Saturday, April 28, 2012

Plinkety Plunk

If nothing means nothing, anything can mean anything. Shoe can mean shovel and bacchanalia can mean badminton. I’m hanging over an abyss. It looks black down there. And deep. Deep and black and looking back.

And it is full of innumerable and endless worlds.

Innumerable and endless words.

Because words are worlds and marrow and marsh hawk are married in mass.

The more reality a thing has, the more numerable are its attributes. Even a monotone has shades of sound that opalesce in the ear when a register rustles along the spine of a sea snake or a bell rings in a filling station.

I once saw an owl on a fence in Wyoming. It was late. The owl had come out to begin its nightly hunt. But wasn’t awake. Or maybe he was there for some other reason. Waiting for a bus. The owl bus. The Wyoming Owl Bus to Owl City, Wyoming.

Animals don’t talk and so it is necessary to invent fables and things for them to say and think that in no way correspond to reality. This is one of the pitfalls of language. It gets in the way. It idealizes. It creates idioms and idiopathy. Idioplasms and idiosyncrasies.

If you drew a tree in front of a sun you would have the Chinese ideogram for east. Then what is west? West is a nest.

The mysteries lie in eglantine.

For it is the nature of a substance that each of its attributes is conceived through itself, as do bubbles and balloons that coruscate with fata morganas of jump rope pixilation. And grapes growing in New Hampshire and dishrags with faces and the faucets of old sinks and mists moving over elevations softening trees and rocks and a stuffed platypus on a player piano.

Hum de hum de hum. Plinkety plink plunk plinkety plunk.

Words are whirls of xebec serendipity. Form seeking form. As if ghosts of meaning needed shells of sound. And the rain was a grocer in a doorway sipping coffee. Kindliness in the kindling of a moment.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Walk Right In

This afternoon as I completed my run and passed the International Fountain on the Seattle Center Fairgrounds I heard Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion” playing over the speakers. I was reminded that  this is the 50th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair. They had probably programmed the music at the fountain to be heavy in hits from 1962, the year the fair opened. I didn’t stick around to see what the next piece of music was, but “Loco-Motion” did start a chain reaction of hits from 1962 in my brain, the mushy broccoli jukebox in my skull. 

1962 was an odd year in music. This was just before the Beatles, who had recorded “Love Me Do,” “Please Please Me” and “P.S. I Love You” in England but were not yet known in the U.S. Yet, I swear, they were somehow sensed. Maybe it was the Everly Brothers, whose sound presaged the lush harmonies and sweet melodies of the Beatles, or the growing popularity of the folk music scene in Greenwich Village, but there was something definitely adrift, a new model for being cool that didn’t involve duck tails or switchblades or monster cars. It was sensed in songs like “He’s A Rebel,” written by Gene Pitney and sung by the Crystals, “He’s a rebel and he’ll never be any good / He’s a rebel ‘cause he never does what he should.”

Whether Gene Pitney intended it or not, he definitely caught the mood of non-conformity agitating high schools and family dinner tables. Thanks in part to the Beats, whose poetry was intimately connected with the folk music scene, and the amphetamine  incandescence of Bebop, kids were rejecting the usual materialistic goals of suburban America for more fantastical and exotic experiences. The Civil Rights movement was in full gear and Martin Luther King’s voice was gaining a larger and larger audience. Being someone outside the norms of an oppressive, bigoted, and narrow-minded society was way cooler than being clean-cut. Suddenly, that whole goodie-goodie Pat Boone Boy Scout Norman Rockwell sentimentality seemed scary and repugnant. People started getting hip to the fact that there was something fundamentally false and contrived about those freckle-faced boys and smiling beneficent barbers in Rockwell’s America. There was far greater glory in the work of the Abstract-Expressionists: angst, ferocity, fire. Raw, volcanic being.

I was 14, a 9th grader in high school. I was exceptionally small for my age and slow to develop, so I was, by default, a loner, spending most of my free time building model airplanes in the basement. I listened to the radio a lot, though I hated most of the music. You had to sit through about 10 songs before they played something decent. These would be songs of absurd vapidity and boredom such as Bobby Vinton’s “Roses Are Red” or Shelley Fabares’s “Johnny Angel.” Even Presley was putting out lame, sentimental shit like “Good Luck Charm.” Yuk! But then, out would come “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers and I’d be hooked into listening for another hour hoping something equally great would emerge.

