Dave Cope: On Poesy & Work
Interviewed by Maura Gage
First Set: 26 October 2000
What would be your definition of poetry if you had to capture all that it is to you?
I think I'd start by saying it's what saved my life, emotionally and intellectually—those words gave me a way out of the two-car garage whistle-while-you-work mentality that pervaded—and still pervades—the city and suburbs where I grew up. Poetry gave me a way out of fake dreams and an emotional firestorm that engulfed me in my family's breakup, but it also helped me define myself, what mattered, whatever wisdoms one can gather in life beyond the stupidities of checkbooks, TV ads, families breaking into shards even as Ozzie & Harriet or The Life of Riley blared on, the real soundtrack from hell with its brightly shallow illusions of heavenly suburbia.
For a formal definition, I'd start with Iggy Pound's ideas of phanopoeia, melopoeia, logopoeia—the image, the sound or rhythm, the "dance of the intellect among words" which I find most solidly explored via place, the local and the specific; and the three principles of imagism in "A Retrospect": poetry is compressed language which, in WCW's phrase, formally presents its case as an artistic object which uses no word that doesn't contribute to the presentation. I'd define the second of these, melopoeia, a bit more broadly than merely taking the music of the line—its rhythm, meter, rime, alliteration, assonance, etc.—into account; in deaf poetics, there can be no sound, yet there is the visual dance of the signs on the hands of the poet, in which sound translates into the skillful movement of the visual signs. The third of these, logopoeia, is of course quite suspect to the present-day deconstructionist rehashers, but I'd suggest that the writer who doesn't come from a specific sense of place, of events and people in his or her life, is working words as a mere intellectual game, the mind untied from the particulars of one's existence. Williams said, "go back to the people. They are the origin of every bit of life of conceivable human interest . . . if we don't cling to the warmth which breathes into a house or a poem alike from human need . . . the whole matter has nothing to hold it together."
Place is significant to your poetry, and I was wondering about your "philosophy" concerning it.
I guess I've covered that here, though one could take Williams's notion that "the local is the only universal" and apply that here—though I find the term "universal" fairly suspect, I'd suggest that you can't make the "necessary translations" until you confront the specifics of where you are.
Part of my fascination with place is the ways in which it opens up vision and the other senses, opens up one's awareness of the world one has inherited, but another part is the simple pleasure of a frosty morning with the sunlight through the leaves. Part of it is the ways in which words evoke, however imperfectly, the gifts of the moment & the day.
Much of your poetry seems to focus on city details, and then I can't say you're 100% a "city" poet because you give equal time to nature in your own unique way. Would you please address these observations as to how each "landscape" or "cityscape" inspires your work?
I grew up on the cusp of what was then the suburbs of Grand Rapids, a medium-sized provincial city in southwestern Michigan, but I've always been very conscious of the equidistant proximity of Detroit to the east and Chicago to the west, each roughly 140 miles from home, each with its own attractions and repulsions—and with its own cultural particulars. I was born in Detroit—my father's family came from there—and it has always been my grandpa's peach trees and library, Tiger Stadium and the Diego Rivera murals to me, as well as my father's stories of the Grande Ballroom and the Purple Gang, the shootouts in the neighborhood where he grew up. Chicago has been the smog of Gary, the skyway, Toulouse Lautrec and "La Grand Jatte" and Picasso's blue guitarist, the miles of brick neighborhoods and the inlets and waterways with their strange copper-green water, and my own Lake Michigan like a blue dream beyond the rush and horns of the magnificent mile. The world I knew as a child consisted of the high forested morraines along the banks of the Thornapple River, the miles and miles of farmland and oak and maple forests available on all-day bike rides, seemingly endless days of canoeing. There were also the long days and nights along the upthrust dunes of the Lake Michigan shore, that sense of the inland sea and the legendary echoes of the lost tribes and of Father Marquette canoeing along the coast—the landscapes and seascapes of my world were imbued with all that, and fired my dreams. Even today, kayaking and going north to Sleeping Bear, to the Straits of Mackinac, to the still-unspoiled Tahquamenon Falls area and the fierce beauty of Superior's shipwreck coast remain important rituals in my life, pilgrimages to what the Ojibway call power spots, poetry sites where my spirit soars.
At the same time through my early years, my father ran a small die-casting shop downtown in the middle of the industrial wasteland, among block after block of grimy factories, ash piles, broken-down neighborhoods with tall sad sunflowers and smoking chevies, duck's-ass hipsters and bobby soxers hoppin' to go, old folks sitting on porches spending their last days yakking in Polish or German, dirty kids in diapers waddling down the sidewalks trailed by the family dog. Some days my dad left me in his shop while he worked a deal in the office, or took me to dinner among burly factory workers—being the boss's kid, no doubt unaware of how they must've seen me—yet these men treated me like "the kid," and sometimes showed me other sides of life, as when Hank Cool, strong-armed diecast man with a friendly grin, turned up with molten aluminum in his eye, later miraculously getting his sight back, taking the crucifixion his job handed him with patience and calm.
There are, of course, many other parts to this story—after quitting school, the early years of my marriage to Sue, in which I worked as an EDM operator at Johnson Mold, a lugger and spray-paint set-up man at Miller Metals, later moving to night custodial work at ghetto schools and at our local facility for retarded and disabled kids. I later settled in as a head custodian at a barrio school and eventually became dock manager at Grand Rapids Community College, where I was later to become an English instructor. The factory work taught me a real appreciation for what blue collar folks go through—the backaches, the headaches, the little ways the bosses would try to screw someone into doing more work, the anger that just won't go away, though some few eventually attain a peculiar buddhahood in spite of it. Working at the schools, especially on night shift, gave me time to observe the lives going on all around me: one could finish one's run in five hours, and those hours just before sunset, the night-time sounds of a neighborhood coming to terms with its young rebels, blaring loud music until the cops showed up—the whores on their porch hollering out to passersby or the mere sight of the old man across the street, scratching his hairy forearms on his porch and swigging his last beer before packing it in even as the stars were appearing in the sundown sky—all these gave me the parts of stories worth repeating, of lives closer to the real lives Whitman catalogued, the lives of the American myth.
So when I got through with my years of experimenting with verse, when I finally came to settle down to write the poems I thought would tell my time truly, it was these landscapes and seascapes, these city workers and ordinary folks that were my subject. It wasn't really a conscious representational choice so much as it was just "my life."
As you know, work is part of the focus of this volume. While I'm certain that poetry is your true work and calling, if you will, the subject of your trades, doing work, is also significant to who you are; how has that part of your life related to the whole of your development to date? --First: as a human being; second: as a poet.
I dig working, doing four or five jobs at once, switching back and forth between tasks to increase my involvement and to prevent boredom, and driving myself like a dog—when I was younger, I loved throwing my whole body into it, like a madman—I'd drive myself to exhaustion, to the point where, at age 38, I ripped a calf muscle trying to push a 300 pound load up a ramp. When I switched from manual to intellectual labors after that, I found that same kinds of work habits followed me—yet it's not obsessive in the usual sense, there's an exhilaration, a bigtime high that comes with it. As a poet, I've never subscribed to that business of "emotion recollected in tranquillity"—poems come at any time of day or night, the words come flashing down out of the air in the middle of things, & I have to make room for them. There's no separation—the poem is part of the work, the work is the life, & it all works like that for me. Despite all this going, I also value the silence at the heart of the moving, & in fact I think one can only maintain all these levels of moving with any equanimity if there is a stillness within, not something one has to strive for, but something that's simply there, the rock.
Do you see your work (poetry) growing and shaping itself into a vision as you matured as an adult, or do you see it as being consistently the same? Please address this idea according to theme, subject matter, style, or anyway you see fit.
My writing began with what Allen Ginsberg identified as the "tradition of lucid grounded sane objectivism . . . following the visually solid practice of Charles Reznikoff and William Carlos Williams," and while that visual aspect—attentiveness to what Blake called "minute particulars"—has been important to me, my books have developed as a series of experiments in constructing interlocking suites of poems using a variety of images as connecting motifs, continuing series (the love poems for Sue, the "canoeing" poems, the poems for Billy, etc.), and the use of allusions to develop intertextual matrix. I have also deliberately approached style and technique with the idea of maximizing variety, not only continuing the objectivist "postcard" series derivative of Reznikoff and Cendrars, but also developing Kerouacian jazz-solo performance pieces, my own idiosyncratic variations of middle-eastern ghazals, "weird sonnets," funky villanelles, dialect testimonies and dramatic monologues involving voices overheard in lunch rooms & on dark streets, free verse triads loosely based on the dantescan model, dream & visionary poems scribbled out of sleep, spatial explorations after WCW's late models—the open spaces signifying silences between words or syllables—and multi-stanzaed poems set up as an Aleutian chain of stanzas—islands loosely connected in a sea of silences, Whitmanic prophetic rants and quietly Berriganlike personal poems written as letters, etc.
These styles have evolved from that initial objectivist shot—at the same time, I'd suggest that I've grown more and more aware of how rhythms and silences in the lines function with the subject matter and technical syle the poem develops. When the poem succeeds, it's like a musician who, with practice, learns to play more and more subtly, surrendering to nuance.
Based on your poetry, you seem to have a deep gratitude towards friends, family, and mentors. While this is a beautiful way to be, I can't help but wonder if there is an under-lying philosophy behind this goodness, or if "something" may have happened to make you behave as all should?
I hope I've learned to be good & grateful—it's been a long and uneven trip.
I was a complete asshole after my dad left the family, all through my teenage years—blaming all my rages and stupidities, gang-activities, cruelties and lashing out on my father. Yet despite the difficulties, my mother raised me and my three siblings patiently, working almost twelve hours a day as a kindergarten teacher, and while she herself had enormous unfinished emotional business, she stood by me, never gave up on me. Later, my wife Sue tried to help me let go of those rages, and when I finally met Allen Ginsberg, his message to me was that I would never be free until I let all that crap go and make peace with my father. Doing that set me free as much as anything I've ever experienced—it allowed me to have my childhood back, to mend my life and find love at the center—it was the closest thing to enlightenment that I've ever experienced.
Secondly, my wife Sue and I came out of a strong matrix of being socially responsible, of not simply spouting opinions, but acting on them. We sponsored refugee families, led anti-nuclear teachings, helped raise money and awareness for AIDS victims, and have worked on numerous other social projects—and when I retire, I hope to devote more time to those kinds of things, when I have more time to give. I say this not out of pride or attempting to take credit, but because these things are important to me. I've been blessed with forgiving peers, patient parents, loyal friends, a good and gracious mentor in Allen, a lifelong lover who has been willing to kick my ass when I've got it coming and who has shared projects and life-affirming activities with me for thirty years, & as old Joe Kennedy once said, much is expected of those to whom much is given.
