R.I.P. Ralph Maud (1928-2014)

On December 11, 2014, Cascadia lost one of its most important scholars when Ralph Maud died a couple of weeks short of his 86th birthday. He was three days older than my Dad who also died this year, but it was his interest in Charles Olson that connected us and his work is that of a true scholar, wanting to get to the truth, not one of these folks who twist the facts around to justify their standing in the literary community.

When I was first interested in Olson’s seminal essay Projective Verse, around 1995 or so, I learned of Maud’s work, as head of the Charles Olson Society. That it was in nearby Vancouver, BC, gave me a good reason to visit and I caught him on a day that he was entertaining the wonderful BC poet Sharon Thesen. He actually got the book out and we read over Projective Verse together and it was a help at the time, but that he would assist a stranger in the effort of better understanding Charles Olson’s work was an example of his generosity and I’ll never forget that.

The excellent obituary in BC BookLook sums his work up quite well:

Ralph MaudRalph Maud, one of the founding English professors at Simon Fraser University in 1965, became an authority on the work of Dylan Thomas, Charles Olson and the ethnographers of the Pacific Northwest.

While that note, linked above, gives you a full sense of Maud’s accomplishments, it is as the main scholar of Olson in Cascadia that makes me want to write about him while his passing is still recent. His work never became so important to me until the book: Charles Olson at the Harbor (Talonbooks, 2008). In it he takes down Tom Clark and Marjorie Perloff, scholars who felt the need to take shots at Olson, or paint a picture of him that was less than positive. Clark can easily be dismissed because it’s evident to anyone that he set out to do a hatchet job on Olson with his book The Allegory of a Poet’s Life (Norton 1991). But the takedown of Perloff’s arguments in Charles Olson at the Harbor is especially sweet because it exposes that type of scholar I referred to earlier who is interested in self-building at the expense of truth. Here’s how Maud systematically takes her down.

On pages 168 through 172 of the book he shows Perloff’s quotes of Olson using the phrase “Inferior Predecessors.” She depicts that as Olson referring to Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, in that he considered them to be inferior to himself. In truth, Olson in the quote she cuts off, was referring to letters he wrote. The inferior predecessors are not people by actually letters to Cid Corman in 1953. That Williams would publish a huge section of Projective Verse in his autobiography shows you the respect with which he accorded Olson’s ideas.

Perloff also tries to make the claim that Olson’s simply re-packaging notions by Williams and Pound and by showing he’s plagiarized them by setting Olson statements side by side with the “source.” What Maud points out (among other things) is that sources he was allegedly cribbing from were NOT AVAILABLE TO HIM when he wrote Projective Verse. One of the books was published in 1957, seven years after Projective Verse came out! You have to read the four pages to full get the beauty of this defense, and I read this book with great gusto in late 2008. As for Perloff, it is understandable that someone who would not get the depth of Olson’s ideas would think something like Conceptual Poetry would be the way of the future in the North American Avant Garde, “poems” that even their creators say, you don’t need to actually read once you get the concept, like typing an edition of the New York Times and calling it a poem, as Kenneth Goldsmith did, (or had an intern do!) earning Kenny G a great deal of attention.  Olson’s process is one that values something beyond intellect, as indicated by his use of phrases like “the boss of all” and  “the Single Intelligence” where others in 1950 (and 2014) might use the word God. Olson knew that one had to be humble enough to realize there is an intelligence much larger than one’s self that was the source of all poetry. Ralph Maud knew it too and did the dirty work of going to original sources to shoot down attempts at changing the historical record for reasons that can only be described as being attached to ambition.

Ralph Maud has now merged with that Single Intelligence and we in Cascadia are grateful for his lifetime of work guided by something beyond mind and ego. Maud’s life shows that Olson’s ideas found a receptive audience in this bioregion and will continue to resonate here for years to come.

 

 

 

 

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Cuba Libre

Cuba

(Link to Washington Post fact sheet about the shift in relations with Cuba)

I had just dropped off my daughter Ella Roque at her Spanish immersion pre-school and parked in front of my favorite juice bar when the top of the hour radio headlines broadcast that President Obama would be announcing a shift in U.S.-Cuba relations. I called my Mother, born in Holguin in 1937, to make sure she was listening and NPR broadcast his whole announcement during which he quoted Jose Martí, referred to the 53 year economic blockade against Cuba a failure and used the words “self-determination” to inaugurate the latest chapter in a relationship between neighbors who, for more than have a century, have been in a virtual war.

