Laurie Duggan 5
America, September-December 1987
Notes from a Journal
[Editorial note: To avoid ambiguity, dates are given in the ISO 8601 date format: year, month, day. For example, the fourth of March, 1968, is given as 1968-Mar-04.]
Paragraph 1 follows:
In late 1987, I took part in an Australia Council and Department of Foreign Affairs sponsored reading tour of the US and Canada together with Helen Garner and Michael Heyward. The tour was organised by Lyn Tranter. We read at some fifteen institutions and venues. A few names, places and details in this part of the journal have been fictionalized for the usual reasons.
1987-Sep-29: Arr. in LA just after 4 p.m. & catch cab to the Ambassador Hotel. This place is about 1920s vintage & unchanged — palatial & decaying. It has a swimming pool, endless gardens, an enormous entrance hall, five ballrooms, an oval suite, a press room, & the Coconut Grove concert room among other things. The corridors are lined with shops filed with objects which could have been there since the 1950s & shopkeepers who could have been there since the place was built. The rooms are huge: M & I have one with 2 king-size beds & 2 toilets. We clean up after a couple of Buds at the bar & drink a bit of the Glenfiddich which Lyn bought for August [Kleinzahler]. Helen arrives & goes to sleep while we eat burgers across the road at Jack-in-the-Box.
[The Ambassador opened in 1921. It hosted among other things major film awards, Bing Crosby, and the assassination of Robert Kennedy. The building has since been demolished.]
1987-Sep-30: We’re picked up by a guy from Cal Arts & driven out a considerable distance along the freeways to Valencia. It’s around 90º today (same as yesterday). Cal Arts has only about 800 students who pay $17,000 p.a. for their courses. There is more equipment & workspace than I’ve ever seen anywhere — though as Michael remarks, the artwork doesn’t seem any better than what you’d get at the average Australian TAFE.
We do our first reading. The audience (abt. 50-60) are enthusiastic & it goes down well. I do the ‘Modernism’ (if I’d known about it I could have been backed on bass by Charlie Haden). After, there’s a reception. Michael & I are approached by a seemingly young new-wavish woman called Pamala Karol (a.k.a. La Loca) who hands us parcels with tapes & samples of her work & proceeds to spiel speedily with a valley-girl accent. She talks to Michael first & immediately tells him she has only been writing 2 years, since her operation for ovarian cancer. It turns out she is ‘37½’. Meanwhile I talk to a guy from Omaha, Nebraska who is a composer. He went to Cal Arts thinking of writing commercial jingles & ended up involved in experimental music — sampling words &c. Then I get cornered by La Loca who delivers me a spiel about her coming debut at the Winter Poetry Olympics in Calgary (where it seems Australia’s entry is Blanche D’Alpuget). She is finally taken aside by a guy in a black T-shirt who enters the room from nowhere, after making me promise I’ll see her perform in San Francisco next week (after I read the material later I’m not enthusiastic). Then I talk to a woman who is an artist & comes from Memphis. She says she’s often treated as a hick — like someone whose grandparents were photographed by Dorothea Lange — whereas her family are actually upper-class southerners — it’s just that the east & west coast sophisticates can’t tell the difference.
1987-Oct-01: After a bad sleep, Michael & I are woken by the shaking of an earthquake. We assume it is a regular phenomenon and don’t take much notice. But it turns out it’s 6.1 Richter and has L.A. a bit scared. People are outside their residences; the eatery where we go for breakfast has lost most of its staff and hot food is off. We walk around a couple of blocks & see office workers outside their buildings, a car accident, people outside apartments in a Chinese/ Japanese/ Mexican area. Then go to the Drugstore — closed earlier while the staff replaced items on the shelves — & buy papers, hair conditioner & shampoo (there’s Australian ‘Hair Salad’ on sale & a whole row of aspirins & sedatives). On the store radio: ‘I felt the earth move under my feet’.
Back at the hotel, there are still faint after-tremors as we watch T.V. and Kent Shocknek and the crew of Channel 4 fill everybody in with the details. There are 3 deaths, 31 heart attacks, 22 reports of people stuck in elevators, & it’s the biggest quake since 1971 (that, the biggest since 1933). There’s a 1 in 20 chance of it recurring in the next five days. And it’s apparent everyone around here is waiting for the big one. The interstate & international telephones are jammed.
We taxi around midday to Hollywood Boulevard & Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. Eat Lebanese food & then debate whether or not to take a Hollywood tour. We do, it’s $19.00 & it’s dreadful. Almost as soon as the four of us are in the minibus — with a couple from Toronto, an old couple from St Andrews, Scotland, and a guy from Vermont who looks like Gilligan from Gilligan’s Island — I feel like I want out. The driver is a young jerk who spouts jokes and asks questions as we steer up in the heat along Sunset Boulevard. The windows of the minibus are impossible to see out of & the houses of the rich and famous are impossible to see into, surrounded as they are by electrified fences, hedges &c. The hysterical babble of the driver makes you realise he’s just a poor shmuck stuck in this dismal job. It also seems like most of the places belong to people who acted in sitcoms 10-20 years ago — there are hardly any real actors left here — or else these palaces are owned by Japanese or Saudi companies.
In the 101º heat the van breaks down just opposite the Beverley Hillbillies mansion. And the driver turns human & shuts up a little. We sit by the roadside in the cool breeze and wait for another van to be sent. Zha Zha Gabor drives past in a white Rolls-Royce, smiling & waving. It turns out the tour company is run by an Iranian and the drivers have to invent the tours themselves — & find out all the details about the ‘stars’ &c. After about 40 mins. we’re picked up by another minibus & driven back to the Starline depot where the manager — under pressure — offers a free bus ride back to our hotels & $10 refunds. Buy Bud at the drugstore and bizarre newspapers like the National Enquirer. Swim in the hotel pool & return to watch the T.V. news — flashbacks of Kent Shocknek graciously descending under the news desk with the impeccable line ‘Forgive the theatrics but I’m going under’.
1987-Oct-02: From the air I can see the island of Santa Cruz, coastal settlements & dry inland hills, then Big Sur — the viaduct on the coast. In on the freeway through Japantown to Pacific Heights & the El Drisco Hotel, its beautiful wooden staircases & old furniture.
At August Kleinzahler’s place on Frederick St. Drink a good bitter ale & talk, mostly of poets. We will meet some of them on Sunday. The mantel of August’s living room is covered with copies of Scripsi & Australian books. We go down to the Zam Zam, a bar in Haight St. which has been run by the same guy, Bruno, since the 1930s, & have martinis. Bruno mixes a pretty good drink. He’s been here through the hippies & all other phases of the Haight’s existence — used to tell young women looking for men that the Zam Zam wasn’t that kind of place — ‘we just drink in here’. Served in WW2 with his idol, Joe McCarthy.
1987-Oct-03: Wake up to the sound of ships’ foghorns around 8 a.m. We go down to Fillmore & find a breakfast place. Then to the local bookstore where I buy Kenneth Koch, Denise Levertov & a new Tom Clark book. At George [Evans] & Lissa’s we sit in the shade in the back yard & drink Mexican beer. George has a copy of the collected Blackburn, he says the new collected Olson is due out any day & it turns out he himself is editing a two volume collection of the Olson-Corman correspondence.
1987-Oct-04: Party at August’s. It’s a hot day — S.F.’s hottest of the year — around 99º or so. There’s a wonderful ham cooked in honey, cheese, savouries &c and a floating population of guests. Talk a bit to Jim Powell (a serious young Latinist), and Jack Marshall. Later Michael McClure turns up & Carl & Leah Rakosi. Note: Robert Duncan v. ill — in wheelchair on dialysis. Though he gave a speech at the service for Ruth DeWitt, founder of the Poetry Center. Thom Gunn didn’t make it — got a bit drunk at the Castro St. festival.
