On duration

Stephen Ratcliffe in conversation with Jeffrey Schrader

Bolinas ridge, clockwise from upper left: April 27, 2011; May 16, 2011; January 2, 2011; June 11, 2011 (view from kitchen door). Photos by Stephen Ratcliffe.

This email ‘interview’ took place between July 14, 2008 and October 25,
2009.  Jeffrey Schrader would send me a couple of ‘questions’ and, when
I had time, I’d write a ‘reply’ – not exactly a ‘conversation’ (as he’d
first proposed), because neither of us had time for something like that
it seemed (he was over there in Oakland, I was here in Bolinas, no real
way to sit down and simply talk), and so my thoughts (replies to Jeff’s
questions) are ‘composed’, written down in the time it took me to write
them -- which is also to say ‘shape’ them (on the page), my words (made
of letters set in equivalently-spaced Courier) taking on the ‘shape’ of
my thinking, which ‘appears’ visually in the shape of the right margin. 
The dates of each of my written ‘installments’ are embedded in the poem
from Temporality which I include with it – 7.19, 9.27, 10.10, and so on
. . . .

Stephen Ratcliffe
September 13, 2010

JS                                                         [July 14, 2008]
I personally feel as though the more of your work a reader has, the
better he or she can fully understand the range of your work as a
whole. I suppose that could be said about every writer, but I guess my
point is that I feel as though you’ve mastered the form of production,
and I’m curious as to how you envision your entire body of work.
SR                                                        [July 14, 2008]
Good question!  How even to begin?  There seems to be so much of it at
this point that I can't keep it in mind.  What I can say is that I pay
attention to what's just been done, today's poem I mean, that is 7.19,
already finished early this morning since I got up early and got to it
early.  Here, I’ll ‘read’ you the ten most recent poems to give you an
idea of what I’m doing these days --

grey light coming into fog in front of invisible
ridge, song sparrow calling from branch in left
foreground, sound of waves breaking in channel
      there at the core of time a gaze,
      someone through whom
      viewer at a distance, outside it,
      sense of whole scene
grey white fog in front of invisible ridge,
pelicans flapping across channel toward it
grey whiteness of fog in front of invisible
ridge, red finch perched on feeder in lower
right foreground, sound of waves in channel
      the word as can have a meaning,
      that time is for some
      picture as physical, not small,
      a few inches in front
pale blue sky reflected in plane of channel,
sunlit green canyon of ridge across from it
shadowed blue railing below blue gate at top
of stairs, crow calling from branch in right
foreground, sound of waves breaking on rocks
      matter measurable in quantity,
      through its dissolution
      colors circumscribed by lines,
      limited to green, blue
grey white sky on horizon to the left of point
green slope of tree-lined ridge across from it
shadowed blue railing slanting toward blue gate
at top of stairs, hummingbird perched on branch
in foreground, sound of waves breaking on rocks
      occasional overlap at edge, based
      on visual properties
      from within that atmosphere, some,
      in front of picture
grey white sky reflected in grey green channel,
slope of tree-lined green ridge across from it
blue railing below blue gate at top of stairs,
crow landing on cypress branch in upper left
foreground, sound of wave breaking on rocks
      vertical “pivoted” for subject,
      is not what happened
      sound of displacement, central,
      carries within which
grey white sky reflected in grey green channel,
shadowed green point on horizon across from it
grey white fog against top of shadowed green
ridge, song sparrow landing on redwood fence
in left foreground, sound of wave in channel
      between length of sections,
      modify sound of forms
      where the implied “we” are,
      provisionally, placed
grey whiteness of cloud to the left of point,
shadowed green slope of ridge across from it
grey whiteness of fog against top of green ridge,
red-tailed hawk screeching from branch in right
foreground, sound of waves breaking in channel
      resolution of color placement,
      relationship to space
      if illuminated, within reason,
      somewhere in picture
flat grey fog across top of shadowed green ridge,
line of pelicans flapping from horizon toward it
grey whiteness of fog against top of green ridge,
blue jay screeching from cypress branch in left
foreground, sound of waves breaking in channel
      temporal dimensions, in so far as
      perpetually overlap
      reticulations of the paint, upper
      right, the pigments
grey white fog against shadowed green ridge,
pelican gliding toward point across from it
sunlit line of white fog against shadowed green
slope of ridge, blue jay perched on blackberry
branch in foreground, sound of cars in street
      brightness, background enhanced
      subtle green wash
      lit space, the picture in front,
      part and not part
silver sunlight reflected in windblown channel,
grey white fog on horizon to the left of point
grey whiteness of clouds in front of invisible
ridge, quail landing on redwood fence in right
foreground, sound of waves breaking in channel
      temporal in the empirical sense,
      consciousness of time
      red right angle, more and more,
      gives the curved line
grey white sky reflected in plane of channel,

shadowed slope of sandstone point on horizon

Here’s all the ‘stuff’ I’m doing these days -- ‘observation’ of ‘real’
things out there (fog, ridge not visible yet, birds, sound of waves in
channel, which seem to be coming into every poem now, each day, what’s
THAT mean?) -- and the ‘readings’ of the two middle stanzas, the first
above is from Merleau-Ponty’s essay “Temporality” (in Phenomenology of
Perception) -- a book I’ve been making use of for a long time now, the
second one from Kandinsky’s Complete Writings on Art, yet another book
I’ve been reading and using for a long time.  This last poem is number
1,101 -- i.e., PAGE 1,101 -- written in 1,101 consecutive days, when I
began it I don’t exactly know but could ‘look it up’ of course!  It is
still going on because when I got to p. 1,000, back in early April (in
Paris where I went to read and teach some classes at the International
School), which is where I had THOUGHT it would stop, I couldn’t figure
out how to stop or what to do next and so I just kept going, why stop? 
That (or this?) work is called Remarks on Color, and it takes up where
the previous work, HUMAN / NATURE, (also 1,000 pages) left off.  HUMAN
/ NATURE was written between 10.19.02 - 7.14.05 -- a thousand pages in 
a thousand consecutive days; that means that Remarks on Color began on
7.15.05 and has continued up to today -- unless that is I decide later
that it WILL/DID stop in Paris on 4.9.08 (these 2 long manuscripts are
sitting on the table in the living room, each one almost 5 inches tall
and the current one still ‘growing’ -- all this is something about the
‘scope’ of the project, its duration, which is partly what it’s about. 
That’s one of the things I’ve begun to realize, that whereas I thought
the work in HUMAN / NATURE and Remarks on Color was about the physical
(‘real’) world in relation to what we ‘make of it’ in our perception &
thinking/feeling, I see now that it’s also ABOUT time, time passing in
fact -- one moment at a time, one day at a time, throughout a lifetime
in fact, while we’re ‘here’ as such.  So the physical takes place in &
by means of the temporal -- hence ‘temporality’ (maybe I will call the
work I’m doing now Temporality, which can begin after Remarks on Color
stopped back in April, which is about when I started to read the essay
called “Temporality” in the first place -- who knows?).
But back to duration -- last month I went to UC Davis to read HUMAN /
NATURE (all 1,000 pages of it, TRY to read it that is, since I didn’t
know if I could do it, get through it, have any voice left, could one
even do it?  How long would it take?  Who would listen?  Dylan Bolles
who’d been an MFA student in music at Mills a few years ago and is at
Davis now in the PhD program in ‘performance studies’ I think is what
it’s called, something like that -- it’s not ‘music’ I know because I
heard him say the music department there is pretty ‘stuffy,’ not like
Mills College’s music department, which has been on the knife-cutting
edge of things for a long time now.  Anyway, Dylan set it up and he’d
rounded up other musicians to be part of the event -- Edward Schocker
and Zachary Watkins and Michael Meyers and Keith Evans -- all of whom
were also doing things in music at Mills, so there was all of this up
at Davis -- drums, flutes, electronic stuff going through computers &
Dylan blowing air through holes in rocks into water, typing on an old
manual typewriter (typing out the rhythms of my words, then having it
played back through some computer feedback), singing out like a Terry
Riley / Prandi Pran Nath soundalike -- and lights and video, a moving
sculpture on wheels, all of it going on and on and on as I read HUMAN 
/ NATURE from start to finish.  It started just after 4 pm and didn’t
finish until just before 6 in the morning -- almost 14 hours with one
short break about 11 pm, then back to it.  At one point in the middle
of the night I realized that I was probably the only person now awake
in the room -- the musicians had stopped playing, the film and lights
had stopped, someone was snoring over there on a mat on the floor and
there I was it my little table, one bright light next to the text and
the whole room completely dark, just a voice reading the words on the
page, no one but me hearing it -- it was weird!  Kind of a metaphor I
guess for what I’m doing, just doing it and who’s listening, how does
it get OUT there?  Who will read it?  Who ‘publish’ it?  Who cares in
So that’s a bit about what I’m doing though I haven’t yet begun to be
specific about what’s ‘going on’ in the work, what’s ON THE PAGE, and
IN THE AIR (i.e., ‘shape’ and ‘sound’) in this work.  Which I will do
now.  (And I also haven’t yet talked about what you asked about!  The
“entire body of your work”!  Which I’d like to get to too.  But first
it’s time for a surf.) 
(Back from an hour of surfing)  Well that was nice.  Some good waves in
the channel, the best part was on the inside, kind of like life (if you
stay in it -- in the wave -- long enough you come to a good part again,
and so you keep going; I’ve been going through a rough patch lately, on
my own again, but I have Johnny, my beautiful 3 year old boy, so that’s
the good part, at least half the time -- otherwise more time to work so
that’s good too).
I write down ‘what happens’ out there each morning -- ‘matters of fact’
as such, things I see and hear when I look and listen, ‘onstage action’
as I call it in the Hamlet book, what’s being ‘performed’ in the world
as such -- things I see and hear when I look and listen.  I do it again 
and again and again, and then again and again and again again.  And you
get what it is that’s going on ‘out there,’ watching it happen, being a
part of it, making it real in words, translating it from ‘out there’ to
here, from that physical world to right here on the 2-dimensional page. 
And the shape of the poem on the page is part of what ‘makes’ the poem,
makes it work, makes it be what it is, at least so I think.  That’s why
I pay so much attention to the physical shape of lines on the page, the
length of each line in relation to the lines around it, above and below
it.  How the whole thing looks physically on the page, that ‘structure’
somehow -- somehow! -- analogous to the physical structure of things in
the 3-dimensional world, the world ‘out there’ so to speak.  Here is an
example, this one from yesterday’s poem --  

sunlit line of white fog against shadowed green
slope of ridge, blue jay perched on blackberry
branch in foreground, sound of cars in street
      brightness, background enhanced
      subtle green wash
      lit space, the picture in front,
      part and not part
silver sunlight reflected in windblown channel,
grey white fog on horizon to the left of point

As you can see, the poem is set is Courier -- a non-proportional font,
each letter or character having the same width (so an ‘i’ as wide as a
‘w’) -- as is all of my work, this ‘interview’ included, whose margins
aren’t justified by the machine but by my making sure that each line’s
exactly as long as each other line in the paragraph.  So I’m making it
come out that way, making ‘adjustments’ along the way to make sure the
line will ‘fit’ whatever the ‘pattern’ at hand seems to be.  What does
it matter?  Who knows?  It’s a way of composing in real time, the time
in the composition and time of the composition as Stein puts it, space
in and of the composition in this case being part of what is going on,
taking place, as such.  As you can see, in the first three lines, line
2 is one space shorter than line 1, line 3 one space shorter than line
2 -- that’s one of my ‘rules’ (the first stanza is always three lines,
those lines either all the same length, or each line one or two spaces
shorter than the line above it.  (There’s no ‘significance’ to this of
course, just an abstract ‘shape’ to things on the page.)  Then you can
see that the two middle pairs of lines (always two lines here & always
indented 5 spaces, as here) are each the same length -- the first line
of each stanza as long as the first line of the second stanza, and the
second line is as long as the second line below it (something that has
only recently been happening, the shape of the poem seems to be moving
more into a ‘set place’ at this point, more of a Mondrian-like grid, I
might like to say. . . .).  And finally then you can also see that the
last two lines are the same length exactly (another ‘rule’ that’s part
of the ‘picture’ so to speak, making the poem a ‘picture’ on the page,
I mean.  (One other thing you see, and also can hear, going on here, I
should add -- there’s two commas in the first stanza, one in the next,
two in the next, one on the last one, all of which are always the case
in/on every poem/page, all of which contribute to the ‘rhythm’ of what
one hears when one reads it, or hears it read -- units of syntax going
by faster or slower, being shorter or longer, building a momentum that
goes from one page to the next, something you can’t ‘get,’ if you hear
just one page by itself at least, something that can only take place I
mean over longer period of time, reading/hearing pages of the work, as
time passes so to speak. 
Here’s another thing I’d like to note:  I write what might appear to 
be the same thing down over and over again (in the first three lines
and last two lines I mean -- the lines of ‘observation’/’perception’ 
of things ‘out there’ in the world.  For example, here again are the
first lines or rather syntactic units on each page from the last ten

grey light coming into fog in front of invisible/ ridge (7.10)
grey whiteness of fog in front of invisible/ ridge, (7.11)
shadowed blue railing below blue gate at top/ of stairs, (7.12)
shadowed blue railing slanting toward blue gate/ at top
      of stairs, (7.13)
blue railing below blue gate at top of stairs, (7.14)
grey white fog against top of shadowed green/ ridge, (7.15)
grey whiteness of fog against top of green ridge, (7.16)
grey whiteness of fog against top of green ridge, (7.17
sunlit line of white fog against shadowed green/
      slope of ridge, (7.18)
grey whiteness of clouds in front of invisible/ ridge, (7.19)

As you can see the lines are ALMOST the same but not quite, there is
some ‘shift’ from one page to the next, something that’s ‘different’
even though the line seems to be ‘saying’ the same thing.  (The poem
from 7.12 and the one from 7.13 are different from the rest, because  
I wrote them at my father’s house, on the coast south of Carmel, not
here in Bolinas where the others -- and most everything else -- were
written, no “blue railing” here and no “blue gate.”)  So there is no
such thing as ‘repetition’ as Stein said, no moment exactly the same 
as the one before it, no event or action quite like any other event,
action, or perception too of course, since everything takes place in
its own moment of time, and so is somehow always different from each
other thing/event.  Which seems pretty obvious just to ‘say’ it here
now, but I find it somehow worth saying (‘important’!) nevertheless. 
Why?  (Which is to say, why bother to ‘keep track’ of such momentary
‘things’?)  Well, why not for one thing.  But more than that, it’s a
way of being in the moment, making writing part of that moment, word
and event becoming synchronous, writing as ‘contemplative practice,’ 
as Norman Fischer has put it, which I like and like to think of as a
way that might describe what I’m doing in my work. . . .
Well, so much for the “body” of this piece of my work, at least for
now.  As for the “entire body” of my work, I’d say that it’s really
part of a single ‘long poem,’ made up of discrete/separate ‘parts,’
each of which has its own shapes and concerns.  And so before HUMAN   
/ NATURE came two 474-page books, REAL and CLOUD / RIDGE, the first
written between 3.17.00 - 7.1.01 and the second between 7.2.01 - 10 
.18.02.  And made up a ‘tryptich’/’trilogy’ that began with another  
474-page book, Portraits & Repetition (2.9.98 - 5.28.99).  And also
before them Painting (2.4.97 - 4.21.97) and then Conversation (9.17
.94 - 2.4.95) -- both of these still unpublished.  And before those
came Idea’s Mirror (1.25.96 - 6.1.96) and Sound/(system) (6.1.91 -
2.1.92) and Mallarmé:  poem in prose (8.6.88 - 4.23.89) and Present
Tense (3.19.83 - 3.10.84) and Distance (7.20.82 - 10.6.82).  Anyway
that’s all just for the record, the point is that I’ve been working
‘serially’ for a long time now, even I realize in my earliest work,
published as Rustic Diversions in 1982 but written in 1970-71, that
book made up of two ‘series’ -- “Readings from John Muir’s Journal” 
and “Rustic Diversions,” the first of which is purely ‘observation’   
/‘perception’ and the second a translation (‘transliteration’) from  
the French of Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560).  And I realize my work
there is more or less what I’m still doing -- i.e., putting ‘words’ 
and ‘seen things’ together into the same work.  So here’s a sample
(from “Rustic Diversions”) to show you what I mean --

With eyes of the owl
& the jay’s cry
I wake to the open air
to the slow of new day
light in the oak & yellow pine
the stream running into my ears

It’s got all the same ‘stuff’ going on -- morning, light, birds and
trees and sound, and also a ‘shape’ on the page, even though it was
typeset in Times rather than Courier (typed in Courier of course so
that also gave it a shape on the page).  And here’s something else, 
the first page in the “Rustic Diversions” sequence, which is ‘text-
based’ so to speak, these ‘found’ words made into this poem --

1.  From a winnower of corn to the winds
angels on wing
sunlight rising
over earth-spin
as meadowland
flowers in fanned
shadows begin

So even in this early work (there are earlier, uncollected poems of
course, some of which were published in magazines, but nothing in a
book before these), I was putting together things I see & hear with
things I read.  And the various books follow that out too (Distance  
was originally called Random House, all its words coming out of the
Random House Dictionary; Mallarmé came from Mallarmé’s prose poems;
where late the sweet [BIRDS SANG] from Shakespeare’s sonnets, etc.;
likewise, Present Tense is all ‘stuff’ that really went on, so also
Portraits & Repetition and REAL and CLOUD / RIDGE (though it begins
mixing together found word/overheard material -- words from Woolf’s  
To the Lighthouse, for example, which show up on every page, almost
from the start -- as does HUMAN / NATURE and Remarks on Color.)  So
again, I realize that what I’m doing these days isn’t unlike things
I’ve been doing more or less from the beginning . . . .
JS                                                        [July 14, 2008]
With many contemporary poets it sometimes feels as though there’s an
ongoing effort to find where one sits within a web of lineages; you
seem to have found your lineages and your traditions, and I wonder if
you might talk a bit about where you see yourself, and why you see
yourself where you do.
SR                                                        [July 27, 2008]
Start w/ Campion and Shakespeare -- a whole book on Campion’s song “Now
winter nights enlarge” -- how much did I learn about poetry (sound and
shape, the line, syntax) by doing THAT work!  But before that Pound &
Eliot, whom I started to read in high school, followed shortly by WCW
and Stevens and Yeats.  Later on came Creeley and Olson and the whole
New American Poetry.  I didn’t get to Stein until I taught a class at
Mills called Paris in the Twenties.  And then all the writers I wrote
about in Listening to Reading, my ‘contemporaries’ as it were:  Leslie
and Lyn and Bob Grenier (preceded by Eigner, one of his mentors, others
being Creeley and Olson, Williams and Pound), and Mei-mei Berssenbrugge
and Susan Howe, whose My Emily Dickinson along with Charles Bernstein’s
Content’s Dream gave me the sense that alternative ‘literary criticism’
is possible -- also Ron Silliman (who was at Berkeley when I was there)
whose work I didn’t write about in that book but whose Tjanting gave me
a sense of what the ‘long poem’ is or might be.  All these writers have
been important to me, in one way or another.
JS                                                        [July 23, 2008]

grey light coming into fog in front of invisible/ ridge (7.10)
grey whiteness of fog in front of invisible/ ridge, (7.11)
shadowed blue railing below blue gate at top/ of stairs, (7.12)
shadowed blue railing slanting toward blue gate/ at top
      of stairs, (7.13)
blue railing below blue gate at top of stairs, (7.14)
grey white fog against top of shadowed green/ ridge, (7.15)
grey whiteness of fog against top of green ridge, (7.16)
grey whiteness of fog against top of green ridge, (7.17
sunlit line of white fog against shadowed green/
      slope of ridge, (7.18)

This repetition-yet-non-repetition is where I find some incredibly
interesting developments in your work (as I wrote about for an essay
awhile ago, and for when I introduced you at Artifact … when was that?
must’ve been about a year & a half ago or so). I find it not only
poetically interesting, but also ecologically significant, in that it
drives forward with the same muted persistence & the same reliance on &
beauty in subtle variation. There’s an actual continuance &
sustainability to your work, which isn’t an easy feat to achieve, and
so I wonder how your regular interaction with the natural world, and
with different ecological systems, with surfing the lagoon & with
hiking Mt. Tam & etc. has influenced the systemic elements of your
SR                                                        [July 27, 2008]
Wow, yeah, great selection of opening lines from those days, it’s kind
of weird/strange to see them isolated like that, separate from what’s
to come next in that day’s page/poem/’event’ I mean.  (Are you sure
that “7.16” and “7.17” — these are from Remarks on Color, by the way —
have the exact same opening lines?  Well yes, they do, I’ve just looked
them up; but look at what follows in each case — something that’s quite
different but also quite the same: 

grey whiteness of fog against top of green ridge,
red-tailed hawk screeching from branch in right
foreground, sound of waves breaking in channel
grey whiteness of fog against top of green ridge,
blue jay screeching from cypress branch in left
foreground, sound of waves breaking in channel

– so you can see it’s something like boxes within boxes, or better,
microtonal changes in music, each change shifting the direction and/
or resonance of the piece, something going on that picks up what has
already ‘happened’ but also changes it, starts over again, where it
left off by going on, “beginning again and again” as Stein wrote.) 
Anyway, the lines you point to here do sound alike, one to the next,
seem to be almost the same but, as you say, aren’t the same, seem to
be “repetition-yet-not-repetition” at the same time.   Which invites
the question Why do this?  What’s the ‘about’?  What’s the effect for
reader (writer too, for that matter)?   What’s going on here?  And I
must say that I don’t have an answer to such questions, haven’t quite
figured it out myself, but keep doing these kinds of things, going
forward by going back, shifting things but just a little, so that it
seems things are being the same yet they’re not, this word isn’t the
same as that one in the same place in the same line on the next page
(or previous page).  Stein’s idea of “insistence” makes sense to me,
of course, but what exactly is one insisting on, anyway?  To which I
would say, in answer to that question (that is the question), that it
has something to do with the ongoingness of things, being present here
in the present moment not(ic)ing things, what’s going on here and there
(in mind/feeling and ‘out there’ in the world in which I exist and find
myself so to speak, moving around in from moment to moment, day to day,
etc.  That’s because what I’m doing in my work these days is ‘rooted’/
‘grounded’ in this place where I live and do my work (Bolinas, but it
seems to be the same everywhere, or so I find when I’m elsewhere — up
in the mountains two weekends ago, Paris in April, writing those days
not[ic]ing the same kinds of things:  clouds, birds, sky, buildings/
peaks/ridge, etc.).  And so I think my work does mean to ‘insist’ on
what’s ‘there,’ its presence and presentness — and also ‘importance’!
‘vitality’! ‘value’ in the great scheme of things!  And also by
‘naming’ it to (somehow) bring it into being in the poem itself,
keeping it distant but also making it present, as Heidegger said in
some passages we were reading last week: 

The name, in which this naming speaks, must be dark and
     The place from which the poet is to name the gods must be
such that in the presence of their coming, those who are to be
named remain distant from him, and thus remain precisely those
who are coming.  So that this distance may open itself up as
distance, the poet must withdraw from the oppressing nearness
of the gods, and “only quietly name” them.

