Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fred Marchant: A Happy Person: A Turbulent Poet

Fred Marchant: A Happy Person: A Turbulent Poet

Poet Fred Marchant is not stingy with a smile, or the hail-fellow-well met. He is a gracious and thoughtful subject for an interview. Although Marchant told me he is a happy person, he said there is turbulence in his life and in his poetry. He describes his new collection of poetry from the Graywolf Press "The Looking House" as having many poems that can only be described as harsh.

Marchant has a considerable number of accomplishments under his belt. He is the editor of “Another World Instead: The Early Poems of William Stafford, 1937-1947,” as well as being the author of four books of poetry, the most recent: "The Looking House" from Graywolf Press. Marchant teaches at Suffolk University in Boston, and founded the Suffolk University Poetry Center. He has been a recipient of fellowships from the Ucross Foundation, the Yaddo Foundation, and the McDowell Colony. I talked with him on my Somerville Community Access TV Show: "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: William Stafford was a conscientious objector during World War 2, you were during the Vietnam War, is this in some way the reason you were attracted to his work?

Fred Marchant: Yes. As a ground level truth. I knew his poetry before I knew the biographical fact. But when I read that biographical fact it amplified his poetry and it made more sense. And then over the years it has meant a lot to me. Not that he was much in the way of talking about his C.O. experience. He wrote about it in prose as part of his Master’s thesis at the University of Kansas.

DH: He started writing poetry late?

FM: Well- because of the war. Yes and no. He started as a graduate student. Then the war intervened. And during the war he was in the Civilian Public Service. CPS was a middle ground between going in as a non-combatant, or resisting outright and going to jail. It was alternative service. It was typically in the wilderness. It was in remote places. I studied with Stafford and we became corresponding friends. He was the first poet that I brought to Suffolk University in Boston. The Creative Writing Program began with this first writer. He passed in 1993 and his son edited and selected his New and Selected Poems (Graywolf Press). He connected with me a few years ago. I was approached by the son and Graywolf to write his biography. So I went out to the archives in Portland, Oregon. But I decided I was getting on in years and felt that a biographer should be younger. I needed to write my own poems. I thought that Stafford would approve of that decision. But as I was leaving the archives I thought I would like to write an essay about his early poems that I discovered. I was given a Xerox of his first ten years from his file. There were 400 poems. I thought a third of them should be read. They weren’t available anywhere. Through the editing process I was trying to understand his C.O. experience and how it reflected on mine.

DH: In an interview with Stafford he states: "I keep following this sort of hidden river of my life. You know, whatever the topic or impulse which comes, I follow it along trustingly. And I don't have any sense of it coming to an end, or crescendo, or it petering out. It is just going steadily along."

FM: I would like that to be case. Bill Stafford seems to have a calm direct access—more than I do. I am more or less a turbulent person. I’m a happy person, but turbulent none-the-less. There is serenity to his poetry. There is an effort to create a peaceful relation with his world. It meant paying attention to the way things are speaking to him. There is a good part of myself that has an allegiance to that. I also feel that that I am much more a struggler. I do need to that dialectical back and forth. The point of convergence is that I understand the virtue of the sustained writing process.

Stafford would wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning everyday to write. I can't say that I am able to do that. But I do know that I am at my best when I am writing regularly.

DH: You have been an editor at GRAYWOLF PRESS, a prominent small press for a number of years. Small presses are essential venues for emerging poets to established ones. Have the small literary presses been good for you?

FM: I write very slowly. I revise. I am a gradualist. Every small press gesture or commentary has been a gift. I was 46 years old when my first book of poetry came out. I wasn't a kid, but I was still a young poet. I can say the small press has saved my life in terms of writing. If you really take a stern look at recent American capitalism, the small press operates under the assumption that this is really not for profit. It is really for the art, for the culture, or the circulation of things in that order. I think there is something spiritually profound in that fact. Non-profit may be the business model for sustaining literature.

DH: You got your PhD from the University of Chicago in the 70's. What was the academy like then?

FM: I was in a program called: "The Committee on Social Thought." It was a group of philosopher, social scientist and literary folks. The reason I applied there was that Saul Bellow was teaching. I read Bellow's novels and I knew there was a kind of wisdom there that I was very interested in. Bellow was my thesis advisor. The reason why he was good is that he wasn't the ordinary academic. I was an ordinary graduate student. I thrived in the fact that he gave me a great deal of independence. He had a lot of ambition on my behalf. Some of the projects he proposed were beyond my capability at the time.

