Monday, July 06, 2009


Blaser, Buffalo, circa '76: a memory

I think it was in 1976 when the State University of New York at Buffalo Student Association Poetry Committee (isn't it great that there was such an entity--I imagine that there isn't one now)--invited Robin Blaser (May 1925-May 2009) to be part of its reading series and he graciously accepted. I don't think that any of the other people we invited from outside the University were from such a distance as Vancouver, British Columbia--the other Student Association poetry reader from that year that I remember was Armand Schwerner, from New York City. (I don't think I was an official member of the Poetry Committee but I attended some of the meetings and otherwise heard about developments through my committee-person friends).

All of us on or close to the Committee were absolutely horrified when the student-artist who had been tapped to create a poster unveiled his or her creation: the visual art component was fine, but the print read "ROBIN BLAZER: THE BEST-KNOWN UNKNOWN POET". The Poetry Committee member(s) who spoke to the artist had indeed used the offending phrase at one point, attemping to deliniate RB's status in the Poetry World. It certainly wasn't desired though that such a phrase appear on the actual poster--nor that Blaser's name by mis-spelled. I told my best friend on the Committee that "The Best-Known Unknown Poet" formula sounded like Madison Avenue; she said what do you mean Madison Avenue, it was like Chippewa Street (at that time the Buffalo street most associated with hookers).

We were braced for trouble, but, surprise, surprise, the first words out of Blaser's mouth when he reached the microphone were "I liked that poster!" Or at least he liked the "best known unknown" characterization. He said he could do without the mistaken "z" since that evoked a long history of unfortunate Germanic/French entanglements...And then, what can I say, the absolute enchantment of a Robin Blaser poetry reading.

Various people I knew, including of course the Poetry Committe people, and the professor I most venerated, John Clarke, hung out with Blaser at a bar that evening. My God!--I have no idea why I wasn't there; some frigging test I had to study for? (Btw, I don't think Robert Creeley was present at the reading or at the bar, I think he was out of town at the time). Later, of course, I heard a little bit about what was discussed that night, which I learned included the question of why the Working Class wasn't more interested in listening to Beethoven.

My Best Friend from the Poetry Committee said she enjoyed sharing stories with Robin that night about Disappointing Men. And wow, the next day she arrived at the scheduled final meeting without the check she was supposed to hand him. He was gracious about even that; other arrangements were made.

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