(That’s from an essay called “The Poem,” in Elucidations of Hölderlin’s
Poetry, which we’ve been reading every Thursday night for years now, it
seems.)  So the poem tries to become the thing it’s ‘talking about,’ so
to speak, and the poet, in ‘naming’ such things (“quietly” naming them,
as Heidegger, quoting Hölderlin’s poem “At the Source of the Danube,”
puts it), tries to bring them into being, make them literally present,
in the poem.  Something like Stein (again) saying that the words that
made something “look like itself,” or even “be itself,” were not words
that had anything to do with description.  But for me, in what I do now
in my work, the words do seem to have something to do with description,
seem to ‘point to’ what it is I’m looking at or hearing, i.e., ‘naming’
in lines like the ones you’ve noted here.  ‘Naming,’ as if that could
bring the thing about — “The name makes known” as Heidegger says.  As
if it could make that thing “look like” and/or indeed “be itself”; as
if it could catch hold of it, keep it from disappearing into what is
already gone — “Naming is a saying, that is a showing that discloses
what and how something is to be experienced and preserved in its
presence,” as Heidegger again says. 
These last few sentences written just after coming back from a hike up
the ridge, where I was thinking about what I’d written before going up
there — about the relation between my daily ‘physical activity’ and my
daily writing.  Because there does seem to be a close relation between
these two things, the writing and ‘physical activity,’ specifically my
getting into the water every day (surfing, paddling, whatever it turns
out to be, depending on the conditions, etc.) — because I do write and
I do go surfing every day (and part of what I put into the poem is what
I see out there in the water), despite a sinus ‘condition’ I’ve had now
for longer than I can remember.  (Nonstop since last fall, when my wife
‘left me’ and I couldn’t sleep, lost weight, got sick, etc. — ‘left me’
a single-parent-half-time of a beautiful, now three year old child but
I’m back on my feet now, except for a sinus condition that Kaiser says
says needs surgery, and for which, since I don’t want to do that, I’m
taking allergy shots for what Kaiser says I’m allergic to — cypress,
grasses and mold, and since there are two large cypress trees in my
yard and a fifty acre ‘open space’ field out the back door and mold
endemic here in the ocean world of Bolinas, who knows if that’ll do
Anyway, having put all that out on the table, I want to get back to how
the words of the poem have ‘something to do’ with the world ‘out there’
— the world they’re written ‘in’ and ‘about,’ a bit like Stein’s sense
of time in the composition and of the composition perhaps; and to give
you a sense of what I’m thinking about here, here’s today’s poem, whose
‘title’ (9.27) will serve to date these remarks:

silver circle of sun rising in fog above top
of ridge, blue jay standing on redwood fence
in left foreground, sound of wave in channel
      darkness mixed with the blue,
      between optical sense
      zinc white, ultramarine blue,
      extreme natural color
first silver edge of sun rising over ridge,
white moon in pale blue sky across from it

As I said earlier, the visual ‘shape’ of words on the page is something
I pay a lot of attention to when I type the poem on the computer (first
having written it by hand in an 8” by 6” notebook, where length of line
isn’t a factor).  You can see it here — the first three lines exactly
the same length; each of the next two lines exactly the same length
(Courier makes this all quite ‘apparent’) as each of the next two
following those; and the last two lines exactly the same length,
visually speaking of course, since if you heard the poem read
(‘performed’) aloud, you wouldn’t hear anything of this, just words
following one after another as ‘statement’ of ‘perception’:  “first
silver edge of sun rising over ridge,/ white moon in pale blue sky
across from it.”  (I do think that a listener hearing these lines
‘performed’ — i.e., read aloud — might possibly notice, at least
subliminally, that both lines in the couplet take the same time,
speaking of ‘duration’ now, the time it takes to read the line
necessarily always related to its physical length on the two-
dimensional page.)  So I’m thinking about the length of the
‘continuously present’ line, both on a two-dimensional page,
represented there by whatever letters or spaces or marks of
punctuation, placed in whatever spatial order they happened,
originally, and maybe even accidentally, to occur; and also
‘continuously present’ (but in a different way) when I read them aloud,
my voice activating the potential of sound ‘locked away’ in words on a
page, releasing that sound into the three-dimensional space of a world
(air) in the series of present moments in which I read them.  And also
how the length of the line, and series of lines, somehow ‘corresponds’
to the world those words come out of, and also point toward; shows us 
a ‘visual picture’ (abstract of course, as words too are abstractions
of the things and actions/events and mental/emotional states they are
meant to represent) of our experience in, and of, the world, whatever
that variously may be.  (Maybe one thing finally to say about this is
that the horizontal and vertical, two-dimensional ‘grid’ of words and
lines in my poems is something like the ‘grid’ in Mondrian’s painting,
which both reduces the vast complexity of the world to a recognizable,
comprehensible ‘pattern’ and also, in showing us that ‘shape,’ admits
both its boundlessness and our inability ever completely to fathom it.)
P.S.  If you can print this in Courier with the line breaks as I have
made them here (made them by making the words come out this way), not
by hitting the space bar but because the next word doesn’t physically
‘fit’ on the line above, therefore must begin the following line, you
will see that ‘prose’ too can be written in and as lines.  But that’s
another story.
JS                                                        [July 23, 2008]
For a number of years now you’ve done an annual reading tour & some
workshops in Paris. Any idea what’s going on in the Parisian scene
and/or academy right now that’s drawing so much interest in your work?
SR                                                        [July 27, 2008]
Ah, what a question!  Well, I know how it came about, through a series
of ‘coincidences’ it seems.  A trip to Paris in January 2004 with Oona,
my daughter who lives in New York and is a painter, during which I did
an impromptu reading in Cole Swensen’s apartment where we were staying. 
And there’s an email list that the French and American poets living in
Paris keep up with, and someone (I think it was Simone Fattal, who was
also there at that time) put out, and so a number of French poets came
to the reading, Vincent Broqua and Martin Richet among others, who are
working on the Double Change reading/writing series.  And, to make the
long story short, Vincent invited me back to do some readings and come
to his classes at Université Paris XII in the spring of 2006, and also
to teach a class and read at the École Polytechnique Lyon; and to come
back the following year for readings and more classes.  And again this
year I went back, this time to teach some classes at the International
School of Paris and to read again at Le Point Éphémère (invited now by
Molly Lou Freeman, an American poet and translator living in Paris who
teaches at the International School and edits a magazine called Carnet
de Route).  So anyway, as you can see, one such thing leads to another,
and there is such a lively poetry ‘scene’ going on there, and interest
also in the ongoing tradition of ‘experimental’ American poetry, which
French poets have been paying attention to for a long time, as we know. 
JS                                                      [October 7, 2008]
Carnet de Route is an extremely beautiful journal, the type of journal
– from what I’ve seen – that nobody here in the US would fund (I’d
imagine that each issue they release costs the same as it would cost to
release a full-length book).  Which walks us right into the economics
of poetry . . . I seem to remember you had a bit of difficulty finding
a publisher for REAL, eventually putting it out on Avenue B (your press
– do I need to mention that, I suppose someone not familiar with Avenue
B might stumble across this so I’ll leave it in).  You’ve also released
the two subsequent works (CLOUD / RIDGE and HUMAN / NATURE) on Ubuweb’s
‘Publishing the Unpublishable’ series.  With every word I type here the
Dow drops another point and with every word I type here there’s another
small-print-run independently published book of poems shipped to the
shelves of SPD and whatever indie bookstores have survived the past few
months.  With sales continuously dropping off while returns
continuously increase, and within the current economic context, in what
role do you see independently published poetry?  I suppose I’m
interested to see if you have a view from the perspective of publisher
of Avenue B, as well as a view from the perspective of a poet whose
work is voluminous in nature.
SR                                                  [October 10-12, 2008]
Well, here it is Wednesday the 10th of October, clear and windy, warm
in the sun but getting colder at night now, snow forecast in mountains
tonight/tomorrow (I was hoping to go up to climb Cathedral Peak again
this weekend but it doesn’t sound like the best time for that! (would
be an ‘epic’).  And here, just for the record, is today’s poem —

first grey light in sky above still black ridge,
bright silver of planet above branches in upper
left foreground, sound of wind passing overhead
      as can be seen, served simply
      as a counterpoint to
      variations, for the most part,
      by way of an “it is”
silver sunlight reflected in windblown channel,
white curve of spray above wave across from it

A way of keeping track of things, which does in fact lead back to your
question here.  That is, what to do about publishing ‘work’ that keeps
going on and on, piling up on the table in my living room (1,000 pages
of HUMAN / NATURE is about 4 3/4” high, and next to it the 1,184 pages
of Remarks on Color-plus-Temporality is 5”).  What to DO with the work
once it’s written?  Not only who’s going to publish it (your question)
but who’ll read it?  Because it’s one thing to pick up a 48 or 60 page
book of poems, or even a 100 page book of poems — readable in an hour,
more or less, if one wants to do that; and that’s certainly what we’ve
come to expect poetry books to look like, size-wise.  And it’s another
to pick up a book that’s 474 pages (in my case, with REAL or Portraits
& Repetition, and also CLOUD / RIDGE, which was finished in October of
20002 and is still waiting to be published).  What to do with books of
THAT length — not non-fiction or novels but poetry books! — or HUMAN /
NATURE or Remarks on Color or Temporality (which I hope will also keep
going and going) even moreso?  Not a very bright picture it seems, not
with the market falling hundreds of points yesterday, more again today
they say, not that one thinks about ‘the market’ when one sits down to
write a poem!  Or does, if that’s what the poem’s ‘about’ so to speak! 
Anyway, not only my own work as writer but, in my own small way too as
publisher of Avenue B, whose bank account got more or less depleted by
putting out REAL in 2007, no way to publish another book, not at least
until it builds back up again — through sales I mean, which in my case
have always come in slowly, in minute bits and pieces that don’t begin
to offset the costs of producing the books, especially these days.  It
wasn’t like that when I first started Avenue B, in 1986 (it cost $1.85
/ copy to put out each if the first two books — my Distance and Maxine
Chernoff’s Japan — and it cost $12.27 / copy to put out REAL).  So you
can see something about the economics of publishing books just in that
I guess — kind of a grim picture!  But it still goes on, as you say in
your question, new presses keep appearing and putting out new books of
poems by new (and not so new!) writers.  Somehow, small presses find a
way to make it work, though in ‘these times’ it’s probably going to be
harder and harder to do so — but still, people will continue to do it,
because it matters (the work, I mean) small presses having always been
the life blood of American poetry, as we know. 
Meanwhile you’re right, Carnet de Route is a beautiful magazine, a lot
of color and graphic pyrotechniques which must cost a small fortune to
produce (it’s funded by the International School of Paris, I believe). 
And I also did have “a bit of difficulty finding a publisher for REAL
(Simone Fattal, whose wonderful Post-Apollo Press had done Portraits &
Repetition, was going to do it but after a year she said she couldn’t,
because Portraits hadn’t sold enough copies to justify another book of
such length/cost, which was disappointing of course but then I decided
to do it myself, which turned out to be great — taking matters back in
my own hands, not only the writing but the making of the book, as well
as the distribution and selling of it, such as it is — something about
the ‘commitment’ that I like, that seems to matter).  And those books,
CLOUD / RIDGE and HUMAN / NATURE, are both up on ubu’s “Publishing the
Unpublishable” website — such a great title! — where, as far as I know
at least, they haven’t been noticed by anyone!  Maybe that’s not true,
maybe I just haven’t heard anything yet.  And after all, you just said
something about them, so THAT’S something!
Now it’s ‘the next day’ (10.12), another clear, windy blue sky morning
with the moon moving through the sky all night, very bright and colder
than it’s been, fall definitely in the air.  That’s the weather report
and here’s this morning’s poem, ‘for the record’—

pink orange sky above shadowed green trees,
golden-crowned sparrow calling oh dear me
in foreground, sound of waves in channel
      the line a figure of painting,
      what green figures as
      thing, a picture for example,
      of all possible being
silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
blue whiteness of sky across from point

The golden crowned sparrows have come back these last few days and I’m
glad to them back in the poem — the song I mean, three note descending
‘oh dear me’ (as Peterson’s bird book says — how strange! as if sounds
‘in nature’ COULD be transcribed in words!).  Anyway, I was talking to
a friend yesterday about your question here and small press publishing
etc., and ran across a line in first book of poems I published back in
1983, called New York Notes (written on short trip to NYC the previous
winter), the poem called “Lunch with ‘X’” (“X” was Ron Padgett), which
reads (by which I also mean, who said):

small press publishing scene isn’t too
good now only those with corragio will
go ahead

Anyway, it seems to connect directly to what we were saying yesterday
about “the economics of poetry” as you put it, and Ron said it twenty-
five years ago more or less, so maybe it’s always been the case, even
if now it seems to be much worse, higher cost of producing books, etc. 
But still, people are finding ways of putting out small editions of a
lot of new work/writing in magazines and books too — things like WORK
(published by David Horton) and TRY (David Brazil & Sara Larsen) both
coming out these days, “published EVERY 2 weeks” says Try here in the
Bay Area, so that’s exciting.
JS                                                      [October 7, 2008]
Another two-parter / along the same lines.  Not too long ago I
envisioned a volume set of your complete works, including a volume of
all your unpublished work. Do you think it would be feasible someday,
or have you written more than any encyclopedic set could accommodate? 
I personally feel that a ‘selected works’ would be a tremendous
disservice to everything you’ve done.  Maybe it would be more
interesting to know if a complete works is something you’d even be
interested in, if there’s something to your form and content that
consciously denies comprehensive anthologization.  Although you’ve
written (‘written’ as in written & had published) 19 books of poetry
(21 including the e-editions on Ubu), 2 books of criticism and theory,
published 14 books as the editor/publisher of Avenue B press, (feel
free to correct those numbers if I got them wrong) and have countless
publications in journals, magazines, and online databases, you seem to
still fly a bit below the radar. You’ve already contributed more to the
world of poetry than most of us could ever imagine, and in all
likelihood more than any of us ever will, yet you keep on moving
forward. There’s no question mark in there, just interested in how you
view your numerous contributions to numerous poetry communities.
SR                                                     [October 12, 2008]
Sure, I’d be interested in a “complete works” — or maybe not so much
that as the things that I’m writing now, which are waiting to find a
home somewhere ‘out there’ in the world.  I mean, there some earlier
book manuscripts that never got published that are sitting here, and
I’m not really thinking about them any more, they’re just here.  And
then there are books written since the 90’s which I’d still like and
hope to see ‘in print’ — books like PAINTING (1997), which twice was
“finalist” in National Poetry Series but never published) and before
that Conversation (‘94-’95), also a National Poetry Series “finalist”
and also never published though it was scheduled to be for two years
before the press decided they weren’t going to do it (no names here). 
Both of those still mean something to me, were somehow ‘formative’ I
guess, especially PAINTING, whose title points to what has become an
abiding ‘concern’ — how experience in the three-dimensional world is,
i.e., can be, ‘translated’/’transcribed’ to the two-dimensional page,
whether in painting or writing.  (I kept seeing that word when I was
writing the poems in that series – 81 pages of poems with long lines
running clear across the horizontal page, three stanzas on each page,
each with three lines, so nine lines on a page, 9 x 9 = 81, so there
was a numbers thing going on too, it seems — anyway my daughter Oona
had written a note that read simply “painting,” to remind me to pick 
up a painting of hers from the house, and it sat on my dashboard for
weeks and weeks and I finally realized that that was going to be the
title for the book.)  And I’ve thought about the possibility of some
‘selection’ from those two books, plus from other later things, like
CLOUD /RIDGE and HUMAN / NATURE, which could then make up a selected
‘unpublished books’ book.  Someone, whose name I won’t mention here,
who’s published a lot of great books and whose work as a publisher I
certainly have great respect for, has proposed doing just this and I,
at that time, didn’t think it was the right way to go — I wrote back
and forth a lot with him about all this! me wanting each one to be a
complete book, as ‘record’ or ‘document’ or simply ‘fact’ of what it
is, yes, that I’ve been doing, have been about; his sense that these
books all fit together, are each of them a part of THE BOOK that I’m
writing, and that it doesn’t matter what ‘form’ a particular work is
taking on the page (long lines, shape of stanzas on the page, simply
doesn’t matter).  Well, anyway, I decided I wouldn’t go with what he
proposed we could do at that time, would keep looking for someone to
publish each book separately, perhaps a ‘selection’ of such books at
some point.  But time keeps going on and I realize that PAINTING and
CONVERSATION are still there (as is CLOUD / RIDGE and HUMAN / NATURE
and Remarks on Color / Sound (as I may call it) and Temporality, and
so, I realize, I’m still thinking about what ‘excerpts’ from my work
would look like, or be.  Which also raises the question of what then
would be lost . . . .
JS                                                      [October 7, 2008]
(I should mention that I’d like to keep your earlier P.S. included with
the text to draw attention to your form, perhaps so some might scroll
back up and reread with the form in mind.) And I should mention that
I’ll use that comment on text to lead us away from text on the page,
and to quote your earlier statements on reading:

since if you heard the poem read (‘performed’) aloud, you
wouldn’t hear anything of this, just words following one after
another as ‘statement’ of ‘perception’

You’ll be reading at the Canessa Gallery Series in the very near
future, and I think it would be interesting to learn a bit about how
you go about planning a performance of your work; do you have any notes
or approaches specific to this upcoming reading, or do you have a form
for performances in general?
SR                                                     [October 12, 2008]
Yes, the Canessa reading coming up next Saturday, good!  I’m trying now
to figure out if I’ll bring Johnny or not (my 3 year old, did I mention
him?), since it’s one of ‘my nights’ that week and I don’t want to give
him back to his mom that night or leave him somewhere, and don’t have a
‘babysitter’ in my life, etc. and since I did bring him to that reading
back in June at UC Davis, the complete reading of HUMAN / NATURE that I
spoke about earlier — anyway I brought him up to that and he was great,
it somehow worked, and since that was 14 hours and Canessa will only be
twenty minutes or so (though I’ve heard that people are going on for an
hour or more in that series!), it seems at least possible.  Anyway, you
ask whether I have an approach, how I go about ‘planning a performance’
etc.  And the answer is ‘no,’ not really.  I like to read what I’m just
now doing, like to hear what it sounds like (since I don’t reread it in
the day-to-day writing of it, or at least not usually), and find that I
am usually, most always, pleased by what I hear, LIKE hearing it and so
I guess LIKE ‘it’ in some way.  So the readings I do end up giving me a
sense that what I’m doing is making sense (at least to me, also I think
to some of the people there who hear it, though one really hardly knows
what it’s like for someone else, what ‘really happens’ in the reading I
mean — I think further about questions like these in parts of Listening
to Reading).  Anyway I’ll do for that reading what I always, or usually
do, i.e., figure out about how long I’ll read for, how many pages might
take that amount of time, leading up to the most recent page (something
from that same day, often enough), and make that a plan for the reading
— so it’s really about the TIME of the reading, and the time in it too,
— perhaps again like Stein’s time of and in the composition.
(As a sidebar note, when I was doing readings after REAL came out, I at
first would read from a number of consecutive pages (10 or 15 pages say
before I moved on to more recent writing), and then one time at a house
reading in San Francisco (the Artifact Series) I decided I’d go through
the whole book and choose one poem from each of the months represented,
so there were about 15 of those pages, and the reading was a glimpse or
snapshot of that amount of time passing — I liked doing that, it seemed
to work.  I think that was the reading that you wrote that introduction
for, wasn’t it? — so with that I’ll turn it back to you, Jeff!)
PS.  One other thought about all this (thought of during hike on Willow
Camp Trail above Stinson, up to the ridge, across on Coastal Trail then
down the Matt Davis Trail back to Stinson, seeing sun set, a red-orange
horizon, maybe a green flash (almost!) — yesterday the same hike almost
and there was one, I think, 7 miles or so. . . .  Anyway, something I’m
thinking about now that takes place in a reading is that I get to hear,
when I’m reading a series of consecutive pages, something I don’t quite
otherwise hear, or experience, and that’s the accumulation of pages one
after another, how the poems begin to take on a rhythm (in time) that’s
only possible when one reads/experiences them TOGETHER — in the company
of others, rather than as ‘separate’ pieces, discrete and isolated from
each other, etc.  When I’m writing them they are single pieces, one and
one and one and one, but when I read them (at a reading I mean, because
I don’t ever really just ‘sit down and read them’ by myself, at home or
somewhere, I simply write the one for that day and then go on to things
that have to be done, or ‘want’ to be done, etc.  So I get to hear what
happens between pages/poems, from one to the next to the next, not that
I can actually ‘keep track of’ any of that but I hear it, and maybe get
also to NOTICE it, in passing at least, which is really interesting, or
MIGHT be something to notice, about how words or phrases (or even whole
lines) keep coming up, ‘repeating’ but not ever EXACTLY repeating since
as we’ve said they’re always in a new context, new ‘surroundings,’ etc. 
And that lets me hear, and thus ‘experience’ acoustically, something of
the physics of the work, how it ‘works’ in that larger ‘shape’ of poems
going on and on, one after another. . . .
JS                                                     [October 21, 2008]
Very nice work at Canessa. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed your time at
the microphone.  I think that the last few readings I’ve seen you
perform you used the ‘form’ mentioned in earlier questions/answers, 1
poem from each month for about a year and a half; the Canessa reading
was a ‘form’ I hadn’t heard (was this the first time you took this
approach?):  began with a poem from REAL from the date of the reading 8
years ago (10/18/2000), followed by the most recent pieces from Remarks
on Color / Temporality . . . or the month of poems leading up to and
including the day of the reading. I don’t know that I have a preference
between the two, as each demonstrates a different facet of your work
(the first perhaps a larger ‘macro’ view of what your poetry is doing
with time itself, and the larger ongoing processes of variation,
evolution, etc., while the ‘Canessa form’ enacted a more specific look
at how you simultaneously position your readers’ gaze incrementally as
well as incrementally position what it is within that gaze . . .
alternating between the ‘types of gazes’ and presenting – as you’ve
mentioned - a dual philosophy of ‘this is / what this means’).  Is
there an answer to the ‘what this means’ portion?  Perhaps that
subjectivity is what draws me to your work:

      ‘blue whiteness of sky’
      ‘red whiteness of sky’
      ‘pale orange of sky’
      ‘pale blue of sky’
      ‘cloudless blue of sky’

This is.  I know that much, and the language perfectly emphasizes
enacts that ‘truth’.  In addition to whatever I’m trying to ask in this
overgrown question, I wonder if you might include some thoughts on the
topic of ‘this is / what this means’, as well as another phrase you
used:  ‘the subject understood as act’.
SR                                                     [October 26, 2008]
Well, here it is a week later already (!) and I’m getting a chance to
sit down with your questions which arrived on the screen (email) last
week, no time until now even to look at them alas.  But Johnny’s gone
(again) and it’s foggy out there (can’t see the ridge), I’ve been out
in the water (big swell yesterday, way to many people, it always hits
on the weekends now, it seems, and with the internet everyone knows
what’s going on even if they can’t see/hear it), and so there’s a
window of time to think about something.  Here’s this morning’s
installment, just for the record:

first light in fog against invisible ridge,
golden-crowned sparrow calling oh dear me
in foreground, sound of waves in channel
      “flat as map,” space reduced
      to this distant echo
      red, which most always meant,
      reflections in water
sunlight reflected in blue green channel,
tree-lined green slope of ridge above it

Anyway, the ‘Canessa form’ as you call it (reading the most recent
pages of a given work, “leading up to and including the day of the
reading) isn’t new, in fact it’s what I most often like to do in a
reading, since it gives me a chance to hear how the most recent work is
working, the poems ‘together’ rather than one at a time.  (A reading of
one poem from each month of REAL which you heard at the Artifact series
was, for me, ‘unusual’ — the first time I’d done that, and it does give
a listener a different view I think — “larger ‘macro’ view” as you say,
more time passing, not maybe that anyone would hear or know that unless
they picked up on the numbers/’dates’ of each poem, and realized a
month had passed, more or less, from one to the next.)  But when I
don’t read the numbers/’dates’ in front of the poems, would anyone
notice from the details/’materials’ in the poem that time had gone
forward???  So there’s the question of reading the numbers/’dates’
along with a question of reading poems written on consecutive days —
with or without the numbers/’dates’, which is something I got to do
last Tuesday over at Mills, where I read one month’s worth of the poems
leading up to that day (9.22 - 10.21), without any numbers/’dates’, and
that made them go faster, to my ear at least, made them more ‘connected
to one another’ as part of ONE CONTINUOUS THING/WORD/WORK, without some
kind of numerical ‘abstraction’ interrupting some ongoing movement from
one to the next — no ‘title’ of a discrete/separate poem, just what
happens from one page to the next as if time is simply passing now,
here, even as we’re speaking.  Anyway, I like your sense here of a
simultaneous positioning of the “reader’s gaze” both as a listener
hearing what’s being read and as a viewer seeing what’s happening,
“what it is within that gaze.”  So that what one hears and “sees,”
listening to the poems being read aloud, is somehow an enactment I
think of the simultaneity of time/space in the composition (what’s
going on in the poem) and the time/space of the composition (as it
‘happens’ in the listener’s perception of it, being read aloud, my
reading making such a perception somehow, and variously, possible).  To
put it differently, what someone hears as the words are being read will
be words (the words of the poem, the material ‘objects’/’things’ I lift
into the air when I read them) that are also ‘word enactments’ of those
things/events they are ‘about’.  Which might get me to what you seem to
be thinking about when you write “’this is / what this means’,” or so I
would like to think. . . .
Anyway, what interests me in this little bit you write here is the
“this is” part, which to me sounds like the ‘thisness,’ quidity in
Latin, of the thing itself, in itself.  So that in the lines above —
“blue whiteness of sky,” “red whiteness of sky” (did I say that? I
doubt it!), “pale orange of sky,” etc. it’s those ‘matters of fact’
that are simply there (as in “this is”), as facts, that I’m trying
somehow to call attention to — not only call attention to but make
‘happen’ in the words of the poem, those words letting the ‘things’
named by them lie before us, as Heidegger said, the arrangement of
verbal materials on the two-dimensional page making what happens in the
three-dimensional world actually ‘take place’ here on the page, if that
were possible.  And somehow I think it is — “this is” as you say, words
can enact “that ‘truth’” as you say.  And so then the next question, as
you put it, is “the ‘what this means’ portion” — is there an answer?  I
don’t know, but there is something about the putting down of the things
that are taking place ‘out there’ right now —

first light in fog against invisible ridge,
golden-crowned sparrow calling oh dear me
in foreground, sound of waves in channel

in today’s poem — which in ‘naming’ (that is, arranging in words) those
‘things’ in the world do, or at least try to, bring them into the world
of the poem.  Where they ‘operate’ on their own, or come into some kind
of further ‘existence’ whenever someone reads the poem or hears it read
aloud.  Not that “this means” anything in particular, no ‘significance’
other than the fact of itself, being here.  Which might be something of
what you’re getting at in the line ”the subject understood as act”
(which is from Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception), i.e.,
words themselves being ‘subject’-of-poem, and thus being an act of
perception — “subject . . . as [the/an] act” of writing itself, at
least of this writing I’m trying here to speak of – as if you were
present here in this room!  (The line in Merleau-Ponty is actually
quite different [“. . . the subject was no longer to be understood as a
synthetic activity . . .”], so you can see in how it changed what I was
thinking about, or trying to get at, maybe.  And the line that follows,
“active signification,” in the poem I mean, might be taken to ‘suggest’
that the poem itself does ‘signify’ — point to its ‘referent’, poem-as-
signifier in the sense that what its words are ‘saying’ are themselves,
miraculously, there in the poem.)  
JS                                                     [October 21, 2008]
Another idea you presented: ‘color as the form of thought’ . . . could
you expand on that, offer some details to a very interesting position?
SR                                                     [October 26, 2008]
Yes, that line — I like it too!  It’s an adaptation from T. J. Clark’s
The Sight of Death (from a sentence that actually reads, “Color as the
form of a thought or the consistency of an argument in which laws,
moods, and commitments were suspended like specimen ghosts.”) and 
echoes, at least to me, Clark Coolidge’s phrase “sound as thought”
(which is the title of one of his books) and also a title of a chapter
in Listening to Reading (“Sound [Shape] as Thought”) so it’s something
that has multiple resonances for me.  Anyway, what to be said about it
I wonder. . . .  For one thing, the colors that appear in my poems are
not simply colors per se — the “green” on the page pointing to the one
‘out there’ on the ridge; the “pale blue” on the page pointing to that
one ‘out there’ in the actual sky — but also (maybe moreso?) concepts,
the concept of that “green” and that “pale blue,” the color as thought
of it.  So there’s something about the intersection of words-as-things
and the things themselves going on here, being suggested, in a perhaps
momentary way that carries forward through the poem and also backward,
at least as far back as the three lines of ‘observation’ preceding it:

grey white fog in front of invisible ridge,
oval whiteness of moon above tree in lower
left foreground, sound of waves in channel

— color here being (meaning to be) “the form of thought,” form of
things being what they are, in and by (without any help from me!)
themselves.  (As for the second part of my line’s adaptation from
Clark, “commitments suspended,” I won’t bother to talk about that here
except to say that it’s got some kind of ‘private meaning’ for me that
made it seem like what the line ‘should be’ in the moment of composing
JS                                                     [October 21, 2008]
You also mention (baseball) pitchers in a number of individual pieces.
I know you’re a Giants fan, but not much of an A’s fan.  Any particular
reason?  (I probably wouldn’t have brought it up, but with the
references to pitchers, you’ve got the A’s who have a great record of
developing young pitchers, and the Giants with a track record of
derailing whatever promise their pitchers initially had.)  Anyway . . .
who’s got your vote in this year’s series?  (Phillies get mine . . . I
never root for teams from Florida or Texas).
SR                                                     [October 27, 2008]
Yep, not much to say about this at this point either — ‘lifelong Giants
fan’ (I remember being on the playground in second grade [was it 1958?]
when they first moved to San Francisco, have been following ever since,
with time off in the seventies I guess [for other things going on], but
following pretty closely since then, from afar, mostly on the radio and
in print rather than ‘in person’ at the games — a way of making/marking
the day and also the season).  My dad was a fan (his brother was
drafted by the Reds), and he took me to games that year at Seals
Stadium (he doesn’t follow them much anymore, but now I’ve taken
Johnny, my kid, named after my father, to a few games (one each year so
far), so I guess it’s also a way of making/marking a whole life as well
as the day/season. . . .  And as for your last question, I’m old school
so it’s the Phillies (in seven, more games that way) — Joe Blanton (the
pitcher!) just hit his first-ever home run to put them ahead 6-2 in the
6th, game 4 (Tampa better get their act together or we won’t get to see
seven games). . . .
JS                                                     [October 12, 2008]
Back to poetry (for now . . . I’m sure we’ll take a few more scenic
diversions as are necessary).  And actually, since some earlier
questions focused on more detailed views of ‘what’s happening’ I’ll
zoom out for a second, and ask about what is accomplished by writing in
a comprehensively serial manner?  Is there anything you’d like to get
across to your readers upon entering into the entirety of one
collection as opposed to a handful of a collection’s pieces within a
journal or magazine?  Is an individual piece in a journal the same as
when it’s in the final collection, or what role does context play in
the work of a ‘serial poet’?
SR                                                     [October 27, 2008]
Pretty interesting question(s)!  Actually, we’ve been talking about the
sense of what you’re asking here all along, haven’t we?  I mean, a poem
by itself in a magazine doesn’t have any ‘company’ around it, no before
and after, nothing that ‘reappears’ (or almost ‘reappears’) exactly, or
almost exactly, somewhere earlier or else further on.  So the reader of
that poem misses something that’s important (I think) to the whole work
itself, which is as you say the “context” — the whole ‘series’ of poems
taken, that is to say ‘experienced’ by the reader/listener together.  I
realize that such an experience (of a poem in its full context) assumes
the presence of such a reader/listener — one who would read/listen to a
WHOLE BUNCH OF POEMS IN ONE SITTING.  Not likely I think!  Not possible
in fact! — as proof, I would point to the fact that during that 14-hour
reading of the complete, 1,000 pages of HUMAN / NATURE at UC Davis last
June, no one heard the whole thing except me:  people who were there in
the room were snoring in the middle of the night (I heard them!) nor do
I blame them (who could keep going for that long without falling asleep
anyway, even the musicians went to sleep. . .).  Seriously though, it’s
a matter of degree, isn’t it?  One poem by itself, two or three or four
poems by themselves, can’t suggest the wider/larger ‘scale’ (or ’scope’
or ‘landscape’) I’m working in here.  And is it too much to assume that
someone might care about that?  I’m not sure, really.  Sometimes it’s a
blank out there — who’s reading, who cares anyway?  So you just go
forward from one day to the next, like waking up and getting going,
this foot down and then that one (not to sound too bleak here, but
sometimes that’s the way it feels — not really in fact, because in
every new writing of the poem there is that excitement, that sense
really of pleasure and the newness of writing something that’s new,
true, completely ‘real’ so to speak, which makes it worth while in some
real sense, or so it seems.  Or so I’d like to think!  Meanwhile, there
is the problem of how to get the work ‘out there’ into print, into some
reader’s eye (or listener’s ear, as in the reading at Canessa last week
for instance, which was a pleasure for me and also I think for those in
the ‘audience’ who heard it, at least I gathered that from those people
who said/wrote something about their experience of it afterwards. . . .
JS                                                     [November 6, 2008]
Maybe I got the ‘red-whiteness’ wrong. As you know, I’m a bit of a
heavy drinker . . . especially at late-night poetry get-togethers . . .
anyway, audio archives of the Canessa series have finally found an
online home:
(and of course I provide the URL with a bit of self-promotion
SR                                                     [November 8, 2008]
Well, a new day, almost two weeks since sitting down with your last
installment of questions, nice to see/hear THIS is now up on the web
(it’s also now at http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Ratcliffe.html,
with other reading ‘events’).  And so I’ve just listened to the first
few pages of my reading from that night — a poem from REAL written on
the same day of the reading (10.18.2008) seven years ago (i.e., 10.18 
.2000), followed by the most recent (at that point) twenty pages from
the current work-in-progress, which I seem to be calling Temporality,
after Merleau-Ponty’s essay of that title, which does fit the ‘topic’
(‘time’) that Erica Lewis proposed for the reading that night (‘time’
of the reading coincident with ‘time’ in reading, perhaps).  But that
was already three weeks ago.  And so time keeps moving on, as today’s
poem (which I include here as another ‘mark’ of what’s going on in my
current ‘work-in-progress’ — called, as I say, Temporality) suggests:

grey whiteness of sky above shadowed green
ridge, streaked sparrow on feeder in right
foreground, sound of car passing in street
      against cloud to the right,
      picture’s whole color
      by means of lines, graphic,
      rhythmic extension of
grey cloud on horizon to the left of point,
sunlit green slope of ridge across from it

But does it ‘suggest’ anything of the kind?  And if so, how?  And what
exactly?  Maybe that things ‘move’ through the ‘continuous present’ of
space/time that I find myself (also) located in; that color of the sky
above the ridge at that moment; that sparrow on the feeder just before
it disappears; that “sound of car passing in street”; all of it moving
on (and also moving!).  Anyway, perhaps I can get back to something of
this. . . .
One more thing:  I was just listening to the first half or so of this
Canessa reading (it’s just 14 minutes 34 seconds, according to what’s
listed on the website) and that reminds me that last night I listened
to a couple of hours of the MP3 from the complete reading of HUMAN /
NATURE, which Zachary Watkins recorded and just finished mixing.  It
will be up on PennSound if you want to take a ‘look’
JS                                                     [November 6, 2008]
To take a quick step back to your first books of poetry. I think if
I try to force too many observations into questions they’ll come out
all mangled, so I’ll just go from my notes and hopefully they’ll provide
something worth asking: New York Notes:
1983 Tombouctou Books . . .
that’s Michael Wolfe, right? The press that later published The
Basketball Diaries
.  And Michael’s a leading scholar, teacher, and
speaker on Islam.  That’s kind of an odd company to begin with, so
I’m curious about what Tombouctou was all about in ‘83.  Though this
work is clearly very different from your current work (to begin with,
it’s only 12 pages long) there are individual lines and phrases
throughout that perhaps gave an early shape to your current voice:

      ‘Clear after storm’
      ‘Grey clouds down there / getting darker’
      ‘a matter of fields, hills and mountains’
      ‘fallen litter of fall’s leaves’

I suppose the question is of when you began to develop your process(es)
of ‘poetic observation’ . . . these lines share a poetic resonance with
many of your current lines.  Did you know with this work that you had
found a certain poetics to build on and refine, or was this work more
like a first work for many young poets – the overwhelming desire to
just get that first book ‘out there’ somewhere, and see what happens
from there?
SR                                                     [November 8, 2008]
Yes, Michael Wolfe was a friend (and neighbor — he actually lived just
a few houses down the street from where we lived, on Brighton Avenue,
when we first moved to Bolinas in ’73) and he was publishing books,
among them this little series of “Desert Island Chapbooks” one of
which, New York Notes, was my first book of poems.  (He also did
Triggers, by Donald Guravich — short, racy, one-page stories —
something else too, a third book, what was it?  That was all, in that
series at least, but there were a lot of other titles – including The
Basketball Diaries, which I’ve still got an original copy of [someone
told me it was worth a lot of money now], which was later republished
by Penguin to great acclaim, put Jim Carroll [even more!] on the map. 
And now, after hiking up the Stinson ridge [in a cloud/rain] I think
that third Desert Island Chapbook was something by Bill Berkson, blue
cover — I can see it now, in my ‘mind’s eye’ at least. . . .) 
Anyway, I didn’t really know what I was doing in New York Notes, went
on a trip to New York (an interview at the MLA for job at Fordham, of
all places, my first time there as an ‘adult’), and kept these ‘notes’
during my trip which, when I got back, I typed up and made into poems. 
And I showed them to Michael and he liked them and wanted to start up
his Desert Island Chapbook series and so he took it, made it into the
book.  And I got to do the cover, design it I mean, literally make it,
which was very cool to me — I made a Xerox copy of an envelop with US
Post Office cancellation stamp, it was supposed to look like a letter,
was ‘inspired’ by the work of the collage, mail art artist John Evans
who I stayed with on that trip (he was and still is married to friend
of my then-wife Ashley, who both grew up in Mobile, Alabama, Mobile /
Mobile being the name of a book that came along a few years later and,
like New York Notes, also being a kind of ‘travelogue’ of going there,
to that particular place).  John and Margaret (his wife) lived on 3rd
and B (a small, second floor apartment with their two twin baby girls,
Honor and India, and a black and white cat — what was HER name? — and
the drug dealing scene was going on 23 hours a day then, right on the
corner below their kitchen window, it was pretty amazing!  So I had a
lot of exciting things to see and hear and take ‘notes’ on!  I didn’t
really think I was writing a book, but there it is, and that’s how it
came about.  And there ARE some things in it that I can see from this
vantage point, not only lines like the ones you quote here but things
that resonate with things I’m still doing — like the piece on Morandi,
which I see that you bring up later on, and so I’ll save any thoughts
about that one until then. . . .
JS                                                     [November 6, 2008]

Rustic Diversions.
(from earlier)
”I’ve been working ‘serially’ for a long time now, even I realize
in my earliest work, published as Rustic Diversions in 1988 but
written in 1970-71, that book made up of two ‘series’ –
“Readings from John Muir’s Journal” and “Rustic Diversions,” the
first of which is purely ‘observation’/‘perception’ and the
second a translation (‘transliteration’) from the French of
Joachim du Bellay (1522-1560).”

