Friday, August 31, 2007

Begin at Once

I just read Beth Joselow's new book, Begin at Once. It really got to me. If it doesn't get to you, it's because something else got to you first.

Beth Joselow, Begin at Once, Chax Press (2007)

The poems in Begin at Once are truly investigations, never simply statements of things the poet already claims to know. They wander– sometimes lightly, sometimes darkly, sometimes with a quiet but sharp irony, but always generously– over all sorts of contrasting subjects with a startling insight that traces the swift and shocking changes of a life lived in a world that’s genuinely right here, right now. Beth Joselow’s poems discover, and uncover, keen truths that always surprise and unsettle and make us think again about things we believed we understood.There’s real wisdom in Begin At Once, and the world sure does need more of that.
— Mark Wallace

Joselow’s poems are “tender numbers” for “people who used to be hungry”. We’ve been chowing down on the drill, organizing our lives around days of rain/bells with colors/gears without mesh until we experience more numbers/further use as “…elusive optimism/skin of ice…” So how do we unsettle the daily bout? Joselow suggests we take each poem as “one more time” to be “simply there” “In support of ________” …”To contain _______” so that we have some unslotted space to “sit down now, begin at once.”
— Tina Darragh

Begin at Once is a terrific collection because Beth Joselow is a writer with a great gift, but it’s also a tease. Because this is a book, all 104 pages of it, that leaves you wanting to read so very much more.
-- Ron Silliman

Monday, August 27, 2007

Bruce Andrews

There have been several poets who have established connections was the DC alternative poetry scene over the years, via repeated visits, readings and friendships. Not only is Bruce Andrews one of them, he was part of the DC scene early on, attending Mass Transit readings, and being published by SOUP.

Bruce Andrews, Doug Lang,
Michael Lally

Nothing passes unalarmed.
When we read Samuel Becket's statement "To find a form that accomodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now" we are reminded of Beckett's consummate ability to find that form. It may be Bruce Andrews' unique gift to have found the mess. I cannot think of a twntieth century artist that approximates Bruce Andrews' breadth of critical reference. Like Joyce or Mac Low, the range of Andrews' vocabulary demonstrates the measure of the mess, whilst, like Burroughs or Debord, his rabidly articulate criticality negates those that would frame politics (i.e. this life) as anything other than a struggle, with stakes. Rod Smith, "introduction" AERIAL 9

2 B's bonding at Folio Books

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Faber Book of Modern Verse

Here are the poets included in The Faber Book of Modern Verse, edited by Michael Roberts (1936 edition):

Gerard Manley Hopkins
W.B. Yeats
T.E. Hulme
Ezra Pound
T.S. Eliot
Harold Monro
Conrad Aiken
Marianne Moore
Wallace Stevens
Vachel Lindsay
D.H. Lawrence
Isaac Rosenberg
Wilfred Owen
Herbert Read
John Crowe Ransom
Allen Tate
Hart Crane
e.e. cummings
Laura Riding
Robert Graves
Edith Sitwell
Sacheverell Sitwell
Richard Eberhart
Peter Quennell
William Empson
C. Day Lewis
W.H. Auden
Louis MacNeice
Stephen Spender
James Reeves
Charles Madge
George Barker
Dylan Thomas
Clifford Dyment
David Gascoyne

This book was my introduction to modern poetry, although the edition I had was the second one, co-edited by Anne Ridler (1951), and I don't recall what additions there were, except for F.T. Prince. Also, Kathleen Raine, maybe. Hugh MacDiarmid? David Jones? Keith Douglas? Dunno. I just got a copy of the 1936 edition, ninth impression, from Amazon UK, for £1.00, plus postage. It is inscribed: Marjorie E. Birol, Charing Cross Road, 15/7/44. Dear Marjorie, Hello. Where are you now? In my heart.

I was in my late teens when I got the paperback edition of the 1951 version of The Faber Book of Modern Verse. What did I know? Not much.

When I was ten, I got a scholarship to go to Bishop Gore Grammar School for Boys. Dylan Thomas had gone to Bishop Gore, long before. I lasted only two years before being asked to leave, else I would be expelled. While I was a student there, I was obliged to memorize this:

Abou Ben Adhem

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An Angel writing in a book of gold:

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said,
"What writest thou?" The Vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord
Answered, "The names of those who love the Lord."

"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the Angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men."

The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And, lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest!

-- James Leigh Hunt

My next stop was Dynevor School for Boys, better suited to working class ragamuffins such as I, better than the toffee-nosed Bishop Gore. Didn't do me or Dynevor much good, though. I was always getting arrested by the cops, for one thing. They weren't too happy about that at Dynevor. I dropped out, eventually. We had one English teacher named Brynley Cox, who was obsessed with Alice in Wonderland. Mr Cox had a long nose with glasses hanging on it, and he would lick his lips almost lasciviously as he read aloud. The boys would would count his licks aloud, and he would either be oblivious, or he would pretend to be oblivious. The school joke was, "There are 23 masters (teachers) at Dynevor; 22 without Cox." I really learned a lot. I did have one English teacher who was encouraging, Sam Bassett. Sam was a giant of a man, married to a tiny woman. My marks (scores/grades) for both the term and exams in English Language and English Literature were always perfect, or near perfect. Everywhere else there would be zeroes, because I wouldn't have been there. I really learned a lot. The last essay I wrote at Dynevor was on the history of rock'n'roll, which barely had a history (as a pop phenomenon) at that point. Sam gave me ten out of ten. Sam was a very nice man. But I really didn't need encouragement. I didn't give a fuck.

I loved music and movies. Movies brought me to books. And I was off to the races. After I'd started work, unloading trucks in the British Home Stores yard, I began to buy books, American fiction mostly. As far as poetry was concerned, there was always the omnipresent Dylan. Then, in my late teens, I bought the Faber paperbacks of T.S. Eliot's Selected Poems and Four Quartets, after I'd gotten the drift that Eliot was the modern poet. I was writing fiction at that time, stories and attempts at novels. After reading Eliot, I wrote some (dreadful, no doubt) pastiches of Eliot + Dylan and who knows what else.

