- The Poet & Publisher at his desk
- photographed by Joseph Anderson
from Jonathan Williams
Book of Days
My research is devoted to the domain of intimacy, to the domain in which psychic weight is dominant. -- Gaston Bachelard
All that follows is about ways to focus poetic energies. Staring into the fire is a starting point, the hearth being a sacred place and focus meaning hearth in the Latin. I am full of Bachelards topology these days and reverie is a state easily brought on by sitting in the the snug of this early 17th century cottage on the southern flank of Dentdale where the night comes early. So, staring into the hearth; also, staring into the word hearth. Ronald Johnson has so arranged it that it co-exists with a variety of excellent companions:
Hearth, right in the core of things. A writer must also have a second hearth: his desk, with its typewriter, pens, papers, a general midden covered with the ashes of occasionally enkindled thoughts. What a writer needs to be aware of, constantly, are his fire-points. The intake on my desk is enough in itself to feed, to inspirit, to provide calories, and I realize that I have been wasting these materials much too cavalierly, worrying about lack of response, when there was an amplitude of response there under my nose. In the midst of the intake, we ought to begin to see output as well. It will take a while, but, like they say, Ive got nothing better to do.
December 26, 1971:
Wendell Berry, from Think Little, published in The Last Whole Earth Catalog: We cannot feed or clothe ourselves, or entertain ourselves, or communicate with each other, or be charitable or neighborly or loving, or even respect ourselves, without recourse to a merchant or a corporation or a public service organization or an agency of the government or a style-setter or an expert. Most of us cannot think of dissenting from the opinions or the actions of one organization without first forming a new organization. Individualism is going around these days in uniform, handing out the party line on individualism. Dissenters want to publish their personal opinions over a thousand signatures . . . We are going to have to rebuild the substance and the integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not need to wait upon organizations but who can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.
Robert Duncan, from a letter: I feel that my civic duties to Poetry belong to the Age of Olson. Its not that the adventure of twenty years is overI have that exploration of what Charless propositions of field and of projective meant and can mean very much with mebut Poetry has had new adventures since the early fifties. And, of me, there is the lovely possibility of bringing my art home. Let the Field, Roots, and the Bow stand for whatever publicity Im to have. Ive not had anything like the good Abbe Liszts public career, but his It seems to me, now, high time that I should be somewhat forgotten appeals to me for my own intentions in work. Ground Work is an effort, slow in getting under weigh, to move into a dimension where new work will take place more and more in the confines of a private world.
A Sialagogue of Pure Beaver
For the 80th Birthday of
Henry Hot Lips Miller
irritatingly wiry, especially
Happy birthday, Earle Brown, who once remarked: There are always more natives than ruins.
December 27, 1971:
Happy Birthday, Charles Olson.
Happy Birthday, Mina Loy.
Guy Davenport, from a letter: Bless you for remembering my advanced birthday. I can still come three times a day, digest my food without undue zymosis, see like a hawk, hear like a cat, and keep to the regulation 120 steps per minute in my daily two miles walk. If God had meant us to ride-in automobiles, he would have provided us with wheels and put a tailpipe in our ass. . . . I have a strong feeling that things need to be around a few years before they get their love songs properly sung. The artists, the poet, the creator, wants instant recognition. He usually gets a wrongheaded recognition, or none, but the work is THERE, out in the world. I could fill the rest of the page with historical examples; so could you. And consider that in the USA nowadays, the louder the whoop, the sooner the obsolescence. . . . Frankly, mon vieux, I dont think Louie Wittgenstein would keep you amused for over ten seconds. Try some Lichtenstein (lovely to steal from), and then go back over your Pythagoras, and work up to the good Ludwig. I cant understand him (except here and there), but I like to read him for clearing my head. . . . It is heartening to see the American Empire bringing Kentucky fried chicken (with a pint of best bitter? a cup of tea?) to the shores of Albion. But do they run the Colonels places as in Kentucky? Do they serve the coffee first? The drink of your choice, do they get it to the table a half-hour before the entrie? There is no such person as Carlos Toadvine.
December 28, 1971:
Charles Sonny Liston (who died this date 1970), quoted in the New York Times: Newspapermen ask dumb questions. They look up at the sun and ask you if the sun is shining.
Basil Bunting, from a letter: I find it possibleno, necessaryto laugh at all my friends and I presume, or hope, they laugh at me. How else we are to thole the ridiculous burden of human oddity I dont know.
