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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in robert creeley (10)


In Which We Iterate Upon Ourselves

To Think Of While Writing

Setting it down is a difficult part, but not the difficult part for the writers who speak below. There is a world that surrounds what we read, and our inquiries into is are so often completely inadequate. Not the how and why of the creative act, but what remains after the writing has been consumed and forgotten like any other artifact.

In a sense there is an existence beyond the page, but it could never really compare.

Vernor Vinge

It was 1962. I was a senior in high school, and I wanted to write about the first man to have a direct mind-to-computer link. I even thought I might be the first person ever to write of such a thing. (In that, of course, I was wrong - but the theme was rare compared to nowadays.) I worked very hard on the story, applying everything I knew about writing, I put together a social background that I thought would make things interesting where the story sagged: cheap fusion/electricity converters had been invented (that worked at room temperature!), trashing the big power utilities and causing a short term depression. And of course, there would be experiments with chimpanzees before the IQ amplifier was tried on my human hero.

Having thought things out, I described the plot to my little sister (a tenth-grader). She suffered through my endless recounting, and then remarked, "Except for the part about the chimpanzee, it sounds pretty dull." What a comedown. Still… she had a point.

Diane Williams

Very early on, I had a vision of excellence and a sense of responsibility of monstrous proportions.

It is best if no one ever sees me again. (You will thank me.)

I will not go to see someone just because he or she is inconveniently located.

And, if you do that thing again, evil people will be ruined completely. Good people will feel great. Springtime will span the year because that's my decision. Anyone who would have preferred some other season may feel a not-so-serious mistake has been made.

When the good people begin their lavish new life, they will be especially indebted to Ira, who will provide everyone with a set of easy instructions to follow so everything turns out all right for them. Oh, they will be indebted to Ira.

I used to see a lot of this one woman. Ira will take care of her, because I've had it up to here.

Now, do you understand?

Hart Crane

For some time past I have been seeking employment in New York, but without success so far. It's the usual problem of mechanical prejudices that I've already grown grey in trying to deal with. But all the more difficult now, since the only references I can give for the last two years are my own typewriter and a collection of poems.

I am, as you probably recall, at least avowedly - a perfectly good advertising writer. I am wondering if you would possibly give me some recommendations to the publicity department of The Metropolitan Opera Company, where I am certain of making myself useful. I was in New York two days last week, trying to secure emplyment as a waiter on one of the American lines. I found that I needed something like a diploma from Annapolis before hoping for an interview.

A few years ago I registered with the Munson Line with reference to my qualifications for a particular position which every ship includes - that of "ship's writer" or "deck yeoman": but I always found that such jobs were dispensed to acquaintances of the captain or to office workers, and that my references were never taken from the file. I am not particular what I do, however, so long as there is reasonable chance of my doing it well. The Aeneid was not written in two years, nor in four.

Robert Creeley

You know the way people say we all have a story within us - something specific in our lives that would, if we could only get it said, be something worth hearing. That may well be true but I don't think art is particularly involved by it. Writing, for example, is an activity dependent on words as material. It may be felt that it matters what they "say" but far more decisive is the energy gained in the field or system they are used to create. In like sense, the "Chef's Special" may sound good to you - but it may be awful to literally eat, and you won't know what it is until someone who does know tells you.

Time is either an imagination or else a phasing inherent in the system, organic or inert (including abstractions). What is your life that you're going to write it down, or make films of it, or whatever it is you had in mind. The one thing clear about your life is that you are living it. Whitman was quick about it, saying, "Who touches this book touches a man."

Mavis Gallant

I still do not know what impels anyone sound of mind to leave dry land and spend a lifetime describing people who do not exist. If it is child's play, an extension of make-believe - something one is frequently assured by persons who write about writing - how to account for the overriding wish to do just that, only that, and consider it as rational an occupation as riding a racing bike over the Alps? Perhaps the cultural attaché at a Canadian embassy who said to me "Yes, but what do you really do?" was expressing an adult opinion.

The impulse to write and the stubbornness needed to keep going are supposed to come out of some drastic shaking up, early in life. There is even a term for it: the shock of change. Probably, it means a jolt that unbolts the door between perception and imagination and leaves it ajar for life, or that fuses memory and language and waking dreams.