Something like “Duke of Earl” or “Baby It’s You” or “Green Onions” or “Crying In The Rain.”

And then, in January, 1963, “Walk Right In” walked right in and changed everything. This was the most amazingly different sound ever to get played on a mainstream AM radio format. This song was a completely different sound, lyrically, vocally, melodically. It seemed to be about entering a new mental paradigm: “Walk right in, sit right down, baby let your hair hang down  / Everybody's talking 'bout a new way of walking / Do you want to lose your mind?”

The song was actually from 1929, written by Gus Cannon, a black American blues musician born in 1874. That would have made Gus two years old when Wild Bill Hickok was murdered in Deadwood, South Dakota.

I have vivid memories of that song because it was so completely different than anything I’d heard before and it was, literally, an invitation. An invitation to let my hair down (which was an implicit invitation to grow my hair long), and an invitation to just be different. It didn’t specify anything. The lyrics were rather stark. There was scant detail. Just, you know, walk right in, because anyone can, because we’re non-judgmental here, having a good time, getting high, you can join us, you can behave any old way, just don’t hurt anybody. And there, pretty much, was the fetus for the monster being that became the 60s.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Perfumes and Tumefactions

If space is identical to the mind, can dreams and ruminations solve the problem of larkspur? I believe it is possible to write a sentence that will keep warm by inhabiting a reader’s eyeballs. But this would have to be a live reader with a functioning brain. This species of reader became extinct in June, 1968, following the murder of Mortimer Snerd.

Much has been said regarding the relationship between capitalism and poetry. One is a system for building profit, and the other is concerned with the interior life of the slide trombone. The two systems are linked by space and gravity. Crime and Punishment. Silly diversions. Universal Mind. A job in a warehouse driving a forklift.

For example, T.S. Eliot was a banker. Here we find the relationship between poetry and money intimate as skin in the angelic anguish of monetary ambition.

Einstein believed in the God of Spinoza. The long soft nerve of the universe embedded in the good moist dirt of consciousness like a participle seething with nitroglycerin. The mind is more than a bouillabaisse of velvet crabs and monkfish. It is also replete with sockets, twigs, and adjectives.

Spinoza lived quietly, first at Amsterdam then at the Hague, making his living by polishing lenses. His wants were few and simple and he showed a rare indifference to money throughout his life.

Negation exists only from the point of view of finite creatures. Everything endeavors to persevere in its own being. Hence arise love and hate and strife. “Self-preservation is the fundamental motive of the passions, according to Spinoza; but self-preservation alters its character when we realize that what is real and positive in us is what unites us to the whole, and not what preserves the appearance of separateness.”

Poetry is diplomatic. The poem is an ambassador. Though naturally, when I say poetry, I mean something abstract, an instrument like a credit derivative which can be used to deceive someone’s attention, garner their interest, or seduce them into reading my blog. You can sweat steel, open an umbrella when it rains, or flirt with suicide, but sooner or later you’re going to have to face the reality of shoes.

Writing, too, is linked to space. This is where the mind climbs into its throne in the skull and delivers its many edicts and judgments. Each sentence is a rung on the ladder. The smell of sulfur penetrates the nose. A dragon of intellect hatches from an egg of paregoric. The sky is fat and pewter. Syllables are strewn on the ground. Some collapse into molten fire. Some congeal into words. Each word affirms on origin of blood and violence and crystals of music.

In Marseille, bouillabaisse is rarely made for fewer than ten persons; the more people who share the meal, and the more different fish that are included, the better the bouillabaisse. What better metaphor than this for the social contract? For poetry? For humanity? For perfumes and tumefactions?
The perfumes and tumefactions of writing, which are manifestations of a deep, interior pain, the wound of existence, the inflammations of a soul chafing against the parameters of a harsh and predatory capitalism.
The other night we watched Steve Martin’s Shopgirl. This movie is such a brilliant allegory for the new millenium. Ray Porter’s suave vacuity. Mirabelle’s sexy naiveté. Jeremy’s slacker charm. Capitalism is the true character of this movie, however, slithering in the shadows of Martin’s estates like a fat, pre-Raphaelite boa feeding on the smooth contours of innocent desire.
Everything which exists, exists either in itself or in something else. How might this pertain to free market neo-liberal capitalism?
I’d pay you a $100 dollars to read my poem. Alas, all I have in my wallet right now is eight dollars. And yet I feel that you and I have something vital in common. More common than money, or language, which are two sides to the same proverbial coin. What shall we call it, this thing between us? This understanding, this sympathy, this odor. Let’s call it a miracle, and leave it at that.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Möbius Dick

