Wednesday, January 19, 2005

No bouts-rime yet. I wrote one a couple days ago, but I'm at the store and it's on my computer at home. I just read Ron's beautiful memoir (if that's the right word) Under Albany in a single sitting. I'd forgotten that there's an Albany in the San Francisco Bay Area; all this time I was picturing a different sort of darkness akin to that spreading through William Kennedy's novels. Chunks of it have already appeared on his blog. It's a very personal portrait of community formation and political consciousness. I do wonder about the passage where he describes a typical day at his marketing job at IBM, though. Are we meant to see it as at all elegiac, as a man of the Left's fall from grace? Or is he deliberately puncturing our romanticism, even celebrating the American dream that sent him from a marginal working-class existence in a small apartment with his mother and grandparents to being able to make the statement, "I am writing at this moment in the finished basement of a split level house with 2600 square feet (not counting a two-car garage) on a half acre of land in the outer Philadelphia suburbs"? I don't scorn Ron's middle-class comforts, but I am uncertain how to feel about this. But the pleasures of the book come from what I have to call the thickness of its descriptions of a life lived through moments of political and artistic ferment that made beautiful San Francisco ugly and questionable and glorious. Above all, the book is a love letter to his son, and its last sections are intensely moving. Great stuff.

Also holding my attention tonight, though nothing I'll finish in a single session, is Eleni Sikelianos' The California Poem. I've only read the first few pages, but I'm struck by both the openness of the project (its willingness to enfold geography, geology, history, and politics) and its lyricism, which in its particularity and its shades of class consciousness reminds me of the other innovative poet of place I've been reading recently, C.D. Wright. Check this out:

my trailer park's in the shady ambrosial arroyo of nothing native
stands of embryonic eucalyptic bluegums frilling on the ridge &
tractor dust like a dress for us
Everybody's halfcracked with halfteeth missing and ideas of almost-functioning

shipping & receiving depts. near the train tracks collide, hillsides
scrubbed in wild brighting mustard

unknown modes of road wind back the black hot gila monster tarmac beading up into ripped hills
It just goes on like that: wild brighting mustard—incredible. The sheer receptivity of it is Whitmanesque, but for me the setting pushes Whitman into an encounter with Philip K. Dick, or at least Cesar Chavez: California, the dystopian paradise, the perpetual geographical future of "young men." I only lived there for two years but it fascinated me—it was a gorgeous and terrible hallucination; I'd return in a heartbeat if I could afford to live there. In New York you feel at the center of your time; in California you are, like Max Headroom, twenty minutes into the future. Environmental devastation, social unrest, utopia: they'll happen there first. I've admired Sikelianos for a while but this is clearly her bid for greatness, if "greatness" still means anything. I hope it's widely read.

I am NOT watching the inauguration. So there.

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