The first flash of fiction arrives without words. It consists of a fixed image, like a slide or (closer still) a freeze frame, showing characters in a simple situation.

Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.

Mario Vargas Llosa

If the words and the structure of a novel are efficient, and appropriate to the story that the novel intends to make persuasive, this means that its text is perfectly balanced; theme, style and points of view are so perfectly harmonized, and the reader is so hypnotized and absorbed by what is being told, that he completely forgets the way it is being told, and is under the impression that technique and form have nothing to do with it, that life itself animates the work's characters, landscapes, and events, which seem to the reader nothing less than reality incarnate, life in print. This is the great triumph of technical skill in novel writing: the achievement of invisibility, the ability to endow story with color, drama, subtlety, beauty, and suggestive power so effectively that the no reader even notices the fabrication exists; under the spell of its craftsmanship, he feels that he is not reading, but rather living a fiction that, for a while at least and ad far as he is concerned, supplants life.

Harry Mathews

Unless I am hopelessly mistaken, it seems to me perfectly possible to write well in French simply by writing correctly - by writing well I obviously do not necessarily mean elegantly or brilliantly; I mean only that there exists a normative written language available to anyone who takes the trouble to learn it that will enable its user to write prose than can be universally read without objections. Such a "correct" language does not exist in America (or in England for that matter). Left to itself, merely correct American English tends to go flat. American writing of any kind has a kind of ad hoc quality about it, a quality of having been improvised for the occasion; and good writing invariably involves the admixture of a particular individual manner.

Gene Wolfe

At this point it is traditional to state dogmatically that every short story must show a beginning, a middle, and an ending - the lash employed by editors and other critics to flog writers. And it is true enough that every story should, although it is not of much use to know it. Authors (and they are very rare) who commit stories lacking one of the three necessities always believe the missing element present; and the truth is that a good story must have much more than that.

You are both a woman, amused by men, and a man, enthralled by women. You realize that is is only in our own time that life has become easy enough to permit a handful of us to abrogate our ancient alliance. Your lively imagination is governed by reason; you find it difficult to make friends, though you are a good friend to those you have made. At certain times you feel you are insane, at others than you are the only sane person in the world. You are patient, and yet eager.

How and Why To Write

You can find the first five parts of this series here:

Part One (Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Levine, Thomas Pynchon, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, Don DeLillo, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin)

Part Two (James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Margaret Atwood, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov)

Part Three (W. Somerset Maugham, Langston Hughes, Marguerite Duras, George Orwell, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Robert Creeley, John Steinbeck)

Part Four (Flannery O'Connor, Charles Baxter, Joan Didion, William Butler Yeats, Lyn Hejinian, Jean Cocteau, Francine du Plessix Gray, Roberto Bolano)

Part Five (Rosmarie Waldrop, Joyce Cary, Fernando Pessoa, Martin Amis, Lewis Carroll, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Leguin)


In Which We Let In The World

How and Why To Write

Writing advice is even older than writing itself. It never hurts to listen to how someone else perpetrates a similar crime, like wanting to witness a bank robbery committed by a close friend before embarking on the task. It's best to just give yourself over. If you reread your work too much, second guessing becomes de rigeur. Let go. Once your mind starts to connect with other minds, you begin to think in a similar fashion. Form is never more than an extension of something.

You can find the first four parts of this series here:

Part One (Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Levine, Thomas Pynchon, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, Don DeLillo, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin)

Part Two (James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Margaret Atwood, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov)

Part Three (W. Somerset Maugham, Langston Hughes, Marguerite Duras, George Orwell, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, Robert Creeley, John Steinbeck)

Part Four (Flannery O'Connor, Charles Baxter, Joan Didion, William Butler Yeats, Lyn Hejinian, Jean Cocteau, Francine du Plessix Gray, Roberto Bolano)

Rosmarie Waldrop

But it is not true that "nothing is given": Language comes not only with an infinite potential for new combinations, but with a long history contained in it.

