Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

May 22, 2013

Art Judges Economy, Not Vice Versa

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Art Judges Economy, Not Vice Versa
   
   

Pyramid of Capitalist SystemPart of the ideal in creating an economy is to figure out how to optimize growth and production and decrease scarcity, while at the same time distributing goods in beneficial ways. Furthermore, with the absence of tyranny, everyone would get good food, a good place to stay, access to health care, access to the lands of the country, and so forth. So any command aspects of the economy would only be to serve the greater good, as would any and all self-interest aspects.

What happens when some people, our infirm for instance, cannot participate in the machinery of the economic system? More generally, what happens with those who are unable, such that common interest collides with self interest? The idea is to return to the ideal and say that “everyone would get good food, a good place to stay, access to health care, access to the lands of the country, and so forth.” That is where the re-creation or evolution of the economic system pivots, where at all times it is in service to a representative government, an ideal that should remain what we are continuously striving to perfect, no matter how entrenched our imperfect system gets.

Those unable or less able to participate in what has been set up to benefit us all, still should participate fully in the benefits. We just have a hard time getting a system going that works like that, as we continuously compromise ourselves to the imperfect system. There is no good reason, other than some ultimate benefit to everyone, that Bill Gates should have more money and access to the good life, than any other single one of us. He may be a good person, but he is not billions of times better as a person than someone who is unable to do works such as he has done. The bottom line, as it were, is that we would value each citizen equally and fully, and to be continuously questioning how we can change our economic system such that it serves each and all of us better.

The same thing that happens with those who are either unable or less able to participate in an economic system that pivots on self interest, is what happens with those attending to the arts and spiritual aspects of life. They are either sidelined or not in the game. The strength of an economy is measured by what the bean counters can attend to. Yet art and spirituality cannot be effectively measured this way. Where is the evidence that Frida Kahlo’s paintings are worthy of anything more or other than a place on a rich person’s wall? What The Water Gave Me, by Frida KahloThere may be none, but they are far more and otherwise worthy. That our bean-counting market system makes little or less room for the theologians and artists among us, does not mean that they should not be part of the “everyone” who “would get good food, a good place to stay, access to health care, access to the lands of the country, and so forth,” or be the beneficiaries of what might be considered the charity of the more “fortunate”.

Nor does it mean that we should align with bean counters who only wonder if people would be more productive and earn more money if and how they are spiritual and enjoy which types of art. It is only one aspect of art, of Frida Kahlo’s works, that somehow they would make anyone a more productive employee. Art is not for the economy’s sake. Art is in no way in service to the market system. One of its functions is to be there to expose the economy for its faults. Who’s judging who? Art judges economy, not vice versa.

The manufacturing tycoon’s money is merely his, because the rest of us say he can have it, and only for as long as the rest of say he can have it. It may be a game of Monopoly we’ve decided to play, but Monopoly is only a game, and a person’s net value is not ultimately measured in how she plays such a game, or even her interest in it. Any money we say that the tycoon must give over to art or spirituality, that part that we say that he cannot have, is not his. That’s our money in a representative government—just as in a monarchy we would say he is rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.

We get the bean counters, who want artists and theologians to justify themselves to the economy, when their justification is to the greater citizenry, to humanity as a whole, to humanity through time, and any life or spirituality that may be transcendent of that. It is part of being human to create good art, bad art, and everything in between. It is a sick, lopsided society that, when the economy is failing, the artists and theologians are made to suffer disproportionately.

Yes, there is a case for bad art. For instance, Samina Malik, who was jailed in the UK for writing a bad poem, and then rightly let go. The creative process is so misunderstood, the political machinery in its ignorance had her incarcerated for a time.

Let’s look at another case of poetry, one that may or may not be good, depending on what you as an individual think of it. After then-poet laureate of New Jersey Amiri Baraka recited his poem Somebody Blew Up America, the state decided to no longer have a poet laureate, to completely do away with the position. The challenge to the political establishment was too great.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, BakuA benefit from art and spirituality is that they challenge the status quo of the money machine, which can lead to an industrial machine, a science machine, a technology machine, to the point of being a threat. Laws are created to prevent such threats, and artists and spiritual activists throughout time, up to and including today, are imprisoned, some tortured, and some even killed for their expressions.

Arts and humanities show us more of what it means to be human. At a basic level, an artist may simply be displaying what it is like to be another person. Culturally broader art steps outside the established modes of thinking and being, to display wider possibilities than are available in society. When it is not pointing directly to the outcomes of greed and the plight of those left outside the machinery, it can be bringing us beauty to consider, or even ugliness, other ways of seeing the world and our place in it, that are not part of the paradigm needed to produce goods and make profits.

I have news for you atheists: there may be a god. You don’t know. You have decided. That there is no room for god in commerce, is a great pull to atheism. Atheists have selected to believe that which is available within the limitations of commerce and industry. When we check out at a store, the cashier says, “Thank you” to us, not “Thank you and god bless”–heaven forbid. Or how about, “Thank you, you are loved”?

There are fully other sides to being human, than those fostered by the economy left to itself as a system, a system bent on growing and absorbing each of us. There are aspects to being human that an economy given full power would not allow us to participate in, or even hint at. Art so threatens. Spirituality brings morals and ethics that threaten. These parts of us are transcendent of the social and economic systems that we have chosen for ourselves.

We need to interject, to say that everyone gets to participate in art and spirituality, just as “everyone would get good food, a good place to stay, access to health care, access to the lands of the country, and so forth.” We are all not only above the law, but above the economy.
   

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April 20, 2008

The Pee in the Pool of On Line Poetry, by Terreson

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Editor’s note:

You’re a poet or you’d like to be, and you’re at home or maybe work, with your computer.    Wouldn’t it be great to write a poem and post it into a forum for others like yourself to read and give feedback on, maybe spiff up some of your work, get it ready to submit somewhere, learn a few things or a few things more, find some creative, inspiring people?

