PageBoy Magazine Writers on Writers

When I was asked for writing about a writer by Thomas Walton of Pageboy Magazine, I immediately thought of my homage to Sam Hamill, written in 2014 and written after the Kenneth Rexroth poem “A Letter to William Carlos Williams.”   When presented to Sam, he loved it and immediately recognized it as what I’ve come to call a Cover Poem. He felt I was copping his trick, but I came to the technique organically and via my music background more than anything else. (I was in radio for 26 years and was a D.J. for a large part of that time.) My poem for Sam (“A Letter to Sam Hamill”) is the same poem Rexroth wrote, but with the material updated to reflect a different person. And that it was accepted by Pageboy right away was a good feeling too.

Thomas Walton‘s magazine is well-done, always features beautiful art work and interesting writing, with an emphasis on less conventional work, which suits me. (Listen to my 2013 interview with him and Sierra Nelson about the magazine here.) Other poets featured at the release party include: Sarah Koenig, Patrick Milian, Jeanine Walker, Amber Nelson and others.

And it is events like this that make a literary community vibrant. There are many literary projects in Seattle and I am drawn to the ones which are partial to the outside, those with the duende, the experimental &c. It is why reading last week at Margin Shift was so important to me. Margin Shift has taken the mantle of the “most outside” reading series (what I called last Thursday “the meatiest”) and, with the demise of the Subtext Reading Series, it is critical to have something that recognizes a higher literary “degree of difficulty” because the literary culture here in Seattle can be pretty risk-averse. I guess that is true everywhere, but it surprises me sometimes how “narrow” Seattle is, to flash back to Rexroth again. It has been eight years since Subtext’s last reading and I think Margin Shift has been going on for 6 or 7, so you see how the baton was handled and kudos to all who’ve kept Margin Shift going, Deborah Woodward and Matt Trease, currently, both of whom are voracious and intelligent readers, which helps.

So, thank you Pageboy and Thomas Walton. If you are looking to expand your own literary horizon, consider attending on May 5. And buy a copy of the magazine for Christ’s sake!

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Miles, Quincy, Georgia, Jazz & New Mexico

Attending the Taos Poetry Circus in Taos, New Mexico, will always be for me like Miles Davis hearing Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker for the first time in 1944. It is a feeling I’ll forever be trying to replicate. In the case of Miles, it is summed up in the book “Miles: The Autobiography” by Quincy Troupe:

LISTEN, The greatest feeling I’ve ever had in my life – with my clothes on – was when I first heard Diz and Bird back in 1944. I’ve come close to matching the feeling of that night, but I’ve never quite got there. I’m always looking for it, trying to always feel it in and through the music I play…

Quincy Troupe & Amalio Madueño, Taos Inn

Near Dixon, NM, south of Taos

For me it is trying to recreate the Taos Poetry Circus through any of the SPLAB events, specifically the Cascadia Poetry Festival. So, participating in a poetry event in Taos for me is touched with the essence of some of the greatest experiences of poetry community I’ve ever experienced. I got a chance recently to go to Taos, perform some of my own Jazz Poetry at the Taos Mesa Brewing Company, “The Mothership”, emcee an evening of Jazz and Poetry with a killer quintet and several fine poets including Quincy Troupe.

The first occasion to reconnect with Quincy, who I’d met in Taos at the Circus, was early Friday morning, April 7, 2017, when he was waiting for my arrival to escort him to a local radio station for an interview. I was told I would conduct the interview, but it did not turn out that way, so I had a chance to be interviewed WITH Quincy and, being familiar with the material at hand, helped guide the process to something resembling what I might have done had the original plan been honored. I did have the sense to bring my handy Sony IC Recorder and captured the bulk of what went down.

Doug Lawrence Quintet

As Star People is playing in the background (one of five Miles cds I dragged on two planes to Taos) Quincy tells of how he garnered almost immediate respect from Miles the time Quincy came to interview Miles for Spin Magazine. Listen to Part 1 – 2:39.

In the second segment Quincy talks about Miles visiting his good friend Sammy Davis Jr. near the end of that legendary entertainer’s life, displaying Miles sense of humor and humanity at the same time. Quincy also discussed how he decided to NOT see Miles after the stroke that helped end his life. Listen to Part 2 – 3:54.

In segment three Quincy talked about the first time he heard the music of Miles Davis and put nickels in the St. Louis fish-joint jukebox to hear Donna Lee. Listen to Part 3 – 2:29.

In the fourth segment Quincy relates how he was playing basketball in France, hurt his knee and was encouraged to write poetry by Jean Paul Sartre. Listen to Part 4 – 1:49.

In segment five Quincy reads from his poem Four and More for Miles Davis. Listen to Part 5 – 2:44.

In part six your humble narrator talks about reading Quincy’s jazz poems on the air at KPLU and how the Taos Poetry Circus was the gold standard of poetry events in the U.S. Listen to Part 6 – 2:23.

