The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2018

All Issues
SEPT 2018 Issue


Some days the words are more meaningful than we are . . . I am always trying to surprise myself.” -John Yau, poet

Abstracting the idea from the fabric of reality which is already pretty abstract (idea/moment) / which is in a way the inspiration for the poem / from which that inspiration originates / emerges from . . . I’d say that’s MUSIC. What actually did I say? It’s like the artist who is really good when he/she/they are not thinking too much about how good they are while they are producing their art. At times, in order to suppress wild and possibly lyric impulses the artist seeks avoidance or clarity or timidity, consciously or otherwise. This is why we have so much predictable and to my mind, mediocre stuff out there.

From an interview Tennessee Williams conducted with himself: “. . . sometimes it is impossible to write seriously without being pretentious but it is almost never impossible to discuss your own work without it.”

A completely improvised set I heard when I first returned from San Francisco made me think about what is intended and/or unintended in one’s music. Three musicians in near perfect harmony/empathy yet on different planes sharing different ideas with what seemed little or no obvious preparations—showing every aspect of what they and the music could produce through what only can be described as a totally integrated experience. Perfect co-ordination / playing off each other’s sounds / bowing plucking all in sync / reflecting each other’s qualities / equivalencies / frequencies / textures.

For set two, they were joined by a horn player who blew and blew and blew, ever leaning harder into the music in a very Arthur Doyle-like fashion. Then slowing momentarily allowing the listeners to catch their breaths. This was when I wondered: “Will he play a semi-restrained balladic line for a bit to allow me to see if / how he can control his instrument so I can determine what he is capable of?” Alas no. So I never got to know what he was completely versed in musically and technically no matter how hard I listened (there’s that word again). Either way the evening did not disappoint me.

While in San Francisco I heard an impressive set by Phillip Greenlief, missing another by him. I had no one to go to Oakland with to hear David Murray, so I passed. So my music for the month was very thin, though I did get in a lot of poetry and art and met many great folks, particularly in the heart of North Beach at Café Trieste and Specs Bar.

I had my gall bladder removed so much of the summer was spent at home. When better, I did catch some great moments by the Steve Swell, Dick Griffin, Joe McPhee trio at Zurcher Gallery. Also, the Matt Mottel, Mike Watt, Matt Shipp trio at MoMA Sculpture Garden, and one of my favorite 60s artists, Jesse Colin Young in a solo set and with a band that rivaled the Youngbloods.

With his latest book Elegy For My Beat Generation (Lithic Press 2018) what Neeli Cherkovski gives us is a personal, passionate peek into his life. This prolific, generous, self deprecating, long standing, important West Coast poet—with affinities to both L.A. (where he was born,) and San Francisco (where he has resided for years)—shares with us his intimate takes on friends and fellow artists with whom he feels a deep kinship, those who have survived life’s struggles and all the endless poetry wars. As Neeli says in “Spent Shadow” for the late, great David Meltzer, “languages are real / they have spines and elbows / languages are not domicile . . .” And indeed what he shows over and over again is a joyous celebration of the language of poetry, weaving it endlessly into what he refers to as “a demonic quilt.”

From his poem for Charles Bukowski, with whom he shared an intimate relationship (as he did and still does with many others in this book), “Neeli, come join me, I am . . . dying for light.” There are tributes to Gregory Corso; “When Gregory dies / there is a white butterfly in the yard taking notes . . . the piano players take a bow . . .” There are homages to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, Jerome Rothenberg, Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, Jack Hirschman, Jack Kerouac, Joanne Kyger, Bob Kaufman, Alan Kaufman, John Wieners; “John I do feel you walking / into the hallway where your mind / portfolios possible routes / good endings beautiful routines . . . I learn how to tie knots that will last over time . . . ” He also shows unlimited compassion for lesser known poets like Jessica Loos; “I see Jessica / she comes for Christmas lunch / and gives my house a lift / into the bedazzling canopy stars.” Then there is his epic poem for Jack Mueller; “to know words for seeing taking to bind / where land is thrust up dead dollar / and worm-dimes . . . in case of fire build history . . .” The litany of beautiful lines goes on and on from one poem to the next nonstop.

In his heart-wrenching poem “Shostakovitch on the Radio,” he invokes the spirit of Bukowski (a classical music junkie), as the poem weaves in and out between the past and the present, by conversing with him about the likes of Rachmaninoff and Mahler, “ . . . the tough old men,” as he claims Buk called them, coming out of the radio as the two indulge in drink and smoke. When Shostakovitch “rose out of one of his last symphonies” and “battled it out with duels and death,” Neeli says Buk simply stated, “He’s a God.” As the poem progresses, “One night Shostakovich / visited while we / drank in excess, he chain-/ smoked and bit his nails, / when the music ran wild / he turned into a furnace / and we drank.” 

Here are a few choice words by Cherkovski in his poems for Corso and Kerouac that can easily describe him, his wit, his deep empathy and love of the art of poetry and those who manifest it; he finds “a complete complex of simplicity / in a few well-chosen lines” (from “Gregory Corso,”) and for Kerouac “a celebration . . . to jumpstart verbs across the pages . . . with pious profound improvisations . . .” and “rhythms . . . on our way to the forge.”

Amor Fati: New & Selected PoemsTIor

by Jack Mueller (Lithic Press 2013). 

“You will never
understand me,
I will never
understand you.
Love starts there.”

- J.M.

Mueller and Lithic Press are new names to me. I encountered both when in San Francisco. I was taken to a memorial for Mueller. The event was officiated by the poets Jessica Loos and Cherkovski. I found Mueller’s life and work fascinating. At one point my wife, poet, artist, essayist Yuko Otomo showed me a copy of Amor Fati, pointing out what a beautiful production it was and how great the content was as well. I opened the book randomly and came upon these words from the long poem “What Can I Say”: “Music is impossible & yet / it’s here! What can I say / I hear it! I hear it!” and I was immediately hooked. From his poem “Boxwork”: “ The earth is older yet / There are degrees of hardness in the rock / a rhythmic layering . . .” Even within this poem, which incorporates the natural phenomena of the Earths, Mueller never forgets the music of language: “The rhythmic sediment goes like this / ABCDCBA” he continues, “there is no telling when hot music will arise or faults will thrust up…”

My dissecting Mueller’s work like this and thereby altering its form almost seems cruel since it only teases the reader at this point. But I can’t resist. Take “That’s My Point,” when Mueller states “Life chose you / and you can choose / your own rate / of decay … only the child / the poet / and a woman / know what they want… / We are bone seeds / that do not know / how to take off our skin…a banjo / picking out new solitude / a body / walking alone / on sufficient roads to /anywhere . . . C’mon, the point, / obviously, is moving / and that’s the point.” And these poems are always moving in every possible direction and with every possible feeling and intelligence one can muster. Read them. Be moved. Maybe even altered like stone eventually alters. And I think I’ll leave it right there. No. I’d rather Mueller has the last word. “Snow White still has her seven dwarfs / And there is war.”

“Sound is the reflex of form. / a storm / that comes and goes.” “Sing those other songs / already sung”

For Geofffrey Hedricks, a friend and kind soul who did headstands for PEACE. “What can I say?” 


Steve Dalachinsky

Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become one—the french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2018

All Issues