My Poetic Lineage (1)

The first poem I remember feeling transformed by is Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." When I was thirteen or fourteen, I could read that poem -- half aloud, half to my self in a kind of quasi-religious transformative mumble -- that profoundly affected my sense of the world. (This would have been about 1964.) I found great comfort in the fact that there appeared to be ways of saying things that had appeared unsayable. The fundamentalist church my family attended did not believe in the unsayable. Everything, literally, had been said in the bible. My friends & I, when we got a little older, took to sitting outside in the church parking lot & listening to the radio. The Beatles' "She's a Woman" & the Stones' "Satisfaction." I also read my mother's volumes of Edna St. Vincent Milay, Rudyard Kipling, and Edgar Guest (though even at thirteen I knew Guest was crap.) The fact that my mother owned several volumes of Milay as well as The Oxford Book of English Verse would require an account of her life & its disappointments that isn't to my purpose here. When I was fifteen, I had a brief flirtation with Rod McKuen & since I lived in the East Bay could even take the bus to North Beach with my girlfriend, where we would stand on the pier & listen to the foghorn, then go drink coffee in a cafe. But it was that year (1967) that I found the Oscar Williams anthologies & began to read Cummings, Pound, Eliot, & other mainstream modernists. This was also the time I began listening to Bob Dylan. I'm pretty sure that Bringing it All Back Home is the first record I ever bought for myself. I'm pretty sure the first book of poetry I ever bought for myself was Eliot's The Wasteland and Other Poems. The following year I found an old leather bound Leaves of Grass in a used bookstore while visiting my cousins in San Diego. The old man who ran the shop seemed particularly keen that I buy the Whitman. In high school I read The Grapes of Wrath, On the Road, & The Stranger. It must have been about this time I read Howl & A Coney Island of the Mind. My teacher Tom Brush also introduced me to W.H. Auden, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Theodore Roethke, & James Dickey. I still have the copies of Ariel & Drowning with Others I would have bought about that time. I also bought Camus' collection of essays, The Rebel, at about this time & became a confirmed existentialist. For my eighteenth birthday I asked my mother for the Modern Library volumes of Keats & Donne, which I took to college with me, along with the Eliot & my other poets, a few months later. By this time, I had been writing my own poems for about four years, publishing them in school magazines & in one little mag in Seattle, Consumption. My ambition was to get a poem into George Hitchcock's Kayak, which I never managed. It was a great disappointment to me when, years later, the magazine folded without ever having published one of my poems. (Note: It is worth noting in passing that Hitchcock, Philip Levine, & Donald Justice drew heavily on French Surrealism, a fact that the latter-day formalists Dana Gioia & the excremental Bruce Bawer, who adopted Donald Justice as a poster boy for the New Formalism, had to not just ignore, but actively excise.) I was an English major at the University of Washington at a time when the legacy of Theodore Roethke was still very strong I started in 1969, Roethke had died in 1963. As an undergraduate I read Blake & Wordsworth pretty carefully for classes. I don't remember studying Stevens or Pound, though I found them on my own. At the time, I was only prepared to appreciate Stevens' early poems. The same for Pound, whose lyrics I could appreciate & whose ABC of Reading, though it filled me with despair because it demanded I learn half a dozen languages, provided me with a clear aesthetic program. James Wright, Richard Hugo (with whom I studied for a quarter when he visited from Montana), & W.S. Merwin round out the list of poets whose work served as a basis for my own practice. I took classes with David Wagoner, who taught me how to edit my own work but who couldn't understand my distaste for rhetorical gestures, on which his work is founded. I also took a class from Mark Strand, whose idea of teaching was akin to an absentee landlord's idea of house maintenance. I remember Strand championing the poetry of Erica Jong, which even as a twenty-two year old, I found tendentious & formulaic. During these years I continued listening to Dylan & also to various people from the folk & blues revival of the times. B.B. King, Richard & Mimi Farina, Tom Rush. If Strand was the worst poet-teacher I had as an undergraduate, Ronald Johnson was the best. I remember a whole class period spent on WCW's "Burning the Christmas Greens" & another on "To Elsie" & yet another spent reading through "To Daphne and Virginia." I suppose we read some poets other than Dr. Williams, but I don't remember who they were. Hart Crane? I do remember one day after class going to someone's apartment & listening to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks while drinking beer & passing around a joint. Johnson particularly loved "Madam George." It took me nine years to earn my BA, though I graduated with enough English courses for two majors. I had a B average. [To be continued]