The blank page is not blank. No text has one single author. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we always write on top of a palimpsest. This is not a question of linear "influence," but of writing as dialog with a whole net of previous and concurrent texts, tradition, with the culture and language we breathe and move in, which conditions us even while we help to construct it.

Many of us have foregrounded this awareness as technique: using, collaging, transforming, "translating" parts of other works. I don't even have thoughts, I have methods that make language think, take over and me by the hand. Into sense or offense, syntax stretched across rules, relations of force, fluid the dip of the plumb line, the pull of eyes...

Joyce Cary

It is, I suppose, a standing temptation for every artist to put technique first; especially if he be a good technician. Nothing gives so much pleasure to an artist as the successful fusion of his sense and form. And it is easier to take a form and give it some significance than to find a form for your meaning.

I sometimes think that Flaubert, that famous technician, suffered from choosing his form first. We know, in fact, that his friend George Sand protested against his manner of writing as if, as she said, he lived only for words. 'Your whole life is full of affection. You are the most convinced individualist. But no sooner do you touch literature than you become a wholly different man, a man who wants to annihilate himself.' She meant that Flaubert had the wrong theory of art, that he wished, as we should say, to live in an ivory tower, and devote himself to technical perfection; and his technique, clever as it is, sometimes seems to detach itself from his intention.

Fernando Pessoa

A strong artist kills in himself not only love and pity but the very seeds of love and pity. he becomes inhuman out of his great love of humanity - that love that prompts him to create art for man.

Genius is the greatest curse with which God can bless a man. It must be undergone with as little groaning and whining as possible, with as great a consciousness as possible of its divine sadness.

To attain a full reputation as a poet, the beginner must of course have his portrait published in fashionable papers and must see that paragraphs about himself, his habits, his whims and eccentricities are published in suitable journals. Now it must be clear that, for this to be well done, the learner must look like, and act as, a poet. As regards personal appearance, I think no one can deny that a thin, stooping gait is indispensable.

Martin Amis

Beyond middle age, I don't think writers are in competition anymore. After all, we're not all trying to write the same novel. We're all trying to write our own novel. In a sense, we're all trying to write a novel called, "The Way We Live Now," you know, the Trollope novel.

I don't think any interesting work of art can possibly be depressing - otherwise, King Lear would kill more people than cholera. If it's good, it's cathartic, and the reader feels purged and renewed. 

Lewis Carroll

When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on. Put it aside till the next morning; and if then you can't make it out, and have no one to explain it to you, put it aside entirely, and go back to that part of the subject which you do understand.

When I was reading Mathematics for University honours, I would sometimes, after working a week or two at some new book, and mastering ten or twenty pages, get into a hopeless muddle, and find it just as bad the next morning. My rule was to begin the book again. And perhaps in another fortnight I had come to the old difficulty with impetus enough to get over it. Or perhaps not. I have several books that I have begun over and over again.

Margaret Atwood

1 Take a pencil to write with on aeroplanes. Pens leak. But if the pencil breaks, you can't sharpen it on the plane, because you can't take knives with you. Therefore: take two pencils.

2 If both pencils break, you can do a rough sharpening job with a nail file of the metal or glass type.

3 Take something to write on. Paper is good. In a pinch, pieces of wood or your arm will do.

4 If you're using a computer, always safeguard new text with a ­memory stick.

5 Do back exercises. Pain is distracting.

6 Hold the reader's attention. (This is likely to work better if you can hold your own.) But you don't know who the reader is, so it's like shooting fish with a slingshot in the dark. What ­fascinates A will bore the pants off B.

7 You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine.

8 You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You've been backstage. You've seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.

9 Don't sit down in the middle of the woods. If you're lost in the plot or blocked, retrace your steps to where you went wrong. Then take the other road. And/or change the person. Change the tense. Change the opening page.

10 Prayer might work. Or reading ­something else. Or a constant visual­isation of the holy grail that is the finished, published version of your resplendent book.

Gene Wolfe

My definition of a great story is: One that can be read for pleasure by a cultivated reader and reread with increased pleasure.