In part seven Quincy talks about his notion of Miles Davis being “an unreconstructed Black man. Listen to Part 7 – 3:55.

In segment eight Quincy relates the popularity of the music of Miles Davis, by talking about how a man deep in the bush in the Congo was playing Miles in his hut. Listen to Part 8 – 2:51.

To be in Taos again, was an honor. To perform with the Doug Lawrence Quintet, a band that knows how to accompany poets, was a treat and an honor and of course, sharing a stage with fine poets Anne MacNaughton, Amalio Madueño and the legendary Quincy Troupe is something I will savor for a long time.

There is more to tell about my visit to New Mexico, including our day in Santa Fe, visiting the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and walking down Canyon Road, seeing some remarkable sculptures in front of many of the galleries on that street and also being able to practice Latihan in Santa Fe. Taos and Northern New Mexico is one of the most remarkable and unique places in the world. Thank you Taos Bebop Jazz Society for inviting me to be a part of your incredible work.

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McClure’s Mephistos

In his latest book, Mephistos, Michael McClure shows how poetry is energy and how he, at age 84, continues to have the vital energy necessary for creating remarkably vibrant, touching and perceptive poems spontaneously in the hardest way to write, Projective Verse. Am reminded of how another New American Poet deeply familiar with this stance-toward-poem-making, in fact who helped shape it – Robert Creeley – near the end of his life did not have the energy to write projectively and reverted back to formalism. McClure approaching is 85 years of age and shows us poetry as cosmology in action; as “soul-science” as he writes in the poem Mount Tamalpais for Etel Adnan:

Torments dream us as we answer with bliss
made of flames and fires and blind tsunamis,
making soul-science and meat spirit
as they fill the coldness and emptiness with glamour.

This is poetry for seekers, those interested in developing their inner lives. This is the essence of “soul-science” and there is no 20th/21st century poet more adept at this than McClure. “If poetry and science cannot change one’s like they’re meaningless” he states in the preface to his book “Three Poems” and his spontaneous technique allows him access to realms that can be seen as outside himself, or as the highest aspects of his self, the noble self, noble human life force.

And once you are exposed to a phrase like “soul-science” or “rose-breaths” and either dwell on each or any of these or similar notions that McClure uses, they can become a window into a deeper consciousness, a more satisfying way of engaging reality in all its “glamours” to use a word he copped from his early teacher Robert Duncan. In the case of rose breaths, you get a sense that these are the kind of conscious breaths one takes in meditation. McClure has made a habit of writing after meditation beginning with his book “Touching the Edge: Dharma Devotions from the Hummingbird Sangha.” For years in my own yoga practice I’ve had this understanding that the breaths I take during the last pose, savasana, are likely going to be my best breaths of the day, so might as well make the most of them. Then McClure comes up with this notion of “rose breaths” and the concepts are connected in my mind, deepening the meaning of McClure’s work for me, as if that were possible, given the number of essays I’ve written about it and the hundreds of times I’ve recited from memory his poems, or parts of his poems, to friends, lovers and even near strangers like our Santa Fe Airbnb host who was delighted recently at my recitation of McClure’s Action Philosophy.

And speaking of “Three Poems” the poem Dolphin Skull was the first of three long poems in that 1995 book, and the field of that poem has been fertile for him, as he again uses a “grafting” technique, starting with a couple of lines from a stanza of Dolphin Skull but moving into a new direction with the new poem. Example:

And compare to:

And in the earlier poem, he continued:

The stanza does not end there, but does end with him twisting between humor and classic McClure sensuality. By that I mean not sex (necessarily) but deep appreciation of the input he garners from what he would call his “sensorium.”

Mephisto is derived from Mephistopheles, which McClure describes as: “the soul-thief, [who] returns aged and exhausted Faust to his inspiration, energy and sexuality. Mephistopheles is an active and witty companion for an inspired journey. He scatters treachery and tricks, and is finally foiled.

Mephisto (the same name) is an angel who helps God in constructing the universe and in the creation of orcas and giant sea mammals.”

And in no place in the book is that spiritual seeker quality McClure has called his “hunger for liberation” more evident (in my view) than in the poem:

It is writing like this, the most fully realized spontaneous poetics of anyone associated with the Beat Generation (or anyone else for that matter) that has inspired me to suggest that McClure’s use of Projective Verse will be the spiritual legacy of the Beat Generation. But then McClure has – at his best – been adventurous and prophetic, as a blurb on the back of the new book illustrates. It suggests his reading of “For the Death of 100 Whales” at the mythic Six Gallery reading in 1955 was: “the inaugural moment of American eco-poetics.” To have a master poet peaking in his 80s is an event most countries would savor as a rich cultural occasion, but we live in on a continent plagued by an anti-culture, an corporate/capitalist “culture” where there is no time for waking up. It’s bad for business! Beware, once you start reading the poetry of Michael McClure, you’ll stay woke, but then why else are we here?

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