Saturday, May 23, 2009


Had enough interest in Ralph Maud's biography CHARLES OLSON AT THE HARBOR to read it in three days. I knew most of the particulars of Olson's life and was aware that Maud's book was a counterview to another biography of Olson by Tom Clark CHARLES OLSON: THE ALLEGORY OF A POET"S LIFE. It wasn't till I got about two chapters in that I realized this was no telling but a critique and opposition based on Maud's scholarship and personal experience of Olson. He tries at points to give Clark his due but at a ratio of about 10 to 1 points out "mistake" after "mistake". Chapter, verse, particle, page number, letter, nuance, pharmaceutical, the words right after the words or the words right before the words. I know people really care about this detail, I'm not being snide. Maud's larger point that Tom Clark has a strong prejudice is adequately demonstrated. I wish that he had delivered a counter biography with little or no mention of the earlier work. Again, I understand there has been some taking sides and Maud is playing to his strength. He sees his literary forebearer as James Boswell with Charles Olson as Samuel Johnson with an important job to be, as he quotes Boswell, the hope to present a true and fair delineation. I couldn't even begin to enter this quandry. There are not enough biographies yet.
The Berkeley Reading that Charles Olson gave July 23, 1965 is a event of divided opinion. The audience and later interpreters find lots of room for different experiences. If we ever achieve the trick of time travel, I expect Olson's reading to be a favorite destination of poets and literary historians. I've read parts of the transcripts and don't find them any more difficult than other Olson transcripts. Context and environment of course effect the doors of perception. Call it crowd mentality, gestalt, collective group consciousness -- whatever the reason, Olson didn't connect with the people in his audience that night. Many luminaries, admirers, associates were numbered among the casual designates in attendance. Olson arrived drunk and drinking according to Robert Duncan. Olson had been given two dexamils "in some stupid sympathy" in the attempt "to lift him out of his actual depresset pre-reading temper." This I do notice from the transcripts I've read, Olson's language shows signs of speed freaked racing with thoughts at time struggling to connect trains of cognitions that had long left the station. What you might expect from the mix (how the evening might have differed without the dexamil?) Tom Clark considered Olson's performance "intermittently coherent". Ralph Maud wasn't at the event but undertook the task of recreating it "accurately on paper for myself and others." The Muthologos version appeared in print, I think that's the one I read from. Here in the current book he writes Olson gave "a brilliant talk/reading: fragmented, disturbed, and chaotic on one level, but completely lucid on another."
Albert Glover told me that upon returning to Buffalo after his Berkeley reading Olson appeared to have experienced something momentous. Both liberation and despair over what he took to be the irreparable loss of friends who had not supported his new outpourings. CHARLES OLSON AT THE HARBOR ends sparsely saying little about Olson's return to 28 Fort Square and the late period of his writing. Applying the ruler that measures human behavior, I see Olson as a great enough poet and thinker to be called a major literary figure. He is a vast enough ocean of complexity that we can swim in his expression and set our personal narratives on different paths in his story. If he is epic, his words will inform and teach us, generations onward... His personal habits apply to us now in time because we share his context (some more than others). Later readers will have the luxury of less context and more focus on the poems. Glover calls for our understanding of Charles Olson to be developmental in his biological and emotional chronology. Of course his many friends and associates each want "their" Olson to be "the" Olson. I'm not opposed to that. The unqualified dimensional picture can only be clarified by observing multiple points in the cosmic grid. Writers, describers, editors, scholars all may add to the show. I'd have to get philosophical to say anything more and poetic to say anything beyond.
I do think the most interesting Charles Olson to the local poets I talk with is the life's end Olson of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Early bio-regional poet Charles Olson.... (not really, but see how easy it is to go there)
The landscape (the landscape!) again: Gloucester,
the shore one of me is (duplicates), and from which
(from offshore, I, Maximus am removed, observe.
from poem by Charles Olson THE LIBRARIAN

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back by popular demand! That classic chart topper: THERE IS A SOURCE FOR EACH RIVER by Alan Casline!!!

