Essay

The Geographical Rewriting of Memory by bart plantenga

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The Geographical Rewriting of Memory

 

bart plantenga

Listen to Wreck Travel Memory as you read 

It all begins with some lit fuse, an old jingle for Palisades Amusement Park you’re still able to sing along with [“shows & dancing are free”], or the snap of a finger, the way she used to from the edge of the bed with a smirk, some glance of exposed warm skin holding the aroma of sun tan lotion, the sea lions in Central Park Zoo that remind you of Salinger – & reading Salinger on the 1979 F-Train & meeting Sylvina. I used to be a foot messenger & would pass through the zoo when it was rundown but free & I would talk to the animals between deliveries. [The old zoo serves as the final destination in BEER MYSTIC.] Or maybe its some vintage news report from the 1968 Chicago Riots, or an email from an old flame you came to NYC with from Ann Arbor who is wondering how you’re doing, or a sound – in my case, the sound bites here included, plus a few elusive bars from “Funk #49” by James Gang. Or is it Paloma taking photos of turtles in Central Park because she remembers my touching stories about my turtle “Spotty” when I was 10 & how the neighbors released him & I was heartbroken. “Was that what Spotty looked like?” she kept asking.

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The Crows by Paulette Powell

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The Crows

 

by Paulette Powell

 

Crows fly Charlie couldn’t stop talking about the crows, “The crows, I’ve never seen anything like it before! I tell you, hundreds, weighing down the tree limbs… when it was over, all of a sudden, the whole flock flew away.”

He’d taken several snapshots of the family. On second inspection, I could see Charlie’s signature style, “photo victims” standing in obedience, as though his pic would be featured in the Telegraph magazine. It was always about presentation, even if it weren’t the truth. He was good at directing and folks would comply.

A family portrait. There was Uncle Peter, the poet, and sweet Aunt Elizabeth. Cousins, David and Emma, who once visited us in NYC, right after David’s great bump on the head that proved a miracle awakening. Brother Benedict, looking like a Hell’s Angel, his aura of defiance fighting his English attire. Alongside conservative sister in law, Liz, whose gray hair and glasses were neatly packaged in school teacher manner, revealed Benedict wasn’t really the black sheep to marry a practical spouse. The Parents, were located in the center. “Mum”, a tormented matriarch, who did her best to bare a heavy cross of a sick girl. Her face still revealed a handsome woman, a diplomat’s wife. And “Dad”, who seemed always distant, unattainable for family but faithful to Kate. His eyes revealed a deep sadness beneath a hard exterior, betrayed the knighted war hero. He wasn’t made of stone, but marble layers of duty kept him locked away, sentencing him to a numb existence.
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Continuing Continuation, on Louis Dudek by Stephen Morrissey

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Continuing Continuation, on Louis Dudek

 

by Stephen Morrissey

 

“…remember/ the paltriness of worldly claims,/ and the immensity/ that is always now.”

—Louis Dudek, Continuation III

1

A curious literary synchronicity: on January 4, 1963, Margaret Avison experienced a mystical experience in which she discovered her faith in God; this had a profound influence on her future poetry. On January 4, 1967, exactly four years later, Louis Dudek began writing the first of three volumes of one of the most important modern poems in Canadian literature, Continuation. In Notebooks 1960 – 1994 (1994), Dudek writes, “The great poems tend to be great expository statement. And each such poem is a central poem for the poet in question, containing the core of his vision and thought.” That’s what is in Continuation, Dudek’s “vision and thought.” Several years before Dudek published Continuation I, Susan Stromberg-Stein referred to it as “a poem that will possibly be his [Dudek’s] final ongoing poem, for he has subtitled it ‘An Infinite Poem in Progress.’ In this work one observes the poet combining lyrical fragments and setting them into a continuous form that has the permanence of finished poetry…” (Stromberg-Stein, M.A. thesis, McGill University, 1977) Dudek was not interested in writing an autobiography, he had an abhorrence of sensationalism, and he rejected what he considered any egotistical drawing attention to oneself. However, Ron Everson, an old friend of Dudek’s, states in a 1983 interview that Dudek’s theme in his poetry “is his whole life.” Dudek writes, “The whole story means my whole life… But you know we say poetry, or any art, is the expression of the life of the artist, of his whole psyche, of himself on the page . . . Each poet, in fact, out of the scattered thoughts going on in his mind, makes the construct that he calls the finished poem.” (Louise Schrier interview, 1990)   How a poet handles writing about “his whole life” depends on the poet’s intention; is the poet’s voice an authentic expression of his psyche or is it ego-centric and self-promoting? As well, Dudek does not condemn strong emotion in poetry or even highly emotional confessional poetry; what he condemns is self-inflation. Dudek’s dismissal of John Cage, and other avant-garde artists, who might have embraced and supported what he was doing in poetry, is unfortunate. Dudek writes, “John Cage: A soft-brained idiot. The purpose of his inane talk is a subtle kind of self-promotion, disguised as humility, but full of name-dropping and self-pampering.” (Notebooks, 1994) One of Dudek’s great underlying concerns in Continuation is the passion of a life lived for poetry, a life dedicated to poetry. He describes writing poetry as an “addiction.” Dudek lived in New York City for a number of years in the late 1940s and early 1950s and it was during this time that he came under the influence of Ezra Pound; while there he knew other poets, including Paul Blackburn. I remember Dudek telling me of knowing Blackburn, that as they walked along a city street together Blackburn climbed a telephone pole and sat on the top of it. Dudek’s years in New York City, studying at Columbia University, meeting Ezra Pound and other artists — being in a milieu of art and creativity — are the seminal years in Dudek’s creative life. Dudek contributed to the image of himself as conservative in his criticism of hippies, experiments in alternative lifestyles, and student rebellion in the mid-to-late 1960s; however, his earlier long poems and Continuation, a poem that is more sophisticated and avant-garde than most poetry being written in Canada today, refute this perception. Robin Blaser writes, “They understand him to be a reactionary, which is to say that they misunderstand him.” (Infinite Worlds, 1988) Most people who have studied Dudek’s poetry feel that he was overly influenced by Ezra Pound; however, eventually this changed and as much as Dudek had once supported Pound he later found fault with him. This is an example of the puer overthrowing the senex, it is when the children or followers of people who are significant to them finally divest themselves of the other person’s influence; the alternative is to never fully realize one’s own potential. I suspect that it is only with Dudek’s growing discontent with the importance he had given to Pound that he was able to begin writing Continuation. As an aside, I remember Dudek telling me that in all of his years of teaching he never convinced anyone of the greatness of Pound’s poetry. (See, as well, Dk/ Some Letters of Ezra Pound, ed. Louis Dudek, 1974)

