Showing posts with label George Stanley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George Stanley. Show all posts

Monday, August 18, 2014

Friday, November 04, 2011

Ebbe Borregaard & George Stanley
reading at the Poetry Center
San Francisco State
March 15, 1958

Thursday, October 23, 2008

In his Pulitzer-winning Guns, Germs and Steel, evolutionary biologist Jared Diamond argues persuasively – overwhelmingly – for the role of geography as the single most important aspect of the physical world on this planet, not just for nature, but for human society as well. For example, the domestication of animals is a phenomenon that moves East & West, not North & South. The taming of the horse ensured travel from the westernmost shores of Frances to the eastern shores of China & Russia. Yet the one animal domesticated in South America, the llama, had no such impact on the North American continent – only in the past century has it really been able to be transported beyond the Panama isthmus in any numbers at all. All the hyperbole Charles Olson used to employ about the role of space as a defining condition of life on our continent turns out to be true.¹

Vancouver, by definition, is the Canadian Southwest. Only Vancouver Island, on which sits the capital of British Columbia, Victoria, lies further to the southwest. The whole notion of “southwest” in the United States conveys an ensemble of images & connotations: sun, warmth, the visible presence of Native and foreign cultures along its southern border, the newness of cities. That last one is worth considering. Vancouver turns out to be a newer city than San Diego, Los Angeles, or even Portland or Seattle. Initially scouted out by the ill-fated British explorer George Vancouver & later by the trader Simon Fraser around the turn of the 19th century, Vancouver itself was not settled until the early 1860s after the discovery of gold along the Fraser River brought a raft of disappointed prospectors up from the hills of the Sierra in California. Strictly speaking, Vancouver is newer than all of the towns of Silicon Valley, the technological apotheosis of Pound’s modernist dictum: Make it New.

I mention this because that Vancouver is absent entirely from George Stanley’s long poem Vancouver: A Poem, published earlier this year by New Star Books, which operates jointly out of Vancouver and Point Robert, Washington. Composed over an eight-year period and openly modeled after William Carlos Williams’ Paterson – or perhaps I should say originally modeled Vancouver is only incidentally about the city & far more a phenomenology of age. Everything in Vancouver, starting with the city but more crucially including its author/narrator, is O.L.D. I almost want to get out some ice sculpture lettering a la Ligorano/Reese to make my point.

A decade ago, that conclusion might have struck me as a negative one, as I suspect it will no doubt strike some of the readers here. That I don’t now may be because I’m finally in my sixties, just a couple of years younger than Stanley was when he started this project. There are relatively few major poets who have begun anything approximating long poems after the age of 60, and most of them were Objectivists. One notable non-Objectivist, John Berryman, in his Paris Review interview, speaks movingly of the idea, but then he killed himself at the age of 58. Louis Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers, which is really a poetic series, was written between the ages of 70 & 74. Basil Bunting’s Briggflatts, a “long” poem only insofar as its extraordinary concentration of energy has an impact of a work several times its 20 pages, was written in his 65th year. Charles Reznikoff published the first volume of As Testimony at the age of 69, tho obviously he had been working on it for some time. He was 81 when Holocaust appeared. George Oppen, the youngest of the Objectivists, was 60 when Of Being Numerous appeared. And of course William Carlos Williams, more a mentor to, than a member of, the Objectivists, was 63 when the first volume of Paterson appeared in 1946.

Even more than Marianne Moore, Williams was the great American modernist poet who never left home. Though he wrote important works occasioned by his travels to cities as diverse as Paris & El Paso, Paterson is the record of a man settled in a single town his entire life. Its insistence on place as a counterbalance to Pound’s fantasy of history as the grounds for an epic is one of that poem’s most important literary claims.

