Friday, September 9, 2016

The Poets and Poetry of Peter Culley

On Wednesday I flew to Vancouver to read from and talk about the poets and poetry of Peter Culley for a National Gallery of Canada event in support of Geoffrey Farmer's Canadian Pavilion presence at the 57th La Biennale di Venezia next year.

The original plan was to read some of Peter's poems, but Geoffrey suggested we include poems by those who had influenced Peter and the Kootenay School of Writing with whom he is associated (a "school" that included poet/critics such as Jeff Derksen, Lisa Robertson and Nancy Shaw), as well as those who came before KSW (such as TISH poet/editors George Bowering, Daphne Marlatt and Fred Wah and Internedia poet/artists bill bissett, Judith Copithorne, Maxine Gadd, Gerry Gilbert, Al Neil and Roy Kiyooka).

Unfortunately time flew, so by the time I was to present, I had to set aside those contextual poems and, like Kitty did in her presentation of Geoffrey and his work, supply not the works themselves but a list of their titles -- with the promise that I would post the unread poems on my blog.

The Peter poems I read from and discussed were "Fruit Dots" (1986) and "The Provisions" (2003). "Fruit Dots" because it speaks to the pastoral-natural that Peter was so fond of and because it is, like Geoffrey's The Last Two MIllion Years (2007) and Leaves of Grass (2012), a work of collage -- in this instance, made from lines drawn from a 19th century botany text. "The Provisions" because it follows nicely from the scientific arcadia of "Fruit Dots" in that it opens with a series of marks made in "nature" by the encroachment of human culture, an at times violent encroachment reminiscent of the landscape photography of Vancouver artists Stan Douglas, Ian Wallace, Jeff Wall and Roy Arden, artists with whom Peter was familiar with and, in the case of Roy and Stan, had written on.

I should also say that the contextual poems were drawn from the New American Poetry (1960), an important anthology edited by Donald Allen and introduced to Vancouver audiences through the teachings of influential UBC English professor Warren Tallman. The Ginsberg poem was chosen because we recognize him as a successor to Whitman (whose Leaves of Grass [1855] inspired Geoffrey's work of the same name). The O'Hara poems because he is something of a model for the North American poet/critic. The Guest poem in part because there are only four women in the original New American Poetry anthology. And finally, the Creeley poem because it was Creeley who "discovered" Peter at the 1980 Poetry Colloquium that Barry McKinnon, et al., organized in Prince George.

A Supermarket in California
Allen Ginsberg

What thoughts I have of you tonight Walt Whitman, for I walked down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
     In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
     What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!—and you, Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

     I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys. 
     I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops? What price bananas? Are you my Angel?
     I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you, and followed in my imagination by the store detective. 
     We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the cashier.

     Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight? 
     (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and feel absurd.) 
     Will we walk all night through solitary streets? The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely. 
     Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automobiles in driveways, home to our silent cottage? 
     Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of Lethe? 


Why I Am Not A Painter
Frank O’Hara

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES. 


Lana Turner has collapsed!
Frank O’Hara

Lana Turner has collapsed!
I was trotting along and suddenly
it started raining and snowing
and you said it was hailing
but hailing hits you on the head
hard so it was really snowing and
raining and I was in such a hurry
to meet you but the traffic
was acting exactly like the sky

and suddenly I see a headline 
there is no snow in Hollywood
there is no rain in California
I have been to lots of parties
and acted perfectly disgraceful
but I never actually collapsed
oh Lana Turner we love you get up


Parachutes, My Love, Could Carry Us Higher
Barbara Guest (1960)from her first book The Location of Things 

I just said I didn’t know
And now you are holding me
In your arms,
How kind.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher.
Yet around the net I am floating
Pink and pale blue fish are caught in it.
They are beautiful,
But they are not good for eating.
Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher
Than this mid-air in which we tremble,
Having exercised our arms in swimming,
Now the suspension, you say,
Is exquisite. I do not know
There is coral below the surface,
There is sand, and berries
Like pomegranates grow.
This wide net, I am treading water
Near it, bubbles are rising and salt
Drying on my lashes, yet I am no nearer
Air than water. I am closer to you
Than land and I am in a stranger ocean
Than I wished.


Like They Say
Robert Creeley

Underneath the tree on some
soft grass I sat, I

watched two happy
woodpeckers be dis-

turbed by my presence.   And
why not, I thought to

myself, why

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