Sunday, January 9, 2011

2000 - 2010: Answering my own question

A few days ago I cited this bit of prose:
“Duncan never wants us to forget that his brave and unconventional modernism is a product not of London or Paris but of Northern California…”
 —Jed Perl
from his review in The New Republic of Robert Duncan’s The H.D. Book (University of California Press)


I ordered the volume in question and look forward to reading it. In his review, Perl mentions that Duncan's book is also a good portrait of literary San Francisco. I suspect it's kin to Poet, Be Like God, the Jack Spicer biography I read in the spring of 2000 while taking a seminar at UC Davis on the San Francisco Renaissance. From this distance, over ten years later, that seminar arguably remains the experience that most marked my poetic sensibilities me during the period under review (2000 - 2010). It was during that time--and here my memory fails me as far as full context--that I met Kush. 

I met him at a reading, we chatted a bit, and somehow the conversation got to Jack Spicer, who I was reading both extensively and intensively for the paper I was writing in the aforementioned seminar, which was being taught by Gary Snyder. And so Kush invited me to his home in San Francisco to listen to Spicer's voice.

But before I go any further, here's what others have said about Kush:

"Once upon a time, the late Gil Ott shared a tree-house in Bolinas with an anthropologist named Kush. Kush, aka Steven Kushner, would go on to teach at the late lamented New College of California & simultaneously begin videotaping many of the poetry readings he attended around San Francisco. As in thousands of them. Some of these events were also taped by others – most often the Poetry Archive at San Francisco State – & there was something of a rivalry over the quality of the work. How accurate this debate might be is impossible to ascertain from nearly 3,000 miles away since both archives – shockingly, to my mind – remain offline. For all I know, Kush’s archives are sitting in boxes in a garage or attic somewhere, or worse. But even if we presume that the quality borders on the non-existent, the reality persists that for hundreds, maybe thousands, of poetry readings in the Bay Area over the past 40 years, Kush’s archives are the documentation, the only remaining evidence of what happened, what was read & who was there.[...]"

Ron Silliman
June 4, 2010

And this:

" [...] Another local poet who grew up on museums, for him New York City museums, but now sees them as running the gamut between life and death, lost and found, conqueror and conquered is Steven Kushner, better known as Kush. But as a self-styled archivist of Bay Area poetry events for over thirty years, Kush is interested in restoring ‘experience’ to museums by radically rethinking and renewing them. Of all the museum plans discussed, Kush’s are by far the most theoretically revolutionary and, therefore, of most conceptual value to anyone creating museum space. Normally, museums recede from life, from the lived experience they attempt to represent through dust-covered artifacts. But Kush imagines a museum where things come more and more alive. For this reason, Kush walks backward through the sordid history of museums, negating it by describing his ‘museum’ as foremost an Anti-Museum. This name, unfortunately, has led to misunderstandings, so Kush has also described it as an activist museum and a Poetmuseum, since it should be run by and for poets. He actually loves the word “museum” as it contains both muse and use. To reanimate the poetic past and rejuvenate living memory, Kush wants to do more than display objects; he wants to create environments that induce a more total experience and that innovate perception. Kush sees that this can be done technologically by creating environments with the videos and recordings he’s done over the years. Imagine walking into a small dark room where a life-size projection of Ginsberg reads his poetry. It would be like walking into a time machine similar to Blake’s City of Arts and Imagination where Eternity is ever present. This museum could also be described as a Poetry Exploratorium, a very hands-on museum with learning experiences; visitors could step into ‘displays’ and become active participants, perhaps writing their own spontaneous poetry on a scroll in a manual typewriter or adding words or images to a massive collective collage. [...]"

from “Museum / Anti-museum”
by Sharon Coleman
Poetry Flash        
Number 298
Fall 2006


Jack Spicer---his work, his life, his small press publishing with White Rabbit Press, his portrait of my native city---had me in something of a semester-long trance. So the prospect of hearing an audio recording of him reading a poem was, well...I'm not sure what it was, but I've never forgotten it... and the poem I heard Spicer read ended up becoming a kind of touchstone for me. It's an early poem, earlier than the poems collected in Black Sparrow's The Collected Books of Jack Spicer. I believe, when I finally got to see it in print, it was in Donald Allen's Spicer volume One Night Stand and Other Poems.

It's not a a poem by the mature Spicer; it's not one critics and poets would likely classify as one of his best. In fact I'm sure that the mature Spicer would repudiate it. But I loved it and love it still. One reason might be for how explicitly rooted it is in California.

I was going to violate copyright and reproduce it here in full, but thankfully the Poetry Foundation includes it their Spicer selection on their website.


What are you thinking about?

I am thinking of an early summer.
I am thinking of wet hills in the rain
Pouring water. Shedding it
Down empty acres of oak and manzanita
Down to the old green brush tangled in the sun.
Greasewood, sage, and spring mustard.
Or the hot wind coming down from Santa Ana
Driving the hills crazy.
A fast wind with a bit of dust in it
Bruising everything and making the seed sweet.
Or down in the city where the peach trees
Are awkward as young horses,
And there are kites caught on the wires
Up above the street lamps,
And the storm drains are all choked with dead branches.

Read the entire poem here:
Here is a link to a wonderful short piece that describes a reading series Kush used to oversee, and offers a portrait of a slice of literary San Francisco long gone:

The Cloud House
by Richard Hack

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