1987-Oct-05: Up Columbus to City Lights Books where we meet August & I buy and have shipped back several poetry books (more Koch, Jack Marshall, Mary Barnard’s Sappho, Clark/ Berrigan letters, Alfred Corn (whom A. dislikes — ‘a fraud’). August & Michael go off to look over manuscripts and Helen & I eat down the road at a great (and cheap) Thai restaurant. We circle the area — Broadway is mostly sleaze & entertainment (‘have a conversation with a live nude girl’ &c). There’s a place where John Cipollina (ex Quicksilver Messenger Service) is playing. Today, we find, is S.F.’s hottest ever recorded — 100º. Back at the El Drisco George Evans rings back with congratulations on The Ash Range. Query: Are the Chinese street signs phonetic or ideogrammatic (& if they are what would they become: Washington = father-of-country street &c).
1987-Oct-06: Lyn picks us up around 2.30 & we head down to Stanford. It’s impossibly hot again when we get there & find our way to the quad. Smell of gum trees in the parks. Stanford was built by a robber baron (railroading) & owns the neighbourhood shopping center. The place is fearfully rich, & looks like baroque & Spanish mission fought it out over the U of Qld. Locate Dale Evans’ office — noting on the way that the staff of the Eng. Dept. include Gilbert Sorrentino, Adrienne Rich & Marjorie Perloff. We relocate to the air-conditioned room in which we’re to read. But it becomes apparent that we’re not going to get much of an audience. There’s a faculty meeting on — so nobody from the department can come (except Dale and Roy Evans who aren’t exactly faculty members). And, it turns out, the main creative writing class is on simultaneously with our reading — and nobody had checked. An old lady in pink appears, then Maria Koundoura (whom it’s a pleasure to see) and about three other people.
We read to this audience.
After the reading, Dale and Roy feel so guilty they buy about 15 Scripsis from Michael. A blonde woman says she bought The Ash Range. Intrigued, I ask where & when. In Australia in August she says — she’s from Lilydale. The old lady in pink asks me for a copy of my magazine (this after hearing Michael speak about editing Scripsi). I say Michael is the editor. ‘Martin?’ she says. ‘Michael’, I correct, & point her in the right direction. She then goes over and asks Michael who he is.
We are taken over to the faculty club where the liquor is free (something has to be in what is about the U.S.’s most expensive educational establishment). We sit around a wooden table below a series of photographic portraits of the Principals of the University. One, from the 1940s, rides a horse & looks like a B-western actor (his successor plays the piano). Allan Gilroy joins us fresh from faculty in short-sleeved shirt & bow tie. He looks a bit like Dick Van Dyke or some sitcom host. After a couple more drinks, the Evanses look a little shaky & head for home. Maria makes her apologies. I feel a bit tired but acquiesce in heading off for dinner with Gillroy to a Mexican restaurant in the neighbourhood shopping centre. We eat a meal which is high on quantity if not quality, drink Margheritas, & ask Gillroy questions. He asks us none.
Then Gillroy drives us to the station in search of a cab. He peers through the windscreen like Mr Magoo, looses his way and takes us around part of Palo Alto (big stick) which looks like a yuppie version of Springvale. We sit outside a restaurant opposite the station while Lyn orders a cab. One arrives shortly with a gruff driver who has just dropped into the depot for his pay cheque & been asked to take a fare. He hasn’t got a map of SF so looks at mine before driving onto the freeway. The cab is rattling itself slowly to death and its engine is misfiring. Somewhere near the airport the oil light comes on and as the cab driver eases us off the freeway in search of a gas station the vehicle slowly dies in the bum. Fog is rolling in over the Bay, and in the cool we push the cab a couple of blocks & walk to the gas station to call another. In the phone booth the driver reports back to base about his ‘heap of shit’.
1987-Oct-07: [At Carl and Leah Rakosi’s:] The Rakosis lived for a long while in Minneapolis where during the 50s Allen Ginsberg and Robert Bly visited with a sullen & silent guy called Garrison Keillor operating A.G.’s tapes. The ‘objectivist’ moniker doesn’t seem to disturb Carl. He gave Michael a short autobiographical article which Scripsi can reprint part of — & it has wonderful photographs including one of Robert Duncan spieling to Reznikoff, Oppen & himself. Talk about R’s period as a social worker & as a psychotherapist. He feels the need for analysts is a malaise — particularly in California. Spoke about the work of Erikson & the need to risk being unorthodox. E. was treating a woman who was manic-depressive & in her manic phase she would break windows, furniture, anything. He had two attendants go to her room when she was in a stable phase and proceed to smash everything in it. After this she never did it again. A similar practice was used on two brothers who used to wet their beds. They were asked in the daytime to don pyjamas, get into bed, and piss — and were thereby cured. Talk of [Charles] Reznikoff — he couldn’t have been a practising lawyer — the other lawyers would have had him for dinner. Rakosi suspicious of ‘American optimism’ in writing (he feels Paul Metcalf is like this). During the conversation we also spoke about Pound — his incarceration, release and subsequent silence. R. very even minded on Pound & his anti-Semitism, though he feels P. ought to have been convicted for treason (R. sure he would have received only a jail sentence). Carl drives us back to the El Drisco. Up behind a bus whose sign reads ‘We don’t know you but we love you’, Carl says it’s so American — love everybody but nobody in particular.
An hour later we get a cab to August’s. Then up the street to catch a shuttle. Meet Thom Gunn on the way — who’s bigger than I’d imagined. Then the shuttle to Berkeley. The campus seems a lot more relaxed than Stanford & a lot less geographically artificial. We head to the campus gallery within 10 minutes of closing time & get a whirlwind view of a Robert Frank retrospective. The reading is in a largish room in the English dept. building and there’s an audience of around 50. But I don’t feel it goes very well. Michael reads a 50/ 50 paper on Ern Malley & the magazine. I read nervously & don’t really feel I’ve made the connection (leave out the ‘Modernism’). Helen reads ‘Civilization & its Discontents’ again. Then we have a reception. Only one person — a guy who later cleans up — speaks to me at any length. But it’s a relief to have a couple of glasses of cheap white wine and be over reading. Back at the El Drisco — talk to Michael about the very apparent difficulties of communication. The Americans (except the older, more cosmopolitan ones like Rakosi) are a very incurious people. We have constantly to ask them questions and never seem to get asked anything at all.
1987-Oct-08: San Francisco State appears a good deal less opulent than our previous venues — decidedly red brick. Meet Frances Phillips the organizer who is friendly (and asks us questions). Over to the faculty club for lunch. State, she explains en route, was, with Columbia & Kent State, one of the main centers of student radicalism in the late 60s. So they knocked down the old student union & put up one which was un-occupiable. We’re the special guests of her writing class & the students ask us all sorts of questions about everything from Aborigines to feminism. Then we progress to the theatre in which we’re to read (set up with video & audio equipment). I read a different bunch of poems and conclude with the ‘Modernism’. Helen reads two stories from Surfers. The audience are good — very receptive — and I feel much better.
1987-Oct-09: Catch the light rail in to near the Embarcadero on Market. A guy on the rail is reading Poetry Flash — the page with my poem on it. August says to him ‘this is the guy that wrote that poem’. The Hyatt has a monumentally vulgar interior with glass lifts covered with lightbulbs shooting up and down like spermatozoa. The bar up top is a revolving one, which I don’t realize until I sit down & notice the window frames moving. We have a drink and complete a circuit, then walk down across Mission to a Tex-Mex restaurant in a laneway, called the Cadillac Bar. Enter to a roar of noises: the place is like a madhouse with a pile of drinkers at the bar, the TV showing a ball game, waiters in white wandering around the tables and banging glasses down with napkins over them — making a noise like the detonation of a small land mine. These glasses contain a mixture of Tequila, (?), & ginger ale. At the same time another waiter, joined occasionally by the others, cruises around the tables with a guitar, singing ‘La Bamba’ & various other such standards. The food is great and the beans are hot. From here we walk back up to and along Market, thick with seedy & beat characters, edging the Tenderloin. Each small park has its dazed habitués. A drugged out woman seems to talk to the trees. Then suddenly we are out of this underworld and mixing with the music lovers near the capitol building. Helen joins the waiting crowd, Lyn & August head south for a station on Market, and I head north up Van Ness, pausing in A Clean Well-Lighted Place For Books to pick up a Robert Frank monograph & a couple of further items. Cut down California to Fillmore then I’m home. Harp music floats up from the hotel lobby.