Stanley’s relationship to Vancouver, the city, is quite different. A native San Franciscan in the Spicer Circle, he, Robin Blaser & Stan Persky all moved to British Columbia in the years immediately following Spicer’s death. At rather this same time, Stanley also had something of a conversion experience that he relates to meeting the Irish (now Irish-American) poet Jim Liddy, who taught at San Francisco State in 1966 & ’67. Liddy never met Spicer but was overwhelmed by the experience of the poems he was then able to find in print, while at the same time introducing Stanley to the work of his own chief influence, Patrick Kavanagh. As Stanley tells it, the two poets traded Gods. In Stanley’s case, this offered him a new freedom as a poet, much in the way British Columbia offered him a new landscape.

Yet unlike Blaser, say, Stanley didn’t become a Vancouver poet as such, precisely because his work, much of it as an itinerant Poet-in-the-Schools in the northern reaches of the province. One never senses in Stanley’s writing that this was part of a back-to-nature program a la Gary Snyder. My take is that Stanley remained a city poet at a distance, maintaining an ambiguous relationship to Vancouver until he was able to secure a teaching job there at an age when many men retire.

So what we have here is a very different document than we would have had if, say, longtime residents like George Bowering or Gerry Gilbert had penned such a book. It’s not the chronicle of a man who has spent fifty years or more crossing the same bridges daily. At the same time, it is the work of a writer who has had some kind of relation to Vancouver now for over four decades. The ambivalence shows, even to the book’s cover, a photograph of a man (not Stanley) walking along an otherwise deserted street in front of what appears to be an empty industrial shop front, no product visible in the darkened window, graffiti tagging the metal doors. Because of earthquakes, brick hasn’t been used for construction on the west coast since the 1920s² which means that this building was constructed when Vancouver itself could not have been much more than 30 years old.

What we get, often, is a litany of what used to be where: the Caprice Lounge once was the Caprice Theater, Granville Books is gone, “the 900 block where Blaine Culling once planned to open two grand restaurants, one Mexican, one Russian,” and inevitably the names of friends now departed. And that’s just pages 105 & 106. Young as it is, Vancouver can be, if you look at it right, a city of ghosts.

Age is of course relative. You can find artifacts in the Cluny Museum from the settlement that became Paris that are 2,000 years old. Any book of the East Coast of the United States, as both Paterson & the Gloucester of Olson’s Maximus attest, inevitably must address questions of history. Vancouver, in contrast, is an infinitely more personal account even than Paterson. And that’s precisely where its importance lies. As Stanley himself seems to grasp. It’s a question he confronts most directly in a poem within this poem entitled “Phantoms” on the subject, of all things, of masturbation – “Wanking” in Stanley’s vocabulary, deliberately using the Britishism to avoid the associations that other terms carry with them. He quotes a poem on the same subject that Ginsberg wrote at the age of 70, regaling in its memory of all the imagined young men he’d once slept with.

The shame & defiance I feel
are my own, not language’s –
– and to be so dismissive,
nay, intolerant of the phantoms –

helpless (yes!) half-beings
that one must oneself become

a half-being
to touch

This is a book that might have been subtitled Half-being and Nothingness. It stares directly into that abyss, using the city of Vancouver as its lens.

Stanley is not without humor here. Indeed, right after “Phantoms” comes “Seniors” – the title piece of a suite within this poem – that reads

Seniors know everything.
Correction. Each senior knows everything.
The others don’t want to hear about it.

It’s inevitable, what with “modern medicine” & more importantly postmodern longevity, that we are about to see a renaissance of good, even great books on precisely the topic of aging. Hettie Jones’ Doing 70 certainly sounded that alarum a couple of years back. Vancouver: A Poem is a complex meditation & an interesting counterpoint to her work. It expands the grounds of what’s possible here & is one of the most moving books I’ll read all year.


¹ Thus Olson begins Call Me Ishmael, the groundbreaking study of Melville that inaugurates his career,  with

I take SPACE to be the central fact to man born in America, from Folsom Cave to now. I spell it large because it comes large here. Large, and without mercy.

It’s worth noting here that Ishmael is published before Williams begins work on Paterson.

² The mortar between the bricks invariably dries & gets brittle, allowing the bricks to pop out, causing the floors to collapse, pancaking to the ground.