The forum conversations could tend along the lines of the letters between poet Hart Crane and the editor of Poetry, Harriet Monroe.    Within the recent article in the New York Review of Books, A Great American Visionary, Colm Tóibín discusses the give and take between Monroe and Crane after he submitted his poem “At Melville’s Tomb” to her.    Here is the end of that discussion:

Monroe had commented as well on the opening of the last stanza:

          Compass, quadrant and sextant contrive
          No farther tides….

“Nor do compass, quadrant and sextant,” she wrote, “contrive tides, they merely record them, I believe.”

“Hasn’t it often occurred,” Crane replied,

that instruments originally invented for record and computation have inadvertently so extended the concepts of the entity they were invented to measure (concepts of space, etc.) in the mind and imagination that employed them, that they may metaphorically be said to have extended the original boundaries of the entity measured?

In the same letter, he quoted from Blake and T.S. Eliot to show how the language of the poetry he wrote and admired did not simply ignore logic, it sought to find a logic deeply embedded in metaphor and suggestion.

Wouldn’t it be great to be a modern-day Hart Crane and find a Harriet Monroe to discuss such matters of creativity with? To this end, there is an article here at Clattery MacHinery on Poetry called 25 Online Poetry Forums and Workshops where you can click and explore select poetry forums.    To this same end, you could explore “The IBPC Boards” on the sidebar of The InterBoard Poetry Community web site to see where you might belong and how the conversations tend.    What a perfect place, the internet, where from the comfort of your own home, from wherever the creative urge strikes, you may share your poetry, and enter discussions on poetry with like-minded people.    Maybe, however, you cannot, or it is just not that easy.    Maybe there are community tendencies or social constrictions that would discourage you, and you would give up on this idea.    Maybe on line poetry has grown so large, that it is time for it to look at itself, like any legitimate field must.

Everything written below is by Terreson.

–Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

 

 

 

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Dear Reader,

Are poetry boards good for poetry?

I wonder if anyone else has wondered about something: are online poetry boards good for poetry?    A subset of questions might run something like this.    Do the boards benefit poets, the new and inexperienced especially who, in most cases, are grappling with the vital stuff of finding an authentic voice, gaining confidence in themselves, working through the canon, trying to figure out if they have something essential to say, and all at the same time?    Do the boards, viewed as communities, engender poetry whose language is also authentic or do they falsify the poetry experience?    Another question comes to mind.    Is even the notion of an online poetry community good for poetry?    And maybe one last question.    What impact on poets, and on poetry itself, do the parameters, the rules of conduct and the by-laws, of many boards have?

I think it possible that the poetry board experience falsifies poetry and renders it inauthentic, which is a peculiar thing to have to say about online sites many poets, new and experienced, flock to both in order to improve their skills and to find like-minded people who are devoted to the art in the first place.    In the history of poetry, and with rare exception, no such community of poets and their critics has ever produced first-rate poems.    To the extent poetry is a community it is more like an unendowed college, with each collegian operating in tandem and usually alone.    Simply put poetry has always had the features of a cottage industry standing outside notions of community.    A notable exception might be Mallarme’s famous Tuesday nights in Paris when fellow Symbolists gathered at his home to read their poems to each other.    Even here, however, I am not aware that those poets engaged in analysis, criticism, parsing and such.    Certainly they were motivated to create a, then, radically new aesthetic, a defined program in which they each had a vital interest.    But whether or not community, in and of itself, is beneficial or harmful to poetry is a larger question, looking almost existential actually, and best left to individual poets to sort through.    The smaller, more manageable question might again be this:    generally speaking, are public poetry boards operationally designed in such a way that they kill the art by falsifying the experience or do they benefit the art?

Here is some of what I’ve come to suspect, and drawing on nearly ten years of participating in various online poetry communities, both on the boards and in the chat rooms.
 
Terreson
 

 

 

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The Pee in the Pool of On Line Poetry: Are poetry boards good for poetry?

 

Notions of Community.

Boards and rooms tend to place first emphasis on community cohesion, with poetry, poetry-related conversation, and the free exchange of ideas viewed as secondary.    It is interesting to view a poem allowed in the name of free speech that expresses violence, threats of violence, bigotry, and sexism.    Then to notice how the exchange of views in heated debate is closely monitored by moderators, often admonished, sometimes deleted from a forum as inflammatory.    The contradiction is interesting.    What it signifies is that a particular board’s community cohesion, and its culture, is an animal in its own right and takes precedence over the artistic project(s).    The mantra frequently expressed is: ’be nice.’    The suspicion, however, is that what actually matters, and in top down fashion, is the board’s culture and not the poetry or the exchange over ideas concerning poetry.    So the question becomes: does such a culture falsify the poetry experience?    Does it tell the online poet, say, that parenthetical bitch language in a poem is okay, whereas honesty in critical discussion is not?    My sense is that the free exchange of ideas is viewed as dangerous to community, but that poetry is not, since, it honestly doesn’t matter.
 

Poet/Critic Dialogue.

Rarely, if ever, is the meaningful dialogue allowed between the posting poet and the posting critic.    Board guidelines tend to explicitly discourage the exchange.    Poets are even told to thank the critic no matter what has been offered in the way of critical response.    The password defining the parameters of the poet to critic relationship is “don’t crit the critter.”    It is a rule, an effective gag order, that causes the head to wag and wobble, and one again I believe designed more for the sake of community cohesion than for the sake of the poet and poetry.    The unfortunate consequence is that poet is put at the disadvantage, while critic is allowed to say practically anything with impunity, no matter how uncomprehending, or even biased.

Common sense suggests that the critic is no more likely to know the nature of good poetry than is the poet.    I know of no case in the history of literary criticism where a school of thought has not been superseded eventually by another or taken to task for what it failed to understand.    And the suspicion becomes twofold: comments on a poem are often made only to satisfy a required number of commentaries in order to get a poem posted, and critics can, often do, comment in a compensatory, self-serving fashion, or with a bias that frequently disenables their perspective.    Add to this the extent to which online critics often do not bother to ground themselves in both the canon of poetry and critical theory, and, again, question of motivation comes into play.