There is so much that could be said about Dylan Thomas, but I'll be as succint as possible. First, here is Kenneth Rexroth in Disengagement: The Art of the Beat Generation (for New World Writing, 1957):

Now Dylan Thomas and Charlie Parker have a great deal more in common than the same disastrous end. As artists, they were very similar. They were both very fluent. But this fluent, enchanting utterance had, compared with important artists of the past, relatively little content. Neither of them got very far beyond a sort of entranced rapture at his own creativity. The principal theme of Thomas’s poetry was the ambivalence of birth and death — the pain of blood-stained creation. Music, of course, is not so explicit an art, but anybody who knew Charlie Parker knows that he felt much the same way about his own gift. Both of them did communicate one central theme: Against the ruin of the world, there is only one defense — the creative act. This, of course, is the theme of much art — perhaps most poetry. It is the theme of Horace, who certainly otherwise bears little resemblance to Parker or Thomas. The difference is that Horace accepted his theme with a kind of silken assurance. To Dylan and Bird it was an agony and terror. I do not believe that this is due to anything especially frightful about their relationship to their own creativity. I believe rather that it is due to the catastrophic world in which that creativity seemed to be the sole value. Horace’s column of imperishable verse shines quietly enough in the lucid air of Augustan Rome. Art may have been for him the most enduring, orderly, and noble activity of man. But the other activities of his life partook of these values. They did not actively negate them. Dylan Thomas’s verse had to find endurance in a world of burning cities and burning Jews. He was able to find meaning in his art as long as it was the answer to air raids and gas ovens. As the world began to take on the guise of an immense air raid or gas oven, I believe his art became meaningless to him. I think all this could apply to Parker just as well, although, because of the nature of music, it is not demonstrable — at least not conclusively.

I've no idea to what extent I might agree or disagree with this, but what is undeniable is that Dylan was in his way a radical poet, and he was most certainly one of the few lines of defense against the increasing conservatism and orthodoxy of British poetry.

"Dylan Thomas was made to stand for everything they detested: verbal obscurity, metaphysical pretentiousness, and romantic rhapsodizing," David Lodge, Working with Structuralism (1981).

Looking back, I see Dylan, his compatriot Vernon Watkins, David Gascoyne and Kathleen Raine as some of the few poets who were not adhering to the increasing constriction that produced the famous New Lines anthology in 1956. Dylan and Vernon had been associated to some degree with the New Apocalyptics, a self-explantory mode of poetics. Gascoyne was Britain's sole, prominent Surrealist poet, and Raine was deeply immersed in William Blake and Carl Jung.

Kathleen Raine

William Blake

Carl Jung action figure

I've looked at several Kathleen Raine poems online, looking for one that might approximate the kind of feeling I got from her work back in, say, 1959-1962. I could not find one, but that's memory for you. Raine called Vernon Watkins, "The greatest lyric poet of my generation." Vernon was from Swansea, as Dylan Thomas was, and as I was. He was a diffident man, apparently. He worked at Lloyd's Bank on St. Helen's Road. The story was that he had gone home once and left the bank unlocked. Good old Vernon. We saw him on the street many times. He must have been in his mid-forties then. We never approached him. What could he possibly have had to say to Welsh faux-beatniks? I remember his work as appealingly vague, somehow, an impression not entirely supported by what I've seen of his work recently, but not entirely reversed, either. The Dylan/Vernon letters were always a pleasure to read. What came through most was the friendship between them, and the easy ways in which they entertained each other.

Vernon Watkins by Alfred Janes

The mystery to me is David Gascoyne, the youngest poet in the original The Faber Book of Modern Verse. He always represented hope, somehow -- a British Surrealist! Other British poets who were sometimes called Surrealists did not seem like Surrealists to me, such as George Barker and Hugh Sykes Davies.

Yves Tanguy

The worlds are breaking in my head

Blown by the brainless wind

That comes from afar

Swollen with dusk and dust

And hysterical rain

The fading cries of the light

Awaken the endless desert

Engrossed in its tropical slumber

Enclosed by the dead grey oceans

Enclasped by the arms of the night
The worlds are breaking in my head

Their fragments are crumbs of despair

The food of the solitary damned

Who await the gross tumult of turbulent

Days bringing change without end

The worlds are breaking in my head

The fuming future sleeps no more

For their seeds are beginning to grow
To creep and to cry midst the

Rocks of the deserts to come

Planetary seed

Sown by the grotesque wind

Whose head is so swollen with rumours

Whose hands are so urgent with tumours

Whose feet are so deep in the sand

David Gascoyne

The mystery is why he didn't seem a good model for someone such as myself. In a peculiar way he was more distant than Paul Éluard, or even Philippe Soupault. He was no more use than Dylan was, and Dylan was no use at all. The best known Welsh poet of the 1960s, Bryn Griffiths was compared with Dylan endlessly, but there was no way to make use of Dylan, it seemed, without trying to be him. Bryn Griffiths did not do that. What he did do was emigrate to Australia, eventually.

T .S. Eliot and e. e. cummings both provided some inspiration. And Hart Crane. I didn't get Pound. I suspect that he seemed a little bit too much like the British poets of the day, with their classical educations and their allusions and their fart in a thunderstorm poems. Clearly, Pound was more than that, but whatever he was, was too much for me.

I loved Dylan and I still do, especially A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog and Return Journey; and I still have high regard for many of the poems, such as "Poem on His Birthday" and "Poem in October." I had a hard time with Dylan as a reader, he was so bombastic, with that English preacher's voice. I much preferred to hear Richard Burton read Dylan's work. We read and reread Caitlin's Leftover Life to Kill and John Malcolm Brinnin's Dylan Thomas in America -- and I'd like to read them both again now. Also, I'd like to read Brinnin's biography of Gertrude Stein, The Third Rose. Credit must go to Dylan, though, for singlehandedly reviving the oral tradition in American poetry with the tours described by Brinnin in his book. Of course, there were readings going on before that, but Dylan was really the progenitor of all those poets in Greenwich Village cafés and the avant garde of the general outbreak of poetry readings in the 1950s.

192 Caergynydd Road, Waunarlwydd

This is where I lived from aged 13 to 22, with my mother, Anne, and my sister, Synde (then named Daphne). 192 was at the bottom of a long road of row-house flats, one flat on the bottom, one on the top. Ours was the bottom flat of our segment. Our door was the one on the right. The right window was the living room. The left window was my room. The far left-window belonged to the Coopers next door. There was another bedroom which was my sister's. There was one bathroom, a kitchen, and my mother slept in the living-room.