December 31, 1971:
Lorine Niedecker (who died this date 1970), from a letter March 4, 1964: Forgive the pictures. They are a housewifes, a retired poet s, a mere dabbling in school kids paints. A sudden fierce desire to paint everything I loveif it has simple lines and much color. But its likely, isnt it, that every poet feels a great desire to paint, no matter how primitively. You can write about a thing with great excitement akin to ecstasy, but paint, that takes love. Then too, it appeases my desire to possess things. But this, the desire to possess, has been leaving me anyhow. Marriage, however, brings with it the house, the kitchen stove, the- living room furnishings, the land, a flower, the evergreen tree which Cid Corman suggests we should have to live on a little beyond us.
George Lewis (who died this date 1968):
in the old days
we lived more like a family;
strangers to each other
lines arranged from obituary in the NY Times.
January 3, 1972:
A YEARS SUPPLY OF PIPEWEED FOR JOHN RONALD REUEL
TOLKIEN, EIGHTY TODAY, FROM AN HOBBITUÉ OF 35
Ian Hamilton Finlay, from a letter: Eck is recovering from his trampling, and Sue has recovered from her fainting-fit, and I am recovering from The Scotsmans total dismissal of my neon-poem exhibition, in a couple of sentences, about neon in general, brash, and not even about the works. One might suppose that Scotland had been looking at neon-poems ever since Norman McCaig wrote A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle. What a COLD, MEAN lot. (What the reviewer really liked were the ceramic cameras hung on parachutes, over the stair. They were by an art student and could be taken seriously, unlike IHF.) Have you a spare copy of your comments on The Hick Press?
Kenneth Grahame, from The Wind in the Willows:
And beyond the Wild Wood again? he asked: Where its all blue and dim, and one sees what may be hills or perhaps they maynt, and something like the smoke of towns, or is it only cloud-drift?
Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide Worldsaid the Rat. And thats something that doesnt matter, either to you or me. Ive never been there, and Im never going, nor you either, if youve got any sense at all. Dont ever refer to it again, please. Now then! Heres our backwater at last, where were going to have lunch.
Home! That was what they meant, those caressing appeals, those soft touches wafted through the air, those invisible little hands pulling and tugging, all one way!
Now, with a rush of old memories, how clearly it stood up before him in the darkness! Shabby indeed, and small and poorly furnished, and yet his, the home he had made for himself, the home he had been so happy to get back to after his days work. And the home had been happy with him, too, evidently, and was missing him, and wanted him back, and was telling him so, through his iiose, sorrowfully, reproachfully, but with no bitterness or anger; only with plaintive reminder that it was there, and wanted him.
But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the flow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him and now smilingly received him back, without rancour....He saw clearly how plain and simplehow narrow, evenit all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one s existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to, this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.
January 6, 1972:
Happy Birthday, Alan Watts!
Happy Birthday, John Wieners!
Happy Birthday, Alexander Scriabin (1872)!
Dom Silvester Houi~dard, OSB, from a letter: david vicary? spelt that way?? i know a david VICKERY now the revd david christopher vwas up at jesus with methe 1968 college list gives him as 23 wyndham sq: plymouthcld it be the same?this TINY world that mr mcluhans makingits more like bonsaieg i think i said that this new jeune ami xphr hobbs turned out to be an ancien jeune ami of brian fothergillhow o glad i am that you have met brian at lastsoon it may even be david borgia ducks turnby the way this xphr hobbs has been designing an ARTICHOKE SHAPED HOUSE that opens & closes for a millionaire who has two clocks on the facade of his current abodeone for hours & one for minutesalso derek jarman i saw at the logsdailshe was involved with his sets for the new ken russell film of gaudierbrezhka & in particular on reconstructing the omega workshophe wants prinknash to make (remark) some omega pots for the scene-&c but you must do ALL you can to meet dereksomeone is about to publish his juvenilia under the title: the finger in the fishs mouth (the frontispiece is a naked neapolitan boy with a flying fish & with his finger stuck in its mouth)...
John Berger, from an essay on ways of seeing in the Listener: "... we discover that oil-painting was primarily an art form for the advertisement of private property.
Kenneth Cox, from Three Who Have Died in the magazine Earth Ship 3: Lorine Niedecker died on 31 December 1970. She had lived her life by river and lakeside in Wisconsin, far from literary cenacles, gossip and gadgetry (no, I dont have a tape-recorder and dont know of anyone within a couple of hundred miles who does), attentive to weather, family, meals, chores, boats, water, and the people about her (the folks from whom all poetry flows / and dreadfully much else). She got up early to read, maintained an extensive correspondence and was interested to the end in examples of extreme technique. ... Her poems, physical in feel to a point that calls for terms applied to food: tender, tart, tough, use word and intonation with such subtlety and concentration they unfold details of existence, after who can tell what discouragement, to a deep stillness. For me poetry is a matter of planting it in deep, a filled silence, each person reading it a silence to be filled.