Why then should a commentator be given a license the posting poet is not allowed?    It was Auden who divided the world into two camps.    The prolific and the devourer.    In the first camp he put poets along with farmers.    In the second he put professional critics along with politicians.    This rather begs the further question: if poetry boards sanction the frequently inept critic for whom are the boards meant?    Are poets, the bread and butter of poetry boards, also its fodder?    If so, here again there appears to be a falsification of the poetry experience online that is not healthy, especially for the new poet.
 

Poetry Board as Workshop.

Then there is the proposition that poetry boards are intended to function as workshops.    I am satisfied that, by and large, the public boards fail in this function.    First, emphasis is placed on production and not on refinement.    Here too the system of criticism contributes by its own lack of authenticity, by its lack of in-depth reading, and by its lack of sincerity.    And, secondly, the sheer size of many boards is neither conducive to meaningful exchange nor to the kind of developed relationships between poets that can best benefit artistic growth.    Having been a member of a small, private board for nearly two years where the members have had the chance to follow each other’s progress and where, because of the shared history, each other’s poetry is followed, commented on, entered into with greater comprehension, I am convinced of the failure of the larger boards to function as workshops in a meaningful sense of the office.
 

The Insincere Reader.

Participating members can also contribute to the falsifying of poetry.    While I’ve met many poets, new and old, clearly devoted to the discipline for its own sake, and who have both the instinct and the hunger for authentic poetry, two contrary salients stand out.    First, there are the scores of posted responses to poems entirely lacking in sincerity.    They tend to be complimentary and generic.    Recently I was reminded how Donald Hall once decried America’s growing number of “McPoets,” products of false praise and encouragement without the supporting evidence of talent and ability.    If poetry is to be taken seriously the inflationary effect of the unwarranted compliment becomes a serious problem.
 

Anti-intellectual Element.

Then there is the anti-intellectual element on poetry boards.    If, as Yeats thought, poetry is to speak to the whole body and to the whole of the human experience, then it must speak to the whole soma, to the senses, to the ear, to the groin as much as to the head.    In brief: poetry must be as much a felt experience as the felt experience thought about.    And yet there are those, none too few, who would disallow from the boards exchanges in poetics, prosody, and critical thinking.    This is not a good sign.    It does not bode well for poetry.       

 

 
from Gitanjali and Fruit-Gathering by Rabinadrath Tagore, introduction by, the frontispiece by Nandalal Bose
 

Interboard Understanding.

There also seems to be a collusion between public poetry boards that speaks to something resembling a backroom politicians’ understanding.    On many boards, at least, members are not allowed to raise questions about other boards and, by extension, about the design and the parameters of the online poetry board system in general.    Again, the head is made to wag and wobble.    The circumstance speaks to a cartel of shared interests among board administrators.    It too suggests a culture that has less to do with poets and poetry and more to do with safe-guarding its own green zone, what again must end up falsifying the poetry experience on line.

If poets are discouraged from raising questions and challenging precepts in their own community how then can they be expected to see to one of poetry’s cardinal responsibilities, that of breaking taboo and challenging clichés in behavior, perception, and language?    Viewed from a certain standpoint, vital poetry keeps as a danger to the community, be the township bureaucratic, corporate, or domestic.    And I am persuaded that as much is expected of poetry by the many townships.    So what is to be made of a circumstance in which poetry’s own township displays the bunker mentality?   
 

Board Administrations.

I’ve saved the most serious question for last: does the poetry board infrastructure of moderators and site administrators benefit the poet and create a free range environment encouraging poetry?    Closest to the point, does it actually engender the community the system is designed to keep in place?    Here my question is rhetorical as I am persuaded the answer is no.    I have spent some few years as both a board moderator and as a poetry chat room host.    I am settled in the opinion that the greatest danger to poetry on line is the governing system of board moderators and site administrators, which system proves the Orwellian insight.    All animals are created equal, some more than others.    An insight that cannot be more abhorrent to artists in general, poets in particular, whose vocation requires they be slightly anarchistic, certainly free wheeling and passionate in their convictions, if they are to keep creative in their artistic personalities.

I’ve heard all the arguments for the necessity of the governance, which is what it is.    The salient of which might be that the system safeguards public poetry boards from so-called trollers.    The history of the system suggests that the abuses meted out by moderators and site administrators with the tools to delete posts and ban members rather outweigh the safeguards.    A poetry board’s rules and by-laws is often a matter of subjective interpretation, something that fundamentally comes into play.

On a member’s side of the divide, it is clear that moderators are allowed more liberties than they are.    And among members it is generally recognized that a moderator’s own poem should not be taken too closely to account, that a deferential comment, even if falsely given, is best.    (And I guess I must wonder how the circumstance affects the inexperienced poet who perhaps notices the insincere comment on a moderator‘s poem, often praising it without warrant.)    It is also clear that to question a moderator brings down on the member the approbation of other staff moderators, that to criticize a moderator’s poem can result in the same.    When this happens there is an unmistakable closing-of-ranks, and the divide that all too many members know becomes sharper, more well defined, and sends out a certain other, Orwellian message.    Of all the online poetry board features, the politics infused into the environment by the two-tiered system of moderators/site administrators and members may just be the most pernicious, may be what falsifies the online poetry experience the most, at least when the experience is viewed as an artistic project.

The on line poetry experience is not limited to the posting, public airing of a poem.    Nor is it limited to the poet/critic exchange.    To say it again, at its best it is a free range environment, call it a Montessori school yard.    As the system stands I think it possible it is not just a failure, but a betrayal of the instinct for poetry.    Back in 1991 Robert Bly put together a collection of essays on American poetry: “American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity.”    The collection includes an interview with Bly, conducted by Wayne Dodd.    From the interview:

“Dodd: ‘It may also be that poets will be afraid to risk doing the really different thing, that might seem to be profoundly true to them nonetheless, for fear of being accused of peeing on the floor.’