Farrow bungalow

This is the bungalow where Marie Farrow lived with her parents and her elder siblings, a brother, John, and a sister whose name I can't recall. I fell in love with Marie in a small park, where she was hanging around with three other thirteen year old girls, Adelaide Phillips, and Rita and Jennifer Howell. I was the same age. They called me over as I walked through the park. I would never have had the nerve to just go over and chat with four strange girls. Marie and I became fast friends, especially after I corrected the words of a song Marie was singing, "Secret Love." The other girls got the words wrong, too, but it was Marie that I corrected. The girls had called me over because Adelaide was interested in one of my friends and they had wanted to quiz me about him, when they weren't singing. Marie was the only person to see the first poem I ever wrote, a pastiche of T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and whatever. No one has ever been as impressed as Marie was that I had written a poem. She kept reading it, over and over, reading bits aloud and looking at me. The last time I saw her, ten years later, I was still in love with her.

I couldn't even get the picture straight.


This is the bungalow where Marie Farrow lived with her parents and her elder siblings, a brother, John, and a sister whose name I can't recall. I fell in love with Marie in a small park, where she was hanging around with three other sixteen year old girls, Adelaide, Rita and Jennifer. I was the same age. They called me over as I walked through the park. I would never have had the nerve to just go over and chat with four strange girls. Marie and I became fast friends, especially after I corrected the words of a song Marie was singing, "Tammy." The other girls got the words wrong, too, but it was Marie that I corrected. The girls had called me over because Adelaide was interested in one of my friends and they had wanted to quiz me about him, when they weren't singing. Marie was the only person to see the first poem I ever wrote, a pastiche of T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and whatever. No one has ever been as impressed as Marie was that I had written a poem. She kept reading it, over and over, reading bits aloud and looking at me. The last time I saw her, seven years later, I was still in love with her.

I couldn't even get the picture straight.

So, it all comes down to this: would you prefer to think of me as someone who knew the words to "Secret Love" or as someone who knew the words to "Tammy."

The fact is that as I was writing this, I realized that my own mythology -- fell in love with Marie when I was thirteen, saw her for the last time ten years later -- was bogus. "Tammy" was the song that Marie and the girls were singing. "Tammy" was released in 1957, so it was unlikely that they were singing it when we were all thirteen, in 1954. My first reaction was to keep the personal mythology, and to substitute "Secret Love" for "Tammy." Everything else is as true as anything I know.

Tina Darragh

Tina Darragh was the second DC poet I ever met. It was in London in 1972, when Tina came to London to record British poets for the Washington audiocassette poetry magazine, Black Box, as Andrea had done before her.

Peter, and Tina

That was the connection. Andrea and I were living in a 3-bedroom house in Clapton, and the room Tina stayed in was my former room, a tiny room, with collages still on the walls, and so on, and Tina would write a poem called "The Poet's Room," which she would show to me years later. Tina seemed to be a very gracious young woman, warm, considerate and intelligent. I didn't know. Of course, I had no idea that Tina was soon to become one of my closest and most cherished friends of the next 35 years and beyond, or that she would be one of the poets that I would admire and respect so very much. I didn't know.

I didn't see Tina again until October, 1974, when Andrea and I returned to DC after a year in Berkeley. By that time, Tina had hooked up with my friend Pete (Peter Inman), and that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship (for me). I've been very gratified by the fact that Tina has received so much recognition in recent years. She deserves every bit of it. The magnitude of her achievements as a poet and of her generosity as a person warrant it.

Tina was born in 1950, and was raised in McDonald, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh. She began writing when she was eighteen, and studied poetry at Trinity University in DC, where Michael Lally was teaching at the time. This lead to Tina's involvement in Mass Transit and the DC scene in general.

My sense of Tina's poetics reached critical mass during the readings that she and I did in Baltimore for a recording that was issued by Chris Mason on Widemouth Tapes under the title, Xa. Its's easy to recall the chant-like refrain, "just looking, just looking," and Tina's excursions into concentrated disassemblages of language. Tina's work is not a set of prescriptions for meaning, nor a set of designer accessories for your karma. It is more like a global weather system, complex. dynamic, multidrectional, unpredictable, a vast series of potential interactions. In that regard, her work is the opposite of P.'s work, to which it is connected in many ways. Tina's work is an open system, P.'s consists of closed systems. I don't know how true this is, in fact, but I'm going to do some reading and give it some thought.

Tina's first two books were sidestapled publications issued by Dry Imager, her own publishing venture. Both were roughly made collages. First came My First Play, published back to back with Michael Lally's Malenkov Takes Over. Here is a page:

The caption under the picture reads:
Parthenogenesis on the roof.
The other two pieces of text are, "Just Us Girls" and Labortory Cheese."

Here's another page:

and here is the text from that page, enlarged:

There were hints of things to come, both in the undermining of conventional language structures and in the global social and political consciousness behind the words and images.
The came Living, a collaboration with Tim Dlugos, photobooth images, a recaptioned frame from the Nancy comicstrip, more bits of language, funny stuff.

Tina's final 1975 publication was my hands……to……myself, another Dry Imager moment. There were no dots in Tina's title, it's the only way I could indicate Tina's spacing. Describing this work as innovative is like describing James Brown as funky. It is a question of magnitude.

I always liked D. H. Lawrence’s pronouncement, “Trust the art, not the artist,” as well as Jack Spicer’s idea of the poet as a kind of radio, able to receive transmissions from the “invisible world,” I think he called it, as opposed to writing being all about “self-expression.” I like these ideas all the more these days, when people in the arts are obliged to be at least as serious about their “careers” as they are about their work. As far as Tina is concerned, it’s clear that she was tracking the same lines as the other poets who came to be associated with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, or, were receiving similar transmissions. What is most compelling to me now, rereading my hands to myself for the first time in a long while, and listening to Tina’s Xa recording, is how amazingly self-expressive Tina’s work was. That is to say, a Tina poem was a well made object/system of enormous energy, and a perfect expression of her character and personality. When one reads the first poem in my hands to myself, beginning, “just lookin’, just lookin’,” the rhythm of play between the word pairings of which the lines consist creates a thoroughly persuasive structure, based on dictionary progressions:

Charlie Chaplin / charge-a-plate
oatmeal / objet trouve
dictaphone / different
pidgin / piggyback
(the slashes indicate spaces that can’t be reproduced here).

