At Lute & Drum, the cosmophanic internet potentia edited by Ken Taylor and Pete Moore, Nathaniel Tarn reflects on The Sampo, about which he says, among other things, "Basing himself on entry into one of the greatest of all human fables, O’Leary confirms that the North could hold its explosive but purely lyrical epics against anything that the South could produce and with perhaps the greatest and most solemn celebration of chivalry, albeit without ever departing from the commons, kin to the Arthurian legends, the Icelandic sagas, the medieval splendors of Middle High German."
Do you have your Sampo yet?
Elspeth Healy, one of the special collections librarians at the Kenneth Spencer Research Collection in the Kansas University libraries, sent me a note recently to a link a little essay, "Bound for Heaven," by Angus Brown, who was researching Ronald Johnson's papers at the Spencer and was shown one of the two volumes of Johnson's Holograph Books in the collection, which includes the splendid page drawing above made by Robert Duncan.
When I first met Johnson in the summer of 1992, visiting him at his apartment on Elgin Place in San Francisco, he showed me both of these Holograph Books, which he had kept during the years he and Jonathan Williams were together, much of which was spent on the move, whether covering the length of the Appalachian Trail or wandering around England. Wherever they went, Johnson would collect signatures of the poets, artists, and other people they encountered. As I recall, one page contains Ezra Pound's signature; another, a drawing by Franz Kline. When my brother Michael and I visited Johnson in the summer of 1993, he showed us the Holograph Books at my request. Even still, they inform my sense of some of what a life in poetry involves: Meeting and talking to poets in these intersecting circuits wherever you go. The instinct to collect a page from each of them along the way continues to feel inspired.
When Johnson was dying in early 1998, he sold off much of his personal library to cover debts and obligations. This included the Holograph Books, which went to Peter Howard at Serendipity Books (no longer in operation), and then circulated for some years until Kansas and the Spencer acquired them in 2011.
Angus Brown's essay is a sweet reminder of how excellent a thing these Holograph Books are. Within his essay is a link to an enthusiastic treatment of Johnson's ARK, written by Stephen Ross, another Briton who has caught the RJ fever.
A major review of Verge Books by Kylan Rice at West Branch. Rice treats in detail Alicia Cohen's Coherer and Joseph Donahue's Dark Church, along with Verge co-captain John Tipton's translation of Aeschylus's Seven Against Thebes, and my own Phosphorescence of Thought. A feast of a review!
In other Verge news, Tirzah Goldenberg's first book, Aleph, has at last been published. Get yourself a copy!
On January 12, 2017, there's a Grand Cross Full Moon happening, with the Moon and Sun in opposition (and with Pluto very close) and Jupiter and Uranus in opposition. Lux Hominem court astrologer Victoria Martin calls this formation and the days surrounding it "highlights" of 2017. There will be a lot of energy available; what better way to expand its properties than to gaze through the archetypal telescope of a poetry reading?
On January 10, 2017, at 6 p.m., at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, one of the great bastions of Western civilization, I will be reading with Steven Toussaint, a label mate at the Cultural Society, currently of Auckland, New Zealand, but native of Chicago's South Side.
Anticipate mystic mastery of time and space.
On Saturday, February 25, 2017, at the University of Louisville, at "The Louisville Conference," along with Joseph Donahue and Mark Scroggins, I will be presenting a paper on the work of the great Norman Finkelstein. My talk is tentatively called, "Thaumaturgical Energies and Ceremonies of Crisis: Apocalyptic Transmission in Norman Finkelstein's 'From the Files of the Immanent Foundation.'"
Anticipate unreconstructed bad-assery, especially from Donahue and Scroggins. Who Do Not Mess Around.
And on Monday, March 13, 2017 at Xavier University, I will be reading with Brenda Iijima. I don't have any details for this one yet, but they should arrive shortly.
