Saying Goodbye, Saying Hello

Thanks to my friend the photographer Bruce Berman 
for introducing me to Depardon's photographs.[1]
Santa trudging through Central Park. My gosh, the photograph speaks eloquently about this time of year.You got to be careful wherever you live. You'll look up and see Santa trudging through the goo of your life. 

I wish to send my best wishes to all of you--peace, good health and well-being in your mind, body and heart. Peace and understanding too for the U.S./Mexico Border and for the world. It's a precarious time now for our communities and for the generations to come. I'm one of those old fogies that believe that peace begins in our own hearts. Blessings to all. 

Here's something I scribbled down the day after Christmas. It's sort of a minimalized diary of my own Post-Christmas day.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

This is the way the year ends and begins—
Extra little Merry Christmas turds.
Snowmelt seeps out of the mountain.
You can end this poem anyway you want. 

[1] Shit. I don’t like to use so obviously copyrighted material. But sometimes the impulse of the time overrides my concern. I’m guilty here, and I’ll be happy to remove this post if somebody asks me. In the meantime, please visit Depardon’s site and Wikipedia Page. He’s a remarkable photographer.


The Whalen Poem

Some of my poet friends don’t understand my allegiance to Ron Silliman’s Blog, and they certainly don’t understand why I lament the loss of Ron’s unrelenting blogging (along with the babbling of poets in the comments section) that came to an (almost) screeching halt a year or so back. To those folks I have two new words—William Corbett. Aka Bill. For some reason I’ve never paid much attention to Corbett’s work. I’m out here in El Paso, he’s over there in Boston. He’s plugged in, I’m not plugged in. No, that’s not true. I’m sort of plugged in. I think my wires got frayed. I think it was 1973. Lee and I, like Hansel and Gretel, went off following the trail G.I. Gurdjieff for three or four years. That’s a long other story. Ni modo.

Anyway, Silliman from time to time breaks his silence[1] and his overwhelming catalog of poetry events and dead poets and videos of poets reading (some dead, some alive) with a personal blognote.  On June 3 of this year he wrote about Corbett’s little book from Hanging Loose Press The Whalen Poem. Shit. Even the title made me want to buy the book. I’m a Philip Whalen addict. Corbett says this about his book of poem—

I spent the summer of 2007 reading the galleys of Philip Whalen’s Collected Poems. I was in Vermont and had the leisure to read slowly, ten or so pages a day. About halfway through the master’s poems I began to write The Whalen Poem. I kept at it until just after Halloween. No book I have written, poetry or prose, has given me the deep pleasure I felt in writing The Whalen Poem.

I understand exactly. I’ve done the same thing. My only dilemma with Corbett’s book is that I didn’t write it. Of course, I would have written it my way. Differently.

Here’s a little piece that gives a good taste of the book. The poem has the off-the cuff dreaminess and improvisational energy that Whalen had, but of course it's purely Corbett being who he is. Besides, I chose it because I’ve felt this same confused emotion so many times in my life. Growing up and having all these different poetry heroes and then finding out they aren’t (weren't) who I thought they were supposed to be in my imagination. 

Pollock by Namuth

He was drunk
He was nasty
            Many knew
We young ones didn’t
He looked great
Brooding in denim
Cigarette between long fingers
On the running-board
Of his beat-up Model-A Ford
On the Evergreen Review cover
Names of heroes
He’s not the same now
You grow up and adjust
You want the old feeling
It’s still there but not
To be trusted…well,
It’s not for him anyway
But for that world when
You didn’t have to know
What you know now

I even had this feeling about Philip Whalen. I first discovered his book Memoirs of an Inter-Glacial Age in the U of Arizona Library in 1964 and from that time on I read everything he wrote. His poetry and its underlying poetics gave enormous energy to my own work as I wandered through the landscape. I only heard him read once in my life. He came to the New Mexico State University. I had looked forward to the reading for months but when I heard him I was disappointed. He didn’t read the poems like I felt he should be reading the poems.[2] The old standards, poems I knew by heart. Poems I had shouted aloud in my scruffy apartments in Tucson and Seattle in the 1960s. Shit. Later that evening at the party at the Somozas’ house, Whalen had so many Zen-wannabes imported from Santa Fe hanging around that I couldn’t get close to him. Besides, I didn’t feel any connection to them. They lived in Santa Fe, I lived in El Paso—enough said. I couldn’t read Whalen’s poetry several years. His reading had sucked that energy away. But I finally realized  that was silly. His poetry was viscerally connected to my work. I finally forgave Whalen for being Philip Whalen. Weird. Or maybe I forgave myself for being who I am. Or something. Maybe I just learned to sit on a zafu and stare at a wall. Even that Whalen had contributed to.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, this is supposed to be a celebration of Bill Corbett’s book The Whalen Poem. Here’s a couple of short delicate pieces for a cold snowy day during the time of Winter Solstice—