Monday, December 16, 2002

Commenting upon George Stanley’s excerpt from Vancouver in The Poker turned out to bring goodies in time for the holiday season. Kevin Davies sent me a copy of another excerpt from Book One and I was directed to yet another shining example in the new issue of Shampoo  by editor Del Ray Cross. This last piece has two different descriptions of the late Angela Bowering that make me envious of those who knew her, as well as further confirmation of my theory of Vancouver & the poetry of transit. The poem also has  a wonderful dictum that I suspect Stanley would like to believe – write carelessly – tho in fact he is one of the great careful writers of our time. 

All of which made me think of how we begin the longpoem, those of us who do write them, and that one of my New Years Resolutions for 2003 is to read Rachel Blau DuPlessis’ Drafts 1-38, Toll with the kind of long, slow, luxuriating attention that I believe it deserves. So I got a jump on the new year and sat down & read (reread, really) Draft 1: It, first in the large Wesleyan University Press edition, then in the even larger (at least in terms of page size) Temblor 5 where I first encountered this poem back in 1987. Way back when, I don’t think it struck me how one of the keys to Drafts was (or, really, back then, would be) how each section always links to a title, most often (but not always) a single word. “Links to a title” may seem a funny way of phrasing this, yet I sense that these are not titles in the same way that, say, “The Multiversity” is the title for Passages 23 for Robert Duncan or Paradise is the title of one section of my own Alphabet. As I think becomes clear when reads DuPlessis, every word for her is always provisional. The monumental aspect of poetry titles seems something very different – and yet, these aren’t “captions” either, at least not in the way that Benjamin distinguishes between those two categories, one name the work, the other pulling out a highlight or foregrounding some element within. My own sense here at least at this point, is that DuPlessis uses these words & phrases to identify territories in the vicinity of which the poems then work.

In 1987, I knew DuPlessis as one of several poets whom I might characterize as post-Objectivist, a grouping as diverse as John Taggart, Michael Heller & Armand Schwerner. DuPlessis was notable also for being the one woman who seemed actively drawn to this literary tradition. But nothing in her (first?) book Wells (Montemora Supplement, 1980) prepared me for this suddenly expansive use of the page. Perhaps if I had read Gypsy / Moth (Coincidence Press, 1984) more attentively, I would have realized that its title page, assigning the two poems of that volume to a longer project, the “History of Poetry” (and with the word Keats both printed and X’d out right in the center of the page), was in fact announcing DuPlessis’ taking on of something of greater scale, not just in size but also in intellectual ambition.

DuPlessis is more explicit in Tabula Rosa (Potes & Poets, 1987), which includes 17 pieces from the “History of Poetry,” including the two David Sheidlower had published in the earlier book. The section – it forms the first half of the book – has an epigram that is telling: “She cannot forget the history of poetry / because it is not hers.” That was the clearest statement yet of DuPlessis’ own sense of herself as writing as an outsider, a position that will very much inform Drafts. The second half of Tabula Rosa is, in fact, entitled “Drafts,” & reprints the first two from Temblor. But it also contains a serial poem, “Writing,” that, with commentary, runs 30 pages, longer than the two sections of DuPlessis’ new longpoem.

“Writing’s” ultimate relation to Drafts isn’t self-evident – it’s not included here in the Wesleyan edition. Reading it, it feels (very much as the “History of Poets” does for me also) as a necessary step for DuPlessis to clear the ground on which she could begin the true longpoem. Already in “Writing,” DuPlessis is moving away from standard type-driven forms. Handwritten in one section are these sentiments: “wanting to have her book virtually nameless / what is the most transparent name?” Tabula Rosa, in spite of its pun, “Writing” and Drafts all seem possible responses to that question.

