Tuesday, December 30, 2008

spit out the truth

The photo at left shows Hemingway with Fidel Castro in 1960. But for now let's talk about Hem's poems. Yes, poems.

Over the years there have been nine unauthorized editions of the poems. All or most of these editions contain 18 poems, which are most of the poems Hem wrote and published while he was living in Paris in the 1920s. The critical response to his verse is mostly based on the pirated editions, which are filled with errors.

One of these unauthorized editions was published by City Lights in San Francisco in 1960. It sold for 50 cents. We have not been able to find any reviews of this edition at all. (The edition of Hem's poems to consult is Nicholas Gerogiannis's Nebraska edition of 1992, 171 pages in length.) The City Lights book is 28 pages.

The bio note in Poetry for January 1923 calls Hem "a young Chicago poet now abroad, who will soon issue his first book of poems." Edmund Wilson quipped that these "are not particularly important" but they do show the writer moving in the main poetic current of the time, at least very generally: what might be called precise yet poignant discernment.

He tried to spit out the truth;
Dry-mouthed at first,
He drooled and slobbred in the end;
Truth dribbling his chin.

Seems like a bad page in a Nick Adams story, lineated.

non-sewing circle and non-profit

"The spirit of Dada is perhaps the best attitude for editors." So wrote Marvin Malone of the Wormwood Review.

The Wormwood Review seems to have started publishing in 1960, although I've found one note that suggests 1959.

Malone (born 1930) was its long-time editor, living (at some point during the long run) in Stockton, California. By 1990 an observer was noting 30 years of the mag. "If anyone wants to find out what is going on in today's avant-garde (yes, it lives), here is one of the first places to turn," says Bill Katz in the Library Journal (May 1, 1990). The communist-affiliated magazine Mainstream ran a symposium on little magazines in 1962 and for the December issue featured a statement by Malone. The role of the little mag in the USA, Malone opined, was "to persist in publication even though the format goes from print, to offset, to mimeograph," "to air the taboos" including "the stasis of culture in the USA at the pre World War II level," "to discomfit as much as possible the self-assured literary critics; to set up an active dissent against the easy success of X. J. Kennedy, Alan Dugan," and "to oppose the idea that 'black is black, white is white, and that gray is red'" (Mainstream, Dec. '62, pp. 41-42).

Well, it seems that actually Sandy Taylor founded Wormwood, along with Jim Scully and Morton Felix and that a little "later on" (how much later?) Taylor "ran it with Marvin Malone." Malone apparently took Wormwood to the west coast, although I have no info that it was founded elsewhere.

Malone was "a pharmacologist. He was a very well-known...researcher in pharmacology." (Obscure in the Shade of the Giants ed. Jerome Gold, Black Heron Press, 2001.) Malone died at 66 on 11/26/96.

Yes, Marvin Malone did Wormwood all these years on the side. Otherwise he served on editorial boards for the Journal of Natural Products, Economic Botany, and the International Journal of Pharmacognosy and was active as a member of the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapuetics. He was on the faculty of the University of the Pacific School of Pharmacy for many years.

Wormwood issued a broadside in 1963 that finally made an editorial statement (earlier issues had not): "The Wormwood Review is still non-beat, non-academic, and non-sewing circle and non-profit... not afraid of either wit or intelligence... published when sufficient good material has accumulated--this happens about four times a year."

Monday, December 22, 2008

space worked out logically

The year 1960 was the peak of the era of the powerful new space planners, who were specialists "in the science of making interior office space work out logically, i.e. profitably" (so said Architectural Forum in 1957). Michael Saphier Associates, a firm that really established itself with the design of its own new offices, had been founded in 1937. Lawrence Lerner joined them '49. Lerner studied design at Brooklyn College and studied in an experimental program organized by the Russian-born architect Serge Chermayeff. The photo here was taken in 1960, not long after the completion of the Saphier offices at 488 Madison Avenue.

Source: New York 1960, Stern, Mellins, Fishman, p. 562.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

reel-to-reel Zukofsky

On November 3, 1960, Louis Zukofsky turned on his reel-to-reel recorder and made a tape of himself reading 40 poems, and then sent it off to the Library of Congress. Where it sat for many years in their audio collection. Well, sat is not quite fair. Probably some researchers ventured into the archive there and listened. But then PennSound got permission from Zukofsky's executor, Paul Zukofsky, to put the poet's recordings of his poems online. Above you see just the poems he read that day from Some Time. There is much more, so have a look and listen.

This morning I blogged about an extra poem I heard embedded in there. Go here to find out more about that bonus track.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Yahweh's tautology cycled through

I am that I am. Am I? Am that. I am. I am. That I am. I am that I am. I am that I'm I. Am I I that I am? Am I? That I am I am. That am I am I. I I that am am. Am that. I am. Am I that I am? I am I that. I am I am that. Am that I am I. And that I. Etc. This is Brion Gysin performing "I Am" in 1960. Thanks to Danny Snelson and Ubuweb. Now have a listen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

first book

In the photo: poet Barbara Guest in 1960. That year Guest published her first book of poems, The Location of Things (Tibor de Nagy).

Friday, November 14, 2008

off the road in Long Island

Kerouac resided in Northport, L.I., from 1958 to 1964. George Harris went there last year with a video camera and gives us a 5-minute video tour of the two with a Jack p.o.v. Go here for more info and links.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

runaway beat girl interviewed

...by Howard K. Smith in his 1960 "documentary" about the beat revolution. Go here for more.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

modern without knowing it

At left, John Crowe Ransom.

In 1960 Louise Cowan published a book about the Fugitive poets, published (not surprisingly - it's long been a haven for Tate, Ransom, Penn Warren, Donald Davidson scholars and poetic followers) by LSU Press. The American Scholar ran a review of this book. Robert Langbaum wrote it, which shocked me slightly since I think of Langbaum as a liberal northern (Jewish) critic more interested in what might be called "northern" problems of poetry. He was at the time still working on nature poetry (in the New England sense) and Hardy, of course. Anyway, I'm fascinated by what Langbaum says about the Fugitives' relationship to modernism: "The Fugitives did not start with a modernist or regionalist program. Modernism was an issue among them; and the controversy between the radical modernist, Tate, and Ransom who was, as Tate said, 'modern without knowing it,' is one of the most interesting things in the book." The story is all about the realization among southern intellectuals that there was a political implication to their poetic practice and critical theory. Prior to that reckoning, they could be "modern" or not modern "without knowing it." After that, the extent of the convergence, in them, of modernism and Southern conservativsm (including, for some, apologetics about slavery and the Southern defeatist complex) became something they had to work out, usually with the effect of pulling the modernism out of them. Certainly this is one way of telling the story of John Crowe Ransom.