DH: I love Bellow; I started out with his novel "The Dangling Man." I heard that he was a real character.

FM: I don't think he was a character. I think he liked to make people think he was a character. I felt he was a day to day artist. His daily practice was writing. And when he wasn't writing he was reading. There was a great openness.

I remember visiting him once at his apartment for a conference about my thesis. I forgot which novel he was working on. But when he was working on a novel he had large notebooks, but he also had stacks of books he was reading. And I noticed he was reading the letters of Wallace Stevens. I don't know if this is a fact, but I think he's got some characters that are woven out of the kind of figure that Wallace Steven's conveys in his letters.

DH: Ilya Kaminsky wrote in a blurb of your book: "In a time of lies and mediocre ironies in literature, here is a voice that is never afraid to say what matters." What do you think is meant by mediocre ironies?

FM: I'll make my guess. There is a kind of irony that's basically self-protected--keeping things at a distance--not letting you be open or vulnerable to things that are truly hurtful. One of the ways of coping with this in our society is to be ironic about it. There is a distance that is created. Irony is a deeper resource than that. It stems from a broken sense of the world.

DH: In your latest collection: "The Looking House"(Graywolf Press) your poem "Pickney Street" captures the fleeting beauty of a street, on Beacon Hill in Boston.

Pinckney Street

A view from the crest of Boston to the river--
a walk and my friend stopping to say that
for three weeks each year
and beginning tomorrow
this will be the most
beautiful place in the city--
our respite in the brick-faced buildings
blushing in sunlight,
in star magnolias swelling,
about to burst into bright badges,
medallions of tangible life and light
the shook foil that Hopkins wrote about--
the minutes we have of granduer, hope, gratitude.

You refer to Gerald Manley Hopkins who wrote of the granduer of life: "It will flame out like shining from foil...”

Do you think this is the job of the poet to remind the reader that the flame will be a burning ember so carpe diem?

FM: I will say this about that poem. It has fragility to it. It is a poem that is fully aware that all this is ephemeral. On the other hand, just because it is ephemeral doesn't mean it we have to mourn. Of course mourning is part of life. The poems in this book are quite harsh. This poem was intended to soothe. The poem has a gentle affirmation of the pleasure of recognizing the granduer of things. I think we should all take pleasure in the granduer of things.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Poesy #38

Poesy #38.
Edited by Brian Morrisey (Santa Cruz)
and Doug Holder (Boston).
4/year; POB 7823, Santa Cruz, CA 95061.
$12 (four issues)

Review by Hugh Fox

The real center of this issue is remembering poet Dave Church,
1947-2008. A touching little personalized essay from A.D. Winans,more
remembering Church from Tom Chandler. Church kind of the incarnation of the whole esprit of Poesy : “The Pelting of sleet/against the window./That scary roar of wind./The tick and tock of the clock./Another scotch and soda/to take my mind/off what deep-down/I know I’m really missing.” (“Alone in a Small Dark Room,” p. 12).

There’s also a deep meditation by Debbie Kirk on Church’s book Hack Job, published by Green Bean Press in 2002: “Dave Church romanticized his sleazy lifestyle, and I believe he enjoyed it most of the time. In this book, Dave is a storyteller, a philosopher, a psychologist of sorts, a fragile boy at confession, and the most incredibly resilient
personality.” (p. 13).

All kinds of Beat , Live-It-Up Now poetry here, poems by poet-heroes
like A.D. Winans, Alan Catlin, B.Z. Niditch, Frederick Davis, an
interview with Cesar Vallejo translator, Clayton Eshleman, not just
about Vallejo but Eshleman’s own life too. And the whole mag is filled
with pictures, not just of Church, but photos by experimental poets
like Ellaraine Lockie, T. Kilgore Splake, etc., a picture-word statement that says: STAY HERE, BE HERE, EXPLORE HERE, EXPAND HERE...AS LONG AS YOU CAN. Not just a poetry mag but a strong immersion in a positive existential philosophy
that we could all use a lot of these days.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

City Lights: An Anthology of Poetry and Art. Shelia Mullen Twyman, editor.