Between Tabula Rosa and the Wesleyan edition, DuPlessis will publish three more collections of Drafts:

<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>A volume from Potes & Poets entitled Drafts, containing numbers 3 through 14
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>A large & wonderfully designed Singing Horse Press edition of Draft X: Letters
<![if !supportLists]>§         <![endif]>Another volume from Potes & Poets entitled Drafts 1-XXX, The Fold.
“It” is as contra-auspicious a title one might propose for the opening of a longpoem, which is the point. The poem itself begins with an initial “N.” that is then repeated, followed by two hand drawn Ns, large & asymmetrical, giving the page as much a sketch of a mountaintop (my immediate thought, seeing them, was Wordsworth’s alps – Bunting’s version of same also – although to a later reader the use of the hand here would no doubt call up Bob Grenier’s own “scrawl” texts*), followed by a section divider, which in this piece is a pair of equal signs. Thus signs & sounds are all that we are given in the very first section. There is not even one vowel. & the consonant chosen (no accident here) comes more than halfway through the alphabet itself. There’s no way to make a word out of this, the way one could stretch “m” into “mmmmmm.” The use of the period with each “N” reinforces its “vocal but subverbal” qualities, just as the mountain tops carry us back to a time when language is as much picture as conventional representation of sound.

Think of every longpoem you have ever read – none has an opening passage even remotely like this. No jewels & diamonds, no round of fiddles, no going down to the ships. The closest I can imagine is Duncan’s reference to a cat’s purr, but that is at the start of the second Passages, not the first. So, even if we buy the scrawled Ns as mountain tops, any allusion to The Prelude is at best an echo that tugs ever so faintly in the work.

The second passage is everything the first one is not:

and something spinning in the bushes                               the past

                                    dismembered                                         sweetest

            dizzy chunk of song

Here suddenly we have miracles, memory, history, fragmentation, qualities, the whole idea that song, for example, might be characterized as a “dizzy chunk.” When I get to this moment, I do in fact hear an echo from the start of a longpoem, but on a very different order:
I thought that if I could put it all down, that would be one way. And next the thought came to me that to leave all out would be another, and truer way.

                 clean-washed sea

The flowers were.
John Ashbery’s “The New Spirit,” the start of Three Poems (which I will always read as one), presents a very similar opposed pair – but note that DuPlessis has reversed the order, or at the very least suggested that possibility.

One image or theme that runs through this passage is light: “all the sugar is reconstituted: / sunlight” or “light this / governed being:    it?        that?” This question of embodiment leads to the section’s last stanza, which transforms a Zukofskian moment of closure that is almost stunning in how directly DuPlessis gets to it”
plunges into every object
a word and then some                      chuck and
pwhee wee
have tune’s
There are no half measures in these two passages – DuPlessis takes you right smack into the heart of writing with all of its epistemological & ontological questions in what amounts to a “take no prisoners” directness. The ambition of the moment is both sweeping and breath-taking. We are indeed at the cusp of a great adventure.

* I’m not sure whether any of Grenier’s scrawl works, which I believe existed by the mid 1980s, had appeared anywhere that DuPlessis might have seen them at this point in history. My guess is not.

Thursday, December 12, 2002

Turning to George Stanley’s “Vancouver, Book One” in The Poker this morning, I realize several things:


§         The Poker’s table of contents is alphabetical by first name – good fortune for Chris Stroffolino, not so good for Tom Devaney & it takes me awhile to find the page number again for George.


§         The section published here is not all of Vancouver, Book One, but rather just section 8.


§         The work partakes of not one, but two distinct (though related) genres: the poem as journal & the poem written on transit.


An epic in the form of a journal? It’s an interesting concept, problematic from the outset (which I suspect is deliberate). Kevin Davies – one of the editors of Stanley’s forthcoming selected, A Tall, Serious Girl – recently sent me a note that mutual friend Ben Friedlander had posted to another list on the subject of journals. It read in part:


[Paul] Blackburn is incredible; he and [Joanne] Kyger are to my mind the most underrated poets of their generation. Both of them take the journal as their basic form, and both are geniuses at naturalizing peculiar verbal gestures by fixing them in narrative structures. I suspect that similarity has something to do with the lack of respect they get: the journal form looks dated, I guess, and the naturalizing leads people to take them as simple. Otherwise, they’re very different. Kyger uses the journal as a way of investigating the nature of space and time. Blackburn is a social historian.


