Monday, January 30, 2006

NatureS, actually coming soon ...

No news from the printer for two weeks, which presumably is good news, since they've been quick to get in touch when there've been problems with the files for the book. So ... it's hopefully done. I think another round of copy editing would have been a trial.

NatureS will include a range of poems from roughly 1972 till last year. I'll be posting more about it as the schedule for it's actual appearance becomes more clear, but for now, here's the front cover.


Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Spam, Poetry ... and Flarf

The Spam Poet has been quite for a few days, probably dreaming up a new algorithm. This is the most recent of the messages I've received:

Get Back to Me Please

Would body seven finish, she his. Let crop, arm allow, or all,
earth. Main type have. Car yard high car laugh spell, but. Go
loud, colony town. Are work house. Out I create. Type deep mind
baby rock think possible. Hope some heat.

"Hope some heat", indeed; it's in the 20s tonight.

Ron Silliman pointed out in a comment to the original post that
"Canadian poet Rob Read is publishing (via email of course, tho a print volume is now available as well) a poem each day composed from, as he puts it, 'treated spam'." The book is O Spam Poams, and Ron had a nice post up on it back in December.

Here's one of the poems, er, poams from the book, as Ron quotes it:


is the way out

Harim catanzaro bemyfriend:
Navas lupus adelphi eatathome graftFriction:
Passover robgeider sap campervan

SSince I hhad no moonney,,
and I didnn’t ffeeell liikke scrounging in garbage
I wwiished the sunn
would set sso I could ffalll asleep aand forget
hunger.. And maybe
wheen I woke upp,
I’d be outt of this crazy dream.

Now that I've dug a little further (ah, the doldrums of winter), I've come across an article by Jordan Davis published in the Village Voice way back in August, 2004, that discusses the poetry of spam, and flarf as well. Flarf? Go read the article. Davis discusses it after he cites the procedure K. Silem Mohammad developed for his 2003 collection Deer Head Nation :

You've heard of (and maybe even achieved) Googlewhack, the game where you come up with a two-word Google search query yielding exactly one result. In Deer Head Nation, Mohammad's game is to put together a string of words that will yield socially stupefying results; he succeeds time after time. His secret? Just add "deer head":

if the deer are all armored like that

you may of hit the nail on the head

giant oil companies behind this

Bush scared me, because he always

sniffs at the air like a deer

("Not a War Blog")

The deer heads keep coming, sometimes accompanied by Guns N' Roses T-shirts, always unnerving. As they inventory his trophies, Mohammad's poems recall Allen Ginsberg's noun-and-adjective clusters in "Howl" and "Wichita Vortex Sutra," which, come to think of it, anticipate spam subject lines. Given that the head of the NEA is reputed to be the man behind the legendary Kool-Aid Man campaign, these may turn out to be the poems the age is seeking.

Mohammad hasn't been Googling his poems in a vortex. With Sullivan, Gordon, Drew Gardner, Katie Degentesh, Michael Magee, and others, he's a prominent member of the Flarf collective, an informal e-mail alliance the motto of which might be "Worst thought, best thought." Flarf is defined by Sullivan as "a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying, awfulness. Wrong. Un-P.C. Out of control. 'Not okay.' "

Flarf began in 2000 or 2001 when Sullivan entered a deliberately offensive poem in a scam poetry contest. ("I got fire inside/my "huppa"-chimp(TM)" is, possibly, the only quotable passage.) From id-stoked overhearings more than a little derivative of Bruce Andrews's "I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up" ("If pods could talk—so, how/about a sperm-a-thon?"), the movement made the switch from finding to seeking when Gardner (Sugar Pill) went to Google to see what the deliberately misspelled "Rogain bunny" search would yield. Gardner explains: "If you have a Googled/cut up poem that still has most of its social filters set too high, it may be interesting poetry but it's probably not flarfy."

Magee's small-press magazine Combo broke the flarf story first, in early 2003. A significant finding in that issue, currently required reading for Charles Bernstein's literature students at the University of Pennsylvania, is that Google searches on the phrase "aw yeah" yield more socially acceptable results as the number of w's in "aw" increases.

So ... perhaps our spam Poet is a refugee from the Flarf collective. Or a fugitive. Clearly, futher investigations (and some Googling) are in order.

Developing ...

