Morning book – Cid Corman

photo of three small books

Found in my basement after years of being in storage – a handful of tiny books by Cid Corman. I got these at the estate sale of a University of Texas professor who had just died probably in 1986 or 1987 – I remember riding my bike to follow signs to the sale and then being absolutely in love with this woman and her books and all her things, and being sad she was dead and I would never know her. I could only afford a few books and a velvet pillow with a siamese cat print. I have forgotten her name but I think it was Elizabeth something. The books bear labels from the Ruth Stephan poetry center.

The feel and look of these few booklets inspired me in printing later books for Tollbooth Press (and sometimes Catalyst Press) like Woodbird Jazzophone and Inamorata. They are handmade, but stapled, not hand-sewn, with the beautiful textured paper folded around the print booklet in dust jacket style.

Stead is a collection of short poems, beautifully typeset and bound in soft thick brown paper with almost iridescent wood fibers. It’s dated 29 May 1966, Utano.

I like this little gem – We don’t need to even know what the quote refers to!

“So
slow the rose . . .”

All-at-once
light!

And this is lovely too,

Three small girls
in Sunday dress
racing down

the street to beat
each other –
I can guess – to

the candy
store – forgetful
there who won.

At the time when I read these, I had already gone looking for poetry translated from Japanese from various anthologies – definitely including A Book of Women Poets From Antiquity to Now, which I bought in the Brown University bookstore on a family trip in early high school and studied till it fell apart, and then in the various paperbacks edited by Kenneth Rexroth and whatever else I could find. (As I had read quite a lot of English and American lit by early high school, and decided it was a goal of my life to read work from everywhere and everywhen else.)

I think David Wevill told me to read Basho and other Japanese poets in translation. We would talk in his dimly lit office about short poems vs. long poems, Ezra Pound, imagists, Garcia Lorca, translating from Spanish, and all sorts of stuff I wish I could remember better, but which I’m sure sunk in deeply. David was very kind and gentle to me at a turbulent time in my life and gave me a point of stability, letting me sign up over and over for “independent study” poetry courses with him. Without that, I am sure I never would have graduated from university.

Nonce is another tiny book bound in beautiful shimmery paper with faint brown and blue stripes.

As the sun
lights mountains,
the child’s hand

lifts to its
grandmother’s
thoughtlessly.

A treasure,

Someone will
sweep the fallen
petals away

away. I know,
I know. Weight of
red shadows.

But I have to say, the book is immortal to me for this poem surrounded by evanescent little dreams of willows and cherries and the moon,

No one here,
time for a
good slow shit.

Imagine how this would have made Nettelbeck laugh! Anyway, it makes me laugh.

In this little trove originally (though, still lost in my files for now) was a mimeographed translation of Liu Xie’s Wen Fu. I wrote to Corman, though I have no memory of how I found his address, pre-web, asking for permission to make a zine of his translation (and praising his work, and likely sending him poems as well) and he wrote me back giving me permission very charmingly. Maybe David Wevill had his address. Periodically I find this letter and resolve to publish the translation and then lose the whole folder of stuff again somewhere in my papers.

Later (I think) I read a bunch of Origin and got the big paperbacks collecting work from the magazines. And realized there was some connection with Lorine Niedecker (who was connected somehow to the “Minor Poets” I was hanging with in the 00s on the Peninsula and in San Jose).

Corman gets some criticism for translating or co-translating without knowing any of the source language, but I think he does amazing work and I’m a fan of co-translation (having done it myself with Yehudit Oriah on her book Mandala). Of course that is a somewhat controversial take and I also know it can be done with ridiculous disrespect and disregard for a culture and language.

As I re-encountered these books which surely were not printed in any great numbers or distributed with an eye to the mass market I feel a surge of affection for Corman across time. He sent these little books out into the world and by random chance they ended in the hands of a young poet and publisher (me). My books that have some echoes of or roots in this paper encounter, if only in their printing and binding and philosophy, are probably the (much later) Short, artless, and Woodbird Jazzophone. Which you can now read as ebooks!

I’ll write about the other Corman books (and the translation) another morning.

Oh those Golden Dawns

Storytime! Brought to you by two small poetry books I just found in a box. In 1988 or so I went to the Yeats International Poetry School in Ireland and it was an interesting round of small workshops and classes (Seamus Heaney, Eavan Boland, and a guy named Tom Paulin who clearly didn’t want to be there) And deadly boring poetry readings / drinking sessions where Yeats’s grandnieces’s cousin would play the harp and someone would beatifically recite When I went out to the hazel wood on a little stage while people chain smoked.

Most of this trip is a haze to me because I had a killer sinus infection and a fever for half of it and had to stay in the horrible youth hostel on codeine and antibiotics absolutely dying while brutally healthy German girls played the guitar and sang far into the night, but I do recall amidst the nervous chain smoking academics and the earnest poets these two complete weirdos absolutely swanned into the entire scene and they were real live serious devotees of Aleistair Crowley.

The guy was small, skinny, ferretty, wore a giant gold medallion and I believe often some sort of robe and he would stroke his little goatee like a caricature supervillain while he talked in a weird nasal voice about the Order of the Golden Dawn in its modern day incarnation, and how he was a Druid. He came across as just a giant creep. The girl in this couple was more interesting and nice, with a giant smile, tall, floofy blond hair, big chunky hippie jewelry, kind of seemed rich, and had a cheerful breezy manner — and she would talk constantly about druid sex magick. I actually liked her. One could not figure out why this perfectly nice lady hung upon every word of the fool Druid.

I thought they were hilarious especially because everyone was so disapproving of them (why were they THERE? I mean, I get why, but, ?! somehow? Money?! They were both Yeats Enthusiasts and were also very clearly out to do lots of psychedelic drugs and sleep with anyone who was interested in a little Druid Sex Magick as a palate cleanser between the Baileys and the bee-loud glades. (I did not partake) I also didn’t think either of them wrote very good poetry (neither did I but I had an excuse: being 18 years old)

So coming across these books, I looked them up. The Druid died in 2014 and you can read all about him and his translating and how he liked to spend summers in the basement of the Cairo Museum. I wonder if he was a legitimate translator, or what? https://www.darengo.co.uk/terence-duquesne/

The druid Priestess, Dwina, now that I look her up, seems to have been in a long and successful open marriage with Robin Gibb from the Bee Gees. Interesting! “Dwina Gibb, his second wife, whom he met through her cousin in 1980, when she was running a beanbag factory in London while trying to make it as an artist….. The couple lived together in the Biscayne Bay mansion once owned by President John F. Kennedy and a 100-acre Oxford, England, estate, where tapestries and tarot-card tiles adorn the walls of their 12th century converted monastery and the Gibbs built a druid place of worship.”

It was truly hilarious like being inside A Dance to the Music of Time, maybe at the end where Widmerpool goes running off in robes or whatever. Maybe it’s time to re-read that whole series again!

Zine romp

Read a bunch of zines at Rubin‘s house. He had a nice approach to recovering from surgery – invite everyone he knows to come over in about a 4 day period, more or less unstructured, to hang out with him and maybe bring food. I worked from his couch for an afternoon, admiring his smart house setup (http post to open his front door!) and then stayed for zines and all the people who dropped in after work. He has a lot of cool zines as he is collecting them to take to a queer zine archive in Hong Kong.

Breaking the MANacles: an anti-patriarchy reader. The “Are you a Manarchist? Questionnaire” is fun.

Not Trans Enough: A Compliation zine on the erasure of non passing and non conforming trans identified people. From Run Away, a poem by Taylor Heywood,

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

No!

Run away while you still can!

There is more time to escape me!

Some zines by Aisling Fae including D(N)R / O(N)R and Would you fuck me? I’d fuck me / ¿Me Follarías? Yo me follaría. Transfeminine short stories in English and Spanish.

zine pages with a cut and paste layout poem

trans panic poems /// volume 1 – an interesting group of poems assembled in a hand sewn cardboard cover

Migrantskaja Europa #1

MUNI poems!