1987-Oct-10: Around 11.30 we taxi over to the Rakosis. Lyn & August arrive shortly after. Carl makes us all bloody marys & Leah presents a dip. When we shift over to the lunch table there’s a huge Archimboldo-like plate of fruit & big serves of omelette & muffins. After lunch August drives us in Carl’s car over to Berkeley to look at the Robert Frank show. Frank somehow manages to do what photography is ideally suited to doing — to make the casual & the permanent indistinguishable. These images from the fifties have a frightening authority about them; something at play has been frozen; something inert has come alive. The later work — photographs scratched or painted on & blown-up proof strips, carry an immense weight — the images for his daughter’s death for instance. The work with the Stones, seems almost archaeological (especially since Their Satanic Majesties wanted to destroy the prints of ‘Cocksucker Blues’ because they came across as total assholes).
The streets of Berkeley are crowded with people for whom the calendars seem to have stopped in 1967.
1987-Oct-11: Landing in Moloch is like landing in Albury. We step down from the plane & walk across the tarmac to the terminal. Peter Bourne meets us. We drive into town past timber houses & barns & Helen nudges me at these — they’re so much an image of smalltown America. Moloch, with a population of abt. 100,000 has a student population of 18,000 — so more than 1 in 5 of the population are connected with the University. We pass a funeral parlour that has been turned into a picture theatre: people don’t die in Moloch, they just go to the movies. The place seems pleasant. It is very early in the fall & trees are just beginning to turn. We arrive at Peter Bourne’s place where Michael & I are to be billeted (Helen is to move on to a guy called Wayne’s place later in the evening). It’s an attractive narrow wooden house. I have Peter’s older daughter’s room upstairs (she is staying with the neighbours). Then I discover that I’m to be interviewed on Moloch TV tomorrow.
Helen had wanted a bit of a break before the evening’s activities but we are plunged into the social life of Moloch. We drink beer on the back porch waiting for the potlach to begin. The guests start to arrive. They are a formidably boring bunch. There is an Australian (business/ physics?) student with a Ken Done ‘G’day’ windcheater. He talks to me at one point & I stay clear of him for the rest of the evening. Peter’s younger daughter is about the most interesting person and I play a game with her where you fire a small ball in the air and catch it in a shuttlecock-like device. I escape the party briefly and walk along the back lane one way, then the other, to a sign reading DEAD END. Later we all sit inside & a guy called Lee plays guitar & sings folk songs — starting with ‘The Pub With No Beer’ but progressing through some interesting American material. He & an older woman with a good voice do ‘Rock Salt & Nails’. Wayne & Jane take Helen off to their place (Wayne is a morose, stumpy, bald man in jeans who calls himself ‘housewife’. Jane is a boorish ‘intellectual’. She is a fearfully rich Sandanista supporter — but he is Elmer Fudd). We clean up and slink off to bed. I’m thinking what the hell am I supposed to do on TV tomorrow.
Note 1: Our reading clashes with a lecture by Terry Eagleton. This is shaping up to be another Stanford. Maybe we’ll clash with the arrival of Jesus in N.Y.
Note 2: There’s a cutting from the local newspaper, taped to the refrigerator door, which refers to me as a woman. This isn’t the first time my name causes problems in this country. But I’m comforted to learn that Les Murray’s monicker causes problems too: ‘Who is this Less Murray?’ I’m often asked.
1987-Oct-12: The cat stalks the bedroom; leaves & branches through an open shutter. Fall is becoming more apparent. Peter leaves early. Michael & I eat breakfast with Martha Bourne — ham pieces & pancakes with syrup & cups of coffee. She drives us to the television studio and we’re taken in to the newsroom. There are three sets — a box with MOLOCH in green letters over a State map, a news desk, & a fake living room with real books (encyclopaedias from 1966 — junk sale stuff). The newsreader, Carol Smart, comes on & they proceed to do the midday news: tropical storms in the Gulf, a big gay march in Washington D.C., forest fires in the N.W., a society called H.A.R.E. (for the prevention of cruelty to rabbits) protests against bunnyburgers. Then I’m interviewed for 4 minutes 30 seconds in the fake living room. When Ms Smart asks me how we’ve found the U.S. I answer, ‘well, we had an earthquake in L.A. and a heatwave in San Francisco, so I’m starting to worry a bit about what will happen in New York.’ As I say this I begin to feel that Australian humour might not be going down too well in Moloch (my compatriots tell me afterwards that the most amusing thing of all was seeing my talking head on the screen with the running caption underneath: LAURIE DUGGAN — AUSTRALIAN POET).
Afterwards Martha drives us out of town, through places like Hattie, Pish, Homer City. We visit a country cemetery & a vegetable market where there are several varieties of pumpkin I’ve never seen before. As we drive back to Moloch I nod off in the back seat. Martha is friendly & o.k. but kind of slow. I’m not sure whether this is duty or enjoyment for her. She is, Helen says, like a woman who has been broken at some stage in the past.
Around six we go to a restaurant and are joined by Helen & Jane — who, we are intimated, is a monster. I can’t wait to get on the plane & hear the details (it turns out that, among other things, she ate breakfast in front of Helen without offering anything). The meal is passable, though Jane makes some comment about Peter & Martha’s antique bed — the cause of Peter’s separation from his first wife — which seems monumentally invasive & distasteful. It turns out that Jane owns the restaurant and half the buildings in the street.
We walk from here to Shelby Hall where the reading is to take place. The audience is largish (despite Mr Eagleton) & the reading goes well enough. We answer questions afterwards & then everyone mingles. I manage to avoid the boring Australian (this time he has a jacket with a Fosters can on the back) but still have to navigate carefully. A woman in her late 40s – early 50s asks for a copy of the Great Divide & says my poetry is the best she’s heard for 20 years. Says she generally doesn’t like modern poetry but mine works for her. Another younger woman also wants a copy of my book (both particularly liked the ‘Pastoral Poems’). A Sri Lankan stringer for The Australian approaches us for interviews — but seems to be telling us more about himself than listening. An undoubtedly gay Australian from Derby in Queensland gives me a crushing handshake & talks about the museums in the east. We are supposed to attend a party afterwards at Guy Lombardo’s, but I draw the line, plead tiredness & get a lift back to Peter & Martha’s place with the Sri Lankan interviewer who conducts my part of the interview (which I’m sure will never appear anywhere) and seems as though he will never finish.
1987-Oct-13: Martha gets us scrambled eggs, tea & coffee. In the paper a crocodile bites off a postman’s leg in Zambesi. Elmer Fudd arrives with Helen (& seems altogether a nicer guy — but who wouldn’t be morose living with a harridan like Jane). We are transferred to Guy Lombardo’s minibus & taken to the airport. It’s a real relief to be heading out of Moloch for New York and anonymity.
On the plane Lyn & Michael sit next to a guy in a cowboy hat who turns out to be the real thing (and a cowboy poet too). At Denver he ambles bow-leggedly off up the chute. We deplane & replane & are scattered all around the cabin. The woman next to me reads a book entitled Excellence in Manufacturing by a Dr. Goldratt.