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Something Quite Different: A Farewell for Robert Creeley

The news of Robert Creeley’s death arrived last March via an email from Michael Rumaker, forwarding the stark note he’d received from his friend Henry Ferrini: “Bob Creeley died this morning in Odessa, Texas with his wife and kids by his side.” Other email confirmed the sad truth. I was stunned; I hadn’t physically seen him for several years, but, notwithstanding his age (he was ((only, I want to say)) 78), by all accounts he had continued to be robust and active, and his last book (for now), If I Were Writing This…, published in 2003, had contained stunning, vital work. I’d kidded him via email on his previous birthday that I didn’t think he’d peaked yet (as though that would have meaning in the sport of language), and I’d looked forward to seeing him this summer, confident that we would continue our intermittent conversation of some thirty years. But then he was gone, brought down in Texas; it’s yet another thing that Texas must answer for. Driven by his puritan’s sense of duty to continue in spite of illness, he had pushed on until his body told him he could not, and stopped.

The plan is the body.
Who can read it.

(from “The Plan Is The Body”, Selected Poems [1976])

Less than a year later, it’s not time yet for me to assess his long career or his work in all its complexity, in all its various detail. It does seem possible, even necessary, though, to sketch some of the directions in his poetry. He was one of a handful of poets who reinvented American poetry at the middle of the last century, so it’s essential, if we want to understand where we are as writers and readers of poetry, to have some sense of what he did. His early poems, with their echoes of troubadour lyric, Elizabethan in their sense of nuance and intellectual grace, were already unique. And then he got really adventurous. He could explore the meaning of a word in various conditions with the best of his peers, and as well as the poets he considered his masters, like Olson and Williams, but he also wrote with heart. Though I can’t find the reference now (perhaps I’ve imagined it, though I’m not yet convinced), I remember his Black Mountain College fellow Ed Dorn writing of Bob’s early work as the “consummate articulation of feeling”. Not feeling in some sentimental sense, some recapitulation of sanctioned expression, but of feeling as felt, as actual, as practiced, with rare honesty. Here’s something I’ve always liked from For Love, published in 1962, his first book to have publication of more than a few hundred copies, though he’d been writing since 1945. It’s called “The Name”, and is addressed to his daughter:

Be natural, wise
as you can be,
my daughter,

Let my name
be in you flesh
I gave you
in the act of

loving your mother,
all your days,
her ways,
the woman in you

brought for
sensuality’s measure,
no other,
there was no thought

of it but such
pleasure all women
must be in her,
as you. But not wiser,

not more of nature
than her hair,
the eyes
she gives you.

There will not be another
woman such as you
are. Remember
your mother,

the way you came,
the days of waiting.
Be natural,
daughter, wise

as you can be,
all my daughters,
be women
for men

when that time comes.
Let the rhetoric
stay with me
your father. Let

me talk about it,
saving you such
vicious self-
exposure, let you

pass it on
in you. I cannot
be more than the man
who watches.

There were grittier poems also, of course, given that the years of For Love’s composition included the end of his first marriage - poems like the trenchant “Ballad of the Despairing Husband”, which readers should forthwith find for themselves, given its length. Here are its opening stanzas:

My wife and I lived all alone
contention was our only bone.
I fought with her, she fought with me,
and things went on right merrily.

But now I live here by myself
with hardly a damn thing on the shelf,
and pass my days with little cheer
since I have parted from my dear.

Oh come home soon, I write to her.
Go fuck yourself, is her answer.
Now what is that for Christian word?
I hope she feeds on dried goose turd.

If you had any immediate experience of the fifties, you know that was wild, far out, and totally rad for the era.

His next book, Words, moved deeper in its exploration of the significance of person, the phenomenology of self, and asked more explicitly what it meant to be an I, a creature of apparently singular identity, as in “The Pattern”:

As soon as
I speak, I
speaks. It

wants to
be free but
impassive lies

in the direction
of its
words. Let

x equal x, x
equals x. I

speak to
hear myself
speak? I

had not thought
that some-
thing had such

undone. It
was an idea
of mine.

With Pieces, published in 1969, he went further than even Williams had to demolish the poem as a received form – or “deconstruct” it, as we might now say. He opened up poetic form, dismantled it, and explored the intersections of poetry with other modes of speech. It’s a sustained meditation on the act of thinking, of acting otherwise, and the mystery of perspective – just for starters! Here are a few of the initial pieces:

No one
there. Everyone

The Family

and mother
and sister
and sister
and sister.

Here we are.
There are five
ways to say this.


