1960

Rexroth to Kerouac

Bob Perelman’s “hats off to Donald Allen” sent me back to The New American Poetry. [1] Allen’s brief preface sketches out an open field of postwar American poetry, from the modernists to a “strong third generation” which “has at last emerged.” [2]

On Ed Dorn, 'The Newly Fallen'

1960: A first remembrance

On the New Year’s Eve between 1959 and 1960 I met Diane Wakoski — a night spent between Armand Schwerner’s place, whom we knew, and LeRoi Jones’s, who was still remote from us.  I had begun to move beyond my familiar New York quarters the year before — a trip by bus and car to dazzling San Francisco — and found a poetry world there (a world, in short) that beckoned us to enter. My first real book — translations, to start things off — had been published in 1959 by City Lights, and traveling home from San Francisco, I looked through the rear window of the bus and saw what seemed like a white sun, flat and cold, overhead. That was enough to serve as a title for White Sun Black Sun, a first book of my own that I would publish in the new year — 1960 — through Hawk’s Well Press, cofounded with David Antin a couple of years before.

On Bob Kaufman, 'Does the Secret Mind Whisper?'

Does the Secret Mind Whisper? (City Lights, 1960) a folding, five-panel broadside by Bob Kaufman, appeared on the heels of his much better-known Abomunist Manifesto (City Lights, 1959), which was later collected in Kaufman’s first book, Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (New Directions, 1965).  Secret Mind remained uncollected and out of print until Coffee House Press reissued, under the title Cranial Guitar (1995), Kaufman’s second book, Golden Sardine (City Lights, 1967), along with a sampling of poems from Solitudes and his third and final book, The Ancient Rain: Poems 19561978 (New Directions, 1981), as well as previously uncollected work.

On Larry Eigner, 'On My Eyes'

I really wish that I could do what Judith Goldman was able to do. [1] I’ve always wanted to give a presentation in which I stop talking and moving my lips but my voice continues on. But whenever I do that, I just get silence … I got very nervous when Chris Funkhouser actually does the full fifteen seconds of silence in Mac Low’s poems.  I would have said three or four seconds made the point. It was excruciating, fifteen seconds. We each have only five minutes and you use up that much time?!

On Bill Berkson and Frank O'Hara, 'Hymns of St. Bridget'

Deep fun

Hymns Of St. Bridget begins simply enough in October 1960 as the first collaboration between Bill Berkson and Frank O’Hara — from there it multiplies energetically into an ongoing exchange between Berkson and O’Hara that includes the FYI poems, The Letters of Angelicus and Fidelio, and Marcia: An Unfinished Novel.

On Frank O'Hara, 'Second Avenue'

Dated 1953. Published 1960. Picked up by moi in 1964 and purchased, not for ninety-five cents as priced on back (Totem Press), but for five francs twenty-five centimes, in Paris at Shakespeare and Company, which was almost the same as one dollar considering it had to fly the Atlantic, which it probably did on sheer exuberant sexual and lexical energy and gay will to power, which was clearly not masculinist will to power but impressive and powerful in a different “we are sissies” way, thereupon to be confronted by an immediate me who immediately couldn’t understand one word, but got the energy and the comedy and the insouciance and the verve and the nerve — and stored it up.

On Don Allen, 'The New American Poetry'

Fifty years should be easily perceptible, but open The New American Poetry and the shock is how ordinary it seems and thus how hard it is to sense the passage of what, after all, have been fifty very real years. When I read Donald Allen's list of great modernists at the beginning of his introduction, for a few seconds, it's as if I'm reading the present. I'll temporarily omit the opening phrase to further this temporal mirage:  “American poetry has entered upon a singularly rich period, [one which] has seen published William Carlos Williams’ Paterson, The Desert Music and Other Poems, and Journey to Love; Ezra Pound's The Pisan Cantos, Section: Rock-Drill, and Thrones; H.D.'s later work culminating in her long poem Helen in Egypt; and the recent verse of E. E. Cummings, Marianne Moore, and the late Wallace Stevens.” [1] Such a list seems, in 2010, obvious: only one name, Cummings, would likely be omitted today. "The late Wallace Stevens" provides a glimmer of temporal shock, reminding us that, in 1960, Stevens would just have died and that Williams, Pound, H.D., Cummings, and Moore would still be alive.

On Gwendolyn Brooks, 'The Bean Eaters'

I’ll begin with vehement restatement: Gwendolyn Brooks is an under-read and under-understood great poet of the twentieth century. [1] This is perhaps a result of the artfulness with which she constructed her poems as rhetorical portals: “Black and female are basic and inherent in her poetry,” Hortense Spillers notes, while (particularly before the mid-sixties) “[w]e cannot always say with grace or ease that there is a direct correspondence between the issues of her poetry and her race and sex.”

On Robert Duncan, 'The Opening of the Field'

Reopening

The poems in Robert Duncan’s The Opening of the Field were written between 1956 and the beginning of 1959, the final two referring to events of 1958: the publication of Louis Zukofsky’s Barely & Widely and, on October 13, the US release of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.

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