At the Iroquois on W44th St. There’s an insane religious program on TV with a shonky guy asking people to send in thousands of dollars & badly faking possession. On another channel they’re showing porno shorts with ads for escorts. Ancient 50s stuff: ads with lines like ‘butt-fucked by a drunken burgomeister’. Hard core of the Big Apple.
1987-Oct-14: This place is crazy. The Marx Brothers = New York Naturalism. At Books & Co. I finally get hold of Blackburn’s Collected Poems. We go on to the Frick which has a small but dazzling collection (3 Vermeers, Goyas, Rembrandts, Turners, a Constable, a Bronzino portrait where the young man appears to have an erection, a great Bellini of St Francis of the Desert, & Velazquez’ portrait of Phillip IV). We put together a New York joke: ‘Where do I find the Frick?’ Intersection of Taste & Power.’ Michael & I head for 91st & Broadway and a Chinese restaurant to meet Kenneth Koch & his girlfriend Charity (who looks early to mid-20s). Conversation is jerky to begin with and Koch seems nervously jokey, trying to get the wavelength and the distance right. He and Charity have a kind of domestic argument as all this is going on, but Koch does relax a bit after taking snipes (& instantly retracting them) at feminism & post-structuralism (both of which Charity is reasonably defensive of). Charity is perturbed by the roof falling in on part of their Columbia apartment (which sounds reasonable enough to me) but K.K. is edgy about this. He is nonetheless a very charming man (though later Michael says — accurately I think — that he seems a lot like X_______ in his neurosis & vanity). Crazy Chinese waiters address Koch as ‘Professor’ (like something out of his poems).
1987-Oct-15: Michael gets a haircut from the barber adjoining the hotel. He’s been there since 1944 — used to cut James Dean’s hair when Dean stayed at the Iroquois. I guess the plumbing worked in those days. Michael raving about breakfast with Robert Hughes (the big news — Hughes, hungover from drinks with M______, lets it out that Joh Bjelke-Petersen is to resign within 24 hours). The train runs through Harlem & across to the Bronx. The dereliction eases off & suburbs of weatherboards replace the tenements. Then we’re in Connecticut & the fall is suddenly apparent. At New Haven, Paul Kane picks us up & drives us to Yale — to Ezra Stiles College where we meet Traubert T. the master (who has one of those classic Kennedy-type Bostonian accents), & Tom Bishop, a mild mannered & very likeable (Australian) postgraduate. Michael & I have a suite which is far more deserving of the word than the one in the Iroquois (the slate floor is heated). Yale even has its own brand of soap. [We read at Yale that evening.]
‘the redbreast whistles from the garden croft
& gathering swallows twitter in the skies.’
1987-Oct-19: [New York:] At the Museum of Modern Art. First, the modern European collection. It induces a kind of depression. Rooms full of great Matisses, Picassos; the large ‘Waterlilies’ paintings; every corner you turn there’s a well-known masterpiece. Liked particularly the Rousseaus. Cubism more clearly than ever, comes out of Cézanne. There’s a James Ensor painting which looks in places like Arshile Gorky could have done it. Léger obviously the daddy of Roy Lichtenstein. The Matisses & Picassos (esp. the 1939 ‘Night-fishing at Antibes’ & ‘Les Demoiselles’) wonderful. Mondrian’s optical effects visible for the first time — the very things which don’t come over at all in reproduction (interaction of colour). Malevitch a great painter. The expressionists mostly overrated. Boccioni a great loss — the triptych ‘Those who go/ Farewells/ Those who stay’ & ‘The city rises’. Severini’s trench drawing very like Wyndham Lewis. Upstairs is mostly American — Shahn’s handball painting; Matta the Chilean painter — wonderful effects of surface & depth like his paintings have photographs buried in them; Pollock & Lee Krasner — great paintings; Motherwell, the big red Barnett Newman; Rothko, Joan Mitchell — this whole generation of artists with Gorky & Hoffmann before them. After this, the pop & post-pop stuff looks weedy & enervated. The ‘Abstract Expressionists’ stand like great old masters but this later stuff is dated and dull. Rauchenberg looks arty rather than rough. Most things look like ideas parading as art. The postmodern critique of this museum would be I suppose a critique of its historicism — the way the whole gallery directs the viewers from and to various works; its assembly of an inexorable progression. But postmodernism can really only provide a critique; nothing more. What can it advocate but free-range appropriation — an act far more imperialistic than that of the museums themselves.
Cab to St Mark’s Place & Peter Shjeldahl’s apartment. S’s wife acts in movies (& is also a social worker with AIDS victims) — her last role in a Richard Pryor film (Pryor apparently burnt out by coke &/ or junk). The apartment is full of pets — two cats (one very old — 20 — the other very large), their daughter’s two hamsters & a large orange rabbit which eats books. We order Chinese from around the corner. Then walk to N.Y.U. Larry Wieder, Joe Donohue & Geoffrey O’Brien are there. The reading goes o.k. though the audience generally are hard to get hold of. I trot out ‘The Modernism’ again. Afterwards one of the English professors opens up question time — which always makes you feel like you’re on a kind of nightmare quiz show. Drinks afterwards. Approached by a boring librarian who — like many other Americans — appears to be about to ask questions but instead tells you all about himself. We go with Shjeldahl, Donohue & O’Brien down a couple of blocks to the Cedar Tavern (it’s not, S says, the original one where the abstract expressionists & Frank O’Hara used to hang out).
1987-Oct-20: I walk up through the park to the Met where I look at their current exhibition of the Hudson River painters. The Met is cultural appropriation to the max. This is pure & simple down home imperialism — chunks of Egypt, chunks of Elizabethan England, chunks of all things. The Hudson River show is good. Cole — like an American amalgam of Constable & Turner — inclined to be a bit garish at times; great painter nonetheless. Asher Durand is more of a Corot. Church is an extremely vulgar artist in the mode of John Martin. My favourites are Kensett, Heade & Inness. Headed back down to the forties, buying a pretzel on the way. Found the Gotham Book Mart on 47th, & bought Jonathan Wms. Elite/ Elate & Stevens’ Opus Posthumus.
We go round to Poets’ House which is in an old highschool building which looks like it could be a set for ‘Fame’. The reading is wired up for taping & radio play by a guy called Marc Nasdor (who went to Hungary with Ginsberg recently). Ashbery & Shapiro have sent their apologies. I read another selection & finish again with ‘The Modernism’. Helen reads wonderful selections (particularly the one where the father, Phillip, reads a ‘bedtime story’ to his daughter Poppy) from The Children’s Bach, & finishes again with ‘The light/ the dark’. It’s a very good reading — one of the best so far — and mercifully there are no questions afterwards. We have a short reception — I talk to some Australians — a woman who edits for Penguin/ Viking; a slightly crazy guy called Tom. Then Michael & Larry Wieder & I go out to a bar — the Zig-Zag, along from the Chelsea Hotel in 23rd St.
1987-Oct-21: We get a cab to the Port Authority bus depot — one of NY’s more depressing places. Bus out along 10th Ave, across to Central Park & up across 110th St, where everyone suddenly becomes black & the real estate starts to totter & crumble. Bricked up buildings, burnt out sites, open spaces overgrown with wild aniseed-like plants, inhabited by the shells of cars. Harlem is like a city at war, which, I guess it is. We go along 112th & up Lennox Ave (a.k.a. Malcolm X) & cross into the Bronx. In the bus I check out Helen’s photographs — lots of good shots of people. She says her sister’s American boyfriend Frank, who was at the reading, said I was ‘hilarious and unusual’. Through Connecticut, the fall is under way. In Middletown we are picked up by Jean Maynard & a woman from the Philosophy Dept., & conveyed to Wesleyan where we’re housed in two apartments, the air conditioning inside hitting around 80ºF.