If I were you
and you were me
I bet you’d
do it too.

Merce Cunningham came in his choreography to ponder that the stage as defined by traditional proscenium had “front” and “back”, and realized that in fact wherever the dancer moved was the front of his/her stage, the place of his or her act, and so found it necessary to redefine the presentation of dance. In a similar way Creeley set out to build a reality for the poem that recognized as “front” the location of the voice which spoke it, and the locations at their own fronts of other selves and proximate figures otherwise involved.

There are five/ways to say this.

In another piece of these Pieces, one found in “Mazatlan: Sea”, there’s this:

Want to get the sense of “I” into Zukofsky’s “eye” – a locus of experience, not a presumption of expected value.

In a poem of the social world, this concern could manifest as it does in the first sections of “The Friends”:

I want to help you
by understanding what
you want me to
by saying so.
I listen. I had
an ego once upon
a time – I do still,
for you listen to me.

Let’s be very still.
Do you hear? Hear
what, I will say when-
ever you ask me to listen.

While such use of dialogue with ambiguous speakers was adumbrated in several poems - “I Know a Man”, for example – of For Love, Pieces explores the territory more deliberately, with more verve, and goes further.

Also appearing explicitly in Pieces was another concern that Creeley articulated in various ways through his subsequent work: the role of language in creating the world we know. As he notes in “Zero”, the last of a series named “Numbers”;

There is no trick to reality –
a mind
makes it, any

Or the same series, in “Two”:

This point of so-called
consciousness is forever
a word making up
this world of more
or less than it is.

In his readings during the 1990s, Bob often referred to the story told by the English philosopher Bertrand Russell concerning a conversation he, Russell, had had with Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was then attending his seminars and classes. “He thinks nothing empirical is knowable - I asked him to admit that there was not a rhinoceros in the room, but he wouldn't." Russell, so the story goes, then set about searching the room, lifting the skirts of sofas and chairs, in an effort to prove to Wittgenstein that indeed there was no rhinoceros in the room, ignoring entirely the linguistic fact that there was, indeed, a rhinoceros in the room, and he had created it.

Pieces embodied a reconstruction of form and a reconsideration poetic voice that sent tremors through the world of writing that ripple still, that raised questions those of us concerned with how thought works, and how language limns the world, still address. It became evidence in itself of a transformation Bob marks in another of its poems:


The grand time when the word
were fit for human allegation,

and imagination of small, local
containments, and the lids fit.

What was the wind blew through it,
a veritable bonfire like they say –

and did say, in hostile, little voices:
“It’s changed, it’s not the same!”

Not, certainly, that Bob was working alone. Bob always thought of himself, as he often said, as part of a fellowship, a company of persons of like mind. Olson, his mentor, whose work he edited and for whose recognition he was always a determined advocate, had certainly helped clear the conceptual ground and offered a model of practice. Fellow Black Mountain poets Ed Dorn, Denise Levertov, and Robert Duncan, San Francisco’s Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser, and, of course, many of the Beats worked in parallel directions. No one, though, to my eye, got closer to the mind’s bone.

After Pieces

Creeley was always prolific, whatever might be transpiring in his personal life, and wherever life might find him engaged. Over the next three and a half decades he published nine collections of poetry (not counting chapbooks and very small press editions); three additional volumes that collected work between given dates, including the Collected Poems 1945-1975 of 1982; and two Selected Poems, the second of which, published in 1991, contained his own selection of his work. In addition to the poetry, he published a novel, The Island, in 1963, a book of stories, The Gold Diggers, in 1965; these were included in the Collected Prose of 1984, which also included Mable: A Story, A Daybook, and Presences. His essays and critical pieces were first collected in A Quick Graph, published in 1970; the contents of that volume were included, with much other material, in The Collected Essays of 1989. He loved to collaborate with visual artists, and did so frequently, right through the “En Famille”, “Drawn & Quartered” and “Clemente’s Images” poems which appear in If I Were Writing This …. It’s an amazing body of work, however one measures it. The great critic and literary historian Hugh Kenner once noted that Creeley probably had no sense of which of his poems were his “best” works, because he didn’t think in such simple terms of value. He was assuredly right. In the preface to the early collection The Charm, Bob noted, citing Robert Duncan for the observation, that “poetry is not some ultimate preserve for the most rarefied and articulate of human utterances, but has a place for all speech and all occasions thereof. … Selfishly enough, I can often discover myself [in these poems] in ways I can now enjoy having been – no matter they were ‘good’ or ‘bad’.” In a career that spanned sixty years, Creeley certainly produced some poems that were “better” than others, especially if one takes that to mean that some are more immediately useful or accessible than others, or open larger worlds of more apparent significance. But as with the work of any major poet (and it’s clear that Bob was that), even the small, apparently lesser pieces can offer startling insights and bring us into moments of recognition, instances of the jewel mind caught in the net of its own facets, refracted with riveting clarity.