I got the John Muir portion, and saw what you were doing, but I never
knew the Joachim du Bellay section.  In my penciled, margin notes I had
written several times that many of the final lines on each page seem
to me to have an almost Blake-like quality:

      “flesh to enclose”
      “flowering again”
      “swinging your blade”
      “prow to engulf”
      “stilled for changing”
      “the sounding done”
      “count sweetly ruin”
      “hence can / come never undone”
      “enlaced with delight”

When you and I first met we spent a good deal of time chatting about
the Romantics, and so that probably influenced my reading.  At the same
time, I sometimes forget that one focus of your early academic career
was on Renaissance poetry, that you’re a scholar of the classics and
the canon, and you continue to remain active with associated academic
conferences and whatnot.  How does this work with the “classics”
coincide with your writing, which is decidedly non-mainstream and
somewhat separate from the “canon”?
SR                                                     [November 9, 2008]
Well, I see that time is passing — it’s now ‘the next day’ and so
here’s this morning’s poem, just ‘for the record’ as they say —

silver circle of sun behind shadowed branches
of trees, golden-crowned sparrow calling dear
in foreground, sound of car passing in street
      take trees, not only spatial
      but as opposing forces
      point, space of the clearing,
      withdrawing to absence
grey white cloud in front of invisible point,
line of 3 pelicans flapping across toward it

More trees and birds and sounds (plus thinking about such things),
followed by your question!  Yes, there is work ‘behind’ the poems,
starting with Campion:  On Song (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), my
first published book (it was my dissertation at Berkeley).  I chose
Campion to write about because virtually nothing had been written on
him, and because my ‘heroes’ in poetry, starting with Pound, all said
that Campion was one of the masters of the English lyric poem (Creeley
too of course, kept talking about how important Campion was, as a poet
whose sense of sound and the line and structure is as good as it gets). 
And so I decided to read Campion, see what was going on there, why all
the ‘praise’ for this poet, the only poet-composer of his time, who had
written not only the words of his songs but also the music — that fact
always pointed to as the reason for why he was so good.  Look at Auden
in his “Preface” to The Selected songs of Thomas Campion (published in
1973 in a handsome, oversized paperback by David R. Godine, words plus
some modernized transcriptions of some of the songs — other modernized
versions of all of the songs hidden away in the Berkeley Music Library,
where I could look at them and make copies):  “Campion’s songs can, of
course, be enjoyed as spoken verse without their music, but they would
not be what they are or sound as they do if he had not, when we wrote
them, been thinking in musical terms.”  Anyway I ended up writing on
just one song by Campion, “Now winter nights enlarge,” taking it up
from various points of view (one chapter on its syntax & substance,
another on the sound of its words, another on its music by itself,
another on prosody).  There was also an Appendix that pointed to
Campion’s other songs — all of the things I talked about in one
particular song also taking place elsewhere, of course.  I got
‘permission’ to take so narrow a focus for the work (just one twenty-
four line song) from Stephen Booth, whom I’d never taken a class with
but who agreed to direct the dissertation and, in doing so, became my
great ‘mentor’ at Berkeley — the person who showed me, by his example, 
what ‘close reading’ was and might be.  And in doing all that work on
Campion, I think I learned most everything I know about poetry itself —
an exaggeration of course, because there’s a lot of other ‘stuff’ out 
there too, but working on Campion ‘trained’ my ear, somehow sharpened
my sense of sound and the line and structure, all of those things now
‘intuitive’ it seems.
So it’s not so much that my “writing . . . is decidedly non-mainstream
and somewhat separate from the ‘canon’” as you say, as that I’ve taken
things that I’ve found along the way, picked up so to speak, and tried
to make use of them.  And so, back to the du Bellay, what I hear there
isn’t so much Blake, whom I’d read but wasn’t then reading, as Campion
and Shakespeare (whose “Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds
sang” must be behind one of the du Bellay lines that you quote, “count
sweetly ruin” — that poem has been in my head for a long time now, and
became the title of my book of Shakespeare sonnet ‘erasures’ or should
I say ’erosions’ of his ‘originals’ after such a passage of time, ‘my’
words being all that’s left of ‘his’, etc.).  Yes, Shakespeare’s songs
from the plays are embedded in those lines, at least to my ear and eye
now, and that’s certainly what I was reading, and thinking about, back
then. . . . 
(I’m reading other things now, and still making use of them in my work
— Merleau-Ponty, Kandinsky, Lyotard, T. J. Clark, a Morandi ‘catalogue’
from the Guggenheim show in New York in 1981, which I’ll talk about in
a moment, and also one on Van Gogh from his drawing show at the Met in
2005, these days I mean.  And, in fact, I’ve thought of myself as some
kind of ‘scholar’/poet for a long time now — someone who reads and who
makes use of that reading in his work.  And so it would be interesting
to me to talk further about that with you, and about my other critical
books too — Listening to Reading, and also the book on offstage action
in Hamlet — I mean, if you want to get back to me on that. . . .)
JS                                                     [November 6, 2008]
Back to New York Notes.  Toward the end of the chapbook, the poem
titled “After Morandi”:

      He paints the same things over and
      over and by the time the time came
      late in his work his work which he
      called Landscape and Landscape and
      Still Life and Still Life had been
      reduced to an essence of landscape
      or still life as form and/or light
      she said as we walked out to Fifth
      Avenue to have a smoke

First of all let me quickly note that until retyping that I just
assumed that the typesetting was justified, but now see that you’re
working with a total of 34 ‘units’ (combination of characters and
spaces) so that the text itself is ‘naturally’ justified.  As far as
the final two lines, you have since developed some very different ways
of channeling and presenting both yourself and others within the body
of your text, and so I’m interested in your thoughts on that
development.  But as far as the entirety of the text up until that
point, it’s almost a foreshadowing of how your work has since evolved.
Your landscapes and landscapes and still lifes and still lifes can be
read as an essence of landscape or still life as form and/or light. 
Once again, no question mark . . .  I suppose I’m just curious if you
ever looked back at this piece and saw an evolution of your own work
that mirrors the evolution of Morandi’s.
SR                                                     [November 9, 2008]
Yes, you’re right, the poems in that book are ‘right justified’ so I
guess I started doing it then (on the typewriter I mean, so it isn’t
just a matter of pushing a button, you have to ‘make’ the lines come
out that way — not that I was counting ‘units’ as you call them here
but rather, that I was ‘adjusting’ words/letters to get the lines to
look a certain way — little boxes/rectangles so to speak, why I must
say I don’t know, something about the ‘tightening’ of the string, or
form, or shape on the page, whatever it is that one does in making a
poem (i.e., ‘shape’-in-letters/words) on a two-dimensional page, how
that physical ‘shape’ is somehow — mysteriously! — crucial to what’s
going on in the poem, which is after all an ‘object’ or, as Williams
said, “a small or large machine made out of words.”  But it was also
going on in the poems in Rustic Diversions, in the early 70’s I mean,
so it’s something I’ve always been doing.  And sometimes, I must say
that it seemed to be a kind of ‘oppression’ — like, why even do this,
pay attention to such things?  But I couldn’t it seems help it, so I
simply gave into it, accepted it I guess as part of what I do when I
write anything — and I mean “anything” here, since now I find that I
can’t even write ‘prose’ without paying attention to the look/’shape’
of the lines on the page, and so the whole book on Hamlet is ‘shaped’
now too, the lines on every page having a certain ‘look’ I worked to
get (as if it too were a ‘poem’, which I believe it is), even though
its ‘shape’ will disappear if it’s published in some font other than
Courier. . . .
As for those last two lines, they’re pure “New York School,” I think,
don’t you?  How exciting to go there that first time — as an adult I
mean!  All the New York School poets, especially Frank O’Hara, in my
mind!  So “walking out to Fifth Avenue to have a smoke” sounds to me
even now I confess (and certainly also did then) so jaunty, cavalier,
hip, cool.  (I should also add that it was true, ‘real’ in the sense
that it really happened — we really did “walk out to Fifth Avenue to
have a smoke.”)  There were other books that took on the ‘issues’ of
relations between people so to speak, Mobile/Mobile for one, Present
Tense and Idea’s Mirror and Conversation and PAINTING (both of these
not yet published) and REAL and CLOUD / RIDGE and HUMAN / NATURE too,
all of these in various ways, as you say, “channeling and presenting
both [my]self and others.”  All of which we could talk about further,
if you want — as indeed I hope you will want!  But meanwhile, as one
simple ‘answer’ to your last question here, “yes” — I have thought a
lot (especially again recently) about the seemingly prophetic nature,
suggested in that poem:  i.e., Morandi painting “the same thing over
and over . . . Landscape and Landscape and Still Life and Still Life  
. . . reduced to an essence of landscape or still life as form . . .
light.”  That’s pretty moving to me, this probably also a good place
(at least for now) to stop. . . .
JS                                                    [November 12, 2008]
It’s totally New York School, which is interesting to see anywhere in
your work, but I suppose that might just be due to me . . . as I’m much
more familiar with your work from around 1990 through the present. 
Perhaps what’s more interesting is that you’ve never signed your name
up under a “movement,” but rather that you’ve collected influences from
all (or many) different poetries and, even when using a stalwart like
Shakespeare, make a source text/influence your own.  (I think Bloom
called this the clinamen, as I’ve now found myself making some Anxiety
of Influence style remarks. . . .)  I enjoy the ‘sonnet erasures’ that
create where late the sweet [BIRDS SANG] because I enjoy contemporary
adaptations of the sonnet form.  Specifically, I look at Shakespeare
and see that the first thing he did was redefine the form of the sonnet
to fit his time and his needs, but for some reason some stalwarts
within much of academia have a difficult time accepting any further
adaptation or variation of the form.  I suppose I’m driving at two
different ideas here, so I’ll start with the larger and then go into
the smaller:  1) I think many have most closely identified you with so-
called Language Poetry (I can no longer bear to write that out with the
+ signs between characters . . . just irks me), and I’m interested in
your take on “movements” and “schools” within poetry in relation to
your own poetry.  And 2) within the ‘sonnet erasures’ was there a
procedural approach to what was ‘left behind,’ or what craft/form did
you use to turn these sonnets into your own?
SR                                                [November 15-16, 2008]
Ah, Jeff, more questions — good ones!  And now it’s a week since I’ve
picked up any or all of this, sat down to think about it, looked (now)
at what you’ve sent me, which shows up here (now) on the screen.  And
before I try to get to it, in some form of ‘response’ to what you are
thinking about here, let me once again include this morning’s poem-as-

pale orange of sky above blackness of trees,
white circle of moon behind branch in upper
right foreground, sound of waves in channel
      parallelism and contrast, same
      combinations of lines
      not simple, what is in picture,
      moves on from “light”
silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
shadowed green canyon of ridge above it

And wouldn’t you know it, when I went to look at the page in the pile
of pages in the living room, there was a ‘typo’ — the first line read
“first pale orange of sky blackness of trees” (no “above” present, as
was meant to be, and had been, but somehow ‘missing’ in the action of
the line — and easily enough ‘fixed’ by substituting “above” in place
of “first”. . .).  Anyway, I realize in looking at this one that it’s
the two middle pairs of lines that act as a kind of thinking/thought/
reflection on the two outer, framing sets of lines, which are what is
‘going on’ out there in the observed/perceived world; the two ‘middle
lines’ being the mental afterimage, which takes place offstage, so to
speak, elsewhere and otherwise, in the language that thinks what goes
on out there, brings it into its own existence by means of just these
words. . . .
As for your “two different ideas here” — or questions, if that’s what
they are? — the one about “so-called Language Poetry” (without the “+
signs,” by which you mean “= signs” I think) and the other about what
“procedural approach” I may have used in doing the Shakespeare sonnet
“erasures” (a word I never actually thought of myself as doing when I
wrote that book, and still don’t like to use in relation to that work
though I realize that people do use it in reference to work like this
work, for whatever that’s worth).  I’m sure I’ve said to you, or hope
that I have, that I don’t see any value in using terms like “Language
Poetry” in reference to work that falls outside the historical moment
in which such work was originally made, by those writers who made it. 
I said something about this at the beginning of Listening to Reading,
noting that the “experimental” writing that I take up in that book (I
could have said “’avant-garde,’ ‘postmodern,’ ‘innovative,’ ‘language
writing’” and in fact did use those ‘labels’ to point toward the work
that I take up in that book, whose primary concern isn’t to name that
work but to ask how it works, how this writing invites us to read.  I
wouldn’t call myself a Language Poet because, though I was in a class
with Ron when we were both at Berkeley, I wasn’t part of the group of
writers who were becoming active in the Bay Area just at that time —
i.e., the mid 1970’s, when the reading series at the Grand Piano that
is now lending its name to a series of books called The Grand Piano /
An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, San Francisco, 1975-1980
Silliman, Armantrout, Hejinian, Perelman, Watten et. al. (all of them
as ‘different’ from one another as they could possibly be).  I’d come
to Bolinas by 1973, was moving on in the graduate program at Berkeley,
commuting down to Stanford as a Stegner Fellow in ‘74-’75, becoming a
father, working on the Campion project (finished after nine months of
writing at the end of 1978) — and only after that did I really ‘learn’
about the so-called Language Poets, when Bill Berkson (about the only
poet I even knew in Bolinas at that time) gave me his set of original
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazines, published by Charles and Bruce Andrews, in
New York, and what a mind-opening experience that was for me.  What a
welcome change, I mean, not just from the world of Renaissance poetry
(which I still teach a class in and still love, some poems from which 
— by Wyatt, Raleigh, Sidney, Shakespeare, Donne, Jonson, and Herrick,
not to mention Campion — are of still great and lasting VALUE to me!)
but from the dry world of academe that I’d been more or less part of,
but also rather completely on the fringe of for the last six or seven
years, at least since moving to Bolinas.  And all of a sudden I found
myself finished with Berkeley and looking at whole new possibilities,
in poetry I mean — a happy coincidence for me as it turned out since,
at that point, I was completely ready to take up my own writing again
in light of what I saw these ‘contemporaries’ doing in their new work —
all of it very exciting to me, all of it undertaken while standing on
the ground of all I had learned about poetry from working on Campion. 
But wait a minute, look! — it’s already the next day, and so it’s now
time again to ‘read’ this morning’s poem, if only ‘for the record’ so
to speak, so you’ll get a sense of what I’ve been seeing and thinking
about, even as we speak:

red orange of sun rising above still dark
trees, whiteness of moon in pale blue sky
across from it, sound of waves in channel
      that is time-subject and time
      -object, temporality
      to which color was added, red,
      executed in charcoal
whiteness of waning moon in pale blue sky,
tree-lined green canyon of ridge below it

And so you too can see the sun coming up “red orange . . . above still
dark trees,” the now waning “whiteness of moon in pale blue sky across
from it,” just as you too can hear the “sound of waves in channel.”  I
hope so at least!  Also that “whiteness of waning moon” and that “tree-
lined green canyon of ridge” (two things noted the day before, while I
was out in the water).  And between these two ‘sets’ of perceptions of
‘real’ things in the world, two found ‘adaptations’ of thoughts, taken
from two things that I happened to read yesterday (Merleau-Ponty first,
Kandinsky second) which seem to have various things to do with what is
(or should I say now was) noted in the opening and closing lines whose
perception of those ‘real’ (actual) ‘onstage actions’ may make what is
‘said’/thought in relation to them somehow, if not more present, maybe
at least more shown, in that saying, bring them as Heidegger might say
from “concealment” into “unconcealment.”
In any case, going back for a moment to Bill Berkson’s copies of those
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazines, really almost the first thing that happened
(after New York Notes I mean, which also had a certain indebtedness to
Bill, who’d grown up in New York, including of course the world of New
York School poetry, and who’d also helped ‘orient’ me to what I’d find
in Manhattan on my first visit there — how to take the Lexington train
up to the Met, MOMA, Whitney, and Guggenheim, for instance) was what I
did in the book now called Distance.  I say “now called” because I had
originally, as I was writing it, called it Random House, because every
word in it came out of the Random House dictionary, an idea I got from
Bill Berkson (again!), who suggested to me, following Bernadette Mayer
no doubt (though I didn’t know that at the time and only now think it)
in her list of ‘writing experiments,’ “why not write something using a
‘fixed vocabulary’?”  What a great idea! — why not the vocabulary in a
dictionary!  So I started turning pages in my (red) copy of the Random
House Collegiate Dictionary, ‘finding’ a word or words on one page and
then another and then another that somehow ‘went together’ or could be
made (as poein comes from the Greek meaning “to make”) to go together. 
That was certainly something ‘different’ from what I had been doing on
my own before then, and when I started to send it out to publishers, I
found that people were interested, seemed to like it, but kept sending
me ‘rejection’ notes saying things like “we really like this but we’re
going out of business,” or “we like this but we can’t possibly take on
any new work at this point.”  And I thought to myself, this is strange
indeed — maybe I should publish it myself.  After all, look at Whitman
and Leaves of Grass, and Dickinson and the fascicles in her desk after
she died, and Williams and Pound and Creeley and every other poet most
admired, who’d all more or less taken a hand in putting out their work
to a public who otherwise might never had known about it.  Including I
would say here also Lyn Hejinian, whom I’d written to ask what she, as
a poet I now also most admired, would say about starting up a press to
publish (first) my own book and then books by other writers whose work
I liked, and wanted to ‘support’ — and this is the story behind Avenue
JS                                                    [November 12, 2008]
Yes, we can certainly talk further about how you “present and channel
yourself and others.”  My take, and of course let me know if I’m way
off course, is along the same lines as the evolution of Morandi’s work,
and the evolution of your own.  The people in your text were once real
people, but over time have become essences of people or the forms of
people . . . some might call them characters . . . but nonetheless have
become people as “form and/or light.”  I suppose we could zoom out
again and look at a title REAL, and take a look at a regular practice
of documentation, observation, recording, and routine, and look at the
differences between what is ‘real’ and what something/someone is within
a collection of poems.
SR                                                    [November 16, 2008]
Hmmmmmm.  What do you ‘mean’ by this!  Pretty interesting notion, that
something/someone is both ‘real’ and exists in a “series of poems.”  I
think it’s true of course, things and people do exist ‘out there’, and
also in writing, in poems.  And poems, at least the ones I am thinking
about here, have the capacity to ‘enact’ or otherwise bring into being
those things and people that they are looking at, or coming out of, or
being ‘inspired’ by or ‘based’ upon.  This is not simply about “moving
information from one place to another,” as Kenny Goldsmith has put it,
“information” being in that case “words,” but more a case of how words
are things, can be made to be the things they point to, talk about, or
otherwise make mention of. . . .  What’s in the poem isn’t, of course,
exactly what’s ‘out there’ in the world – two different ‘animals’ that
are related but decidedly not identical — one physical and one made of
words (which are themselves also indeed ‘physical’).  But words have a
life of their own too, made up or and in their own history of being in
the world, being used to ‘say’ things in speech and in writing, and as
such their presence ‘at hand’ is particularly moving to me, as well as
‘interesting’ to contemplate and make use of, to say the least.
JS                                                    [November 12, 2008]
We’ve been chatting here via Microsoft Word attachment since mid-July, 
and maybe it would be beneficial to talk a bit about the form of the
interview in general.  The purpose of an exchange such as this one,
what you as a poet would like to accomplish within these pages, and
perhaps the larger context of an interview within a poet’s body of
poetic work.  A way to hash out poetics separate from an essay form?  A
conversation adapted for public viewing?  A means for a non-
confessional poet to speak personally?  Since we’re around 60 pages
deep, we might as well figure out what we want to do with these pages.
. .
SR                                                    [November 16, 2008]
Well, what to say about this?  The interview is a great form for one
thing, I think.  (I published a book of interviews with Ted Berrigan –
co-published I should say, by Avenue B and Leslie’s O Books – called
Talking in Tranquility, and it was really interesting to edit it, to
see in the original typescripts of those interviews how different it
can be from one ‘conversation’ to the next, some of them written and
some spoken, all of them at different times in Berrigan’s life, that
making such a difference (in what he was thinking and talking about),
not to mention the different ‘perspectives’ of those people who were
doing those interviews.)  And here, I realize, it gives me some real
occasion to think and talk about things I otherwise don’t quite ever
do, it seems – my work, what I’m doing now, what I’ve been doing all
these years, and so on.  And it’s been a great pleasure to me to get
a chance to ‘speak’ (I mean of course ‘write’ – this writing part of
what’s going on here, my shaping of these words on these pages) with
you (in what’s becoming a kind of ‘profile,’ or ‘mini-autobiography’
even).  And as for what “to do with these pages” as you say, I’d say
let’s just keep on going, see what comes up, where we get. . . .
JS                                                    [November 12, 2008]
Every time I’ve made the mountainous drive from Oakland to Bolinas and
back, which has only ever been to visit you, I’ve thought ‘what a
perfect motorcycle commute.’  As you have to make that drive 3 days a
week or so for work, I ask with all seriousness if you’ve ever
considered buying a motorcycle. . . .  Route 1 just seems wholly
designed for a beautiful motorcycle ride.
SR                                                    [November 16, 2008]
Nope, never, can’t say I have.  Once drove a some kind of small scooter
or motorcycle from San Anselmo out to the Sonoma Coast, planning to get
away for a few days of camping.  I went down to one of the beaches, and
when I got back up to the road all my stuff was gone! — my bags I mean,
just that scooter/motorcycle standing there, and so I made my way back
to civilization.  When I first starting driving over to Mills, I had a
1968 Volkswagon bus, and after a year of that I realized it was just a
matter of time before I’d get smacked on the freeway, nothing but that
thin piece of metal between my body and the oncoming car.  And so that
next year I found an old BMW 2002, for sale across the road from Mills
in fact, and that became my commute car for eight or nine years, until
my daughter drove it off the road above Stinson one foggy morning (she
was driving it to the city on her first day of her senior year in high
school, the road was wet, the tires might have been low, she went into
a skid and ended up ten feet below the road on a flat piece of ground,
car turned around and roof smashed in — so it had rolled — one scratch
on her finger (a lucky girl!).  In any case, we need our cars out here
in Bolinas, it’s being so ‘far away’ being both a curse and a blessing
— mostly of course a blessing.
JS                                                    [November 12, 2008]
I wonder if you might talk a bit about your relationship with Bob
(Robert Grenier) and the influence each of you has had on one
another’s work. 
SR                                                [November 22-23, 2008]
Oh, what a question.  Bob’s been a great presence in my life, that’s
for sure!  I can’t quite remember when we first ‘officially’ met, it
was sometime in the mid eighties, maybe when he came over with David
Bromige for a visit (I’d met David in 1984 when I was teaching up at
Sonoma State that spring) and again when he moved to Bolinas in 1989
(but I may well have met him back in Berkeley in 1970 or 71, because
I’d gone to Richard Tillinghast’s house on Arch Street, for a class,
and Bob was living in that house at that time, so we might have seen
each other at that time).  But in any case we somehow started to get
together more or less once a week to read things — Olson, Pound, and
Whitman were the first things, and it’s moved on since then, and now
has been ‘stuck’ (happily for me) on Heidegger for a number of years
now.  The people involved have changed over time — the core group is
now Sean Thackrey (my next door neighbor/famous wine maker/collector 
of rare books on winemaking/fluent in German), his ex-wife Susan (Dr.
Thackrey he calls her, who also reads the German and drives out from
the city each week), Etel Adnan and Simone Fattal (when they’re here,
in the Bay Area, rather than in Paris) and Tinker Greene, who drives
out from the city as well.  And last Thursday night, Johanna Drucker
also showed up, and an especially lively night it was, I have to say. 
Really, there is so MUCH MORE to say about Bob and our relation, and
what he means and has meant to me — but it’s getting late now, and I
have to get up in the morning (poem and surf before Oakland), and so
I’ll have to leave it for another session, which I hope will be soon!
And now it’s the ‘next day’ or, I should say, several days later, and
so before starting in on Bob again I’ll give you this morning’s poem,
which I hope also might provide some sort of segue back to what I can
say here, short of writing a book I mean —

red orange of sky above blackness of trees,
curve of waning white moon above branches
in foreground, sound of waves in channel
      diagram of positions, point
      of successive leaves
      its reflection, conspicuous,
      did not matter if it
silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
shadowed green slope of ridge across it