This is all Tina enough, but when you hear her read the poem on the Xa recording, she interpolates the “just lookin’, just lookin’” phrase between each pairing, creating a more infectious and even more playful rhythm. So, in this case, I would say, “Trust the art and the artist,” because it is a perfectly well made object/system, and it is totally self-expressive, down to the social and political rage that’s always been in back of Tina’s work, and the unique Tina humor. This book was truly her debut as a poet, which is not to discount My First Play and Living. It’s extraordinary. Peter (Inman) now disavows his first book, What Happens Next (although I am deeply fond of it), and moved through a brief period of transition (P. Inman USA) to what became his “identity” as a poet. And to choose another poet from among Tina’s associates, Terence Winch’s Boning Up contains somewhat more conventional poetry than his signature works, which quickly followed. Tina emerged fully formed and rockin’.

The other factor that is clear to me after rereading my hands to myself and listening repeatedly to Xa, is the extent to which Tina creates a multiplicity of potential readings of each work, visually on the page, and vocally when she reads, and these two systems are in some ways kind of divergent. Of course, this idea might be applied quite comfortably to the work of many; but in Tina’s case it is emphatically true.

The year after that, 1976, Tina and Peter got married in McDonald. A small contingent from DC made the journey to Pennsylvania in two cars. When we arrived in McDonald, one of the cars stopped and someone went into a store and bought some rolling papers. By the time we arrived at Tina's home, they had already gotten the call, "The drug-addicts have arrived." It was a fabulous, unforgettable wedding. On the left side of the aisle were the massed factions of the Darragh tribe. The right side was almost empty, save for the small, huddled group of DC bohemian wannabes up front.

Paul, Pete, Tina, Potsy, Doug
Wedding day, 1976

Next came Pi in the Skye (Ferguson & Franzino), in 1980. Material from this text was also included in the Xa reading. Another element of the Darragh/Inman poetics interface begins to assert itself in this text: page as field, a convention given formal status by the poets of Projective Verse. In particular, "fragment of P.'s work -- Number One Son," looks a bit like a Charles Olson text. The visual element gets a good deal of emphasis in both Tina's and Peter's work. What's more, the vocabulary of "fragment" often resembles that of a P. Inman poem. Pi in the Skye is dedicated to "P. Inman and his work," so that it is, in effect, an extension of their marriage into the realm of poetics, a well-made marriage in which their practices would merge and diverge over the next 27 years (this far).

Listening to the sections of
Pi in the Skye on Xa, you get a strong sense of Tina's expansiveness regarding connotation. She seems to be tripping through the linguistic mutations of the collective unconscious, like Deiphobe confronted by the spirits in Virgil's underwold, or like Greta Garbo in Queen Christina, rushing around the room, touching everything, so that she could install every object in her sense memory.

If the previous paragraph seems extravagant, or ridiculous, I don't mind. I don't mean to edit my thinking, looks like.

on the corner to off the corner was another debut for Tina, insofar as Douglas Messerli's Sun & Moon books were gathering prestige and Tina's publication in that series in 1981 was a step towards national recognition of her work. on the corner to off the corner was took its title from the Miles Davis recording, and has this inscription:

"in appreciation of Francis Ponge
for things that he has given us"

Here is a comment on Ponge's work, found at the library online:

"In the prose poems of Francis Ponge, coming as he does in an un-heroic age fashioned more by scientific than by classical studies, the direction is down rather than up, smaller rather than larger. The subjects of his allegories or fables belong to a lower world than that of the gods and heroes of antiquity, and are treated zoomorphically, as opposed to the anthropomorphism of an Aesop or a La Fontaine. However, like his Renaissance antecedents, he too is creating a new humanism. He states his purpose to be "a description-definition-literary art work" which, avoiding the drabness of the dictionary and the inadequacy of poetic description, will lead to a cosmogony, that is, an account - through the successive and cumulative stages of linguistic development - of the totality of man's view of the universe and his relationship to it."

The 26 sections of on the corner to off the corner was do fit with "a description-definition-literary art work," as Tina rambles more-or-less ecstatically through her alphabet as cosmology. And the zoomorphic / anthromorphic aspect speaks durectly to Tina's informed humanism. Peter and Tina have shown consistent vigilance in matters of social conscience throughout the time that I have know them, without piety, pomposity, or pc policity. on the corner to off the corner is as radical a book of poetry as any published post-The New American Poetry of which I am aware.

By the time Striking Resemblance was issued by Burning Deck in 1989, Tina's work had been included in two significant anthologies: In the American Tree, edited by Ron Silliman, and published by the National Poetry Foundation, University of Maine at Orono, in 1986; and "Language" Poetries: An Anthology, edited by Douglas Messerli, and published by New Directions in 1987. Tina was one of four poets associated with DC in In the American Tree (P. Inman, Lynne Dreyer and Diane Ward were the others); and she was one of three in "Language" Poetries (P. Inman and Diane Ward were the other two). Ron Silliman also cited five other names of poets associated with Washington as candidates for a "volume of absolutely comparable worth" -- Michael Lally, Bernard Welt, Joan Retallack, Tim Dlugos, Doug Lang. There were some other, strong candidates, too: Terence Winch, Beth Joselow, and Douglas Messerli, for exampe.

There was no such thing as Language Poetry, of course. Small press magazines such as This, edited by Barrett Watten on the West Coast, and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, edited by Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein on the East Coast, had given focus to a particular set of poetics and particular concerns about theory and practice; and there was a more than sufficiently visible "movement" to deserve the name. The product of this movement was the focus of Douglas Messerli's anthology. While the value of that anthology was specific, the phenomenon it documented was too diverse to categorize, ultimately. (I'm not proposing that this was the purpose of "Language" Poetries -- just that what some took for a prescription was more of a lens, really.) The larger picture was that the movement was the epicenter of a continuing renaissance in American poetry that had been most recently documented at that time in Donald Allen's The New American Poetry. While In the American Tree gave full recognition to the movement, it also indicated an awareness of the larger picture, both in the breadth of its inclusions, and in its editor's introduction.

In the American Tree
and "Language" Poetries could easily be aligned with other anthologies, such as the earlier An Anthology of New York Poets, edited by Ron Padgett and David Shapiro (1970), and Up Late: American Poetry Since 1970, edited by Andrei Codrescu, and published in the same year as "Language" Poetries. It was all good, as they say. In fact, Up Late could have been regarded as the "volume of absolutely comparable worth" proposed by Ron Silliman.

The point is that Tina Darragh was at the center of the Language Poetry movement, and had been recognized as such. And that Tina and Language Poetry were both connected to an ongoing American poetry renaissance. It was very gratifying to see Tina get the recognition she deserved, along with her DC poetry associates. The publication of Striking Resemblance was just as gratifying. Issued in Keith & Rosmarie Waldrop's great Burning Deck series, published out of Providence, RI, it was Tina's first book to be published outside of the Washington area. It began with Pi in the Skye, and contained three other pieces.