The Vicar of Beverley, from a letter: There is no modern book on the misericords of the Minster. The only complete work is called The Misereres of Beverley Minster, by T. T. Wildridge, 1879. This is out of print, of course, but can be seen in the Reference Department of Beverley Borough Library: so it looks as though you will have to make a pilgrimage here to see it. The misericords may be lifted for inspection. The vergers tremble because careless visitors (of whom there are many) then promptly drop them heavily, which does not improve the hinges.
Paul Potts, from To Keep a Promise: Someone once said to me: I have not seen you for some time, where have you been? I told her I had been in Putney. Oh, came the reply, I have been reading your book, so you have been at home.
I hope this book will prove that a lame duck can lay a very good egg."
If anything I may yet write should ever be the cause of a literary luncheon, remember that the people to whom it belongs are those who will have to do the washing up. For I am lonely for a whole world in which people stop making a profit out of each other.
As I cant be a poet I would like my mind to be a junk shop on the floor of which the MS of an unknown poem of William Blake was found.
One must fight on two fronts at the same time. One must see that the ordinary gets its right and the rare its necessary privileges, for to the rare, privilege is a necessity.
Surely anything worth saying twice is worth listening to once. I have said several things twice in this book, and I have said them twice on purpose. But you have to listen with your mind not just with your ears.
Stop talking about revolution and start thinking about the person next to you. It does not make it less wrong to kill a man, if you call him a nigger before you do it. And this is just as true, if not so urgent, it does not make it less wrong to kill a man, if you call him a fascist before you do it. Yet a real artist knows which side he is on and funnily enough it is not the side on which his bread is buttered. Leave me among the losers until losing is over, but then whats the telephone number of the girl whos going to give the party. . . ? Remember Swifts weighty remark about when a real artist is born among men he immediately becomes a target for a confederacy of dunces. Not only did I put all my eggs in one basket, but that basket was made out of this language.
Ezra Pound once wrote: The arts are noble only as they meet the inner needs of the poor, and look at what he went and did. Life is indeed very complicated.
Advanced Epitaph for Paul Huge Patrick Howard Potts (Lamed- Vovnik 36-1/2, Jesuit, Canadian, Jeffersonian, Victim, Shayner Yid & Literary Gent):
IF YOURE WALKING TO THE MOON, IVE GOT CLEAN SOCKS FOR YOU
Russell Edson, from a letter: Ive been bringing all Ive got (thank you for introducing me to that expression by Bob Gibson), but nobodys gotten it. It might be because my flutes got only one string, my violin but one hole. . . . I dont write fables anymore; while the fad holds, I writes prose-poems. . . . My editor at Harper & Row told me that poetry is out-selling novels, whatever that means. Where things are going one cannot tell. More and more of the better-known (heh heh) poets are into the short prose; and the neither-fish nor-fowl-types, like yours truly, are of seeming moment, and I do mean moment in this land of the fad. So I sit here in Connecticut dreaming on these things
Advertisement in the London Times: NOBEL PRISE (Literature). Potential winner needs cash aid. Write Dryden, 67 Salisbury Rd., N.W.6.
Happy Birthday, Robert Duncan!
Happy Birthday, George Stanley!
Julian S. Myrick (who died this date 1969):
while working at Mutual of New York
became friendly with another clerk,
Charles Ives, an athlete and musician
during the 3 decades that followed
they sold 750 million
worth of life insurance
gave up smoking cigars in 1924,
gave up chewing them in 1959
lines arranged from obituary in NY Times.
January 9, 1972:
Happy Birthday, A. Doyle Moore!
The A. stands for Calvin, as in Coolidge, but Doyles father decided Alvin sounded better than Calvin. A deep man, Père Moore... A. Doyle Moore is the formulator of one of the classic truths of our time: You can always tell white trash, but you cant tell it much.
Happy Birthday, Sally Midgette!
Happy Birthday, Walter Spearman!