I was so excited to see on Twitter that this guy Mc is writing a poem for every MUNI line in San Francisco! They’ll be in the Bay City Beacon. He then said he was going to read poetry on the sidewalk over in Cole Valley on Sunday morning. So I hopped on the J, then the N, went through the cute little East/West Portal tunnel, and found him declaiming some Mary Oliver outside Cafe Reverie.

He had a whole foot locker full of books & read me his poem 37 Corbett. I was squawking with delight to find it was not only a good idea but he is also a good poet. (whew!) I also liked his elevator repair shop poem. Read him back one about a road trip from My Lai and then we talked about loving and seeing beauty in city infrastructure. “I LOVE SIDEWALKS…. I mean…. they’re so beautiful… ” *wild poet babbling* He listened to me talk about my BART game a bit & my feelings about getting people to see all the layers of history and future and stories in their daily experiences. Felt nice to meet a kindred spirit.

sidewalk poetry reading

We promised to send each other some sort of links but if I could only remember what it was… O yeah! Diamond Dave’s & Global Val’s Friday afternoon pirate radio show from Mutiny Radio. And he was going to send me something on the spot in the Dogpatch where they launched the pieces of the BART tunnel under the Bay.

Bus poetry

Very excited about this bus poetry project by Mc Allen:

“Some news: I have been given a poetry column in the @BayCity_Beacon. I will write a poem for _every_muni_route_ in San Francisco. If you followed #TotalMuni2018 or #SummerofMuni this will be up your alley.”

I’m so going to show up on Sunday on the sidewalk and check this out. And maybe bring my own Ode to the 14 and the 49 (it needs to be written!)

Anyway …. I just wanna be friends with all the bus poets. So much love!

The logo is so clever, too, it’s the gorgous, swoopy MUNI logo but reworked to get the letters POEM into the swirls!

Coding, swimming, biergarten, chocolate

A really nice day. I worked on my game nearly all day and the time just flew. I’m feeling deeply obsessed! Danny is obsessed with Lisp and Scheme so we are just quietly muttering to ourselves like toddlers doing parallel play.

Yatima took me swimming at the JCC and I did some real laps. First time in a long time too. It’s good going with someone else, it’s just more motivating and feels like nice social time rather than a boring lonely chore. The JCC is pretty nice, especially the locker room which has a sauna and steam room. I steamed, then saunaed. Sauna is my favorite, getting into a sort of dead horse pose with my legs going up the wall, feels great on my ankles.

Then Danny and I went off to Biergarten to hang out with friends and I let all the kids (maybe 8-11 year olds? ) try my powerchair and they were all taking turns zooming around (the bold ones) or cautiously spinning on speed 1 (the shyer ones) It’s fun to see how their faces light up and they are like OMG I’M DRIVING! I’M A ROBOT! WHEEEEE! at 4 miles an hour, which is pretty much how I feel in the chair as well. They were going around the little park there on Octavia and even took it over to get ice cream. Anyway, I thought it was super fun (always have) and it is sort of normalizing disability & mobility stuff and they’re not going to harm anything… they were reasonably cautious and didn’t run anyone over. Really… is there anything nicer than the feeling of indulging children, especially when it is a crowd of benevolent adults looking on all sharing that feeling.

Then Cory taught me a 1 minute physical therapy exercise to detach your nerve fibers from the fascia or something like that, sounds great, fucking bring it because my leg nerve is horrible. Fuck a fascia, fuck a leg nerve, fuck a sciatica, etc. Also every tendon. So we did a weird little leg kicking ankle flexing dance sitting on the picnic table with me going Ow! fuck! ow!!!!! and then notching down my flexing ambitions even for the 1 minute thing. I will be giving it a try (adding it to my pantheon of other one minute exercises which I can invoke while feeling restless or painful). Cannot tell if it just helped or if the buzzing feeling now is OMINOUS and means doom. Always hard to correlate but time will tell.

