Thursday, February 23, 2006

Further Adventures of Flarf

Ron Silliman has a couple of insightful posts up about flarf and its relation to other types of conceptual poetry; they're here and here. The second particularly offers a good overview of the range of procedural approaches and what (in Ron's eyes) differentiates them. As he says, "warning - generalizations ahead."

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Ken Wainio Leaves the Scene

News came last week that poet Ken Wainio, one of the Baby Beat generation of San Francisco poets, has slipped off the mortal coil, and gone to have a drink with Philip Lamantia, his fellow master of the Surreal. Thomas Rain Crowe, back from France, writes that Ken died on January 26, in the hospital in Redwood Valley, CA. "He had admitted himself to the hospital on the 13th of January ... with acute stomach problems and dizziness. The doctor attributed his cause of death to liver and kidney failure. He was cremated, according to his wishes, after three days (according to Egyptian funerary rites), and his ashes were scattered in the San Francsico Bay."

Lamantia, who was an early advocate for Wainio's work, wrote of his Crossroads of the Other, published in 1994:

The very title Crossroads of the Other suggests that the poet has found the way to mediate composition, to paraphrase Andre Breton, from "communicating vessels" of unconscious sources of inspiration and conscious activity. For Wainio the erotic-marvelous arrives on dove's feet, branded with suffering, clear-obscure, even, yet flashing redolent sparks.

I didn't know Ken, and have come to know a little of his work only in the last few years, but the work I know does indeed spark.

Here's a prose poem from Crossroads, republished late last year in the Baby Beat Generation anthology:

Getting Rid of the Ego

It's like getting married in the rain. A coach will pull up at the edge of the dam when the flood starts and the bride throws her flowers at the drowned. If you don't believe this, go to a monastery for ten years and study the light through a keyhole. Without moving your eye from the door cut out a piece of sky and wait for somebody to come with a key.

The flood is well up by this time. The dead are getting married in rowboats and copulating on pieces of wreckage. If you still don't believe it, take out your keyhole and study the drowned. They are discussing the possibilities of islands and shaping tombstones into anchors. Their children hold their breath underwater and pray to the God of Rain. He is holding himself in a cloud making everybody worship the flood. He is quite fond of suffering and has never understood sociology. But the dead come with their pogo sticks and stare up at the seat of his pants.

If you still don't get this, go sit down in the nearest bar and study the runway of faces. If anyone comes up to you and demands your marriage certificate, take out your keyhole and blast them with a peak of stars. If they arc still sitting there waiting for you to kill your ego, tell them the world is flat and has an edge like the table. Drop something transparent over the side and tell them it was the argument of Columbus on his way to the new world.

That has a real quickness, reinvents its apparent statement phrase by phrase, opening into one new lucidity after another, though at the end it remains somehow integral, a luminous unity.

Ken had been scheduled to go to France with his fellow Baby Beats for the reading series that celebrated the anthology's publication, but was too ill to make the journey. Notwithstanding that, his death came as a surprise; he had a long history of precarious health, and had seemed to have more lives than any known cat.

Ken's friend and editor Thomas Rain Crowe assembled this biographical note:

Ken Wainio (1952 - 2006) was born in Ukiah, California about two hours north of San Francisco in 1952. The Rimbaud of the Baby Beats cadre from the San Francisco 1970s and one of the foremost surrealist poets and writers in the U.S., he began to write at the age of fifteen--having been influenced by the writing of the French poets Lautremont, Rimbaud and Nerval. He moved to San Francisco at the beginning of the 1970s to study at San Francisco State University with the Greek surrealist poet Nanos Valaoritis, and met the American surrealist poets Philip Lamantia and Stephen Schwartz. It was a couple years later, in an informal “poetry class” being conducted in the home of Harold Norse that he met Thomas Crowe, Neeli Cherkovski and Luke Breit, with whom he would later help to resurrect Beatitude magazine; he was co-editor of issue # 26, which appeared in 1977. During the 1970s, his poems were published in most all of the important literary magazines being produced in the Bay Area: the City Lights Review, Beatitude, LoveLights, and Bastard Angel. With Jerry Estrin, he was a founding editor of the pan-surrealist publication Vanishing Cab. After driving a taxicab for the entire decade of the 1980s, and after living for more than twenty-five years in San Francisco, he moved to Glenhaven, California, where he resided until his untimely death on January 26, 2006. His travels have taken him to Greece, Turkey and Egypt, where he has spent considerable time in the past two decades. His poems and fiction continue to be published both here and abroad in such journals as Nexus, Asheville Poetry Review, Litterature en Marche and Greges in Montpellier, France. His books include Crossroads of the Other, which was written during the 1970s, Letters to Al-Kemi (an Egyptian travel memoir), Starfuck (a novel published in 1996) and Automatic Antiquity (poems, published in 2004). Forthcoming books include a book of autobiographical fiction from New Native Press titled Scene of the Crime: Confessions of a Baby Beat and Slab Window, a collection of his most recent poems from Beatitude Press.