One thing that occurs to me vis-à-vis this one in relation to Bob is
that they’re ALWAYS written in the morning, first thing, the opening
three lines always have to do with what’s going on ‘out there’, when
eyes/ears first open, as nearly as possible at least to that time of
day.  That’s something that Bob has noted, probably in ‘contrast’ to
his own habit of working/living — when I called him this morning, at
just before 9 (I’d been awake since first light, had already written
this, had seen that light coming into the south eastern sky where it
begins to get first get light now that the sun has traveled south so
far, almost to its farthest point south, almost the shortest day and
longest night of the year), thinking he’d be awake, he WAS awake and
said he was about to go back to sleep, since he’d been awake since 4
(he often wakes up then, and gets up and reads or goes outside for a
look at things, and then goes back to sleep.  But last night he stays
awake it seems, and so he was going to sleep a bit more if he could.  
I thought for a moment about the schedule he used to keep, working
nights as a proofreader at the law firm in the city, getting home
afterwards, going to bed, getting up later on.  That was what he
happened to do on the work days/nights when I first met him and
somehow, I don’t know quite how he did it, he’d shift into the
opposite, day schedule on the weekends.  And he still ‘works’ —
writing, I mean — mostly at night, and so the signs of such
‘signatures’ in his work — moons, owls, dark, — along with
transcriptions of two of his most recent prints on my wall.
Well, you know, Bob is such a figure in my life, my ‘best friend’ in
Bolinas (along with Michael Gregory, who is a great painter & surfer
too, whom I’ve known for a long time and who I talk to most everyday. 
Every time he has a new show of paintings in New York, San Francisco,
Ketcham, ID, I go over to his house to help him figure out names for
the paintings — words/lines/phrases from poems, sometimes mine; it’s  
a pleasure for me since I am always stunned by his work, as ‘realism’
that verges on complete ‘abstraction’ — not as Morandi would do it I
mean but there’s something about the way the paint ‘happens’ against
the canvas that’s moving, beautiful to see, especially to me because
sometimes he finds a title for something he’s done that comes out of
something I’ve written, which seems to ‘fit’ it after all, after the
fact.)  But anyway, back to Bob. . . .   
And now it’s ‘the next day’ again!  So it’s time to turn back to this
morning’s poem, and maybe I can find a way to connect it back to what
you asked about my relationship to Bob, our ‘influence’ on each other,
etc. —

bright orange circle of sun above branches
of trees, white curve of moon in pale blue
sky across from it, sound of wind overhead
      linear development of branch,
      displays combinations
      ‘in itself’ is horizon, form,
      that a being which is
white cloud in pale blue sky on horizon,
silver of sunlight reflected in channel

And what comes to mind here is that the naming of real things here —
“bright orange circle of sun above branches/ of trees,” and “white
curve of moon in pale blue/ sky across from it” and “sound of wind
overhead” — ‘actions’ really happening this morning, perceived and
‘noted’ in words that attempt to write them down, ‘transcribe’ and
thereby also ‘translate’ them into words that can (somehow) become
them, this naming of things in words that make them “be themselves,”
“look like themselves,” is something of what, to put it too simply,
‘happens’ in one of Bob’s drawing poems, his “AFTER NOON SUN SHINE
that’s up there on the wall beside the front door, afternoon sun’s
light no longer shining on it though it was a while ago, its red &
black & green & blue inks shadowed, the blue ‘circle’ above “i” in
“shine” being written almost to the top of the page, ‘overlapping’
“AFTER” and “NOON” and being, as Bob says, the sun itself.  That’s
really something I think, how can that be?  What Bob does here and
elsewhere (indeed, everywhere!), does, again to put it too simply,
‘inspire’ me. 
As for my ‘influence’ on him I have no idea — something to ask him.
JS                                                      [January 5, 2009]
My apologies for the delay (the mildly interesting part is that anyone
who reads this will just go from the previous q & a to this one without
any idea that a month has lapsed since we last added an exchange to
this document).  I lost my focus on just about everything creative I’d
been working on; I don’t really know why . . . maybe just a necessary
period of avoiding my stubborn persistence with the same projects.  In
any case, thinking of that has got me curious about how you might deal
with similar situations with your own work.  For example, if I read
Portraits & Repetition and then read REAL the similarities and the
differences of form are evident.  Two questions, I suppose:  do you
finish with one text and move to another as the form evolves from one
to the other, or do you decide to finish a text & consciously change a
form after deciding to move on?  That is, do you decide when the text
ends, or does the form decide for you when you’ve exhausted what you’d
like to achieve with it?  And two, is there transitional material that
you write between texts, work that we never see, or does one text lead
directly into the next?  This is all essentially concerned with a very
small element of process and craft; as I said, my focus has wavered a
bit, and I’m curious as to how you maintain, sustain, and grow your
focus as it relates to each text (especially your larger works) and how
you know when to consider one “finished.”
SR                                                  [January 13-15, 2009]
Well, thanks for this!  And yes, it’s been a while now, the last I sent
you something was 11.23, and it’s now 1.13.09 (already), time’s passing 
even as we speak.  I got a real sense of it today/night, looking at sun
setting into a completely calm/’pacific’ ocean, disappearing below that
line of horizon, bright (blinding) orange circle becoming flattened out
as it began to slip away, thinner and thinner until it was just a line,
out there on the horizon, line getting shorter and shorter until it was
just a point, and then gone — just colors.  No green flash, which I was
looking to see but can’t say that I did — though I thought I would, and
hoped at least that I might, the conditions looking good tonight. . . . 
Anyway, it’s a really good question, one I’m thinking about a lot these
last days myself in fact, since the question (for me) of when a work is
done or ‘finished’ is something I’m trying to figure out now, since the
work I’m doing now seems to be somewhere between a continuation of what
I’ve been working on for a long time now (1,279 consecutive days, to be
exact) and a new poem/work, that began just 279 days ago (on April 10th
in Paris, in fact) and has been going on since then.  I realize I don’t
REALLY have to ‘figure this out’ — answer this question, I mean — right
now, all I really have to do is keep writing the poem, day by day, that
will be enough.  But nonetheless the issue of when the work is finished
came up for me at that point, since the work I’d been writing, which is
(or was) called Remarks on Color, had reached its predetermined ‘end’ I
thought, at page 1,000, and so should have come to an end, except there
I was in the Hotel Suede in Paris, staying in the room with my daughter
Oona and getting up early to go teach some classes at the International
School of Paris, no time to THINK about what would come next (as a work
I mean) and not wanting simply to STOP — not having a sense of presence
about me, in which to ‘figure out’ the next step so to speak, and so it
seemed the only thing to do was to KEEP GOING, write the poem for April
10, which continued more or less where the one from April 9 had stopped
(as you would see if I quoted them here, which maybe I SHOULD do!), and
Oona asking too “why do you have to stop? why can’t you just continue?” 
And of course she was right (as usual!) and so I did just that, kept on
with it and here we are today at page 1,279, and the pages piling up on
the table in the living room, and by now I realize how easily I can let
that happen, and either let Remarks on Color ‘stop’ at p. 1,000 and the
new (current) work begin at that point, or let it keep going, it really
doesn’t matter much to me at this point — the point is just to keep the
work going, try to make it ‘happen’ from one day to the next, every day
a new piece of the whole, larger ‘thing’ (whatever it is!).  Anyway, it
might be interesting to look at that those two poems, April 9 and April
10, just to see how ‘connected’ they are (or are not), at least in time
and place, and how the question you ask about how I “decide to finish a
text” is really a question about what the work is, its epistemology you
might say, which is something I’m thinking about a lot these days since
the stack of pages in the next room keeps getting taller, and I keep on
wondering what to ‘do’ with it, what ‘good’ is it, etc. . . .

silver circle of sunlight in grey whiteness of sky,
shadowed plane of sandstone-colored wall in lower
left foreground, sound of cars passing in street
      when eye wanders away from the edge,
      white crops the image
      in this way, horizon of possible,
      though each appearance
edge of sandstone wall against grey white sky,
shadowed green leaves of trees across from it
first grey light coming into sky above shadowed
wall, bird calling on branch in left foreground
across from it, sound of cars passing in street
      seeing a shadow, am conscious
      of having seen nothing
      lines sometimes broken, drawn,
      more or less pressure
whiteness of sky reflected in green glass wall,
shadowed sandstone-colored wall across from it

I can’t say much about these at this point — the buildings of Paris
are there, sound of bird on branch, cars on street — I can see/hear
it all (in my mind’s eye/ear) but that’s not really the point, it’s
more that these things ‘happened’ — onstage action so to speak — in
that real time and place, and were ‘transcribed’ just as they ‘show
themselves’ here (I’m anticipating the question you’ve asked below,
about Heidegger, here), along with ‘adaptations’ of statements from
Sol LeWitt and Merleau-Ponty in “4.9,” and an essay called “Poussin
and Nature:  Arcadian Vision” by Pierre Rosenberg (in the NYRB) and
something from an essay by Briony Fer (in a book called Abstraction: 
New Methods of Drawing which Oona had) in “4.10.”  Anyway the place
and time connected to ‘readings’ / text material, going on in these
two poems, one MAYBE the last of one work and the next the FIRST of
the next work. . . the most recent installment of which is this one
from today —

orange of sun rising behind shadowed green
trees, white circle of moon above branches
in left foreground, sound of wind overhead
      sun behind trees, same view
      of field behind trees
      to begin the following line,
      perceptually, forward
blue whiteness of sky to the left of point,
sunlit green slope of ridge across from it

— same stuff going on, more or less — things ‘happening’/perceived in
the landscape, coupled with (placed beside) things I’ve run across in
my recent reading, in this case a book on Van Gogh’s drawings next to
something from T. J. Clark’s The Sight of Death, a fascinating ‘close
reading’ of two paintings by Poussin.  Which might raise the question
Why put these things together?  What’s going on here?
But back to your question (and now it’s two days later, so we see how
time keeps going on, how the ‘continuity’ of the (writing) work seems
to get interrupted by daily ‘things — this morning, my friend Michael
Gregory called me up and said, “we really have to go” [to the city to
surf] and since the conditions looked good and we both ‘had the time’
we did.  And it was good, beautiful really even though the waves were
small, perfect conditions for Ocean Beach, and by the time I got back
it was almost time to pick up Johnny from the preschool, and now it’s
tonight, too late really to get back into THIS but I wanted to make a
mark at least, not let too much time go by before getting back to you
again!  And this is really, for me, part of what’s at issue in what’s
behind your ‘question’ — how to decide when a text ends and what will
happen next, in the writing.  It’s the ‘what’s next?’ part that’s the
hardest — once you stop, what do you do?  Will you be able to start a
new ‘project’?  Do anything else?  And that’s sort of (in part) why I
am still putting the pages I’m writing now on top of the pages in the
Remarks on Color pile, that work having arrived at page 1,000 back in
April and this new work (if it IS a new work) having started up then,
the next day (“one text lead[ing] directly into the next,” as you say
here, and as it has been from REAL to CLOUD / RIDGE to HUMAN / NATURE
to Remarks on Color to (now) Temporality, i.e, 3,229 consecutive days
(and the 474 pages/days of Portraits & Repetition before that, except
that there WAS a break from P&R to REAL — a break from 5.28.99, which
is when P&R stopped, until 3.15.00, which is when REAL started, so it
was an ‘hiatus’ in the writing of these long works of some nine and a
half months — how many days exactly, I wonder?  Was 2000 a leap year? 
I really MUST figure it out, right now! -- 2000 WAS a leap year, so I
must have taken a break of exactly 291 days between P&R and REAL, and
otherwise they’ve just kept going from one to the next, no ‘stopping’
at all, each one being a different work, written in a different form,
but also part of the larger whole continuous ‘work’ that’s now become
what I’m doing these days, it seems.  Anyway as you can see, it’s all
about numbers — P&R and REAL and CLOUD / RIDGE are all 474 pages/days
(an arbitrary number, something that came about in the writing of P&R
and I thought, when I started up again after that break of nine and a
half months, “maybe I can do a set of THREE such books, a ‘tryptich’”
— and so that became a possibility, something to aim for.  And then I
did that and thought “What next?”  And started in, with a new ‘form’/
‘shape’ on the page, to the work that became HUMAN / NATURE, which as
I approached page/day 474 didn’t want to stop, and so I continued it,
thinking at some point that maybe it could go on to page/day 1,000, a
work perhaps comparable to Stein’s The Making of Americans, her 1,000
page novel (though in the Something Else Press edition that I have it
is something like 928 pages, I forget exactly what — so maybe she was
rounding it up?  Anyway, maybe that brings me up to today’s poem, the
one I wrote in the notebook before driving Johnny to school, and then
driving on into the city with Michael to surf; the one I typed when I
got back home, before driving back to Stinson to pick up Johnny —

orange circle of sun rising behind shadowed
green branches, half moon in pale blue sky
across from it, sound of waves in channel
      angles formed “left,” “above”
      and “below” the other
      trees in landscape, principle
      subject, living being
silver line of sun reflected in channel,
waning white moon in cloudless blue sky

— more of sun rising through trees, a waning moon setting across from
it (nothing but clear blue skies these days, no rain in sight), which
‘frame’ things ‘found’ in Kandinsky and the Van Gogh book of drawings
(both of which have been ‘adjusted’ to fit the ‘requirements’ of line
length, shape-on-the-page, etc., both of which also have something to
do with those things perceived, or so I think).
JS                                                      [January 5, 2009]
Earlier we chatted a bit about Molly Lou Freeman and Carnet de Route;
Molly reviewed REAL for the St. Mark’s Poetry Project Newsletter (#215
April/June 08).  One point she brings up:

REAL proposes a masterful correlative to da Vinci’s notions of
the visual—in the now.  Ratcliffe explores the figure, the
landscape, the composition of perspective in the service of the
poem and as the action of pictorial composition—with exquisite
rigor of syntactical form—to mimetically and philosophically
examine the sentence and poetic line—a system of notation of the
reality—like a painter’s.

Formally, there exists an internal musicality to all your work, as well
as something that could be compared to Mondrian’s paintings and “grids”
. . . not to mention something of sculpture in the clear abundance of
text you create before chiseling down the page count for each title. 
There’s also something reminiscent of photography or of filmmaking. 
Ultimately, and this is something Molly covers in wonderful detail, is
that perhaps the “realness” of your work lies somewhere in this
confluence of forms and art-forms, and then in how this is all observed
and objectively presented.  And what of this confluence?  Is it
intentional, or a byproduct of a life spent open to influence from all
SR                                                     [January 18, 2009]
Well, yes, I like what you say here about Mondrian’s paintings (which I
am looking at a lot these days, and ‘reading’ in catalogues of the show
I first saw at the Whitney in 1983 I think (the poem we talked about in
New York Notes came out of that, with the line about Morandi’s painting
the same thing over and over again – “Landscape and Landscape and Still
Life and Still Life”) and the recent show at the Met – and also “grids”
(as in Mondrian, say, whose name I recently realized is almost, but not
quite, an anagram of “Morandi”), the horizontal/vertical shape of lines
on my pages being somehow analogous to the grid in those paintings.  In
today’s poem, coincidentally, the words in the first two indented lines
come from that first Morandi book —

red orange of sun rising through dark green
of trees, white half moon in pale blue sky
across from it, sound of wind in branches
      in three-dimensional pattern,
      from lower left corner
      of the frame, see foreground,
      arrived at point where
blue white horizon to the left of point,
slope of sandstone cliff across from it

So there’s something about the exact same length of the lines in these
two middle stanzas that’s like the shaping of two-dimensional space in
Mondrian’s painting, by means of his use of horizontal/vertical lines,
as well as primary colors (red, yellow, blue, in variously repetitive-
seeming patterns that really aren’t quite ever exactly the same), plus
the relation between patterns in the three-dimensional, physical world
‘out there’ and the two-dimensional, physical world of the poem on the
page, that’s going on here.  And that’s part of what I’m trying to get
at here, figure out here:  what is that relation between what’s ‘going
on’ in the world (‘there’) and on the page (‘here’)?  What is language
doing in ‘writing down’ (“showing,” as Heidegger would say) such ‘real
things’ as “sun rising through dark green/ of trees”?  And I also like
what you say here about “sculpture,” especially now in relation to the
two piles of pages on the table in the next room (1,000 pages of HUMAN
/ NATURE on the right, 1,284 pages of Remarks on Color and Temporality
on the left), the ‘materiality’ of words becoming part of the physical
JS                                                      [January 5, 2009]
For some time now you’ve participated in a (weekly?) Heidegger reading
group.  Admittedly, my reading of Heidegger is not remotely
comprehensive, and so to make it as basic as possible, there appears to
be a clear focus of the differences between “being” and the “nature of
being” . . . that is, Heidegger seems to dislike philosophy’s attention
on “being” itself, and the construction of reality outward from that
definition, and focuses his work instead on questions of what “being”
itself is.  Working backwards, apparently, to assuage a permanence of
being and posit instead a history of being.  I’m curious about the
relationship of your own work to this type of idea.  With a title such
as REAL, the reader might expect clear, straightforward “reality”; what
we confront instead is an enormous collection of reality and realities
as they interweave to build a palimpsest and grid of realities that are
“real” only in a dichotomy of singularity and permanence and repetition
and impermanence . . . objective poetic presentations of real
observations as they happen and within their contexts, and (perhaps
most importantly) in their entirety . . . maybe the story,
documentation, and history of what is real (or it becomes the history
by the time the text reaches the reader), rather than simply what is
real.  Is that a fair correlation at all?  Are there other specific
elements from Heidegger that have shaped your work as a whole?
SR                                                     [January 18, 2009]
Oh, what a question!  You know, I really can’t comment on what you say
here (about what Heidegger is doing/saying/thinking I mean).  But what
I CAN say is that we (Bob, Etel Adnan, Simone Fattal and I) started to
read the essays in Heidegger’s Early Greek Thinking, it must have been
in the spring of 2000, because that’s when references begin to show up
in REAL, which means (to me) that that’s when I began to read and also
think about Heidegger.  Those essays (“The Anaximander Fragment,” then
“Logos [Heraclitus, Fragment B 50],”, then “Moira [Parmenides VIII, 31-
1943-1954, according to the “Translators’ Preface” (twenty years after
Being and Time), were a revelation to me, in that they seem ‘connected’
to my own work.  To give you some idea of what I’m thinking about here,
here are the references to Heidegger that come up in REAL:  

Short grey-haired man reading Heidegger's Being and Time almost
40 years ago, human defined as being-toward-death.  (12.24)
Man in blue shirt thinking of Robinson Crusoe's "shipwrecked
English sailor who lived for years on a small tropical island,"
Heidegger's notion of those who persist in hanging on. (2.20)
Heidegger explaining that saying is "letting-lie-together-
before," which is "the very presencing of what is present."
Man on the phone thinking Heidegger relates to what man in blue
shirt is doing, moving what may be "concealed" into
"unconcealment." (3.17)
Heidegger thinking we have ears because we need to hear "the
ringing of plucked strings," which they hear because they "always
already in some way belong to them." (3.29)
Man in black tee-shirt noting that the cucumber lies on the
ground, woman recalling Heidegger's proposition that "in
representational thinking everything comes to be a being." (4.22)
Woman in the green chair seeing that for Heidegger being and
becoming are the same, "bestowing on every presencing a light in
which something present can appear." (4.30)
Heidegger speaking of Greek phrase for sink into the clouds, man
in black sweatshirt drawing a box around "entire calm grey sky."
Heidegger thinking Heraclitus is lucid rather than obscure, who
writes of a "lighting whose shining he attempts to call forth
into language of thinking." (5.8)
Heidegger suddenly translating Homer's Greek for "to live, and
this means to see the light of the sun." (5.13)
Man in the blue shirt who walks up having parked the black car in
the driveway, wondering whether a woman reading Heidegger will be
able to translate a 12th century Arab manuscript on making wine.
Heidegger's penultimate paragraph beginning "the golden gleam of
lighting's invisible shining," man in black tee-shirt noting that
everyday you wake up you aren't dead. (5.20)
Woman on phone thinking that hearing mother's heartbeat in womb
made us want to beat on drum, Heidegger's sense that "the
gatherers assemble to coordinate the work to sheltering." (5.26)