Over time he developed ways to address his persistent concerns that focused less on the formal structure of the poem as extensive activity of mind, and more on the larger issues (as he came to see them) of language and world, and of the experience we have of time, and time’s losses. The poems in If I Were Writing This …, the last book he published during his lifetime, appear to be, well, conventional. They evidence intensity, though, that is anything but ordinary. They distill a lifetime of learning about the task of being human, of being (in) a body that breaks down, as consciousness deepens and goes on. Here’s the first poem in the book:

The Way

Somewhere in all the time that’s passed
was a thing in mind became the evidence,
the pleasure even in fact of being lost
so quickly, simply that what it was could never last.

Only knowing was measure of what one could
make hold together for that moment’s recognition,
or else the world washed over like a flood
of meager useless truths, of hostile incoherence.

Too late to know that knowing was its own reward
and that wisdom had at best a transient credit.
Whatever one did or didn’t do was what one could.
Better at last believe than think to question?

There wasn’t choice if one had seen the light,
not of belief but of that soft, blue-glowing fusion
seemed to appear or disappear with thought,
a minute magnesium flash, a firefly’s illusion.

Best wonder at mind and let that flickering ambience
of wondering be the determining way you follow,
which leads itself from day to day into tomorrow,
finds all it ever finds is there by chance.

It’s aptly named, as Bob’s testament, his summary of his own Tao. I’ve read that poem many times now, and it gets richer and richer. It’s writing that matters, something to take with us down the road. And that’s what counts. The book’s other writing of equally sustained insight and engagement have made it, for me, an essential text.

To the end, Creeley wrote, as he had determined to early on,

The poem supreme, addressed to

emptiness ‑ this is the courage
necessary. This is something
quite different
From “The Dishonest Mailmen”, first published in The Whip, collected in For Love.

There’s not yet much to read about Creeley. There is his own “Autobiography”, included in Tom Clark’s otherwise indispensable Robert Creeley and the Genius of the American Common Place, still in print. There’s also a wonderful portrait of Bob at Black Mountain College, one of the major intersections in his life, in Michael Rumaker’s Black Mountain Days; it also features a richly resonant take on Charles Olson, Bob’s mentor and co-conspirator, and one of Rumaker’s teachers as well. Eckbert Faas’s disappointing Robert Creeley (2001) barely veils its adversarial approach, and covers in real depth only the first phase of Creeley’s career as poet. I suppose all of us who have married and divorced can expect the testimony of our former spouses to be featured in any biographies that it might occur to someone to write, but Ann MacKinnon’s memoir of her marriage to Bob is nearly the only thing included in Faas’ book that’s of substantial value – and it doesn’t reveal Creeley in the way Faas seems to think it does. Oh, well.

So read Bob instead. Most of his work is still in print, and there’s more to come: the University of California Press will issue On Earth: Last Poems and an Essay in April. Later in the year, Bob’s 1982 Collected Poems will be reprinted with a new cover as Volume 1 of the new Collected Poems, and a new Volume 2 will include all the work from 1975-2005.

Goodbye, Bob - and, as you liked to say, Onward!

Update: an earlier article on Creeley, written in 1978, is now posted here. On Earth is now available here, and the second volume of the Collected Poems here.

(An earlier version of this text appeared in last fall’s Asheville Poetry Review. Thanks to Keith Flynn for permission to republish it here. Thanks to Jonathan Williams and the Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center for permission to use Jonathan’s photograph, “Portrait of the Artist as a Spanish Assassin”, taken at Black Mountain College.)

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

More Tangled Hangers

Andy Boyd provided a link to the Zero set at the Black Mountain Music Festival where I first caught Steve Kimock in the comments to my post on Steve Kimock: it's here.

And, he adds it was a "very fine Tangled Hangers indeed..."

Update: I've fixed the link; for some reason, Andy's brought up a "no such show" error for me. If you'd just like to download that "Tangled Hangers" (in the lossless flac format; others are available), the link for it is here.

