Saturday, May 19, 2007


"What is not permitted is recognition": Dorn visits "Dog"

"Walking The Dog". It must have been in 1979 or 1980 that Robert Creeley presided in Buffalo over a graduate seminar he idiosyncratically so titled, consisting predominantly of guest appearances by friends of his engaged in various fields of human endeavor. The visitors I remember as appearing are poets (my ordering is alphabetical) Edward Dorn, Allen Ginsberg, Joanne Kyger, Denise Levertov and Margaret Randall; sculptors John Chamberlain and John Duff; a Scientist whose name and even particular field of activity I can't recall; film-maker Stan Brakhage; and the hard-to-classify, and surely immortal, team of Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Besides what occurred in the classroom, there were associated events, such as the screening of a curious and unsettling film about tattered realms of New York City made by Arakawa and Gins; and presentations of the wonderful 1960's National Educational Television interviews of Duncan, Levertov, and Olson, including not just what made it to TV screens but also outtakes.

This whole delightful panoply had been made possible by the resources that come with the David Gray Chair of Poetry and Letters, which had just recently been conferred on Robert C. I should note that the class was cross-listed with the Art Department (I'm pretty sure Fine Arts rather than Art History), and a prematurely gray-haired artist/professor whose name I don't recall was officially Team Teacher alongside Creeley; as I recall he was extemely shy and never said all that much--perhaps because few if any students of Art had elected to take the class.

As the day came for Dorn's visit, my friends and I feared that his words for us were going to be but pointless and preening. For we had all been shocked by the recent release of Hello, La Jolla , which seemed pulverized, crabbed, and dopey--an incredible and arrogant drop-off from what previously he had done. After reading La Jolla, someone I know suggested the creation of a formal Anti-Dorn Society.

We couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised. Dorn was one of the best & most focused of all the visitors. His sly discourse, and the subsequent q&a, was gripping--he had come carefully prepared with striking contentions.

He said he was very suspicious of the way Singleness was being promoted everywhere as a wonderfully liberated way of life. He said that this catered to the interest of all sorts of Enterprises, since you could sell a Single person anything.

He said that people say no sincerity is allowed in the Workplace--but actually there has to be a degree of sincerity, or everything would grind to a halt : that which is not permitted is recognition.

He said everyone looks down in the 1950's, but that actually there was a certain legitamacy to that decade's development.

He said that people then felt freer to move around the country--he said that people now feel stuck because of the demands of bureacracies like those that give out Unemployment Insurance.

He said you could have much more privacy then--you could blow into some town, and get a job somewhere, without revealing much of anything about your past.

He said that when someone tells you that a policy must be pursued because of the needs of the Future, you should not listen.

(Yes, Dear Reader, that last one is rather problematic).

He said that the rigorous writings of geographer Carl O. Sauer were a lot more legitimate than what passes today for Ecology.

He said he that liked to put some things in his poems that were slippery & perplexing: "it's a service that you do for the reader".

During the q&a that followed, some Traditionalist graduate students (not members of the class, and not people who often or ever came to others of these sessions--I should note that this seminar was held in a very large room within the English Department building & anyone at all who wished to partake was always welcome) asked questions probing the relation of Dorn's earliest poems to British pastoral and lyrical traditions, but E.D. brushed these questions off.

Except for the question I myself asked, I don't remember more about the q&a, except that, as in his lecture, Dorn's discourse was not at all shabby. My comment/question was about "An Opinion on a Matter of Public Safety", the anti-airbag poem from Hello, La Jolla. I had found this poem to be both anti-poetic and rather callous. In addressing Dorn, I hardly wanted to speak of what I took to be the poem's aesthetic thinness; but I did want to discuss the public issue in itself, and in so far as Dorn's position was possibly a quite unhealthy warping of the Olsonian/Black Mountain concern for Attentiveness.

I cannot say Dorn "converted" me, but in our back and forth I was very impressed by the seriousness with which he backed up and defined the poem's argument. Whatever one made of it, aesthetically or morally, there was clearly a lot of thought behind his "Opinion" (a full account of what I remember of this dialogue may or may not be posted at some later date).

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I hope that you will post the longer version at some point.
I, too, would look forward to anything else you might be able to dredge up from your dialogue with E.D. I last saw him in 1974, and thought he was wryly funny and sharp as a new razor.
OK, I will try to put up something about that conversation with Dorn within a week or two. I will probably doing posts about other things first. I would like to do some closer-to-real-time posts about events of this spring and summer, like seeing Rae Armantrout last night at the St. Mark's Poetry Project, and finding I was now in love with her poetry after hearing her actual voice, as I suspected would happen. There's all this stuff I wish I had been commenting on in real time, when last I was blogging in 2006.
I saw Dorn not long before you did, in Iowa City in November 1978 at the Olson festival there. I think Hello La Jolla was just out. Dorn was present at the conference in a very open and non-hero-worshipping way of Olson, and carefully identified himself not as a student of Olson, but as "Olson's student," and elucidated some of the wonder and problematics of that. He also would just as soon talk of southwest landscape (in Sauer's sense) as anyone's poetry. I found him altogether engaging and, already a friend of his poetry, remained so. Something of his mindset about *doing* helped me soon thereafter to start a press, first printing books on a Vandercook press, including, after a few years, Dorn's Captain Jack's Chaps.
fascinating stephen,

glad to see you writing and doing it so well. i always figured you had it in you.

jeff kisseloff

Wonderful to hear from you! Thanks very much for checking out what I'm doing these days, and I'm very happy that you find my writing to be of interest.

In High School, I didn't know you would become a writer, (I don't believe you were particularly focused on that in those days) but I assumed that you would always be a person of integrity rather than someone who bends with the winds of fashion (excuse the cliche).

I found out your address in New Paltz, and will write you a letter within the next three weeks.

For those who might not know, this is now posted to Pennsound: under 'Walking the Dog Seminar Lecture, December 7, 1978'. Direct link here:

Justin Katko
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