Write 4 postcards (‘dismantle 12 radios’) & read bits of Jonathan Wms & Wallace Stevens. Then dress for dinner & walk across to the old building where we’re to eat & read. It has huge Corinthian columns made of wood & hollow (1820s). Drinks with Jean and a couple of other people including a grey eminence (famous academic?) and a moustached man with a Manchester accent who is a poet (Tony Connor) & turns out to be one of the evening’s saving graces. Charles Olson studied at Wesleyan & read here sometime in the 1950s. There is a small audience in neat rows of seats (it’s the midterms which have kept them away this time). Michael gives his editing paper then I read — a different selection (later ‘Blue Hills’, Martial, & the ‘Stirling’ chapter of The Ash Range). I’m only a couple of minutes into my reading and realize it seems to be going over like a lead balloon. Even Martial doesn’t seem to take. And ‘Stirling’ — I almost want to just stop in the middle & pretend it’s over, but continue (skipping a short piece) to the end. Helen reads an improved selection from The Children’s Bach which goes over well. Tony Connor saves us from ‘question time’ by suggesting we answer qns. at the short reception. A 19 year old student talks to me about William Burroughs (‘he’s from the midwest’). The older guy & a couple of others say they enjoyed my reading & ask questions. A few, including Connor & the midwest student come back to the living room for drinks. Tony C. spills beer on the carpet — ‘oo. I spilt beer on the bloody carpet’ — & rubs it in with his foot. We talk about U.S. place names — how in Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula illiteracy & oral culture transformed Psyche to Pish. T.C. discovered the hollowness of the Corinthian column when he fell against it, drunk, one night.
1987-Oct-22: Middletown, Connecticut. Wake up after an odd dream. The room so hot for most of the night that I slept under a sheet. Muffins, juice & coffee in the unit, then the Greyhound to Boston. Across the aisle is a guy who looks like someone dosed him up with bathtub gin & hit him on the head with a two by four. He slumps in his seat & into the aisle, slow motion, like a tai chi alcoholic. Then he gets up and aims for the rear of the bus, managing to sit in someone’s lap back a couple of rows. Diagonally behind us is a huge black man who takes up two seats and is about 6′6″. We get in to Boston around 12.30. The dazed man seems to have come alive a little. He drags a grey acrylic bag off the bus & circles around the terminus a couple of times before depositing it in a locker. Meanwhile a woman pushes a pile of baggage across the floor and when the pile collapses, proceeds to kick the items about. Travelling on the Dog, you meet the nicest people.
We get a cab out to Waltham and a Best Western chain hotel with rooms up on the 5th floor and a view out over a busy interchange, a gas station, a reservoir, and lots of autumn leaves. Comfortable rooms, but no fun, I would say, for at least ten miles.
After Michael goes off to Bentley College for his paper, Helen & I go for a walk around the block. Waltham is kind of nowhere; all motels & chemical companies. Back at the Best Western we make the mistake of going into the bar where we are immediately accosted by an opinionated ex-inhabitant of Pittsburgh who starts questioning us about our reactions to the U.S. (the kind of questions which are in themselves answers). Helen leaves after a drink, but I figure on staying a little. Things liven up. Before, we had only the barmaid for support, now there’s a barrage of assistance — a guy from Boston, two young guys from Maine & another gent, who proceed to take Mr Pittsburgh to bits (‘If it’s such a great city, how come you can get a house there for $50,000?’; jokes about Pittsburgh’s finest ball team — ‘yeah, they were good — in the 1950s’. The America’s Cup is brought up against Mr P — all sorts of things are thrown at him (he is, no surprise, a Thatcher admirer).
We go out with George Ellenbogen the organizer for a Chinese meal in Boston. The restaurant ‘recommended by a friend’ turns out to be an MSG palace. Afterwards George finds the car (with my assistance — his sense of direction is worse than Michael’s) & drives us around some of the old parts of Boston — the places which were around when the revolution took place, beautiful, symmetrical old buildings; and other old areas like Beacon Hill & Revere St (the one Robert Lowell wrote a poem about). We cross back over the Charles River — I keep thinking of either ‘Dirty Water’ by the Standells (who had probably never been to Boston) or ‘Roadrunner’ by the Modern Lovers (‘out on route 128 under the powerlines — gonna drive past the Stop’N’Shop, with the radio on’).
1987-Oct-23: Michael leaves early for N.Y. (& tomorrow, Baltimore, to see Hugh Kenner). I lie in bed for a while, looking at the map of Boston and feeling a little like spending the day under the covers watching the traffic. Around eleven Helen & I are picked up by George, who drives us to Cambridge. We have a seafood lunch, walk up to Harvard Square & have a brief look in the grounds of the University. I go to the Grolier Bookstore — which is easily the best poetry bookshop I have ever seen (or am likely to see). Everything I look for is there — including a collected Weldon Kees. I buy about $70 worth of stuff & get it shipped home. The woman who runs the store does it entirely solo. She looks like the vision of a 1950s librarian. George drives us back through Lexington, past a couple of 17th century inns, telling the story of the first shots of the revolutionary war.
We’re picked up after a couple of hours break by a man & woman from Bentley’s department of English. The College started as a school of accountancy in Boston itself around 1915 or so & the present campus dates from 1968. The buildings are all in a mock-colonial style. We meet George and Chris Wallace-Crabbe & Marianne, who are glad to hear Australian accents. The place we’re to read in is a real theatre with video setup & seats running up steeply from the stage. It looks a bit daunting. The woman who drove us in announces the reading & Chris (currently at Harvard) does introductions.
The most awkward thing in a theatre of this configuration is the gap between looking down at a text & up at the audience. I try to meet the gaze of the audience as much as possible: read ‘Pastoral Poems’, some Martials, extracts from parts 1 & 8 of The Ash Range, ‘Breath’ & finish with ‘The Modernism’. Chris introduces Helen & she reads ‘The light/ the dark’, then a self-contained section from The Children’s Bach. There’s a tendency in this theatre for sounds to be picked up from the back of the room as well as the stage, which is a bit unfortunate, but the reading is an undoubted success. The audience, of around 120, is our largest by far to date. Afterwards there’s a reception upstairs with beer & wine & more food than is necessary. I’m immediately approached by several people (and, thankfully, none of them are Arts bureaucrats). A young olive skinned Boston beauty talks to me glowingly. I give her a copy of The Great Divide, which she gets me to sign. Then I talk to Ruth Lepson, who is the current writer-in-residence, and Edward Zlotkowski, who is writing a book on Denise Levertov. When it’s time to go, the bains marie are still brimming. So we package guacamole (for my late dinner) and the woman who has been handling the catering quietly wraps me up some chicken wings, shaping the foil into a silver swan.
George drives us back to the Best Western where we have a parting drink in the bar. The barmaid talks about the jerk who was asking questions last night (she, it turns out, is a psychology major). I retire to my guacamole in bed, reading Ron Padgett & looking out at the lights of route 128.
1987-Oct-24: South Rail Terminus in Boston makes Flinders Street look like Buckingham Palace. The only food available is from vending machines. We’re lucky to get there a little early as the queue at a single counter lengthens considerably. Reflect on the state of any public service in the land that brought you free enterprise. The motto, with reference to Amtrak, might be ‘Go for it, if you can get there.’ A guy on the platform says he doesn’t know which will be later, the train or the information.
Progressing S.W. through autumn leaves, bare trees & dewy mountains of rusting auto components.
THE UNITED STATES FINISHING CO.
A large domed, capitol-like building in Providence, R.I.
At each station I’m in fear of some jock sitting next to me & telling, in true American fashion, the story of his life.
‘Things to do in Providence’
IERSTATE ONT INER ORPORATION
Amtrak takes us through Queens/ Brooklyn where I see a remaining El. & through a tunnel to Penn Station. Helen & I go to the Iroquois. This time I’ve got a smaller, but lighter room. After an hour’s break I walk up to the Whitney which is comparatively empty & look at the Demuth exhibition. He’s a strange artist. Throughout his career he painted particularly delicate watercolours of flowers & fruit. Then there are the industrial pieces like ‘Incense of a new religion’, ‘My Egypt’ &c., all fine work. There are designs for various people — such as the W.C.W. ‘No 5’. Finally a lot of strange images of men, particularly sailors, with large cocks.