I dream of a studio in which silence fondles an air that is luminous and gold. A freshly squeezed tube of paint sags like a sack of potatoes. A jungle wildcat spins on a phonograph. There is cinnamon on the table and it dazzles the eyes and urges the need to paint. I am moody and glue. A moral wanders the room crying at the futility of it all. An indigo song works miracles of immersion in a book about pharmaceuticals.

Morning flops down on the ground religious as a color on fire. We climb into ourselves and clash with history. There is a peg for a leather hat and the cook pokes an animal into being. A harmonica murmurs something about life. The decorations on my jaw are vines seething with blackberries. A batch of words exults in the turmoil of life. Odors of strange ineffability drop from the sky. An indicative mood bends into infinity. There is no need to explain photosynthesis. It just happens, like words appearing on paper, or a leaf eating the sun.

Let us say presence is the alphabet of absence. It is like a pronoun wrapped in tinfoil, an illusion performed late at night on a Los Angeles stage. A man in a wig courts a frog. There is a stove of burners with the flavor of ascension. Consciousness is simultaneously three-dimensional and empty. It is shaped into a paragraph, the map of a magical land in which a sentence lies squashed and bleeding, introverted and glowing. There is a bazaar crowded with shoppers and a man stands near a table enthralled with a can of whipped cream. The way the cream ejaculates from the can conveys leniency.

The strongest version of subjectivity is that facts of consciousness are out of space and come in sequences that are attached to or are episodes of a subject in the sense of a self or ego out of space. Bach in the men’s room, washing his hands. There is, in all of us, a fairy sailing across a river in quest of God’s fresh bright ooze. We are hurled into this life like bowling balls, bald and heavy and smooth. Later, we grow hair, and arrive at conclusions that serve to enrich our world, while obfuscating and confusing it. The truth is bald. Always bald. This is the essence of hair, and why salvation is found in the desert.

Do you hear a seraph crying? Indulge this sound and drag it into a poem. Make something of it. Aluminum nipples, brass tongues. Scratch your leg with a rubber dinosaur. Write a book called Möbius Dick. Float like a spirit, punch like a clock. Drum something. Junkyard shadows. Footlocker doors.

We must learn to accommodate this convocation of skin called being. Flirt and adapt, wide-eyed in Kansas. I have thirty emotions in my left pocket and a stethoscope dangling from my neck. You see I am just like you. Bone black in England, shouting at the wall. I toss and turn in my bed at night. There is a sternum at the center of my chest staunch as an Arctic horizon. I wear Pythogorean pajamas and fold the heat of the room into a hummingbird. I drink from a waterfall. Horses gallop over the hill. Factory strikers stand around in the smoke. I grasp the kiwi and run.

Despair is Spanish, focused and deep. I draw the room until the space spits itself out of itself. Fiction is not always a fiction. A lame thing to say, I know, because it’s so obvious, and yet it needs to be said. I am peremptorily yours. I love you. I tumble down the alley looking for you. You must always seclude yourself in order to find yourself. I am full of lame things to say today. Here is another: power is intoxicating.

I raise my thumb, naked as a word, to the configurations of the world. The stickiness of my fingers indicates that I am in a Chinese restaurant fat and happy and remembering my days in California. I don’t argue with the world, I just tattoo it to my arm or rattle it in my finger. The raw umber of a mining town reposes under the heaviest snowfall of all time. There is medication for this life and it takes the form of reflections on moving water, the sleeve of an old coat, the heft of brocade or the very freight of the body itself lifting itself from a chair.

Coffee excites the nerves. And why not? You can crumple your narrative and begin anew. Earth is a serious place but it’s also round and malleable as molecules. There are pumpkins in the garden and fresh linen on the bed. William Wordsworth mutters something about little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love. I can’t argue with that. Not all wounds heal, but most of them do. The ones that don’t heal make good decorations. Events of consciousness, whatever their intrinsic nature, will come creaking into the barn, and feed the cattle, and stir in the air when the door opens. Some will become words. The rest will concede in silence.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Armchair Metaphysics

The heart leaps to its daily declarations. One: I want the world to groan with inconceivable pleasure. Two: secrets make no sense. Three: it doesn’t make any difference what you do the important thing is to completely and utterly enjoy the holiday. What holiday you say. That makes no difference either. You can celebrate anything if you put your mind to it. Me, I’m celebrating the beautiful angst of the car wash.

I yearn for nowhere. For anywhere out of this world.

Especially the car wash.

It was a special day that I suddenly realized that Baton Rouge was a French phrase meaning Red Stick. Who would ever want to catch a bus to Red Stick, Louisiana? People would think you were visiting a giant stick of licorice.

And so Baton Rouge attaches itself to the earth like a colossal organism of bagatelles and hot dogs and yearns for the caress of tolerance in the harsh glare of the Louisiana sun.

The head is connected to the heart by a highway of nerves. The mind is not the brain. The brain is something different. The brain is a greenhouse. The mind is a vapor.

Consider, for example, the thoughts involved in everyday visual recognition. The simmer of stew on the stove. A raspberry newly ripened on the vine. An invisible maître d’ eloping with a subterranean gourmet. And what about desires? For example, my desire to attend the wedding of the invisible maître d’ and subterranean gourmet. I have no invitation. And yet it is something for which I feel an inexplicable urge to participate. Shake hands. Converse. Eat food.

Imagine being greeted by an invisible maître d’. You would hear a voice. You would look around. You would hear a voice say: follow me. But follow who?

Here we begin to discover the full and mysterious nature of human perception. Birds to be looked at, pills, a hot shower, letters to be written to friends in distant places. The practice of botany. The practice of bowling. These are exemplary pastimes. Like wearing weird hats. Or painting Jack London’s great blue eye on a light bulb and singing a bronze German song in the key of Gin.

I yearn for the plains. All that space between the sky and the ground. And clouds. Always changing. One minute hungry spirits, dragons, gods, and buddhas, the next just clouds, rags of mist, wisps, whispers, wistfulness in a thousand guises, silk, bells, big palaces near the sea.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ezra Pound Looks Down From Heaven

There is a sixth sense I have exhumed from a jar of peanut butter. There is nothing magisterial about it except sweat and a certain willowy Weltanschauung. It has no discernible structure. It’s like one of those sonnets people compose nowadays that rest on the page like goldfish in sleepy resignation. Or the way a garage imposes a syntax of chaos on the innocent sidewalk. Why even call it a sense? Perhaps it’s not a sense at all but just another nutty dollop of peanut butter. There must be a hotel nearby because I can feel it in my excitement. Hotels excite me. All those rooms. All those beds. All those angles of reference. Ceremonies of the bathroom. Climbing into bed. Reviewing the day’s events. Envisioning jewels of light overflowing the clouds. There are auras. Halations. Presences that make themselves available to us through the mind, rather than the usual channels, those usual five senses, tasting, hearing, seeing, touching, smelling. Things palatable as a bowl of opium with no identifiable coherence. Like the sky cracking open on a mountaintop. A clarity too fleeting to imbue the senses.

Absence can have a sense of presence. Think of a Pollock canvas. Pure energy on a Long Island canvas. Shapes slippery as tuna. Orange flame in a cast iron hibachi. Proposition blinks agreement in the ash. Barbarian drugs yield delicate Tiffany colors. I have a drawer full of letters I never read. Voices that, having expressed the vagaries of an interior life, sleep in darkness. I stumble into the movie of night. I hear the silence of rocks under the singing water of a mountain brook. Life is mostly silence. And attempts to mask that silence with the noise of work and parties and friends and weddings. But there a few who get it. Emily Dickinson sweeping out a New England kitchen. She knew. The voices of old poets in their creaking bones. An entirely new formal possibility entered into the language in the 19th century with Melville and Whitman and Dickinson and the goofy foolish human parade in Cincinnati and Houston and Cedar Rapids.

I spread butter on my waffles and watch it melt into those little square cavities. Words are bubbles hungry for paper. There was a time that I wanted to feel that I was a part of the world but that time has gone. I know one thing the soul of a woman was created for love. And that love itself is a cruel little boy on phosphorescent wings. I remember when plywood was king and oak was a destiny and pine was an exquisite haven of knots in a West Virginia church. Shakespeare in the charged air of London overhearing people in heated exchange. Women have such lovely slender necks. And then one day it is all bone by bone in a bag of dirt.