Langbaum's review: American Scholar, vol 29, 3 (1960), p. 430-31.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

still the blacklist

In 1960 Chandler Davis wrote an essay-length memoir of his experience on the academic blacklist. Here is a link to the whole piece. And below is the opening:

I am not a professor. Maybe I never will be one.

My apprenticeship was honorable, as a teaching fellow at Harvard, where I got my Ph.D. in mathematics, and as an instructor at the University of Michigan. I loved the university life. Not that it occurred to me at the time to compare it to any other; I had never seriously considered leaving it.

However, it happened that one summer ten distinguished members of my faculty convened (five at a time) and unanimously declared me guilty of “deviousness, artfulness, and indirection hardly to be expected of a University colleague.” I had refused, first before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and then before these juries of professors, to answer yes or no to the question, was I a Communist. The juries could assume (with that background and in the year 1954) that their recommendation that I be fired would mean my complete expulsion from the profession.

In fact my life as a mathematician, though attentuated, is not extinguished. I have managed to get a certain amount of research done. I show up at Math Society meetings. My fellow mathematicians, who stood up for me most gratifyingly when distinguished juries were telling them I was not fit for their company, still welcome me to their company. They gave me the pleasure and honor of a year’s fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study. Currently I have an editorial job with our reviewing journal—a position of, at any rate, responsibility.

But the universities—the universities of America have so far opened only their back door to me, only a crack, though I knocked at their front door, politely but unmistakably, for years.

So now under their window what song do I raise? A howl of grief? Have I risen to haunt you, displaying my shocking wounds to wrench your conscience? Not precisely.

To prove that I am fit to teach would be too easy to be interesting. I was exiled from academe, not as an incompetent, but as a heretic. To prove that my heresies meet your standards of tolerability or your dean’s (though it might be difficult enough, all right) would be uninteresting because too special. There is a considerable fraternity of academic exiles these days, and there is no need to single me out from it.

Chan Davis was married to Natalie Zemon Davis, the historian. A magazine called Michigan Today tells the story of accusations made against them as communists. Here is a link to that article.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

the Ubu of 1960

At right, Paul Claudel playing solitaire.

I’ve written here before about the state of surrealism in 1960, and now I want to return to the matter and have a longer look at Wallace Fowlie, arguably the most important explainer and promoter of French surrealism in the U.S. at the time.

Fowlie taught modern French literature at Bennington, Chicago, and Yale, and in 1964 went to Duke where he stayed until the end. His last book, written when he was 85, was about Rimbaud and Jim Morrisson of The Doors: The Poet as Rebel. In one remembrance I found on the web, a student of Fowlie’s recalls the great teacher’s “celibacy and minimalism,” remembers going to Fowlie’s apartment for a b.s. session with other students and being mesmerized by the Jim Morrisson poster on the wall which he saw while hearing Fowlie intone that he was simply a faithful Catholic. The student was astonished and delighted by what he considered a remarkable contrast or convergence. But no contrast at all: Fowlie was a devotee of surrealism, Catholicism and the literary tradition that produced such figures as Narcissus, Hamlet, and the clown.

In 1960 he published a new edition (put out by Hillary House) of his 1957 book on Paul Claudel. He also published his Dionysus in Paris: A Guide to Contemporary French Theater (Meridian, ’60), a dual-language book published by Bantam called French Stories/Contes Francais, the Gateway Editions edition of Claudel’s Break of Noon and another of Claudel’s Tidings Brought to Mary, and yet another Claudel edition brought out by Regnery (all in 1960).

In his time Fowlie was underestimated by literary academia in the U.S. David O’Connell has written that this “is the reaction that any man of staunch moral conviction who is also prolific arouses in an age of confusion and mediocrity.” Probably so. But there’s more: Fowlie avoided the huge existentialist fad that ran through modern language and English departments in the fifties and sixties, and was somewhat left out because of what seemed an Old School attitude. Actually, New School...for Fowlie’s indifference to the existentialist fad – a response to apparent desire among undergrads to read deep stuff in French lit classes – was an affirmation of surrealism as the main current from early modernism to his time.

A crucial document is Fowlie’s “Surrealism in 1960,” a commentary piece written for Poetry Magazine. He looks back at surrealist automatic writing. It was a means, he says, by which the surrealists attempted by reach the absolute. They intended to reveal the emptiness and falsity of logical discourse, and to emancipate words from the bondage of rhetorical speech. While automatic writing might have failed – the surrealists themselves felt it didn’t do entirely what they’d wanted – Fowlie suggests that that part of the surrealist project has had a great influence on later writers. He commends the surrealists’ renunciation of “all activity of control over speech” (through which it was hoped that people would emerge as themselves).

So in this piece he looks at surrealists in his day – ’60. He sees that Jean Paulhan, Maurice Blanchot, and Raymond Queneau, in their conception of language “as a new instrument,” are essentially surrealists.

He discusses Henri Michaux and Francis Ponge in the surrealist context.

And he looks back to Jarry’s character Ubu, the “representative of surrealist humor,” and finds that Raymond Queneau “today is still expressing in a recognizably surrealist way this doctrine of humor.” Queneau is the Ubu of 1960.

It’s 1960, yes, and the year in which Donald Allen published the great New American Poetry anthology, but separately and parallel (but not intersecting, as surrealism is not a conscious consideration in the structure of Allen’s book – except indirectly through the poems there by Ashbery and the comic-surrealist strain in some lines of the Beats). Perhaps a more important point than anything implied by the consolidation of the New Americans in Allen is something Wallace Fowlie added toward the end of “Surrealism in 1960”: “An historical study of surrealism makes it out to be anti-literary and anti-poetical. Yet today it seems to us the founder of a new literature and a new poetry."

One last thing about Fowlie before I leave him. He was born in Brookline, Mass., with no connection to France or things French (except indirectly through some forms of Catholicism). But one day, as a child, he happened to be at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston where the French Ambassador to the U.S. - yes, it was Paul Claudel himself - gave an utterly incomprehensible speech. The young Wallace Fowlie knew right then what he wanted to do.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

boomlay-booming after modernism

Late in ’59, Eleanor Ruggles’ biography of Vachel Lindsay was published and there was briefly a revival of interest – most of it doubtful – in Lindsay as a chanting performing poet. Two other biographical books had been published, a first by Edgar Lee Masters in 1935, a second in ’52, a fictionalized biography, by a then-young Mark Harris.

This new book brought out Kenneth Rexroth and Granville Hicks, veterans by then of the political-poetry wars. Rexroth had not much good to say about where Lindsay fit: naively American, a dreamer of the (false) American Dream. Today, Rexroth guessed, Lindsay would be a “mildly rightish liberal, a common-sense New Dealer,” essentially a patriotic Midwestern populist, “hopelessly naïve.” The poetry had been “not very good.”