Your poetry seems to be truly American in imagery, universal in emotion, and living in the moment or experience in its awareness. Please express what you feel is relevant to your poetic vision in terms of these characteristics.
American in imagery, yes, certainly—when I was working in the factory, I read Whitman's deathbed edition cover-to-cover for the first time (thank god, not in a classroom full of bighead analysis, but rather out among the "roughs"), & I was struck by the importance of catching your people in all their walks, their ecstacies and horrors, their lives as they pass in the time one is given. Objectivist writing practice—especially if learned from the incomparable eye of Charles Reznikoff—trains one to catch the moment as it passes, to write almost as if one is doing spontaneous snapshots or short films, and I guess that training has as much to do with poems that live "in the moment" as any. Emotion: I believe with Pound that "only emotion endures"—whether that's universal is up to somebody else—one just tries to be true to one's own feelings as they occur.
You have had some incredible poets help shape you, it seems, as mentors. Would you please address who influences your poetry and in which ways?
Allen Ginsberg was my mentor—I sent him my little chapbook, Stars, in 1975, and he wrote back, sending me a check and requesting ten more copies to send to editors and poets. Later, he helped me, Andy Clausen, Antler, and a host of other poets find publication in City Lights Journal #4, in New Directions #37, and in other smaller magazines. By 1980, he decided to bring us together out at Naropa Institute, and so began a series of readings at Naropa, in New York, and elsewhere. Allen gave me my peers, taught me how to edit my work in a more professional way than I'd learned in college, gave me reading and publication venues, and when I stayed with him, showed the most incredible patience with an astounding array of visitors, phone calls at all hours of the night, pressures that might crack an ordinary human: his model of patience, unsparing honesty, and cranky compassion was engraved in me as what it is to be a poet. Through him, I met Carl Rakosi, Diane di Prima, Gary Snyder, Anne Waldman, Gregory Corso and a host of others, as well as my own best friend and peer, Jim Cohn.
Their influences have been continuous and subtle, not so much on my writing (which stylistically is probably far more influenced by the poets whose works I teach every year—primarily Shakespeare and Whitman and Williams, whom I regard as the mother lodes of technique and style) as on my understanding of how to live with my peers, to love their work, to appreciate their peculiar gifts and personality quirks as the emblems of their brands of genius.
Do you feel that accomplished poets have an obligation to mentor "younger" poets, poets who are newer to their own development, and in what ways?
No obligations: you do what you do because it's right for you, as old Wesley Holmes, King of Junk Hill, once said. But yes I've mentored some younger poets, always with the understanding that they have to find their own way & that any advice I give, only when asked for, should be tested. I've got a wild crowd of young women poets in my creative writing class right now, one of whom counseled her less self-assured peer not to listen to me—a good piece of advice for someone not yet sure of herself. The older poet can caution, can show some element of style, can perhaps show a good model of kindness and compassion—but cannot show the way to visions or in any way set limits on the youthful experimenter. Each generation has to find its own way, and peculiarly enough does so while connecting to and extending the works that preceded them. Make it new, old Iggy said.
What do you see as the role of the poet in America today? Some of our best poets have been at the forefront of causes such as desiring to end war, but in these modern times, do poets serve a role beyond the purpose of writing well?
I guess the role of the poet in America will be defined by how America sees it. We're all pretty invisible now, and the culture is so fragmented anyways that it would be difficult for anybody in any of the arts to become the kind of cultural icon that Allen or Dylan or the Beatles were. I also believe that the kind of continuous cultural revolution that we grew up with in the sixties is not indefinitely sustainable: after London hipness and Haight-Ashbury be-ins and Woodstock there are the endless 200 boys-per-week dead in Vietnam, year after year, and there are the Kent State and Jackson State massacres; there is the turning inward when one feels helpless to change a culture set on killing its own young and courting Armageddon—yet there is also the small empowerment of finding one's own way or helping another find a way. One may still speak out—I have done so, on issues as varied as the uses of Ebonics as a classroom bridging tool, to the necessity of an equal rights amendment, to the shared writing of the Declaration of Interdependence at Naropa in 1990—but I doubt any poets will be truly heard in a society hellbent on heading to its next cellphoned illusion while digesting Mortal Kombat and scrambling for the next mad stock tip, decrying gun laws and griping about oil prices yet blindly astounded that somebody would want to destroy one of our ships far across the sea.
Having said that, poets do serve a role beyond the purpose of writing well. Certainly it's the pleasure of singing well and truly, in & of itself—but it's also the camaraderie of peers and the "arab telephone of the avant garde" keeping the dream alive, surely, but there's a more important issue. That kid is still out there—that kid who knows there's more to life than the shit the TV hands him or her—that kid who's screaming for some compassion somewhere, that kid who needs a ladder out of the abyss—and if we write truly and well, the poems may be there for him or her. That kid may learn to sing and save herself from herself, himself from himself and, as Bob Marley once said, pass it on.
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Second Set: 3 November 2000
How do language and rhythm come to you? Do you revise for "poetics" or does the right word or phrase just leap up for you or to you? Also, your poetry can be quite lyrical at times, nearly narrative at times, and sometimes it is both at once. What kinds / stages of your writing process do you deem to be significant to who you are as an artist/ craftsman?
There's no single way in which language and rhythm come: sometimes the words just appear, composing themselves as I get them down. At other times, the words and the images go so fast, or I'm in a complicated situation from which I can't withdraw, and I simply record a phrase—once even writing on the palm of my hand when I had no paper—and when I get home later, use the phrase to reconstruct the lost poem. I don't plan them out or anything like that—though at times, it's recording an event as it happens, knowing in advance that it will be significant—as when one visits a dying relative and needs to record whatever happens, both as a door to memory and as a future remembrance of loves past.
Some poems become their form, as in "Vision" in Coming Home: I'd been teaching the great Lakota visionary revelation, Black Elk Speaks¸ and Dylan Thomas's famous villanelle, "Do Not Go Gentle" as the Gulf War buildup was beginning—and I woke one night with the lines "our bodies appear as streams of light . . . shine darkly, phantoms in endless night." As I recorded those, the second line, "turn, sun & moon—stop voice, blind sight" came to me, and I inserted it between the first two. Later, I was thinking of the spotted eagle of Black Elk—the bird that flies closest to the heavens—and the fourth and fifth lines came—and as I was recording them, the first line came back to complete the second triad. I saw that the poem had a villanelle-like pattern already, so I set the first and sixth lines as the 12th, and 18th, and the third line as the 9th, 15th, and 19th—and tinkered with other images to fill in the rest, keeping idea of apocalyptic warfare prominent. The funny thing about that poem is that it became a hodge-podge of literary allusions—not only Black Elk, but also, in "darkling armies" a reference to Arnold's famous "Dover Beach"; in "spheresong bells"—a deliberate kenning invoking the music of the spheres (I'd been reading and absorbing Dante); and in "stone rolls from pathway & gravedoor tonight" the obvious image of the stone rolled away from Christ's tomb, with all its implications of dark mystery and the passing of an age. When I got the thing done, I thought to myself, well, you can regularize all these lines and follow the form to the letter, or you can let it go as it is and call it a "funky villanelle," a bit irregular & content with that, as I decided it should be.
Overall, I revise for compression, following Pound's "use no word that doesn't contribute" and Allen's maxim: "syntax condensed, sound is solid." I also revise for vividness, replacing the vague image with a key detail or minute particular, replacing the ordinary verb for one that focuses action or heightens drama. Finally, I sometimes revise for sound: the Old English patterns of alliteration, assonance, caesura, and stress are all important ground for my work, and if I can develop a line that sounds as it senses, after Pound's notion of absolute rhythm, I'll do it. Most of the really lyrical-sounding lines, however, come on their own, unplanned, unrevised.
Your poems all seem like natural speech for your speaker, anyway, yet one cannot ignore the artistry in them (alliteration, even qualities to the lines of various types of poems: lyrical and narrative). Sometimes, too, you write poems that appear to be blocks of prose (prose poems), free verse that is alliterative, yet flush left, and still, at other times, you write more concrete types of poems that use space for meaning or sound emphasis. Does organic theory come into your chosen forms consciously as you write or do you work on form during revision?
The shape of a poem suggests itself as I write, though sometimes it's a struggle. In the second verse paragraph of "Fireworks over the Flatirons," the lines were coming in 2 syllable groupings, heavily stressed—"dead friends— / sweet-faced / boys like / these now / howling /—a spondee followed by four trochees; the second part of these phrasings came in 3s—"so mangled / their caskets / were sealed"—which slowed the recitation down, giving it a turn through the rhythmic changeup. As I looked at the poem, I decided to start that second stanza on the far right—across from the foundation first stanza, as contrast—and work my way back to the margin; I'd then work out from the margin right at the crossing point of the 2 and 3 syllable groupings. It took a little playing with the tab key, but the poem was complete pretty quickly.
On the other hand, the rant "Back Thru the Veil" came fast, just as it is. I simply moved a few words from line to line in order to create some vague impression of regularity in the lines while looking to end each line on a word that would emphasize some sense of off-balanced grasping for something, which is what was going on in the poem. Poems like "Audubon in Fog" in Coming Home or "push off" in Silences both use "space for meaning"—they are poems of wide-open spaces, a mountain top and a river in snowstorm—and I wanted to capture that sense of the silences between syllables, of the open-ended perception derived from those kinds of experiences.
So, yes, organic theory definitely comes into my chosen forms, but I'd insist that the selection process is also organic: as the poem comes together, the form finds itself, suggests itself in the peculiar relations of subject, sound, and even sometimes the conditions of notation.
In a poem such as "leaving classes," in Silences for Love, there is an acknowledgement of the past visiting on the speaker's present life, an acceptance of the younger version of the speaker, an appreciation for the speaker's wife and children, and even a longing for that careless life of yesterday. While some writers must reconcile parts of themselves in terms of where they have been or huge events, it seems to me that what you struggle to reconcile in your poems is your inner landscape and events. Would you comment on the idea of reconciliation in this poem and on your work as a whole; also, in the silence where the acceptance comes into play?
This particular poem, of course, centers around the fact that "the surgeon found no cancer in the lesion on my lip." The images that open the poem—the "nubile women & young men," my kids in their "aimless play," the long journey to love with Sue—are all images of Time and the stages of life—I was, quite naturally, concerned with my own death, and like one who'd received a reprieve from the death sentence of cancer, these scenes from the morning classroom and from my memory had suddenly earned an intense poignancy. The images that follow the thankful center recall my own misspent youth, the deliberate throwing away of all those tomorrows "for kicks," especially involving the kinds of behavior that could've caused the lesion on my lip—heavy smoking, drug use, alcohol, "pouring whatever came to hand down my throat," and all that "burning for that lost high," that attempt to recover the lost innocence of youth when trapped in that anger stemming from my father's leaving the family. So the poem's balanced on the fulcrum of freedom from cancer, with the current poignant images on one side, the carelessness of my own childhood on the other. I don't know that it necessarily attempts to reconcile these, but rather follows the thoughts passing through my own mind on the drive home after learning that indeed I was not in immediate danger: I think resonance is the key, with its multiple poignancies and ironies (the fact that others—the kids in my classes, my own kids—will have to face that day when one sees death as a distinct possibility), and the ironies, for myself, that I had been a prodigal son, tossing away what now seems so precious. The poem's ultimately a poem of Time, what Shakespeare calls the "common arbitrator," and about the passages of life.
