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