Bly: ‘Oh, indeed!    That’s right!    I’m sure that the reviewers of Pound’s early work, which had a lot of freaky originality, accused him constantly of being poorly house-trained.    What would originality look like today? . . . It’s possible that originality comes when the man or woman disobeys the collective.    The cause of tameness is fear.    The collective says: “If you do your training well and become a nice boy or girl we will love you.”    We want that.    So a terrible fear comes.    It is a fear that we will lose the love of the collective.    I have felt that intensely.    What the collective offers is not even love, that is what is so horrible, but a kind of absence of loneliness.    Its companionship is ambiguous, like mother love.’”

In my view the collective Bly speaks of and the poetry board culture I draw attention to, at least as it perpetuates itself with an eye to its own maintenance, bear a certain family resemblance.
 

 

 

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Terreson is an itinerant poet, sometime novelist, short fiction writer, and essayist.    Originally from Florida he presently lives in Louisiana where he assists in research into honey bee genomics.    He welcomes your comments at terecone {at} aol {dot} com.
 

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April 18, 2007

Nikki Giovanni’s “We Are Virginia Tech”

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Click on Nikki Giovanni‘s picture to be taken to the CNN article from which you can watch and listen as she stirs the crowd with her poem “We Are Virginia Tech.”

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by Nikki Giovanni

We Are Virginia Tech

We are Virginia Tech.

We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

We are Virginia Tech.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

We are Virginia Tech.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devestated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

We are Virginia Tech.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think we are and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

We are the Hokies.

We will prevail.
We will prevail.
We will prevail.

We are Virginia Tech.

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October 16, 2006

The Gifts of Donald Hall: "Retriever"

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by Donald Hall
   

Retriever
   

            Two days after Jane died
            I walked with our dog Gus
            on New Canada Road
            under birchy green
            April shadows, talking
            urgently, trying
            to make him understand.
            A quick mink scooted past
            into fern, and Gus
            disappeared in pursuit.
            The damp air grew chill
            as I whistled and called
            until twilight. I thought
            he tried to follow her
            into the dark. After an hour
            I gave up and walked home
            to find him on the porch,
            alert, pleased to see me,
            curious over my absence.
            But Gus hadn’t found her
            deep in the woods; he hadn’t
            brought her back
            as a branch in his teeth.
   

   

   

   

His poem brought to you through the poet laureate’s gracious consent

   

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Donald Hall, our United States Poet Laureate, read from his book White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946-2006 for an hour this afternoon at the First Congregational Church in Pelham New Hampshire. He sat at a table as he does now, and read his poems of love, death, New Hampshire, and more, without great animation in body language, but with his kind and aging New England voice. The focus in listening, then, goes onto his words, being sure to make them out, but also on his intonations.

Eric Clapton noted that when Aretha Franklin sings, never is a note simply sung and held for its time. The soul of her singing comes through in how she bends and gives character and feeling to each note, such import to each. In this sense too, Donald Hall is a soul poet. Never is a stressed syllable simply read as a stressed syllable. Each is spoken to hold the accentuated note and meaning out into the room as a gift to the listener, presented with such suspense imparting the emotion and character of his words in their contexts.

With the first poems Hall read, the chant of the song within the poem could be heard, the soul of each stressed syllable revealing the meter of his freest verse poems. It was during these first minutes that he read the poem “White Apple” which contains the line, “white apples and the taste of stone”, the title of his latest book. That line came to him years after he first had the dream of the poem, and brought the poem together and to completion. In this and other senses, he is also a mystic poet, and thus the chant of his song-poems. But then, shouldn’t a poet who writes at once in a word about love, death, and his home, be naturally rooted in the mystic?

For the next minutes, it was as if he warmed to the occasion, and he read poems to make the audience laugh and feel at home with him. His delivery became more animated in his facial expression and tone of voice. The chant receded to the yarn of conversation, and yet the soul still alive within each stressed syllable. It was during this time, that he read his poem “Mount Kearsage” that begins:

            Great blue mountain! Ghost.
            I look at you
            from the front porch of the farmhouse
            where I watched you all summer
            as a boy.

and the poem “Great Day on the Cows’ House” with the first-stanza lines

            Now she stretches her wrinkly neck, her turnip eye
            rolls in her skull, she sucks up breath,
            and stretching her long mouth mid-chew she expels:

            mm-mmm-mmmmm-mmmmmmmm-ugghwanchhh.

Mid-poem there he interjected that friends tell him that last line is his best line of poetry.

The soulful singing of his poetry, the down home mysticism, the friendship with the audience well-established, all came to bear as he directed his audience’s hearts to his Jane Kenyon poems, of which “Retriever” above is one. The moments were naturally riveting, a great time in literature. Donald Hall’s Jane poems are as important to the poetry canon as Chopin’s Nocturnes are to piano music. There is a wholesome life, yet very mortal captivation to them.

After the reading, came the questions from the audience, and in response to one, he mentioned Thomas Hardy. In Claire Tomalin’s biography of Hardy, Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man, to be published by Viking on October 19, she writes of his wife Emma dying:

She did not complain or ask for the doctor to be sent for, but she did ask Dolly to fetch her husband. Dolly ran down to the master in his study, where he was making an early start on his day’s work. He told her to straighten her collar–she wore a blue dress with a white collar when she was working–then he climbed the narrow stairs to his wife’s room and went up to the bed. He spoke her name: “Em, Em–don’t you know me?” But she was already unconscious, and within minutes she had stopped breathing. Emma Hardy was dead.

This is the moment when Thomas Hardy became a great poet.

And then:

Filled with sorrow and remorse for their estrangement, he had her body brought down and placed in the coffin at the foot of his bed, where it remained for three days and nights until the funeral. The gesture would have been remarkable in a lover who could not bear to be parted from the body of his mistress, but for an elderly husband who had for years been on bad terms with his wife it seems almost monstrously unconventional, until you realise that he was thinking of his situation quite differently. He had become a lover in mourning.

The parallel between Hall and Hardy is unmistakable in the great poetry that followed their wives’ deaths. Furthermore, Hall noted that he was born following the winds the same year Hardy died in January (and here I note almost nine months later on September 20, 1928). Indeed, he looked to Hardy’s Emma poems in writing his own Jane poems.