And so you can see in some of these passages things that are obviously
of interest:  the notion that writing is "letting-lie-together-before,"
which is "the very presencing of what is present"; "bestowing on every
presencing a light in which something present can appear," a "lighting
whose shining he attempts to call forth into language of thinking."  I
am struck by Heidegger’s sense of how language makes the ‘real’ things
of the world present, brings them into existence, in a word ‘realizes’
them, in writing.  We have just now finished reading the last essay in
Basic Writings, called “The Way to Language,” which seems particularly
resonant with things I’m thinking about in my present work — relations
between “saying” and showing” (Sagen and Zeigen in Heidegger’s German,
which is constantly playing on the sounds/senses of words, which isn’t
something you get out of the English translation we’re using but which
we CAN get a sense of because we’re also looking at the German, thanks
to Sean Thackrey, the famous winemaker (and my next door neighbor) who
has been following the German with us since we started Elucidations of
Holderlin’s Poetry, and so we’re able to get a sense of what is taking
place in German that’s distorted/lost (in Keith Hoeller’s translation,
at least).  Anyway here we are, still reading Heidegger, a few pages a
week, reading and talking and talking and reading, with Susan Thackrey
and Tinker Greene also ‘in the mix’ — so it’s a ‘social event’ for all
of us as well as, of course, the reading.
JS                                                      [January 5, 2009]
We’ve already mentioned a musicality in your work, as well as certain
influences from musicians (Campion, Cage, et al).  How else has music
influenced your poetry?  Are there specific artists you listen to when
writing?  I know you’ve done some very interesting cross-genre readings
(opening up for a noise band at The Smell in LA, the aforementioned 14-
hour reading at UC Davis with musical accompaniment, etc.).  I suppose
I’m just trying to get you to chat a bit about where music lies in your
overall realm of influence and how it influences your work.
SR                                                     [February 1, 2009]
Well, yes, all these days since I last sat down to this, and here again
another ‘question’ I could go on (and on) about.  It would be too much,
possibly, to say that “music is everything” (and probably not accurate,
for that matter, since the visual shape of words on the page is crucial
to my work — as is also what the words are ‘saying’ I hope!), but it is 
central.  When I was young, I used to think that all I could do was put
syllables/words together by sound.  I took it as a kind of ‘lack’ on my
part — I couldn’t articulate ‘ideas’ or tell a ‘story’ or whatever, all
I seemed to be able to do was put ‘things’ (i.e., letters and syllables
and words and lines) together ‘by sound.’  Now I see it as something of
great ‘value’ in fact, something poets in one way or another inevitably
do.  Poems take place in time (at least when they are read) and letters
and syllables and words make sound (again, at least when they are read)
and what the ear hears when one writes is crucial to what gets written. 
What was for me at first completely ‘intuitive’ (how things sounded, in
relation to other things I mean) became, because of my work on Campion,
more conscious, something I realized was taking place even as I did it. 
And it’s continued that way ever since — I know a line is ‘set’ when it
sounds right — at least that’s part of the way I know, the other part’s
how it looks on the page (what the eye sees as well as ear hears).  And
so my sense of sound taking place in the poem goes on constantly, which
isn’t exactly the ‘music’ of the poem as much as it is attention to the
sound of the materials themselves.  It doesn’t have anything to do with
any actual music ‘out there’ (I don’t listen to music when I’m writing,
only to the sounds of birds and waves in the channel, it seems).  Here,
for example, is today’s poem, with something of the sounds I sensed are
taking place in these lines —

orange edge of sun rising behind shadowed
green branches, sparrow landing on table
in foreground, sound of wave in channel
      varying degree of resistance,
      the beginning of this
      attention, sphere that rises,
      its equivocal meaning
silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
shadowed canyon of ridge across from it

And what I could now point to (as things I was more or less consciously
aware of when I wrote this this morning) are:  the or sound in “orange”
and “foreground” in the first three lines, along with short a sounds in
“shadowed,” “branches,” “landing” and “channel”; a long a sound in both
“table” and “wave”; an ou sound in “foreground” and “sound.”  Relations
like these (which take place with these and other sounds in other lines
that follow — the long e of “green” reappears in “meaning,” the short a
of “channel” and “shadowed” is heard in “resistance,” “that,” “channel”
and “shadowed,” etc.  But enough of all this!  You see (or hear) what I
mean, I think!  And besides, the Super Bowl is over, your team won, you
must be happy!  (I confess, as the game went on, I found myself pulling
for the Cardinals, wanting them to make that miraculous final touchdown
BE the final touchdown, and then your team marched down the field as if
they were truly unstoppable, and they were, and then that last pass and
Holmes caught it and got both feet down in the end zone and that was it
. . . .)
JS                                                    [February 11, 2009]
Yeah, that Super Bowl was fantastic.  David Horton swung by as he was
one of the few locals (though has since relocated to China) who was
rooting for Pittsburgh. . . .  So I had all these drought-related
questions lined up – heard ya’ll got put on a 150-gallon-per-day ration
up there by the lagoon - and then the rain came back to town.  I track
water levels by the Codornices Creek, which flows from the Berkeley
Hills, forms the Albany/Berkeley border, and then hits the Albany Flats
as it mingles with bay tidewaters and returns to the ocean.  A half-
block north of Harrison Street there’s a little waterfall and a couple
piles of rocks that form some calm little eddies and some interesting
patterns before it all hits a culvert and gets directed below those
all-important streets and freeways.  Anyway, it’s not the best creek
around, but it’s the nearest to where I work and I take my lunch on
various rock islands, depending on the water level.  My favorite little
island is a bit boring when the water’s too low, and submerged when
it’s too high; this winter marks the first that I’ve seen where this
particular island has yet to be submerged.  I’ve never once taken the
time to look at the creek’s data for seasonal average CFS levels; I
just go by my little rock island.  I have no clue where this is going. 
I know you start every day with a trip into the water, but I also don’t
know very much about lagoons in general, and I guess I’m just trying to
get you talking about the drought and its impact on Bolinas, as you
seemed to be the hardest hit Bay Area community.  You know me; I’ve
always been a bit more interested in water levels than in poetry. . . .
SR                                                    [February 15, 2009]
Well now that you mention it. . . .  Yesterday the wind started to blow
again, out of the southwest, off the ocean, which means storm of course
— low pressure system moving in, winds going counter-clockwise, kicking
things up, the whole of Bolinas Bay beginning to turn white with waves,
breaking everywhere by the time I went out at 12 noon (late for me, yes
but I wanted to hang out with Johnny as long as I could before I had to
give him back to his mom, Valentine’s Day, the day before his birthday,
and now he’s gone again, alas). . . .  Anyway, I went out just to get a
bit wet, because I had some kind of ‘something’ that I must have picked
up from him — he threw up at the Heidegger reading Thursday night, over
at Etel and Simone’s house in Sausalito, right there in the living room
on the red Persian carpet! — and by yesterday I was feeling it too (and
he was fine again of course) but wanted to get in the water at least to
keep THAT going, and to see if I could do it in my ‘weakened condition’
too — but mostly just to go out there and SEE what was going on for the
record so to speak, for the poem I would write the next day, i.e., this
morning’s poem, which includes some ‘note’ of what was happening out in
all that weather —

grey whiteness of cloud against shadowed
green ridge, red finch perched on feeder
in foreground, sound of wind in branches
      plane, the way formal elements
      extend picture forward
      apparent size of object, color,
      ‘immune to influences’
grey rain cloud on horizon next to point,
gull standing on triangular orange GROIN

— e.g., rain clouds moving across the horizon, the gull standing there.
It’s hardly the whole picture (indeed, hardly any of it!) but something
at least, this activity of getting into the water part of my ‘research’
(as I now think of it) for the poem, along with various bits of reading
that also go into it — in the two middle stanzas I mean, the first here
from Kandinsky, the second from Merleau-Ponty, both of which I found in
looking through those books last night before I went up to bed at 7 pm,
the wind really blowing by then (but no real rain yet, that came later)
and it blowing all night, blew my rain gauge off the outside table so I
don’t how much rain fell. . . .  And so yes, the rains have come, maybe
there won’t be a drought this year after all? — but I doubt it, January
was completely dry (clear blue days, cold starry nights, excellent surf
conditions too, but where was the rain? — well it’s here now, so that’s
good, even your creek must be flowing. . . .).  And yes, Bolinas is now
all Postal Patrons (and was pinned to the front gate too — 150 gallons/
day/per household, and it seems to me that unless it rains non-stop for
the next two months we’ll have some serious water shortages this summer
— all our water comes from a small creek in the hills above Palo Marin,
after all (and if that goes dry, then what?). 
JS                                                    [February 11, 2009]
Speaking of basic cut & dry impacts, I’m curious about what your
process and practice of writing has most clearly established.  As I
look at your work, what seems evident to me is that the form and
approach you’ve built for yourself minimizes, if not gets rid of
altogether, the process of editing.  That is, if you’ve got something
that doesn’t sound ‘quite right’ you just get to move on from it the
next day. It’s so clearly set in the now, that there’s no need to try
and fix up the yesterday stuff.  Just moving on seems to be the most
natural way to edit, but I think a lot of folks (myself included) spend
a ton of time going back to try and improve what we were trying to say
. . . maybe this is the evolutionary poetics I always bring up . . .
the strongest survive, while the anomalies are quietly reserved for
your unpublished folders and files.  Or do you spend time editing and
reworking pieces before compiling a final manuscript?
SR                                                    [February 15, 2009]
A good segue (“cut and dry”). . . .  But I don’t quite get what you are
thinking here – at least hope I’m not “one of the anomalies” whose work
ends up in “unpublished folders and files.”  (Meanwhile those stacks of
pages on the table keep getting taller, one page at a time, and what to
do about that?)  But seriously, I DO “edit” each poem each day, just as
I do it (I mean as I TYPE it — the handwritten poem in the notebook no,
it’s just written out ‘as words,’ but when I type I go to the computer,
that same morning, that’s when everything gets ‘adjusted’ to fit what’s
going on visually, shape-wise, on the two-dimensional page).  And then,
I hope, it DOES “sound ‘quite right’” so I do “just get to move on from
it the next day . . . no need to try and fix up the yesterday stuff” as
you say – though when it comes time to publish the whole manuscript I’m
always faced with the problem of how (or even whether?) to bring things
that were written early in the project, when I didn’t quite know what I
was doing (in REAL for example, 5 sentences on each page, each sentence
with a comma, a certain visual ‘shape’ to the right margin, things like
that), how or whether to ‘adjust’ the earlier things to bring them into
‘line’ with what eventually came to be the shape of things in the book.
(The alternative, of course, is to leave everything as it stands in the
first, ‘original’ writing, so that the evolution of the work can become
apparent to someone who might be reading it — supposing there is such a
person, reading pages sequentially through the book.)  So yes of course
I go over all of it, VERY CLOSELY! when it comes time to put together a
“final manuscript” as you say (and also for poems going into magazines,
if I get to see proofs at least — and with things online there is often
something that gets ‘off’ with the indented lines, I’m not sure why but
it happens, something about sending it electronically it seems, e.g., a
line that is meant to begin three spaces to the right of the end of the
previous line, in a work like CLOUD / RIDGE or HUMAN / NATURE at least,
ends up beginning too far to the left, which messes up the shape of the
right margin, etc.).  But you’re right, writing a poem a day means that
you don’t really have time to ‘revise’ what you wrote yesterday, or the
day before that — a great ‘cure’ for someone who takes years to write a
‘perfect’ poem!  (Nor is it really “first thought best thought,” for me
at least, because I really AM working on those first thoughts even as I
am writing — or at least typing — them.)
JS                                                    [February 11, 2009]
Since we’ve mentioned your process and practice of writing numerous
times, I was wondering if you might walk us through or map out your
daily routine . . . what are the constants and what varies from day to
SR                                                    [February 15, 2009]
Well, it’s not much to speak about — I wake up and look out the window,
(I hear things before I open my eyes — “sound of wind in branches,” all
night long last night! “sound of waves in channel” every morning, birds
beginning to announce their presence), and go downstairs, make some tea
and toast, write down what I’ve seen and heard in the ‘little’ notebook 
(which then become the first three lines of the poem I write in a ‘big’
notebook, whose middle two sections come from the notes in the ‘little’
notebook, from things I’ve been reading, and whose final two lines also
come out of that ‘little’ notebook, a ‘transcription’ of what I saw out
in the water yesterday).  Then, usually, I go out in the water (time to
do more ‘research’!), then come back and type up what I’ve written, and
then move on to everything else that’s going on that day.  So that's it
more or less, with all the little adjustments one makes in a given day. 
But for me, doing the poem first is crucial, getting it written (before
everything else takes over!), because until that’s done something isn’t
quite right, and after I’ve written it, well, everything is good again.
. . . 
JS                                                       [March 24, 2009]
I wonder how your work as a Stegner Fellow at Stanford influenced your
work, or the role it filled among your various studies and scholarship. 
You were already in Bolinas when you began the fellowship, right?
That’s quite a commute from the lagoon down to Palo Alto.  I know
you’re primarily a Cal guy, but I wonder what your work as a Stegner
Fellow did both for your work and for you.
SR                                                    [March 24-29, 2009]
Ah, what a ‘question’. . . !  I could go on and on, and have in fact
been thinking about all of that because a woman in Italy wrote to me
(email, ‘out of the blue’) wanting me to send whatever thought I had
about my experience down there, for a book project she’s doing about
what she called the “key places of the american literary culture” –
this being the first book in the project she says (her name is Nicola
Manuppelli by the way, and I have no idea what’s going to come of all
this but I DID write something for her, getting me to think of things
that led up to it, and a bit of what it was to me, something of which
I’d like to think about here.  But first, because we haven’t ‘spoken’
in more than a month now, here’s today’s poem, just to catch
you up with things now that it’s spring (!) –

first silver edge of sun rising over black
ridge, birds calling from branches in left
foreground, sound of wind passing overhead
      independent visual events,
      spatial relationships
      linear formations, second,
      also without changing
silver line of sun reflected in channel,
bright blue sky on horizon beside point

(As you can see, the sun is moving north again, coming up over
the ridge again rather than behind the trees which are further
south from my vantage point here; and the birds are everywhere
first thing; and it’s getting windy; and we are now officially 
in the third year of less than normal rainfall, cloudless blue
sky on the horizon.  These things being among the “independent
visual events” that keep occurring here, in “linear formations  
. . . without changing” -- these adapted passages from Wai-Lim
Yip’s “Introduction to Chinese Poetry which we’ve been reading
between Heidegger books the last few weeks, and H. Minkowski’s
essay “Space and Time” from a book I picked up the last time I
read at Moe’s, I realize, called The Principles of Relativity,
with other pieces “By A. Einstein, H. A. Lorentz, and H. Weyl”  
— so much for ‘sources’.)
Anyway, another day — cloudless blue sky, tree-lined green ridge,
wind blowing sunlit green grass in the field in the foreground —
back to the Stanford thing, but first today’s poem, just typed —

grey light coming into sky above still black
ridge, birds calling from branches in lower
left foreground, sound of waves in channel
      land of blue tones and color,
      see a different light
      two surfaces, four variables,
      that the rotations of
green of ridge below cloudless blue sky,
silver of sunlight reflected in channel

— really into spring weather now, big wind last night, black sky filled
with stars, first light coming into the sky above black plane of ridge,
which is now sunlit dark or lighter green (where the trees are aren’t). 
Anyway, I thought maybe I could talk about the Stanford experience by
including here what I sent to Nicola Manuppelli in Italy, which might
never get seen here in English (I have no idea what she’s going to do
with this project, or if anything will happen at all for that matter).
So this is what I wrote, beginning with a little ‘history’:
I first heard about Yvor Winters and the legacy he’d created at
Stanford in 1968, as an undergraduate English major at Berkeley.  
At the prompting of two older high school friends who were also
at Berkeley, I took at class in Comp Lit from Elroy (or Roy, as
we all called him) Bundy, a professor at Classics and Comp Lit
who met with us once a week at his house on Milvia Street.  We
would sit around for 2-3 hours talk with him — mostly listening
to HIM talk, it now seems to me — about a few lines from a poem,
sometimes one of his poems, once a poem by Richard Wilbur, once
“The Astromers of Mont Blanc” by Edgar Bowers, sometimes a poem
by Winters himself (not the early ones, but ones like “The Slow
Pacific Swell,” one of Roy’s all-time favorites), and sometimes
even something by J.V. Cunningham — the epigrams from Dr. Drink
were something we talked about I think, Roy being now a reformed
alcoholic, who gave the credit for his turnaround not to AA but
to Yvor Winters, why I wasn’t quite sure, but it had to do with
Winters’ strength of moral conviction, his backbone, his “I can
do anything I set my mind to” attitude.  The most amazing thing
that came out of those late nights sitting around at Roy’s house
was the sense that words have meanings — multiple meanings, ones
that go way back in time, interlaced with one another, acting in
relation to one another across time and space.  Roy would sit in
a large chair in the living room surrounded by piles of books on
the floor — the OED (all 26 volumes were all there in the house),
Eric Partridge’s Dictionary of Word Origins, various poetry books
by Winters and his descendents (Bower’s The Astronomers plus The
Form of Loss, Cunningham’s Collected Poems and his book of essays,
Tradition and Poetic Structure, which was especially prized).  I’m
remembering all this from nearly forty years ago now, and it seems
almost as clear and fresh and exciting as it did then.  I learned
more about poetry in those few classes (we all enrolled each term —
whatever the ‘subject’/’topic’ might be, it was always how to read
poetry, poetry Roy wanted to read, which seemed fine to me at that
time) than I’d ever imagined before — about the ‘close reading’ of
poems, reading the words, thinking about them in relation to other
words, taking whatever time it took to read and think about just a
few lines (it would sometimes — often — take us weeks to read just
those few lines).  Anyway, there was Winters (or at least had been)
down at Stanford, teaching and writing his books, and I started to
read everything he had written, made him my “helmsman,” put myself
under his star. 
So there were the Collected Poems, The Early Poems of Yvor Winters,
and the books of critical writings — In Defense of Reason, The Form
of Loss, and its companion anthology Quest for Reality (all of them
published by Swallow, who had also published Cunningham and Bowers,
of course).  And then there was everything that Winters pointed to,
especially in The Form of Loss, all the poets and books one needed
to read in order to know what had been done up to this point, what
was important.  Winters and Pound were, in this regard, like twins
— one read them to find out not only what they thought but what one
needed to read, in order to know what to think at all, in the first
place.  (And so, for me, reading first Pound and then Winters, led
eventually to Campion, about whose song “Now Winter Nights Enlarge,”
which Winters praised in The Form of Loss and Quest for Reality, I
ended up writing my dissertation on — soon thereafter published as
Campion:  On Song, an entire book on one 24-line song, something I
owe in part to those classes at Roy Bundy’s house, as well as to a
fortunate meeting later in my time at Berkeley with Stephen Booth,
with whom I never had a class but who became my other great mentor,
showing — by his own brilliant example — how one really could read
a poem ‘closely.’)  But that came later, after my time at Stanford
(and also after meeting three other people at Berkeley all of whom
had been at Stanford and had known Winters.  One, N. Scott Momaday,
taught a Comp Lit “Studies in the Novel” class (we read Pan by Knut
Hamsen and Ivo Andric’s The Bridge on the Drina among other things)
and never really talked about Winters, though I knew of course that
Winters thought the world of his writing and had prompted the work
that led to his edition of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman’s Collected
Poems.  Another, Raymond (or Ray as I came to know him; both of us
were married to wives who had grown up on the same small street in
Mobile, Alabama and so we ended up spending a lot of time together)
Oliver, had studied poetry with Winters and continued to write his
own poems (he’d also written a wonderful book called Poems Without
Names, on the Medieval English short poem) celebrating an Horatian
‘good life’ centered around domestic happiness.  Ray introduced me
to one of his colleagues from Stanford, Thom Gunn, who was then in
San Francisco of course (he was later to teach at Berkeley himself,
and years later, when I taught there in several of Summer Sessions,
I had his office on the fourth floor of Wheeler Hall).  I remember
driving him home after dinner at Ray’s house that night, long hair
and blue jeans, the black leather jacket — as completely different
from Ray as one could imagine and yet there they were, both lovely
men who had encountered Winters at Stanford, learned from him, and
continued to forge ahead in their own very different writing.  And
so, as time went on and I heard about the possibility of getting a
Stegner Poetry Fellowship at Stanford, I made great sense to me to
try and get one. 
My first application went nowhere, but I reapplied the next year —
it must have been in late 1973 or early 1974 (we were living here,
in Bolinas, by then, I was working as a Teaching Assistant, making
that commute two days a week and trying to figure out how to write
a dissertation on Campion — I’d met Booth by then, didn’t know how
to proceed with things).  Anyway, the second application worked, I
had sent them poems that impressed them enough I guess — one might
have been the one I called “On the Yacht Valkyrie II,” based on my
experience of sailing to Hawaii in the Transpac in 1969 (and also,
I now realize, and must have realized then, also, on Winters’ poem
“The Slow Pacific Swell,” which goes (I will quote the whole thing,
because it’s a great poem and ought to be included in The Stanford

Far out of sight forever stands the sea,
Bounding the land with pale tranquillity.
When a small child, I watched it from a hill
At thirty miles or more. The vision still
Lies in the eye, soft blue and far away:
The rain has washed the dust from April day;
Paint-brush and lupine lie against the ground;
The wind above the hill-top has the sound
Of distant water in unbroken sky;
Dark and precise the little steamers ply-
Firm in direction they seem not to stir.
That is illusion. The artificer
Of quiet, distance holds me in a vise
And holds the ocean steady to my eyes.
Once when I rounded Flattery, the sea
Hove its loose weight like sand to tangle me
Upon the washing deck, to crush the hull;
Subsiding, dragged flesh at the bone. The skull
Felt the retreating wash of dreaming hair.
Half drenched in dissolution, I lay bare.
I scarcely pulled myself erect; I came
Back slowly, slowly knew myself the same.
That was the ocean. From the ship we saw
Gray whales for miles: the long sweep of the jaw,
The blunt head plunging clean above the wave.
And one rose in a tent of sea and gave
A darkening shudder; water fell away;
The whale stood shining, and then sank in spray.
A landsman, I. The sea is but a sound.
I would be near it on a sandy mound,
And hear the steady rushing of the deep
While I lay stinging in the sand with sleep.
I have lived inland long. The land is numb.
It stands beneath the feet, and one may come
Walking securely, till the sea extends
Its limber margin, and precision ends.
By night a chaos of commingling power,
The whole Pacific hovers hour by hour.
The slow Pacific swell stirs on the sand,
Sleeping to sink away, withdrawing land,
Heaving and wrinkled in the moon, and blind;
Or gathers seaward, ebbing out of mind.