I've always assumed that D. H. Lawence's, "Trust the art not the artist," was intended to address both the issue of meaning, that the meaning of a work of art was not necessarily what the artist intended it to be, and to the issue of control, i.e., the artit's desire to control the reader's experience of the work. These issues are addressed readily in Striking Resemblance, in which process is of absolute concern. As Rod Smith wrote:

"Darragh is investigating investigation. One isn't led to conclusions. The manner in which she constructs a context for the investigation is itself the investigation.... When we learn to inhabit [this process] we'll have learned a lot."

And here is Tina:

"You know, in relational database structure there's a whole thing about webs… as opposed to hierarchically structured data bases where you have where you have the primary information up top and then you have these little boxes of secondary information and then you could have comment and other kinds of information off them. But the relational database structure is supposed to open up the possibilities of being able to retrieve the data in different ways."
(my italics)
Tina Darragh interviewed by Joan Retallack, AERIAL #5

In her interview with Joan, Tina cites the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot, the creator of fractal geometry, as a kind of model investigator, capable of looking at data and seeing entirely new patterns. Tina's intellectual generosity in Striking Resemblance is such that she creates all her readers mini-Mandelbrots. One could write a book about this book. There is the focus on Raymond Chandler (in "Raymond Chandler's Sentence") and on James M. Cain in the last piece in the book (the title of which Blogger formatting prevents me from reproducing with any accuracy); the achievement here in creating object/structure forms, combined with immensely self-expressive material; and more besides. Taking a Montessori course, studying statistics, reading a collection of essays (Demystifying Social Statistics, a collection of twenty-two essays written by social scientists and statisticians), all of these activities are subsumed into the process of an autiobiography as process.

There are several moments here. One of them is indicated by dedications in Striking Resemblance, one to Susan Howe and another to Joan Retallack. At this point in time, the history of close connections between the women poets of the DC scene had evolved into a kind of secondary community, involving Tina, Joan, Diane Ward (even though she no longer lived in DC), Beth Joselow, Phyllis Rosenzweig and Lynne Dreyer, in various combinations of interchange, collaboration, and so on, through several years. If one thinks of Douglas Messerli has having proposed a kind of deliberate coherence with "Language" Poetries, and Ron Silliman as having configured more of a working "coherence" with In the American Tree (the bigger picture), then you could say that the camera was panning back to reveal an even bigger picture; and in some ways, too, a separate picture, within the original bigger picture, at its edges, and on the outside. This would eventually lead to Margery Margaret Sloan's seminal anthology Moving Borders: Three Decades of Innovative Writing by Women, which would include Tina, Lynne, Joan, and Diane.

Joan, Lynne, Tina

Another moment was indicated by the publication of AERIAL #5 in 1989, then in its third year, and clearly demonstrating the imminence of a second surge in the Washington alternative poetry scene. Aside from publishing younger poets such as Daniel Barbiero, Gretchen Johnsen, Joe Ross, Wayne Klein, and A. L. Nielsen, editor Rod Smith had published work by Terence Winch, Douglas Messerli, Joan Retallack, and Phyllis Rosenzweig, as well as Tina Darragh, and a connection between generations was made manifest. The Joan/Tina interview and work by both poets in the same issue all gave emphasis to this. What was more, Rod's publication (through several issues of AERIAL) of work by Rosmarie Waldrop, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Gi Ott, Peter Ganick, Keith Waldrop, Elaine Equi, Susan Smith Nash, Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Alan Davies, Julia Blumenrich, Jackson Mac Low, Hank Lazer, Andrew Levy, Ray DiPalma, Eric Wirth, Loris Essary, Janet Gray, Sheila E, Murphy and Stephen-Paul Martin, refreshed and extended DC's connections to the larger scene.

end of part one

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Insert No. 7

Go here:

Insert No. 6

In my post on Michael Lally there was a list of the 31 poets included in the anthology, None of the Above, edited by Michael. To my dismay, it was brought to my attention that the list contained only 30 names, and that Simon Schuchat's name had been omitted. Simon was the prodigy of the Mass Transit era. His first book, Svelte was published when he was seventeen, I believe, with an introduction by Lewis MacAdams. His second book, Blue Skies was one of my great favorites among the SOUP publications. The first poem in Blue Skies,
"To Mayakovsky," begins,

You are distant, boss.
Made beautiful by the advantages
of poverty war and injustice.

He had me right there. In fact, he had me with "To Mayakovsky." There were many mini-Ted-Berrigans around back in those days. What separated Simon from them was his audacity, impressive in one so young. Ted Berrigan was audacious, but Simon's audacity was not copied from Ted's, it was all his own. Here is the first of his poems from None of the Above:


Howdy my names Simon

I'm almost twenty years old

I go to the University of Chicago

I take no shit from no one

Whatever that means

I'm trying out something new

When I was fourteen I won a poetry prize

Given by Scholastic Magazine

Honorable Mention Junior Division

I been writing ever since

My favorite poet is John Ashbery

Do you think I write as good as him?

You've got to love that. There was no poem in None of the Above that I liked or admired better. Simon went on to edit a terrific NYC mag, 432 Review, and later worked for the State Department in China and Hong Kong. There 's a poem in Svelte, "adapted from Tu Mu" --

This is by no means the last you'll read about Simon at this weblog. Meanwhile, here's a poem written in 1980 in Shanghai, taken from Jack Kimball's East Village Poetry Online:

The East Village

Staring at your lips so red
In black and white from 1947
A little before dawn -- the
Liberation, day of bright hope
Some children now have never seen
They live the same as their fathers
Families are separated the same
And hunger is ugly to just hear
About it, whether you blame it
On the big noses or bad eggs
And so long as they love their face
Like that their belly will be
A stone

back cover of Blue Skies

Friday, August 24, 2007

Insert No. 5

I've nothing new to say here, I only wanted to show off this artwork that I just received from Tom Raworth:

Insert No. 5

I've nothing new to say here, I just wanted to show off this artwork that I just received from Tom Rawoth:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


This is the beginning of my attempt to compile a list of publications of work by poets closely associated with the Washington DC alternative poetry scene, as well as publications out of DC of works by poets not directly associated with it. In my post on Michael Lally, I did not discuss his record as a small press publisher beyond his involvement with Some of Us Press. Between 1974 and 1979, Michael's O Press issued seven titles, all of them valuable contributions to the traditions given greater coherence by Donald Allen's The New American Poetry. As always, Michael's choices were idiosycratic, and the work he promoted covered a diverse set of poetics.

