George Oppen, New Collected Poems
A poem written on Halloween in 1976. The poet was living in San Francisco on Polk Street where, four years later, I would be working in a methadone clinic. He is one of my favorite poets. This poem comes from his last book of new poems, Primitive
. It is included in the just-released New Collected Poems of George Oppen
. There is a gorgeously attentive introduction written by Michael Davidson and, in this new edition, a sweet, almost intimate preface by Eliot Weinberger. Best of all-- because I have never heard anyone read poetry in a way that moves me as Oppen's voice moves me-- the book includes a CD of Oppen reading his work. Here is the Halloween poem, below. (I send it out to the young poet Patrick Morrissey, whose impressive work is marked by Oppen, and to Henry Israeli, the editor of Saturnalia Press, for reasons that the poem will make obvious).

Strange Are The Products
    of draftsmanship    zero
that perfect
of distances terrible
thru the airs small very
small alien
on the sidewalks thru the long
time of deaths
and anger
of the streets leading
to streets brutal pitifully
brutal the swaggering
streets you cannot
know all
my love of you o my dear
friend unafraid
in saturnalia All
hallows Eve more
beautiful most
beautiful found
here saturnalia the poem
of the woman the man our dark
skull bones’ joy in the small
huge dark the
glory of joy in the small
huge dark
  --Polk St., Halloween, Oct. 31, 1976

Originally Published: October 30th, 2008

Born in California’s Mojave Desert, poet Forrest Gander grew up in Virginia and attended the College of William & Mary, where he majored in geology. After earning an MA in literature from San Francisco State University, Gander moved to Mexico, then to Arkansas, where his poetry—informed by his knowledge of...

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  1. October 31, 2008
     Don Share

    This is book is a beaut. Even though I already have the previous hardcover edition, I picked this new version up for the CD, which is a must-hear, as you say. (Oppen's poems appeared in Poetry over two dozen times, we're proud to observe, from the early thirties all the way into the late sixties.)
    My only teeny cavil: the notes are extremely useful, but the one for "The Lighthouses" annotates its epigraph, "for L Z in time of the breaking of nations," as possibly refering to trouble in the Middle East. Which no doubt it does, but the reference to Hardy and in turn to the Bible - Jeremiah: "Thou art my battle ax and weapons of war: for with thee will I break in pieces the nations and with thee will I destroy kingdoms," is too interesting to go unremarked or unnoticed. I mean, talk about a discrete series: O.T. - Hardy - Oppen. But I digress, as always!

  2. November 1, 2008
     robert adamson

    Forrest, thanks for 'Strange Are The Products', it reminds me to buy the New Oppen Collected.
    What a great poet, his work is as fresh today as it was when I first read it in the 1960s,
    in fact it seems more vibrant now, ( he is like one of the Golden Codgers W B Yeats writes
    about, glowing brighter as they age.