Good news there that there's more work to come; he may be gone, but we haven't seen the last of him.

Adios, Ken, and I hope we meet the next time around. For now, let me just offer this, something you surely knew, to see you on the way; it's adapted from the Egyptian Papyrus of Ani:
O you who open a path and open up roads for the perfected souls in the House of Osiris, open up a path for him, open up the roads for the soul of Ken in company with you. May he come in freely, may he go out in peace from the House of Osiris, without being repelled or turned back. May he go in favored, may he come out loved, may he be vindicated, may his commands be done in the House of Osiris, may he go and speak with you, may he be a spirit with you, may no fault be found in him, for the balance is voided of his misdoings.

Notes: The upper photo is a relatively recent shot, though I don't have a date; the lower photo was taken during a trip to Egypt in 1979. Thanks to Thomas Rain Crowe for both.

You can find the "Papyrus of Ani" in The Egyptian Book of the Dead, translated by Raymond Faulkner (San Francisco, 1998).

Here are links to some of Ken's work available on the web:

Four poems from Nantahala Review;

eight poems from Exquisite Corpse;

prose from Oyster Boy Review;

and part of Starfuck, also from Nantahala Review.

Original content © 2006.

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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Crowe Interview with Lamantia Now Online

Thomas Rain Crowe's interview with poet Philip Lamantia, originally published in the Asheville Poetry Review, is now online here, at Lamantia's work, line by line, leaps incredible chasms with angular, incandescent grace. The interview is well worth checking out.

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Thomas Crowe: Baby Beats' "Time To Shine"

When Tuckasegee poet Thomas Rain Crowe left for France on January 14th, he was completing, in a sense, a trip he began many years before, in the nineteen seventies.

Crowe first went to France early in that decade determined to find there his identity as a poet. He planned to live there, in the land of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and become part of the French literary scene, perhaps the next Rimbaud; he left, disappointed and ill (he’d contracted undulant fever while working on a dairy farm) after a year. After he recovered at the home of his parents, who were then living in Pennsylvania, he wandered on to San Francisco, and the rest, as they say, is history: he found there the identity and community he sought, and became a poet who picked up the torch of the great Beat poets, his mentors. He was particularly moved by the work of Gary Snyder, shared his ecological vision, and came to know Snyder personally. Eventually, Snyder urged him to return to his native South, to light the lamp of ecological and bioregional awareness there – that is, here. Crowe made the journey back across the continent, found a cabin in the woods near Saluda, and lived there with rare human company, but daily visits of deer, foxes, raccoons, hawks and the other wild denizens of that specific place. That stay was the genesis of his memoir Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods, published last year by the University of Georgia Press to wide acclaim; it won the Ragan Old North State Award for the best book of nonfiction in the state of North Carolina for 2005. His work as a poet continued, of course, enriched by the contact with the familiar earth of the Appalachians, and he soon founded his own publishing company, New Native Press, to publish his work and that of poets whose work he felt spoke from some of the same recognitions his own did. Each New Native Press book contained, as books usually do, an address for the press, and when one of his titles found its way to the Winding Stairs bookstore in Dublin, Ireland (Crowe had done a reading there while promoting a collection of Celtic poets), the ground for a magical bit of serendipity was prepared.

