Tuesday, March 20, 2007

One expert's view of the late Professor Creeley

I have been certified as an expert in the life and work of ten people: W.H. Auden, Daniel Berrigan, John Cage, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, James Dickey, Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, Andy Warhol, and James Wright. The list is accidental. I wanted to interview Ezra Pound, for example, and discussed the matter on the phone with Olga Rudge; but, before I could fly to Italy, Pound died. I read every one of John Ashbery’s publications many times, prepared questions for an interview, and had my tape recorder ready; but an hour before the interview was to begin, Ashbery phoned to cancel.

Robert Creeley tried to write for a living. That writing, done in the Fifties and early Sixties, is generally admired and recognized. And the recognition led to prestigious teaching jobs. But talking about literature to adoring students can turn to neglect of the painful and difficult labor of serious creativity. It happens all the time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New York Irish

Staten Island has its St Patrick’s Day Parade two weeks before Manhattan. This year the Staten Island Advance clucked, “Parade ends in Disappointing Melee.” The crew on the Ferry, however, described a bang-up brawl; they didn’t seem disappointed. I witnessed my first Parade in New York from the balcony of Goethe House on 5th Avenue. As endless assorted boring groups marched past, three teenage boys engaged two cops in conversation. Suddenly to my astonishment the boys leapt on the cops and started pummeling them. Eventually the cops got to their feet and were swinging their nightsticks as the boys ran merrily into Central Park. St Paddy’s is the annual Irish insurrection. A couple years later I encountered an utterly inebriated Irish girl on Canal Street. She wore a button which said, “Fuck the British,” and she gave every passing male the Britney eye. Where were the nuns? A friend from New Orleans told me she lost her virginity at 16 and got pregnant just like that. And, oh, she never did get the guy’s name. This was 1970. She was a star pupil at the Academie du Sacre Coeur. Her mother flew her to New York for an abortion.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Color-coded months

In February I visited my mother in a Catholic nursing home in northern Ontario. I dream of her almost every night. I just awoke from a dream in which we were flying on some fancy plane from one Pacific Isle to another. I got off the plane to deal with luggage. The airport was warm and sunny and the people beautiful. Unfortunately I woke up.

The nursing home lays great emphasis on time. Most residents have short-term memory problems. They are confused about the hour or the year or the day. The months seem almost color-coded. February, when I last saw her, was still red for Valentine’s. The most popular saint in the month of March is Patrick, and his color is green for Ireland; green was starting to make its appearance. Maybe next month will be lilac for Easter. God bless us all!