Home again to deeply contemplate how I can modify the “implicitly pass through other barriers rule” so that my wheelchairs and elevators in the game work together correctly. Danny is in the process of maybe realizing that using gnu stow may do what he was about to write in Lisp. He sounds a little sad about this.

On the bus on the way home I was chatting with a guy in the front of the bus with me (also in a powerchair) and we were like both eyeing each others gear. He and his friend were from Ireland. Then he was like do you like chocolate? Being kind of high (I wasn’t while I was at the bar, but then, figured why not make the bus ride more tolerable…Vape in my pocket…. what the heck) I was like “Oh ummm well yeah, why, is my face covered in ice cream because I was actually just eating chocolate ice cream”. No it was not but he gave me a fancy chocolate bar from Dandelion. As pickup lines go this is a pretty good one and I did not know how to refuse the badass chocolate bar. I mean. Also, he complimented my sexy wheels and told me to share the chocolate with someone I love and I was like Um like maybe my husband who is sitting right there LOL. Now I have this awesome chocolate and we need to be friends but I was too stoned to do anything clever like exchange social media names or whatever, instead, staring at the chocolate bar like a doofus and mumbling. The end!

Oh but one more thing. This flyer from yesterday’ event for Public Domain Day at the Internet Archive, of things created in 1923 newly (re)entering the public domain. It’s a nicely printed large yellow poster or broadsheet by queer.archive.work, with a photo of a sculpture by Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, with a poem by Jean Toomer handwritten over it:

Within this black hive to-night
There swarm a million bees;
Bees passing in and out the moon,
Bees escaping out the moon,
Bees returning through the moon,
Silver bees intently buzzing,
Silver honey dripping from the swarm of bees
Earth is a waxen cell of the world comb,
And I, a drone,
Lying on my back,
Lipping honey,
Getting drunk with that silver honey,
Wish that I might fly out past the moon
And curl forever in some far-off farmyard flower.

I have that book somewhere. It’s a good one!

Random encounter – Yeats and the City

Today’s random encounter. I was in a work meeting and noticed a man with a clipboard examining my house and the neighbors’. Figuring this was about our neighbors whose fence was falling over last week because their goats (!) were climbing up it, after the meeting I popped out to ask if he needed anything. The goat fence is now repaired but with a forbidding row of nails facing outward which turns out to be against city codes because if firefighters need to climb the fence it’s dangerous for them, not to mention if there were an earthquake and the fence fell over someone on the sidewalk could be impaled by a row of giant nails. We gossiped a bit about everyone’s fences and I got out my laptop for him to figure out the addresses for the neighbors (whose official addresses are on the street behind). In the process we figured out that his name is O’Brien, my partners’ name is O’Brien, and the neighbor immediately to the east is also an O’Brien.

He said there was a joke there to which I replied (I believe correctly) that we were all descended from kings. Underneath his clipboard drawing of the houses and streets we then had a spontaneously drawn map of Ireland showing County Clare, the river Shannon, O’Brien castle where he used to play as a child and nearby Thomond, and so on. Built in the 16th century (I cannot figure out now which castle this would be – O’Brien Tower was 1835), some discussion of history, were they all involved in the Troubles, the continuing Troubles touched on lightly…. Proud rebels… Then I mentioned that I had been to Sligo in the 80s and he said he had plans to go there to see some Yeats things and about his grave. Oh to be sure! I have been there!

FINALLY my useless knowledge became useful in life as I was able to quote, “Under bare Ben Bulben’s head / In Drumcliffe churchyard Yeats is laid” and could not remember the middle but as I floundered, my new City Inspector friend/relative by marriage finished it off with “Cast a cold eye / on life, on death / Horseman, pass by!

Really…. I just love people!