Heaven in the silver foil of a quiet winter sky. An old dirt road by a river. Here is where peanut butter and the sixth sense come together. A thought of the afterlife inflated to the size of a man’s head is rhymed by the ka-thunk ka-thunk ka-thunk of windshield wipers on a deep blue Tacoma pick up. What else can one do but fall through a hole in the eyes and see the world you are standing in as it truly exists. Cézanne shaking a paintbrush. Sweet Ernest Borgnine bringing a knife down on a slab of Italian meat.

There are so many things that elude description. This in and of itself testifies to a magnitude of existence that transcends that order of language. Muscle hooked to urges that defy understanding. Dark railroads. An atmosphere woven of exile. A rope of honey descending on a bed of pumpernickel. Simple images, but each only a fragment of a larger gestalt.

Here is where the road turns north toward Saskatoon. Ezra Pound looks down from heaven. Same goatee, same grouchy face. Only thing different is that he is at the controls of a Tathagata flying saucer. He is a little numb moment in my palm.

A cube of ice cream on a wooden stick. I just can’t seem to find the right drug. Old age is for real. I’m angry as a cat. Worried as a terrier. Crazy as a bat. A crow is giving a lecture in a nearby evergreen. I can’t understand a single thing he’s saying. The sky topples over in a pink Chablis light and the sharp odor of apple blossom belies the reality of our world hanging in an ocean of cold forever space.

Everybody looks suspicious in a bank. Let us exalt in our wrinkles. We who have them know what they’re worth. We have withdrawn them from our accounts. Our experiences. Our mortgaged garish porches and funny outlandish pumps. Our derricks of oil and soaked prairie visions. We deposit our worries and leave with a note of sorrow. The tugs go out at high tide. The morality of design pleases the diplomats of harmony. A twelve year old girl has sewn my shadow to my body. I’m ready now. Ready to get up and mingle with the sage.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Everything Flows

The Flame Is Ours: The Letters of Stan Brakhage and Michael McClure, 1961 - 1978
Edited by Christopher Luna
Big Bridge, 2012 (PDF)

I live in a weird panta rhei between Hades and Eternity. I guess that condition is the babyness in my poems that allows them to be sweet and pure. It is a very sweet and pure and evil and loving and warring world.

         - Michael McClure, Letter to Stan Brakhage, June 19, 1978

Letter writing is a dying art. Fewer and fewer people take the time to craft a sincere and spontaneous expression of their state of mind. Email is a feeble substitute. Electronic messages (for that is what they are, they rarely assume the character of a fully developed letter) are minted in a medium of pixel, pandemic isolation, and fiendish impatience. They are brusque, concise, blasé. Transmitted electronically, they reflect the various milieus by which they’re exchanged: the stifling cubicle of the corporate machine, the dystopic absurdities of Dilbert, the numbing inanities of a malignant and rampant narcissism.

At its best, an email can be a conversation of tremendous freshness and spontaneity. Its transmission is instantaneous. It has that advantage over the letter. Yet it never assumes the tangible warmth of a letter, the way it comes in the mail, is slipped out of a carefully opened envelope and held in the hands like a puzzling and rectangular flower.

The grandness of the letter as exchanged among writers and artists, dancers and choreographers, friends and travelers and lovers, has left a rich body of literature in its wake. I have come to understand the mind of John Keats much more closely and intimately through his letters, which are magnificent testaments of a nimble spirit given much more breadth for development in the relative informality of the letter. Imagine the joy of receiving a letter from Joyce, or Woolf, or Kerouac. If essays are swans, letters are sparrows. They lack the grace of a slow and languorous glide on smooth, quiet water, but have the quick clownish urgency of little hungry birds hopping and begging in the bustle of a street. They bear the happy charm of misspellings, droll and broken phrases imbued with the strange elegance of accident, the boil of impulse.