Pleased to report that I have new work in the fourth issue of Reliquiae, the very fine journal edited by Autumn Richardson and Richard Skelton, and published by Corbel Stone Press. My poem, "Thirty-Third Amanita Ode: Parmenides/Clouds," is a meditation on Gerard Manley Hopkins's descriptions of clouds in light of his invented term of uplift, instress. For anyone who might have been keeping track, this poem concludes the series of Amanita odes that comprise Earth Is Best, my manuscript of ethno-mycological effervescence. Scroll down to find my "Mycopoetics," published last year in Hambone.
Also, a review of The Sampo in Publishers Weekly. Nice!
On Thursday, November 10, 2016 the poet Michael O’Brien, born in 1939, died in New York. Michael was a superb poet, a master of what Ronald Johnson called the “Madame Curie” principle of modern poetry, “compression and radiation.” One predominant model of modern poetry is that innovation yields excellence. Such poetry is valued for its inventiveness. Another, less frequently invoked model is that of caretaking, what Basil Bunting indicated as a desire as a poet “to have maintained the art.” Language is always degrading and the poet, in an expressive precision, stays for a time that erosion. It’s a seemingly more modest position for a poet to take, but no less heroic, after all. Language cunningly placed, used to observe the world minutely, magnifies that world in the imagination. O’Brien was one of our great caretakers. Here is “In the Elevator,” from Sills (2000):
creaks like a mast
her leather jacket
as her body stirs
He also had a special sensitivity to the time we spend falling asleep and then waking up. Here are two poems from his superb collection Avenues (2012):
He dreams of a
poem, certain words in
a certain order that,
once spoken, would let
her sleep. He needs to
find it. Needs
to find it.
Sleep? He lay
thoughts for a while.
His crowded thoughts.
life, and he was
breathing for them.
Michael became a friend a decade ago. I met him a few times but mainly we corresponded. His letters were like his poems: shrewd, apostrophaic, honest. I’ll miss them, and him. May he rest in peace.
At Duke University's Special Collections library, I gazed upon a lock of Whitman's beard. Here it is. The text reads:
a piece of Walt Whitman's hair cut off by myself at Camden 20th July 1886 Richard Bucke
I have three readings upcoming in North Carolina.
On Thursday, September 15, 2016, I'll be reading at Saint Andrews University in Laurinsberg, as part of the Black Mountain College Festival, courtesy of the great Whit Griffin. Reading begins at 8 p.m.
Finally, on Sunday, September 25, 2016, at 2 p.m., I will be reading at Woodland Pattern Book Center with my brother Michael, pictured above, and Amy Evans, coming over from the U.K. Reading begins at 2 p.m.
Adamson edited an Australian edition of Poetry, which has rich contents, including an introduction by Devin Johnston. All worth reading.
The Sampo is here. Official launch on April 27, 2016, at Sector 2337, where I will perform parts of the poem accompanied on the harp by Fr. Bob Hutmacher ofm. Come join us as we loosen the hallucinations.
In the meantime, Steven Manuel conducted an interview with me last month about The Sampo:
It's a companion to the interview by Violet Callis that appeared last month in Fnewsmagazine.
I'll be reading in these places in 2016.
May 27, 2016, at the American Literature Association meeting in San Francisco, I will be on a roundtable panel discussing Robert Duncan, with Jeanne Heaving, Brian Teare, Aaron Shurin, Laura Moriarty, and Norma Cole.
September 15, 2016, in North Carolina at St. Andrews University, as part of its semester-long Black Mountain College festival. (Details to come.)
I've got some other potential readings cooking. I'll update this listing as things happen.
Two new essays. The first, from an issue of Post-Medieval. The essay focuses on Dante. It was solicited by Sean Reynolds.
And the Verge Books website is live!
Its companion is another cover version, along with an alternate take, of Baudelaire's "Alchemie de la Doleur," published by Gillian Parrish in her spacecraftprojects.
Among the beauties of Baudelaire: he believed in damnation.