For Hicks, Lindsay stood against – or ran differently from or parallel to – modern poetry. “He was enthusiastic and hopeful; the moderns are secretive and dark.” Yet Harriet Monroe published him in 1913, and Yeats deemed him “the great native American genius.” When Monroe printed VL’s poem about the Salvation Army’s General Booth (“General Booth Enters into Heaven”) in Poetry she made sure to include the parenthetical instructions for bass drum, banjo, flute, etc., that made it a poem with a difference: one meant to be chanted, sung, performed.

In ’59 he was “eccentric and faintly embarrassing.” He’d literally walked around the Northwest in the first years of the 20th century, provisioned with a pack of poems and no money. He traded poems and talk for food, and announced to astonished citizens of small towns in Oregon and Washington State that “I am the sole active member of the ancient brotherhood of the troubadours.” In the non-Poundian sense of the term, he might have been right at that moment.

Lindsay made performance poetry – poetry printed as a score for chanted performance – something Rotary Clubs and high-school assembly attendees knew as part of the modern American poetic landscape. It’s NOT that – as Time mag put it in its November 23, 1959 issue – Vachel Lindsay was out of date and that “chanting about the heartland seemed naïve to readers caught by the puzzles of The Waste Land.” No. The trick would be whether we could ever – in light of these dismissals at the end of the 50s – see that the Eliotic collaged dramatic monologues and snatches of ritual on the one hand and the boomlay-booming scored chants of another Midwesterner were actually part of the same movement.

The Vachel Lindsay PennSound page has a few crucial recordings, including "The Congo" and one of my favorites, "The Mysterious Cat."

sources: Rexroth in The Nation, Nov 28, 1959, p. 404; Hicks in Saturday Review Nov 21, 1959, p. 39. Ruggles’ bio is called The West-Going Heart (Norton).

Sunday, July 6, 2008

nude descending toward formalism

We've seen poet X. J. Kennedy around (at Breadloaf). In '60 he published a satire of modernism, a poem titled "Nude Descending a Staircase" after--of course--the 1912 Marcel Duchamp painting that by '60 had become iconic of the cubist and futurist side of the revolution in art. The Duchamp painting, shown at the 1913 Armory Show, depicted the motion of a nude woman by presenting her as successive superimposed images, similar to stroboscopic motion photography. In 1913 this was scandalous.

How do we know X. J. Kennedy's poem of 1960 satirizes the Duchamp? Well, would a sincere homage be given in perfectly rhymed ABCB tetrameter quatrains? (Tetrameter with internal rhyme too: "Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh, / A gold of lemon, root and rind") Duchamp's was a form-busting breakthrough, characterized by energy. Kennedy in '60 counters with lines of stasis about the woman's movement: "One-woman waterfall, she wears / Her slow descent like a long cape / And pausing, on the final stair / Collects her motions into shape." In other words, the poem has found her at a certain moment of descent. She collects motions into shape.

There's a condescending pun here: For Kennedy the nude Duchampian woman has "nothing on"... that is to say, nothing on her mind. Empty-headed, stupid or, at best: she is the opposite of the creator of her movement--the object of the modernist subject. And to be sure she's an object, the poet of '60 looks up at her, standing beneath the banister, watching from below as her thighs thresh.

The multiplicity of places from which to observe (all at once - famously, the revolution Duchamp augured here) has become a single p.o.v., and satirically gendered ("we" are gaping at the body, nude upskirt). If Kennedy meant to praise kinetic modernism, then he created a major formal irony in doing so, and completely undoes the aesthetic of the "one-woman waterfall" he sets in stiff rhyming lines.

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh,
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh--
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collects her motions into shape.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rothenberg and Mac Low

Jerome Rothenberg has a new blog, and one of his first entries is about his relationship with Jackson Mac Low. Here's part of Jerry's entry:

I met Jackson Mac Low in 1960 or 1961, through the intervention, as I recall it, of Diane Wakoski. She had come to New York with LaMonte Young & there was clearly a connection between Jackson & LaMonte through an avant-garde that was centered on John Cage’s presence in New York & the international connections delineated by Fluxus. My first response to Jackson’s aleatory/chance experiments was a degree of puzzlement but a sense beneath that that something real & important was taking place. I fell for him first at a reading in which he introduced the first several of his Light Poems, impressed enough by those so that whatever else he did entered at once into the realm of my possibilities. And this was enhanced still more when he drew me into performing with him (as he did with many others) or, conversely, when he gave himself willingly to my own early attempts (circa 1969 or 70) at fusing poetry with performance. I often performed with him in his Gathas, & he was one of my performers (along with David Antin & Rochelle Owens) in a staged & recorded presentation of “primitive & archaic poetry” (circa 1967) that was the direct forerunner to Technicians of the Sacred.

There's more there, and here's the link to the rest of the entry.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

poet says: extremism is no vice

The line that would put Barry Goldwater far to the anticommunist right in '64 was the same uttered by the popularly revered poet Kahlil Gibran (1883- 1931) in a book published in 1960 called "'Narcotics and Dissecting Knives,' Thoughts and Meditations":

"In battling evil," Gibran had written, "excess is good; for he who is moderate in announcing the truth is presenting half-truth. He conceals the other half out of fear of the people's wrath."

Monday, June 2, 2008

attended Greenwich Village University

Susan (Suze) Rotolo graduated high school in 1960. Her parents were communists (her dad dead by then, her mom quite active still although heading toward alcoholism). Suze didn't really think seriously about college. It was the time: she began subwaying in to lower Manhattan and eventually didn't take the return train--just stayed. Met Bob Dylan in '61 and was with him, mostly on but later on and off, until late '63. A working-class Italian girl, few prospects - but she was bright and artsy and game, and directly but mostly, alas (she admits to having been a "minor character"), indirectly had a major intellectual impact on the 60s. Much more here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

compact boom, sure--but fins endure

The 1960 Lincoln Continental had an engine that was 430 cubic inches - the largest in the industry. By '61 this car had hydraulic windshield wipers. They worked off the power steering pump, which was placed directly ahead of the engine so that it, in turn, worked off the crankshaft. Really unusual (and, shall we say, unnecessary). The electric window motors were sealed in liquid rubber and had stainless steel shafts. Each Continental was tested for three hours ("hot tested," meaning: someone drove it hard on the road), after which it was "torn down" for visual inspection. A computer-like device checked every electrical component.

The 1960 Cadillac, on the other hand, was toned down from the '59 model. Thomas Bonsall's The Cadillac Story reports in this context that "the compact car boom was on; big and flashy were no longer 'in.'" Toned down? Big no longer in? Look at that car!

In any case, the folks at Cadillac didn't have to try as hard as before to win the luxury market: Imperial and Lincoln "had both largely self-destructed, and Packard had withdrawn from the highest end of the car-buying game.

But for all the talk of "the compact car boom," luxury models for 1960 still look (at least to us now) like the car of the 50s. They don't yet have that distinctive sixties look. Compare the big black machine above to the Corvette of '62, here at left. In design terms, the difference is epochal.