Suppose, for example, that an editor has sabotaged one of your verbs because he thinks some noun you intended as singular is plural. For example you may have written, "A dieresis of fly specks warns us of double dealing." The editor, that lout, has of course revised your sentence to read, "A dieresis of flyspecks warn..." Understandable, you are tempted to pull a knife on him, but that is useless. The plural of knife is knives, which your editor thinks is another word altogether; you are bound to get into long, futile arguments about Charlemagne's turning the f into a v to correct the Julian calendar. No, the word you require is good old scissors, and you can drive home your point very nicely by opening your own, laying it (not them) on a sheet of paper, and tracing the outline in black crayon. You will need paper for this, of course, as well as the box of crayons, and while you have some, with the pencils, nuts, dictionary, wastebasket and all your other stuff, why not try a short story? Come to think of it you'll have to, to get in that line about dieresis.

Lyn Hejinian

The relationship of form, or "the constructive principle," to the materials of the work (its ideas, the conceptual mass, but also the words themselves) is the initial problem for the "open text," one that faces each writing anew.

Can form make the primary chaos (i.e. raw material, unorganized impulse and information, uncertainty, incompleteness, vastness) articulate without depriving it of its capacious vitality, its generative power? Can form go even further than that and actually generate that potency, opening uncertainty to curiousity, incompleteness to speculation, and turning vastness into plenitude? In my opinion, the answer is yes; that is, in fact, the function of form in art. Form is not a fixture but an activity.

Robert Creeley

Franz Kline said, "If I paint what I know, I bore myself. I paint what you know, I bore you. Therefore I paint what I don't know." He isn't saying that he paints what he doesn't know how to paint - but that he paints what he cannot conceptually enclose as intention. And he is doing it with consummate intelligence of the possibilities inherent in such an open situation - where what happens takes precedence over what 'should' happen - and with most alert perceptions. That's the point, for me at least, that the world be let in, that all the range of the art's powers of revelation, of doing something, be admitted. William Carlos Williams had a lovely qualification of the alternative: "Minds like beds, always made up..."

Williams - possibly in a somewhat defensive sense - said of a poem, that it was "a small or large machine made of words." The Abstract Expressionists insisted, with delight, that a painting was a "two-dimensional surface covered (or not) with paint" - and presumably the factual, physical situation of a film is equally to be insisted upon. I know that Brakhage likes to remind us that a 'moving picture' is a sequence of rapidly changing single, static images. If presently we are flooded with preoccupations of this kind, seemingly - I am thinking of the didatic, actually self-dramatic insistence on process and its physical occasions. I do believe, to say it, that life is its own reward, but I get absolutely irritable if it has always to be a situation of "look, Ma, I'm dancing!" I never did like dentists who explained what they were "going to do" to me.

Ursula K. Le Guin

There is a limited number of plots (some say seven, some say twelve, some say thirty). There is no limit to the number of stories. Everybody in the world has their story, and every meeting of one with another begins another story. Somebody asked Willie Nelson where he got his songs, and he said, "The air's full of melodies, you just reach out..."

I say this in an attempt to unhook people from the idea they have to make an elaborate plan of a tight plot before they're allowed to write a story. If that's the way you like to write, write that way of course. But if it isn't, if you aren't a planner, don't worry.

How and Why To Write

Part One (Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Levine, Thomas Pynchon, Gertrude Stein, Eudora Welty, Don DeLillo, Anton Chekhov, Mavis Gallant, Stanley Elkin)

Part Two (James Baldwin, Henry Miller, Toni Morrison, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Margaret Atwood, Gertrude Stein, Vladimir Nabokov)

Part Three (W. Somerset Maugham, Langston Hughes, Marguerite Duras, George Orwell, John Ashbery, Susan Sontag, John Steinbeck)

Part Four (Flannery O'Connor, Charles Baxter, Joan Didion, William Butler Yeats, Jean Cocteau, Francine du Plessix Gray, Roberto Bolano)


In Which We Lather Our Sensibilities At Length

Reading at Berkeley

I'm knocked out. I mean, I had a glass of whiskey. I said I hope nobody thinks I'm drunk. Man, I was high this afternoon, and I'm just exactly the same way now.

