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Paris, Painters, Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications)

Paris, Painters, Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications)

An abiding feature of Jim Burns’ informative series of critical books is their range of interests and his passion in recalling neglected and marginalised artists, poets and jazz musicians. This eighth collection of reviews and essays has a sequence of essays on Paris, sections on neglected British artists and American poets, the effects of the Hollywood blacklists, the early days of communism in Russia and America, as well as some of his own short fiction.

The Parisian section has essays on Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall and other Montparnasse outsiders, Picasso and his milieu in 1900, existentialists, including Edmund Husserl, the way the work of photographer, Felix Nadar, shaped images of the city, and the role of the barricade in successive insurrections. As ever, Burns writes in a richly contextual and inviting manner and gives useful overviews and plenty of references for further reading.

The reviews of recent exhibitions and books on Sven Berlin, John Bratby and Stanley Spencer are illuminating. I did not know, for example, that Bratby was also a novelist. He also writes the Forties and Fifties Soho bohemia that produced
Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, John Minton and Michael Ayrton, through the lens of the lives of artists, Richard Chopping and Denis Wirth-Miller, who frequently feature as minor artists in accounts of the period. As Burns makes clear any sense of transgressive artistic practice was over by the Sixties and the scene had degenerated into the same old faces drinking away their lives.

Amongst the highlights of this book for me is the discovery of the poetry of Lola Ridge (1873-1941) in the essay, ‘Lola Ridge, Radical Poet’, and of Cambridge Opinion 41 (1965), an issue devoted to the impact of William Carlos Williams on English poets. The former essay sets her work firmly in the context of American modernist poetry and its social background. Irish born Ridge came to become a Greenwich Village bohemian via New Zealand, Australia, and San Francisco. Her feminist, street poetry, voicing class conflict, social protest, won the Shelley Memorial Award in 1934 and 1935. Her first poetry book, The Ghetto and Other Poems (1918) centred on the Jewish community of the Lower East Side, and created quite a stir, despite the fact that her portrayal was mostly second hand.
There is currently a revival of interest in her poetry and Light in Hand: Selected Early Poems introduced and edited by Daniel Tobin appeared in 2007. Terese Svoboda’s biography Anything That Burns You (2015) extends to 627 pages. Burns found a copy of Cambridge Opinion 41 in his archives, as he was a contributor. The magazine is not referenced in any of the histories and bibliographies of little poetry magazines produced by the British Library and elesewhere. This significant issue features the work of Basil Bunting, Andrew Crozier, Roy Fisher, Tim Longville, Tom Pickard, J.H. Prynne, John Temple, Gael Turnbull and others. Burns provides plenty of background information on the editors and the various approaches of contributors and various other related magazines and presses. It is the kind of recovery that aptly illustrates the great value that Burns offers to us all.

David Caddy 8th February 2017

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Tears in the Fence 64

Tears in the Fence 64

Tears in the Fence 64 edited by David Caddy is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction, prose poetry and translations from Jeremy Reed, Jim Burns, John Welch, John Freeman, Sally Dutton, Chris Hall, Michael Henry, Beth Davyson, Kinga Tóth, Paul Kareem Tayyar, D. I., Lydia Unsworth, David Pollard, Mike Duggan, Jeff Hilson, Sheila Mannix, I.S. Rowley, Richard Foreman, Jay Ramsay, Alison Winch, Andrew Taylor, Alan Baker, Sophie Herxheimer, L. Kiew, Ric Hool, S.J. Litherland, Rachael Clyne, Andrew Shelley, Tom Cowin, Morag Kiziewicz, Matt Bryden, Jessica Mookherjee, John Phillips, Ian Brinton & Michael Grant trans. Mallarmé, Terence J. Dooley trans. Mario Martin Giljó, Greg Bachar, Jennifer K. Dick, Matthew Carbery, Mark Goodwin, Aidan Semmens, Peter Dent, Sarah Cave, Julie Irigaray and Maria Isokova Bennett.
The critical section features John Freeman on Jim Burns: Poet as Witness, Andrew Henon on Timeless Man: Sven Berlin, Mary Woodward on Rosemary Tonks & Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Jeremy Reed on John Wieners, Norman Jope on Chris McCabe, Marsha de la O in conversation with John Brantingham, Neil Leadbeater on Jeremy Hilton, Nancy Gaffield on Geraldine Monk, Lesley Saunders on Alice Miller, Belinda Cooke on Carole Satyamurti, Steve Spence on Dear World and Everyone in it David Caddy on Andrew Lees’ Mentored by a Madman, Nigel Wood & Alan Halsey, Duncan Mackay on E.E. Cummings
, Notes on Contributors, and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.
The front cover is a black & white detail of a Sven Berlin watercolour (1982, private collection) and the magazine is designed by Westrow Cooper.