This recalled what I’d written about Blackburn’s Journals in the blog: “even a fine poet does not necessarily make for great reading when writing becomes all but dissociated from intention.”


But Blackburn clearly distinguished between journals & poems – you have to go 474 pages into The Collected Poems before you find the first piece identified as a journal entry, dating from 1967, when Blackburn was already 40 and a significant figure in American poetry. Kyger likewise makes the distinction. Many of her poems may seem occasional &, as with Blackburn, they’re often dated, either at the foot of the poem or in its title. But these works are radically different from The Japan and India Journals 1960-1964. In this way, Blackburn & Kyger are both like Larry Eigner or Ted Berrigan, two other great poets who used the form of the occasional poem, literally the poem as the register of an occasion. It’s not, I would argue with Ben, quite the same. The occasional poem – a genre far too neglected critically – utilizes its originating or motivating event as both instigator & determinant of boundary for the poem, but that boundedness, that sense of a defined edge, is precisely what journals lack. Journals have a tendency to be formless in their outer exoskeletal concerns & often proceed merely chronologically. So while I agree with Friedlander’s assessment of Blackburn & especially of Kyger, for my money the most significant woman writing from the late 1950s until the 1970s & always a wonderful poet, I don’t see either as taking “the journal as their basic form.”


So the idea of a longpoem in the mode of a journal – it was Kevin Davies who first used the term “epic” to characterize Vancouver – strikes me as a consciously challenging project. Its secret underbelly, of course, is the reality that every epic is at some level a journal. It is not an accident, I think, that the most studied & revered portion of Pound’s Cantos are The Pisan Cantos, very much Pound’s journal of imprisonment in the cages at Pisa. All the fog & pretense of writing about Van Buren’s administration, for example, is revealed by contrast to have been just that: fog & pretense. Rather, the great epic quest of bringing together these disparate historic particulars simply gave Pound something to write “about” while writing, just as a translation is itself a way for a person to write without having anything of their own to say. In both senses, the process of writing is almost entirely apart from any question of content. We write because we write is the secret motto of every poet. Having “something to say” is nice, but hardly necessary. Are you really interested in the history of a fishing village northeast of Boston? Can anyone tell even remotely what the “subject” of “A” might be? Far from damning, the answers to these questions tell us something very important about poetry, its relation to the self-valuable signifier & the importance of process. Thus I think that the great challenge of any & every longpoem has always been how not to be “just a journal.” Stanley, it would appear, has decided to turn that question on its head & tackle it straight on.


The poem of public transit, as you might imagine, is another genre very close to my heart, having written books both explicitly (BART) and implicitly (Sitting Up, Standing, Taking Steps or, say, What) entirely while riding around on buses & trains. There is even a section of The Alphabet, in Ketjak2: Caravan of Affect, in which I take the process of BART, riding around the entire course of an urban transit system, & apply it to the comparable system in a city that I barely know at all, Atlanta.


For me the great poets of transit have always been Robert Duncan & Phil Whalen & while Whalen’s poetry also edges up against that concept of the journal that Friedlander is trying to get at, Duncan is certainly the furthest poet imaginable from that mode. Yet Duncan once told me that he could not have written “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom” – the very poem that Stanley takes direct aim at in his own early great work “Pompeii” – without having been on the San Francisco Muni & that that poem carried within it the rhythms of Muni’s tracks.*


Stanley himself has used transit in his poems, even if not as a process for the poems, before. In fact, when going through the manuscript for A Tall, Serious Girl, I’d misremembered one of his early San Francisco works, “Flesh Eating Poem,” as being about the N Judah because there is a reference to that streetcar, as well as to the 22 Fillmore line. Since in reality that’s a serious misreading (or rather misremembering, the mind revising as it does, constantly), I was surprised not to find what I recalled as the “N Judah” poem in the manuscript. In fact, “Flesh Eating Poem” – that title gives you just a taste – is included.