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

5 thoughts on “My Poetic Lineage (1)”

  1. some folks are being notified twice probably. well, i just spitting it out with this email and hoping i don’t forget too many. best, ed

    JUSTINE FIXEL,A SMALL HISTORY (OF MIXEDINFORMATION)

    she was from bingham canyon and salt lake city in utah and she loved the name (of a younger cousin) jersey justine, justine being the name given to girls all down the generations. her people, mom’s and dad’s folks, were breakaway mormans . a justine said to be the youngest of joseph smith’s “six” wives taken in by brigham young to the Promised Land of utah when smith was murdered in illinois . justine came to san Francisco at 21 with a b.a. from the catholic women’s college in salt lake city . her dad had a bar in bingham canyon (that city no longer exists because of the copper mines tunnelled underneath) and later in salt lake city and there would be poker games in their salt lake city house late into the night. her brother kendell ten years older had come earlier to the university in berkeley . justine went into social work, but i don’t recall it that was her first job. when the war began she became a WAC and lived with 3 other girls on telegraph hill. bari rolfe is dead. cecelia hurowitz is alive and a year older than justine. can’t dredge up the name of the 4th. justine was a child welfare worker. got an m.a. somewhere, berkeley , plus therapist wings. was on a president’s council on aging. publications. met larry by or in 50’s. they’d both been married before. (larry had a daughter–and a grandaughter and grandson) they married 50 some years ago. justine got a fulbright to italy to consult on changing their social work system at univ level etc and had extensions twice—rare, 3 years in rome 1960-63. while larry wrote. came back a year and headed for mexico for another year (looking for geo price larry’s best bud, and to see if they could somehow figure if they could find a way to support/live there–turned out later they’d crossed w/george returning to sf where he became a prof of writing as sf state and perhaps had then met zdena berger. zdena wrote TELL ME ANOTHER MORNING publ 1961 recently 2007 republd by paris press as a refound woman hero writer–abt surviving camps –she was from prague and only one who survives of her wide family.) Justine when i first knew her in 1970 was teaching at uc-berkeley in the school of social work and practicing as a founding member of the family therapy center in sf (then a pioneering approach). she had a long productive life. larry used to complain that Justine was a great source of “misinformation” and that amused her because maybe only larry could be teased that way and I heard it as “mixedinformation”.

    in the poem I wrote for my memory of her “fish in a net” (the title’s yeatsian) there’s influence of dh lawrence (death ship); reference to milton also (the ‘westering’ of his lycidas); influenced for mood and the vocabulary of emotions mainly by may swenson (another western girl–utah?), elizabeth bishop, josephine miles (‘family’ specifically), william carlos williams, ann stanford (‘our town’), english women elizabeth jennings, stevie smith, ruth fainlight; and a bit of theodore roethke –these and auden and dylan thomas form a mix when i think of her. probably others. but i take responsibility for this development of a poem i’ve been writing in my mind and in 40 versions to the shade of our west coast ‘stranger’ poet robinson jeffers (and una his wife/muse/doppelganger) because –well, as larry said again and again : nobody gets out of here alive. it was george oppen who put me onto to larry (and justine) (& i think she was his therapist in those increasingly difficult years before it became clear he had alzheimers –justine seemed to specialize in artists and writers at the family therapy center).

    Edward Mycue, August 2007
    _____________________
    for Justine Jones Fixel (Sept. 5, 1920-Aug. 5, 2007)
    FISH IN A NET