Highlighted titles indicate poets not directly connected to DC poetry

Michael Lally, What Withers (Doones Press)
Michael Lally, MCMLXVI Poem (The Nomad Press)
Michael Lally, The Lines Are Drawn (Asphalt Press)
Andrea Wyatt, Three Rooms (Oyez Press)

Michael Lally, Stupid Rabbits (Morgan Press)

Lee Lally, These Days (SOUP)
Michael Lally, The South Orange Sonnets (SOUP)
Terence Winch, Boning Up (SOUP)

Bruce Andrews, Edge (SOUP)
Susan Baker, She's a Jim-Dandy (SOUP)
Ed Cox, Blocks (SOUP)
Tim Dlugos, High There (SOUP)
Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb, Moving Violation (SOUP)
Margaret Gibson, Lunes (SOUP)
William Holland, How Us White Folks Discovered Rock and Roll (SOUP)
Michael Lally, Late Sleepers (Pellet Press)
Leonard Randolph, Scar Tissue (SOUP)
Simon Schuchat, Blue Skies (SOUP))
Andrea Wyatt, Poems of the Morning, Poems of the Storm (Oyez Press)

Mass Transit #1 Summer 1973, edited by Terence Winch

Martina Darragh, My First Play (A Dry Imager Production)
Lynne Dreyer, Lamplights Used to Feed the Deer (SOUP)
P. Inman, What Happens Next (SOUP)
Beth Joselow, Ice Fishing (SOUP)
Michael Lally, Malenkov Takes Over (A Dry Imager Production)
Robert Slater, A Rumor of Inhabitants (SOUP)
Terence Winch, Irish Musicians (O Press)
Ed Zahniser, The Ultimate Double Play (SOUP)

Mass Transit #2 Fall/Winter 1973-1974, edited by Michael Lally
Mass Transit #3 January 1974, edited by Ed Cox & Tina Darragh
Mass Transit #4 Spring/Summer 1974, edited by Michael Lally
Mass Transity #5 Fall 1974, edited by Beth Joselow and Peter Inman

Martina Darragh & Tim Dlugos, Living (A Dry Imager Production)
P. Inman, P. Inman U.S.A. (A Dry Imager Production)
Michael Lally, Oomaloom (A Dry Imager Production)
Michael Lally, Sex/The Swing Era (Lucy & Ethel)
Michael Lally, My Life (Wyrd Press)
Michael Lally, Dues (The Stonewall Press)
Michael Lally, Mentally, He's a Sick Man (Salt Lick Press)
Michael Lally, Rocky Dies Yellow (Blue Wind Press; second edition, 1977)
Phyllis Rosenzweig, Seventeen Poems (O Press)
Terence Winch, The Beautiful Indifference (O Press)
Terence Winch, Where the Yellow Went (A Dry Imager Production)

Michael Lally (editor), None of the Above (The Crossing Press)

Bruce Andrews, Vowels (O Press)
David Drum, Facade ((O Press, 1976)
Michael Lally, Charisma (O Press)
Andrea Wyatt, Founding Fathers: Book One (LLanfair Press)

Andrea Wyatt, The Movies (Jawbone Press)

Michael Lally, Just Let Me Do It (Vehicle Editions)
Michael Lally, Catch My Breath (Salt Lick Press; second edition, 1995)
Michael Lally, In the Mood (Titanic Books)

Diane Ward, Theory of Emotion (Segue/O Press, 1979)

Michael Lally, White Life (Jordan Davies)
Andrea Wyatt, Jurassic Night (White Dot Press)

Michael Lally, Attitude (Hanging Loose Press)
Michael Lally, Hollywood Magic (Little Caesar)

Andrea Wyatt, Baseball Nights (Renaissance Press)

Michael Lally, Cant Be Wrong (Coffee House Press)

Michael Lally, Of (Quiet Lion Press)
Michael Lally, It's Not Nostalgia: Poetry & Prose (Black Sparrow Press)

Michael Lally, ¿Que Pasa, Baby? (Wake Up Heavy Press)
Michael Lally, It Takes One to Know One: Poetry & Prose (Black Sparrow Press)

Michael Lally, March 18, 2003 (illustrations by Alex Katz) (Libellum) (third edition, Charta, 2006)

Tom Orange, 25 poems (The Interrupting Cow)

Insert No. 4

Michael Lally

I had not seen either of Michael's two Black Sparrow books when I did the post on him. Now I have them both, and I want to recomend them. It's Not Nostalgia (1999) is a perfect place to begin reading his work. It has two great introductory pieces of autobiography, "The South Orange Sonnets" and "Memoirs of a Revolutionary," a really excellent choice of work from Michael's DC period, 1970-1975, and from his New York period, 1975-1982. The DC section contains "The Swing Era", "My Life" and "Oomaloom," the New York section has "In the Mood," and there is just a whole lot of Michael's greatest writing. Besides, how can you not dig a book that begins with a quote from Sidney Bechet? It Takes One To Know One (2001) is packed with prime Michael, too. Here's one:

Sonnet for My 33rd

Brigitte Bardot
Abbot & Costello
Hound Dog
The Dickey Bird Song
The Girl Can't Help It
T.S. Eliot
Cassius Clay
Thelonious Sphere Monk
On the Waterfront
Pope John XXIII
Ezra Pound
Clifford Brown

Together, these two books serve as an ideal Michael Lally primer.

In my post on Michael I neglected to credit George Mattingly of Blue Wind Press for Rocky Dies Yellow, while crediting other publishers.

The self-portrait of Miles & Michael Lally above was included in the Burt Britton collection, Self Portrait (Random House, 1976).

Saturday, August 18, 2007


Peter Inman, done for a benefit reading at Folio Books, 1977

Terence Winch, done on the spot in the basement at the Strand Bookstore
in New York City, and later published in the collection of instant
self-portraits that Burt Britton had solicited over many years, 1976

Diane Ward, done for the same benefit reading at Folio Books, 1977

yours truly, a doodle from circa 1982

Lee Lally

Back in the day, I used to shop at Count's Western Wear up in Tenleytown -- cowboy shirts, cowboy boots, and a suede vest which I still have, all beat up and way too small. The seamstress at Count's was Lee Lally, one of the key figures of the Mass Transit activities in the early to mid 1970s. I never did know Lee very well. I would see her around once in a while. She gave a memorable reading in the Folio Books series, with Lee Howard, and that was about it. I never spent time with her socially, really. The night of her Folio reading she was surrounded by friends after the reading. She was a really good reader. Very present, very good at
projecting feeling in an oblique kind of way, even when the content was very direct, there was always something very subtle going on.