Now, in Vancouver, we are very much getting on the bus or off the bus – the SeaBus included – “Writing in the dark – outside the college – in the sodium glare through the bus window.” Perhaps the poem of transit is a genre within a genre here – & I know that I’m more deeply attracted to it as a model for writing than almost anyone I’ve ever met – but it makes me especially pleased, gleeful even, to see it rise up again at the start of a new longpoem.







* Some of my very best discussions with Duncan came on the “F” bus between the original location of Serendipity Books on Shattuck & San Francisco. Duncan went to Serendipity almost every Wednesday afternoon & then would walk over to the Shattuck Co-op to shop for groceries before catching the bus & an attentive person who also lived in the City could sometimes make this same journey – I still think of those trips as my Symposium of the Bus. I rue the day, moving back to the East Bay in 1987, when I realized that politicians had devastated the AC Transit system since I’d headed to San Francisco in 1972 (I’d also lived in SF in 1966-67). It meant that I had no choice at that point but to learn to drive.

            I want to note also that Duncan shopped at the Co-op not because he liked carting groceries 10 miles in his lap & then via the Muni to his home in the Mission, but because the Co-op’s attendant credit union, Twin Pines Federal Savings, had “not blinked an eye” (Duncan’s phrase) at the idea of issuing a mortgage loan to two men in the early & deeply homophobic 1950s. One more vote for a socialist bank.

Monday, November 25, 2002

Sometime in 1967, Jack Gilbert introduced George Stanley to his creative writing class at San Francisco State by calling Stanley, “the finest poet now writing.” That may seem like an incongruous pairing for such an elaborate compliment today, but in the late 1960s in San Francisco, there was something approaching a consensus about Stanley’s talent and promise. Having been raised in San Francisco, where Duncan, Spicer, Rexroth, all the Beats, were transplants in exile from Elsewhere, George Stanley was poetry’s home town favorite. He cut that narrative of the Golden Boy short by moving to British Columbia around 1970, a time when the border was far less permeable (& far more one-directional) in terms of literary influence than it is today. For the past 32 years, he has lived and worked in Western Canada. Once one of the most visible poets working in the New American idiom, he has all but dropped from view in the United States.*


This may be about to change as Qua Books prepares A Tall, Serious Girl: Selected Poems, 1957-2000, co-edited by Kevin Davies and Larry Fagin, for publication. At 228 pages, it’s a sizable volume, although, containing just 63 poems written over 43 years, this is not yet the Collected for which we will hopefully not have to wait too many more decades.


Stanley was the sort of young writer who absorbs and synthesizes his influences almost effortlessly, not unlike Curtis Faville 15 years later. “Pompeii,” literally the second poem in this book, was one of the handful of works by which San Francisco poets gauged themselves in the 1960s. It situates itself almost perfectly halfway between Spicer, Stanley’s early mentor, and Robert Duncan or perhaps I should say, Duncan’s H.D. Here is the opening section:


When I read this poem I think of Pompeii.


When they dug up Pompeii the poems were gone,

flower-like and fragile in the stone,

giving nothing to the stone,

honey alloyed to the stone,

making nothing sweet.


The eyes of the matrons burned on the dark blue walls,

under their eyes in shallow pools,

the bell of a xylophone, silver,

bell of an ambulance,

bell of a burglar alarm,

a trying to watch the slowest of motion,

a grinding explosion,

change everything in the complexity of a second.


When I read this poem I know Pompeii is at hand.


They were unready. It came at the wrong

hour for them, the silver bell.

Some little dignity argued a minute with the enclosing,

and all that was left then was the gesture,

virginity, the little lost dog come home

leaping and leaping caught as in a cartoon.


When I read this poem I know Pompeii is imminent,

I know we are moving easily into frenzy,

I feel like taking off my hat to Pompeii

before running.


