Broken headline column:
“YOU ARE GO
IN TO END”
Allen Ginsberg dives through the space hatch.
I watch him from the rim, hear his voice
trail a statement “MAN ISSSSSSSSSS . . . . . . . . ”
as he disappears into dot-hood.
The Poets—Anne Waldman, me, “all The Poets”—float
in interstellar space—a substance I
can touch, a fine sheen. & then I’m up against the sun,
its soft orange neon glow. “THE SUN,” I say, “IS BIG!”
Pause, a chair sails silent past me & into solar radiance.
“CHAIR INTO SUN!” I remark (a parody of big
Then I am back on Earth,
speed-skating on the “Power-Cones.”
—from This 8 (1977); see also Portrait and Dream, p. 154
I had come to New York with a purpose—to visit Ted Greenwald, whose health had been failing (see here), and to make contact with people and see art (see here). I was not expecting to see Bill, whom I knew had been living partly in New York but whom I had not seen for some time (not since we read at MOCAD in Detroit, an event so poorly framed and executed—not by Bill, of course, who sounded great—that I only remember it with displeasure). One of my contacts mentioned that Bill would be reading with Kyle Schlesinger at a gallery in Chelsea, and sent an email with time and place, to begin at 5:30. (The date was 7 May 2016, at the Nancy Margolis Gallery, an internet search reveals.) After concluding my visit with Ted, I headed for Chelsea to finish my storm tour of galleries and then attend the reading. In the spirit of seeing art, I thought I would see Bill and Kyle—as persons, but also as art. At some point quickly I ran out of interest in the gallery world, though I did see some very high-end art (Haim Steinbach, Bruce Conner, Thornton Willis, Carmen Herrera, Cindy Sherman, and Anish Kapoor). With about an hour of time to kill, I stopped in at the small tapas bar below 23rd Street (Tia Pol on 10th Avenue) and ordered a cold fino and tapa. Sitting next to me was a serious looking woman doing the same; we got to talking and I learned that she was a psychiatrist with a career in brain injuries. Without moving into the topic too quickly, I eventually brought up my friend H— W— and her visual hallucinations. What might a diagnosis for such a phenomenon be? From extensive clinical experience, she thought it might involve a brain lesion, not simply psychosis. Interesting. We continued the conversation until I saw that it was time to go to make the reading: 5:30 as planned.
Arriving at the gallery, there was a scene much like that described, nearly forty years ago, in Bill’s poem “Dream.” In an entryway bathed in light, up a short, broad flight of stairs, were gathered “all the poets”—Bill central among them, but in company, as described above, with Anne Waldman, Ron Padgett, Lewis Warsh, John Godfrey, and Kyle Schlesinger, among many. I had arrived in the virtual heaven of the New York School, the eternity its authors are perpetually in! Bill greeted me immediately and with some surprise: “I’m sorry you missed the reading!” “I did? But it was announced for 5:30.” “That was an earlier email, and they decided to change the time to 3:30.” Thus disappointed but enlightened, we discussed the event. Bill had read from his recently published Invisible Oligarchs, concerning his travels to Russia and in particular his displeasure with the vatic assumptions of my close friend, Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. There are several snippy moments in which Arkadii seems to be dissing Bill and Bill does not appreciate it—a divergence of assumption as to what counts as “poet” is likely central. Hence the intriguing notion of the poet as an “invisible oligarch” as a shadowy figure of sovereignty and illicit spiritual or temporal power, akin to the current reputation of oligarchs in Putin’s Russia. This is precisely the kind of sovereignty that Bill—who has many high-status and high-born contexts and connections—is at pains to disavow in his work. The form of poetry must preserve a democracy and openness, in short, that an oligarch could scarcely comprehend. The form of the present work—an occasional collection of letters, notebook writings, collaged scraps of travel documents and other ephemera, along with a few poems—would support an openness, democracy, and even material textuality in contrast to the shadowy spirit of the Russians. Such a reading is highly supported by the detail of the work, and I invite corroboration from others. In the midst of the text, as well, comes a short paragraph on the Russians and catastrophic history from The Grand Piano that Bill liked and copied. He mentioned he read it, and that he would send me a copy of the book as soon as he returned home. Which he did, inscribing it: “For Barry / with thanks (p. 57) / & cheers, / Bill.” After our brief but exceptionally direct talk—with an intensity of gaze in the most positive sense—and hugs and handshakes with Anne, Lewis, and Kyle, the poets were called by shadowy forces and faded into the evening, as only those in New York can do. But with the promise of the meeting, a current address, and an overdue desire to reeturn to the Bay Area as well, I would certainly make an effort to see Bill next time I went out. Which, it turns out, I did.