Does that mean 1960 is still old and '62 is new? In the auto industry, it seems to be the case. To be a little more specific: designers for the high end market still believed in 1960 that their wealthy constituents preferred to look back rather than forward for design, seeking reputation, solidity, proven status. Later these same folks would strive for the opposite values--the new, the untried, the with-it.

More in this sense (new-looking rather than traditional) like the Corvette, the "Corvair" was presented as a car for the 60s. The engine was in the back and it was poorly designed (unssafe at any speed, in fact)--but it sure looks "modern" in the 6-minute feature film (below). (Thanks to Tim Carmody who pointed me toward it.) This was the disastrous design that made Ralph Nader famous.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Robertson Davies says...

"The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is, in fact, a return to the idealised past."--"A Voice from the Attic", 1960

poem to conquered land: I lay claim to wonder

John Tagliabue published this poem in the August 1960 issue of Poetry magazine. It's our 1960 version of Wallace Stevens's "Anecdote of the Jar." The poem (shaped like a flag, or a boat with a mast) plants its alphabetic flag on American soil and takes dominion everywhere, and, depending on the valuation of the simile, is ironically or not ironically a direct descendent of Columbus's hegemonic gesture. The imagination rules, and brings over a load of bric-a-brac from elsewhere (this poem itself). Poetics is inherently (theoretically and perhaps hilariously) colonialism.

tried to be non-alarmish

Dr. Benjamin Spock (he shall be "Ben" to us, as he was to his family and friends) was the first pediatrician to study psychoanalysis in order to understand children's needs and family dynamics. Somewhat daring there, it seems. But cautious and ratings-savvy in other ways. In February of '60, he was preparing the revise the directions in Baby and Child Care on artificial respiration for yet another edition, so readers could learn the new mouth-to-mouth method. His illustrator would need to do new drawings, and the good doctor was concerned to make sure, for the sake of young kids, that the victim wouldn't "look like an old corpse and make the procedure look like cannibalism or a perversion." So the baby that can't breathe looks so sweet and happy that one wonders what the emergency is.

Ben was later known as a anti-Vietnam dove, of course, and something of a consistent lefty. By in 1960 he was known exclusively as "the baby doctor," super-famous for his accessibly modern, oft-updated book on baby-rearing with its new child-centric approach.

Actually, to Ben, looking back later: "I was a hawk in 1960. I thought we had to be strong to stand up to the Soviet Union." He appeared in campaign ads for JFK and believed in the campaign rhetoric about the so-called "missile gap." The Kennedy people felt Spock was perfect for them: "We figured a lot of mothers would vote for Jack if they saw him with Spock," a Kennedy aide told the Times.

When JFK flew in for a campaign stop in Youngstown, Ohio, Ben drove over from Cleveland to be ready to greet the candidate. Waited on the tarmac, entered the plane, chatted with Jack, and was supposed to shake hands with Spoke as they both left the plane. But there was such a crowd, and JFK waved so happily at them, that he forgot to do the handshake. So Ben went to the campaign hotel and had a photo taken with the Senator.

Back on that plane in Youngstown. Upon seeing Spoke, JFK had said: "My wife is a great fan of yours."

He was never (according to him) a pacifist. We should have gone in against Hitler long before we did. And he supported NATO and even the Korean War. But this new war in Indochina was different and he sought some role in the peace movement. By the middle and end of the 60s, he was completely in it. But in 1960 he was worried about what the mothers who read his book would think. SANE (the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy), its officers then seeking a reputation, invited Ben to be a sponsor of them. He said no. This is what he wrote:

I am in agreement with [your] policy.... But when I was first asked to participate in its work a couple of years ago I declined on the following basis: I have no expert knowledge at all about the relationship between radiation and health... If I were to take any official part in the work of the Committee I think that many parents would assume 1) that I was, to some degree, an expert and 2) that as an expert I was alarmed by the present dangers of irradiation.

To put it another way: I have tried as parent educator to be non-alarmish and I was to save my influence to use in areas in which I feel I have competence.... As you can see from my protesting I feel ashamed to turn you down, but I have to. I hope you ... will forgive me."

Sources: Lynn Z. Bloom, Doctor Spoke: Biography of a Conservative Radical; Thomas Maier, Dr. Spock: An American Life.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Cage sans radio on TV

The exact date seems to be uncertain, but at some point in January 1960 John Cage actually appeared on the TV game show, I've Got a Secret. Thanks to Tom Devaney for pointing this out to me, and to WFMU for capturing the video (from re-runs?). Click here to view the video (on YouTube - where it's been viewed a remarkable 110,000 times as of this writing and has received a 4-out-of-5 star rating, and 346 comments from viewers).

Cage is permitted to perform "Water Work" in its entirety. While there are a number of condescending comments about Cage's music, on the whole the show treats him with respect. They even decided (spontaneously?) to give up the usual game format (four panelists try to guess what Cage does).

The composition was meant to include the sounds of five radios playing, but you won't hear them in this performance. It seems that two unions could not agree on which of them was supposed to plug the radios into the wall sockets, and of course it was forbidden, in a TV studio, for Cage or any other non-union person to plug them in. So no radios.

Friday, May 9, 2008

TV in '60: which Steven Douglas is that?

Two thousand live dramas for television were produced in the period from 1947 (the debut of NBC's Kraft Television Theatre) to 1961 (when CBS's Playhouse was cancelled). Two thousand! Alas (as Gary Edgerton notes) fewer than 100 of those 2000 are available in archives to be viewed and assessed by critics. We'll never know, from these works of art themselves, how the decline toward the year 1960 happened. Of course in sociological and economic terms, we know a lot about why 1960 was a crucially dismal year in TV's slide downward toward what Kennedy's FCC chief, the New Frontiersman Newton Minow (great name!), called "a vast wasteland" in his famous May 1961 speech.

Perry Mason on CBS peaked just after '60. It ran from 1957 to 1966 and was a top-20 show pretty much the whole time. In 1961-62 it reached number 5 on the charts. "The triumph of Perry Mason," wrote Thomas Leitch, "is a triumph of formula."

1960 was the year in which TV Westerns started to fall. They had become so prominent and so much a part of TV culture that it must have been hard to believe at first that this was really happening. But it had been a brief run, really. There were sixteen Westerns in 1957-58, 24 in '58-'59, a peak of 28 in 1959-60. Then 22 in 1960-61. Ten had been in the top 30 in 1957-58, only 8 in the top 30 in 1960-61.

The Untouchables first aired on October 15, 1959. The Twilight Zone ran from October 2, 1959 to September 18, 1964. The Andy Griffith Show debuted in our year, on October 3, 1960 (it ran until halfway through 1968, which is simply hard for me to fathom).