The ultimate Trailer for the untimate collection of poems!
See the previously posted post below:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Viet Nam Grandfather Carp

A poem by Nguyen Quoc Chanh presented in translation by the Viet Nam Literature Project includes Grandfather Carp, dragons, and a bit more of the folklore of the relationship between humans and these transformed beings.

from Relationships


In the legends of dry springs, there are the pebbles’ intonations.
In the forest’s recollections, there is the waterfalls’ fable.
In resin singing, there is my mother’s shade.

A carp’s negative doesn’t know to speak.
A relic left over from dry ponds.

Where armies and generals of the lotus and water lily dispute their beauty.
Where swords and sabers of ponds and swamps yearly fight each other.
Where aquatic corpses lie, ghosts possessed with visions of lotus and water lily.

Their beauty becomes miasma, tired and spoiled.
It is the nourishment in soil’s unconsciousness.

They blossom into flowers white and yellow.
They blossom without hands or feet.
They are spices lacking in my mother’s kitchen corner everyday.

She carefully puts them away, they are strong and have the smell of mud.
From tender mud, a spongy bull frog just escaped the drought.
It croaks announcing that the grandfather carp is still alive.

The old man is a Dragon.

From a reptile transformed, to the urgent moment in flight, the Dragon lets drop a whisker.

A carp opens its mouth yawning sleepily, comes upon it, stores in stomach.
When becoming a Dragon, grandfather carp wakes up, daydreams in the reptile’s venom.
A copperhead crawls onto the roof, where the Dragon resides, dancing circles a medium, ashamed for lack of whiskers.
The Dragon is deliberate, emotionless, without headache or high blood pressure.
My mother drinks ancient and Western medicine, still cannot shake off the stomachache caused by the Dragon’s whisker’s damage.

Whiskers on a dragon, definitely the Eastern (Chinese version.) Thinking of drawings I've seen where , yes! there are whiskers on the dragons, never saw it before, but carp whiskers are mentioned in at least one folk tale, held on to by a little boy who needs to escape a phantasmic kingdom to get back to his real life. The boy uses the painful tug to direct the carp to take him home. Reptile's venom, aquatic corpses, ghosts possessed, beauty becomes miasma (an influence or atmosphere that tends to deplete or corrupt) this poem by Nguyen Quoc Chanh brings all to a mire. I would point to the river metaphor in my north american dragon journey found in Grandfather Carp poems. Here is a version where a swamp dries and a landscape dies. Does grandfather carp even survive? Grandmother attempts ancient and modern medicines but the whisker has fallen off and is impossible to stomach. Is the whisker also a hand hold on some creature getting out?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Grandfather Carp by Alan Casline

Now Available from bRAINdROP bOOKbENDERS a new book of poetry by the writer of this blog (among other things). Price is $5.00 plus $2.00 Shipping & Handling. Send check or money order to bRAINdROP bOOKbENDERS, P.O. Box 216, Voorheesville, New York 121186. The publisher is Mark O'Brien, who after hearing a number of my poems about a river carp making a long journey up a river said "Come on finish it will you and I'll publish it." Poets like to be published, as I always say when any publishing opportunity comes by, so it was a good way of getting me to focus on the few remaining parts of the tale. I am prone to say "Life is a spiritual journey" and in these poems I carry Grandfather Carp through youth and experience to trust and transformation. The last poem only became apparent when everything else was finished. Mark and I worked together on the book design.
A sample poem

mandate of the sun
runs from beginning to end
apollo nuancing blazing horses?
rabbit's burned off tail?
Grandfather Carp looks up
at a floating peach petal
wondering, now where did that come from?
color of the spirit
numinous water

August 5, 2008
Elsmere, New York

Just as I’ve written poems and stories about the Normanskill watershed’s folk hero Perious Frink, here we find Grandfather Carp as another example of how a few words can ignite imagination and artistic possibility. The first draft a long poem written in September 1997. This volume has pieces of the first long poem along with factual bits and collected materials from Chinese, Japanese, Native American folklore and mythology and the poet’s imagination. In The Flight of the Wild Gander (Viking Press, 1969) Joseph Campbell writes myth is a picture language but the language has to be studied to be read:

In the first place, this language is the native speech of dream. But in the
second place, it has been studied, clarified, and enriched by the poets,
prophets, and visionaries of untold millenniums.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Gary Lawless