— lines that still move me, I see, lines that resonate with what I
am still doing, in a vastly different way it seems, in my own work
today.  (Lines that also echo, unabashedly it would seem, although
Winters would not like to hear it, Keats’s “On the Sea” as well as
“On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer.”)  Anyway as I as saying I
got the Stegner (the letter arrived on June 4th, we celebrated the
good news with champagne, conceived our daughter Oona that night). 
So it was a happy time, a good time to take a year-long break from
the world of the Berkeley graduate program.  And so, when the fall
arrived, I started my commuting down to Stanford — two days a week
(they really didn’t want me to live in Bolinas, but that’s the way
it had to be and so they accepted it) writing poems in my head, or
on scraps of paper, on the long drive down and back up 280.  I did
it for a year, three quarters, taking just a writing workshop each
time, with three different people — Helen Trimpi, Donald Davie and
Ken Fields — plus sitting in on a class in Renaissance poetry with
Helen’s husband Wesley Trimpi, whose book Ben Jonson’s Poems (also
published by Stanford) had been an important part of ‘my’ graduate
reading list.  (Roy Bundy and his wife Barbara, who used to appear
in the background of his house before they were married, and later
a real and wonderful person in her own right — our child and their
child were born within months of each other, and they all came out
to Bolinas once for lunch, after which we walked around the Little
Mesa together, and a few months later Roy was dead.) 
As for Stanford itself, there was that ‘cocktail party,’ up at the
Trimpis in the Palo Alto hills above Stanford (what a house it was,
a deck overlooking the whole Bay Area, Wesley’s ‘library’ with its
stacks of books in rows just like a ‘real library’!) before things
really got started.  There was Helen’s class — us sitting around a
table (or was it just in a circle in chairs in the room?), I don’t
remember anything really (maybe she didn’t have anything to say?). 
Then, in the winter, there was Donald Davie’s class, his ‘English’
way of talking, thinking about things, the smell of his pipe in an
office I often enough went to speak to him in, that stuttering and/
or thinking on his feet that was completely new to me, something I
didn’t understand but wanted to, and so I read his books of poems,
tried to ‘get’ (i.e., understand) them but couldn’t, really, since
he was coming from such a completely different place or experience
or generation in fact (as Helen Trimpi was too, of course), that I,
barely in my twenty-sixth year, hardly knew what to make of it even
though I realized there was indeed something worth knowing going on
in it.  And then, in the spring, Ken Field’s class, certainly to me
the most ‘familiar’ or amenable of the three, since Ken was someone
that I, having grown up in the Bay Area, come of age here, could so
to speak ‘relate to’ — he was a regular sort of guy, knew the stuff
(of everyday life I mean) that I knew also something about.  He too
had a wife — or had had one, I never could quite figure it out.  He
too seemed to living under the shadow of Winters, trying to ‘escape’
from it but also, necessarily it seemed, completely dependent on it. 
He presented a curious vision to me, one that I certainly didn’t, at
that time or later, ever understand.  I ran into him later on, once,
maybe twice, I don’t remember where, and it seemed to me that he was
still living in that shadow — I’m probably wrong here, I liked him a
lot, thought of him as someone a bit like myself I guess, although I
really have nothing to base that presumption on. 
In any case, I’d like to finish this up with a poem that came out of
Ken’s workshop, an assignment that he gave one afternoon that seemed
to make sense to me (even though I turned it to my own devices I see. 
He asked us to make a “list poem,” something Bernadette Mayer was at
this time (it was the spring of 1975) asking her class at the Poetry
Project in New York to do — make a poem that was a list.  And when I
drove home that night I started to write down a list of the things I
was thinking about — my wife, my new baby, what I was hearing on the
radio, and so on.  Only I turned my list into a French poem of sorts,
a rondeau by du Bellay or villanelle in the manner of Stephen Dedalus
maybe, and thinking too of Winters’ poem that begins “Evening traffic
homeward burns/ Swift and even on the turns” (since I’d been reading
such things back in Berkeley of course, and being somehow compelled,
it seems, to give the things some kind of formal ‘form’).  And this,
then, is the way some of it went, as best I can remember — you see I
still can remember it, at least some of it:

Thinking about my wife and baby
amuses me while I drive home
tonight on Interstate 280.
a sea of fog cascading from
green hills, lupine late in April
amuses me while I drive home;
listening to Mozart and Vivaldi
instead of news, drinking a cold
imported beer, eating some raisins,
thinking about my wife and baby
amuses me while I drive home
tonight on Interstate 280.

So that’s it, a long time ago it now seems — I remembered the opening
lines plus the “listening to Mozart and Vivaldi/ instead of news” and
the “eating some raisins,” but not the fog and green hills and lupine —
the first two of which still appear in my work — nor “drinking a cold/
imported beer” — I wouldn’t do that now while driving! — so I’ve just
now found the whole thing, in an early manuscript called Silent Music,
from a line in Campion’s poem which begins “Rose-cheekt Lawra, come,/
Sing thou smoothly with the beawties/ Silent music”. . . . 
JS                                                       [March 24, 2009]
So the rains have come back into town . . . it seems as though the news
coverage is intent on fabricating drama.  The majority of water-level
reporting focused on how rainfall and accrual was/is below average.  It
just grinds on me . . . an average is not a minimum!  This is basic
math and these folks just ignore the obvious . . . in order to have an
average, we have to regularly have levels below average, just as two or
three years ago we were well above average.  Basic indeterminacy within
a larger ordered system.  Again, I don’t know if this gives you any
starting off point that leads to poetry in one way or another; I just
know that most of the poetry folks around here talk a good game about
the environment, but never get out into it and enjoy it.  I’m more
outdoorsy than many, and you’re more outdoorsy than most . . . ack,
again, I don’t know where I’m going.
SR                                                       [March 29, 2009]
Thanks Jeff for this thought, “outdoorsy”!  It’s true, I’m an outdoors
kind of guy, live in a place where I can BE that, or DO that, whatever
it is.  A few years ago I went on a backpacking trip in the mountains,
a week or so over three 12,000 foot passes on the eastern slope of the
Sierra above Bishop.  It was a great trip, living outside and climbing
up over those passes (two of them off the beaten path/trail), climbing
Mt. Sill too (14,162) from Lake 11,675, where we camped for three days
in one of most beautiful and remote places I’ve ever been.  And on the
way back I started to pick up rocks, one of them a triangle of granite
on the edge of a large boulder, which it had at some point been linked
to but was now just sitting there, in its place but not still attached
to the boulder — time and the weather having done their work.  Anyway,
I decided I would try to take that granite triangle of rock home, so I
shifted things in my pack and put it in, all 37 pounds of it I learned
when I finally got home and weighed it.  And along the way I came upon
other rocks, nothing that big but rocks that ‘shone forth’ (it seemed)
so I picked them up as I always do when I go to the mountains (my pack
always getting heavier as the trip goes on, rather than lighter, as it
should, when the food supply goes down).  And when I got back home (my
pack with that rock and the others weighed in at 87 pounds) I realized
that I had to keep on living part of my daily life ‘outdoors’, writing
things down that I see/hear out there and so it continues to this day. 
That was in August of 2001, just at the beginning of the CLOUD / RIDGE
poem, when certain parts of each page are always ‘about’ what is going
on ‘out there’. . . .  And that’s a part of the writing and the living
that’s kept going on for all of these days since then (and it was also
going on before then but not, in the writing at least, in such ‘fixed’
or ‘determined’ a way), through the 474 pages of CLOUD / RIDGE and the
1,000 pages of HUMAN / NATURE and the 1,000 pages of Remarks on Color /
Sound and the 354 pages (today’s poem) of Temporality — or is it 1,354
pages of Remarks on Color / Sound, if what I’m doing now is continuing
on in that work (I’m really not sure yet. . .). . . .  But to get back
to the question at hand — yes, my life and work are rather ‘outdoorsy’
as you put it, more than most I guess — it’s part of what I do and who
I am, it seems. . . . 
JS                                                       [March 24, 2009]
What do you think about this season of 24? It seems a little bit forced
to me . . . too much soap opera & peripheral storylines; I’ve had more
trouble with suspending my disbelief this time around than any previous
season.  The series always included a dichotomy of political agendas,
but so much focus on convincing us that torture’s okay? Oh well.  I
started watching the very first season, and so I’ll stubbornly ride out
the series until the bitter, bitter end.  That Jack, though . . . that
guy’ll get the job done.
SR                                                       [March 29, 2009]
Copy that!  So you’re a fan?  This week was the first Monday I’ve
been able to watch it ‘live’ so to speak, since I’m usually just
getting to the end of the grad poetry workshop when it comes on,
so I’ve been watching it on computer on Wednesday nights, which
is actually pretty good — full screen right in front of you on
the table, no ads, just 40 minutes or so of high-action nail-
biting Jack . . . so where’s backup when he needs it, NEVER
there!  Anyway, I’ll look forward to tomorrow night’s fix,
Wednesday night for me. . . .
JS                                                          [May 1, 2009]
Wow, yeah those Stegner-era poems of yours are nothing like your
current work . . . or even like any of your work over the past 3
decades.  There were two things that kind of made me sit back and
take note . . . first was N. Scott Momaday, whom I kinda consider
the Uncle Tom of Native Americans . . . second was thinking of
you pounding beers while driving up the coast.  Not too big a
deal; didn’t Hunter Thompson drive along Route 1 on a shit-ton of
acid?, so you made a responsible decision, comparatively.  Anyway
. . . I like this current Temporality vs. Remarks on Color /
Sound decision you’re wrestling with.  Where does one work end
and the next begin . . . does it have something to do with
content, with form, with page count, with ability to publish,
with your own attention span, with a personal decision, or with
some other reason or reasons altogether?  How do you know when
you’ve reached the end of an individual work?  How do you know
when you’ve reached the end of a series of works?
SR                                                        [June 22, 2009]
It’s been a ‘long time’ (seemingly) since last we ‘talked’ (here,
though we talked in person last night at “The New Reading Series”
reading in Oakland, Judith Goldman and Charles Bernstein, what a
pleasure that was for me).  So now it’s summer, the sun comes up
over the ridge at its farthest northern point of the year, it’ll
be heading back south, turning that corner, can’t see it yet but
pretty soon. . . .  I’m looking across now to the point where it
first appeared this morning (and yesterday morning, and also the
morning before that, and the one before that, and before that it
was foggy for days so you couldn’t even see the ridge), a dip in
the now brown ridge top, just to the right (south) of some trees,
that’s as far north as it will get, the days will be starting to
get shorter soon enough.  But it’s summer now (!) and feels like
it, ‘happily’. . . .  I’ve been waking up at first light, seeing
the end of the waning moon close to a big bright planet (Venus?),
which has been coming into the poems, as here --

first light coming into sky above ridge,
silver of planet above branch in right
foreground, sound of waves in channel
      forms a picture, nothing but
      sum of limited views
      hypothesis, what else is new,
      on the viewer’s part
cloudless blue sky reflected in channel,
shadowed green slope of ridge across it

A ‘glimpse’ of things, I think.  The first 3 lines of these last
few poems being just a bit different, as the ‘scene’ seen is, as
you can see —

first grey light in sky above black plane
of ridge, silver of planet beside branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel
first grey light above blackness of ridge,
curve of waning white moon next to planet
across from it, sound of waves in channel
first grey light in sky above blackness
of ridge, silver of planet above branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

— trying to see how minute shifts in the language might be made
to ‘register’ (‘enact’ / ‘perform’) apparently minute shifts in
the ‘landscape’ (what’s ‘out there’).  For what that’s worth (I
have to wonder, especially after hearing the reading last night). 
Anyway, almost three months since last I wrote you, so much has
‘happened’ . . . (!)  More than I can ‘say’ here of course, and
so I won’t begin to try. . . .  But here’s one thing, regarding
“this current Temporality vs. Remarks on Color / Sound decision”
as you call it.  When I was editing the Hamlet book, which I’ve
now finished and sent back to the press for typesetting I think,
the text suddenly began to freeze up on the computer — spinning
color wheel, have you seen it?  I ended up one Sunday afternoon
spending two hours on the phone with Apple support, and finally
had to do a ‘recover file’ move to get it to work, changed some
formatting stuff (underlined words no longer underlined) but at
least it all came back, didn’t lose all the work I’d been doing
on it.  And that made me think about losing all the pages going
on in Remarks on Color / Sound (1,439 as of today) so I decided
to make a separate document called Temporality, and put all the
poems in both places, just in case (!).  (Everything I had done
in the Hamlet was backed up of course, on the flash drive, also
on the Mills server, but everything was frozen — I think I know
why but don’t need to say here.)  Anyway, THAT experience, plus
talking to Ron Silliman on email about the poems that I started
putting up on a blog (http://stephenratcliffe.blogspot.com), as
of May 1, as you know — “Temporality is a really good title” he
said at one point, when I’d written to him to see if he’d put a
note on his postings about the poems going up on a new blog (!)
noting that they were either part of Remarks on Color /Sound or
Temporality), so that helped me to think about it from a bit of
distance. . . .  And so that’s what’s going on now — I’m up to
page 439 of this “new work,” aiming for 1,000 (again) if I can
get there, or keep it going — looking beyond the present I can
hardly imagine it, but then the next morning something happens
again, and I like it, and so it seems to be possible, just one
day at a time. . . .
All of which is to say that YES, it has to do with page count,
which is part of the ‘form’ (and also the ‘content’), not with
“ability to publish” (since it seems to be getting more & more
unpublishable as time goes by, I don’t know what to ‘do’ about
that!), nor with “attention span” (there seems to be something
more to ‘see’ / ‘say’ every day), nor with “personal decision”
(since I can’t seem to stop, and don’t want to).  And so, yes,
it’s really about the numbers (letters per line, and lines per
page, and page per day) and the shapes those numbers make on a
two-dimensional page and on the three-dimensional table that I
put them on, there to be ‘seen’ by whomever happens to read or
otherwise encounter them. . . .
JS                                                          [May 1, 2009]
I think some readers confront your work with a similar confusion
as when approaching work like Kenny Goldsmith’s . . . are we to
read everything straight through, to flip around randomly picking
& choosing ala carte style, or to just place the big tome on the
bookshelf and deem it a piece of conceptual art.  Would you have
us read these works in any particular way, or does it take all
different kinds of readings and discussions before the real
nature of these lengthy works is defined (if it ever truly is . . .)?
SR                                                        [June 22, 2009]
Ah, good question (!) — all of the above I think.  You can read
one page at a time (ONE A DAY, AS THEY WERE WRITTEN), or read a
few at a time (which will give you a sense of going from one to
another, and be an entirely ‘different experience’ from reading
one page at a time), or read a hundred pages at once if you had
such stamina.  Each different kind of reading will obviously be
different in many different ways and for many different reasons. 
(One’s reading of 9 lines vs. one’s reading of 18, or 27, or 36,
or 45 lines, not to mention 900 or 1,800 lines — how you notice
more things ‘going on’ in the work the more you look, or closer
you read.)  And what I’ve noticed in reading the work aloud, in
an ‘extended’ time of doing that (as the reading up at UC Davis,
when I read all 1,000 pages of HUMAN / NATURE in 14 hours, from
4pm to 6am, no one but me being ‘witness’ to the whole thing, I
should add!), is that one begins to hear one page slipping into
the next, words shifting into other words, words coming back to
previous words, lines seeming to repeat but never quite exactly
(or maybe sometimes exactly but one is never quite sure of that),
these ‘recurrences’ (‘repetitions’) being something like what’s
‘going on’ from one moment to the next in ‘real life’ — what we
actually experience as time passes; always present, the present
always slipping into the past even as the future slides into it,
becomes ‘it’ (the present).  And so I’m happy to call this work
that I’m now doing, this series of poems/pages, Temporality, as
now I see more clearly than I have before that this work really
IS (most of all?) about time.  I think I’ve known if for a long
time but I’m more ‘conscious’ of it now — maybe because time is
moving faster now (somehow), gets more ‘precious’ the older you
get. . . . 
And then of course, the pages could just sit there on the table,
or bookshelf as you say, deemed “a piece of conceptual art” (so
no need actually to read it, just know that it’s there, look at
it when you walk by in passing, coming into the room or leaving
it — there it is (!) — as physical ‘object’ in space, sculpture
perhaps (it’s not just words on a two-dimensional page but many
pages piling up, one at a time, over an extended period of time)?
Not unlike the pile of matches on my stove, one more match each
time I light the stove (see photo) —

A pile of matches on a stove, a pile of pages of words on a table
(see photo) —

(That’s the 1,439 pages of Remarks on Color / Sound + Temporality
on the left, and the 1,000 pages of HUMAN / NATURE beside it, and 
the books I’m reading these days for the new poems (Heidegger and
Merleau-Ponty and Kandinsky on the left, T. J. Clark and Einstein
and Minkowski and Morandi and Leo Steinberg and Van Gogh drawings
on the right.  A rock on top of each ‘book’ of pages, to keep the
cover in place; glass vase filled with rocks between them; Oona’s
painting behind them, the bottom of another painting on the wall,
that’s all. . . .  Something to look at when one walks by, a kind
of “tome” as you say — or is that “tomb”? — or, as I would say, a
‘shrine’. . . .)
JS                                                          [May 1, 2009]
You’ve been working at Mills College for some time now, and I’m
curious if or how some of your coworkers over the years have
influenced your poetry or poetics.  Curious about some of the
good and some of the bad that runs the world of academia . . . .
SR                                                        [June 22, 2009]
Ah, I was thinking about this one on my hike up the ridge (just
now back, it’s 8pm, last light of the sun about to disappear up
there).  It could be a long story (if I allowed myself to think
about everything that’s happened there since 1984, when I first
arrived), or a very short one (“all in all, a great place to be
as it turns out”).  But here’s something that comes to mind, at
this moment at least. . . .  Like, I was hired there to replace
Chana Bloch, who had taught poetry (writing and literature) and
Shakespeare for years and who was going to Israel for two years
(her husband Ariel, who taught at Berkeley, was going to be the
head of the UC study abroad program there).  So by all rights I
was supposed to be gone when she got back.  (In fact I was told
by the then Provost in our introductory ‘conversation’ that I’d
never be able to stay there, so I shouldn’t even think about it
as a possibility.)  Anyway, when she returned they still needed
me so I continued as a ‘visiting person’ teaching Shakespeare &
poetry (writing & literature) & composition courses as I’d been
doing from the start.  And it was like being in a foreign place
as far as a sense of connection in poetry with my colleagues in
the English department (Chana a really accomplished poet in the
“confessional tradition” one could say; Diana O’Hehir, novelist
and sometimes poet who, as the Chair, told me when I first went
in to talk to her, after having been hired for the tenure track
position they had created for me, that the department was split
about hiring me, some of them had wanted someone else, as if to
say “you’d better watch out”?).  So after six years there I was
on my way — had published six books of poems, the Campion book,
started Avenue B.  But still was an outsider in the department,
driving over from Bolinas for my classes and driving back, more
or less invisible to the powers that were, it seemed.  Not much
sense of how to ‘market’ myself (at least there), and that came
back to bite me soon enough.  Tenure decision three years later,
department divided about me (I was told later, no sense of that
at the time), the APT committee approving me but their decision
overturned by the Provost (it was her first year on the job, no
real sense of who I was or what I did; she’d been brought there
by the President, who was in her second year on the job and had
brought the Provost from Princeton, where both of them had been
before Mills), who explained to me that “you’re just not a good
fit.”  (That Provost lasted a few more years before she was let
go, having proved herself unfit to people more powerful than I,
one of nine people in that position at Mills since I got there.) 
Anyway, I fought the decision on “procedural grounds,” the only
kind of argument they allowed me to make, and eventually won my
place back — end of story re: “some of the bad that runs in the
world of academia,” as you say. . . .
There were some good things too, in those early years.  Anthony
Braxton teaching in the Music department for instance, going to
his house for lunch after his class on Monk, Mingus, & Coltrane —
a REAL class (!).  And then there were my own classes, not only
poetry writing but Shakespeare and Renaissance poetry and later
on Modern American Poetry and Listening to Reading and Romantic 
Poetry and the New York School — all of them variously pleasure
for me to find myself in, getting to talk to people about ‘such
things’ (!).  And then we started to invite visiting writers to
Mills, and the whole place began to change:  Liz Willis was the
first, along with Fanny Howe; then Leslie Scalapino (still here,
each year now) and Bob Grenier one year, plus all the poets who
have come to read over the years — Lyn Hejinian, Mei-mei, Susan
Gevirtz, Susan Howe and Myung Mi Kim (together with Lyn) in the
event I called “The Poet and the World of Her Influences” (very
Mills title, it now seems), and more recently Charles Bernstein
and Bruce Andrews and Ron Silliman and Kenny Goldsmith too, men
as well as women in the MFA program too, many poets doing great
work, including of course Juliana Spahr, who has helped to make
everything that’s now going on there possible.  So yes, there’s
also “some of the good . . . that runs in the world of academia,”
as you say, which continues to make it a pleasure for me to see,
and be part of, what’s happening there. . . . 
JS                                                         [July 5, 2009]
That’s almost the response I had envisioned re:  the Mills
question . . . though I didn’t know all the names.  I might find
it difficult to move forward with a new question here, as I’ve
been mostly thinking of yesterday in Bolinas and the absolutely
fantastic time I have every time I decide to actually drive up
over those mountains & down around that ocean.  So, you know,
thanks for grilling up all that meat & having us over.
As far as your blog goes, it’s almost as though your work has
spoken of the necessity of blog-based poetry for years now . . .
except for maybe, once again, that question of how a readership
reads with the chronological order of poems:  blog = a book read
backwards.  It also might offer an opportunity to present
something I think we chatted about months ago – what to do with
what doesn’t make it into a final, printed book.  Once again I
got started on a thought here with no real end in sight . . .
let’s just take right now as a jumping off point.
SR                                                        [July 27, 2009]
Thanks for this, it’s almost a month since that grilling July 4th
day, I’m sitting here looking out at the ridge, sunlight about to
disappear (it’s 8:11, sunset at 8:23 according to the Tidelog, my
‘Bible’?), just back from a week in the high Sierra -- we climbed
Mount Tyndall (14,018’) and made it clear to Lake Tulainyo (below
sheer granite north face of Mount Russell (14,086’, just north of
Whitney (14,495’) which I first ‘climbed’ (I should say hiked up,
with my father and brother, when I was a lad) where sun reflected
on the still half-iced-over surface of the water looked like this –