And My Three Sons also came on the air in '60: September 29, to be exact. Its fans saw 369 shows by the end (1972). It's Don Fedderson's epic family saga. A single dad, his wifeless state mostly a repressed secret. Pipe-smoke wisdom from Fred MacMurray, named--without an iota of political or historical relevance--"Steven Douglas." Or maybe a political irony: Stephen A. Douglas was of course one of the greatest orators ever, a bombast in the pre-modern mode; our 1960 Steven Douglas was a shoulder-shrugging understater of domestic punditry, a model of modest self-sacrifice for "my boys." Of course in another sense MacMurray's domesticated Douglas and our 19th-century Douglas put the same twist on the American version of Protestant capitalism: the historical Douglas advocated a democratic doctrine that emphasized equality of all citizens (of course for Douglas only whites were citizens), in which individual merit and social mobility was not a main goal. What counted implicitly was one's natural standing and the nation's job was to make it possible for people like 1960's Steve Douglas to do what he does and remain in a position to do it, so that Mike, Robbie and Chip (and later Ernie) can grow up without becoming delinquents and freaks and the gone wife's father and later "Uncle Charlie" can continue to get free meals in the suburban manor.

Meantime, while the father's social mobility declines in importance, on January 21, 1960, the day after JFK was sworn in (new era!), Playhouse 90 was forced to cut back from weekly to twice monthly.

On election day, November 8, 1960, there were 90 million TV sets in the U.S., nearly one for every two Americans. The Kennedy-Nixon debates were watched by 66.5 million viewers! They were the first such debates of this sort (aired on TV but--more--really made for TV) and they remain to this day the highest-rated presidential debates ever. The last debate earned a 66 rating. Note too that the viewership went up from the first to the third debate, as word got out about how exciting and important they were - not down as is usually the case. (In RatingsWorld this effect is something like what you see for the seventh game of a World Series, like Red Sox-Reds in '75. As the quality of contest itself became clear, excitement grew.)

Newton Minow (I still can't get over that name) didn't just say that TV was "a vast wasteland" when he spoken at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Washington on May 9, 1961. Here is a little more context. He told industry executives to "sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet or rating book to distract you--and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland." As Gary Edgerton in The Columbia HIstory of American Television unironically observes: "[T]he association's membership had never before heard anyone make a literary allusion to T. S. Eliot when discussing television."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

your inner Kurtz

The reviews of Peter Matthiessen's short World War II novel Raditzer began appearing in late January '61. I can't find a publication date but I'm just going to say it's in late 1960. Matthiessen was 33 at the time. It was his third novel.

There's a Raditzer in every outfit circa 1944: the sniveling, weird little screw-up who can't pull his weight and adds to others' burden. Then there's Charlie Stark: sane, socialized, from a wealthy family. Stark wanted combat duty but was turned down, rejected a commission and ended up drafted onto this troop transport.

It turns out that Charlie Stark's war is as much (internally, emotionally) against the existence of the Raditzer type as against the Axis. It's a war between disgust and compassion. Compassion wins; Stark claims that Raditzer is his friend.

But Raditzer is an awful man, and eventually his lying and bragging get him thrown overboard - by real war-weary folks who have no Starkian ambivalence. Stark hurts from having connected himself (in large measure unconsciously) to badness.

Raditzer arranges for Stark to meet a cafe girl in Hawaii. In such scenes the priveleged naive at-sea Stark is pushed toward obsession and danger.

What's in it for us? Just another war novel written in '60? (Why so many? I've speculated on this previously.)

Well, Stark's Pacific tour of duty is prepared for completely - long before Raditzer enters his life. You see, Stark has been a student of art (ring the loud gongs of recognition here)...a student of art, you see, and he is compelled by the works of Paul Gauguin. He's obsessed with Polynesian symbols of love and hate, of life and death. In effect he's gone to fight World War II in the Allied navy for the wrong reasons - "wrong" in the geopolitical sense; wrong in the sense the conventional adjusted well-off American should comprehend and repress. Stark has gone to find - he's Conrad's Marlowe - the heart of his aesthetic and sexual darkness, lured there by art rather than by the nobility of the American adventure against fascism and imperialism. Stark is the aesthetic imperialist who needs Raditzer to bring him to the point of recognizing his (Stark's) own evil.

Ah, art. It'll bring out your inner Kurtz every time.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

restoring etiquette at Bread Loaf

Sometime light-verse guy - and pre-New Formalist - X. J. Kennedy was invited to be a Bread Loaf fellow for the first time in the summer of 1960. At that time John Ciardi ruled the roost there, and it was an era of retrenchment: Ciardi wanted to maintain the old Bread Loaf ways. Customs had been slipping; time for shoring up. Fellows and special guests (big-name writer visitors) were invited to the director's cottage for late-afternoon cocktails. No crashers, no riff-raff.

Kennedy remembers the first time Ciardi talked with him. "I held one of those fellowships that required a young writer to eat with and be nice to the paying customers." Ciardi warned Kennedy as follows: "Don't get too smart around here--I've read a lot better stuff than yours."

Very nice.

Meantime, in a letter to poet-humanist Read Bain, Ciardi complained: "$1000 a year to direct a headache is not an inducement.... [But] B.L. is the best goddman two-week house-party in the western hemisphere. If I had the money, I'd underwrite it myself."

Ciardi wrote a verse letter to Paul Cubeta on August 25, 1960, while at Bread Loaf. Cubeta was there--indeed he was Ciardi's assistant director.

What are you going to be when you grow up?
I am going to be a cow-inseminator!
I am going to be an assistant pickle-taster for Heinz!
I am going to be a child vivisectionist!

Yes, those are all nice things to be, but
I am going to be an assistant director....

Robert Frost remained a Bread Loaf fixture, making an visit each summer between '58 and '62. He gave one evening lecture and it was the highlight--at least from the paying participants' standpoint--each time. In 1960 outsiders poured into the theater and filled up all the spaces; many of the paid-up Bread Loafers, and even a few staff, were unable to attend. (In '61 Ciardi figured that one out: he issued--and of course sold--tickets.)

Ciardi recruited "name" faculty to attract customers. The 1960 roster included Allen Drury, Edward Wallant, and Glorida Oden. (Ralph Ellison had been there in '59.) Some of young people there that summer would emerge much later--e.g. Samuel "Chip" Delaney who roomed across the hall from George Higgins, later a novelist (Higgins was just 20 years old then, a senior at Boston College who had won The Atlantic's college contest in fiction; his job at BL was to sling hash.)

Drury was a big deal in '60. His Advise and Consent was the number one best selling book of fiction that year.