What imagery that you find you go back to has taken on symbolic meaning?
I'd hesitate to assign a symbolic meaning to any image: if, as the Hindu proverb goes, "a work of art has many faces," so too does an image. Some images seem almost invested with symbolic or emblematic resonances—bird images, mountains, seas, etc.—but they're also birds and mountains—Charles Reznikoff liked to recall the old proverb, "sometimes a fly is just a fly," and I think it's important to keep that in mind, as regards my work. In Silences, the images of bones, winds, and the repeated characters of the sailors, the lovers, and the one-eyed boy or man pop up throughout the book. Some were quite deliberately placed to resonate against the others when a poem could accommodate that particular image (as in the case of the one-eyed boy or man, an image derived from the mysterious appearances of Odin-in-disguise to warn heroes in the various Norse sagas—an image I chose not for its symbolic meaning, though many would see it as such, but rather because I liked that sense of mystery and presence at a moment when the narrator or the poem's central character is vulnerable and open). Others just cropped up and became part of a matrix as the book developed—the paean to MLK, for example, begins with the line involving "the flesh made word that bones may walk," a conflation of the Xtian notion of Christ being "the word made flesh" (with the implicit conceit that Martin made the flesh word, gave the situation its definition) with God's question to Ezekiel, "shall these bones live?" All the other bone imagery in the book sort of plays with those notions, just as the wind imagery leads to and culminates in the whirlwind image from Job in "Deeper into the Mountain." Those patterns weren't planned out: the images kept cropping up, and eventually the way to fix the resonances appeared to me in a poem which I had to wait for. The point here, though, is not to develop symbols so much as to create resonances.
If not poetry, what art, if any would have put you in touch with your "life"?
Poetry gave me the outlet to express my inner self, but painting also gave me a centering device. As spectator, audience, receptor, I found many arts "tuned me in"—though perhaps in more basic ways than in the ladder of self-expression. My debts to the various arts range from Royal Shakespeare Company stage performances or the industrial wasteland set and exquisite thunder of a Rolling Stones concert, to the quiet moments sitting before Robert Hayden's favorite painting, Monet's Waterlilies. All of these taught me attentiveness to the details of presentation or the use of rhythms, ranging from an actor's playing a Shakespeare line like a jazz riff to learning time-keeping through mimicry of Charlie Watts's snare and cymbals, beating time with my hands on my thighs. Mick Jagger's and Janis Joplin's stretching and snapping of syllables taught me how a word can march, slide, leap, or snap, depending on vocal modulation and emotive purpose: these singers also taught me the colors of syllables, the blues and greens and yellows and reds implicit in tonalities as, obviously, in a line like "no more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue," but also in the deep blue echoing "baw-aw-awl-ah-awl" in the finale of Janis's rendition of Big Mama's "Ball and Chain." One can see similar kinds of tonalities in Shakespeare, as in "within his bending sickle's compass come," or in "strike flat the thick rotundity of the world," where the combinations of stress and sound hiss or slam and roll, implying variations of syllabic usage and certain kinds of tonal coloring.
On the other hand, the wordless ecstasies, despairs, flights and runs of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring or Beethoven's choral symphony, the harmonies played in invisible clouds far above the human wilderness in Bach's Brandenburg Concertos left me, and leave me, with whole tales, scenes and worlds and people living out their lives in sorrow or love or wistfulness or ruin, conceived so deeply that one merely emotes without pinpointing specificities: that too is training for a life in the arts, in the wonder and the majesty of the conceptions, in the dreamlike suggestions of images that may be contained in the form and conception.
Finally, my first trip to MOMA gave me, in quick succession, the enormous agony of black & grey & white in Picasso's gigantic Guernica—a painting no longer there, alas, but perhaps serving a deeper purpose in Spain—and the side-by-side strange pleasures of Van Gogh's Starry Night and Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory. The details of presentation are, in their own way, very much like the details in the poem, whether in the incredible lights on the deep night waves of the Thames in Turner's Burning of the Houses of Parliament at the Cleveland Museum, or in the hollow gaze of Toulouse Lautrec's prostitutes at the Chicago Art Institute, or the moody light and shadow of El Greco's View of Toledo. Attentiveness is the key, and it's all in the details—whether of tonalities, rhythms, or the visualized minute particulars.
One should, of course, train all the senses—to avoid the tyranny of the eyeball, and to coordinate the eye and the ear and, when the poem becomes a dance, with the whole body in motion.
Who in your family or what in your young life before or after the break up of your family helped shape you into a poet, an artist? When did you first want to write? Were other creative outlets available?
Well, my grandfather turned me on to books quite early, though his interest was in histories, factual narratives, and science. I first learned the power of words as poetry in a second grade Presbyterian Sunday school, where I had to memorize the 23rd and 100th psalms, and in a "favorite poems" book, where I remember being puzzled, quite early, by the contrary pictures presented by William Blake's "Spring" and "London." During my early years, I wrote, edited, and published a neighborhood newspaper featuring stories about my friends and the goings-on at their houses, and I tried my hand at writing fantasy stories based on Greek myths or stories dreamed from the events talked about in history classes, but it really wasn't until after my dad left that poetry "grabbed me" and gave me a love of words as a world "they" couldn't touch, a channel to my inner heart. This started around 9th grade, when I devoured all the Hemingway books I could find (many of his short stories grew out of the Michigan I knew intimately as my own land, and The Old Man and the Sea gave me a hero unlike the Odysseus or Julius Caesar of English class), and two friends turned me on to Dylan Thomas and Jack Kerouac.
We were all a bunch of bad boys from broken homes, getting in all kinds of trouble which today no doubt would put me on some list of potentially dangerous students—but Todd's older brother had shown him "Fern Hill," and Greenhole, the straight A student who hitch-hiked to New York, California, and points south each summer, brought back stories of gay bars and hopping freights, and along with those tales of his own, On the Road. "Fern Hill" was a poem we sang as we first met the Creature in all its alcoholic splendor and nausea—"it was all shining, it was Adam and maiden," and the "round synagogue of the ear of corn" and "though I sang in my chains like the sea" all peculiarly a propos for a group of boys hiding out in cabins and singing in the light of the forested window as the bottles clinked and the fire roared. Yet On the Road led us downtown, hitch-hiking or roaring into town in a dilapidated Ford to investigate the beats, and from there I met Allen Ginsberg's poems—and the die was cast. By my senior year, I was reading Pound and Eliot, memorized 35 lines of Chaucer's prologue for an English class and recited it with an accent borrowed from my French studies, and had already devoured my first poems by Rimbaud and Baudelaire.
You say Sue and Allen helped set you on a positive path to get away from your anger, but something in you was waiting for permission to get past it and get beyond it. Would you please reflect on what that was?
You have to reach a stage in your life where you become receptive to changing yourself—you have to be so miserable that you're ready to listen, and the people talking to you have to bring a level of love and trust that you can't deny. I was tired of hating—hating my dad for leaving the family, hating the society I lived in for the hollowness of a freedom based on killing and being killed and being proud of it, all while spouting platitudes formed in hypocritical Sunday saintliness, hating a job that was killing me day-by-day, hating the way my life was closing in around me. Sue wouldn't back off when I was in one of my funks, forced me to see that, unlike hers, my father was still alive and I could get him back, no matter how rotten the world we'd inherited would prove to be; and Allen came to the National Poetry Festival and opened me up with a simple phrase: "you'll never be free until you let go of your anger."
Sue and I were also lucky enough, at that conference, to walk out to the midsummer solstice bonfires with George and Mary Oppen—to hear Mary Oppen tell the stories of their own youthful love, taking off for France and seeing the harvest fires in the peasants' fields after sunset. Even as I began to see a way out of the factory, the blues and the rages—even as I began thinking of how I'd open up to my father for the first time in fifteen years—I could see a model of constant and aging love in George and Mary Oppen, something to aim for in my own life.
That was also the conference where I first understood the meaning of poetic lineage, of the relations of the generations. When Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen, and Carl Rakosi—who were together for the first time in thirty-some years—took the stage for a discussion of objectivism, Allen and Robert Duncan sat at the front of the students—and like prize students, peppered the three sages with questions, treating them with the reverence that was their due. For the first time in years, I opened myself to the meaning of honoring elders, of learning from them.
Through my own experiences with family break-up and with the Vietnam conflict, I'd been cut off from myself and from so many people that really mattered in my life, and here in one conference were the keys to reestablishing those connections, all wrapped in the love borne of poems.
When Sue, I am assuming, is sick in "all night," all you can do is offer calm. Given that you are normally a man who does not hold still, who acts, how do you manage when the need of a loved one cannot be met through action?
As with most males, that's a lesson that usually must be learned over and over: whether it's inherent nature or social programming, most men are wired to "do," to act, problem-solve, plan and demarcate, to mark boundaries and establish control—and perhaps, among the most important lessons of a long love relationship, is that such a one must learn that love sometimes involves listening more than doing, and on occasion, stopping the world and simply being in the beloved's presence, reassuring simply by sharing time in silence. The funny thing is that, just when I think I've learned that lesson, I do something stupid and have to learn it again. An early poem, "The Hard Truth," (page 86 of Quiet Lives) announces the theme for the first time in my work, and "all night" is the latest reverberation of it—one can follow that theme through many of the poems dealing with gender throughout the five books.
As you mentioned, you organize your works into series and suites. One of your series in Silences for Love is family, which includes tender, yet honest and not overly nor overtly sentimental poems. Would you please address how these lovely family poems here and elsewhere fit into the overall larger process of the books? Also, how does family, both as poetic subject and as real human beings who live and grow with you in your rela-tionships as a dad and husband, fit into your larger poetic and life vision(s)? Further, besides Sue and the three children, Jim and Allen seem to be your closest family. Please comment on their presence as a kind of extended family as well.
One facet of what I've tried to do is to create many series, poems running along the same themes or lines through all the books, a continuity practice, but also because each forms a separate "story" in the larger story of the books. If the suites—the subtitled sections of each book—form the continuity of a single time frame (all the poems that grow from a specific period in my life, with their jostling themes and collective collage-like quality), the varying series make up the transcendent mode—each poem a part of a suite, but also transcending it for the series to which it belongs.
The series you mentioned, family, Sue and our 3 kids & two miscarriages, lost kids—I recorded all three of their births in the books, Anne, now 25, is the child in "Birth," p. 18 of QL; one of the miscarriages is on p. 48 of same; in Fragments, Sue's pregnancy with Jane, now 13, is subject of "Sky Spread Out with Stars," and Jane's birth follows in "Jane Marie," p 14 and 24; similarly, the birth of William, now 11, is in "Will" (p. 100 of Fragments)—this poem recorded literally on a napkin alongside birth table 15 minutes after he was born; Anne at age 14 appears in "July," page 114 of Fragments. Anne turns up again in "Catching Nothing," page 102 ff in Coming Home—as a teenager, she'd go camping & canoeing with my brother & me up on White River and Big Manistee River in April, when we have to "get out." In Silences, Will turns up in "July Dusk"—the man & boy are the two of us.
The poems for Sue make up a much larger series, probably too big to document here. The key point, though, is that if I am to tell my story truly, whatever wisdom I have learned must be placed in the context of my family and love relationships: if love is the center, then in some ways Sue and the kids must be in the center, as the long and dear friendships such as those with Allen and Jim must be in the center—as foundation. All else builds from that, and if that is clear, if that is love, the rest will take care of itself.
Sometimes—frequently, even, you have a pattern in your poetry of two forces set in direct opposition to one another. It is quite powerful in your poems. There are weddings opposing funerals and death; a bum who once was a baby crying for love ("Sunday Morn-ing"); the theme of young and old; a mother amid war gently soothing the wrappings on her dead child as she once did, perhaps, with the living child in its blanket; the young you versus the adult you; talkers versus doers ("Words"); and this is where the tension comes from, and is it where acceptance comes from, too? Or is there no way to resolve such tensions?
It's a habit of mind that began quite early, probably around 7 or 8 years old—as noted earlier, in my first encounter with Blake's "Spring" and "London." The paradoxes or puzzles of such contrary binary combinations have always intrigued me, though I've never felt compelled to resolve them: I think I have a natural negative capability, as Keats phrased it. I recently wrote that this pattern is even more prominent in these later years, that "I am more interested in the ambiguities, the multiple layers of conflicting experience, the paradoxes that force us, blind and deaf, to grope our way without the pat reassurances of those so certain they've found their way—to move through the darkness of the time and retrieve complexities of vision beyond what machine mentalities with their continuous barrage of debased language, simplistic answers, slogans and political and commercial hounding would program us to ignore—and to play, to strut sweetly with the uncertainties, to dance among the paradoxes." The tension's inherent in such paradoxes, but that tension's also the locus of clarity, refusing the simplistic vision for awareness of the multifaceted and often contradictory nature of experience. One may call that acceptance, I guess, but it's also a refusal of closure, of easy resolution—and if one can dance with that, there is a point where the riddle unravels and the heart goes relatively free.
Why does work on the sea, not just the sea, but the life of human beings acting on the sea call you back to it so frequently?
The images of the sea and the river are both part of living in Michigan, surrounded by the Great Lakes—which have their own characters, sailing traditions, sea lanes, shipwreck coasts, giant ships, histories, legends. The river—well, I grew up on the Thornapple River and spent my childhood canoeing that and other rivers throughout my state. Canoeing, kayaking, and sailing—human beings acting on the waters—are initially ways back to the world that "civilization" has stolen from us all, as in the high drama and deep night mystery of "push off," a poem that involves a dangerous but majestically beautiful canoe trip in the middle of a snowstorm, and the clear night thereafter, with the northern lights flashing above: just as in mountain climbing, journeys by water involve an ancient process of attentiveness to the signs which, if noted, tell one which way to go, when to stop, how to proceed—everything from the constantly changing currents and obstructions presented by the river, to the sky signs and wave signs of the big lake.
Sometimes the poems place a night's experience and my own current states of mind against historical and legendary sites, as in "The Mirror of Heaven," which plays off on the Ojibway love legend of Kitchitikipi Spring and the historical fact of shipwreck at Seul Choix on Lake Michigan, several miles away. At other times, the great lake is the locus of memory: in "A Vision in Manistique," placed roughly three hundred miles north of Chicago, with all the cities on both sides of the lake like crowns of light seen in passing, my own memory recalls a journey on the S. S. Milwaukee Clipper, which used to ply the lake between Muskegon and Milwaukee. At other times, the sailor becomes in dreams a modern-day Odysseus, as in the dream of my father sailing "out of a starry night" past the wrecks "along [Father Jacques] Marquette's last route to Illinois" in my poem "Catching Nothing." In that dream, my father "ages at the wheel," but he also struggles with the storm, "his genoa full of wind as he plunges thru heavy seas," ultimately earning the right to sing that "incantation for the beckoning dead / that he might move calmly toward their rest." This dream, of course, is played against the real-life context of my grandmother's death, the family's long history and traditions, and the present event, weathering a storm with my daughter Anne in the forest along the White River—a poem in which we finally find the silence within our own breath, which is paradoxically the "wind that stirs up all the world."
Beyond all that, there is some archetypal attraction to water: consider how much literature and dream signs involve travel by water as a basic motif that resonates deeply in the consciousness. Carl Jung, if I recall correctly, interpreted entering the water as a sign of moving into the deeper regions of consciousness, and Freud of course found in it sexual imagery. The resonances are multiple, from the travels of Odysseus and the prophecy that he would die on a sea journey, the many water journeys of Shakespeare's plays, Walt Whitman's "Passage to India" and his uncle's farewell in "Old Salt Kossabone," Emily Dickinson's sexual rite of passage in which the Tide "went past my simple Shoe—And past my Apron—and my Belt and past my Bodice—too." In her poem, the Tide becomes the Sea, which only withdraws when she returns to the "solid town"—as though that openness to experience is synonymous with a move from the solid to the liquid. Whitman, too, has a similar image in "Song of Myself," where the young woman can't join the 28 young men down at the sea—though she's prohibited by her social class and her sex from joining their naked play, in imagination she does join them: the sea is the locus wherein all are joined.
Home means something unique to us all. Coming Home is the title of one of your books. What is the significance of home to you? Is it where Sue is? Is it the others to whom your books are dedicated? Are they your landscape, your home? Is it poetry? Is it the silence within as you move? Is it all of these? Something else?
Coming Home is coming home from the career ambitions of poetry, but it's also coming home to the realities of the Gulf War—it's the soldier coming home—but it's also the massive sign in the downtown heart, in my case Alexander Calder's masterpiece, "La Grand Vitesse," with all its spiritual and erotic resonances among business people too trapped in their money dreams to step free of the dollar signs that mark their souls, festival promoters unwilling to confront the honesty of poetic art, patriotic Americans obscuring their own history, whether the yellow ribbon intent on our losses while ignoring others, or the murder or the long-dead Anishnabes whose shades stir invisibly among us. Coming Home is also coming home to Sue, coming home to find one has to stop the world, that one's dreams must bend "where dreams strut in flesh . . . & nothing sings its silent roar." There's of course more, as Williams said, but if a work of art has many faces, home itself must resonate in many ways: one searches for the complexities of the motif and lets the pieces fall where they may.
Historical allusions come up frequently in your poetry--are they symbolic, or is history important to some of your poetry in the same way that personal history is?
History is always personal, for it involves the lives of real people, ancestors if you will, often on a massive scale. It's everything from the lives lived on the soil where I now live, the shades of their hopes and heartbreaks still present with me, to the ways in which we blind ourselves to it, the ironies of passage, as in Auden's "Musee des Beaux Arts," wherein the ploughman and those on the ship don't even see the boy falling from the sky, too caught up in work and the goal—"somewhere to get to." Among my poems, "Antietam" is perhaps the most obvious example—all that blood and sacrifice, 23,000 men in one day, reduced to curved walkways and painted cannons, the odd sense of even the landscape lulling one to sleep, in the bees in the corn tassels and the rippling of the lazy river, the odd comment of the old man leaning on his cane and the distant vista of farmers spreading insecticide to kill insects on a massive scale: warfare, killing on a massive scale, which is simultaneously a "beautiful vista."
The key is resonance, not symbol: the images jostle to create emotive openings, not intellectualized connections. Again, I'd caution against "symbolizing" it—there's something inherent in symbolism that removes it from its emotive, imaginative, breathing core, transforming it into a hardened motif that merely resonates intellectually, inelastic and deadened.
What does it mean to you to be a responsible father to a daughter? I know you have two daughters and a son, but your own abandonment by a father, not having the best model, somehow makes it even more fascinating to note that you allow Jane to have space of her own in which to observe bees buzzing about, that you give her room to really be a child and explore her world in "For Fin and George." It seems acutely sensitive to me--your watching her figure out nature. Was this conscious? Was it hard to let her explore and maybe worry that she'd be stung, even though you could have quickly removed her from the area?
Being a father reawakened in me, right from the birth of my first, Anne, the unhesitating fascination that children have with the new world they've been given, the sense of the marvellous which so many adults have utterly killed in themselves. My relationship to my daughters and son are all very different, as different they are from each other. I am intensely involved in their journeys not as participant, but as a conscious guide, allowing them to make their own discoveries while at the same time reserving the "stern father" persona for times when they need correction. The key is to enable them without creating a codependent parenting style—by which I mean those parents who seem to think that their role is merely to give, give, give, or to negotiate everything with their children. Some child behaviors are simply wrong—and one corrects them without offering candy.
As for the resonances with my own father, part of my journey involved realizing that he didn't abandon me, that his own ordinary human failings left him with a terrible choice, and he made the best of it—a motif central to works like Carlos Castaneda's Journey to Ixtlan, in which one must overcome all the excuses one makes for not forgiving one's parent for ordinary weaknesses. All during my angry teenage years, he faithfully tried to reach out to me whenever his visitation times came, and suffered rejection after rejection; despite that fact, he and his second wife did teach me how to run a household, how to gracefully accept rebuffs from their loved ones while maintaining a constant love that would eventually reach us. Giving up my anger and getting him back was, as noted earlier, the closest thing to spiritual liberation that I've ever experienced—and the passage, both my own and his, has given me the model for my own version of how to love my child: acknowledge your own frailties, let them have their feelings, and never give up on them.
The raven, the leaping bass, rippling wind through a construction worker's shirt--nature is life and movement and work for human beings, too, yet these are peaceful as noise creeps in, noise of the trucks and drivers. Is this the material world clashing with nature/ time and money versus cold rain? Yet these are beautiful or common images. Then there are war images, idiotic politicians who let ill-equipped doctors treat children, amputate their legs. And, again, are you longing to ask for the vision or reconciliation that brings beauty or the general motion of life together with such ugliness, or is it all just the mess of the world coming into the psyche of the poet?
It's the dance of Shiva. Allen's old guide, Chogyam Trungpa, pointed out that the ground of all liberation is the recognition of the world as it is, without the blinders we use to try to reconcile what often cannot be simply reconciled: it is not merely acceptance, either, for one works to bring love or awareness into the world, which implies some dissatisfaction with things as they are. The question is whether we carry the burden lightly and learn to dance with it, or whether we let it define us, bog us down in ten thousand emotions that could drown us in our own rage. The poem works two ways in this: as in the best blues, you've got to let it out to be free of it, but in letting it out you also give it definition and form which allows you to examine how it works on you. That model becomes the rungs of the ladder to move through the horrors and pleasures with equanimity and insight.
Sometimes your poetry takes the path of sorrow or joy or a path between such states. You seem to get deep into an experience and then connect it to another experience, the two or more experiences somehow operating as an equation, adding up to truth, exposing a secret we already knew...but didn't see in that way then. I wonder if you have thought about this, yet another pattern, that you seem to employ frequently?
Initially, the pattern is simply that juxtaposition which Pound learned from Fenollosa. Two signifiers, placed side by side, create a third signification which is found in the relation of the one to the other. You can see it most simply in Allen's "hydrogen jukebox" or in Walt Whitman's "Old Salt Kossabone" In Allen's simple image matrix, he welds two opposing images together—the atmospheric hydrogen bomb tests and the soda shop jukebox where teenagers met each other to flirt after school—creating an intensely ironic resonance between that image of "death, destroyer of worlds" and the innocent courting ritual of teenagers. Whitman's late poem juxtaposes the aged sailor watching the ship that can't get out of the harbor, both breaking free at sunset—the ship on its way into the open ocean, the old salt leaving for his journey to the next life. In my poems, I've employed this as one of many strategies to create resonances.
How has your poetry helped to heal you? Are the Silences part of that healing process, a place where perhaps acceptance comes into play?
Silence is the space wherein the sign comes into play. One must find the silence before the sign—the poem, the song, the artistic whole—can properly signify, both through the artist and the audience. It is also that meditative state, samadhi, in which one opens to experience and really lives it: so it's a prerequisite for that clarity and awareness which can function through all the complexities, pressures, hollow sounds reverberating throughout the world. If one can work toward recovering that silence, there is a point where one's own emotional and spiritual states become disclosed, and then one can work with them if there is aspiration to do so. But it's a long journey, there is no set path, and no sureness of destination: one has to find one's way and read the signs.
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Third Set: 10-13 November 2000
What are your writing habits concerning poetry? Do you write every day? Do you designate a certain time of day?
I write two to three hours every day, but not poetry—most of my time is spent with correspondence: I maintain a continuous dialogue with several very close friends, ranging from the daily (and sometimes three to four times daily) exchanges with Jim Cohn, to the ongoing friendly arguments I have with my old professor, Edward "Mike" Jayne III, who's spending his emeritus years writing a history of atheism and skepticism in the west, detailing the various thinkers and their arguments and lineages, but also exploring the various ways in which religion has acted to stifle and censor free thought. Because I know a great deal about medieval and renaissance literature and thought and about multicultural literature, he has used me as a sounding-board for his writings in those areas—and while we disagree about an enormous number of things, that disagreement is unfailingly cordial—I love a good fight with words, and Mike gives me a hell of a good argument, forcing me to clarify and refine my own positions in the process .
I also correspond with quite a number of poets and editors pretty regularly—those 3-4 page "catching-up" letters, but also all the vagaries of lives, careers, publishing.
Beyond that, I do a lot of work on my Shakespeare Project website each week. I'm currently in the process of entering text—adding currently out-of-print Elizabethan and Jacobean prose works to the website for my Shakespeare students (at this point, excerpts from Thomas Putten-ham's superb1585 poetics book, The Art of English Poesie, Thomas Dekker's famous 1604 plague pamphlet, The Wonderful Year, and his 1609 send-up of fops and dandies, The Gull's Hornbook). I'm hoping to add several selections from puritan tracts such as The Anatomie of Abuses by Philip Stubbes—a pamphlet attacking poets and dramatists for immorality-—and several counterblasts from the poets themselves, as well as prose pieces from Hakluyt and the travellers. Beyond that, I spend one hour each week searching libraries for new Shakespeare and renaissance drama literary criticism—books to add to the bibliographic section of the site—and have added sections involving interviews with teachers on teaching Shakespeare, and usually update the two course notes files every few months.
So as to poetry, it comes when it will, "when the stars align" or when I've had an experience that seems profound, requiring definition and clarification—when something happens to send me to the computer with a "headful of ideas . . . driving me insane." My daily writing practices may be compared to practicing the playing of words—the poetry, when it comes, is the performance, the proof, the real heated thing spinning out of control and requiring the subtlest and gentlest of curbing to draw it into a form, still flashing and flaming up.
Would you comment on your references to certain motifs—war imagery—stumps, gauze, fighter pilots, Viet Nam, and imagery of death/ "rooms of the dead"?
War—its psychological and physical effects, the way it resonates on the land, around break tables, in the memories of its survivors—forms three major series in my books, probably because as a child of the Cold War I've spent much of my life hearing the testimonies of veterans, whose eyes betray the cold knowledge of Hell itself and the inability to fully communicate it despite the nature of the tales they tell, and which many feel compelled to tell and retell, if only to get it out for a time; but also for myself—because I grew up during the Vietnam War, lost dear friends both to death and to the wounds of psychological alienation, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and was there as the other half of my generation tore itself to pieces trying to stop that war.
One does not retell such stories idly or for some vicarious kick or sense of sympathy. I believe that a nation and its people are marked, are changed, must confront their history—that a nation's wars are the prime locus of that confrontation. Hemingway once said that though it is difficult to write about truly, war is a peculiar gift to the writer, because so much of what it is to be human is most fully exposed in the stress and shock of that horror, and so in some sense if my task as a poet is, as I have stated, to tell my time truly and to reflect that central humanist theme of ecce homo in the late twentieth century, then my responsibility with regard to the wars of our time is clear: for here it is that the darkness of our nature and, peculiarly, the great light of love and compassion come most fully into play. Further, though there are strident poems in the various collections—particularly as regards the pronouncements of leaders and generals, whose agendas so often represent patriotic claptrap while deflecting their audiences from the facts of what they are doing—I have generally tried to get at the psychology of its victims, not only the refugees, but also the killers themselves, the soldiers whose minds echo and re-echo the horrors they've experienced, usually for their entire lives following the war experiences.
Those tales must be told, if only to understand how one survives, if only to inform later generations of the ground whereon they walk and the sacrifices of their elders. Yet I doubt the old line that "those who are ignorant of the past are condemned to repeat it"; I believe knowing the past will not prevent future wars, that under certain conditions wars are going to happen and that in the clash of opposing materialist claims—simple human greed elevated to a national obsession through ethnic and racial prejudices, religious and political ideologies—humans seem condemned to butcher each other, despite our clarity of memory and our highest aspirations. But one must have some idea of what has gone before, what one may accept and what one may not, recall compassion and prevent war if possible—and perhaps writing about it serves that purpose.
The three series of war poems involves (a) testimonies of surviving warriors and my and Sue's own personal losses, beginning with the men around the break table in "Peace" and the death of my childhood friend Chris Clay in "The First Death," continuing through "At Flanagan's" and "Party Talk," "Midwinter Cleanup," the memento of Sue's father in "Sky Spread Out with Stars," break table talk in "Trapped in a Ravine," the bright boy of "All That You Can Be,"the massacre of innocents in "The Gist of His Command," the horrors of the Tiananmen Square massacre in the final suite of Fragments, through the two suites involving the Gulf War, the horrors of El Salvador in "El Mozote" in Coming Home and "The Job" in Silences. These poems record the events recalled by veterans and their psychological effects, or my own perceptions of the unfolding horrors. (b) The poems of refugees and victims, tracking the Vietnamese family Sue and I sponsored—their initial amazement in this new American world, their recollections of their homeland and their adjustments to a new life; as well as the refugees of "Strafing in El Salvador," the young woman in Gaza in "Hot Coals Burning on Your Tongue," the Kurdish woman in "Words," the horrors of the recent wars in Yugoslavia in "Sarajevo Market Massacre" and "The Detail," where even non-participants were faced with impossible questions. (c) Battlefield visits and the ghosts of the dead, as in "Antietam" or "Devil's Den" or "In the Iao Valley"—through my own perceptions of walking on the ground where so much horror happened, so briefly, meeting the ghosts of the fallen who, I swear, are still there, and musing on the spirit of America and of our human nature on the ground of their sacrifice.
A work ethic moves behind and through "Killings to be made in Soybean Futures." What are your feelings or philosophies behind this poem and others as far as work is concerned?
As regards work, I tend to follow the buddhist precepts named in their eightfold path—that all work is honorable as long as one does not engage in harmful labors—work which is environ-mentally irresponsible or denigrates sentient beings. Yet there are agonies borne of scarcity, alienations both in the sense of the investor or the power broker whose decisions are so removed from the actual conditions of labor that they either don't see or don't care that another may be suffering from those decisions, as well as the alienation and social disruptions leading to self-destructive mental states on the parts of the workers—and that is what this poem and others like it deal with.
So "Killings to be made" and "Trucker's Story," as well as more recent poems like "Sirens & flashing lights stop" or "He took a long pull on the stout," all deal with the ways in which economic scarcity distorts and twists the worker's psychology. "Killings" is a modern day dustbowl ballad in the vein of Woody Guthrie—the effects of drought on a Kansas farm in 1980, in which the old timer wistfully recalls a life devoted to the land, seeing "the last time he'll cultivate these rows" as an exercise in futility, and realizing that for others the conditions are much worse—"families packing up" and "men out behind their barns staring into their own shotgun barrels." The title of the poem both contrasts with and confirms the subject: those investors in the markets see "killings" in one way, while the guy behind his barn sees it entirely differently.
"Trucker's Story" and "Sirens & flashing lights stop," on the other hand, are tales of how scarcity can make workers turn on each other over what work there is, the latter poem exploring both the rage of strikers being tossed into police wagons and the strange ironies that scabs live with, subverting other workers and accepting a job after years of being jobless or "scrambling as burger clerks, errand boys, part-timers & sweepers" merely to "pay the rising rent & fill the hungry mouths." In "Sirens," I was far less concerned with taking sides than with detailing the ways in which workers in need are divided against each other by the powers-that-be—how human lives are commodified, the minds alienated through the manipulation of their common need for bread and shelter.