On July 23rd 1965 the poet Charles Olson took the stage at the University of California-Berkeley Poetry Conference, ostensibly to read a few poems. There was always an apprehension among Charles' friends whenever he attempted public speaking during his last years. The full text of Olson's remarks that evening runs over 60 pages, and it must have been evident to everyone in attendance that Olson, while somewhat cogent for him, would have to be dragged off the stage. Olson's talk that night has alternately been called "a tour de force" (by editor George F. Butterick and "an absolute travesty" (by most others). What follows are some excerpts from the text, along with private remarks during intermission transcribed by Zoe Brown.

ROBERT DUNCAN: As I think all of you, or almost all of you, must know, the man I am introducing tonight is visibly a large man. And he has to find in poetry — a phrase came up in a seminar of his: suddenly he was saying he was trying to find a position inferior to language. Every American impulse from the beginning has been to use it right away, and cash in on it, no matter what it was.

What I want to suggest is, if you find difficulties in Olson, they're because that the only thing in poetry for him is going to be found in a struggle, and because his knowledge of language is such that its usability seems everywhere, I keep thinking he'll never find how to take ahold of that so it isn't usable. We're absolutely baffled. But when he does, we have, the rest of us poets, been absolutely baffled. But when he does, we have the rest of us poets, been confronted with some amazing dimension, in which we find the — will "bedrock of poetry" do? I mean, the really resistant thign, the poem.

He has had to occupy an area in history big enough for some spirit size. You know, it's like he's trying to find clothes big enough for him. The spirit which can roam over anything it can imagine, and then imagine one that is still restless because it can't find a space big enough for it to exist in: we, this evening, will attend a poetry of this order.

One thing I find, for those of you who may really find yourself having to go along with something that will leave you feeling like you could have fitted it in a much smaller space and time, the other things he delights in sometimes are really beautiful songs.

And then you discover that, whatever the huge size in space, in time, he occupies, he also occupies beautiful and discrete, almost ordinary areas.

So, may I now get from the back of the room there, Charles Olson, who will take over.


CHARLES OLSON: Thank you. It feels like a convention hall. And I never was running for anything, fortunately.

Oh, would somebody loan me The Maximus Poems? I haven't a copy. Thakn you.

Gee, I did it again. I left something in the room. Yeah, that's right. How the hell do you prove what you always...? Hm, wow, that's crazy. That's a funny one. Where the hell did they go? Somebody took 'em. Would by any chance, Robert Creeley, you have — ? Oh here it is. I got it.

I'd like to first read a — thank you, Robert, for that word "song." In the face of the poets that have read here, I have had an experience.

DUNCAN: Charles, would you please put the microphone on?

OLSON: Oh. Did you say that? How do you do this if there ain't...? Just connect...? You see, this is life. I mean, I either am the Hanged Man, or... Where do you put that, like? Where does that go? There's no hole! Where do you put it? You'd better show me, Mr. Baker. Able Baker. You see, security.

Thank you. That's what we got our nation for. That's why, the rest of us are, fortunately, as Mr. Creeley proved last night, free. And then there's really no worry about the land of free, cause it's been replaced. Like Allen did! Instead of drinking to you and me, I'll drink to that, hm?

But I would like to read first what for me was kind of an experience of writing a song. It's called "The Ring Of" and I hope it's, if my memory is right...Mr. Creeley? That you did...?


OLSON: Yeah, O.K., that's why. I mean that was so much a matter of support that I felt... Here it is.

It was the west wind caught her up, as
she rose from the genital
wave, and bore her from the delicate
foam, home
to her isle

and those lovers
of the difficult, the hours
of the golden day welcomed her, clad her, were
as though they had made her, were wild
to bring this new thing born
of the ring of the sea pink
& naked, this girl, brought her
to the face of the gods, violets
in her hair

Beauty, and she
said no to zeus & them all, all were not or
was it she chose the ugliest
to bed with, or was it straight
and to expiate the nature of beauty, was it?

knowing hours, anyway,
she did not stay long, or the lame
was only one part, & the handsome
mars had her. And the child
had that name, the arrow of
as the flight of, the move of
his mother who adorneth

with myrtle the dolphin and words
they rise, they do who
are born of like

Hm, thank you. I just learnt it from you last night. OK, we're off. I mean the horse is at least on the track. See if we can win.