Back to Kennedy and the Old Ways. Kennedy in '60 was told "that nobody was to come into the Treman Cottage except the staff and the fellows." Ciardi had hired Avis DeVoto (widow of the literary journalist/critic Bernard DeVoto) to be an etiquette supervisor. 1960 was her first summer and this helped to enforce custom. In '59 Alan Cheuse, who had been invited by Bill Sloane to attend the '59 conference as a waiter, led a disorganized lot of the Young in a movement against Ciardi's social orthodoxy. Cheuse was then "a vaguely Bohemian kid." During a sing-along at one of the BL parties, the partiers sang "Old Black Joe" while Ralph Ellison was standing there holding his drink. Cheuse went wild with anger at this. Leaped up and knocked over a huge trash bin full of beer cans and stopped the party. The gang of waiters and other young writers derided Ciardi's authority, smoked pot, held unauthorized meetings (my god!), and bolding invited themselves to the faculty-only/fellows-only parties. This culminated in '59, the summer of the "Old Black Joe" incident. And then, for '60, Ciardi found ways to restore social order and literary hierarchy. All was well at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference for a long while.

Above: X. J. Kennedy (left) and poet Claire McAllister with Robert Frost at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, August 1960

Sunday, April 20, 2008

ourselves to know (indeed)

Bestsellers in fiction for the year:

1. Advise and Consent, Allen Drury
2. Hawaii, James A. Michener
3. The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa
4. The Chapman Report, Irving Wallace
5. Ourselves To Know, John O'Hara
6. The Constant Image, Marcia Davenport
7. The Lovely Ambition, Mary Ellen Chase
8. The Listener, Taylor Caldwell
9. Trustee from the Toolroom, Nevil Shute
10. Sermons and Soda-Water, John O'Hara

And in nonfiction:

1. Folk Medicine, D. C. Jarvis
2. Better Homes and Gardens First Aid for Your Family
3. The General Foods Kitchens Cookbook
4. May This House Be Safe from Tigers, Alexander King
5. Better Homes and Gardens Dessert Book
6. Better Homes and Gardens Decorating Ideas
7. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer
8. The Conscience of a Conservative, Barry Goldwater
9. I Kid You Not, Jack Paar
10. Between You, Me and the Gatepost, Pat Boone

Thursday, April 3, 2008

upbeat and tough at Cosmo

In August '60 Cosmopolitan ran an essay by Richard Gehman called "The Language of Love." Poetry is back in America...because American readers are realizing that it's about robust human passion.

"It is only in recent years that Americans in mass have become aware of the vitality of this form of literature and of the rewards it has to offer them." Previously poetry was being "poorly taught, taught by rote, or taught with emphasis on scholarship and research rather than on emotion and appreciation."

Fortunately the "prototype" of the "dreamy-eyed aesthete with golden curls" is dead. It "had only a short life in an excessively effete era."

"Never forget that Shelley was six feet tall"! And that Ted Roethke "once worked in a pickle factory."

Americans "prefer robust and virile heroes" and thus poets should be "elevated...to eminence."

And what about Eliot? A whimp? A Girly Man? A solitary, weak-stomached fellow who "pine[s] for inspiration"? Naw. Gehman here celebrates an anecdote he'd recently heard about T. S. Eliot: the poet, at dinner at his London club, gamely eats "game pie...full of beaks and shot, or a cut off the joint and two veg," and then after dinner roughly grabs a hunk of cheese the size "of a baby's head," stabbing with a knife the whole piece and then eats "the whole goddmaned thing." Thus proving...what? That Eliot is one of those "robust and virile" men who should affirm Americans' emergent view of American poets as regular good-guy American heroes whose stature and rough experience enable them to emote in regular good-guy ways.

And let's not forget Irving Layton (never mind that he's Canadian). After all, Layton is a "towering man" who "once shoveled coal" and fought "bare-knuckled every day" as a kid and--this really gives him credentials--refused to mourn his lousy father.

Bizarrely (and without transition) Allen Ginsberg joins this list of normative strapping real-guy poets: after all, he's so passionately into reading his poetry that sometimes he strips off his shirt, showing bare chest (hairy chest, doubltess is the implication).

"Hard" is the word here. Poets are hard folks. Poems are hardy expressions of human emotion. Powerful and hard. And...here's the key point..."true poetry is hard work."

And hard American work in support of the poet fits here as well. After all, isn't it true that "publicity sells poetry"?

America, the poets (and Madison Avenue ad men) are putting their virile shoulders to the wheel!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

didactic poem not a poem

A more or less randomly chosen academic book from 1960: Gordon E. Bigelow's Rhetoric and American poetry of the early national period, published by the University of Florida Press - a 77-page monograph, number 4 in Florida's "Humanities" series. "During msot of Western literary history," Bigelow begins, "rhetoric and poetic [sic] have lain close together, sometimes merging so completely for centuries at a time as to be virtually indistinguishable" ... but not so in America. Although there was much rhetoric written especially for political conversation, writers of the early U.S. did not have the willingness to devote themselves to writing poetry because (primarily) British writers were their competition. Poetry that was written in the early U.S. was done mostly to excite narrowly targeted audiences specifically for political or religious events of the day. American poetry began by being "vigorous" yet "dull" and makes "dull reading today." The poet's "words fall to the ground before they reach our ears." "The urgency which gave his poetry its life" back then is "gone" now.

Bigelow is tentative about opining but (especially in his fifth section, "Propaganda and Declamation") his view is readable between the lines: partisan poetry is not poetry because it is not for the ages, it is not universal. There's a definitional problem here, and once one sees that the historical argument goes in a circle. He begins by defining poetry as not rhetoric, argues that the early U.S. poet is rhetorical, and ends by saying that the poetry produced was not poetry. There is no such thing as a didactic poem that deserves the name of "poem."

Friday, March 14, 2008

the one thing Sontag published

According to Lauren McDaniel at UCLA's special collections library, Susan Sontag's papers (so far at least) do not contain any writings dated 1960. It's possible that new batches of material coming into that collection will eventually include some stuff from our year. Her career as writer really began in '62 and she published just a few things before that. It's known among Sontagians (and perhaps less so about Rieffians) that Susan was an uncredited quasi-co-author of Philip Rieff's The Mind of the Moralist (1959).

There is a piece dated 1960: it appeared in the Supplement to the Columbia Dailiy Spectator on November 18, 1960, on pages 3, 4 & 8: "History in the Drama." Sontag was an instructor in religion at Columbia.

I procured a copy of this piece. It's a review of Tom Driver's The Sense and History of Greek and Shakespearean Drama published by Columbia University Press. This is almost fully mature Sontagian writer at the level of the sentence--without, unsurprisingly, the pure verve of the writing on camp and avant-gardism coming soon. Driver's book, she says, contributes to a number of current debates - among them "the clash between an orientation to psychology and an orientation to history. The 'linear' view is under heavy attack by contemporary psychology-minded intellectuals. It is said that we have seen 'the end of ideology,' the end of hopes for radical transformation of the human condition, and that political convulsions are precisely the fruit of th[e] misguided and presumtuous energies of Biblical messianism."