It was a too quick visit with Gary Lawless at Gulf of Maine Bookstore in Brunswick, Maine yesterday. As usual I left him a stack of Benevolent Bird publications to give to friends and some for sale. Bought some books too. Of note Ralph Maud's biography Charles Olson At The Harbor ( a book I have Albert Glover's review of. A review I'm holding on to until it is first published in some mag in Australia) and Jonathan Skinner's new poetry With Naked Foot out of little scratch pad press, Buffalo, NY. Jonathan Skinner, I know from Gary and some communication between us. Skinner has interest in ecopoetics and holds a professorship at Bates College. Gary was in the back eating and was soon to be off to visit his 92 year-old mother.
He and Beth Leonard were leaving for France in a few days with trip focus on getting close to animal paintings on cave walls. He was looking forward to his art exploration and I expect something to be written of what he can glean of the motivation behind those who crawled deep inside rock to leave images of the hoofed and clawed painted by light from flickering flame. It is all spectulation as to why? he reminded me a couple of times. Franz Boas in Primative Art writes of both symbolic representation and representation by means of perspective. In North American northwest coast art the whole animal form is presented as an assembly of disconnected symbols. A beaver is adequately represented by a large head with two pairs of large incisors and a squamous tail. It is in the painting of later paleolithic found in the caves of southern France and of Spain that Boas finds perspective realism "fully developed" Interestingly, Boas does not find perspective of groups in these paintings but rather of the single figure. Much has been analyzed and discovered since Boas wrote in 1927 and so I bet many more cave painting images are available for study. Perhaps Gary can let us know if he sees the herd and pack represented in the cave art he sees and also if he thinks the artist is actually creating a picture of a specific animal and not a symbolic representation of the animal kind?

I got to talk about the reactions of some poets to his poem Lynx Liberation Communique. Art Willis had told me he had seen a mountain lion near his property close to here in the Normanskill watershed. That got us talking about different wild cats and I mentioned Gary's poem which I then sent to Art and a handful of others. A few of the comments were interesting and I thought worth running by Gary. Starting with Albany poet Dan Wilcox who commented "Nobody votes, they just eat each other" Gary thought that was a good comment. He said he wasn't trying to imply anything having to do with democracy or even the standard political process which wasn't working for the benefit of the lynx at all. Two Republican Senators and a Democratic Governor had not resisted Federal actions during the years of George W. Bush that offered no protection for the lynx forest habitat in the entire, every square mile of the State of Maine. It was the political power of the land developers (former lumber companies) that put the lynx in a bad situation. At least Gary was able to tell me that the Obama administration had changed course and that now a sizeable territory of the northern Maine forest was protected. For the lynx and other animals, Gary said it was presumptuous to think you could take their side and speak for them and yet by undertaking that poetic voice you could gain consciousness and something of a different species view on important matters. I shared my response to Dan Wilcox:

Democrary in the Wild

2 legs + 2 hands = 1 vote
4 paws =1 vote
2 wings + 2 claws = 1 vote
I never did like snakes

"No backbone no franchise to vote", Gary said. And also on the whole democracy question "They vote by their diet."

The other comment on on Gary's Lynx Liberation Communique was from fellow bioregional poet Stephen Lewandowski, who wrote "wishful thinking." I wrote back to Stephen "Gary Lawless has that quality. Chanting the words. I'm sure not naivete but in the face. Hey "wishful thinking" you already said that." Gary went though almost the same circle of thought to arrive back at Yes, wishful thinking. He agreed that his poetry is wishful thinking, magic words. He originates his poetry in traditional shaman song and storyteller form. The realized imagination shared with all gathered. Speaking from a world that has been lost but not destroyed or disappeared. Check out another poem of his in Big Powwow, I still talk to the animals.

That was another time when
We knew there were other worlds

My too short trip to Maine ended with some time at the Atlantic. Looking up and down these posts, I see I am becoming quite the nature photographer but I guess you can't post from Maine without some water spray.

NOTE: illustrations from Primitive Art by Franz Boas. Top: beaver from Haida and from Tlingti cultures. Bottom: Paleolithic bison painting CLICK ON IMAGE FOR FULL SIZE