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Different kinds of messages

By Alan Gilbert

Saturday night’s reading concluding week three of Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program traced a large arc. It featured Eileen Myles, Daisy Zamora, and Anne Waldman. Myles read from a forthcoming work entitled The Inferno: A Poet’s Novel. Much more than a novel, the manuscript is part ars poetica, part memoir, and part underground cultural history, rescuing from oblivion poets such as Rene Ricard and Bill Knott, along with Myles’s own wild, East Village bohemian past. “The poet’s life is just so much crenellated waste,” she read at one point, invoking both a pre-gentrified New York City and the way in which some of the best personal poetry is a version of time shaking out its detritus through the mind. It’s also a reference to the fact that despite being “of all the art forms . . . the most economical” (to quote Audre Lorde), poetry seems strangely dependent on lots of unproductive free time.


Zamora’s poetry has a similar sympathy for the disenfranchised, though in a more traditional political sense. An immensely popular and important poet in Latin America, Zamora participated in the Sandinista struggle against the Somoza dictatorship, and later became Vice Minister of Culture for the Sandinista government (serving alongside Minister of Culture Ernesto Cardenal). Zamora read a selection of published and unpublished work that combined a precise sense of social injustice with a more general tone of disillusion. The audience seemed to particularly enjoy two poems about getting rid of deadbeat husbands. My five-year-old daughter took great delight in an anti-fairytale poem that Zamora wrote for her own children in which Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, Snow White, etc., act contrary to the conventional desires ascribed to them. This use of convention to undermine convention is a significant part of Zamora’s work.
For various reasons, I’ve probably seen Waldman read more than any other poet. As those who’ve been to her readings know, she’s a fearless performer who on stage isn’t afraid to not play nice. Praise, invective, chant, and the channeling of darker spirits and energies are frequently her preferred mode. “I can never get used to televisions,” she read at one point, tuned in as poets try to be to different kinds of messages. Her son Ambrose Bye accompanied her on piano as she read a new section from her ongoing epic poem Iovis. Toward the end of her reading, Akilah Oliver joined her and her son on stage, and read a collage of excerpts from two chapbooks—The Putterer’s Notebook and An Arriving Guard of Angels, Thusly Coming to Greet—that spoke to decaying cities and fluid erotics while Waldman served as a kind of poetry hype (wo)man echoing choice words and lines. It was one of the highlights of the evening.

Comments (9)

  • On July 7, 2008 at 1:47 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Here is my entry for Daisy Zamora from I Once Met (Longhouse, 2007), a collection of ninety-some memories of meetings with poets. The account dates from my time in Nicaragua, where I worked as a literacy teacher, during the 80s. A book of translations, A Nation of Poets: Writings from the Poetry Workshops of Nicaragua (West End, 1985), came out of my second stint there. That book carries, as well, one of the most extensive interviews ever conducted with Ernesto Cardenal, the poet and then-Minister of Culture, whom Alan also mentions. In fact, I will also put below the Zamora my memory of Cardenal…
    Kent
    *
    I once met the famous Nicaraguan poet Daisy Zamora. This was at the height of the Contra war. She was dressed in battle fatigues. We were in the gardens of an expropriated mansion in Managua, now the headquarters of the Sandinista Cultural Workers’ Association. Perhaps you would like to translate some of my poetry sometime, Kent, she said, sipping the rum & Coke brought to her by a male maid, her black, lush hair cascading most dramatically under the cascading bougainvillaea. Perhaps I would, I said. Would you, Daisy, I said with a wink, translate some of mine. Perhaps, I will, she said. Let’s first see, however, she said, if we can win this fucking war… Years have gone by, and the world is a very different place. Now Daisy Zamora is a regular at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. Dressed in fashionable versions of traditional vestments from her land, she intones her nostalgic verse to great crowds, who sit rapt and are moved to tears. And all the dead, whose blood so little time ago seemed so heroic and fresh, are by now virtually forgotten.
    *
    I once met Ernesto Cardenal. We sat, smoking, with a tape recorder and a bottle of rum between us for six or seven hours. He talked quietly about Pound, Jeffers, Amy Lowell, Neruda and Vallejo, about the debate then raging around the Talleres de Poesia movement, about how Exteriorismo had been inspired by Pound’s Imagism and Vorticism. Artillery rounds went off all day in the distance, and helicopters flew over every now and then, carrying Sandinista fighters to the front. Yes, that afternoon was certainly one of the highlights of my life.

  • On July 7, 2008 at 2:56 pm bill knott wrote:

    Myles read from a forthcoming work entitled The Inferno: A Poet’s Novel. Much more than a novel, the manuscript is part ars poetica, part memoir, and part underground cultural history, rescuing from oblivion poets such as Rene Ricard and Bill Knott . . .
    *
    well, i kinda liked oblivion actually …
    can i please be unrescued?

  • On July 7, 2008 at 5:20 pm Michael Robbins wrote:

    He talked about Amy Lowell?

  • On July 7, 2008 at 8:01 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Oh, St. Bill, don’t you see how bad you want it?
    Of course you do.
    I mean, why else would you write to Harriet asking to be “unrescued” from oblivion?
    :~)
    Kent

  • On July 8, 2008 at 11:53 am Kent Johnson wrote:

    Hi Michael,
    Yes, in that interview I have with him in A Nation of Poets he talks about all sorts of U.S. poets– 20th century Nicaraguan poetry is completely tied to U.S. influence, it’s really quite fascinating.
    I know Amy Lowell sounds odd out of context, but yes, she enters the conversation.
    Kent

  • On July 9, 2008 at 3:19 pm Eileen Myles wrote:

    Bill,
    I had no thoughts of rescuing you. My novel has a couple of pages of fanship about a reading you once gave, but I totally applaud your oblivion. I’m happily ruined, myself.

  • On July 12, 2008 at 4:46 pm bill knott wrote:

    Eileen, thanks for not rescuing me , , , i found this grouping today on google, and felt if-only:
    Searching bill knott
    Results 1 to 6 for bill knott (view as list | tiles): … homos, auntie mame, eileen myles, rosalind russell, romaine brooks, bill knott, sexy professors …
    ex.plode.us/search/bill+knott – 54k – Cached
    . . . !
    *
    and, Kent:
    it’s called a “litotes” . . . decadent comic writers like me often use it to express humor and or irony,
    which a serious writer like you don’t countenance, i know!
    *

  • On July 14, 2008 at 12:32 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Bill Knott said:
    >Kent, it’s called a “litotes” . . . decadent comic writers like me often use it to express humor and or irony, which a serious writer like you don’t countenance, i know!
    Bill, I just saw this!
    And I was sure you would take my smiley face as an eccentric but loving example of aposiopesis…
    damn,
    Kent

  • On September 11, 2008 at 5:29 am John Tranter wrote:

    …”litotes”… Nice Greek word, but…
    Isn’t that an anagram for “T.S.Eliot”?


Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, July 7th, 2008 by Alan Gilbert.