My friend Joe Somoza brought me a gift the other day--a copy of the Divers Press first (only) edition of Robert Creeley’s collection of short stories The Gold Diggers. Joe said he had found the copy in a used bookstore. I won’t say which one, and I won’t say how much he spent except to say it wasn’t very much. The book was printed in Palma de Mallorca in 1954. The free-hand cover, which is silk-screened, is by René Laubiès.

My gosh! The Gold Diggers! I trembled. 1954 was back in the day. I was 12 years old. Robert Creeley and Paul Blackburn were on the Spanish island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean Sea, each of them 28 years old. They were talking about poetry, bitching about the poetry establishment and wanting to change that world, but, most importantly, they were writing. Paul, like Creeley, had been in contact with Pound at St. Elizabeth's via his correspondence and by visiting him. The old man connected them. The Divers Press was essentially Creeley’s and his wife Ann’s invention, so this first edition is a self-published book, another fine example of that essential tradition in American letters.

The preface to The Gold Diggers is pure Creeley and is a remarkable bit of understanding about the art of writing in general, and short stories in particular, for a 28 year old man. Poetics (sad, there's no such word for fiction writers)--thinking and talking and writing about the making of a poem--was the essence of Creeley. The next to last paragraph is brilliant and a forecast of all that Creeley would do. Especially: “I begin where I can, and end where I can see the whole thing returning.” This is how I write my poetry, this is how I know how to edit my poetry. Reading this now, I realize that the writing of poets like Creeley and Blackburn, besides showing me the way, authenticated the way I know a poem and the way I go about putting words into a poem and then doing the lovely dance of editing.

Preface to The Gold Diggers

Had I lived some years ago, I think I would have been a moralist, i.e., one who lays down, so to speak, rules of behavior with no small amount of self-satisfaction. But the writer isn’t allowed that function anymore, or no man can take the job on very happily, being award (as he must be) of what precisely that will make him.

So there is left this other area, still the short story or really the tale, and all than can be made of it. Whereas the novel is a continuum, of necessity, chapter to chapter, the story can escape some of that obligation, and function exactly in terms of whatever emotion best can serve it.

The story has no time finally. Or it hasn’t here. Its shape, if form can be though of, is a sphere, an egg of obdurate kind. The only possible reason for its existence is that it has, in itself, the fact of reality and the pressure. There, in short, is its form--no matter how random and broken that will seem. The old assumptions of beginning and end--those very neat assertions --have fallen way completely in a place where the only actuality is life, the only end (never realized) death, and the only value, what love can manage.

It is impossible to think otherwise, or at least I have found it so. I begin where I can, and end where I can see the whole thing returning. Perhaps there is an obsession. These people, and what happens to them here, have never been completely my decision--because if you once say something, it will lead you to say more than you meant to.

As the man responsible, I wanted to say what I thought was true, and make that the fact. It has led me to impossible things at times. I was not obliged, certainly, to say anything, but that argument never made sense to me.

--December 14, 1953

I had read Scribner’s edition of The Gold Diggers in 1965. I was, painfully almost, an aficionado of anything Robert Creeley did. It was a difficult read for me at 21, but very invigorating and unique, especially when I read it out loud alone in my tiny room. Now, 40-plus years later, having this book in my hand brings back many memories of who I was back then and why I was so excited about making poems. Thank you, Joe.



What does this mean now? Think about this car for a minute. Noah Gapsis, a young poet who gets a kick out of tagging his own vehicle, plastered WCW’s dictum on his Japanese jalopy and the post-Objectivist pronouncement miraculously changed meaning. Especially in Santa Fe with its ostentatious faux-adobe version of our glob(al) capitalism. Wow. Public poem art sculpture. And what happens to what it means when he drives the car to Omaha or El Paso?

Whatever. WCW would be delighted.

Noah, the son of friends Sharon Franco and Joe Hayes, attends Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He wants to be a poet. I wish him well.

He tagged the butt of his car with this from Italo Calvino:


Gone, gone to the other side

My friend poet Harvey Goldner, like the Buddhists say, crossed to the other side this morning in Seattle, Washington. He was 65 years old, a few months older than me. In my May 14 blog I talked about the cancer in his mouth and tongue. He really never recuperated from his surgery. This last week must have been hell, and he simply and finally let go. His friend, poet and painter Crysta Casey wrote me a note. Crysta also did this portrait of Harvey.

I’ve known Harvey probably since first grade at East High School in Memphis, Tennessee. He lived on Reese Street, and I lived a block over on Prescott Street. We had secret trails through backyards to go from one house to another. We smoked our first cigarettes together, we got drunk together as kids, our sisters were best friends, he first showed me about poetry in the late 1950s, over the years we had our battles and our struggles, we got lost one to the other, but these last few years we touched base again, grasping for each other in an old man clumsy sort of way. An old deep friendship. Cinco Puntos is going to publish his book of poems The Resurrection of Bert Ringold in September. The project has been looming in my mind for a number of years, but I kept pushing it aside, one of those regrets that keep recurring the older I get. I hope to go to Seattle for the first celebration of the book and meet his daughters Emily and Amy and his friends in the underground poetry scene of Seattle. During the next week or so, I will write my own obituary for Harvey, but in the meantime, I simply make a simple wish: May my friend Harvey Goldner rest in peace. Here's the title poem from his collection.

The Resurrection of Bert Ringold

There is a time to dig, there is a time
to dig up the dead, a time to cut away
the surface—the sweet green grass
and the pink and white flowers
finicky in the fresh morning breeze.

There is a time to get down, to hack
at the clay with a pick, to lift the
backaching dirt with a rusty shovel,
to lift big rocks—barehanded, fingers
bleeding—a time to chop through the
roots of trees with a Boy Scout hatchet.

Salt sweat stings your eyes and
the air smells bad, dead.
At sunset your pick hits the casket.
The sound is final, dead.
It’s going to be a nightmare in there.
You imagine the worst: bones
smirking through rotten flesh, busy
phosphorescent maggots.

But you go on anyway
because you can’t turn back.
With a childish prayer and a crowbar
you pry open the lid of the casket.

Inside, a nice surprise: inside there is nothing
but a diamond, a crystal as big
as a Civil War cannonball.
It shines from within, it dazzles your eyes
like late afternoon sunshine blazing
on the Mississippi River, once upon a time
between Memphis and Natchez.
It must be worth millions.

You carry it home in a brown paper sack.
It sits somewhat dull on your desk
while you imagine the things that you’ll buy
as soon as you’ve sold it: a car, a condo,
the Caribbean, a big bunch of girls.

Then the diamond as big as a Civil War cannonball
lights up and sings; it lights up and sings
English folk songs from the Southern Appalachians.
It sings them as sweetly as starlight
and you know in your heart that you’ll keep it
for as long as you possibly can.