City Lights: An Anthology of Poetry and Art. Shelia Mullen Twyman, editor. ( Beachcomber Press 27 Strawberry, Lane Scituate, Ma. 02066) $15

I was recently a featured reader for the Greater Brockton Society for Poetry and the Arts at the Brockton Public Library. I read with Kate Chadbourne, and had the pleasure of having dinner with the principals of this poetic enterprise: (Frank Miller, Shelia Mullen Twyman, Arnie Danielson, and Phil Hasouris) These guys are putting Brockton on the map as a center for literature and the arts. They told me they admire what our city of Somerville has done in revitalizing our community, and they are on the way there themselves. Unfortunately Brockton has gotten a lot of bad press, but the Brockton, Mass. I saw was populated with friends of the arts, as well as an attractive downtown center. The City Lights anthology is a first publishing effort by this band of brothers and sisters. It has attractive production values, with front cover art by Arnie Danielson, and cover design by Shelia Twyman.

There are many poets in this collection I admire including Somerville poets Gloria Mindock, Timothy Gager, Irene Koronas, Patrick Sylvain, as well as Marge Piercy, Robert Pinsky, Mike Amado, Elizabeth Quinlan, Joanna Nealon, Rene Schwiesow, Fred Marchant, Louisa Clerici to name a few. And the poetry for the most part is top shelf.

Marge Piercy has a poem “ Growing Up Female In The 50’s” about the corseted values of the era, where the cult of the “little woman” prospered. Here is the shopworn and repressive advice of two mothers to their young daughters:

“Keep your head down, don’t
stand out. Nice girls don’t.
Nice girls never ask for it.
Nice girls die with clean under

wear. Nice girls do it only
after a gold ring and then
they close their eyes. Do you
Want him to think you’re a whore?…”

And the late poet Mike Amado’s lead poem “The Poet’s Fire” is like a lyrical sucker punch to those of us who knew and loved this talented young man. Mike died at the tender age of 33 from kidney disease.

The Poets Fire

The last time I checked
I only have one body.
The time I held a mirror behind my back
and looked in the bathroom mirror
I could not find a zipper on my spine.
This is my flesh-vehicle.
It won’t run forever.
When the arrow finally ends on “E”
And its time to leave,
don’t scrap me to the graveyard.
Let those whipping flames flutter
around my remnants like butterflies.
My fly-ash will be a swirl of ravens and wax paper.
This won’t be a usual cremation,
just a ceremony of freedom.
A final cleansing of black tar, toxins
and thoughts: useless coat of paint.
No, this won’t be anything somber,
The flames are happy like chanting monks,
they chant a melody of beginnings.
The flames will cuddle me like a lover
having his first time.
As my dwindling body glows,
I will make love to those flames
because I do not want to be swallowed by the earth
with all the poison, preservatives and putrefaction
that my one-and-only body steeped in
to make the stomach of the earth turn and retch.
She doesn’t deserve this.
She had too much of this.

Highly Recommended.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Review of DEEP LANDSCAPE TURNING by Ann Hutt Browning

Review of DEEP LANDSCAPE TURNING by Ann Hutt Browning, Ibbetson Street Press (Somerville, MA), 2009 ($14.95)

By Barbara Bialick

Ann Hutt Browning, with her poetic last name and lyrical poetry, is known by many for the writer’s retreat center she runs with her husband of 50 years—Wellspring House, in Ashfield, Massachusetts. All those she helped inspire—and others—should certainly buy this book by the English-born, southern California-raised Radcliffe girl. With master’s degrees in both psychology and architecture, she has the bedrock foundations of nature interplay with human relationships.

The cover of this attractive book is a sepia photograph of huge, smooth rocks, “Maine Seacoast, 1976” by Jim Weigang. It brings the reader right into the book’s natural imagery. The first poem, EACH MORNING I HOLD YOU, is a villanelle on the daily connection between love and light.

Then, in A DAY IN THE DORDOGNE, FRANCE, she shows our relationship to rock: “All day we tramp weary over old stones/…as we crunch the surface stone we are pulled,/Drawn across abandoned fields…/follow ancient paths to the river…” where they drink “rough red wine” and tear bread.

She continues in her travels to a ‘WAYSIDE TABLEAU” where “three ancient women” sit in black clothes of mourning with “sorrowful” purple lilac… “…But “the one white spray of lilac…whispers…snatches of singing/from their young marriage nights.”

