Yes, I'm obsessed with Hill Street Blues. I apologize. My favorite single image from the show comes from the very end of episode 1 of season 3 ("Trial By Fury"--which won an Emmy for the writing). Frank Furillo, having manipulated the justice system to get the guys guilty of the rape and murder of a nun, realizes (we're meant to think: ironically) that he's committed a sin. Got the criminals but gave into mob justice--listened to the advice of his reactionary SWAT-team adjutant (Howard Hunter) and really angered his liberal-left Public Defender lover (Joyce Davenport). Now he's pulling his car into a parking spot in front of the Catholic Church, the place where Sister Carmella had been raped and killed. He'll go into the confessional, we now realize. But in the moment before we realize that, we get this perspective of him, unlike any visual rendering of a major TV series character I'd seen up to that point (1982). We can barely see him through the urban dark and the bars of the church gate and the statue of Mary standing guard.
To talk about Robert Duncan’s poem “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow,” we at PoemTalk chose a day when an apt trio of poet-critics would be at the Kelly Writers House in Philly. It was, in fact, a celebration of the new Poems for the Millenium anthology, gathering together a new array of romanticism – a volume edited by Jeffrey Robinson (resides in Colorado) and Jerome Rothenberg (southern California). Charles Bernstein was on hand to help celebrate Jeffrey’s and Jerry’s great new volume, so we all took an hour aside and moved upward to PoemTalk’s garrett studio (which doubles as the office of Al Filreis) and got deeply and happily into this key poem by Duncan. First drafted in 1953, struggled over in the late 50s, and presented as the prologue poem to the important volume of 1960, The Opening of the Field, which in many ways, indeed, opened the field. Along the way, at various points in the discussion, we are privileged to hear of Jerry Rothenberg’s contemporaneous responses to the poem—he who after all published his own first book (of a very different kind) in that turning-point year. (Donald Allen’s gathering together of the somewhat newly emergent avant-garde, of various schools, in The New American Poetry, was published at the same time, as was Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems.)
As Charles points out during our talk, any of the several key words or phrases in the poem (“permission,” “field,” “return,” “made place,” “everlasting omen”) could have occupied us the entire session. It seemed mostly sufficient to wander around this poetic meadow for a while and then bow out as gracefully as we could. We note that Jerry’s interest in Duncan’s mode has increased over the years. We also note that none of us could quite agree with any of the others about the precise relationship between this poem and the Romantic tradition. Al tells of the recurring dream (from Duncan’s childhood) that animates and informs this “return” to the meadow. Charles remarks on the crucial major distinction between writing, on the one hand, and the state of being given permission to write, on the other. Jeffrey speaks helpfully about the possible connection, for Duncan, between “field” and “feel.” Jerry ends by talking briefly about how Duncan has influenced his own work.
At Kelly Writers House we are preparing to present the 79th episode of our monthly radio program, aired on WXPN-FM (xpn.org), called "Live at the Writers House." (So-named because during the first two seasons we actually went live to the air from 3805 Locust Walk in Philadelphia. Holy cow.) Here is an announcement about our newest episode, with a bit of looking back at the show's 13 years.