I also wrote a poem which I'm sure neither Creeley nor I would include in anything, but I want to read it. I'm going to read three poems first — that one, this one, and then "Letter 9" of the Maximus Poems, which has to do with this same book, this beautiful book, which I love...because that design on it was done — and then I don't know how many years later, enormous years later, I, after Creeley had criticized me and taught me everything one night, when I was burned up that he let a class go to go down to Peek's to have beer, and I thought the whole of Black Mountain was going to fail if we didn't get those windows in before the freeze that night — and long after, he said, "Don't flip your wig, man."

And that made me, that brought me up to time, eh? I mean, he knocked any wig I ever had off my head that night. And it was beautiful, because he knew exactly what he was saying. And he was right. And I was not up — I mean, I was obviously, like they say, not with it, not right. But curiously enough, it was so many years after even that, that I was left alone at Black Mountain, with my wife and son, and with the beach wagon, which Wesley Huss had acquired before we closed Black Mountain, in fact, within three days I had a beach wagon.

So I feel even comfortable in reading what I consider, and I guess everybody else does, a bad poem, which I wrote as a Christmas pageant or something, a poem for Christmas at Black Mountain. Ha ha ha! Because I suppose Allen Ginsberg still thinks I'm Santa Claus. I'd like him to say,"No!" or I'll run you for whatever you — what do I want to run for, Allen?

ALLEN GINSBERG: Read the poem and I'll decide.

OLSON: That's why I'm reading it. It's called "An Ode to Nativity," and I don't believe it's ever been read. Except for this morning, I thought I'd look at it and I liked it, you know how you do. I don't think anybody has ever...By the way, did you reject, did you even bother to consider it, Bob? How far can I come with this tether?

GINSBERG: Go ahead and read it, read it.

OLSON: Oh, I'm going to do it. Look this thing is so bad, I can't ruin it. The only thing I can, as Allen says, is it might turn out to be how it sounded to me today. I guess that's really how it feels for me tonight, or this morning.

All cries.


All cries rise, & the three of us
observe how fast Orion

Naah, that's too poetic.

All cries rise, & the three of us
observe how fast Orion

Jeez I'm looking it all. Big voice... Shit! You see, you shouldn't talk; you should just read the thing.

All cries rise, & the three of us
observe how fast Orion
marks midnight
at the climax
of the sky
while the boat of the moon settles
as red in the southwest
as the orb of her was, for this boy, once,
the first time he saw her whole halloween face northeast
across the skating pond as he came down to the ice, December
his seventh year.
Winter, in this zone, is an on & off thing, where the air
is sometimes as shining as ice is
when the sky's lights... When the ducks
are the only skaters
And a crèche
is a commerciality
(The same year, a ball of fire
the same place - exactly through
the same trees
was fire
the Sawyer lumber company yard
was a moon of pain, at the end of itself,
and the death of horses I saw burning,
fallen through the floors
into the buried Blackstone River the city
had hidden under itself, had grown over...


Recorded during the intermission:

OLSON: Allen, I'm just proving that oral poetry exists, O.K.? Ain't I or not?

GINSBERG: It's very good, it's beautiful.

OLSON: Isn't this oral poetry? Isn't this improvisatory, spontaneous poetry?

GINSBERG: All except one thing, when you had the cigarette in your mouth.

OLSON: And what happened? Was that visual?

GINSBERG: Couldn't hear you at the back.

WELCH: We were worried it was backwards.

OLSON: Gee, I wish it were. I needs to be backwards. That extra piece that I needed: I don't need it, I'm drunk on you guys. And I meant it.

WELCH: Hey, don't you have to pee too?

OLSON: Nah, shit pee? I never pee. The reason why I'm not a queen is I don't have to pee to prove that I'm a man. Go pee, Allen. We got over that tonight.

PAUL X: Can I have a cigarette?

OLSON: Of course, it's yours, baby. Isn't that crazy, I should be smoking your cigarettes? Goddamn it, it irritates me, but it also -

PAUL X: A broad gave them to me, so it doesn't matter.

