Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ONE VOWEL SHY OF A MIRACLE: why i don’t attend (Y)AWP

      for a couple of years now people have been asking me why i don’t attend AWP and i always give an excuse. but this year, i decided to stop weaseling out of it, and tell people how i really feel – why should i pay a couple of hundred bucks to stand at the edge of the red carpet and cheer while the self-proclaimed celebrities of american poetry swan past?
      i don’t think whitman would’ve done it. bukowski? forget about it. and if hunter s thompson went to AWP, he’d probably arrive so fucked up he wouldn’t be able to distinguish a pulitzer prize from a performing seal.
      AWP! i’m sorry, but it sounds like a sea mammal squawking for fish.
      now i wouldn’t go so far as some hardened curmudgeons who call AWP a convention of self-congratulatory, ladder-climbing, back-slapping careerists. that would be overgeneralizing, rude, and probably dangerous. a lot of most excellent people go — hey, some of them are my FRIENDS — and besides there are some smart folks out there, with careers to protect and long knives to protect them with.
      and besides, the fact that anyone in this beautiful ridiculous country of ours could devote themselves to the art of poetry is miracle, and ought to be celebrated.
      but at the risk of losing a tenure track or being accused of having called a consontant a vowel, i just can’t bring myself to attend AWP. call me a beatnik!
      i’m just following the dictum of whitman — ‘who makes much of a miracle’ in and of itself, he asks — ‘i know of nothing else but miracles.’ what i mean is sure, american poetry is a miracle, in whatever form it takes. but everything’s a miracle – so now what?
      i think what walt urges us do is shake off careerism and celebrate our barbaric YAWP — the rough and tumble, free voice of the plugged-in, transcendental individual american soul – spirit. that’s where authenticity lies, and purpose. that’s where we can find the big WHY in why we ought to write, to share — to celebrate ourselves and each other in a community of writers.
      translation: there’s a Y in whitman’s YAWP. i just don’t see a Y — or a why — in AWP. and until i do, i ain’t paying no $250 to go.
      and if i DO go, you’ll find me stoned out of my skull in the hotel swimming pool with hunter s thompson.

Book Launch Tonite at 6:00 -- Jujomukti Lounge NYC

You might say it was an ordinary 2500 mile journey overland to see the Dalai Lama. In the sense that any number of young Americans were doing it. Some in search of hashish. Some in search of religion. Some to fashion some sort of trade of their own, jeans from the west, jewels, carpets and exotic products from the east...

Americans, particularly from the East Coast, swarmed Europe every summer, for the price of a stand-by airline ticket, a youth hostel card and a Eurail Pass, Europe on $5 a day was more than achievable. We ate little and bathed less, reserving what cash we had for beer and breakfast and an occasional polser in a railway tincan. Got to sleep on rocking overnight trains, hung around banhofs and village squares, exercised terrible grade school French and mumbling out garbled bits of incomprehensible German. We could say ‘I love you’ in five languages and ‘Ou es la biblioteque’ in a couple more...

...But now it was the dawn of a new world, the days of the hippy were coming to an end, as the bitter struggles against Nixon and the Vietnam War, for women’s liberation and civil rights, gave way to a new reality. The first salvos were being fired, there was economic malaise in America, PhDs were driving taxis, OPEC and the Oil Embargo were around the corner...

...Asking me to write a memoir explaining my trip to India is something like asking a domino to explain why it fell.

George Wallace
fr intro to Incident on the Orient Express

Saturday, March 24, 2012

RAGE FOR DISORDER: Loving The (Not So) Mean Streets of Manhattan

                                 “you don’t run from a bear because you’re afraid; you’re afraid because you run from a bear”

The urban experience is an untidy one, full of contradictions. Thrills, dangers, bewilderments and enticements. Brutal confrontation and studied disinterest. Sometimes it hides what it possesses, lazes about boring and blind. Other times it can just explode in your face.

