Murao, of City Lights, were prosecuted for selling Ginsberg’s book. Michael Rumaker’s account of those times in that city is a sheer delight of engagement: the reader is drawn into the world of excitement and fear, poetry and police. A new edition of this essential book is appearing from City Lights in January 2013 and it will contain previously unpublished letters between Rumaker and Duncan as well as an interview conducted by Ammiel Alcalay & Megan Paslawski.

 

 

 

Black Mountain Days

Black Mountain Days

Black Mountain Days: A Memoir by Michael Rumaker

The new edition of this indispensable book has now just been published by Spuyten Duyvil in New York [ISBN 978-1-933132-66-2]

The front cover has a picture of Charles Olson with Connie Olson and students on the porch at Black Mountain in 1953.

Jonathan Williams suggested that this book allowed one to feel that he/she is there, living through Black Mountain’s endless difficulties in the most intimate way.

It is a terrific read and is, for me, by far the most illuminating documentation of what life was like at Black Mountain as the last few years were energised by Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan, Edward Dorn and Fielding Dawson. Dawson’s own account, The Black Mountain Book [Wesleyan College Press, reprinted 1991] is also a vital testimonial to what exciting times these were and those interested need also to look at Martin Duberman’s Black Mountain, An Exploration in Community [published in England by Wildwood House in 1974].

Michael Rumaker’s style is both vivid and intimate and he was a writer of so-called ‘Dirty Realism’ before the term had been invented! His powerful short story Exit 3 had opened with a question from the narrator as he is trapped in a relationship of violence and brotherhood: ‘Who the hell are you?’ It ended with a marine forcing a fight that is bound to destroy him and saying ‘I’ll show you who the hell I am.’ In 1966 Penguin issued a selection of Rumaker’s short stories under the title Exit 3 and other stories and the editor, Tony Goodwin, chose a cover for it depicting a manic figure whose fist is punching glass only to crack it not to break it. This was the first photograph cover that Penguin ever used!

 

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