I amble back down along Madison, 5th & 6th Aves. (and notice that Radio City Music Hall features a Doo-Wop show with — among others — Hank Ballard & the Midnighters). Have a couple of beers in the Iroquois bar & watch the Minnesota Twins beat the St Louis Cardinals, then go around to the deli on 6th & pick up some cold collations. Note: Helen’s favourite NY answering message: ‘Hi, I’m Eric — You know the story by now.’
1987-Oct-25: Outside the Iroquois is Hank Ballard & the Midnighters’ bus (and later there are a bunch of dazed black guys in the foyer). Make my way down to the Battery via 8th St. (?) Turn off into 4th & through the Greenwich & Soho areas. Down the bottom end of Broadway to the Staten Island ferry terminal. Then I take the ferry (it’s 25c return; milkshakes in the terminus cost $2.00) — the metal gates fore & aft just like the ones in the John Sloan painting ‘Wake of the Ferry’. Back at the battery I find a postcard stall & buy 20 cards of assorted personalities from Elvis, thru Picabia to Little Anthony & Willem De Kooning. The guy at the stall doesn’t worry about counting — just asks me how many. Then comments on the Frank O’Hara p/ c — that I, from another land, should know about O’H. I say I’ve been reading him for 15 years. He says ‘you must be a poet’. For this I get a dollar discount.
Michael turns up later with tales of watching ‘Roadrunner’ and ‘Pepe Le Pew’ cartoons with Hugh Kenner who is supposedly going to write a book about them (Kenner spouts chunks of Cantos in a perfect imitation of Pound’s reading voice).
1987-Oct-26: Chicago airport is trés moderne — the walkway to baggage is lit up like the inside of a video game. Our cab driver to Chicago U. is an opinionated & seemingly very rich Pakistani. As the city looms up he points out the first, second, & third tallest buildings in America. We cut south of the centre & along the edge of Lake Michigan to the campus.
We’re lodged in rooms above the staff diner & club. It’s very Olde English (built in the 1920s) even to the extent of having no laundry facilities. I hand wash some necessaries. Michael turns the TV on and on one channel are ‘The Munsters’, on another the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’. We go down to the staff eatery (all the servants & waiters are black). We’re served by a pretty waitress, special burgers & coffee. I walk back across one of the lawns. This university is predominantly and excessively grey (the sky is too). I make kissing noises and get the squirrels to come to my feet.
Around six, descend to the bar & sample another variety of Wisconsin’s finest. Tom Mitchell turns up around 7.45. He’s one of the editors of Critical Inquiry (pronounced ‘ink-weary’), a magazine devoted to the great authors of the late 20th century (i.e. the critics). Tom & his wife who is a lecturer in music take us to a Thai restaurant in a nearby shopping center (as soon as you head north from the campus the environment starts to get grittier).
So far the Chicago of the universities seems like it’s the American Center for Humorless Discourse. But there’s an edge to the city of ‘not being New York/ not being Los Angeles’ which seems a little strident — the ‘three biggest buildings’ &c.
1987-Oct-27: I’m awake early again after a bad night’s sleep. Peter Craven rang Michael from Australia at some unearthly hour which didn’t help. This precinct looks like a weird combination of Melbourne and Canberra (the worst aspects of both) and it’s overburdened with theological colleges. At the Co-op bookstore I get hold of the Loeb Martial vols & the Whigham & Sullivan vol of Martial, ‘Englished by various hands’. It’s U. Cal & US$58.00. No more bookstores!
We get to [Frank Lloyd Wright’s] Frederick Robie house at 12.00 for a guided tour. The young guide is inarticulate but okay. Most of the interior is inaccessible (used for offices & with additions like box air-conditioners protruding from the windows). But the living rooms and stairwell are beautiful enough. Maybe a little oppressive to live in, though the light is plentiful & the window designs look good (Wright was a short man who hated tall people).
Back at the Quadrangle for lunch. All the waiters, Helen says, look like Chuck Berry.
At 2 p.m. we arrive at Tom Mitchell’s office — the HQ of Critical Ink-Weary (the bookshelves on one wall are filled with pristine copies of theoretical journals). It seems there has been a stuff-up: the uni. paper has advertised us for 4 p.m. instead of 3. We get tea & coffee from a shop on level 2 of the fake gothic building, which has a little popcorn trolley. Then we head upstairs to level 4 and into a wood panelled boardroom which is stifling hot. Open a few windows. The audience so far is a postgraduate guy from Atlanta, Georgia. No one else turns up. So we all go down to 55th St to Jimmy’s Bar — the University Taproom — which is such a distance from the venue we figure on not returning. The student from Atlanta, who is a nice guy, seems to contradict Tom’s assertions that advertising was placed in faculty & students’ mailboxes: none of his friends received any such notice. We drink on. Chicago so far is ink-weary. I can understand why hardly any poet would want to live here — either you go to N.Y. or S.F. or you stay in the country & write about longhorns.
Later, Tom & his wife drive us to our reception at the Australian Consulate. Problem is Tom hasn’t figured out we’ll be competing with some heavy commuter traffic. We get stuck on the Lakeside Expressway. I feel at one point like climbing out of the car & escaping. Finally we get there — about halfway through proceedings. Tom — I’m afraid — glows with mediocrity (As Michael comments, how could a magazine editor be incapable of ensuring at least an attendance of 15 people?). At the Consulate’s very exclusive Chicago address, right on the lake in the city, & up on floor 10, things seem initially like they’ll be terrifyingly dull. We’ve barely arrived and grabbed our gin & tonics when we are introduced to the besuited multitudes. But it turns out well. There are quite a few people with senses of humour here (once the beans are spilled about the Ink-Weary catastrophe). There’s a guy here who’s a poet — Michael Anania — who is friendly. Out the window the waves of Lake Michigan lap a fragment of shore. I end up talking to the American husband of one of the Consulate women about the London blitz.
1987-Oct-28: Breakfast in the Student Union. The $1.95 special is a gruesome mixture — eggs, two little turd-like sausages, flapjacks & maple syrup. The air is sharp at 8.30 a.m. We get a cab into the city & the Holiday Inn, stow the luggage & take a walk. This side of the river/ canal & around Michigan Ave — the ‘golden mile’ — is rather devoid of items of interest. Within a few minutes we have to head out to Evanston & Northwestern University. The old cab driver fills us in on some historical details. After the great fire (about 120 years ago) the city had masses of architects come in to compete in the rebuilding. A lot of the curious castle-like outcrops may date from this period (one of these buildings was a survivor of the fire. It is very ugly. Maybe the castles were built for railroad barons?). The fire would have been indirectly responsible for Chicago becoming the city in which modern architecture developed (Frank Lloyd Wright was a native). And there are many beautiful early modern buildings here. The cab driver has a picture of his wife and dog affixed in the center of the steering wheel, and more dog pictures on the sunshade.
At Evanston we stop at the TriQuarterly office and meet Reginald Gibbons, editor since 1981. He is a quiet, friendly and somewhat depressed individual — magazine editors blues maybe. We walk over to the campus & the room in which we’re to read. It’s in a modern building and is a circular theatre with glass walls — a bit fishbowl-like and with odd acoustics. We get an audience of about 15 and the reading goes without incident. Talk to a few people, then head with Reg and a woman called Phyllis over to a bar in town. Phyllis has bought several copies of Scripsi & gives me a cheque for my two books. She teaches creative writing & has had exchanges with Cuban writers — talks about Cuba & Mexico. Reg buys the drinks (we don’t, alas, get paid for this one — still it’s better than what we got from the now silent Tom Mitchell — we had to buy him drinks).