It seems I wasn't the only one particularly moved by this Zero performance. Sawbuck, in the reviews of the show at, says this:
My first live Zero show ... Steve's tone blew us all away! Tangled hangers was everything we had hoped for. Yes , It's true, Just like the dead it was everything we had heard on tapes (remember those) and more, it was the real deal. Tears rolled down my face.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

Steve Kimock: Life Beyond Zero

As a poet, I know I engage the world through language, much as a sculptor might engage it in terms of mass and form, but I've always had an ear for music. There were no musicians in my family as I was growing up, though my father had been a singer in men's choral groups in his youth, and clearly loved music; he would unwind when he came home from the office by listening to records in the living room, leaning back on the couch, his eyes closed. My sister and I both had our obligatory music lessons (I still have my clarinet stuck away in a closet somewhere), but music didn't stick for me as a way I could articulate my take on the world, my sense of it.

Still, one of the dimensions of poetry is, in fact, its music, the sound of the poem.
Melopoeia, Ezra Pound called it, borrowing from the Greek, "wherein the words are charged, over and above their plain meaning, with some musical property, which directs the bearing or trend of that meaning." Basil Bunting, the great Northumbrian poet who died in 1985, said it this way in a conversation with Jonathan Williams in 1976: "I believe that the fundamental thing in poetry is the sound, so that, whatever the meaning may be, whatever your ultimate intention in that direction might be, if you haven't got the sound right, it isn't a poem. And if you have got it right, it'll get across, even to people who don't understand it." Perhaps it's that dimension of my own approach to the world that's given me an open ear, and a deeper than usual commitment to making music of almost all kinds a real part of my life.

And, then, perhaps it also was the entheogens (more familiar still as “psychedelics”), those sometimes harrowing keys to the doors of perception. Certainly they opened my ears anew in the late sixties and early seventies, and let me hear dimensions of music I'd not appreciated before – the spiritual, sacramental quest that can sometimes happen when musicians are listening deeply to one another, finding a common voyage. I've heard this
it, this groove, in the performance of classical music – a really good string quartet, say, can certainly find it – but have found it more often in musical idioms that are more improvisational, like jazz and, well, "electric music for the mind and body", as Country Joe McDonald used to call it, good old rock-and-roll. When improvisational musicians take their voyage, they take us with them; aware of their roles as navigators, they set out to discover new territory in their playing, and bring themselves and us all somehow back to port, transformed by the adventure.

It was their commitment to such musical discovery that made me a fan of the Grateful Dead in the early 1970s. It's cool these days, of course, to disparage the Dead, their music, and particularly their "scene", and, in truth, as their audience grew from a few thousand to a few million, as guitarist Jerry Garcia fell more and more into the power of his own druggish devils, there were excesses, and there were losses. But whatever might be said about the later history of the band (on a good night, they were, to my ears, still very, very good, right till the end – but there were fewer good nights), the first fifteen years or so of their run produced some amazing shows, concerts after which you knew for a certainty that something indefinable had changed in your understanding of the world, and of yourself as you stood in it – in, perhaps, the very balance of the Cosmos – and it had changed, against all odds, for the better.

When I set out to the Black Mountain Music Festival in the fall of 1997, it'd been over two years since Jerry Garcia had died in his sleep, and I'd become reconciled to the likelihood that his death had meant the end of my experience of music as a soul-making venture. Phish, as good as I could hear they were, didn't have
it for me. The jazz greats who were still living, still doing vital work, didn't come to Appalachia very often, and that's where I lived. I was fifty-two, had been married, was then separated, a father twice over, and had long ago given up tripping at concerts I was able to attend. The festival that fall featured Bruce Hornsby, Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, and I enjoyed their various approaches to music; Bruce, after all, had played keys with the Dead during one of their good late periods. So, as I sat on my tarp on the wet ground beneath the cloudy October sky waiting for the scheduled performance by Rowan and Rice, I was expecting a show I'd enjoy. The intermittent rain had thrown things off schedule at the outdoor stage, though, and finally someone with the festival came on to say that Rowan and Rice would be performing on the stage in the gym instead, and another group, Zero, would be up soon on the outdoor stage. Zero? I'd never heard of them. Hmm. Oh, well. I gathered my backpack and tarp, bade goodbye to the folks in near proximity with whom I'd been passing the time, and proceeded down past the stage toward the gym. As I neared the stage, though, a woman whom I knew from the food co-op, a recently found friend, greeted me. She asked where I was headed, and I explained that I was off to the gym to hear Rowan and Rice, thinking that she'd perhaps missed the announcement. But she hadn't.