    My life is your story. A reinterpretation.
    The where’s and when’s keep turning.
    A spinning plate half-dipping
    into the Pacific Ocean here at Land’s End.
    We are on this tilting/raked stage
    where great ships foundered.
    Their great sentences of life, death—
    unfinished symphonies: the future
    out there our audience
    who’ve driven in to watch.
    Ugly is a sharp paradigm shift.
    Death an epistemological rupture.
    Praise for a tractor, dancing
    for chump change. Red armpits.
    Earth jimjams a jungle, diamond skies,
    long-nailed dogs cut bark, tree
    rats scurry in canopies.
    Telephone call, then a summary, a
    sea change, playground happenings.
    Alert/Vigil/ Rely/Comply/Watch/Obey:
    the wheel is round; life pushes.
    Photography winds over time, westering.
    Over the mind a brown shale.
    Everyone there is here, Justine.
    It will take, it took a lifetime to flower,
    to fly, to sail this sea this thickening
    light here where I hear voices
    under the surface of consciousness
    the bungled aspirations
    with here now leprosy as a model.
    Roomtone, mouthfeel, Jersey Justine,
    reordering parts, rationing emotions.
    Grim ire, harmony’s trigger, September.
    Ripening memories pressing upward.
    Death ship for new sowing.
    Thickening light a sea scar.
    Stardust, a diminishing gusher.
    Milk as it pinkens sunrise, sunset.
    Roses silt down into a lake of sleep.

    Edward Mycue

  2. i’ve corrected & updated, joseph, the piece on justine fixel and the cultural life around her in san francioco and revised the poem: in case you’ve
    got an interest in such a process. edward mycue
    JUSTINE JONES FIXEL & HER KIND SAN FRANCISCO by EDWARD MYCUE
    1 of 3 pages
    she was from bingham canyon and salt lake city in utah & she loved the name (of a younger cousin) jersey justine, justine being the name given to girls all down the generations. her

    mom’s & dad’s folks were breakaway mormans. a justine said to be the youngest of joseph smith’s “six” wives taken in by brigham young to the Promised Land of utah when smith was murdered in illinois . justine came to san francisco at 21 with a b.a. from the catholic women’s college in salt lake city . her dad had a bar in bingham canyon (that city no longer exists because of the copper mines tunnelled underneath) & later in salt lake city and there would be poker games in their salt lake city house late into the night. her brother kendell jones ten years older had come earlier to the university in berkeley . justine went into social work, but i don’t recall it

    that was her first job. when the war began she became a WAVE and lived with 3 others—jean broadbent, winifred lair, cecelia hurwich (“92 stairs”, says cecel, to get to their apt penthouse at 1230B washington st bet. jones & taylor in ‘the casbah” on telegraph hill). farwell taylor (who mingus wrote “farewell, farewell” for) also lived in the casbah and did that painting of justine & cecel the lifetime best pals. bari rolfe also goes back then. & warren anderson who played a beautiful piano and became kendell’s lifelong partner. after the war following an interval of modeling & partying & before getting her masters from the social welfare school, uc-berkeley,

    justine was a social worker, & around that time worked for Canon Kip program, still going, of the Episcopal church (canon kip was a san francisco hero of 1906 earthquake days). i recall her stories of spending nights with kids rescued, & before they were able to be placed, in the loft of the old bldg on l9th avenue and ortega that later became for decades the san francisco music conservatory (before its recent move to oak/van ness/market). therapist wings. academic articles.

    met larry by or in 1950’s. they’d both been married years before. (larry a daughter kate frankel in los angeles–a granddaughter adrian and grandson joshua.). stayed married until he died in 2003.

    justine got a fulbright to italy to consult on changing their social work system at univ level etc, had extensions twice—rare, 3 years in rome 1960-63. while larry wrote. came back a year &

    headed for mexico for another year (looking for george price larry’s best bud, & to see if they could find a way to support/live there. later learned they’d crossed w/george returning to sf where

    george a writing professor at sf state had returned via los angeles where he met zdena berger (price). zdena wrote TELL ME ANOTHER MORNING publ 1961 recently 2007 republd by
    paris press as a refound woman hero writer–abt surviving camps –she was from prague &
    of her wide family she, an aunt, a cousin survived world war 2.). justine when i first knew her in

    1970 was teaching at uc-berkeley in the school of social work and practicing as a founding member of the family therapy center in sf (then a pioneering approach). she had a long productive life. larry used to complain that justine was a great source of misinformation, which

    mostly amused her because maybe only larry could be teased that way and i heard it as

    “mixedinformation”. in her practice, justine’s “sand tray” therapy, its development and her

    teaching its use lead back to her work as a painter of oil on canvas to her incorporations, assemblings, environments with miniature figures, furniture, the natural world & symbols

    including her last great achievement “the white house”, her Venetian paintings, a series of frieze-like sculptures suffused with Jungian themes, & household objects combined into a mixed conglomeration arranged into painted autobiography and family history (much of this documented on film by al leveton). memories of justine, of larry, names that drift up, constellate