“Like a pig in a burlap sack,” said my North Carolina friend Otis Jernigan, who knew of such matters, on his one and only visit to Manhattan. “You know something’s going on inside but you can’t quite put your finger on it – then wham! This town can just rip right through the burlap and tear you up.”

Otis Jernigan was a pretty smart guy and, I suppose, he was going for the ‘gotta have street smarts’ thing. However, nothing bad happened to Otis while he was in New York.

Otis Jernigan went away thinking he now knew something he didn’t previously know. I think he just confirmed some predetermined ‘thank God I’m a country boy’ point of view about New York City that he‘d brought along with him.

It goes the other way, too.

Some city people run away from the urban experience — thinking they’re going to find some imaginary Key West where it’s possible to satisfy their blessedly anal ‘rage for order,’ the kind insurance company executive (and poet) Wallace Stevens championed.

I suppose that’s attractive to some. If you can just get all the elements in line and under control, you will have won at the human game. But me, I think there’s a rage for disorder in a lot of us, simmering or rash, that keeps us coming back to the city.

One guy who comes to mind is Peter Orlovsky, who used to preach about vegetarianism on that Cherry Valley farm he and Ginsberg ran upstate. Those in the know will tell you that Orlovsky wasn’t averse to sneaking out on occasion for a midnight hamburger run to NYC.

One way or another, the urban experience can be a two-faced, bi-polar, multifaced animal of major proportions. But it’s also “an outrage, a spectacle, an emblem of human ingenuity that seems frankly superhuman,” like Saul Bellows said.

Bellows was also a very smart guy.

So was William James, Henry James’ big brother. Returning home in 1907 to his native Manhattan after a lifetime traveling in the highest intellectual circles of America and Europe, he stepped out onto the mean streets of New York City and declared himself gob-smacked with the “courage, the heaven scaling audacity of it all… the great pulses and bounds of progress (which) give a kind of drumming background of life.”

     “In the center of the cyclone, I caught the pulse
     of the machine, took up the rhythm, and vibrated
     with it, and found it simply magnificent.”

William James wasn’t talking smack when he said that. He was a pretty smart guy. He grew up with folks like Emerson, Hawthorne and Thoreau at the dinner table. He was educated in England, Switzerland, Germany and France. He taught at Harvard for thirty years. He mentored Teddy Roosevelt, Gertrude Stein and WEB DuBois.

Heck, he was the father of American Psychology.

William even told his kid brother Henry — that’s right, the novelist Henry James — to stop with all the drawing room tedium, and write a book with ‘vigor and decisiveness of plot… and absolute straightness of style.’

Gotta like that kind of talk.

Truth, said old William James, is ‘what happens to an idea,’ it isn’t ‘an inert static relation.’ Another way of putting that is, truth’s the outcome of what you do to things, and what things do to you.

When it comes to love and fear, the truth of any experience — even New York — is what happens to you when you’re in the middle of it, not what you predetermine it to be. That’s why you don’t run away from a bear – or a city – without a good solid reason for it.

You’re not supposed to go in being afraid of it. You don’t poke it in the nose, either.

(AS SEEN IN Great Weather For Media:

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Happ'ning at the Bowery Po Club today -- B'day party for Kirpal Gordon 2 pm.

Jump in the Speak/Spake/Spoke groove. Bring your axe, kick in or just sit back with Kirpal and the band.

Hosted by yours truly.!/events/271009099643124/

Friday, March 16, 2012

Yes Virginia, American Journalism WAS Sensational

Think today’s news media is biased, subjective, self serving or sensationalist? Does it bother you that scandal-mongerers and character assassins can hide in the blurry margin between news and entertainment?

It’s a tradition! A tradition that goes back at least to the free-wheeling, two-fisted penny paper era of journalism in America, situated right here in downtown Manhattan in an area once known as “Newspaper Row.”

Horace Greeley. Joseph Pulitzer. Wm Randolph Hearst. Walt Whitman. Sounds pretty literary and historic and all-American, until you look beyond the whitewash.