Poetry for the People – free class at City College SF

My friend is teaching a class at City College this coming semester! Poetry for the People! Free! There are still spots open for the class and the deadline to sign up is Wednesday. There will be some translation practice in the class, which I highly recommend – it’s fun and mindblowing to do! Tehmina has also taught with the Poetry Inside Out program which brings translation workshops to schools. Don’t miss this cool class,

Immerse yourself in the power of poetry!
Poetry for the People at CCSF
with poet Tehmina Khan

We will read from global poetic traditions, practice literary translation, write our own poems, and take poetry beyond the classroom.

Tuesday Evenings from 6:10 – 9:00
CRN 36653
Ocean Campus, Batmale 203
(January 15 – May 19)
Free for San Francisco Residents
Register at https://ccsf.edu

For more info, please contact Tehmina at tkhan@ccsf.edu
More description here as well, https://www.ccsf.edu/Schedule/CD/IDST%2036.htm

Fiction about kids who write poetry

Found this in my old drafts folder from …. well, more than 10 years ago! I clearly meant to expand on these thoughts with examples from the books but never got it together. Fun anyway though!

>>>>>

I re-read The Boyhood of Grace Jones the other day and loved it for its mid 20th century genderqueer “tomboy” protagonist, but most of all for her surety that she could choose and make herself. All the kids and adults around her were clueless, insisting that there was a binary choice between heredity and environment – every aspect of a person was controlled by those factors. Grace Jones insisted there was another thing everyone had inside that let them create themselves how they wanted to be! I loved that.

I owe several posts on ETech and SXSWi and SexTech, but I’m going to write about this first!

Grace Jones goes through a lot, but her most intense realization comes when she writes a couple of poems and then doesn’t know what to do next. She is stunned by the realization that these big ideas were in her and she was able to put them out. Then what! Children don’t have much outlet for big ideas or poetry. I found myself contrasting Grace’s, and Anastasia Krupnik’s, fictional-character poems with the ones from girls’ books from earlier generations, like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’s poem she gives to Mr. Ladd (Spoiler: she grows up and marries him.) It is very twee and is sort of about God, and she breathlessly awaits his judgment of whether she could be a “real writer” someday. That happens a lot in girls’ books, doesn’t it?

Note from 2018: Not sure I was remembering this correctly – Rebecca shows her poem to Miss Maxwell first –

This ingenuous remark confirmed Miss Maxwell’s opinion of Rebecca as a girl who could hear the truth and profit by it.

“Well, my child,” she said smilingly, “your friends were wrong and you were right; judged by the proper tests, they are pretty bad.”

“Then I must give up all hope of ever being a writer!” sighed Rebecca, who was tasting the bitterness of hemlock and wondering if she could keep the tears back until the interview was over.

“Don’t go so fast,” interrupted Miss Maxwell. “Though they don’t amount to anything as poetry, they show a good deal of promise in certain directions. You almost never make a mistake in rhyme or metre, and this shows you have a natural sense of what is right; a ‘sense of form,’ poets would call it. When you grow older, have a little more experience,—in fact, when you have something to say, I think you may write very good verses. Poetry needs knowledge and vision, experience and imagination, Rebecca. You have not the first three yet, but I rather think you have a touch of the last.”

“Must I never try any more poetry, not even to amuse myself?”

“Certainly you may; it will only help you to write better prose.

I could only find this bit of Rebecca’s poem:

Then come what will of weal or woe
(Since all gold hath alloy),
Thou ‘lt bloom unwithered in this heart,
My Rose of Joy!

Maybe the scene with Mr. Ladd is in the sequel, which I also remember being mostly about Rebecca agonizing about whether she could ever be a “real writer”.

Laura Ingalls’ poem, on a more frivolous note, but one that shows Laura’s realization of the dangers of verse composition for a popular audience:

Going to school is lots of fun,
From laughing we have gained a ton,
We laugh until we have a pain,
At Lazy, Lousy, Lizy Jane.

I don’t have Grace Jones’s poems handy but remember her reciting Kubla Khan to herself.

Remembering Louise Fitzhugh’s wonderful character, Harriet the Spy’s poem experience as she goes through every letter of the alphabet trying to find words to rhyme with “pain”. Her thought process during this poem was just amazing to me (when I was a kid who thought similarly) and I love her.