Eira Reeves, Advertising & PR, KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN (GREAT BRITAIN) LTD., from a letter: Thank you for your letter requesting a full size cut-out of Col. Harland Sanders. It gives us great delight to see that you are supplied with the same, and it will be forwarded to you iii the next few days. It is unfortunate that we have not, as yet, opened a Kentucky Fried Chicken shop in Westmorelandotherwise we would have supplied you with the drums as well! However, as a consolation, please find enclosed a list of KFC stores in Great Britain and perhaps on your travels you may like to visit one. Meantime, we hope when Col. Sanders arrives that he will take pride of place in your cottage.
January 10, 1972:
Charles Olson (who died this date 1970), from an early letter: 0, Jonathan, to be furious is to be frighted out of fear!
Kenneth Patchen, his obituary in the Times of London:
Kenneth Patchen, the American poet, who pioneered poetry reading to the accompaniment of jazz music in the 1950s, died at Palo Alto, California, on Saturday. He was 60.
Patchen wrote several books and a large collection of poems, many of them popular in the 1930s and early l940s. His antiwar poetry, written nearly four decades ago, has regained popularity in some circles because of sentiment against the war in Vietnam. His writings included Collected Poems of Kenneth Patchen, See You In the Morning, The Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer, The Journal of Albion Moonlight.
January 11, 1972:
Printing House Square
London EC4P 4 DE
(Re/ Obituary of Kenneth Patchen, published January 10th)
It was never possible to place Patchen, for the simple reason (that Kenneth Rexroth has pointed out) there is no place for a poet of his order in American society. As a result, there was all too much talk of his being the sad and gentle hermit of the American desert, the blood-brother ot Villon and Shelley and Blake, and other such whimsies long before he died the other day in California. What he was was a man with the eyes of a lion, the firmest of handshakes, and no business on earth but writing it down from wherever he got it.
To their credit, British writers were less silent about him than the desolate community of poets in his native country. His articulate enthusiasts included Charles Wrey Gardiner, Alex Comfort, David Gascoyne, Edith Sitwell, Stevie Smith, Dylan Thomas, Hugh MacDiarmid, and Paul Potts. And some others less known: Denis Gould, John Rowan, John Furnival, Nathaniel Tarn, Albert McCarthy, and Ruthven Todd. It is good to remember them when faced by the current enchiridion of asps who write for the English weeklies and papers, who would still have no time for the likes of Kenneth Patchen.
He wrote not several books, as reported in the Times, but well over thirty in thirty-five years. He was a natural poetic athlete. Like Babe Ruth, he struck out a lot in order to hit the occasional poem over the left-field fence. For a generation of us growing up in the 40s and 50s he was a man who stood for something, who put it all on the line. And, like Blake, Patchen could occasionally give you a line you had been waiting for all your life. It was at his cabin in Connecticut that I first learned about people named Mervyn Peake, Henry Miller, C~line, Anton Bruckner, George Lewis and Bunk Johnson, Morgenstern, Rilke, Firbank, and Dylan Thomas (the latter had written KP a boxful of letters during the War).
Bob Gibson, who pitches for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, says: Bring all you got! Patchen did just that, good times and bad. Those who want to honor him should read the Selected Poems (Jonathan Cape) and hear his recordings. I am going to play the Adagio of Bruckners Sixth and George Lewis on Over the Waves. If I were to say what to put on his stone, it would be: THE LIONS OF FIRE/ HAVE HAD THEIR HUNTING.
January 13, 1972:
Happy Birthday, Rosa Doner!
James Broughton from a letter: Hail & hurrah & ho ho ho & happiness (as Barbara Jones used to affirm). . . . Dont take it so hard. You expect too much. Expect nothing from nobody, and your temper is apt to be more serene. By which I mean: nobody ever says much of anything worth reading or listening to. Real criticism (that which tells you anything revealing) is the rarest of gifts. And, alas, we cannot be asked for gifts. If you know your own achievement, then you must know that the successwhich is the worlds response to itis out of your hands, is in the realm of the unpredictable. I will be utterly amazed if any review of A Long Undressing says anything like what I have received in letters from Duncan, Helen Adam, Eve Triem, Madeline Gleason &c . . . Cheer up, Jonathan dear. Though I dont know for what.
Geoffrey Grigson, from an interview in the Times of London:
Prickliness boils down not to ones character, but what you think worthy of respect. Theres so much faking and trimming around that you have to keep a sharp look-out.
If the behaviour of old friends is offensive what is one to do? I suppose one should try to ignore it. But theres a degree of arse-licking which I cant put up with. All I do is reactinstinctively and without malice.
