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My Education: The NY/SF Poetry Scene in the Aughts

By Julien Poirier


I miss New York and the poets there and I’ve dreamed (had actual dreams) about stroking through the double doors of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project to silent-movie applause—applause and davening, for Chrissake, as I dash up the aisle to the podium, bobbing in a Salton Sea of undivided attention, and the flaring tips of my Italian sports coat brush the rapt, palatable faces of my audience. There’s the soldier in his bleached sling. The fortune teller with her eyeball ring. What’s that they’re throwing by the fistful? Someone’s had the bright idea of shredding the remaindered copies of my first book for confetti! Everyone’s here to hear me read, including Bernadette Mayer who almost punched me in the face when I first met her (“a puff of snow”) and that stunning woman with curly black hair standing on tiptoe to see Vito Acconci talk about the building he never built in—what?—2004. Brian Kim Stefans is standing in the corner with a sly incredibly lively look on his face, his arms folded like a preying mantis. Cross pollination. I see Nick Zed, Lydia Lunch, Jim Jarmusch and Tom Clark all the way from Berkeley in a VW Rabbit with no windshield. Susan Sherman and my ex-girlfriend Marisol Martinez are fanning themselves with the latest newsletter next to Steve Dalachinsky and Yuko Otomo (in conversation with the free jazz saxophonist Daniel Carter, who once told me he read my paper New York Nights on the regular), and my good friend Ryan Haley is there, too, with his arm around Marisol. I see Dottie, the old woman I danced with late at night in a bar in Allentown on Linden Street with James Hoff and then tried to convince her and her friend to let us sleep over at their place overlooking the Lehigh River—I just knew it’d flow like the Golden Horn. I remember how soft Dottie’s short gray hair felt on my cheek while we slowdanced in the middle of the bar near closing time. And then James and I ran through the deserted city strewing newspaper from the racks all over the streets and the sidewalks and we were carrying some trophy cup that we’d stolen from a nook, like a church nook, in the corridor of a Roosevelt-dime apartment building with shining rugs and a dry indoor fountain. And then we shared a bed in the cheapest hotel in town and that morning after pancakes found a copy of William Saroyan’s stories, shiny (“soap-smooth”—Pound) boards like old suit knees, in a bookstore by the Silver Star Diner and it led us straight to talk about Aram Saroyan and I told James about the one-word poems, “the only book to be read cover to cover on the nightly news,” and how it made a mockery of Jesse Helms’s granddaughter, so James inscribed a copy of Aram’s Pages (“for all the Random Houses you’ve helped me explore”) just before I left New York for Paris where Marisol and I were falling apart, and I was starting to argue with everyone at Ugly Duckling Presse, and the war made it one dark and angry trifecta, and I sat down to write a book of poems that would fit right between Saroyan and Blake on the shelf. Then James, who is a distressingly quick study, edited Saroyan’s Collected Minimal Poems on UDP and I gave a copy to Richard Hell the day we met over split pea soup at B&H Dairy on 2nd Avenue just down from the Gem Spa to discuss a dust jacket he wanted me to letterpress for a book of collaborations between him and David Shapiro (appraising Filip Marinovich and Anselm Berrigan at a party for Frank Lima, Shapiro: “The new generation of poets. And they’re all straight!”), the cover designed by Noel Black whom I’d first met at his going-away party in San Francisco one week before September 11th. After trading fond argumentative letters outlining poetic values I met Patrick James Dunagan in the flesh on Noel’s back porch, and Micah Ballard (the handsome man about to pass me a joint), having arrived with Cedar Sigo and Johnny Ray Huston in my grandfather’s Jeep that I killed the baby deer in while listening to Bach on my way to a cabin under Lassen volcano one month after my first NY poems ran in Lungfull! under the pen name Çem Coker. Richard’s review of the Saroyan book appeared in the New York Times right as I goofed up his covers by failing to print them in Times New Roman, as specked, after buying dead-stock paper from a supplier in the Garment District. Big wide dark floorboards on the second floor with a dirty window on the best Cuban sandwich in midtown. Matvei Yankelevich and I used to walk those battered boards in the early days of hand-assembling our poetry magazine, 6×6, looking for cheap nice cover stock. The linotype man was right up the road, this old man named Isaac who moved slow but could set type faster than a short-order cook seeing the big picture. He isn’t at my reading at the Project because he’s off setting type in heaven. Then, after a vaporous silver drunk, no hangover, Anselm and I are standing on the sidewalk mid-morning and pointing at sweets in a sunstruck East Village bakery window, some mom-and-pop shop that landed overnight in a glass rowboat from old St. Louis. This is breaking news in my poem and everyone is laughing and Jim Behrle is sitting up front and I say, “You look damn classy tonight, Behrle,” and everyone laughs, Jim leans back in his late-nite necktie hugging his legs and I remember the time I dinged his pitch for a wiffle-ball triple off a gravestone in the courtyard of the Project and how nice it might be to hang out and drink a stout and listen to the Ramones with Behrle one day and pick his brain about that whole blog kerfuffle between him and Stan Apps whose chapbook Soft Hands I edited on UDP when I got back to New York from Paris right around the time Stan and I and my future wife Kailey Moran drove up from Los Angeles to Oakland so he and Elizabeth Reddin could read at the 21 Grand Street series curated by David Larsen; and the whole way up Highway 101 Stan talked about what I came to think of later as the principles and potential energies of Conceptual poetry. The L.A. poets seemed to be talking about this first. Ara Shirinyan had just published The Weather by Kenneth Goldsmith on Make Now. Over egg drop soup in Chinatown he passed me the manuscript of Goldsmith’s Wand, a nonexistent long poem which defiles the graves of a few unproduced Hollywood scripts from early on, pre-60s anyway, by subjecting them to editorial acid baths and mailing versions to random grocery stores in the Valley disguised as surveys, along with a certain Saroyan book, too, from the early 70s and unfindably rare unless Saroyan himself decided to gift you an uncracked box (like a box of unwrapped 1985 waxpacks with the Mattingly rookie possibly in there) from the basement of his family-man house, as he did to Ara. Later I inscribed my copy to Micah with a drawing of blueline clouds alongside a bottle of French absinthe with a New-Orleans fleur-de-lis on the label in honor of his and Sunnylyn Thibodeaux’s home turf which he and I and Sunnylyn, Cedar, Johnny, Kailey and Pat drank up in a single night in San Francisco under a painting of Lorca by Jack Micheline. “Our pointing hands are reflected across the icing, our poet faces transposed on the glazing, and I’m filled with slopes.”

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 by Julien Poirier.