Beat Scene 76, edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 76, edited by Kevin Ring

This issue features an extensive profile and interview with James Koller by Peter Garland, Ken Kesey’s second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), Kurt Hemmer’s interview with Herbert Huncke, an essay on Kenneth Patchen as read by Kenneth Rexroth, Mark Howell’s recollections of meeting Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, and Jim Burns on ‘Underground London – Bebop and Beyond.’ There are additional memories of Ken Kesey’s visit to Filthy McNastys pub in London, although it is unclear whether the article references a 1978 or the 1998 visit, the 1974 bootleg publication of Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight and Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder tour visit to Kerouac’s birthplace at Lowell. The review section includes the selected letters of Wendell Berry, (a friend of Kesey) and Gary Snyder, and Nobody Home: writing, buddhism and living in places, Gary Snyder in conversation with Julia Martin.

The James Koller interview covers his biographical, personal and poetic influences, his novels, poetry and work on Coyote’s Journal and Coyote Books, which published Beats and ethnocentric poets. Born in northern Illinois in 1936, Koller became part of the Fifties North Beach, San Francisco scene, and was friends with Joanne Kyger, Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen and Robert Creeley. He published Charles Olson’s famous 1965 Berkeley Lecture in Coyote’s Journal. He was inspired by Pound, cites Carl Sauer’s The Agency of Man On The Earth (1956) as a bigger influence than Olson’s work, anonymous folk songs, native American songs, which he translated for Jerome Rothenberg’s 1972 Shaking The Pumpkin anthology, the ethnocentric epics and Icelandic sagas. This comprehensive interview helped me to locate Koller as a poet somewhere between Ed Dorn and Jerome Rothenberg, as well as bring to light such figures as Jaime de Angulo, a poet friend of Pound, and author of Indian Tales. Pound called de Angulo the ‘American Ovid’ and was also highly regarded by William Carlos Williams. He tutored Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, and was written about by Kerouac.

The Kesey article could have examined Sometimes a Great Notion and Paul Newman’s 1970 film of the book, more fully. It tends to follow a populist version rather than literary one of Kesey’s life and work. In fairness, there was a great crossover between the Merry Pranksters, Beats, Diggers and Deadheads. A truer understanding of the flowering of the Beats would require a grasp of many factors, historically from the eclipse of the old Left to the birth of the Internet. The Internet evolved as a direct means of communication within the Deadhead community, and a reading of that community with its numerous and continual allusions to and from the Merry Pranksters and wider San Francisco North Beach scene has yet to be written. A fuller picture would also relate the activism of Diggers to poets, such as Kenneth Rexroth, Ginsberg, and Pound, their connection to City Lights Bookshop, the Planet Drum Foundation, founded by Peter Berg in 1973, to ethnomusicologists, such as de Angulo, Frederic Lieberman, Mickey Hart, as well as poets, such as Koller, Kyger and Snyder, as well as the Whole Earth Catalog, which featured Kesey’s Further bus on its July 1969 cover, and other ecologically aware publications and groupings, and so on.