And finally, Anastasia Krupnik’s poem. (Which I also don’t have handy but which I recall being in all lower case and about undersea creatures and just a little embarrassing, but good)

Anastasia notably falls off the top of the rope climbing thing in gym class & breaks her arm while triumphantly reciting a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. (O world! I could not hold thee close enough!) Her dad is a poet and professor and a kind of cool, dorky dude. We get an updated version of the old scene of a nervous girl clutching sheaf of poems to her chest as she hands them to the newspaper editor. Anastasia explains to him in outrage how she practiced her poem and read it very fancily to her class and teacher, who didn’t get it. He’s supportive and proud! But the best thing about the scene is that Anastasia is already sure that she did something amazing.

I think it is interesting to consider poetics, and writing, as an important point of resistance to patriarchy, especially for young girls and women. There are just a zillion other examples of women writing about young girls and young women who are trying out being a writer, and what other people tell them, and how they react…. Surely there are also a ton of academic papers about this!

Specificity in poems and songs

Rambling a bit about songs. The other day someone giggled when I referred to a “mix tape” and I barely even meant “mix CD”, I believe it was a constructed playlist that I’d made. But in my mind and language a personally edited collection of music will always be a mix tape, probably made clunkily from breathless moments trying to catch the beginning of a song from the radio to cassette tape (on a modern gramophone or victrola) without getting a DJ talking, and maybe going from that tape to a second tape for even worse quality sound.

I was thinking about how it is disconcerting in songs when there is a very specific reference clearly personal to the singer. I’ll be happily singing along, or adding the song to a MIX TAPE meant to convey a mood, and then I get jarred by the singer’s reference to their friends or girlfriend or some private joke of the band’s. Sometimes I just edit it out mentally, bracketing the specifics that I will never know about and trying to see it as a charming instance of the mood of the song.

It is a bit like the iconic quality of comics or images that Scott McCloud describes in Understanding Comics. The more generic the image of a person, the easier it is for us to imagine ourselves into that artwork, in some ways. We might encounter the specifics as alienating or difficult as readers or listeners.

Sometimes I like the specifics and sometimes I edit them out when reading or listening. Or when writing.

Other times these details are the entire point especially if that point is the unknowability of the details of another person’s experience. Or, if part of the point is to make you wonder and work to figure those details out, to find them out.

This year I am aiming to put my old poetry books and anthologies from 10-20 years ago up as ebooks or reprint them in paperback. A few of them are up already. The one that led me down this path of thought is Woodbird Jazzophone, which is basically me from 2003 or so rambling in a notebook about lying in a forest meadow watching the birds at a sort of poets’ retreat in a beautiful redwood cabin somewhere probably in Marin. I re-printed it without re-reading it closely, but it does have some obscure specifics that will never merit footnotes – about the history of the cabin that one of the neighbors in the woods explained. Even when I can’t remember those details, I remember the mood of that time.

Echoes in the poem that would not be immediately apparent – I spent long hours wrapped up in blankets on the front porch, in a lot of pain, watching the fog come off the redwoods in the Santa Cruz mountains some years before that, and watching acorn woodpeckers fly around putting acorns into holes in the trees. They share their caches of acorns, pretty cool cooperative birds. I couldn’t get around very well, and the sound of the neighborhood, birds waking up in the grey morning, people in cars leaving for school and commute, acorns and jays and hawks doing their thing, then cars coming back as people came home. It was an entertaining part of the day, a soundscape to go with the lightscape. I was thinking of those times and the good but bitter memories that can come from physical impairments and pain. Another echo from the woodpeckers goes back to my happy years in cooperative housing. I don’t think any of that would be apparent in the poem, which comes off like someone rambling free form about an afternoon in the woods.

The song earworming me as I write this is Always Give Your Love Away by Twang Twang Shock-a-Boom, an Austin band from the late 80s/early 90s that does that specificity trick pretty well. Though I think that song stays general.