The differences are striking, however. Whereas Thomas Hardy was estranged from Emma Hardy while in the same house, Donald Hall was in a loving and close relationship with Jane Kenyon. Jane had great love poetry written about her by a soulful poet, who loved her as she lived, and gave tribute to this love after her death.

Hall’s and Kenyon’s separation was in that their offices were as far apart as they could physically be in that same house: poetic solitude, distance for the sake of the creativity they had in their separate rooms–a creativity they could then share when not writing. Hall noted that where there were two in solitude, now there is one, and that being one in solitude is the worse. He spends his days writing letters, trying to write poetry, and taking walks and naps from time to time.

   

   


   

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Donald Hall: Deciding to become a poet

(Duration 5:03)

   

Using your RealPlayer, here is Donald Hall at the 2005 National Book Festival:

Donald Hall: Book Fest 05 Web Cast

(Duration 36:35)

   

Also at The Library of Congress site, is an excellent webography of Hall, with links to readings and interviews:

Donald Hall: Online Resources

   

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Click on the picture of the book, to see a list of Donald Hall’s works at the Houghtin Mifflin Books site:


   

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The history of one’s poetry is the history of gifts.

–Donald Hall, October 15, 2006

   

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October 14, 2006

David Kirby: his poetry, Kirbyisms, & video

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by David Kirby
   

The Search for Baby Combover
   

            In Paris one night the doorbell rings,
            and there’s this little guy, shaking like a leaf
            and going “uh-uh-uh-UNH-ah!” and his eyes get big
            and he raises his hands like a gospel singer
            and goes “UNH-ah-uh-uh-uh-UNH-uh-ah!”

            and for just a fraction of a second I think
            he’s doing the first part of Wilson Pickett’s
            “Land of a Thousand Dances” and he wants me
            to join him in some kind of weird welcome
            to the neighborhood, so I raise my hands a little

            and begin to sort of hum along, though
            not very loudly in case I’m wrong about this,
            and I’m smiling the way old people smile
            when they can’t hear you but want you to know
            that everything’s okay as far as they’re concerned

            or a poet smiles in a roomful of scientists,
            as if to say, “Hey! I’m just a poet!
            But your data’s great, really! Even if
            I don’t understand it!” And by the time
            I start to half-wonder if this gentleman wants me

            to take the you-got-to-know-how-to-pony part
            or means to launch into it himself, he gives
            a little hop and slaps his hands down to his sides
            and says, “PLEASE! YOU MUST NOT MOVE
            THE FURNITURE AFTER ELEVEN O’CLOCK OF THE NIGHT!”

            so I lower my own hands and say, “Whaaaa…?”
            And he says, “ALWAYS YOU ARE MOVING IT WHEN
            THE BABY TRY TO SLEEP! YOU MUST NOT DO IT!”
            And now that he’s feeling a little bolder,
            he steps in closer, where the light’s better,

            and I see he’s got something on his head,
            like strands of oily seaweed, something
            you’d expect to find on a rock after one of
            those big tanker spills in the Channel,
            so I lean a little bit and realize it’s what

            stylists call a “combover,” not a bad idea
            on the tall fellows but definitely a grooming no-no
            for your vertically-challenged caballeros,
            of which Monsieur here is certainly one,
            especially if they are yelling at you.

            But I’d read an article about AA that said
            when your loved ones stage an intervention
            and go off on you for getting drunk
            and busting up the furniture and running out
            into traffic and threatening to kill the President,

            it’s better to just let them wind down
            and then say, “You’re probably right,”
            because if you’re combative, they will be, too,
            and then your problems will just start over again,
            so I wait till Mr. Combover–it’s not nice, I know,

            but it’s the first name that comes to mind–stops shaking,
            and I say, “You’re probably right,” and he raises
            a finger and opens his mouth as if to say something
            but then snaps his jaw shut and whirls around
            and marches downstairs, skidding a little

            and windmilling his arms and almost falling
            but catching himself, though not without
            that indignant backward glance we all give
            the stupid step that some stupid idiot would have
            attended to long ago if he hadn’t been so stupid.

            The next day, I ask Nadine the gardienne
            qu’est-ce que c’est the deal avec the monsieur
            qui lives under moi, and Nadine says his femme
            is toujours busting his chops, but il est afraid
            of her, so il takes out his rage on the rest of nous.

            There’s something else, though: a few days later,
            Barbara and I see Mr. and Mrs. Combover
            crossing the Pont Marie, and she is a virtual giantess
            compared to him! Now I remember once hearing Barbara
            give boyfriend advice to this niece of mine,

            and Barbara said (1) he’s got to have a job,
            (2) he’s got to tell you you’re beautiful all the time,
            and (3) he’s got to be taller than you are,
            so when I see Mrs. Combover looming over her hubby,
            I think, Well, that explains the busted chops.

            Not only that, Mrs. Combover looks cheap.
            She looks rich, sure–Nadine had told me Monsieur
            is some sorte de diplomat avec the Chilean delegation–
            but also like one of those professional ladies
            offering her services up around the Rue St. Denis.

            But who are they, really? “Combover” is one
            of those names from a fifties black-and-white movie;
            he’s the kind of guy neighborhood kids call “Mr. C.”
            and who has a boss who says things like, “Now see here,
            Combover, this sort of thing just won’t do!”

            He’s like one of Dagwood’s unnamed colleagues–
            he’s not even Dagwood, who at least excites
            Mr. Dithers enough to be fired a couple
            of times a week, not to mention severely beaten.
            Only Dagwood is really in charge. Everything goes his way!

            Despite cronic incompetence, ol’ Dag keeps
            the job that allows him his fabulous home life:
            long naps, towering sandwiches, affectionate
            and well-behaved teenaged children, a loyal dog,
            and, best of all, the love of Blondie.