That the U.S. has trade relations with China, who would seem to pose a more considerable threat to the U.S. and its interests, was mentioned by President Obama. We give them Most Favored Nation trade status and if they were to cash in their U.S. bonds, there would be a great deal of economic turmoil in this country. We’ve essentially put our massive military spending on a credit card issued by China, which is ironic when you think about it. The President also mentioned Vietnam, with whom we fought one of the bloodiest wars in U.S. history for what exactly, Country Joe and the Fish are still wondering.

And I could hear sniffling and tears pushing through the long-distance cell phone connection as she could hear from my end. Sanctions that prevented us from sending leukemia medicine to her dying Mother in the 70s were ending (and all the other heartbreaking limitations we’ve suffered from) for what? The way I see it was that the sanctions were to assuage the huge egos of petty politicians who would never be able to control Cuba, or its government, but could only cause suffering. They, and their impotent methods, have finally lost.

I am grateful for the release of all the prisoners who were exchanged, U.S. and Cubans alike, and this will be a special holiday season for them and their families. Of course President Bill Clinton made the economic blockade of Cuba an act of Congress, so it will take some actual initiative from Republicans come the next Congress in January to admit the failure of this approach to dealing with our feisty neighbors 90 miles to the south and end the policy. Given that there are those “R’s” who represent agricultural and business interests, who have been arguing for a new approach, and maybe pure financial interests will prevail, as they usually do in this country where dollars (& the “free market”) are divinity.

But today, for me and my Mother, separated by 2,000 miles, but connected by a shared experience, a kind of “Kennedy’s Dead” moment when we’ll both remember where we were when we heard the long-overdue news that relations between the U.S. and Cuba were shifting, a U.S. Embassy would open in Havana and travel and commerce restrictions would be eased. More in the excellent Washington Post article here. You can also see a fact sheet regarding the new policies here.

I was fortunate to have been able to visit Cuba a few years ago and there is one poem that covers some of my experience there, some of my personal mythology and some of my own awakening as a result of that visit, the effects of which are still reverberating in my life. It riffs off work by the great Cuban-American poet José Kozer, to whom I am grateful for recognizing the Cuban in me the first time we met. Thank you too, President Obama, for this action. We knew you had it in you. Now let the Republicans take credit for ending the embargo and closing Guantánamo and we’ll really be on to something. Viva Cuba!

Guanabo Beach, 2005 (1)
Guanabo Beach, 2005 (2)
Guanabo Beach, 2005 (3)
Guanabo Beach, 2005 (4)

My daughter’s reports for the National Journal here: http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/how-normalizing-relations-with-cuba-could-reshape-florida-politics-20141217

and here: http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/ted-cruz-obama-s-new-cuba-policy-will-be-remembered-as-a-tragic-mistake-20141217

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After the Japanese 5-8

My hiking partner and I had made it to the end of the Hoh River Trail, 17.5 miles, and had done a silence ritual, where each of us spent the day away from the other in the Olympic National Park. I’d gone to Blue Glacier, where I had the most incredible experience of looking down into the deep blue of a glacier, an experience I never had before and not quite exactly since.

And in our tent late at night we’d hear a new wind get going off the glacier and within a minute hear the sound of pine needles lightly falling on the top of our tent. It happened several times and it was a stunning experience, the kind that stays with you forever. I was able to get back to Glacier Meadows once since then and a rare Fall-like storm in August actually produced some snow there, so we headed out without having a chance to explore much in that visit. That last trip was 2008.

(Photo: Mass Communications Specialists 3rd Class Bradley J. Gee / US Navy)

(Photo: Mass Communications Specialists 3rd Class Bradley J. Gee / US Navy)

Fast forward to December 2014 and the U.S. Navy wants to use this pristine wilderness to conduct “Electromagnetic Radiation Warfare Training.” An article in Truthout says:

Enough electromagnetic radiation will be emitted so as to be capable of melting human eye tissue, and causing breast cancer, childhood leukemia and damage to human fetuses, let alone impacting wildlife in the area.

And this in the week that U.S. citizens became aware of the practice of “rectal feeding” which was not considered torture, but a necessary defense against terrorism. It makes one wonder who the terrorists really are.

Yet earlier this year I was reflecting on my time in the Olympic National Park about 15 years previously when promoted by certain poems in the old Japanese anthology. These old poems served as prompts for my own imaginative flights into language, indigenous practices and memory. Here are four more poems in the series After The Japanese.

ATJ 5-8

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