It is the Spicerian touches, the ambulance & the burglar alarm, the Buster Keaton-like gesture in that last couplet above, that keep this poem from being what, on another level, it actually is: a shadow of Duncan’s great “This Place Rumord to Have Been Sodom.” Yet as a shadow, it’s a curiously ambitious one. Stanley seems to have set out to deliberately out-Duncan Duncan and to some degree does. It’s a move Rimbaud would have understood.


Like any Spicerian monolog, “Pompeii” invokes a palpable but silenced you as it considers the paralysis of the decadent state – even if it is the state of poetry – moving through two slightly longer sections before arriving at the final two:


There was a time for consolation

in the morning of the state, you and me, Republicans,

read, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

That could console us. But now we cannot

get consolation from Greek maxims

when everybody is licking his lips, expectant.



Bell of a xylophone,

Bell of an ambulance,

Bell of a burglar alarm, silver.

Now time has fallen into our hands

out of all the clocks. You look to me

for consolation, and the hot wind

pours by unconcerned, flushing our steepled faces,

and the thick flow of death winnows down the window like grass.


The “Greek maxims” that are being rejected here can be read I think precisely in terms of Duncan and beyond him the modernist project, of which he represents (at least here) the last moment.


Pompeii” reveals another aspect of Stanley’s art – its penchant for elegy. “Attis,” one of Stanley’s later San Francisco poems, and one that I’ve always read as a kind of deliberate farewell, is as successful an elegy as has been written in the last 50 years:


This is dying, to cut off a part of yourself

and let it grow.


The whole self

crawls at the thought of being mutilated,

even self-mutilated, as occurred to me

when you mentioned you had never looked at

the poem about Attis, and neither had I


nor at where in a poem feeling dries up –

A waterfall-filled Sierra canyon dammed

Hetch Hetchy of our spirit. Attis’s

cock, in some tree, in some jug of wine

or beautiful lips mouthing Who we love



So the fireflies go, with small lunchboxes,

mooning around trees. We cut

our conversation off, too, in sacrifice



brinks, even

our whole environment, out to the farthest star

you can never reach

(because of light’s unchanging speed)

and so your dying can never reach either –



not sinking into the ground, mysteriously,

but in the Roman sewers, forever, our home town.


There is a moment of grief in that last phrase that Spicer could never have managed, and Duncan never imagined.


Because Davies & Fagin generally steered from including work that is still in print, A Serious Girl offers something akin to an entropic reading in Stanley’s career, with eight poems totaling 40 pages representing Stanley’s first four years of writing, then seven poems (but only 16 pages) for two years spent in New York, followed by 13 poems for the final nine years in San Francisco, then just 35 for the final thirty years in British Columbia. But if Stanley emigrated physically from San Francisco, he appears never to have done so as poet. The streets and locales of San Francisco are as constant in the last half of the book as in the first. Indeed, the longest poem of all is entitled “San Francisco’s Gone.”


The elegy index hasn’t dropped much either. Stanley illuminates why in a passage of the relatively recent “At Andy’s,” one of the few pieces actually set in Canada:


Poetry means (a) I’m going to die – & (b) this notebook will be read by someone who will see how lacking I am – unless I destroy it – & I can’t do that – that would be worse than keeping it – that would mean thinking of it.


As this prose passage suggests, Stanley’s style has relaxed some in recent years – even if his obsessions haven’t – not unlike (although generally not as much as) Creeley’s later work. Yet the volume’s most taut – and best – poem is its very last, “Veracruz,” a remarkable gender-bending piece of autoerotic incest fantasy in which Stanley declares his desire to have been “a tall, serious girl.” In this poem, which I’m not going to quote so that you’ll have to go out & buy this book, all the promise of San Francisco’s Golden Boy is fulfilled.





* Even in the late 1970s, George Stanley’s star power in San Francisco was impressive. As I noted in the blog on September 22, when Stanley read with Ted Berrigan at the Grand Piano, each brought half of the overflow crowd.