“All that a man knows, and needs to know, is found in Berkeley.”
-W.B. Yeats, mispronounced by Jack Spicer
Some things are worth waiting for. I submitted “Reading James Joyce at the Berkeley Marina” to Berkeley Poetry Review in January 2013, and it was accepted in August that year. However, due to the Editor-in-Chief’s struggle with a major illness, my contributor’s copy just found its way through my mail slot here in England this morning.
The issue must be something of a small victory for the editor, which he writes about in his preface. It is for me too. As an undergraduate at Berkeley, I applied to a creative writing workshop with some of my poems. I still recall standing outside the classroom door, reading and rereading the list of accepted students, my name not on it. Little did I know how fitting an introduction to the writing life this would be.
This issue is a tome, featuring poets from Ashbery to Hass, filled with terriffic historical documents, letters, concrete poems, and sketches. It is a kind of tribute to Berkeley’s intellectual and artistic history in its way. Needless to say I am eager to get stuck in to it.
You can order this issue, or subscribe, at the Berkeley Poetry Review website. Here also is a photo of my poem.
“I’ve often been quoted: ‘No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.’ But another distinction I made is: however sad, no grievance, grief without grievance. How could I, how could anyone have a good time with what cost me too much agony, how could they? What do I want to communicate but what a hell of a good time I had writing it? The whole thing is performance and prowess and feats of association. “
— Robert Frost
I resisted John Ashbery. In part, for his popularity, and in part, like so many prophets, because I was suspicious of his followers. And so, I came to read Some Trees out of a sense of obligation to be a good citizen in the world of poetry. But the experience of encountering Ashbery’s work for myself, firsthand, and (as much as possible) on my own terms, setting aside outside influence — was significant. Ashbery’s work subverted my expectations even as it illustrated to me the significance of subverting expectation as a fundamental aspect of poetry.
Simply subverting expectation is not, however, enough. There is a sense of coherence in Ashbery’s work, at the same time that one has the exciting sense that any line might follow any other line. That is, simultaneously, there is surprise, and freedom, and a sense of intellectual wildness, tempered by a governing theme. What I learned from Ashbery is that there are specific tactics one can deploy to keep a poem moving — both for the reader and the writer.