(out of focus but appropriate, camera went on the blink somewhere
along the way; you can see ice/snow on far edge of lake).  It was
‘inspiring’ to get way up there, very remote, almost no people at
all back there, amazing skies – clouds!  Stars (no moon all night
except at dawn, when the last curve of the waning moon would rise
in the east; and in a few days at sunset, when the new moon would
be setting in the west, over the western peaks)!  I scribbled the
poems in pencil on paper (on previous trips I’ve taken a computer
along, typed as I went, but wanted to cut down weight on this one
so I didn’t bring it -- a pleasure just to WRITE WORDS ON PAPER!)
and on Sunday (first day back) somehow managed to ‘catch up’ with
everything, typing-wise) – the last time I didn’t take a computer
along on one of these trips it took me over a year to ‘catch up’,
so I’m pleased with that, keeping up with things I mean, by which
I would now include the ‘blog’. . . .  Who reads it, I don’t know
(I posted a note the morning I left saying going to mountains, no
new postings for a week, which Steven Fama posted a comment about
I saw yesterday when I posted all the poems I typed yesterday, so
I know he’s following it, as he’s told me. . .). . . .  Anyway we
probably walked 50 miles, started in the desert at 6,700 feet and
went up Shepherd Pass to 12,000, then onward – walking that walk,
as I said to you in an email this afternoon, and now it’s back to
Bolinas, the ridge here instead of there, as in today’s poem —

grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, song sparrow calling from branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel
      something one sees, thing
      appears in its color
      sensation other than that,
      that is, association
silver of sunlight reflected in channel,
shadowed green slope of ridge across it

— fog in front of the ridge this morning, whereas up there it was
always there, dawn light coming into the sky, no moon so millions
of stars to be seen all night long, and two bright silver planets
(Venus and Jupiter?) traveling along the ecliptic. . . .
As for the blog (and reading it ”backwards” — I hadn’t thought of
that!), it does seem to be a way of putting the work out there at
least, who ‘notices’ I don’t know, hardly anyone I suspect, but I
don’t mind that at all, at this point, it’s really a matter to me
of ‘doing the work’ every day, that’s what it’s about, the act of
doing it, keeping track of things, the ‘temporality’ of it all as
time goes by. . . .  So each day there’s a new ‘poem’ and each is
part of the larger work, which couldn’t be done any faster than I
am doing it here, nor would I want to (even if I COULD) do it any
differently.  And yet the pages do pile up on a table in the room
over there — Bob looked at the two piles yesterday (one HUMAN /
NATURE and one Remarks on Color plus Temporality on top of it) to
see just how big they really were (he had told Carol Watts, who’s
writing something about REAL now, they were 13 inches tall, which
isn’t quite accurate, but the one on the left does keep ‘growing’
— today’s poem is page number 1,474, which I realize would be the
last page of Temporality if I had decided it would ‘end’ as those
previous 474-page books had ended, with 474 pages — but I’m going
‘onward’ with it, aiming again for 1,000 pages (if I live so long
I mean!).  What to do with it (beyond posting on a blog), that is
the question. . . . 
JS                                                         [July 5, 2009]
You recently mentioned that you were pitching in a bit and
lending Bob (Grenier) an extra set of eyes, ears, & hands on his
colossal Eigner collected works . . . any sneak peeks into what’s
happening there?
SR                                                      [August 22, 2009]
Well, it’s been almost three weeks since I last sat down to think
about all this, what happened?  (I know what happened, the Hamlet
book has until just a few days ago completely taken over my life,
but more on that when I get to the next question.)  But there’s a
connection there to what you’re asking about, since Bob’s work on
the Eigner edition took over his life for a long time (months and
months at the end, long days every day, an amazing ‘labor’ as Bob
might say (pronouncing the second syllable of that word with just
as much emphasis as the first one).  What to say about it at this
point?  The Collected Poems of Larry Eigner coming out this fall,
Stanford UP, 1,868 pages in 4 volumes, a preface for each section
written by Bob (who showed me a draft of each of them when he was
writing it — so there was lots of conversation going on there and
that was a pleasure here, and there too I think) and a section of
notes that came near the end, and earlier on a great long process
of making the text, locating the poems, putting them in some kind
chronological order, designing the page, positioning the poems on
it as ‘objects in space’ (set in Courier typeface, to approximate
as closely as possible the actual look of Eigner’s original typed
page, right index finger and thumb pressing the keys of the Royal
manual typewriter, approximately 3,070 poems, lines positioned in
relation to each other line on the page, letters also in relation
to other letters and the spaces between them.)  Thanks to Bob for
all of this — and to Curtis Faville too, co-editor of what’s sure
to be one of the necessary books of American poetry.  At least to
me and my own work, I would say, what Eigner does continues to be
an inspiring presence — the looking, attention to detail in world
and on page, movement between concrete thing and abstract thought
as if seamlessly.  Having seen his work helps to make it possible
for me to write something like today’s poem —

first grey light in sky above blackness
of ridge, silver of planet above branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel
      line of leaves on the side,
      not touching the frame
      various passages, graphite
      tree on right, visible
blue white sky on horizon next to point,
whiteness of gull perched on GROIN sign

(not meaning to say anything more by this than that the physical
materiality of Eigner’s work ‘matters’).
JS                                                         [July 5, 2009]
Speaking of sneak peeks, you’re in the homestretch of publishing
your Hamlet work, and (though you mentioned a bit about it
earlier) I was hoping you might give us some insight into the
form you’ve taken and the process of the work.
SR                                                      [August 23, 2009]
Well, since you’ve asked (finally!), do you want the long version
of the story or the short one.  The short one is that it’s coming
out from Counterpath in October (you can find it on their website
and I’ve been working hard on it (index just now finished, a work
in itself! — a taxonomy of the book in 13 pages, a poemlike thing
complete with numbers, a map of where I’ve been all this time, it
seems).  The longer version is that it’s been in the works for at
least 15 years (I wrote the first essay, on the Queen’s speech on
Ophelia’s death, between August 1993 and January ‘94 according to
the manuscript in the box of manuscripts out in my studio, and it
went on from there -- another on the Ghost’s speech on his murder
in the orchard, then one on the identity of “Shakespeare” himself
(the author, an offstage presence I later realized, and therefore
himself central to the topic of offstage action in Hamlet, or any
of his plays for that matter).  The book’s about what an audience
doesn’t see performed on the stage of Hamlet in the theater, what
we ‘see’ in words that ‘talk about’ things that we don’t actually
see except in those words which ‘show’ it — things like Ophelia’s
death in the stream, King Hamlet’s death in the orchard, Hamlet’s
voyage to England, Hamlet’s visit to Ophelia’s “closet,” Gertrude
and Claudius having sex.  It’s a book about the words in the play
(those “Words, words, words” Hamlet tells Polonius he is reading)
and how they work to make physically absent things imaginatively
present, how they ‘show’ us what we don’t actually see, how what
is concealed from us (thus unseen, unknown) is essential both to
this play and to our lives in this world.  So the idea of what’s
unseen (invisible, concealed) connects, I now see, with what I’m
writing in my poems these days — the ridge keeps being invisible,
covered in fog — 

grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, red-tailed hawk calling in left
foreground, sound of waves in channel
      adjacent line in foreground,
      compositional element
      as it were, “representation”
      then, presents itself
grey white fog on horizon next to point,
whiteness of gull perched on GROIN sign

— and reading in Heidegger too, who in the Parmenides is writing
about the “concealing” and “unconcealedness” of things out there.
It’s called Reading the Unseen:  (Offstage) Hamlet, and presents
a series of ‘close readings’ of speeches that talk about actions
that happen offstage (‘elsewhere’), things we don’t actually see
in the theater, as I say, that ‘missing’ or ‘absent’ action like
the things in those speeches (things made of words) that we also
don’t notice — at least notice consciously, even though we might
well hear them — watching and listening to Hamlet in the theater.
As Charles Bernstein says in a blurb for the back cover, “What's
unseen but said's as consequent as what's apparent but unspoken.”
And in this case, too, the things we don’t notice in the theater
(words, I mean) will only be noticeable in a reading of words on
the page, the kind of reading I give them here in a book happily
called, as I say, Reading the Unseen, a book about words and how
they work in relation to (physical) action in a play, whether we
see its action (and hear its words) in the theater or read it on
the page.  I could go on and on here but that’s at least a “look”
at a book about things in a play that aren’t seen, a book that’s
not like anything else that’s out there in the Shakespeare world
— a book by a poet looking at the words of a play that everybody
knows, words that haven’t ever been looked at (or thought about)
this way before. . . .
But before I sign off on this one, there’s one more piece of the
story that may be of interest (to someone other than me, I mean)
— the saga of finding a publisher.  How many years has it been I
wonder?  How many places have I sent it to (not exactly “it” but
earlier versions of it)?  Michigan in 2002 (almost a year to get
it back, the reader warning them that “the manuscript might pose
a marketing problem”), Northwestern in 2003 (another year to get
it back, reader noting the book made “it seem as though the last
40 years of [Shakespeare] scholarship did not happen”), one year
later to Fordham (another year to get it back, one reader wanted
them to publish it and one hated it — “Ratcliffe is a man with a
whole hive of bees in his bonnet . . . is writing for himself as
audience . . . do not touch this with the proverbial bargepole”),
then a revised copy back to Fordham (another year to get it back,
one reader liked it, the other noting that “it falls way outside
the mainstream of Shakespeare scholarship . . . . if he had said
once more that there are no cameras in Elsinore to record events
offstage I think I would have hurled the whole typescript across
the room”).  Other attempts to get it read at Chicago, Michigan,
Wesleyan, Minnesota, Iowa, and Palgrave, none of whom would even
take a look.  And then last summer (2008) Cole Swensen told me I
ought to send it to Counterpath, edited by Tim Roberts and Julie
Carr, and when I wrote to them they said yes, send it along, and
so I did — didn’t hear anything back and then Michael Cross told
me Rachel Blau duPlessis was a new editor at Palgrave-Macmillan,
so I wrote to ask her and she said no, the editor I should write
to was Brigitte Shull, so I did that and she asked me to send it
along, which I did.  And not long after that I got an email from
Counterpath saying that they wanted to publish it, and then word
from Palgrave that they too wanted to publish it, and here I was
with this strange embarrassment of riches, two presses wanting a
book that I had begun to think would never get published (no one
wanting a book on a single play by Shakespeare written by a poet
without a name in Shakespeare world).  And no one in the poetry/
poetics world wanting a book on Hamlet (yes, I tried Alabama and
California too).  And so, after thinking about it for a few days
I decided to go with Counterpath — Palgrave would only do a hard
cover book (priced at $85 and aimed at libraries, and I realized
it wouldn’t ever get seen or read by the readers I wanted to see
and read it) who is doing a paperback, distributed by SPD, aimed
at readers both in the Shakespeare world and world of poetry and
poetics (it will be “our flagship entry into publishing literary
analysis of this kind,” Tim said, which sounds good to me). . . .
JS                                                         [July 5, 2009]
Your Giants aren’t doing too bad . . . they’ll never pass the
Dodgers at this point, but second in their division is a lot
closer to the top than they’ve been around this time in years
past.  My A’s are a huge disappointment this season . . . I
really thought they bought the necessary players for a postseason
run.  But those Giants are finally piecing together a solid
pitching rotation . . . I might start paying more attention to
them if the pitching continues to improve; I’ve always been a bit
of a pitching nerd rather than a big bat kinda guy.  But that NL
is tight this year . . . except for here in the West, no real
telling who’s gonna go all the way . . . all we know is that it
ain’t gonna be the Nationals.
SR                                                      [August 23, 2009]
Hey there again, just saw you ‘in person’ over at 21 Grand Street
at the Clark Coolidge / Laura Moriarty reading (listed in reverse
order to the order they read in, as you know!), where we talked a
bit about the Giants -- who LOST again today, 4-2 (they’d led 2-0
at one point but couldn’t hold it, Lincecum gave up 5 or 6 walks, 
3 hits, plus he hit a batter) – can’t do THAT in Coors field, the
Rockies are ferocious (last night too, when the Giants led 6-1 at
one point and suddenly it was 7-6, then 14-6, the game was out of
reach even though the Giants ended up with 5 more runs, it wasn’t
possible to come back against the Colorado juggernaut, and that’s
the way it is this year with the Giants.  No one expected them to
be in the running for the post season and here they are in August
still in the thick of it, one more game in Denver tomorrow, which
will send them home from this 11 game road trip with either a 6-5
or 5-6 record — and if it’s the latter they’ll be 4 games back in
the wild card race, tough to catch the Rockies then, even if they
DO play six more games in San Francisco – in any case, stay tuned
JS                                                         [July 5, 2009]
Tour de France time . . . I love the tour.  Waiting to see how
team Astana works out . . . I’m betting that soon enough Lance
can’t stand working a support role & lobbies to be the guy
working for the jersey.  I probably should’ve asked if you were
interested at all before offering the analysis, but too late now.
SR                                                      [August 23, 2009]
Thanks for the “analysis” – I READ a bit about it, always good to
see those maps of France in the papers, too bad that Lance wasn’t
up there on the podium in Paris wearing the yellow jersey, but he
DID make national news when he bought a house in Aspen (or was it
Vail?) and some people there wanted to declare a “Lance Armstrong
Day” (or something like that) and some didn’t – so much for news,
better to get back up on the bike and start riding again, getting
ready for next year’s Tour, yes?
JS                                                     [October 20, 2009]
Have you caught any of the ALCS or NLCS so far?  Some damn good
games . . .  I’m actually at a bit of a loss as far as cheering. 
In the NL I’m pulling for Philly, and over at the AL I can’t pull
for Anaheim as they’re the A’s division rivals, but at the same
time I’ve been conditioned for decades now to root against the
Yankees . . .  I think I’d like to see Philly vs. NY in the World
Series, with Philly winning, either in 4 or in 7, just for the
SR                                                     [October 25, 2009]
Yeah, I’ve been able to see some of it (when it’s on FOX, don’t
have cable — and WHY has FOX only shown one Phillies game, when
they seem to show every Yankees game, I ask you? – and listened
to as much as I can on the radio (KNBR, “THE sports leader,” is
carrying the ESPN broadcast of each game on its ‘sister station’
1050).  As a lifelong Giants fan (I remember when they moved to
San Francisco in 1958 – my dad went to the opening day at Seals
Stadium and took me to some of the games there too, so I got to
see Mays and Cepeda in that first year, and McCovey came up the
next year, and Marichal the year after that, when they moved to
Candlestick) I’m glad the Phillies beat LA in five quick games! 
And I’d like to see them take on the Yankees in a 7 game series
(or else, as you say, a 4 game series, “just for the drama”) so
let’s see what happens tonight – if the Angels COULD crawl back
into it against the mighty Yankees that would be drama too, and
the more games the better at this point I say, it somehow keeps
the illusion of summer alive (even as we get closer to November
by the minute, not getting light until sometime before 7:00 AM,
which brings me to today’s poem, keeping track of such things –

first grey light in sky above blackness
of ridge, silver of planet above branch
in foreground, sound of wave in channel
      picture of object was that,
      long time in silence
      whatever may have remained,
      name like name, here
grey white fog against invisible ridge,
whiteness of gull on tip of GROIN sign

– that planet (Venus) has been up there these last few days, as it’s
been getting light (something to pay attention to!). . . .
JS                                                     [October 20, 2009]
I haven’t yet picked up Reading the Unseen: (Offstage) Hamlet
But it’s on my list for my next round of book purchases.  Have
you performed it at all yet?  I’m curious to the approach you
might take, as the form of this book is so different from your
other “daily writing” practices.
SR                                                     [October 25, 2009]
Hmmmmm. . . .  I’ve been reading parts of it (in earlier versions
of course) for years now it seems, at annual meetings of the NCRC
(Northern California Renaissance Conference) and something at one
or two SSA (Shakespeare Association of America) meetings, nothing
in the way of any “performances” or readings lined up, although I
am going to read at AWP this year in Denver, where Counterpath is
located, because they want to do have a reading of their authors,
oh which I will now be one (not reading from the Hamlet book they
said but poetry – maybe I’ll find a way to include something, why
not at least something from the Index? – because as I said to you
the Index is like a poem including numbers, lines, ‘constraints’,
etc.).  In any case, now that I haven’t been working on it for as
long (almost) as I can remember – when did I finally send it off?
just over a month ago, and it should be arriving (as a book) this
week? – it’s almost disappeared into a mysterious world of things
forgotten, or as Heidegger would put it “concealed” (which should
change when the book itself arrives – and THEN what?).
JS                                                     [October 20, 2009]
The other night I was doing a little EPC & PennSound browsing and
came across the short-lived “Non” (an Online journal edited by
Laura Moriarty c. 97 / 98).  There were some pieces of yours from
a work called Calculus, and I’m curious what, if anything, became
of that project.  It kind of ties into some stuff we were
chatting about 100 pages ago (i.e., over a year ago), but I’m
also curious as to, if you even know, how many of your projects/
collections never became books. Maybe more specifically, how many
of your projects begin as book-projects, and of those how many
actually become either bound & printed or PDF-databased as quote/
unquote books?
SR                                                     [October 25, 2009]
Yes, for a while I was calling the work I was doing “Calculus”
(or “Calculus of Color”) but I think the work you read in non 
was part of what ended up as Portraits & Repetition – lots of
possible titles for that work along the way, before I decided
that it had to be P&R.  And meanwhile, while that project did 
end up as a “book,” there are lots of things still waiting to  
find someone to do them.  Here’s a partial list (I’m starting
from the present, working backwards):  TEMPORALITY (564 pages 
and counting), REMARKS ON COLOR / SOUND (1,000 pages), HUMAN /
NATURE (1,000), CLOUD / RIDGE (474 pages) PAINTING (81 pages),
CONVERSATION (98 pages, forthcoming next year I think) and on
back to others I won’t name here – that’s about fifteen years
worth of work, it seems, all of it sitting here on the table –
what do??? 
JS                                                     [October 20, 2009]
My apologies for the delay in this latest round of email chitter
chatter. I got a bit swamped in my own proofreading, got a bit
more serious about looking for more gainful employment, fixed up
a bike for Chad Lietz, and then got in a pretty bad bike wreck
myself . . . still have some of the injuries.  Jockeying for
position with a bus driver.  I won, but also came out losing the
most.  Especially if we’re talking about blood loss.
SR                                                     [October 25, 2009]
Ouch!  Sounds nasty — be careful out there, you’ve got people who
are counting on you to be around for a long time!  Meanwhile, I’m
looking forward to seeing Art Fraud soon, a timely work for sure! 
And now it’s time to head up the ridge for a late afternoon hike. . . .



It’s been some time since Stephen and I began our email chat/interview thing; actually, it’s been some time since we completed it, or at least since we stopped emailing questions, ideas, and responses. In that time I’ve moved across the country and Stephen has undoubtedly completed hundreds more pages of poetry. And so now this thing is nearing publication, and I think it needs to be framed in some way. This began as another project for Cricket Online Review, a journal I help out with from time to time, but grew beyond our capacity & needs. As well, there is a Jacket2 focus on Stephen’s work, and this type of conversation might just fit right in with that bunch of stuff.

Stephen Ratcliffe’s poetry defies comprehensive explanation, but one element that draws me in as a reader is his ability to use time to his advantage. A book is not just 474 pages — it’s 474 days. We encounter his full form and repetition in a poetry that turns time into space. My intention with this email stuff was to engage Stephen in an ongoing conversation that takes place at a slower pace than the rest of his poetry and covers a more prosaic subject matter. In addition to giving Stephen the time to offer insights into his current projects, his poetics, and whatever else he wanted.

As an interviewer, I failed in many respects. Much of this was completed during my regular office job. Much of it was hastily written. And none of it was proofread. The successes lie in giving Stephen the aforementioned forum for personal explanation: Stephen Ratcliffe is one of the most interesting and important, yet one of the most overlooked, poets this country has seen over the past thirty to forty years. I’m just happy the guy trusts me enough to take on odd online projects together. Much love, Stephen. I hope to see you again soon. — Jeffrey Schrader