Back at the Holiday Inn, we have a couple of drinks in the bar. The immense waitress appears to have come directly from basketball — she has a kind of outfit which could be described as drum majorette manqué. Retreat to our rooms for an early night. Forget about the pay movies and the businessman’s pornography on the box.
1987-Oct-29: Wake up early again, the lights over Michigan & the trail of a rocket in the sky. Breakfast muzak. A sign next to the lift reads LIBATIONS IN A WINNING ATMOSPHERE. I go for a walk downtown into the movie theatre district. The canal is a luminous green & the Wrigley building white. Across the water and a couple of blocks in, Chicago gets a little seedier.
At 11.30 we get a cab to Columbia College — which seems a bit like RMIT. Meet Paul Hoover who takes us around the corner for lunch. He gives us all copies of New American Writing and trades me a copy of his own book, Idea. The reading has an audience of around 70 — mostly students — a lot from Creative Writing (these tend not to be good audiences). But it goes without hitch and the ‘Modernism’ as usual does its stuff. Before Paul Hoover goes off to teach we talk about various things. Iowa writing. The new academic poetry, he says, tends to be formless and sincere — like a parody of what was ‘underground’ in the sixties. The Creative Writing types tend to be academic — though they don’t think they are. But it’s characteristic of academic writing to think it’s something else (‘The Modernism’ goes over well because — after all — it’s an academic poem).
Take a walk to pick up our developed films. We sit on a park bench and are approached by a bag lady in a net dress who tries to sell us an ancient box of chocolates for six bucks. When we say no thanks, she says ‘I hope you all have to eat spaghetti.’ Get a cab to the Moose Head to see Valerie Wellington & her band. She’s big, pretty, and packs a mean set of pipes. We stick around for the whole show. It’s $3.00 cover and the food is cheap and good. The band are great — a guitarist with rasta locks who has taken some lessons from Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy (who’s in the audience for a little while [the Moose Head was Guy’s club]); a Japanese pianist who plays a pretty good set of descending clusters; an older bassist who’s played with Howlin Wolf; and a white drummer in a goofy baseball cap. The songs are wonderfully sleazy: ‘I’ll show you my bankbook but you can’t look in my purse’, ‘I’ll lick your doughnut till there’s nothin left but the hole’. I ask a guy at the door what her record label is. He says ask the band, they’re down the end of the bar. So I get the good word from the lady herself (the records & labels are ‘Million Dollar Secret’ & ‘The New Bluebloods’, a compilation). This is what I came on this tour for! We’re elated and go back to the Holiday Inn for Cutty Sarks.
1987-Oct-30: Sarah meets us in the lobby at 8.30. She had been to both the TriQuarterly & the Columbia College readings, writes & teaches writing herself (studied at North Eastern under Ted Berrigan) and is ‘Assyrian’. We go up Michigan and have espresso at a French restaurant, then head downtown. Past the Tribune building with chunks of masonry from all quarters — the Parthenon, the Heavenly City of Peking, Westminster, Flodden Field, the Alamo, the Whitehouse, the Kremlin &c — embedded in its walls. We visit an old department store. Then do a speedy tour of the Art Institute. It is, with MOMA, the best collection of modern painting I’ve seen; good also on earlier French art & medieval painting; not so good on the Dutch & Flemish. There are also exhibits of photography — one by Walker Evans — and a show by the Italian/ American painter, Francesco Clemente.
Lunch in a bar & grill. A man steps out the door in a suit & gorilla mask. Inside, the staff are all dressed in Halloween outfits. We get a large, blonde, bespectacled and terse waitress who (understandably) doesn’t like the fact she’s been ordered to dress up. Go to the old public library building — the inside of its wonderful dome is decorated with incredibly vulgar mosaics. Head up Michigan to a bookstore to get Sarah a copy of Postcards From Surfers. I give her a Great Divide.
1987-Oct-31: The drawbridges all go up for a flotilla of high-masted boats and the traffic banks up along North Michigan Ave. In 1892 or so, the Chicago River had its flow reversed so as to stop pollutants entering the lake — so the lake actually flows into the river (and I guess the pollutants end up somewhere down the Mississippi).
At the Art Institute I look at the 20th C. American painting. Glackens — the American Manet, Marsden Hartley, Arthur Dove, a little enclosure of Joseph Cornell boxes, Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’, Calder mobiles, good paintings by Kline, Rothko, Gottlieb & De Kooning. Then the modern Europeans again — six of Monet’s haystack paintings, ‘La Grande Jatte’, wonderful Picassos (a great late 50s female nude) & Matisses, Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Beckmann & Juan Gris. At the bookstore I get a book of Matisse’s ‘Jazz’ prints plus a little booklet on Walker Evans.
At five we taxi to the railway station, leaving Helen with the washing. Chicago station is a dungeon. We get the Metra train out to La Grange Road. In front of me, two Texans talk psychology. Announcements are made by a guy who seems to gargle into the p.a. and are as usual unintelligible even to the locals. Most of the stations seem totally unlit and without identification. Still, we make it to La Grange. The platform is just like a kind of elevated sidewalk adjoining a drab street. Michael Anania picks us up & drives us a further three or so miles to his house. We meet Joann A. (the Ananias both have widish gaps between their upper middle teeth) and exchange books/ magazines. A’s book (The Sky Over Ashland) looks pretty good. Two other guests arrive — a printer/ yachtsman who tells long yarns which seem to have no real point, and his wife, an opera singer with a quiet but sharp wit. We have a few pre-dinner drinks, then a Russian soup, with vodka, a main course with wine, desert with more vodka and afterwards some brandy.
I tend to agree with M.A. about painting — i.e. to be an unreconstructed admirer of abstract expressionism (with the odd exception like Larry Rivers). We also discuss Charles Olson — who taught Anania and Charles Boer at Buffalo. Once Olson was spouting stuff about Greek & the Greeks and Boer caught him out on a number of things that were simply wrong about Greek poetry. Olson put his hand on Anania’s shoulder and said ‘But we are the Greeks, Michael.’
Another story concerned M.A.’s work on a national literary advisory panel that necessitated trips to New York. On one occasion he was walking back to his hotel room, pissed, with a bottle in his bag. Two hookers approached him. He told them he was incapable, but they were welcome to share the bottle with him. So they found a set of steps and drank the wine and talked. Some time later Anania was leaving some literary meeting in the company of a few board members who were somewhat surprised when two hookers approached them saying ‘Hi Michael, whatcha been doing?’
Sometime after midnight, Anania drives us back into town talking about the American Left as the radio plays fifties teen-death songs and Motown.
1987-Nov-01: Indianapolis. Albert Wertheim picks us up in his brand new Oldsmobile and drives us out to Bloomington. The country around is very beautiful — trees have lost most of their leaves. This is apparently Klan territory. We have only half an hour to recover before A.W. picks us up for a buffet party at his place. We arrive and it’s the usual round of handshakes & introductions. I talk to a black guy named Yusef — who has an Australian girlfriend and who quotes Ern Malley — and to a couple of novelists, about novel writing and academia. I drink three large martinis, which bowl me over.
1987-Nov-02: Breakfast at Mustard’s. Stare at the eggs benedict and eat them slowly. Then we’re interviewed in a cafe called The Daily Grind, by Yusef & a couple of other guys for the Indiana Review (maybe). It’s a case of people who don’t know a great deal about Australian writing asking questions which are too general to be of much interest. I sleep for about half an hour then shower and put on my new shirt. Michael and I walk down the road to find a liquor store. He goes in and picks up four cans of Bud and has to produce an I.D. (you can be arrested if you’re under 21 and buying alcohol). It’s like he’s put a tie on and there are three more of us with zits in a car outside. Step out of American Graffiti & back in here to sort out poems. At the student union the audience rapidly swells to about 65-75 and the reading goes well. Yusef gives us copies of the Indiana Review — an earnest and generally unimpressive magazine.