Finally, "He took a long pull" is a testimony from the Upper Peninsula, an area long depressed economically—the governor had closed down the local mental hospital, forcing locals to choose between caring for their mentally ill family members at home, or relinquishing them to a hospital 300 miles away, a difficult choice because that long drive not only imposed economic hardships and the problem of making time for such visits, but also because the former mental hospital had been converted into a prison right in the middle of town—what for some seemed an economic boom, an opportunity. The local boy in the poem testifies about these events, recording his anger at the change in his town as well as his feelings of helplessness at the governor's decisions—again, the decisions of the powerful, justified through their own ideological or economic agendas and insulated from the effects of their self-righteous decisions, reverberate in other ways among ordinary folks, some of whom don't care about anything but getting the job, while others are enraged by the upsetting of their lives.
The point of such poems is to develop meditations on the problems of power and the lack thereof, not to merely vent but to understand the brittleness, the rage, the ironies of political agendas and the psychological stresses that come from the perceived lack of empowerment. Our local paper, in reviewing Silences, completely missed the point of "He took a pull," probably because the reviewer saw it merely as an attack on the governor, a rant—which of course it was, if all a reader perceives is the speaker's point of view, confusing the speaker with the example he presents—yet his testimony captured so much more.
There are, of course, many working poems and poems of the street and of tough neighborhoods all through the five books, ranging from observations of life from my own various apartments before getting my house to lives and testimonies from my years as a ghetto and barrio custodian or from my years of weekend apartment cleaning, making enough money to pay my own rent, for slumlords.
Does being a father of three mean you have three distinctive roles as father? How does your role of father, creator or nurturer, relate to your role as a poet? What will you share about the poems dealing with their births?
As a father, I fill many roles, not only guide but fierce lord, chauffeur, servant and clean-up man, tease, teacher, friend, protector, sounding-board, and so on. There are some distinctly different roles for each child, in the sense of nurturing their interests and curbing their excesses, but in the main they've taught me a lot about the various motivating factors for achievement and in guiding them through the storms of youth towards that calm and perspective necessary for maturity.
The poems of birth are each quite unique, stylistically and otherwise. The first two poems trace events chronologically, the first a long-lined open verse piece tracking of Sue's labor and my own reactions as the helpless expectant father, the second a short-lined Creeleyesque poem tracking the C-section itself, again attentive to Sue's reactions as seen through my eyes. The third poem departs from realistic description, exploring parental hopes for the newborn with a variety of stylistic techniques.
Anne's poem, "Birth," is a blow-by-blow account of Sue's long labor, my inability to calm her and exhaustion, with the final blow coming to us after seventeen hours of labor, the doctors deciding to do a caesarian section—which, during that time (1975), still forced the husband out of the birthing room. We had gone into the experience confident that we'd weather it well, believing in the rosy natural birth testimonies of Our Bodies, Our Selves without really considering how much could go wrong, how close birth and death are, "doors into new worlds." The poem is an agony and triumph, but it's also a learning curve.
The birth in "Jane Marie," on the other hand, was pre-planned as a C-section. I'd already expanded on the "doors into new worlds" theme with "Sky Spread Out with Stars," a poem that really is a meditation not only on the mystery of birth, but also of the parent's inability to see how the child might grow, what horrors and ecstasies she might face, expanding at last to consider the whole sweep of history, in which dead voices echo "yet as babes in the hollow chamber of the attentive ear." The actual birth poem is restricted to the last hour before Jane was born: it too is a blow-by-blow description, but is limited to that part of the birthing process from which I was excluded with Anne's birth. It's more formally constructed, too, set up in short-line Creeleyesque triads, each line presenting one image or action, slowing the reader down to build the picture very slowly, step-by-step, as the surgery actually happens.
"Will" was, as noted earlier, inscribed on a napkin alongside the birth table, at a stage when Sue was utterly exhausted from the effort, I relieved that she'd gotten through it with a kid to show for it. Willie's birth was also a planned C-section. The image of the opening door, from "Birth," came back into the matrix here—it was not a planned image, but perhaps reflects the way I'm wired in a similar situation. Yet this poem is quite different from the others: first of all, it's an apostrophe directly to my son, but it also reflects a much stronger sense of phrasing than the earlier poems, both in the repetitions of "come / comes" and "suffered," and in the sense of passage (not only birth, but the passages of life itself) which "isn't simple" and involves "no promises." Later in the poem, listing the various stages of life ("child, young man, hard laborer, sage, old fool") reflects my current reading of that time—specifically Jaques' famous "seven ages of man" speech in As You Like It, which I condensed here for my own purposes. The poem is also marked by its puns on Will's name, a practice employed to quite different effect in Shakespeare's sonnets 135 and 136: here, the will which can become willful if one doesn't "will to make it well," with the final advice to "freely bend your will": let your freedom of will lead you, but also foresee the need to bend your will to the circumstances your life will give you.
I can't account for the variations in style and substance with the three poems: I spoke with the voice that seemed natural to each situation, and the poems came out reflecting as much on the speaker/father and, to a less clearly perceived extent, the mother, as on the child her/himself. I had at one point thought that Sue should be more in the center of the poem—no one experienced the birth as she did, and I was literally the helpless spectator, hoping by my presence to give her comfort through the dark passage. In the end, however, I thought it would be presumptuous of me to pretend to know what she went through other than in what I could perceive in her behavior: I realized that I could not "be" in her shoes, nor on the birthing bed.
“The Breakwater" in On the Bridge starts with what's closest, the physical items, concedes that this togetherness of father and son is too seldom an occurrence, and then moves out and away to other men and boys who are also fishing. The middle stanza is a bridge between the experience of now and moves the reader to notice the many boys and men, perhaps fathers and sons who can take a day like this one and time together for granted. Did the son want to establish something with the father? Is there something that needed to be established at this point between the immediate father and son, to build a bridge to bring them access to one another?
The poem's a wistful recollection of the child's almost-lost bond, prefigured in the "New Windows" suite with "June," in which a father pleads with his wife's lawyer to be able to see his child—the divorce papers arriving in the middle of the conversation; also with "Come Down & Go With Your Father," the son's rejection of the father after the divorce, of wandering among the woods and along the beach angered to the point where not even favorite places or natural beauty held any meaning; and with "He Sighed, Looking Out the Window"—a poem in which the newly-divorced husband wistfully recalls his in-laws. "The Breakwater" is part of the "Lips to Lips" suite that follows, balanced between the youthful midwinter evening ecstasy of “Sail Skating,” and "The Lights of St. Ignace," one of my earlier free sonnets, this one dealing with a storm in my own love life—a poem built on the image of the husband desperately trying to keep the tent up through the storm while the wife lies flat, staring up: this poem has some resonances with Robert Frost's "silken tent," in which the wife is the silken tent (I’d been reading that and Ted Berrigan's sonnets on that trip). As a whole, On the Bridge is a book of transitions—and these two suites strain with the interpenetrations of past and present, of memory and desire, and of locating what the self sees of an experience such as a marital breakup, depending upon one's place in the situation—child, husband, wife, parent, etc. each caught in his or her own limited awareness, seeing only what he/she is experiencing, with the implication that none sees with any perspective until the various narratives are collaged.
The idea through both of these suites was to intersperse a variety of poems resonating on the themes of the child's view of parents breaking apart and of marriages shattering or struggling to stay together, with poems built on a variety of relatively unrelated themes around them—as these things actually occur. "The Breakwater" establishes the son's wistful memory of the lost years, beginning with the kitchen where father and son would gather before heading out to the breakwater. In my own life, this was my father's first cottage after the divorce—where he and his second wife established a new life together, where I could not find a language or confidence to state my own states of mind, but treasured what little experience we could share in this new life. The poem revisits that passage as part of the ground necessary to relocating what has been lost, to the extent that one can.
In "Lucy" there is a movement from interior (her home in this case), to her sad life, to her brother, the speaker's father, and his treatment of her, and outward to the shore. What understanding/ insight did the speaker gain of his father here?
"My Father" and "Lucy" are both part of that suite, "Leaves & Roots," and in each of these two poems my two aunts—my dad's older sisters—appear. In "My Father," my father's world was alien to my own, from the calendar pin-up to the "roar of fans & motors"—and yet he defended "my first struggling poems" against my aunt's dismissal of them as worthless: this poem is a recognition piece, finding the man beneath the mask, which is what all children must eventually do—in the sense that elders are always perceived as wearing masks which, if the child is to properly mature, must be torn off to discover the person beneath what the child thought he or she
saw when younger. "Lucy," on the other hand, involves a peculiar reversal of roles, in which the child becomes the confessor and sees, perhaps fully for the first time, his father's vulnerability. These two poems, of course, reverberate as more fully formed connections to those resonances I was only beginning to establish through poems like "The Breakwater."
What does "The Liberty Bell" wish to say about freedom? The bell itself is identified as being entrapped and strikes me as being caught in a straightjacket.
This is one of those poems I wish I had back—I'd cut out the whole last stanza. The poem really explores the ways in which a people enshrine and memorialize ideas, reducing them to deadened symbols while at the same time seemingly worshipping the ideas within them. The poem's a snapshot of a variety of human types, their attentiveness and foolishness as they stand before their freedom symbol, with the Sikh at the back, musing on what the shrine and the various peoples' reactions to it must signify.
This poem, of course, signifies ironically with the one that follows it, pitting the subtle ludicrousness of an enshrined national symbol against an overtly ridiculous macho gender ritual. "Try the Hammer—Ring the Bell!" features that different kind of bell, the carnival hammer & bell, which attracts a variety of male types all jostling to prove their "manhood," all of them slightly ridiculous—the thin boy lost in the ritual, perhaps even unmoved by it, thinking only of the girl who herself is mesmerized by the blond boy.
Consider "Dark Evening": would you comment on the speaker's or your view of capitalism as background to the poems, this vision of a war-monger America you see, versus the beauty you find in the individuals' spirits?
This poem was written during those days when Reagan was engaged in a name-calling game with the soviets—the USSR was the "evil empire" and we were going to build a "Star Wars" laser defense system to counter the threat it posed. Looking back, the poem is less a comment on capitalism than a prophetic rant about power: there's an eerie recognition, for me as author, in lines like "where the laser spells power in the military heart, . . . the storm & sickness can't be far behind." Consider how Desert Storm and Gulf War Syndrome are, beyond the idiocies of oil corporation politics and tin pot dictators like Sadaam, ultimately the end results of a long chess game between the USSR and the west—with Iraq as the soviet pawn, as the Shah's Iran was ours—I'd unthinkingly penned a peculiarly ironic line which later proved uncannily true.
But the point here, as relates to your question, is the ways in which materialist power ploys destroy lives even as the illusions fostered by capitalist commercials—"sex lives saved / by Jordache jeans, tooth paste, panty hose"—trap whole populations into running on the hamster wheel of "happiness" as a way of keeping them from seeing what's really going down. It isn't capitalism, per se, though better than any communist or fascist propaganda machine, capitalist corporations have mastered the art of dosing populations with commercial soma—illusions of personal happiness drilled into their heads every ten minutes on TV and through a thousand other media, including the most masterful stroke of all, internet promotion and advertising—to keep them running and making profits for the masters, and to keep them blindly believing that "missiles are plows & bullets are seeds."