There was a lot of passion and humor in her work, although the humor was subtle, too, as I remember it. Her SOUP chapbook, These Days, sold out its first run, I want to say one thousand copies, I'm not sure, and was reprinted. I don't have These Days anymore, but I remember it as a very well made set of poems, not so much confessional as confrontational, i.e., with the self, with her experience, with everybody and everything, with the world. And, clearly, it resonated through a lot of people's lives.

Lee and I liked each other. In our casual exchanges at Count's, I saw someone who was very watchful, probably as hypervigilant as I was, with a warm but wary countenance. I wish that I had known her better, Because of my lack of first hand knowledge of her, I asked Michael to contribute to this post. Here is what he wrote:

Michael Lally on Lee Lally

Lee and I met in the Spring of ’61. She was a high school senior and I was a college freshman about to be kicked out, after which we became faithful correspondents. That Fall she entered the University of Buffalo (she grew up outside that city) and had poetry published in their literary magazine. Another student published one of Lee’s poems as his own, causing a minor scandal! She also played guitar and sang (blues and old style country music) in local coffee houses, and drew and painted well, was a New York State merit scholar and the state women’s fencing champion, as well as a prize winning skier and a professional puppeteer. Oh, and she sang and danced in her Catholic girls high school in musicals, e.g. she played “Bloody Mary” in South Pacific.

In August 1964 she left her job as a puppeteer on an island amusement park in Lake Erie (Fantasy Island?) and gave up the U. of Buffalo and her friends, including a pre-med student she was engaged to, to marry me and move to Spokane, Washington where I was stationed as an enlisted man in the Air Force, meaning I made less than a hundred bucks a month.

The wedding was a last minute decision, after not having seen each other since we met in ’61, instigated by various changes in my life, including most of my scene in Spokane getting arrested on various drug and sex charges. I was playing regularly in Spokane area clubs, but soon gave up drinking and the night life and we spent time writing collaborative poems, playing music, drawing, reading books aloud, going to plays (I was in my first professional play there, and underground film) and hanging with my bohemian friends who weren’t in jail.

Lee claimed to have no interest in publishing or performing publicly or going back to school. She was an incredible seamstress and cook, as well as artist, writer and musician, so she kept busy. By the time we left Spokane in ’66, I was getting published regularly in little mags around the country as that phenomenon began to take off, while she said she was contented to just write things for me.

One of the people who published me, and paid me for my poems and a short story, was a woman who was convinced I was going to write the great American novel and wanted to be my patron. She put us up in a fancy apartment in Brooklyn Heights where we lived from February ’66 to June. Lee was jealous of the woman, so when my mother passed that May, we made arrangements to move in with my father in Jersey and left the patron, the apartment, and the money she was giving me to live on.

I went to work at Overbrook Hospital, while Lee cooked and took care of the house and my dad. By the end of the summer she was fed up with that role and a Spokane friend who had moved on to the U. of Iowa Writers Workshop convinced me to come out to Iowa City and try to get in, so I did, just days before the semester started.

Lee instantly became a well known figure in Iowa City, due to her style—partly her own creations, including a cape and granny boots before they were big—as well as her unusual looks—tiny but voluptuous, black hair and penetrating green eyes, a slightly deformed chin and lips from a car accident she told me, but her parents later said it was a congenital condition from childhood (she had a scar that wrapped around one ear and ran along the bottom of the jaw line to her chin, which had no bone in it but was constructed of tissue from elsewhere).

One of the first people we befriended, outside of our Spokane friends Roy and Karen Harvey, was Ray DiPalma, a poet in the graduate workshop (I didn’t have a BA so I didn’t get in the graduate workshop until the following year) who Lee dug, and later the poet Robert Slater, who adored Lee from the minute they met and had a deep connection with her. When Ted Berrigan came to the workshop to teach around ’68, he too fell under Lee’s spell and they had a special connection as well.

A lot of the younger women students at Iowa dug Lee, and when the feminist movement of that period began to take shape, they came to her and wanted her to lead them, which she declined. She was wary of my developing politics—like running for sheriff of Johnson County, Iowa on the Peace and Freedom ticket—which took me away from home and made me a target of right wing death threats as well as gave me opportunities to appear in various student and underground films etc. Especially after she became pregnant and gave birth to our daughter in February of ’68 and then became pregnant with our son in ’69.

I met Gary Snyder that year, who hand wrote, in a calligraphy style that Lee sometimes was paid to do, one of his poems for her, which we framed and now hangs in our daughter’s home.

Upon getting my MFA from the workshop in August of ’69 I wanted to move to San Francisco where all the action seemed to be, or to Chicago, where I was working with a project attempting to turn white street gangs into revolutionaries called Rising up Angry, but Lee insisted I have a job somewhere before we moved. Through the auspices of a famous writer at the just started American Association of Writing Professors (or something like that, unfortunately I can’t remember the writers name), who I had never met but nonetheless recommended me to Trinity College in DC, a Catholic girls school, and they hired me sight unseen for their English Department.

So, we left for DC via Buffalo (detouring around the traffic mess at Woodstock, where we had intended to stop but decided it was too much trouble) and New York and Jersey. Our first apartment was in Hyattsville, because everywhere else we tried in the city wouldn’t take us with one infant and another on the way. Until we reached a “garden” apartment complex next to a huge intersection where two major roads intersected and there were no sidewalks.

Lee and Michael with their children, Cailtlin and Miles

There were a lot of ethnicities in the complex—Korean, Mexican, everything except African-American—and a lot of white “country folk” who Lee instantly befriended (her mother had been a country girl from upstate New York and Lee had many aunts and uncles and cousins who grew up and still lived on farms where she had spent her summers as a kid). That’s where we were when our son was born, and where we often housed visiting radicals, like the gang kids from Chicago in for demonstrations in DC, or poets, like Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley, who were staying with us when our kids accidentally ate rat poison (Ted wrote about it in a diary style piece of prose that was later published in an issue of The World).
Ray DiPalma was there when our son was born (he is his godfather). The place was usually filled with people, either from out of town or neighbors or new DC friends. It was while living there that Lee ran into an old friend from Buffalo in a supermarket who talked Lee into joining her at a “consciousness raising session” with several women at the home of a woman who talked about how she only married her husband to show the guy she wanted to marry up, because he wouldn’t marry her and it was all his fault and—as if you could ever invent this shit—it turned out that the guy was me.