In fact, it was a world of hard-boiled, sensationalism run rampat, of shamelessly crass vendettas by the bucket load.

Hey, when you’re going for cheap, popular and disposable, what better strategy than dragging standards down to the lowest possible level?

Hardly anyone in the industry was immune to it. However it was The New York Sun – a paper which had the largest circulation in the United States within a year of its debut in 1833 — which was probably the grandpappy of American Trash Journalism.

Corruptive? Sure. Debasing? You betcha. But the sheer energy and enthusiasm of The Sun is the kind of irresistable duality thing we cherish in the train wreck we call Urban Dynamism. Call it the dark side of Walt Whitman’s Barbaric Yawp.

For all its crassness, there were some diamond moments for The Sun. The paper was the first to hire boys to hawk papers on street corners. It was first to hire a female reporter, Emily Verdery Bettey. It took a lead role in exposing corruption in the Grant administration. It published a series of articles exposing crime in the world of NYC longshoreman, the basis for Budd Shulberg’s great “On The Waterfront.”

The Sun’s elaborate hoaxes — The Great Moon Hoax of 1835, Edgar Allen Poe’s Great Balloon Hoax a decade later — set the precedent for deceptions some of us love, today. Orson Welle’s War of the Worlds. Ashton Kutcher’s Punk’d.

And at least two of the best journalism one-liners come from The Sun. The first was in 1882, when editor John B Bogart said to a friend “When a Man Bites A Dog, That’s News.”

The second? Sep 21 1897, when Francis P Church wrote the op/ed piece Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.

“He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy,” wrote Church. ”Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence.”

High sentiments, indeed, for a newspaper that established the benchmark for the bad old days of slander, vendetta, sensationalism and punk journalism.

 As seen in GreatWeather for Media blogspot:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SPRINGTIME IN THE VOID: Mesaroolying With The Microbes

    Revv'ing the engines this morning for a trek up to Lowell where I’ll be tossing my two cents in with a panel on Kerouac’s Scriptures of the Golden Eternity.

    Strange how these things happen. Barbara Gagel, a New Mexico artist originally from Lowell has been painting great resonances of Golden Eternity canvases. She gets an art show back home during Jack‘s 90th. Somehow I get wind of it and an invite to be on the panel. Bob’s your uncle.

    It’s all part of the ’ants merlying’ and ‘mesaroolies microbing in the innards of mercery’ thing Kerouac dug, which is what making the scene is. Synchronicities, convergences, and materializations — great tragic opportunities of blind luck fortune and hastily conceived miscalculation.

    In them all ‘realities for you and me,’ says Whitman.

    It’s the great road trip. The crazy seriousness of working men on scaffolds painting white paint. Going for a walk with friends among O’Hara’s hum colored cabs.
David Amram calls it ‘hangout-ology.’

    So I’ve been boning up on the Golden Eternity and it turns out I haven’t had to look far to find resonances with Jack’s ideas about transience, impermanence, etc.

    Everywhere I look, the whole simultaneous duality thing people like Derrida, Levy-Strauss and Gilles Deleuze talk about -- binary oppositions, happening/not happening, illusion/materiality -- a great unity in the middle of nothing which is everything.

    Keeps popping up — like weeds in spring, really. Rumi. Ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles. Great Zen Koans from Japanese antiquity.

    And deeply intuitive utterances among our contemporaries in the poetry world. Heck, just last Sunday night I caught Claire Nicolas White getting to the nut of it in a flash, with her “Time’s emptiness makes the day swell…”

    Kerouac brings his own take on it all. The sweet sad tragedy, the persistent emphasis on compassion. The sublime sense that our shared springtime in the void is a magic and holy goof to be experienced with a wry grin.

    Reading Kerouac these perspectives happen by turn. At one moment he digs the street of life, celebrating those who “burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” At the next, he is contemplative, tranced out: ‘the perfect little No Clouds’ keep popping up ‘in the deepening afternoon blue’ of San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

    It’s springtime in the void again, boys and girls. The center is everywhere and if you’re somewhere, you’re everywhere.