"You don't want to do that," she said.

"I don't?"

"No, you really want to stay here. You want to hear Zero." There's was something about the way she said it that led me to put my gear down over by the speaker tower and wait for them to come on. She'd heard them in Colorado, where she'd lived for a decade before coming to Asheville, and thought they were a special band. I knew she was a member of some standing in the great anonymous association of entheogenic voyagers, a true
head, so I decided to see what might happen here as the band set up and plugged in.

And then they started playing. The opening number, an instrumental, positively lifted the top of my skull, and within a minute I was down at the front of the stage dancing, tears flowing down my cheeks. A month or two later I learned that they’d opened with "Tangled Hangers", one of their signature songs, written by their guitarist. That was my introduction to the music of Steve Kimock.

That was Zero's one foray into the southeast, so I never heard them again. I signed up for their listserv, though, and soon was collecting tapes of Zero shows, and dubbing them for others. The band continued to evolve – mostly, it seemed to me, because Kimock was becoming more and more adventurous as a player. By the spring of 1998, he and Bobby Vega, Zero's bass player, had formed a side-project with drummer Alan Hertz and Frank Zappa veteran guitarist Ray White: Kimock Vega Hertz and White, or KVHW. Over the next two years, through the end of 1999, KVHW played more gigs, and Zero played fewer and fewer; by the end of 1999, Zero was effectively history. Unfortunately (or not) so was KVHW. White, who had been somewhat erratic – late for some gigs, absent from others – through the run of the band, didn't show for a scheduled performance, and his band mates decided they'd had enough. After a month off, Kimock was on the road again, once more with Vega, later with Vega and Hertz, but this time the band was unmistakably his; it was the
Steve Kimock Band. And, no matter the changes in personnel along the way, it's been so since. Since that first show on February 11, 2000, at the Wetlands in New York City, the band has played nearly 400 show ( lists 397 as of yesterday, the end of November), including three in Asheville. They'll be back again, at the Grey Eagle, on Thursday, January 19th, 2006, doors at 8:00 PM.

Joining Steve this time will be the extraordinary drummer Rodney Holmes, Steve's principal collaborator since November of 2000; Reed Mathis on bass; and Robert Walter on keyboards. Rodney’s played with a host of other great lights in rock and jazz, including Santana (he played on Santana's huge radio hit "Smooth"), Wayne Shorter, Larry and Julian Coryell, and Joe Zawinul. Mathis also plays with the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey. Robert Walter, of New Orleans, sometimes leads his own bands; the best known is probably Robert Walter’s 20th Congress. I've not seen this lineup, but I've listened closely to several shows (SKB shows taped from the stage are available
at, and audience recordings of many shows are available for free at the amazing Internet Archive ( ), and these guys have a wonderful warmth and play with a freedom of interactive imagination that can only rise from being absolutely dug in to what they’re doing.

What is it about Kimock's work that grabbed my head on that cloudy day eight years ago? He's recognized as a master of tone, and plays extremely clean, richly contoured lines. He’s a master of the lyrical phrase, has a phenomenal sense of time (which he loves to warp in ways large and small), and never seems to lose the structure of his work, no matter how discursive and exploratory the jam. It’s difficult to speak about the emotional content of music – two different listeners hear two different shows, and what either hears may have little to do with what’s on the musician’s mind – but Kimock is Zen-like in his attention to getting himself, his head, out of his way. He’s not standing up there thinking about the next note he’s going to play, he’s not-thinking about it, and playing from somewhere else. Of the uniquely powerful and moving structures of sound he builds, a phrase of an old friend of Steve’s, Doug Greene, now passed on, perhaps said it best: his playing gives you both the wound and the balm, its cure.

In a recent interview with Randy Ray at, when Randy proposed a relationship between Steve’s “method” and Zen, Steve said this about his approach to playing:

There's certainly an attitude of some of that which I try, paradoxically, to keep in mind. How best to explain that? Here's the easy way to look at it - for me, when I think the thing is working, when I think people are actually feeling the music, you know, when you're really getting it for a minute, you're not in any kind of dualistic space. You're not thinking, 'Well, I'm here and my feet hurt' or 'I'm doing this and she's doing that. These people are doing this and I wish I was doing this.' You're not in your mind at all. There's no time in it or this, that, or the other thing - it's just a totality.