            Blondie! The name says it all: glamorous but fun.
            Big Trashy Mrs. Combover is not glamorous,
            although she thinks she is, and no fun at all.
            She is the anti-Blondie. Her job seems to be
            to stay home and smoke, since we’re always smelling

            the cigarette fumes that seep up though the floor
            into our apartment day and night. And he says
            we’re keeping Baby Combover awake when we move
            the furniture, which we’ve never done, but then
            we’ve never seen Baby Combover, either. Or heard him.

            Baby Combover: the world’s first silent baby.
            Barbara has this theory that, after a life
            of prostitution, Mrs. Combover has not only repented but
            undergone a false pregnancy and imaginary birth.
            Therefore, the reason why Baby Combover is silent

            is that he is not a real baby who fusses and eats and
            wets and poops but is instead a pillowcase with knots
            for ears and a smiley-face drawn with a Magic Marker and
            a hole for its mouth so Mrs. Combover can teach it
            to smoke when it’s older, like eight, say.

            Now I know what they fight about: “You never spend
            any time with the babyl” hisses Mrs. Combover.
            “I will–when he’s older and can talk!” says Mr. Combover.
            “Here I am stuck with this baby all day long!
            And those horrible people upstairs!”

            And he says, “Oh, be silent, you… prostitute!”
            And she says, “Quiet, you horrible man–
            not in front of the child!” Maybe it’s time
            for a call to the police. Or the newspapers.
            I can see the headlines: OU EST LE PETIT ENFANT COMBOVER?

            I feel sorry for him. With parents like this,
            it would be better if someone were to kidnap him.
            Or I could take him back to America with me,
            I who have a wife who loves me and two grown sons.
            Why not? We’ve got all this extra room now.

            We’ll feed him a lot and tickle him;
            there’s nothing funnier than a fat, happy baby.
            And when the boys come home to visit,
            they’ll take him out with them in their sports cars:
            “It’s my little brother!” they’ll say. “He’s French!”

            The neighborhood kids, once a band of sullen mendicants,
            will beg us to let him play with them,
            even though he doesn’t speak their language.
            Look! There they go toward the baseball field,
            with Baby Combover under their arm!

            I love you, Baby Combover! You are Joseph Campbell’s
            classic mythical hero, i.e., “an agent of change
            who relinquishes self-interest and breaks down
            the established social order.” But you’re so pale!
            You’ve stayed out too long and caught cold.

            Barbara and the boys gather around his bed;
            they hug each other, and we try not to cry.
            Baby Combover is smiling–he always smiled, that kid.
            His little mouth begins to move, and we lean in
            and think we hear him say, “Be bwave fo’ me.”

            Back in Paris, Mr. Combover grows a full head of hair.
            Mrs. Combover reaches up to touch it.
            He puts down his attaché case and caresses her cheek.
            “How beautiful you are!” he says. It’s so quiet now.
            Then they hear it: in the next room, a child is crying.

            brought to you with the poet’s gracious consent
   

_____

   


David Kirby, who grew up in Baton Rouge, is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. The latest news on his work is that, for the third time a poem by him, “Seventeen Ways from Tuesday”, has made the pages of Best American Poetry. He is also currently judging for the InterBoard Poetry Community.

For more profile on him, see this page of The Chelsea Forum:

            David Kirby;

where Andy Brumer is quoted in a New York Times item, saying:

The stream-of-consciousness and jazz-based rhythms of Kerouac and Ginsberg meet the surreal, philosophical musings of Wallace Stevens, with an occasional dose of cathartic confessionalism à la Robert Lowell.

A current profile, with a webography that includes links to his poetry, is at About Poetry:

            David Kirby;

where we find:

He has two books forthcoming in 2007, The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems (also by LSU Press) and an essay collection entitled Ultra-Talk: Johnny Cash, The Mafia, Shakespeare, Drum Music, St. Teresa Of Avila, And 17 Other Colossal Topics Of Conversation (University of Georgia Press).

To visit his web site, click his logo:


   

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Kirbyisms
   

He is also a writer for the New York Times. You can find his articles here:

            NYT Archive: “By David Kirby”

In those articles, we find what may be called Kirbyisms, sayings about poetry and life, said at just the right time, in only the way David Kirby can, or would as the good professor in him comes to the fore. Here are some:
   

            ~~~~~
   

In poetry, the first-person pronoun is simply more reader-friendly. It’s like a knock on an office door that’s already open. You didn’t have to knock, but if you had just started talking, it might have been awkward, and your listener might not have responded.

from Dreams, Trees, Grief, August 20, 2006

   
            ~~~~~
   

There is a brash, exuberant poetry being written in America these days, a long-lined, many-paged, pyrotechnic verse that would have its daddy, Walt Whitman, slapping his slouch hat against his leg and chortling with unbridled glee.

from The Biggest Little Poems, December 18, 2005
   

            ~~~~~
   

But of course there is no real competition between the Whitman who boasted “I am large, I contain multitudes” and the Dickinson whose niece Martha reported that her aunt once pretended to lock the door to her bedroom and pocket an imaginary key, saying, “Mattie, here’s freedom.”

from The Biggest Little Poems, December 18, 2005
   

            ~~~~~
   

You’re having a cup of coffee, and bang! It’s your neighbor, putting his car in the garage. Unfortunately, it’s your garage and the door was down. This could be the beginning of a lawsuit–or a poem.

from ‘Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos’ and ‘Into It’: The Double, September 25, 2005
   

            ~~~~~
   

Undergraduate writing programs probably send as many students to law schools as they do to M.F.A. programs. Makes sense: whether you’re writing a brief or a sonnet, you’re gathering material, thinking about the order you’re putting it in, adjusting tone to make the right impact.

from ‘Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos’ and ‘Into It’: The Double, September 25, 2005
   

            ~~~~~
   

“Inside every lawyer is the wreck of a poet,” Clarence Darrow said, but in recent times there have been efforts to encourage the two professions to coexist peacefully.

from ‘Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos’ and ‘Into It’: The Double, September 25, 2005
   

            ~~~~~
   

The lawyers can’t stop the doomsday machine, even if they want to. And the poets can only write about it.

from ‘Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos’ and ‘Into It’: The Double, September 25, 2005
   