 
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Purple Manta Ray: Death of a Playboy by bart plantenga

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Purple Manta Ray: Death of a Playboy

 

bart plantenga

 

The other night I heard Paul Mauriat’s 1968 hit “Love Is Blue.” It’s forever associated with my childhood bedroom where I’d notate the weekly Top 40 while building model cars like this one, the purple Manta Ray, the only one I ever photographed.

purple RayMy friend Paul’s father, who worked at the Ford plant just down US 1, always wore neatly ironed, striped linen shirts & combed his hair after his shower like he was in a rockabilly band, & maybe he had been. Like a young Frank Gorshin, with a smile sharp as a blade & stinking of a brisk splash of Aqua Velva, exhaling onto the couch after his shift, feet up on the coffee table, a bottle of Country Club – it’s called malt liquor because it’s a totally different kind of drink – in his right hand.

He was cool – or at least as much as a constellation of product choices & a few borrowed affectations can hint at – he had over 50 LPs (a lot back then – for a father) from Dave Brubeck to Martin Denny, through to Gene Vincent & always had a stack of Motor Trend, Playboy & cheesier magazines piled neatly on the lacquered coffee table, although it was probably Paul’s mother who piled them up so neatly – & chronologically.

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Roberto Bolano, an Appreciation by Ron Kolm

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Roberto Bolano, an Appreciation

 

by Ron Kolm

 
 

So you’re a young poet, and you’ve just heard a pretty good reading at Gathering of Tribes on Third Street, and you had yourself a beer or two during the event, which you didn’t pay for because you’re broke and the amount of rent you pay for your East Village walk-up is exorbitant, but you mean well, you’re not a bad person; you’ll drop some extra change in the hat next time you come. And now you find yourself outside on the sidewalk with a gaggle of your friends, who are also poets, trying to decide which local watering hole you should all head for. Let’s say you end up at the Parkside Lounge on East Houston Street, watching your buddies shoot pool — all the while caging drinks from them; obviously you’re still without cash, and the best strategy here is to get one of the folks who’s better off at this moment to buy a pitcher – and you manage to pull that off – heck, maybe you can get him to buy two pitchers; it’s worth considering. And then your friends who have been shooting pool come back to the table; they’ve all lost to the regulars who have better chops, poolwise.

And now everyone crowds around the table, talking a little too loudly, and getting all excited as the conversation turns, as it always does, to ‘what are you reading? Who are your favorite authors? Who do you think will last?’ And all the usual names come up; Faulkner, Woolf, Joyce; because you and your gang all are college grads; hell, most of you took creative writing courses in school, and there’s even an MFA or two among the group. So someone says, “Umm, I don’t know, maybe Jonathan Franzen?” And everyone shrugs uneasily and looks down at their beers. And then someone else posits, “What about Johathan Safran Foer?” – followed by more uncomfortable shuffling around, as someone to your left replies, “Maybe not so much…”

And then you speak up, the beer making you bold: “Roberto Bolano; he’s the real thing! He’ll last!” And this is followed by a brief silence, some murmurs of assent, and then someone, and there’s always someone, asks, “Who’s that? Never heard of him.” And then you break into your Bolano routine.

“Ah,” you say, “He’s a Kerouac/Joyce smoothie! He was as smart as Joyce, and he travelled as widely and worked enough dead-beat jobs to rival Mister Kerouac!”
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