I had met her the winter before I met Lee, at another upstate New York college. She was a beautiful and brilliant Italian-American woman who edited her college literary mag. When I wouldn’t marry her, she married this other guy and had three kids and now was unhappy! For which Lee came back pissed off at me! That was the beginning of the end for us, though we didn’t see it.

On a pot run to the Midwest in ‘71, I cheated for the first time in our then seven years together and brought back more than the pot. After that, I slept on the couch for weeks, and Lee went to more and more meetings with her growing feminist network. That same year an anthology of “movement” poetry came out, Campfires of the Resistance, with some of my poetry in it, so I organized a reading by anyone in the DC area in the anthology, at the Institute for Policy Studies (if I remember correctly) at which a very large standing room only crowd showed up to hear us.

Lee and I had already encountered the local academic poetry scene, which didn’t interest us, and I had been organizing readings at Trinity by all kinds of outré poets since ’69, but after the Campfires reading I decided to start a weekly reading series at the new location for the Community Bookshop on P Street. Dave Mancuse had started the shop around the time I arrived in DC in its first location on M I think, but had recently moved it to P near Dupont Circle. Lee became a regular at the new reading series, which we pretty quickly called Mass Transit (forget who came up with the name) and out of which some of us started a magazine by that name.

Bruce Andrews, Lee Lally, Nathan Whiting, unknown student
at Trinity

By the time we rented a house on Emery Place in “Friendship Heights” in early ’72, Lee had become a full blown feminist and I had been affected by the ideas as well. That same year we started a press called Some Of Us Press, along with Terence Winch and Ed Cox and others. My idea was to publish a chapbook of poetry by a local poet every month, which we managed to do for awhile. Lee helped choose and design some of the books, one of which was hers, These Days, which gathered the poems she had started writing again under the impetus of her feminist education and experiences. Some were published in feminist and gay and women’s publications that were beginning to crop up around the country, and all had been tried out at Mass Transit.

Lee wasn’t much to talk about her emotions, and didn’t care for others speculating on what she was thinking or feeling, but her poetry made it clear. She later claimed that she hadn’t been writing much poetry since her Buffalo days because of sexism, and that it was the nuns in her high school and her artist and feminist friends (Lee had many women artist friends over the years, including Joan Hanor, who designed the SOUP logo) who gave her the inspiration to take up poetry again.
I always felt a little hurt by that explanation, because I had encouraged her to write, to publish, to do music and all the rest, even to return to college, but she always resisted. I also helped her put These Days together and got some of the poems in it published (in the Trinity Record and December, etc.) but she didn’t acknowledge me, or any of her other male friends and supporters, like Terry or Slater or Ed Cox et. al. in the book, just women.

At any rate, once she returned to writing and sharing a more public kind of poetry, she was an instant hit. Feminists adored her work and These Days had an immediate impact on many women, as well as men. The title came from a song that a feminist singer/songwriter whose name I don’t remember wrote and sang at a concert Lee attended in DC around ’71 (there’s a plethora of songs with that title on Google but not the one that Lee was referring to).

The poems in it were influenced by the blues Lee loved (Memphis Minnie was a particular icon of hers) and old timey country (Mama Maybelle Carter another of Lee’s great influences and loves). And of course it was influenced by the sexual politics we were living through and experimenting out of. Lee had taken a female lover and encouraged me to take male ones, as part of what we thought was going to be the liberation of future generations from the bonds of gender and sexual discrimination.
The house on Emery had quickly become a “commune” in which all kinds of people lived or visited (Valerie Salinas was famously dropped off on our porch after she got out of prison and ended up a good friend of mine but intimidated the women in the commune because she didn’t like their brand of feminism, as she went back to hooking for her money and claimed to enjoy it even though she preferred women for romantic and long time sexual relations, she made the point that her idea of feminism was to create a world where women could do whatever the fuck they felt like doing, not follow some politically correct dictums).
In ’74, I moved out of what by then had turned from a crazy collection of all kinds of lefties, to a strictly lesbian feminist collective. Lee remained in the house with the other women and our kids, and I moved to apartments in the Dupont Circle area until in Spring of ’75 I moved to New York where our kids joined me for the summer and our son stayed. Our daughter returned to DC and her mother and the commune.
Eventually the commune fell apart and Lee ended up with a boyfriend, a younger man whose nickname was “Boo” from the movie of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee’s female lover, who she was with for several years before Boo, was nicknamed “Atticus” from the same movie. A favorite book and film of Lee’s I might add. What are the odds.

In early ’80, our daughter made the decision to come live with her brother and me in New York. The move was to take place at the start of the summer. But in March I think it was, Lee got sick and didn’t see a doctor and our daughter came home from school one day to find Lee unable to get out of bed. The boyfriend finally came home and took her to a nearby hospital, where they discovered a serious infection in her ovaries caused by an old IUD. During the operation to remove the IUD and the ovaries, Lee stopped breathing for a few minutes, and when they revived her, she was in a coma, which she remained in for six years before finally passing away.

There was a malpractice suit brought by the court appointed guardian for Lee (we were divorced by then and her parents signed over any rights). It ended up being I think the largest sum ever awarded in that part of the country, six million dollars. But they appealed and it was eventually reduced to two million, out of which the government took a third, the lawyers took a third and court costs, and the remaining money was used to care for Lee. Some of that money was invested by the guardian, and the kids ended up getting some after Lee passed.

By the time that happened, Some Of us Press had long folded and Lee’s These Days had been reprinted by a Baltimore feminist press called Diana’s (if I remember correctly). Lee accused the women at that press of ripping her off, by reprinting the book without giving her any royalties, and by understating the amount of copies printed and reprinted in several editions never marked as such, according to Lee.
As of this date, they have never been accountable, or others who have reprinted Lee’s work, to Lee or to her children, though many of the same women claim Lee as a role model and an icon in their feminism.

I think a poem from These Days, “The Reading,” best expresses what I tried to recount here in terms of Lee’s relationship to her life and art:

The Reading

to the readers.
Painfully some try to decide fast
‘what two poems will make them love me?’.
Still sitting
hearing all the cries,
a different hand stretches
over air
to pat my belly.
I decided not so fast
but long ago
it didn’t matter.