1987-Nov-03: Across the road is a place called, without irony, the White Castle. Albert said he never eats there because not so long ago it was a whites-only diner. We read wonderful sentences in the Indianapolis newspaper like: ‘Not only can Albert Bentley run, he can also read the writing on the wall’. A guy outside Mustard’s places, with slow deliberation, the letters spelling BEST HAMBURGER IN (N reversed) TOWN.
And now we’re in another country. Even in Toronto where the language is mostly English, signs are bilingual. Canadian money looks pretty. We’re at an upmarket Hilton called the Harbour Castle right on the waterfront — in an area separated from the city centre by a belt of freeways, parking lots and otherwise desolate areas. We’re no sooner in our rooms than a call comes from the organizers that I’m to be interviewed in a couple of hours by a woman called Barbara Williams. I shower & clean up and B. arrives early. She is English (been in Canada 15 years) and writes for a paper called Poetry Canada Review. As she has only seen the poems in Tranter’s anthology, the interview with its typed questions is a little odd. I have to extrapolate everything from observations made about something that was written in 1972 (the ‘Elegy’). The interview goes on for an hour or so. I’m told that my work could be seen as jaded, cynical and depressive. I say that Helen called me a ‘mindless optimist’ by way of reply. As with all these kinds of interview I have to explain the context of the work — which ends up being a kind of useless history lesson [I don’t think the interview ever saw print].
We go out for drinks and dinner with Helen’s friend Chris who drives us into the city proper to a good bar and eatery. It seems almost a pity after this to go to a poetry reading, but we do. The famous Harbourfront is set up like a student cafeteria or bar — without food or drink. There’s a stage up front. Helen says the vibes are not good. Maybe about 40 people turn up but they are lost in this aircraft hangar. I read first. Like the Harold Park, the audience is in darkness and the writer is spotlit. But this doesn’t disguise the emptiness of the room. Nor does the combination of microphone and echo (though this is only noticeable on stage). I make my set very short. Helen reads a little longer. Then there’s a break and a second bracket. A Canadian called Patrick Lane reads from his new Selected Poems. He is described in the brochure as an ‘outlaw poet’ but he’s really like a tweed jacketed Rod McKuen. The mixed metaphors jangle and crash about with deep sincerity. This is real bad stuff.
1987-Nov-04: So it’s over. And we have a day in Toronto — not enough for what seems an interesting city. At last a breakfast without massive cholesterol content. Then Lyn figures out flights and hotel bookings. We circle the city to the east end and the Writers & Co. bookstore (on the window: FICTION, POETRY, BASEBALL) where I buy Timothy Findley’s novel Famous Last Words, and a book of poems by Christopher Dewdney.
1987-Nov-05: It’s a beautifully clear day. We catch a cab for Toronto (pronounced Tronna) airport. At the check-in a United Airlines woman says H’s & my tickets aren’t valid — a bit has been torn out somewhere along the line which shouldn’t have been. Lyn is insistent, but the woman at the desk won’t budge. We have to either buy new tickets or miss the flight. We get the woman in charge. The wait is interminable and my blood pressure takes a flying leap. Eventually she arrives and sorts things out quickly. But the staff are slow to implement her instructions. Another woman blunders about with the tickets as the last boarding call comes over. I lose my temper and bang the desk, calling them idiots. Then departure tax is thrust upon us. M & L haven’t had to pay it, but now they do and we rush to customs & baggage, then through U.S. customs & hand luggage — where the guards examine Helen’s lint remover. We pant onto the plane.
In Chicago Lyn & Michael board a 1.30 flight for Newark. Helen & I have a beer, then she catches the 2.00 for J.F.K. I amble across the terminals and eat a chilli dog, with five hours to kill. My flight departs 6.30 and arrives in Denver around 8.30 local time. Phone Ed Dorn — he sounds good — got the second copies of the books I sent and seems prepared to drive me around tomorrow. After today’s debacles, this sounds promising.
[Some entries omitted here are largely replicated in the poem ‘West’ (in Mangroves).]
1987-Nov-06: Into Boulder (about 30 miles out of Denver). The U. of Colorado with its uniform coloured bricks & curved Mediterranean tiles. Ed Dorn picks me up. We go back to the house where I meet Jennifer D. Have some coffee. Then we drive to the printing press where Rolling Stock, the magazine they edit, is in production (the 14th issue). It has a print run of 3000 and around that many copies are printed and thrown away in the process of getting the registers right before the actual run can begin. Two of the other guys involved turn up — and the staff staple & trim a handful of copies for our perusal. Ed & Jenny drive me to the motel where I leave most of my gear, then we rejoin the others at a bar downtown to celebrate the new issue. Then I go back with E & J to their house — meet their son & daughter (who plays electric guitar in a band). Jenny goes to buy fish & Ed & I go to a huge wine shop where I buy a bottle of white from the Napa Valley. Another friend from U. Col, Sidney Goldfarb, calls in & stays for dinner. Goldfarb looks at The Ash Range & says he’s keen to read a long poem that isn’t on any course. For dinner — a soup, trout with vegetables & salad, and a dessert ice-cream cake which the Dorn’s son made (& which is pretty good). J.D. is writing about Dean Reed, a singing Marxist cowboy from out this way who was killed in East Germany a few years back, and has a few wonderful related items including a college year book from 1956 which is pure ‘American Graffiti’.
1987-Nov-07: Walk up the hill [from my motel] & check in [at the Dorn’s]. One of the guys from Rolling Stock is there. Coffee & a sandwich — then Ed drives me up to a lookout behind the town. We walk from the car up a stretch of closed road till there’s a view west across a canyon to the first of the steeper ranges — the Rockies proper — covered with snow. Then we look back out over Boulder and walk back with the 60º angle of the Flatirons ahead. Drive around through the edge of town and up Table Mesa (a case of tautology) where there’s a large modern installation which tests ‘atmosphere conditions’, monitors winds &c and is dimly connected to star wars. We pick up my Martial MS., & go to a bar in a big old hotel. Ed (& later Jenny) look over the Martial and like it a lot. They want to take some for Rolling Stock — also suggest that if I want to write an article from Aust. they’d be interested [the article appeared in the next issue in 1988, along with some of the Martial poems — attributed to Catullus]. Dinner is good — an Indian chicken dish with rice & cucumbers in yoghurt, & the wine I’ve picked up (another Zinfandel) is pretty good also. Stan Brakhage rings up & talks to Jenny about his marital problems & the grim business of teaching. Jane Brakhage has been writing for Rolling Stock and lives in a car. They’ve been apart about a couple of months after 20 or so years & Stan is having an inconclusive sounding affair with a young student. Jenny is the ex sister-in-law, I discover, of Marianne Faithful. Her brother (J’s) ran an art gallery in the late 60s & on and was married to M.F. for some time (M.F. lives in Boston, but stays with the Dorns when travelling west). When we were out earlier Anne Waldman had called. Ed phones her back & asks if she wants to go for a drink but she has already gone to bed.
Note 1: Ed’s take on the Language Poets: ‘They can’t write’.
Note 2: In Mexico they produce, under licence, the original Nazi V.W. The Dorns have one & it’s indestructible.
1987-Nov-12: [San Francisco:] Catch the U. Cal bus to Berkeley. Buy more books — the Collected Olson & an Ed Sanders selection among others. Attend August [Kleinzahler]’s poetry class. Afterwards, a falafel from a street stall & another look in Moe’s, where I find a second-hand Denby & buy August a Krazy Kat calendar.
1987-Nov-13: We go with Caroline to the Zam Zam for pre-dinner drinks and a dose of Bruno’s wisdom. There are some young nerds in leathers over near the jukebox. When they leave Bruno says ‘They must have come from Union City’.