Jim Burns unearths an underground Soho scene from the late Forties and early Fifties, centred around Club Eleven, a bebop club opened in 1948 at 41 Windmill Street, not far from the Fitzroy Tavern, with its similar clientele of showbiz types, Soho characters, dealers, and military absconders. Here though the atmosphere was provided more by the smell of marijuana than beer. Burns notes that this particular ‘Underground’ predated there more popular Sixties notion, and provides useful literary references to support his findings.

There is, as ever, much to ponder in Beat Scene.
http://www.beatscene.net/

David Caddy 11th June 2015

Rebels, Beats And Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications, 2015)

Rebels, Beats And Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications, 2015)

This sixth collection of informative essays and reviews showcasing Jim Burns’ encyclopedic knowledge of twentieth century bohemianism contains thoughtful insights into the current scene and is by no means set in the past.

His first substantial point is that literary criticism by highlighting a few writers and poets from the Fifties and early Sixties overlook the wider social and cultural circumstances and sheer excitement of the period through an excess of analysis. Burns opens out the artificial boundaries and distinct categories of official criticism to reveal a more confused, floating world of writers and poets, little magazines, small presses and the ephemera of bohemia. Here we glimpse through essays on political rebels, beats, jazz musicians, poets, writers, filmmakers, artists and photographers a somewhat looser field of connection and relationship as well as a deep enthusiasm to move forward to a better place. Underlining this is the contention that minor figures may well yield as much social, cultural and literary insight as some of the major figures. Burns is quite clear in understanding that, for example William Burroughs, whilst linked with Allen Ginsberg through friendship, is clearly drawing upon very different sources and techniques. His essay on Cities Of The Red Night portrays Burroughs as a moralist with the power to shock, provoke and disturb, employing humour, visual effects and shifting action from within the American tradition of outlaws and pirates.

His second provocation concerns the role of the little magazine. He echoes Samuel Beckett’s publisher, John Calder’s point that the Fifties sowed the seeds that sprouted in the much vaunted Sixties, and examines the world of Merlin, a short-lived little magazine in the Parisian bohemian world of the Fifties, which drew attention to Beckett’s writing. Merlin subsequently spawned a publishing house, which published editions of Watt and Molloy. In the essay, ‘What Will You Read Tomorrow?’ he laments the passing of the ‘alternative’ bookshops, which grew out of Sixties unrest and offered reading matter far removed from the big publishers and distributors. Given the decline of the independent and second hand bookshops, the narrowing range of Waterstones and Borders, and the fact that the Internet cannot always supply writing that is beyond the ordinary and fashionable, Burns sees a vital role for the little magazine as an outlet and resource. He writes:

And it seems to me that little magazines, for all their problems,
are a way of providing us with a system of exchanging ideas and information about the overlooked and the unusual. Isaac Rosenfeld once said of little magazines that they were outlets for ‘a small but vigorous and very vital, active and conscious group which knew fairly well the sort of thing it stood for even if it had no specific programme and whether or not it had any political allegiance.’ He also
said that one of the characteristics of a conservative age is ‘the shrinkage of extremes’ and he added: ‘I am used to thinking, because of my upbringing, of the writer standing at one extreme from society; I mean, of course, the serious writer, the conscious writer, then, as a man who stands at a certain extreme, at a certain remove from society.’
He asserts that the little magazine could provide the variety missing elsewhere, and the reassurance that there are other dissidents who don’t believe the big publishers and mass markets can supply everything that the imagination needs to keep it alive and alert to the world.

His essay on David Gascoyne’s life reminds the reader of the importance of the Parton Street Bookshop in Bloomsbury as a gathering place for young poets and their readers. It was there that Gascoyne met George Barker, Norman Cameron, Geoffrey Grigson, Roger Roughton and others, as well as where he bought imported surrealist publications. From there he would walk to Zwemmers Bookshop in Charing Cross Road to chat with Ruthven Todd and compare their imported stock. The key is that Gascoyne had a range of places to increase his reading and knowledge.