She is here referring to a major book of 1960 by Daniel Bell: The End of Ideology. And she's in part using the Rieffian approach to and critique of "contemporary psychology-minded intellectuals" to counter the centrist/post-ideological End of Ideology thesis, which in part attributes the politics of difference (ideological critique of the American suburban middle-class 1950s-style status quo, for instance) to psychological maladjustment and crazy egoistic desires.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

gone words before the crazy mob

Beatnik Questionnaire, copyright 1960, Gimmix Novelties, White Plains, N.Y. (Harry Ransom Center)

Do you live like there is no tomorrow? Do you attend poetry readings? Do you write your own poetry? Cool verse? Gone verse? Do you also recite? In public? Before a crazy mob?

MORE >>>

Friday, February 15, 2008

a valentine from Marianne

Marianne Moore published more often in New Yorker than I would have guessed. Several times in '60. On February 13, we see her poem "St. Valentine," (yes the comma is in the title) and it begins with one of her patent run-ons from the title:
      St. Valentine,

permitted to assist you, let me see...

And the final stanza is this:

Verse--unabashedly bold--is appropriate;
and always it should be as neat
as the most careful writers "8."
Any valentine that is written
Is as the vendange to the vine.
Might verse not best confused itself with fate?

Moore published O to Be a Dragon in '59 and it was reviewed widely in '60. She also wrote a big-splash article for Vogue called "The Plums of Curiosity," a curious piece itself. More on that another time.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

opening the field

Some would argue - I might well be among them - that Robert Duncan's Grove Press book of poems, The Opening of the Field, opened the poetics field in the year 1960. Keith Newton has put together a suggestive "recovery project" web page on Duncan's book. He writes:
Written almost fifty years ago, not long after the devastations of the first half of the century and in the shadow of those to come, The Opening of the Field remains one of our most moving attempts to restore, in a world left spiritually barren, some sense of “the human greenness.” There is a sense throughout the book that an unanswerable question lies at its heart: to what purpose, to what end, does the poetry direct its energies? To “the boundaries of the field,” where the mind stops, where language stops, where our stories end? Yet what we find from the beginning of the book is that thought itself is a restorative process, that even as it is directed toward its own boundaries, it is guided by an instinct to create. “In the field of the poem,” Duncan writes in “The Propositions,” “the unexpected / must come.”
PennSound's Duncan page has just recently been expanded significantly - thanks largely to the work of Mike Hennessey. There are recordings of readings done as early as 1950 - also several of 1963. And (scroll to the bottom of the Duncan page) there's a reading of Opening - in two parts - of unknown date and setting. Listen!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

2001's version of 1960's version of the '50s

Pop surrealism, a So-Cal quasi-underground movement of the current decade, looks back to the late 50s and early 60s - obsessing visually over the cathode characters of that moment. Larry Reid, writing about this art, wonders why the interest in the 1960 moment today, and offers an idea of parallels. Both eras of prosperity in which conservatives extol nebulous family values while demonizing the influence of popular culture. Both eras stand at the end of the dominance of "inaccessible conceptual art and the opaque dialogue that accompanied it." I'm not sure I see these parallels, nor do I see the diminution of conceptual art now (or then). But since the reasons for interest in the 1960 moment now are obviously relevant to this project - this one here - I suppose I have to reckon seriously with such accounts of 2001's version of 1960.

I've written a longer entry on pop surrealism here. Above at right is Tim Biskup's "The Channeler."

Friday, February 1, 2008

road of excess leads to palace of wisdom

William Styron spent a year in Rome. Took a drive with friends and beloved Rose to Anzio, had a meal at a fine ristorante recommended to them. On the drive back, Styron, at the wheel of the car, hit a motorcyclist - riding a Vespa. The man flew along the hood of the car and shattered the windshield, then was flung forward and landed on the pavement just in front of the car. The man did not die but Styron was horribly shaken. After a while, a doctor in attendance, Styron saw missing fingers and an empty eye socket. "Do not worry," said the doctor (in Italian, of course), "He lost those in the last accident."

Styron refused to drive for several weeks. And later he wrote this incident into the beginning of Set This House on Fire, the blockbuster Styron novel of 1960.

In the novel the motorcyclist goes into a coma, from which he awakes only at the very end of the book.

Thematically the novel is a condemnation of vulgar postwar American culture. The title comes from one of John Donne's epistles to the Earle of Carlile.

Formally it's odd and interesting: Styron at one point decided to compose the second half of the novel simultaneously in the first person and the third person. And he wrote on "dexies" - amphetamines. "I liked them," he said. He felt his pencil liberated and had access to surrealistic visions. He only took them for a week or so, since the main side effect was insomnia.

Norman Mailer hated the book even before it was published. People had been talking about Styron's next big novel (The Long March didn't quite count) after the great first book, Lie Down in Darkness. Preparing Advertisements for Myself, Mailer wrote that he's heard the new Styron novel is done. "If it is at all good, and I expect it is, the reception will be a study in the art of literary advancement. For Styron has spent years oiling every literary lever and power which could help him on his way, and there are medals waiting for him in the mass-media."

In the novel there's a Mailer-like character, Mason Flagg. Through Flagg (who says word for word a few things Mailer had said) Styron wanted to tell Mailer that he's been wasting his talent - especially hanging aesthetically around with the beat scene and modern jazz and free sex, which Styron deemed banal. So on page 124 of Set This House on Fire Styron has Flagg say something that was right out of a letter Mailer had written to Styron - a private signal to Mailer that Flagg had a message for him.

Paul Pickrel, reviewing the new Styron for Harper's, wrote: "Styron's great resource is excess." And: "The theme of the book was neatly summarized by William Blake long ago in his apothegm: 'The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.'"

review: July 1960 issue, p. 93; other sources including James West's excellent biography of Styron

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

weekend tourist beatniks not permitted

For the August 6 issue of the New Yorker the mag sent out one of its "Talk of the Town" writers to find out what was making Greenwich Village coffeehouse so attractive to "beatniks" - and whether there was much variation between and among the day's bohemians. The first impression the Village gave off incited a list: "motorcycles, sports cars, Cadillacs, Larks, bicycles, tricycles, little kids, bigger kids, boy gangs, man gangs, girl gangs, young couples, old couples, middle-aged couples, loners, black-garbed Italian ladies in their seventies, panhandlers, book carriers, and Beats of various shapes, sizes and natures. Paperback books, handwrought jewelry, antiques, sandals, pottery, straw objects, paintings, simmering Italian sausages, onions, and pizzas, and freshly boiled sweet corn...."

Using the "Talk" first-person plural, a coffeehouse denizen is approached:

"You Beat?" we asked.
"It's a legitimate thing to be a Beatnik, even though most of the time it's the provincial thing," he said. "It draws me. It's the power of innocence."