And so … Crowe was surprised one day in 1999 to receive a letter from one Matias de Breyne, of France, who wanted to translate some of the poems he’d discovered in Crowe’s collection Personified Street and publish them in French literary journals. Where had he come upon Crowe’s book? In one of fate’s curious twists, de Breyne had picked up Crowe’s book at the Winding Stairs, and had been immediately struck by the language and vision of the work. Crowe was delighted, of course, and responded. Over the next few years, with Crowe’s encouragement, de Breyne expanded his project to include other poets who had been active in San Francisco while Crowe was there, and then assembled his work into a bilingual anthology, Baby Beat Generation. Crowe, no longer in search of identity, has now led a group of San Francisco veterans to France, his first visit since his earlier travail, to introduce that book to the French audience. M. de Breyne will accompany Crowe and his Baby Beat comrades on the promotional tour, and will act as both translator and reader of the French versions of the poems. “Mathias de Breyne has done an amazing job with this book,” Crowe said as he prepared for his trip. “It took him almost three years to translate all the material that appears in this large volume, and he has done so with remarkable accuracy and poetic skill. This was not an easy job, as the styles and voices of the poets who appear in the pages of this book are very diverse, if not complex. If there is a French prize for translation, Mathias de Breyne should win it, hands down, in 2005 for his work with this book.”

In his Preface to the anthology, Crowe describes San Francisco during the 1970s and the flurry of literary and artistic activity that followed the famed 1960s Hippie scene, and draws analogies between it and the Paris of an earlier era. “From the early 1970s through the early 1980s, San Francisco was often compared to Paris at the turn of the century. Young poets, artists and musicians were arriving, almost daily, from all over the country, and in fact the world, to add their voices to the chorus of a growing international community of bohemian brethren. It was an exciting time, and we were literally living, eating, and sleeping poetry and the arts. A group of us had resurrected the old Beat literary magazine Beatitude, and you could find us in the bars down on Columbus Street and Broadway at night and in the cafes up on Grant Avenue during the day. A lifestyle that we often referred to as ‘the university of the streets’.”

“It’s been twenty-five years since all this occurred,” said Crowe from his home in Tuckasegee. “Much of the work of those who were on the front lines of the 70s scene has gone unnoticed for a quarter century. That is, until now. It’s taken the French to recognize the impact and the importance of this scene, and what we accomplished. This has often been the case in terms of progressive and alternative arts and counter-cultural activity in this country – that it has been embraced first and foremost by countries in Europe and abroad. My cohorts from those years in San Francisco had all but given up hope for any kind of recognition, thinking that they and their work had fallen between the cracks during the dominance of the academic scene here in the U.S. for the past three decades. We owe a huge debt of gratitude – to the French poet Mathias de Breyne and to Pierre Courtaud at La Main Courante, the book’s publisher, and to the French bookstores and venues who are part of this 'Tour de France', as we are calling it – for this second chance.”

Readings for the tour were scheduled in such well-known venues as the historic Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore in Paris, the American Library in Paris, the Modern Art Museum, the famed Café de la Mairie, L’Alimentation, one of Paris’s hottest nightclubs, and several other venues between Paris and Lyon. An email from Paris reveals Crowe’s excitement as the tour gets underway: “The anthology is in the front windows of the bookstores, including Shakespeare & Co! First event/reading of the tour, tonight. Have been meeting with other French poets, painters, musicians, who will join us for many of the readings. A general buzz about town regarding our being here and the tour, etc. Posters all over the place.... Seems that this is, indeed, our time to shine.”

The Baby Beat Generation was released in France in late November, and is now available in the U.S.; Malaprops in downtown Asheville, in fact, has it in stock. The American launch for the book was held at the Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center in downtown Asheville this past December as part of the celebration of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Other events celebrating the book’s publication and commemorating the 1970s San Francisco Renaissance are being planned for New York and San Francisco later in the winter and the spring of 2006.

Crowe definitely plans to be on hand for those celebrations. He’s especially looking forward to the trip to San Francisco. Just as he hadn’t returned to France since his disappointed departure many years ago, he’s hasn’t been back to that city, so crucial to his coming to his work as poet, since his pilgrimage east, the trip that led him to the solitude of that cabin at Zoro’s field.

If the current trip is any measure, much has changed since then. As the country sage Zoro Guice, for whom that field was named, told Crowe many years before, “All you need is a little patience.”

(Note: The photo of Crowe was taken by Mark Olencki.)

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