            ~~~~~
   

Yes, the world is one big banana peel, and if we don’t know that we’ve got one foot on it, it’s because we’re not looking down: the goat (actually, it’s a heifer) on Keats’s immortal urn is being led to slaughter, wildflowers nourish killer bees, the South’s sylvan meadows were once battlefields soaked in blood.

from ‘Luck Is Luck’: Intimations of Mortality, April 10, 2005
   

            ~~~~~
   

Our parents go through all this before we do; the man who used to take us on his back is bent and gray now, and the woman our friends thought sexy spends her days in a chair. We’re following a curriculum that, if we’re lucky, leads us to accept our lives, and that consists in part of observing our parents as they learn to accept theirs.

from ‘Luck Is Luck’: Intimations of Mortality, April 10, 2005
   

            ~~~~~
   

If poetry is as much a state of mind as it is an assortment of black marks on white pages, then it resides in that intimate space between the world and those who observe it.

from ‘Danger on Peaks’: Ars Longa, Vita Longa, November 21, 2004
   

            ~~~~~
   

Yesterday’s hippies are now gray-haired and prosperous and probably not reading much poetry.

from ‘Danger on Peaks’: Ars Longa, Vita Longa, November 21, 2004
   

            ~~~~~
   

The adage “when in Rome” has always been good advice for foreign travelers. But finding out what, exactly, the Romans do–let alone how to emulate them without making a fool of yourself–is not always easy.

from For Social Slips, Anti-Skid Books, October 3, 2004
   

            ~~~~~
   

If you want to make friends, a smile will always be understood.

from For Social Slips, Anti-Skid Books, October 3, 2004
   

            ~~~~~
   

Poetry can’t fix everything, and maybe it can’t even fix anything. Yet it lets us see and sometimes even understand.

from Moe, Larry and Bertolucci, May 2, 2004
   

            ~~~~~
   

Pound and Monroe were the Lennon and McCartney of their shared enterprise, the one skirting the shoreline of art as the other steered toward the stream’s middle; the impresario and the editor were bound to part, and not happily.

from Poets Behaving Badly, December 1, 2002
   

            ~~~~~
   

All writers think of themselves as superior to the competition, and so it is with a certain amount of malicious glee that one encounters the thunderings of poets who today are more or less nobodies, the John G. Neihardts and John Gould Fletchers who howl with fury at having to appear alongside those they consider their inferiors.

from Poets Behaving Badly, December 1, 2002
   

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Kirby Audio/Video
   

Listen to David Kirby read his poetry, and his love of travel becomes evident. In fact, as I write, this Southern American is on sabbatical leave in France.

Through the sounds of his poetry, he gives us the world to travel, with its accents and lingo, but also the vocalizations from–for a different example–young hip hop artists. In this sense, his is an audio world for poetry.

Below are two poetry readings by him available on the web that will use your RealPlayer. The first is close to a half hour in length, and is from from the Library of Congress’s web pages of the 2005 National Book Festival.

The fourth of the four poems he read there, “The Search for Baby Combover” featured above, from his book The Ha-Ha, is a favorite among the young men of high schools, to read for, and win, Poetry Out Loud competitions across America. Click on his picture to view this webcast:
   

Duration 28:25

   

And click the picture of his Big-Leg Music book, to get a RealAudio presentation from his web site, with graphics, of David reading his poem “Your Momma Says Omnia Vincit Amor“, wherein music overlays the world of language, this world travelled through poetry.
   

Duration 2:15

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David Kirby Books
   

Books by him are available here:

BestPrices.Com: David Kirby Books


   

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October 3, 2006

Mark Doty Physically: "Heaven for Paul"

_____

   

a Margaretta Mitchell photograph

   

by Mark Doty
   

        Heaven for Paul
   

The flight attendant said:
We have a mechanical problem with the plane,
and we have contacted the FAA for advice,

and then: We will be making an emergency landing in Detroit,

and then: We will be landing at an air force base in Dayton,
because there is a long runway there, and because
there will be a lot of help on the ground.

Her voice broke slightly on the word help,
and she switched off the microphone, hung it back on its hook,
turned to face those of us seated near her,
and began to weep.

Could the message have been more clear?
Around us people began to cry themselves,
or to pray quietly, or to speak to those with whom
they were travelling, saying the things that people
would choose to say to one another before
an impending accident of uncertain proportions.

It was impossible to hear, really, the details
of their conversations–it would have been wrong to try–
but one understood the import of the tones of voice
everywhere around us, and we turned to each other,

as if there should have been some profound things to be imparted,
but what was to be said seemed so obvious and clear:
that we’d had a fine few years, that we were terrified
for the fate of our own bodies and each other’s,
and didn’t want to suffer, and could not imagine

the half-hour ahead of us. We were crying a little
and holding each other’s hands, on the armrest;
I was vaguely aware of a woman behind us, on the aisle,
who was startled at the sight of two men holding hands,

and I wondered how it could matter to her, now,
on the verge of this life–and then I wondered how it could matter to me,
that she was startled, when I flared on that same margin.

The flight attendant instructed us in how to brace
for a crash landing–to remove our glasses and shoes
and put our heads down, as we did long ago, in school,
in the old days of civil defence. We sat together, quietly.
And this is what amazed me: Paul,

who of the two of us is the more nervous,
the less steadily grounded in his own body,
became completely calm. Later he told me

how he visualised his own spirit
stepping from the flames, and visited,
in his picturing, each person he loved,
and made his contact and peace with each one,

and then imagined himself turning toward
what came next, an unseeable ahead.
                                                                                      For me,
it wasn’t like that at all. I had no internal composure,

and any ideas I’d ever entertained about dying
seemed merely that, speculations flown now
while my mind spiraled in a hopeless sorrowful motion,

sure I’d merely be that undulant fuel haze
in the air over the runway, hot chemical exhaust,
atomised, no idea what had happened to me,

what to do next, and how much of the next life
would I spend (as I have how much of this one?)
hanging around an airport. I thought of my dog,

and who’d care for him. No heaven for me,
only the unimaginable shape of not-myself–
and in the chaos of that expectation,

without compassion, unwilling,
I couldn’t think beyond my own dissolution.
What was the world without me to see it?