In all of these poems, her long lines are built on the blank page like edifices she would build on land. In BLINDED BY LIGHT, she writes: “I want to be with you on wild white bedrock,surfaced…/where Doric columns, rooted in the foundation are rooted also in that rocky mount…”

Her poems range from travel and nature (“SESTINA FOR A HUMMINGBIRD”) to her childhood relationships. In CUSTODY, she hears in a courtroom about the divorce of her parents and custody by her mother, and also starts her period. She learns by LETTER FROM MY ENGLISH AUNT that her father has died (“Cremated. No service”). As a 14-year-old she’s among adults with loud voices discussing McCarthy, among other topics, and has to “put my hand on (the white stone) Ulysses’ curls/and was calmed.”

But one of her best poems is MY YOUNGER BROTHER: “He and our mother strolled in the garden,/…he filled her skirt with ripe tomatoes,/laughing as he dropped each one/into the billowing cloth,/his opened fist a fat starfish/…her loaded skirt swaying./back to the house…stained with red juice/her eyes like stars.”

She also adds some political poems, such as AN ORDINARY LIFE: “She threw back her all-cotton sheet,/cotton woven in a far-off country/by a dark-skinned girl chained to her her large loom…”(and so on!)

Ann Hutt Browning is a poet more people should know about.

BEATS AT NAROPA: Edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright


An Anthology

Edited by Anne Waldman and Laura Wright

Coffee House Press, Minneapolis, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-56689-227-8


Review by Richard Wilhem

This enjoyable and illuminating anthology consists of never before published essays, talks, interviews and panel discussions with folks such as Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, Clellon Holmes, Kyger, Snyder, Baraka, DiPrima, McClure, Pommy Vega, Whalen and Waldman. Many other well-known folks also appear, either writing or written about. There’s a great piece on Bob Kaufman by David Henderson.

Clark Coolidge’s essay, “Kerouac’s Sound,” is a must for any poet or fan of Kerouac’s. Coolidge says Kerouac was listening to bebop alto sax-man Lee Konitz play and was inspired to try to write lines like the lines Konitz was playing. From Kerouac’s “Beginning of Bop”:

Lester droopy porkpied hung his horn and blew bop lazy ideas inside jazz had everybody dreaming.

That’s all one breath. Or, from “Mexico City Blues” (146th Chorus):

The blazing chickaball whap-by extry special super high job ole 169 be foundering down to Kill Roy.

Coolidge discusses how Kerouac, again emulating jazz, would extend his parentheses; that is, he’d go “outside,” riffing over a vamp, then come back to the main progression of his thought.

Amiri Baraka, in “Pulling It Down,” makes the case that the role of the poet is, or should be, to penetrate minds with alternative visions.

There’s a forum on “Women and the Beats” with Hettie Jones, Joanne Kyger, Janine Pommy Vega, and Anne Waldman in which they recount their varying experiences with the male writers. Diane DiPrima’s “By Any Means Necessary” is a fascinating account of her involvement with mimeograph publishing in the 60’s and her work with the Liberation News Service. She stresses the importance of poetry and the need for writers to get their work out there “by any means necessary.”

The book closes with a powerful essay by poet and musician Steven Taylor, “Remember The Future: Archival Poetics And The War On Memory.” Taylor opens with: “ Memory is the object of war. War is the attempt to replace one archive with another. You want to rewrite the memory of people whom you wish to dominate.” He cites the suppression of African speech, the separation of kin, the banning of drums during the slavery period. He references Nazi book burnings and the Chinese Cultural Revolution, noting; “---popular memory can sometimes be reprogrammed by simple insistence on even the most outlandish propositions.” He cites Karl Rove’s memoir that claimed that it was Congress rather than the White House that rushed us into war with Iraq. (One thinks of the current nonsense about “death panels” which the right-wing has foisted on the gullible.)

In tribal cultures, says Taylor, it is the poet, the singer of tales, that maintains the tribe’s culture and its rootedness to reality. He describes Ginsberg’s philosophy of the democratization of the arts and the value of communities built around the small press, underground film, garage bands playing in local clubs, and galleries that show local artists. The idea is that these independent artists are writing their own history and making their own cultures. Taylor says Ginsberg said to him that one has to write one’s own history. Taylor adds: “Now I see he was speaking to something much larger; ours is the work of memory against the mass amnesia that made the twentieth century the bloodiest in human history. The imperative to give voice, and to preserve it, can be summed up in Allen’s command on occasions when I hesitated to perform:’Speak, poet!’”

If these words stir you, reader, as they did me, you’ll hasten to get a copy of this book.

Richard Wilhelm is the arts editor of the Ibbetson Street Press.

Ibbetson Update