There is room here
For 720,000 ladybugs
Devouring 4.6 billion aphids


Drought in Georgia
San Diego fires
I always go commando
Deserving everyone’s love

[1] I’m always worried I’ll find pictures of friends there along with the news of their catching the rickety little raft to the other side. And of course I'm not ready to be up there with all the other dead guys. 
[2] I mentioned this once to Jim Koller and he agreed with me. He too didn’t like the way Whalen read his poems aloud, and Jim was a close friend of his.


Gene Keller on Robert Burlingame

Gene Keller by Richard Baron

As I mentioned in my blognote about Bob Burlingame, our friendship was always punctuated by long interruptions. My friend Gene Keller (singer, songwriter, poet) had a much longer and enduring friendship with Bob, so I asked him to write something. I am posting it below. Gene is one of those necessary pieces of cloth that holds the quilt of El Paso's rich cultural underground together. He's a touchstone. I definitely recommend Richard Baron's unique interview with Gene from Newspapertree.com. Like Robert Creeley, Gene lost an eye an early age, and he tells that story there. The photograph of him is Richard's too. Visit Richard's website. His photographs are remarkable and should be much more widely known. Richard now lives in Santa Fe.

So to Gene's remarks:

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write about Bob Burlingame (1922-2011). As you wrote, we had an "enduring friendship." In 1968 I took a class in Modern Poetry with Burlingame. We studied Eliot, Frost, Cummings, Stevens, and W. C. Williams. This was in the days of mimeographs, so he would occasionally bring sheets of poems in purple ink by contemporary poets such as Bly and Kinnell, translations of Neruda and Machado. He became my thesis advisor in graduate school, allowing me to present a creative thesis rather than a scholarly essay.

I learned recently that it is said of Barney Oldfield, an early American auto racer, he couldn't think unless he was going a hundred miles an hour. Bob Burlingame's wisdom says, "Slow down. See the world at two or three miles an hour." I love his eye for a clarity of detail as he walked in the deserts and mountains of his life. In his readings of his own poems, he also demonstrated the virtue of slowing down by mouthing each word slowly, giving the consonants and vowels a moment to rest in the ear.

He was a plain man of the Kansas plains who wandered into the Southwest. He came to Texas Western College in 1954. Over the decades he influenced many young poets now entering their own elderhood - Howard McCord, Pat Mora, and Ben Sáenz, among many others.

He offered another lesson, that the craft of poetry was about writing and not so much about publishing. Individual poems appeared in journals, including Kayak, Quarterly West, and Texas Observer. But a book of his New and Selected Poems came from Houston's Mutabilis Press in 2009 - Some Recognition of the Joshua Lizard. The litany at the end of my poem that follows, Plain, is taken from the titles of his poems in that book. At the time of his death in late September, it was noted that a book of desert poems was forthcoming. I look forward to it like water after a hike.


            in memory, Bob Burlingame

If he had been
a creature on
an endangered list,

he might have been
a blackfooted ferret

beneath a gnarled
hackberry stump creekside
off the plains of Kansas,

or the plainest of plover
only found rarely
in a high canyon

deep in the Guadalupes
under the white peak
of  El Capitán -

ancient reef
overlooking the salt flats
of West Texas.

He becomes a joshua lizard,
dry weeds, yellowood,
rooster, fish, beaver, finch,

blue milkwort, wild cherry,
sandhill crane, turkey vulture,
sunflower, shark, dandelion,

portuguese man-of-war,
sycamore, mountain laurel -
all that sing in solitude.


Stepping through the door
opened me like sugar,
triggered a beam.

The clarity of light
through the door
soaked to the marrow.

At home in words,
I'm caught in the continuo
of their music.

A page of poetry opened -
an aural architecture
in a sonnet by Donne.

Like this, only simpler,
a way of seeking
that includes seeing.

Sweet words of light
behind every door,
after my mentor.

(from Chrysalis, 2011)

Here's a nice video of Gene singing a song at a party in the Sunset Heights neighborhood of El Paso, 2009. Puro Gene. Happy and at ease and wise.