Anytime you're thinking [you’re in dualistic space]. Anytime you're thinking at all. [When you’re playing] it is not a mental place - it's an entirely feeling place. It is not a place where your mental activities are keeping events discrete. There's no sense of I'm trying to do this or I'm succeeding at doing this or I'm feeling good about myself because I'm doing this.' That is automatically not where it's at. I take every opportunity to steer myself away from those states of mind, so that when I get to a place where maybe I can play, I'm playing from the same kind of place where somebody who is being receptive to music may also be feeling it too. You know what I mean? Instead of being from some ego point of view or a point of view of trying to accomplish something."

RR: Within your own framework, are you trying to gather musicians that think that way? Musicians that don't get in the way of that open space?

I don't know if it's possible to do that, or if it's entirely necessary. I think it's more important to understand how you feel music as a listener, without trying to engage yourself in it in an intellectual way or trying to define what's happening. I think when you're really enjoying something, you're really enjoying something. If you're feeling it, you're feeling it, so I try to leave it there as much as possible."

If you like jazz-inflected small band improvisation, you might want to check his show out. Who knows, you might find your own head lifted. If the creeks don't rise and the sky don't fall, I'll see you there. Whatever they play, I won't have heard it like that before; listening will be like discovering a new book by a favorite poet.

Note: The quote from Pound is from his “How To Read”, included in the Literary Essays of 1954, and the Bunting quote is from a conversation published in St. Andrew’s Review, Spring-Summer 1977, as “A Conversation With Basil Bunting”. Steve’s full interview is here.

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Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year ...

...if your calendar works that way. It's a beautiful day here in the Smokies, clear, cloudless and warm; the thermometer on the porch says it's seventy, and that feels right. More of this would be just fine.

Ron Silliman has a nice post up on some passings during the last year, and closes it by discussing Robert Creeley, who passed away last March:
I'm going to give the last word here this year to Robert Creeley. He was, to my mind, easily the finest poet of my parents'’ generation & truly the dean of American poets at least from the death of Williams until his own in March. He was also one of the most generous of human beings, and that rarest thing, somebody who wanted truly to learn from younger poets, whether they were my age or just starting out in their early twenties. Bob was active as a poet for over half a century, and that we got to have him, his work, his presence & his example for so very long was a great gift. The following is a text that Creeley wrote for a class given by Larry Fagin in 1987 or '’88 at a junior highschool. Tho he was a guest in the situation, Bob took it upon himself to complete the same assignment given to students:

I know I have been alive for over sixty years.

I know some people love me and some don'’t.

I know I am like all other people because I have the same physical
life - as hens are like hens, dogs like dogs.

I know I don'’t know a lot that other people may well know more
about but I'’ve got to trust them to help me - as I need it, and vice versa.

I know what I am, a human, is more than what I can simply think or feel.

I know I love dogs, water, my family, friends, walking the streets when things feel easy.

I know this is the one life I'’ll get - and it's enough.

Creeley was indeed a remarkable poet, and I'll soon be posting here a piece on his work that I did for the new Asheville Poetry Review.

This issue of the Review is a fine one, and holds within its covers lots of vital new work - and a little vital old work as well. There's Thomas Rain Crowe's last interview with Philip Lamantia, the "shaman of the Surreal", as Crowe says, and then Andre Breton's "Manifesto of Surrealism", which first appeared in 1924. There's also new work by a slew of poets of various persuasions (fifty-seven by a quick count), including Jonathan Greene, Sebastian Matthews, and Joseph Bathanti, just to name a few whose work I've already enjoyed; Greene's memoir of his friendship with Cid Corman, who passed away in 2004, and some poems by Corman himself - who left, by some accounts, 80,000 unpublished poems at his death; and Rob Neufeld's celebration of Jonathan Williams' major selection Jubilant Thicket. Joe Napora also takes a good look at Thomas Crowe's and Nan Watkins' wonderful translation of Yvan and Claire Goll's 10,000 Dawns, a book that richly deserves celebration as well.

Speaking of Thicket, word last month was that it's been a substantial success, and soon heads into a second printing, a real rarity for a book of poems in these times. Congratulations to Jonathan.

You can find the Review at Malaprops, or order it the old way via mail. It's certainly worth tracking down.

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