Since you have women poets, individual and lively spirits in your poetry classes, I wondered what you thought of women's voices in poetry. One must admit that until recently there were far more male poets whose voices had been the status quo. How are women shaping the direction of poetry, in your estimation?
As poet and teacher, my concern is to find and nurture the liveliest talents that come to me, regardless of sex, race, or ethnic background. Having said that, I'd also add that, given that one of the functions of poetry is to explore identity, it's important that people of all backgrounds and sexes have poets speaking for them, that each group have its own traditions, geniuses, ways of making verse, ways of constructing the realities they live with. The relationships of all these various traditions are of course fraught with ironies: the descendents of former slaves may sing in an entirely different key than those sprung from masters' seeds, though both may approach the problems of empowerment and bridging their different frames of reference with honesty and vigor. The woman and the man may confront each other across physical and psychological gulfs, long histories of oppression, of conscious or unconscious rebellion and of fragile attempts to touch the other both in themselves and in each other.
So when it comes to the women poets who've graced my classroom in years past and in this year, my task is to locate their individual trajectories, to open new avenues to them so that they may see other ways to find what they're after in that complex notion of traditions and identity. As a man, I cannot presume to fully grasp their agonies, their culture, their ways of being, other than what may be communicated through words—tenuous as that connection is—but I can give them tools and links in their own and other traditions with which to expand their range of expression.
As far as how women are shaping the direction(s) of poetry—I'm not sure. I've been fortunate enough to know several interesting women writers, from one brief night walking with Mary Oppen, to Diane di Prima and Anne Waldman, and to have observed the growth of young geniuses like Carmen Bugan—and each of them has taught me lessons good for my own life. Mary, as noted earlier, showed me her stories of youthful love with George—and gave me a model of how relationships grow and thrive through years. When I first came out to Naropa, Diane was my next-door neighbor and, when all the younger poets threw a loud party at my apartment, I worried that I'd offended her. When in the morning I went to her place to apologize, Diane smiled and said one takes these things in stride—and over the years, she has sent me her own work and the work of younger poets, kept in touch in little ways that affirm the connection. Anne, of course, gave me the model of the wild teacher, but I've also enjoyed watching her incredibly poised and seemingly effortless leadership in that incredibly complex, emotion-charged task of administering the Naropa summer program during some of its most complicated and boisterous years. As a poet, she has presented an interesting model of the wiccan sage—the beautiful hag who "falls apart" before the audience's eyes, drawing them into the poems' prophetic and emotive matrix with all its resonances of cultural connections, crazy wisdom motifs, relationships across and through generations. Her Iovis is, I think, a signal piece in women's poetics, combining Gertrude Stein's impish associative networking of words and sentences with Pound's mode of collaging identity, with multiple levels of resonating historical and cultural references, in the Cantos—all while exploring Anne's own identity formations, dependencies and rebellions, separation and reformation, in relationship to her selves, and to males and maleness.
I look forward to seeing the kinds of works that will be produced by women born after 1980—I think they'll open up doors that no one of this generation has located yet. I say this on faith, believing that their frames of reference are significantly different than those of the women and men of my own generation.
You often bring a variety of cultures into your poetry, and from our conversations I have gathered that you embrace and respect many cultures, including your own back-ground. Is poetry, do you think, moving to a more interesting place by including the work of poets of many cultures?
One thinks of the variety of cultures Allen and the beats opened my generation to: by my senior year in high school, I'd already devoured The Bhagavad Gita, portions of The Upanishads, and Suzuki's Manual of Zen Buddhism—cultural references a thousand miles beyond anything being addressed in most American colleges and universities, except as footnotes to Emerson and Thoreau, or to the final lines of Eliot's "The Wasteland." In college, my poetry teacher was Robert Hayden, perhaps the most gifted Michigan poet in the twentieth century, but also a great—and often forgotten—poet in the African American tradition. Robert's elegies for King and for Malcom are among the most poignant elegies of our time, and his "Middle Passage" remains the premier poem of not only that history, but of how one's cultural history also marks one's own personal passages. With that poem, Robert opened me to the history that wasn't being taught in school, giving me an awareness I previously lacked, connecting, too, the middle passage with The Tempest—decades before Cinquez was discovered by Steven Spielberg. When I turned to paintings, I found too that Picasso expanded western frames of reference by adapting Cretan and African motifs in his work, forcing western art to confront the mask it had pretended to have stripped away—and forcing us to see the "geometry of innocent flesh" as we had never seen it before Opening oneself to cultural expressions removed from one's own immediate frame of reference is thus one way of expanding the possibilities of self-expression, of multiplying emotive and allusive references and giving the poem more layers of signification—though there's a caveat which one should address.
There is the question of cultural appropriation, which bothers some—Langston poses the central question, "they've taken my blues and gone," turning it into "swing Mikados"—what right does one have to take someone else's way of singing, to change it and call it one's own? The problem's also prominent in criticism of "Song of Myself" #33, where Walt claims he is the "hounded slave" who winces "at the bite of the dogs," that the riders "beat me violently over the head with whip-stocks"—where, sympathetic though he may be, Walt claims experiences and psychological stresses that he knows nothing of. I believe that there are some bridges one may not cross—that one cannot appropriate another's experience and claim it as one's own, though the writer also has an obligation to tell another's story when the telling is culturally and emotively significant, and when enough of its details are apparent to make it coherent in the telling. I do not believe in the balkanization of American culture—that "mine is mine and yours is yours, and never the twain shall meet"—but rather that the attempt to reach out and build bridges across the gulf is imperative, even when it fails—though one should carefully distinguish between representing and appropriating another’s experience, avoiding the latter.
Motifs and forms, poetic structures, etc. are another matter—though one may identify a form as coming from a particular culture, the imperative to open up possibilities of expression supercedes any claim of ownership or exclusivity, no matter what culture’s involved. Are Claude McKay’s sonnets, for example, stealing a cultural form, or are they an immensely poignant use of that form? I opt for the latter. At the same time, in my “Vision,” I could not presume to know Black Elk's passage, but the spotted eagle from his vision brings resonances which expand my poem, forming too my homage to him as one who taught me to expand my own frame of reference, culturally, historically, and in terms of how I relate to others—for he taught me, more than any other author, about the ground I walk on, the price this land's earliest lovers paid for it.
I do believe that, no matter one's background, all poets have an obligation to learn as many traditions as possible, not only to grow and be prepared to write with some earned wisdom, but also because no one tradition can contain all the tools necessary to "make it new," to see with new eyes, to expand the language and our abilities to express ourselves. One should learn not only human cultures, but preferably the cultures of the animals, the names of the stars, the flora and fauna, the rock strata, weather patterns, the histories, the philosophies and theologies that construct the world we have been given, that are the spinning references for yet unwritten poems whose wheeling stars have yet to find their centers.
§ § §
I. Works by David Cope
*Starred manuscripts and/or books and related materials are on file in my archive at the Special Collections Library, The University of Michigan. Ann Arbor, Mi. Kathryn L. Beam, curator.
Early Poems. 88 pages, unpubl.
On The Bridge. Totowa, New Jersey: Humana, 1986. 88 pages.*
Fragments from The Stars. Totowa, New Jersey: Humana, 1990. 119 pages.*
Coming Home. Totowa, New Jersey: Humana, 1993. 119 pages.*
Silences for Love. Totowa, New Jersey: Humana, 1998. 119 pages. *
Selected Letters 1992-1997. with index of correspondents and notes. unpubl. 139 pages*
The Signing Space: Interview and Letters. with Jim Cohn. unpubl. 153 pages.*
Canon Debate: Multiculturalism & The Canon. with Edward Jayne III. (1996) unpubl. 97 pages.*
Canon Debate II: Inclusion & Materialism. with Edward Jayne III. (1997-98) unpubl. 66 pages.*
Canon Debate III: Skepticism, Syntactic Risk, and The Impeachment Hearings.. with Edward Jayne III. (1998-99). unpubl. 152+ pages (in progress).
The Blue Notebook: Early Autobiographical and Literary Essays. unpubl. 81 pages.*
Book One: Dante & Chaucer. unpubl. 175 pages.
Book Two: Shakespeare & His Contemporaries. 2 vols. unpubl. 352 pages.
Book Three: Paradiso X: "L'Amor che l'uno e l'altro etternalmente spira." unpubl. 114 pages.*
Book Four: Julius Caesar: The Political Text in Performance. unpubl. 83 pages.
Book Five: Multiculturalism & The Canon. unpubl. 161 pages.
Book Six: Miscellaneous Essays, Mostly Medieval. unpubl. 92 pages.
Big Scream. poetry journal, 37 issues publ. Grand Rapids: Nada, 1974-present.*
Middleton, Thomas, and Thomas Dekker. The Roaring Girl, or Moll Cutpurse.
with introduction and notes. Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Community College, 1996. 77 pages.*
Nada Poems. anthology of 17 poets Grand Rapids: Nada, 1988. 128 pages.*
A Poet's Sourcebook. anthology of poems. Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Community College, 1997. 151 pages.*
Sunflowers & Locomotives: Songs for Allen. in memoriam Allen Ginsberg. Grand Rapids: Nada, 1997. 58 pages.*
The Shakespeare Project. Online website (course notes, research sources, Elizabethan and Jacobean essays, contemporary essays, Teaching Shakespeare file, links to theatres and websites). Grand Rapids Community College, Sept. 2000.
II. Works Noted in Interview / Related Connections
Alighieri, Dante. The Divine Comedy. Trans. Allen Mandelbaum. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: U of California, 1980.
- - - - . The Divine Comedy. 6 vols: Text and commentary. Trans. Charles S. Singleton. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1970.
Arnold, Matthew. "Dover Beach" The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Third ed. Ed. Alexander W. Allison et al. New York and London: Norton, 1983.
Auden, W. H. "Musee des Beaux Arts." Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957. New York: Random, 1966.
Baudelaire, Charles. The Flowers of Evil: A Selection. Ed. Marthiel and Jackson Matthews. New York: New Directions, 1955.
Berrigan, Ted. So Going Around Cities: New & Selected Poems 1958-1979. Berkeley: Blue Wind, 1980.
- - - - . The Sonnets. New York: Grove, 1964.
The Bhagavad Gita. Trans. Franklin Edgerton. New York: Harper & Row, 1944.
Black Elk. Black Elk Speaks. John G.Neihardt, recorder. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1989.
Blake, William. The Poetry and Prose of William Blake. Ed. David V. Erdman. Garden City: Doubleday, 1968. [See especially the Songs of Innocence and Experience and Plate 91 of Jerusalem Chapter 4, pages 248-49, for Blake's description of "minute particulars"]
Castaneda, Carlos. Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972.