Michael McClure and Stan Brakhage became connected with one another in 1953. Brakhage was nineteen and living with Robert Duncan and Jess, working - as he put it - as their “houseboy,” helping with domestic chores and spending evenings in discussions about poetry and the work of other poets such as Louis Zukofsky, Charles Olson, Robin Blaser, Jack Spicer and Kenneth Rexroth. Painfully, Duncan made it clear to Brakhage that he was not a poet. “This was extremely painful to me,” Brakhage revealed in an interview in June, 1998, “but an important recognition. I could have wasted, God, half my life, all my life, trying to be a poet, and Robert Duncan made it clear to me how I’m not a poet. So my impulses which had begun with being apoet who made film went all the way over to film. Now I want to be clear about that, that a filmmaker is not a poet. He might be poetic, but I’ve always despised that word, with its “ticking”… I don’t want that appellation, because I respect poetry too much. I care more about poetry than I do any other art, always have, since I was a small child. But I am not a poet.”

McClure, who was a poet, evinced many of the qualities of Brakhage’s films in his work. McClure is a poet of tremendous physicality, of bodily movement and proprioception, the movement of the mind on the page. “The use of writing,” McClure observes in Scratching The Beat Surface, “is not to lead out but to enact and create appendages of the body, of personal physiology. Making a radiance or darkness into an actual morphological part, an extension even. But more a physiological part. An action and an action to be known by… I was convinced that poetry was about, by, and from, the meat, that poetry was the product of flesh brushing itself against experience.”

Cinema is implicit in the nature of poetry. It is all about movement, the actual process of thought, as distinct from a writer telling you his mind. Poetry is consciousness made vital and real as bone, as blood in its circulating rhythms, as muscle in its exertions and strains, as the nervous system illumining the brain with the halations and rushes of the external world. Language is to poetry what signage is to travel. One is static as a road sign, the other is a Benzedrine freak doing ninety in a Buick and grinning like a full moon over a beatific Colorado.

Brakhage moved to New York after his several years with Robert Duncan and Jess where he met John Cage and Edgar Varese and worked briefly with Hans Richter. It was during this time that his correspondence with McClure began. Their letters reflect a searching and an evolution mutually shared, each feeding the kind of nourishment artists desperately require in their early years, struggles on the material plane, struggles on the spiritual and psychological plane, details of daily life mixed with aesthetic breakthroughs and setbacks. “We live in the visions of highest genius,” McClure writes in an undated letter early in their correspondence, “each day we see through the eyes, brains, and physical spirits of Plato, Darwin, and Dante.” McClure includes a poem titled “Surge” in this letter, with the lines “Inert matters pour in and out of the Surge / and make sound and sight. But neither / they nor the Surge will wait. It is another matter / Space, Space, Space, is a black lilly holding the rosy / full, flowing, and everspreading and con- / trasting, spilling flash.”

“Spilling flash,” indeed. These lines are a verbal analogue to Brakhage’s films, imbued as they are with surge and light and immediacy and fast, eager, spasmodic movement.

Surge is a McClure word. Surge is a romantic and dramatic and King Lear word. One thinks of a storm surge. Words hurled at the sleet and lightning of heaven. Sperm in ejaculation. Volcanic eruption. Tidal wave. Ocean swell. A surge of dopamine. Opioid release. DNA hydrogen bonds splitting and binding in a surge of polymerase embrace. Solar flares. Plumes of solar expulsion whirling into space. Jackson Pollock’s storm of spontaneous color and movement and form in quest of form. Dog Star Man and its prelude of flashing flickering light. Particle collisions. Shelley Schiller Howl. Phosphates and sugar molecules in a dance of hydrogen jukebox pairings.

If there is a quality common to most of the letters of Brakhage and McClure, it is enthusiasm. Not in the trivialized sense of enthusiasm, but the literal meaning of enthusiasm: to be inspired by God. Greek entheos, possessed, or divinely inspired. Their shared aesthetic is astonishing considering that they were working in different mediums, language and film. There are correspondences in these mediums, of course; but one senses a profound distrust of language in both artists. Brakhage turned away from verbal expression while McClure evinces an obvious sensuality in the fragrance of the verbal flower. But as McClure’s Ghost Tantras testify, there is something else going on, an urge to tear through the inherent didacticism of language and get down to its primordial essence. Language interferes with the immediacy of experience, just as a camera is an obstacle as much as it is a tool. These guys had to fight with their medium as much as expand and dilate and delight in it. Yet always, throughout, is an enduring enthusiasm for what they’re doing, what they’re accomplishing, what they’re exploring and discovering and clarifying.