    It’s fine by me if we’re all ‘pretending at playing the magic cardgame and making believe it’s real,’ like Jack says. OK if it’s “a big dream, a joyous ecstasy of words and ideas and flesh, an ethereal flower unfolding an folding back, a movie, an exuberant bunch of lines, bounding emptiness.’

    Sound to you like a good night out on the town with poet-friends? Maybe you’re ready to go mesarolying with the microbes too!

      As seen in GreatWeather:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

'rat tat tatting the pure pictureless liquid of mind essence'

This weekend Lowell Mass and LCK! celebrates the 90th anniversary of the birth of Jack Kerouac, who has been safe in heaven dead for approaching half a century but remains a palpable presence in this raindrop we call existence -- his bop poetics irrepressible, his youthful vigorous search for kicks undiminished, his vision intact, even in the middle of the holy goof which he understood so well and which is our condition.

Not bad for a guy who in his own way and in his golden mouthful of eternity reminded us that, as that good old Greek philosopher Empedocles put it, “there’s no substance to anything that perishes, nor is there any cessation of them in death.”

I won’t be making the scene this weekend in Lowell, I’m headed up mid-week for a panel on Jack at Barbara Gagel's art show. But I figure that, as long as all them in Lowell are having a great time ringing their bell in the empty sky for Jack, the rest of us ought to get busy and do something too, in our own way and wherever we are, even if it just means ‘rat tat tatting the pure pictureless liquid of mind essence.’

What I'm saying is why not let’s all get jazzed up this weekend, find a moment to suture ourselves to the beautiful, crazy, sad, spontaneous music of Jack Kerouac’s consciousness.

I don’t know, I think Jack would’ve wanted us to do that on his birthday. Like Rumi said, when you’re somewhere, you’re everywhere.

(as seen in

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Pleased to have found this recording of me reading from
Walt Whitman's Poem of Joy, for New York State Sea
Grant last summer for their 40th anniversary. Whitman
waxes tenderly about the bays, lagoons, creeks he grew
up on, and the baymen and fisherfolk who worked the
shore and the sea.

O to have been brought up on bays, lagoons, creeks
         or along the coast!

O to continue and be employ'd there all my life!
O the briny and damp smell—the shore—the salt
         weeds exposed at low water,
The work of fishermen—the work of the eel-fisher
         and clam-fisher.


The occupations are a wonder to hear retold in Whitman's expansive voice

O it is I!
I come with my clam-rake and spade! I come with
         my eel-spear...
In winter I take my eel-basket and eel-spear and
         travel out on foot on the ice—I have a small
         axe to cut holes in the ice...
Or, another time, mackerel-taking, Voracious, mad 
for the hook, near the surface, they
         seem to fill the water for miles;

And here's Whitman walking the walk and talking the sweet
talk of the region's lobstermen as he knew them.

         to lift the lobster-pots, where they are sunk
         with heavy stones, (I know the buoys;)

O the sweetness of the Fifth-month morning upon
         the water, as I row, just before sunrise, toward
         the buoys;
I pull the wicker pots up slantingly—the dark green
         lobsters are desperate with their claws, as I
         take them out—I insert wooden pegs in the
         joints of their pincers,
I go to all the places, one after another, and then row
         back to the shore,
There, in a huge kettle of boiling water, the lobsters
         shall be boil'd till their color becomes scarlet.

As expansive as America's Good Gray Poet can be,
sometimes to hear Whitman is to see the world as it
really is. Even in the doldrums of our respective winters,
we are suddenly with Whitman and alive in the fifth
month manner he understood and related in his poems --
Whitman with us and us with him. Cutting through ice,
traipsing across salt marsh and mud, at home with
clamrake, spade, eel-spear and lobster pot.

Walt says 'wicker basket.' But walking with him this time
of year is akin to 'Pulling the winter pots up slantingly,' with
the brood of tough boys and mettlesome young men he
knew and loved so well.