JOHN WIENERS (introducing a girl): Just here visiting.

GIRL: Hello, how are you? I'm enjoying it so much.

OLSON: Awfully nice to see you. Pleasure. I'm glad. Will you kiss me too? You would kiss me, anyhow, but I want you to kiss me in honor, as well, will ya? In love and honor.

WELCH: That was why we did it.

SUZANNE MOWAT: What are you doing?

OLSON: I'm doing just what I ought to be doing, don't you think so?

MOWAT: I don't.

OLSON: You don't? You think I should be reading poetry? God, I got the poems, but -

WELCH: Charles, do you know John Montgomery? Allow me to introduce John Montgomery.

OLSON: I know Stuart Montgomery, the guy who's publishing Ed and me in London.

WELCH: No, he's the guy who talks so funny in The Dharma Bums, that forgotten painter.

OLSON (drinking): That's the last of it, dammit. I had one last slug.

WELCH: Don't you want to give him a drink?

MOWAT: No, I don't think you should.

OLSON: "...and John Montgomery." Let's do this thing the way it's coming out tonight. "Charles Olson and John Montgomery." O.K.? Now give me that shot. You got a whiskey.

WELCH: I brought this for you, but no one told me that you drink.

OLSON: What the hell is that? Just that lousy wine. Well, I'll just go like Jack Kerouac, right straight on to Rot Red. Drinks. It's sweety time. You, you drunken bum, have a shot. And if you don't stop drinking...

WELCH: Yeah, I know, I'm a terrible lush.


OLSON: I think the poets are ahead of the scientists now. I know they are. The decadence of the imagery of science is as shocking as James Joyce. I mean, Ezra Pound long years ago returned the presentation copy of Finnegans Wake to himself, with the word "DECADENCE" written over the cover. I mean, that takes guts, the same guts that led him to say, "I thought I knew something." I'd be proud to have been the man in this century... And like, here I am, dragging my ass after Ezra.

Two years ago in Vancouver, what did I do? I tried to read the poems? Now I could, and instead I'm telling you, "Gee I wish they were more." I'm not just avoiding it. I'll be happy to read them. I love some of them. Just like those poems I wrote longer and earlier, I bet they'll turn out to be all right. That's not the point. They're nothing by comparison to what I propose, or what I would dream I might do. Because poets only are worthwhile if they do what they dream. And there's been a few. In fact, the only ones that count are those who want to be, hm, the same in their dream.

last days of the vancouver poetry conference, 1963

And I'm like — let me continue 5, and I'll come back to 9, which I love because it talks about how a book practically is the only goddamn thing that is a dream in a society like this. And do you know it embarrassed me two years ago in Vancouver. I mean, god, Allen an activist, Orlovsky, Dunky, Creeley, everybody that was there, I feel like an old schlumpf from Gloucester. And, in fact, I'd love to read even that crazy "Tantrist sat saw Lingam in City Hall" or something, I mean, a poem I did read, you know, I'd like to read it right now, like that, like that, like.

And just make it like it felt when it was written, that's all. I am a tantrist. But two years ago I was embarrassed, and not because I hadn't been to Buenos Aires. O.K.?

I mean the universe today is a very hard thing for an individual to possess. The whole human race has it. The efficiency of the universe is in our hands. But for any one of us, as what they used to call a private soul, when I protested was a piece of piss at any public wall, in that paragraph, in that opening paragraph of Projective Verse, but you know, it comes out that the private soul — and if I could cry like the cock at the birth of day - which is all I'm doing tonight — that's the only thing that's more than public and private. And like that great thing we've been talking about and we discussed in seminar. Isn't it nice, really? This is the private soul at the public wall. Charlie Olson. Closed verse. Not even bothering to play the music.

I got the music. I mean, it's like scores, Beethoven and all those things, John Keats' letters in Harvard's library. I read 'em. In fact, I wrote a fourteen line sonnet. You know, it's powerful. I was talking to Ed Dorn recently. Probably I shouldn't have eaten supper...

CREELEY: Please read the poems.

OLSON: All right, Bob, I heard you.

July 23rd, 1965

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