The destination was Cafe Figaro at the corner of Bleecker and Macdougal. Tom Ziegler owned the Figaro and said, "Our Beatniks are the real, true old-fashioned, wonderful bohemians...We don't permit weekend tourst Beatniks--a lot of them come down from the Bronx sporting day-old beards--or any would-be Beatniks who read about the press-created-image Beatniks and try to be like them, to work out their psychic difficulties here."

It was not clear how Ziegler didn't "permit" fake or superficial or part-time beatniks from his establishment. I'm having fun imagining this - and the faux beatniks' reaction to being called out as such.

"Life Line," New Yorker, Aug 6, 1960, pp. 21-23

Saturday, January 19, 2008

that tell-tale negligent slouch

Late '59, and the super-famous literary journalist Malcolm Cowley (ex-expatriate, ex-radical, now household name among readers of the centrist-liberal literary weeklies such as The New Republic) was obviously working on Whitman. His three-page essay about Whitman published in the October 26, 1959 issue of TNR seems to be a chip off the workbench - something that came to him from another larger project. (That larger project was an introduction he wrote for a 1959 edition of Leaves of Grass.)

Even all those years ago, a slick literary weekly is not just going to publish an essay on Whitman's developing system of philosophy - I mean, an essay that is not a review and not hitched to some more relevant matter.

That is why, I think, Cowley adapted his piece about Whitman's philosophical ideas so that it's main point, seemingly, was that Whitman is a beatnik. Perhaps I found this interesting to read, then, only (1) in context of its original publication and (2) as a way of disclosing conventions of literary journalism.

It's a literary essay trying rather desperately and stupidly/superficially for a wider audience than one would get in 1960 by publishing in American Quarterly or American Literature. But now, for all time, we can say that people at the end of the 50s thought of Whitman as a forerunner of the beats on the basis of facts such as that both Walt and the beatnik walked with a "negligent slouch."

But it turns out that "Whitman's beatnik period...proved to be only a transitory phase of a life that had several other phases." So there's cake and eating it too. Whitman is a beat (EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!) but he's really not (we wouldn't want to be a slave to fashion).

So, follow me here: Whitman is a beatnik. Read on. But, well, no he's not. And in fact Whitman (and thus the beats) do all these extra-poetic antics to cover over the fact that the writing is bad. This is why someone like Kenneth Patchen sets his poetry to music - so that the music will drown out the poems' flaws; hence (still following?) since Whitman was like a beat, one can imagine Whitman needing a loud band to play while one hears his verse too, similarly hiding its failure as verse.

Cowley's piece was called "The Guru, the Beatnik and the Good Gray Poet." Here's a portion:

There were...literary men who described their meetings with Whitman in a tone of fascinated horror that suggests that accounts of present-day visitors to North Beach or Venice West. Indeed one cannot help feeling that the Whitman of those days was a predecessor of the beatniks. He had the beard, the untrimmed hair, the negligent slouch.... His costume...was another defiance of convention that might be regarded as the 1960 equivalent of sweatshirt and sandals.... He stayed out of the rat race, he avoided the squares, preferring the company of omnibus drivers and deckhands on the ferries; he was "real gone," he was "far out"; and he was writing poems in what Lawrence Lipton calls "the 'open,' free-swinging style that is prized in Beat Generation literature." "Whitman must have thought he was Kenneth Patchen," Lloyd Frankenberg said of those particular poems. Some of them should be read to loud music as a means of glossing over their faults and holding the listener's attention - not to the music of a jazz combo but perhaps to that of a regimental brass band.

Cowley also published on Whitman in the October 31, 1959 issue of the Saturday Review. This seems to be right out of the introduction he wrote for the above-mentioned new edition.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

(anti-)school of quietude

Here's a poem I found in the Nation, submitted by George Cuomo. It has a long title (in bold below) and the body of the poem is one line.

- - -

Poem in Honor of Poets
Who Form Schools
Deliver Manifestoes
Name Generations
Chant Slogans
Praise Each Other
And Roar in Cellar Saloons

They also serve who only sit and write.

- - -

Cuomo (born 1929 and apparently still around) published eight novels, a bunch of short stories, some poetry (haven't found any yet), and at least one book of nonfiction. When he published this angry ditty in the Nation he hadn't yet published his first novel; that was Jack Be Nimble of 1963. Given that his main characters - e.g. a small-time criminal caught up in a brutal prison riot - would seem to befit the anti-establishment aesthetic of the poetry he attacks in his poem, I'm guessing that by the time was publishing in novels, real '60s fiction, he had changed his mind or tempered his view. Or perhaps what was okay in fiction wasn't in verse. Or perhaps he's really merely expressing his preference for the introverted life of writers who write rather than affiliate and proclaim themselves.

Nation May 2, 1959, p. 146.


Found in the Baltimore Evening Sun: "Therefore, says David Rosen-Jaffe, he is going to search for his bride not in Effete and urban Tel Aviv but in a rural farming area."

To which the wisecracking filler-space writing New Yorker writer quipped: "Prettiest girl we ever saw was in Effete, just the same."

New Yorker, June 6, 1959, p. 117

Monday, January 14, 2008

Gordon Parks chooses Robinson Jeffers

The February 15 issue of Life did a photo spread on modern and contemporary American poetry. To kick off National Library Week, Life commissioned Gordon Parks to celebration "the nationwide poetry boon." Parks chose some favorite poems and took photographs to go along with them, "conveying their themes with his camera." The subtitle of the spread: "Captured by the camera: haunting loveliness based on modern verse." The poets selected: John Peale Bishop, Millay, MacLeish, Frost, WCW ("The Red Wheelbarrow"), Jeffers, Richard Wilbur, Eliot, Crane. In the caption for Williams: "...writes extremely conversational verse." Eliot: "...the most influential of all contemporary poets...also one of the most complex." Crane: "...a highly neurotic genius."

Parks was the first African American to work at Life. He co-founded Essence. His semi-autobiographical The Learning Tree would come out four years later, in '64, as would his film Flavio. He was an early contributor to the blaxploitation genre, and his son, Gordon Jr., directed Superfly. Again Life's intro to this "Kaleidoscope" notes that Parks chose the poems; already a main interest was race in America, yet none of the poems even hints at race or even really gestures toward the politics to which Parks would be so devoted. Perhaps this was all thematically truly before, for instance, he created a photo essay documenting the Selma to Montgomery march for Life (1963). At right, though, is a photo of Langston Hughes Park took in 1941; he apparently did not choose a Hughes poem for this spread.

In any case, Life is ecstatic about poetry's comeback: "Recordings of poems have rung up sales of more than two million albums. Poets are barnstorming the country, to recite their works before sellout audiences. In nightclubs and coffee houses, declaiming poetry is the rage, with out without musical accompaniment."