There are other fascinating essays on a range of subjects from the Paris-Amsterdam underground, Surrealistic Prague, to Henry Miller, B. Traven, and the Edward Dorn / LeRoi Jones correspondence, as well as the extensive Beat Scene interview with Burns by Kevin Ring from Spring 2014. This compelling volume of essays is a joy to read and contains much information and material that is hard to find.

David Caddy 13th April 2015

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

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 74 edited by Kevin Ring

http://www.beatscence.net

This special issue features essays on a range of Beat writers and others visiting England, a significant January 1961 letter from Robert Creeley to Tom Raworth providing him with contact details for many Black Mountain and Beat poets as well as Gary Snyder in Japan and Louis Zukofsky in New York, an article by Iain Sinclair on meeting Olson at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Allen Ginsberg and Panna Grady at Regent’s Park in July 1967. There is also an article on Tom Raworth and Allen Ginsberg, a series of articles on the English and Scottish publishers of the Beats and Black Mountain poets in the late Fifties and early Sixties, plus a long poem, ‘The Prince of Amsterdam’ by Heathcote Williams concerning the Albert Hall International Poetry Incarnation, which included Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso, Spike Hawkins, et al, of June 1965.

It was 1965 and a foretaste of the Summer of Love
When it was believed that love could stop war,
And at this wholly communion
Where a Bardic tap was unscrewed
And turned into a spiritual fire hydrant

Pauline Reeves contributes an extensive essay on Ginsberg in London in 1965, the background to the Albert Hall event, filmed by Peter Whitehead as Wholly Communion, and its immediate aftermath drawing upon contemporary documentation. Brian Dalton writes about The Dialectics of Liberation conference at the Roundhouse in July 1967, which similarly brought together American and English poets and thinkers. There is a notable reprint of a 1963 article by Jim Burns on Gary Snyder, entitled ‘His Own Man’, identifying Snyder’s commitment to ‘disaffiliation’ and ‘resisting the lies and violence of the governments and their irresponsible employees’ through ‘civil disobedience, pacifism, poetry, poverty – and violence, if it comes to a matter of clobbering some rampaging redneck or shoving a scab off the pier. Defending the right to smoke pot, eat peyote, be polygamous, or queer – and learning from the hip fellaheen peoples of Asia and Africa, attitudes and techniques banned by the Judaeo-Christian West.’ Burns clearly saw in 1963 that Snyder whilst being part of the San Francisco, Black Mountain and Beat scene, featured in Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums as Japhy Ryder, was quite distinct and independent.

Eric Jacobs writes about the background to Fulcrum, Goliard, Trigram and Ferry Press and their commitment to publishing the likes of Snyder, McClure, Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Dorn, Hirschman and Ginsberg. There is good use of a Creeley 15th November 1963 letter to Andrew Crozier showing the English poets that he was in contact with. The essay also draws upon Ian Brinton’s essay ‘Nearly Brassed Off: Andrew Crozier and the Ferry Press’ from Tears in the Fence 55 as well as Jim Burns’ Bohemians, Beats and Blues People (Penniless Press, 2013). Jim Burns has an essay on Gael Turnbull’s Migrant Press begun in Worcester in 1957 to introduce certain American writers that had interested him through Origin, Black Mountain Review and the Jargon books of Jonathan Williams. He also uncovers the work of Alex Neish, as editor of Jabberwock and Sidewalk magazines from Edinburgh in 1959 and 1960 publishing Burroughs, Creeley, Olson and Michael Rumaker alongside Edwin Morgan, Ian Hamilton Finlay and Ian Crichton Smith, alongside translations of Marguerite Duras, Michel Butor and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Sidewalk was advertised as a review with a policy of anti-parochialism, which would focus upon the social and literary problems of today and tomorrow, and was attacked by the popular press of Glasgow.

There is much more to this excellent issue. Subscriptions are £26 for 4 issues.

David Caddy 11th November 2014

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

 

 

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