The enjoyment of letters is not simply whatever expository burden they might carry, but the more intimate details of a figure’s life. The gossip, the confessions, the inside dope.

I am not above enjoying gossip, and there is a plenty of that in these letters as well. At age 18, in 1966, McClure fascinated me for reasons that had as much to do with rock and roll as with the literary arts. This was a time when to be a poet was tantamount to being a rock star. This became dramatically and clearly apparent in Larry Keenan’s photo of Allen Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, Michael McClure and Robbie Robertson standing in front of City Lights bookstore, an image originally intended for the cover of Blonde On Blonde, easily my favorite Dylan album. These guys fascinated the hell out of me. What did they do when they hung out? What drugs did they take? Or not take? What were their politics? Phiosophies? Proclivities? How could I possible get that cool? Thanks to these guys, poets weren’t nerdy T.S. Eliot types or grouchy Ezra Pounds or schoolmarmish Marianne Moores, but flamboyant, swash and buckle rock stars. Jim Morrison wanted to be a poet, for crying out loud. McClure, in fact, helped him get his book of poetry published.

I was especially surprised to hear of McClure’s contretemps with Andy Warhol. Warhol has always kind of bugged me because he became such a symbol for the snooty hipster, the emotionally inaccessible wizard of all things sushi, swishy, and la-di-da. I will be forever grateful that he provided a milieu for the incubation of the Velvet Underground, and that wonderful banana, but it’s a secret delight to see McClure go after him in a towering rage. Go, Michael!

Here’s what happened: Gerard Melanga wrote to McClure asking permission, on behalf of Warhol, to use McClure’s play The Beard for making a 70 minute movie. There was some correspondence in which McClure entertained the idea, but in the end he decided against it. He told Warhol no. Warhol went ahead and made of movie of it anyway. “I jumped on a plane and flew to LA and picked up four beautiful girls and nailed Andy at the TRIP CLUB where he was doing his Velvet Underground shot,” McClure wrote Brakhage in a letter dated June 6, 1966. “He showed us the film in a castle in the Hollywood Hills and the girls and I walked out afterwards without saying a word. It was bad! Next day I phoned and told him never to show the film.” McClure would eventually get San Francisco attorney Melvin Beli to bring an injunction against Warhol. It was a close shave for the Warhol Beard.

Brakhage was always highly praising of McClure’s poetry and remarks on how inspired he was by it. In a letter dated April 7, 1974, Brkahage writes: “Dear Michael,” (Brakhage preferred addressing McClure as Michael rather than Mike), “Reports of you visiting Schol of Art Inst. Chicago (wishing it had been when I was there), then ‘Hail Thee Who Play’ sent me by Jack, and finally the news of the big new NEW Directions book out (not yet reached Colo., but surely in my hands by next week); and you’re more-than-usually in min, tho’ always there within each week’s life, as I read you abt. Once in five/six days as always, several hours with Michael…”

“Hail Thee Who Play,” Brakhage continues, “is a body of the orders I love best in your work - those which signify light, catch its/your reflection in language wheresomEVER… i.e. that you refer to the significance of chrome in our time, and all other particularizations of the antique dance of lumen as it finds you/us.”

That phrase, “antique dance of lumen,” is stunning. It reveals the poet in Brakhage, who found his channel in film rather than words, what he termed the “mind’s eye, thought’s light, on film.” Streamings of unnamable shapes, colors, forms and rhythms, the feedback of the whole system in response to what’s being spanked in on it with light. The world experienced as a scintillating interplay of space, time, motion, and cosmic scrolls of the everpresent ineffable.

The Flame Is Ours exists only as a PDF at this time. This is great as a matter of convenience, provided one has access to a computer, but I have great difficulty reading text online. I don’t become truly intimate with a text unless it is in my hand. Tangibility plays an important role I don’t fully understand. It occurred to me that I could have a printer print it out and bind it, and was on the verge of doing that, when I simply began to read it, and decided to bypass that route. I found that reading it online was a little easier than I had imagined. It would be terrific to see this work published in book form one day, but for now, the PDF is fine. 333 pages seemed overwhelming when I first saw it, but I figured it was, after all, not that much different form a lot of the blogs I look forward to reading each week. I could approach it the same way, scrolling down as much as I felt comfortable for a particular session, then go off and fiddle around on YouTube, or make dinner, or get on with life.