And while Paul grew increasingly radiant,

the flight attendant told us it was time to crouch
into the positions we had rehearsed,
the plane began to descend, wobbling,

and the tires screeched against the runway,
burning down all but a few feet of five miles of asphalt
before it rolled its way to a halt.

We looked around us, we let go
the long held breath, the sighs and exhalations,
Paul exhausted from the effort of transcendence,

myself too pleased to be breathing to be vexed
with my own failure, and we were still sitting and beginning to laugh
when the doors of the plane burst open,

and large uniformed firemen came rushing down the aisles,
shouting: Everybody off the plane, now, bring nothing with you,
leave the plane immediately

–because, as we’d learn in the basement
of the hangar where they’d brought us,
a line of tornadoes was scouring western Ohio,
approaching the runway we’d fled.

At this point it seemed plain: if God intervenes
in history, it’s either to torment us
or to make us laugh, or both, which is how

we faced the imminence of our deaths the second time.
I didn’t think once about my soul, as we waited in line,
filing into the hangar, down into the shelter

–where, after a long while, the National Guard would bring us
boxes and boxes of pizza, and much later, transport us, in buses,
to complimentary hotel rooms in Cincinnati.
   

_____

   

“Heaven for Paul” comes to you here, following a conversation with Mark Doty at this year’s Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. It is from his 2005 book School of the Arts, published by and available through HarperCollins Publishers.

Here is a link to his web site: Mark Doty
   

_____

   

I will keep exegesis to a minimum below. Instead, I want the poet to present the poem through his own speaking, through a spoken reading of “Heaven for Paul” that took place in 2004, before the book came out. First, though, we’ll look at an excerpt from an interview with Mark Doty found through the Audio page on his web site.

The idea in this presentation, then, is to first present “Heaven for Paul” as a poem to be read and valued off the page as above, however you had come to it; then to garner some ideas from listening to the poet, which I will take a brief tangent from; and then to listen to him read. Thus, we will have tarried with the poem and poet for a little extra time.

Here is the link to the the web page, where you can click onto a RealAudio broadcast of the interview:

Mark Doty on WBUR’s The Connection, in an interview with Dick Gordon, discussing SOURCE, Walt Whitman, and the complexities of writing about contemporary American life, recorded in March, 2003

At 6 minutes and 32 seconds into the interview, this conversation takes place:

Dick Gordon: Mark, when you compose your poetry, do you do it out loud?

Mark Doty: I begin scribbling in notebooks–makings of random notes on the computer screen–and very quickly I find myself mouthing those words, wanting to feel the language in the muscles of my jaw and in my tongue. And pretty soon, I am muttering to myself at my desk, and frequently taken for a person who’s a little too far gone into his inner life in public spaces.

DG: But, they’re written to be read out loud.

MD: They’re written to be heard. And even when we read a poem alone, I hope that what’s happening is that there’s a subtle kind of sounding going on, that we’re physically participating in those words, in the sonic texture of the verse. Poetry lives to be physical, to be in our bodies.

In an edited version of an address to the National Library of Australia’s literature conference, “Love and Desire”, published last week in The Age as The write of way with a reader, Dave Malouf writes the following:

When we speak of being unable to put a book down, it isn’t that we can’t wait to find out what happens next. It’s that we don’t want to give up the close and quite tender intimacy that has been established; we do not want to break the spell.

When Doty says “that we’re physically participating in those words, in the sonic texture of the verse” and that poetry “lives to be physical, to be in our bodies,” he is saying to me that there is to be a physical intimacy between the poet and the listener (or reader as it were) of the poem. In listening to the sound of Doty’s voice, even in conversation with Dick Gordon, what stands out is how he articulates his words beyond the syllable level into each letter, each “t”, each “n” that precedes a “d”, the whistling “‘s”–in physical enunciation.

This physicality shows thematically in Doty’s poetry as well. In “Heaven for Paul”, via the communication of crying, for instance–the stewardess wept, and the poem goes on, “people began to cry themselves.” There is the scene with “two men holding hands,” (each holding each, therefore), but also what ensued, that this “startled” a woman, how the speaker wondered “how it could matter to her” and then, on her reaction, “how it could matter to me” (each mattering to each, therefore)–a repeated and operant word of physicality being matter.

Doty becomes playful with taking us in and out of what we might think at first wouldn’t be, but then must be physical: disappearance from this world:

sure I’d merely be that undulant fuel haze
in the air over the runway, hot chemical exhaust,
atomised, no idea what had happened to me,

And doesn’t he bring Paul’s heaven and trancendence physically to Paul, and to us readers in such a way that we physically understand?

Here, from the Poem Present series is the Mark Doty poetry reading, in which “Heaven for Paul” begins just over 24 minutes in:

Podcast #38. Poetry reading by Mark Doty: A poetry reading by Mark Doty as part of the Poem Present series at The University of Chicago. © 2004 The University of Chicago (mp3)

It is a preview reading from his latest book School of the Arts.
   

_____

   

School of the Arts, at HarperCollins

   

_____

September 14, 2006

Jack Kerouac, the 20th Century’s Greatest Poet: One Hour of Video

________

 

The original Bud Bloom post contained video that is now unavailable online. Here, we begin instead with the video “Lowell Blues”, a film by Henry Ferrini. Here is a quote from the Ferrini Productions site: “Lowell Blues is a 30 minute Film Poem fusing language, music and image to explore Jack Kerouac’s childhood holyland–Lowell Massachusetts. The film is excerpted from Kerouac’s novel, Dr. Sax that is set in his hometown.”

 

________

 

Here is the 1959 film “Pull My Daisy”, with Gregory Corso & Alan Ginsberg, and produced by Robert Frank & Alfred Leslie. This was included in the original post.
 

 

________

 

And here in three parts, replacing his reading with Steve Allen, is Jack Kerouac reading from “On the Road”:

 

________

 

jack-kerouac-typing.jpg

 

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