Perhaps its just writers that one should beware of. I have always found that I get on best with painters, possibly because theyre more interested in painting than anything else. Do I keep my friends? You know, I dont think that we make many.
Ross Feld, from a letter: Thanks for the Alfred Starr Hamilton book in particular. After getting hit on the head by a long ball like that, one begins to think theyve been living in total isolation. If nothing else, Jonathan, a lot of the books you publish, and this in particular, make poets remember how ignorant they are. This spooky old man, Hamilton, thrumming the language so, blissfully unaware about Sylvia Plath, Robert Bly, James Dickey and other apparatchiks of the force-fed pantheon. Even unaware, most probably, of Pound, Williams, Spicer et al. A bitter and refreshing lesson in thatwe know no one and we need no one to come and take a seat in the poem. Hamiltons poems are beautiful poems written on water: they go away gracefully and one waits for the next writing. I found it a moving, galling book.
January 15, 1972:
Miriam Patchen, from a letter: The last hours were no different from any others. He rose in the middle of Friday night for some buttermilk, gave water to Mr. Sitwell, argued a bit against my helping him as I awakened almost instantly. Hed knocked something off the stove in catching hold of it to steady himself. The crash had me tearing out to him and I called, insisting on his returning to bed. He promised to and he promised to awaken me for anything he wanted. He said he was allright, just give him a minute to get his strength. Of course I went in, regardless of his Im allright, dont get up bit. He was holding onto the stove, sort of stuck between the wall and back of the stove, sweating profusely, as he always did in pain. I tried to reach for him to hold or help. He started away from the nitch, fell backwards onto the utility porch. All this was as had been tens of other times. Knowing itd cause him more pain if I tried to move him I covered him with warm blankets. He fell asleep almost instantlyagain, a common pattern in this house for many years. That was 3:30 AM. He slept, snoring, since he was on his back, for many hours. About 1 P.M. next day the snoring stopped and he was very quiet. I watched closelyas I had all those hoursto see if he were about to awaken enough to be moved to bed. After a bit it seemed too quiet. My checks were tentative for hed usually awaken and grumble about being awakened, that he was allright where he was etc. But I shortly got our neighbor, the policeman, feeling he was experienced in detecting life. He came instantly. Pronounced death present. That was it. There was no funeral. He was cremated and the ashes cast on the Pacific. Its over.
January 16, 1972:
James Laughlin, from a letter: I am sure that Patchen would have greatly enjoyed the baseball references in your letter to the London Times. I am not a very emotional person, but Kenneths going does somehow mark the end of a chapter. I feel about him just about the way you do, that basically he was a very sweet and wonderful person. Ill always remember, with deep gratitude, his devotion to New Directions in the early days when he was living out here in the white cottage and getting out all the orders, and doing the bookeeping with Miriams help, and putting up with my testy communications from on the road as I was selling books in distant cities.
January 17, 1972:
Happy Birthday, Father!
Happy Birthday, Tony Morely!
Guy Davenport, from a letter: Very, very sorry to hear of the death of Patchen. . . . And John Berryman, poor crazy bastard, threw himself off a bridge. . . . I have been low with the fluburning and freezing simultaneously. Cooked my brain, I think, as my imagination is all dried up. Only P. G. Wodehouse pleases me to read, and when I sit down to write or draw the Muse is reluctant to join in and push. School has been all too soon. The jug-eared sophomores are learning about Pascal, and the grad students about Gus Flaubert. Only good thing about the flu is that one can do French rs to perfection with all that phlegm. It is because I pronounce French in French that the Generalissima of the local Fem Lib Harpy Squad has denounced me for a Fascist Elitist Pig. . . . I give to you (but surely you have it) the monument to the great Mormon in New Hampshire: On This Spot Was Born Brigham Young 1801 A Man of Much Courage And Superb Equipment.
Ronald Johnson, from a letter: ____________ arrived stepping in dog-shit outside the door and tracked it up every step, every carpeted step, through the carpeted hall, into the kitchen where it eventually showed up on the linoleum. It took 45 minutes of wiping up each progressively shittier print with carpet cleaner, until at last one reachedthe matrix at bottom. I talked to him about two hours about existence and the necessity for finding out about something beyond the Universitysomething, anything realand ended by saying: and then you wouldnt step in the dog-shit.
RJ, from The Eye: An Introduction: The human lens grows flatter for looking across a prairie, and the sparrow is able to see the seed beneath its billand in the same instantthe hawk descending. A cat watches the sparrow-at-the-end-of-the-world in a furred luminosity of infra-reds, enormous purples.