Last night, Vincent Katz, the poet, translator, art critic,
and curator, brought the Black Mountain School of Poetry to The New
School. He read poems by Ed Dorn, John
Wiener, Charles Olsen, and Robert Creeley.
The Black Mountain poets, Vincent reminded us, were a huge influence on the Language writers, and the Language writers continue to influence poetry today.
From his own work, he read the poems, “Joy Street” “Window,” “The Hard Way,” and “Fecundity,” a recent poem written for the painter Alexander Twombly, in which the speaker says that he keeps all of what is given to him by his children, but of his own possessions, he keeps less and less.
Vincent also read a poem that he’d written for Robert Creeley, “Raleigh Night: to Bob.”
“Creeley was huge for me,” Vincent said. “Even now — he never ceases to amaze me. As great artists do, he changes — he doesn’t stick with what he has done before. He writes about elemental experience: anger, fear, birth, death, suffering.”
Vincent said that, early on, he was as much attracted to Creeley’s poetry as he was to Creeley’s personae. He cited Jonathan William’s 1955 photograph of Creeley, “Portrait of Creeley as a Spanish assassin,” and said, “There was something dangerous, and Rock & Roll about him.” And yet, Creeley liked to write in exclusion, in silence, whereas Frank O’Hara could write poetry at a cocktail party.
Speaking of the New York School of Poets, David Lehman said that the New York School poets wanted to charm whereas The Black Mountain poets didn’t care about being charming. Or very funny.
“The Black Mountain Poets were a bit aggressive,” Vincent said, “and more likely to be adversarial, politically minded. They weren’t interested in description and simile and traditional forms, such as the sonnet.”
David said: “I think that today we can be influenced by both the Black Mountain Poets and the Language writers, and still feel O.K. about writing a sonnet. Battles have been fought and won, and now we’re free to write the kind of poetry we want to write. Look at Ted Berrigan. Even if he didn’t always follow a strict sonnet form, he still used the sonnet.”
“I agree with you,” Vincent said. “But, again, I think of Robert Creeley. He’s a powerful example of someone who stuck to his principles. When you read his work, he makes you think twice about returning to the sonnet.”
David (who has probably written at least one poem at a cocktail party) said as a kind of non-concession, concession: “Well, I guess the New York Poets were more interested in traditional forms.”
And then Vincent and David moved on to the subject of Creeley’s celebrated line breaks, and Vincent offered this, by Clark Coolidge:
“In a quiet moment I hear Bob pause when I never would have expected it. Such resolve. Such heart. And an ear to reckon with. No truly further American poem without his.”
-- Angela Patrinos