Cendrars, Blaise. Complete Poems. Trans. Ron Padgett. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: U of California, 1993.
- - - - . Complete Postcards from the Americas: Poems of Road and Sea. Trans. Monique Chefdor. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: U of California, 1976.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. Prologue to "The Canterbury Tales." The Riverside Chaucer. Ed. Larry D. Benson. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987.
City Lights Journal. Vol. 4. Ed. Lawrence Ferlinghetti. San Francisco: City Lights, 1978.
Cohn, Jim. The Dance of Yellow Lightning Over The Ridge. Rochester: Writers & Books, 1998.
- - - - . Grasslands. Rochester: Writers & Books, 1994.
- - - - . Prairie Falcon. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1989.
- - - -. Sign Mind: Studies in American Sign Language Poetics. Boulder: Museum of American Poetics, 1999.
Dekker, Thomas. Excerpt from "The Guls Hornbooke: or Fashions to please all sorts of Guls." Elizabethan and Jacobean Pamphlets. Ed. George Saintsbury. Freeport: Books for Libraries, 1970. Online Posting. The Shakespeare Project Homepage. David Cope, curator. Available: http://web.grcc.cc.mi.us/english/shakespeare/
- - - - . Excerpt from "The Wonderful Year: 1603." Three Elizabethan Pamphlets. G. R. Hibbard, ed. London and Toronto: George G. Harap; New York: Barnes and Noble, 1951. Online Posting. The Shakespeare Project Homepage. David Cope, curator. Available: http://web.grcc.cc.mi.us/english/shakespeare/
The Dhammapada. Trans. P. Lal. Farrar, Straus, & Girous, 1972
Dickinson, Emily. The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson. Ed. Thomas H. Johnson. Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown, 1960.
di Prima, Diane. Correspondence and conversation with the author. 1980-2000.
Dylan, Bob. Bringing It All Back Home. Columbia, 1966.
Eliot, T. S. "The Wasteland." The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1971.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "The Red Slayer."
Fenollosa, Ernest. "The Chinese Character as a Written Medium for Poetry."
Ginsberg, Allen. Collected Poems 1947-1980. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.
- - - - . Composed on the Tongue: Literary Conversations, 1967-1977. Ed. Donald Allen. San Francisco: Grey Fox, 1983.
- - - - . Deliberate Prose: Selected Essays 1952-1995. Ed. Bill Morgan. New York: Harper Collins, 2000. [Allen's Foreword to Quiet Lives and blurb for same volume appear on page 434 of this volume. The same section features promotional blurbs and essays for several of my contemporaries, including Antler, Andy Clausen, and Eliot Katz.]
- - - - . Lectures, private conversations, materials from ms. copies of Allen's classroom anthologies, personal correspondence with the author. New York, Boulder and elsewhere. 1973-1997.
Hakluyt, Richard. Voyages and Discoveries. Ed. Jack Beeching. London and New York: Penguin, 1972.
Hayden, Robert. Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems. New York: Liveright, 1975.
Hemingway, Ernest. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. The Finca Vigia Edition. New York: Scribner, 1987. [Stories with Michigan settings include "Up in Michigan," "Indian Camp," "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife," "The End of Something," "The Three-Day Blow," "The Battler," "Big Two-Hearted River" I and II, "The Killers," "Ten Indians," "The Light of the World," "Fathers and Sons," "Summer People," and "The Last Good Country." ]
- - - - . Ernest Hemingway on Writing. Ed. Larry W. Phillips. New York: Touchstone, 1999. [See pages 23-24 for EH's comments on writing and war]
- - - - . The Old Man and the Sea. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1952.
The Holy Bible. Revised Standard Version.
Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. New York: Harper & Row, 1967.
Hughes, Langston. Selected Poems of Langston Hughes. New York: Knopf, 1981. [See "Note on Commercial Theatre," page 190.]
Jagger, Mick, and Keith Richards. "Paint It, Black." Aftermath. By The Rolling Stones. London Records, 1966. Reissue Abkco Records, 1986.
Jayne, III, Edward "Mike." Correspondence with the author. 1995-2000.
Jones, Gwyn, trans. Eirik the Red and other Icelandic Sagas. Oxford and New York: Oxford U P, 1980. [See especially "King Hrolf and His Champions."]
Keats, John. Excerpt: "A Letter to George and Thomas Keats." The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin's, 1989. [This letter is source for Keats' notion of "negative capability."]
Kerouac, Jack. Mexico City Blues (242 Choruses). New York: Grove, 1959.
- - - - . Old Angel Midnight. Ed. Donald Allen. San Francisco: Grey Fox, 1995.
- - - - . On The Road. New York: Viking, 1957.
Marley, Bob. "Pass it on" Burnin'. By The Wailers. Island Records, 1973.
McKay, Claude. Selected Poems of Claude McKay. San Diego, New York, London: Harvest/ HBJ, 1953.
Morgan, Bill, and Bob Rosenthal, eds. Best Minds: A Tribute to Allen Ginsberg. New York: Lospecchio, 1986. [Allen’s festschrift volume: among many others, the volume contains my homage, “Congratulations.”
New Directions Anthology. Vol. 37. Ed. James Laughlin. New York: New Directions, 1979.
Oppen, George. Collected Poems. New York: New Directions, 1975
Oppen, Mary. Meaning A Life: An Autobiography. Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow, 1978.
Oppen, Mary, and George Oppen. Midsummer Eve's conversation. National Poetry Festival. Grand Valley State University. Allendale, Mi., 1973.
Our Bodies, Our Selves. The Boston Women’s Health Collective.
Puttenham, Thomas. Excerpts from The Art of English Poesie. Ed.Gladys Doidge Willcock and Alice Walker. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1936. Repr. ed. 1970. Online Posting. The Shakespeare Project Homepage. David Cope, curator. Available: http://web.grcc.cc.mi.us/english/shakespeare/
Pound, Ezra. The Cantos. New York: New Directions, 1972.
- - - - . Literary Essays of Ezra Pound. New York: New Directions, 1968. [See especially "A Retrospect" and "How to Read."]
Rakosi, Carl. The Collected Poems of Carl Rakosi. Orono: The National Poetry Foundation / U of Maine, 1986.
- - - - . Lecture, reading, and conversations with Allen Ginsberg and David Cope. Naropa Institute Objectivist Conference. Boulder, Co. Summer Session, 1987.
Reznikoff, Charles. The Complete Poems of Charles Reznikoff. Two vols. Ed. Seamus Cooney. Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow, 1976, 1977.
- - - - . Lecture and discussion on objectivist poetics. With Carl Rakosi and George Oppen. National Poetry Festival. Grand Valley State University. Allendale, Mi., 1973.
Rimbaud, Arthur. Poetiques completes. Paris: Editions Gallimard, 1960.
- - - - . A Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat. Trans. Louise Varese. New York: New Directions, 1961
Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. Second ed. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans and J. J. M. Tobin. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 91997.
Stein, Gertrude. Lifting Belly. Ed Rebecca Mark. Tallahassee: Naiad, 1989.
- - - - . Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein. Ed. Carl Van Vechten. New York: Random, 1962.
- - - - . Tender Buttons. Mineola, N. Y.: Dover, 1997.
Stubbes, Philip. Anatomie of Abuses.
Sturluson, Snorri. The Prose Edda. Trans. Jean I. Young. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: U of California, 1954. [Snorri's "The Deluding of Gylfi" tells how Odin had to give up an eye for wisdom," but this is also the premier poetics text of the Icelandic sagas.]
Suzuki, D. T. Manual of Zen Buddhism. New York: Grove, 1960.
Syrkin, Marie. Lectures on Charles Reznikoff. Naropa Institute Objectivist Conference. Boulder, Co. Summer Session, 1987.
Terry, Patricia, trans. Poems of the Elder Edda. Revised ed. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 1990.
The Thirteen Principal Upanishads. Second Oxford India repr. Trans. Robert Ernest Hume, 1877. Delhi: Oxford U P, 1995.
Thomas, Dylan. The Poems of Dylan Thomas. Ed. Daniel Jones. New York: New Directions, 1971.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Civil Disobedience. Ed. Paul Lauter. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.
Thornton, Willie Mae. "Ball and Chain." Sung by Janis Joplin and Big Brother and the Holding Company. Cheap Thrills. Columbia Records, 1967.
Trungpa, Chogyam. Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Boulder and London: Shambhala, 1973.
- - - - . The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation. Ed. John Baker and Marvin Casper. Boulder and London: Shambhala, 1976.
Waldman, Anne. Conversations, correspondence with the author; lectures. 1992-2000.
- - - - Iovis: All is Full of Jove. Minneapolis: Coffee House, 1993.
- - - - , and Andrew Schelling, ed. "A Declaration of Interdependence." Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School. U of New Mexico, 1994.
Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass: Including a Facsimile autobiography, varorium readings of the poems and a department of Gathered Leaves. Philadelphia: David McKay, 1900.
Williams, William Carlos. The Autobiography of William Carlos Williams. New York: New Directions, 1967.
- - - - . The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. 2 vols. Ed. Christopher MacGowan and A. Walton Litz. New York: New Directions, 1991.
- - - - . Paterson. New York: New Directions, 1963.
- - - - . Selected Essays. New York: New Directions, 1969.
- - - - . The Selected Letters of William Carlos Williams. Ed. John C. Thirlwall. New York: New Directions, 1984.
IV. Art works / Museums Noted
Calder, Alexander. "La Grand Vitesse." Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Dali, Salvador. "The Persistence of Memory." The Museum of Modern Art. New York.
El Greco. "View of Toledo."
Monet, Claude. "Waterlilies." The Museum of Modern Art. New York.
Picasso. "The Blue Guitarist." The Chicago Art Institute.
- - - - . "Guernica." The Museum of Modern Art. New York. [now in Spain].
Rivera, Diego. "The Murals of Detroit." The Detroit Art Institute.
Toulouse Lautrec. Paintings. The Chicago Art Institute.
Turner, J. M. W. "The Burning of the Houses of Parliament." Cleveland Art Museum.
Van Gogh, Vincent. "Starry Night." The Museum of Modern Art. New York.
V. Musical Compositions (excluding lyrics)
Bach, Johann Sebastian. The Brandenburg Concertos.
The Beatles. All recordings: 1963-1970.
Beethoven, Ludwig Von. The Ninth Symphony: Choral.
Dylan, Bob. All recordings: 1961-1999.
Guthrie, Woody. Dustbowl Ballads.
Joplin, Janis. All recordings: 1967-1970.
Marley, Bob. All recordings:
The Rolling Stones. All recordings and videos: 1964-2000.
Stravinsky, Igor. The Rite of Spring.