    & swim, a history, pantheon, honorable people. I thought of ruth witt-diamant again last night (justine & larry’s neighbor and friend who began the poetry center as san francisco state) & thanked her for all her kindnesses; oldest friend george & mary oppen through whom I met lawrence & justine fixel in 1970; of florence hegi, oldest of the family therapy group of friends

    & colleagues (al, eva, bob hovering over her to the very end) that justine belonged to: eva & al leveton w/ ben handleman the prime founders,& virginia belfort, sue eldredge; roz parenti, bob

    cantor, michael geis. neighbors too in those early days: loisand roy steinberg & julian, then 5, now a photographer; mark citret (ansel adams’ last student, then 22– eminent now); of al and minnie (a founding member of the california communist party, related to my sister jane by marriage) and daughter laura bock down high willard street; judy pollatsek and her kids josh & jessica; the wolfe’s on farnsworth steps; al palavin; the jaeks, a nice couple w/ kids goldsworths

    (he at uc-sf & judy) next to ruth witt’s; & memories of anais nin when she was lodged uphill in a cottage ruth found for her; the then taos-bound dorothy kethler; & in taos, bob eliot, who built

    said justine the ideal house; jo lander; florida & angela who worked for the un’s fao in rome; bill

    minshew first met in rome; george hitchcock; cass humble; edouard roditi who often returned from france–an old schoolmate of ruth’s at uc berkeley in the 30’s; james broughton; justine van gundy who taught at sf state; her san diego cousin dianne cawood, soprano; diane scott her therapist; tom, stephanie, dante sanchez; always cecelia (“cecel”, “cese”) & b.j., lynn, rudy

    hurwich; larry’s nephew robbie berkelman; & “old jack” (w.w. lyman, jr.) of bayles mill—born there in napa valley 1885–ruth brought me over to meet (‘the oldest living poet’ she’d drive up to bring down to san francisco . i was her gardener & the then young poet, 35, she wanted him to connect with, his wife helen hoyt an esteemed poet who’d been asst editor to harriet monroe at poetry magazine in chicago dead a decade or more by then)(his three volumes of typed memoirs–he lived to1983 leaving a son amos hoyt at bayles mill–are in st. helena, ca public library’s

    locked room); & others who make their entries but who’s names now escape me but will possibly come tomorrow; folks we met, knew together–panjandrum press & poetry flash crowds & dennis

    koran; richard steger; lennart & sonia bruce; shirley kaufman anthony rudolf; jo-anne rosen; laura beausoleil; david & judy gascoyne ; sybil wood/cooper; sharon coleman; gerald fleming; carl rakosi & marilyn kane. many gone before justine & so many more left because this was a woman

    who knew people & was interested in them: remembering her is to consider friends you make in life, who contributed to who you became, you’ve helped, who’ve helped you. final days,weeks, months, years, close were naomi schwartz , josephine moore, gail lubin, christina fisher, toby damon, andrea rubin, marsha trainer, al & eva leveton, ken meacham & pearl, wendy rosado-

    berkelman (larry’s sister pearl fixel berkelman’s daughter), her daughter sunya; tom sanchez; cecilia london (justine’s student at uc-berkeley who who returned to justine in those four years after larry’s death as justine’s guide/ social worker), & always stephanie sanchez, bob cantor, naomi, al & eva, george & zdena, cecel & don—friends, colleagues, confidantes.
    accretion. attrition. vale.

    Edward Mycue 18 SEPTEMBER 2007
    _____________________ page 2 of 3 pages
    for Justine Jones Fixel (Sept. 5, 1920-Aug. 5, 2007)
    A SEA _CHANGE___

    Fish in a net, old salts,
    as the wheels keep turning,
    a spinning plate half-dipping
    into the Pacific Ocean here
    you and I are at Land’s End

    on this tilting/raked stage
    where great ships foundered.
    Their sentences of life, death
    are unfinished symphonies;
    a future out there our audience

    who’ve sailed-in to watch
    a sea change, diminishing star
    dust a gusher pinkening milky
    sunrise, sunset in the gloaming
    thickening light a sea scar as

    roses silt down the sea to sleep.
    The wheel is round; life pushes;
    photography winds over time,
    westering, voicing the mind’s
    brown shale for it will take, it

    took a lifetime to flower, to fly,
    to sail this sea this widening
    light where I hear voices under
    the surface of consciousness:
    harmony’s memory rising up.
    page 3 of 3 pages
    Edward Mycue
    mycueed@yahoo.com P.O.Box 640543

  3. joseph, the following is also, in the line of process (which may not be a ‘line’ exactly but as much a development of) here is the following that is linked in consequence of what proceded it. ed

    HISTORY OF MIXEDINFORMATION A CIVIL TESTAMENT

    misinformation? i hear it as “mixedinformation”. justine jones fixel’s “sand tray”
    therapy, its development & interpretation of its use lead back to work of incorporations, assemblings, environments with miniature figures, furniture, the natural world &

    symbols, including jungian themes, household objects combined into a mixture or conglomerated arranged autobiography & family history. only so much drifts up and comes to me; maybe tomorrow, i tell my mind, which tires and yields no more today. each time something new/ old to be added—to be added & maybe subtracted, perhaps:

    accretion and attrition. i am revisioning here, looping backward on some primitive or primal vision quest, the kind that become formalized and discussed in cultural studies classes, the phenomenological journey that i will describe here/ now as JOURNEY FOR A WITNESS the name of the never published novel lawrence fixel wrote in those rome years 1960-63 that i first read in manuscript in 1971. is it a journey for a witness in a shifting landscape. this is/can be good or/& bad if it is thought of as ‘dissembling’—something justine fixel abhorred: a consciously altering what happened. depending on your point or viewing. it can be what propaganda means to us in the worst sense of public

    lying: a manipulation of truth, not just facts finally but essentially truth. so there is the disassembly or dis-assembling (‘dis’ is the lower, underworld, of disharmony, discord, associated with pluto, its god, hades), but it is also a rereading a re-visioning, a re-framing, new orchestration of old information: information, re-view, re-seen, re interpreted, an imagining the event the speech or/and physical happening from other angles, from other interlocutors’ other witnesses’. and in this journey it is the nature of witnessing and the recall of the witness, of the witnessing. here i part from ludwig wittgenstein, who said you shouldn’t speak what can’t be clearly expressed: my

    way is to experience what unfolds and to look at all of it as evidence. so my writing is a swiveling journey of weaving assessment/ reassessment. thus i don’t retreat from nor remove the record of my experience (no such soviet ‘erasures’)/ memory however faulty.
    tomorrow is another re-calling and inch by inch like a snail leaving my trail the dried

    goo of it may later appear in a moondream of my youth as a kind of diamond dust just as
    the glittery broken glass & trash did in that grungy alley behind darthmouth street in boston’s southend in 1960 when i went from denton, texas for more graduate study there. i tell whati remember & as process correct/ re-correct as each time reconnects, rebraids.
    i could call this memory/ meditation ‘bumps & dimples’ the way it recedes & comes forward in the convex & concave—hills& dales, lakes& streams, wells & springs of

    incidence & coincidence—co-inside/co-outside: the stigmata of mortality that some might consider history yet is but some scattered remains & this a civil testament of it.

    Edward Mycue 28 August 2007

  4. joseph, related to this is the work of maruice blanchot (who larry 1917-2003 and justine fixel 1920-2007 often referred to and who anthony rudolf translated or/and published i seem to recall). there’s a (formerly manchester) GUARDIAN site, one of several blogsites they have, this one for literature that mark thwaite edits http://www.readysteadybook.com that has had numerous posts of MAURICE BLANCHOT (1907-2003)and is further developing miniwebsites of particular authors, BLANCHOT being one of them. (readysteadybook.com/minisites/blanchot). here’s a quote from BLANCHOT “…the work–the work of art, the literary work–is neither finished nor unfinished: it is….”
    on the main site, a current blog discusses BLANCHOT’S NEGATIVITY.
    in all, it’s a great site that anthony rudolf (menard press, london) directed me to. (rudolf has a few great pieces on the essays list, one on jakov lind who recently died.) edward mycue

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