My Meeting

“Why is there evil in the world?” the Zen Master was asked, and answered, “To thicken the plot.”

In Santa Monica I attended a Sunday evening Al Anon meeting.  Al Anon is one of a spectrum of meetings based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and it’s specifically directed to those of us who are involved with either recovering or practicing alcoholics or addicts.  One may be involved by family, marriage, friendship, work or other circumstance, but the involvement is what qualifies each of us for the meeting and brings us to it.  It’s what we talk about, in a variety of ways as great as our numbers.

Read more

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

Irrevocable

During the last years of her life, Diane Arbus visited institutions for the mentally ill to photograph the residents, people often physically as well as mentally disabled. I remember being repelled by these photographs, and gathered that Arbus had by now crossed a line in her own mental state, becoming engulfed by a spiritual/emotional darkness from which she would never recover. She committed suicide by slitting her wrists in 1971 at the age of 48.

I happened to come across a French edition of the photographs while I was reading Diane Arbus: A Chronology 1923-1971 and they didn’t look the same. Arbus writes in A Chronology of the gossamer quality of the light in these images, which were taken mostly outdoors at sunset, and the photographs now seemed suffused with the deepest tenderness. It’s as if Arbus is photographing the soft underside of the human psyche — the pre-rational child that can scarcely navigate. It isn’t a pretty picture except that it looked now like only another natural part of the whole operating system of reality, including the light in which she finds it.

Read more

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

Double Trouble: Dramas of American Communism

News an Oxford don has bought into b.s. about Alger Hiss’s innocence sent your editor back to Aram Saroyan’s play, UNAMERICAN, which is based on the public record of the confrontation between Whittaker Chambers and Hiss. UNAMERICAN is posted below along with the second act of My Confession, Saroyan’s “solo performance play” based on Mary McCarthy’s memoir of her encounters with Stalinists in the 30s  (which she published in Encounter in 1954).

Read more

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

The H.D. Book

The H.D. Book by Robert Duncan. Edited and with an Introduction by Michael Boughn and Victor Coleman. University of California Press. 678 pp. $49.95. January 2011.

Robert Duncan began writing The H.D. Book in 1959 and finished it except for embellishments in 1961; yet only now, half a century later, has it reached book form. A prose masterwork that begins with the story of Duncan’s initiation as a poet, over the course of its 646 pages it morphs into a visionary meditation in which H.D., the American poet born Hilda Doolittle (1886-1961), remains the thematic touchstone. In The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov (2004), Duncan writes to Levertov as he undertakes the book that he needs to guard against letting his distress over dismissive reviews of H.D.’s work by Randall Jarrell and others deflect him from his deeper purpose. Exploring the generative resources and implications of H.D.’s work, he was surely aware too that he was also setting the course and realizing perhaps the fullest expression of his major phase as a poet. The irony is that half a century later one must guard against allowing the analogous treatment of this book to deflect attention from what is here at last.

Read more

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

Bringing It All Back Home

Robert Duncan, one of the key figures of the San Francisco poetry renaissance of the 1950s in which the Beat Generation surfaced, once said that he didn’t believe there was any such thing as a poet. What happened, Duncan said, was that every so often this or that man or woman became, in the process of composing a particular work, the poet. And when the work was done, so was the designation. In other words, the poet was a process one entered, not a title — not a noun but a verb. If one were to give Duncan’s idea historical application, one might say that whoever became the poet might come to stand for the particular time in which the designation fell to him or her. In the case of Allen Ginsberg, for instance, who first read “Howl” at the Gallery Six in San Francisco in the mid-fifties, the period would date from that reading into the early sixties, when he published “Kaddish,” a work of comparable power. Then, according to my personal chronology, a sort of hand-off took place, and the laurel wreath was passed to Bob Dylan, with Ginsberg’s personal blessing.

Read more

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr

Irrevocable

Diane Arbus: A Chronology 1923-1971 by Elizabeth Sussman and Doon Arbus. Aperture, New York, 2011. 185 pps.

During the last years of her life, Diane Arbus visited institutions for the mentally ill to photograph the residents, people often physically as well as mentally disabled. I remember being repelled by these photographs, and gathered that Arbus had by now crossed a line in her own mental state, becoming engulfed by a spiritual/emotional darkness from which she would never recover. She committed suicide by slitting her wrists in 1971 at the age of 48.

Read more

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr