To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
.......................................again
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, February 19, 2009

El Corno Emplumado: Tribute & Poem

[Written for a presentation at the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center (New York University) of the documentary film el corno emplumado/the plumed horn - una historia de los sesenta, directed by Anne Mette Nielsen and Nicolenka Beltrán, followed by a panel discussion including Sergio Mondragón, Margaret Randall, Jerome Rothenberg and Cecilia Vicuña. Moderated by Anne Mette W. Nielsen.]

When you say in the title of the film “a story [una historia] from the 60s,” it seems like only yesterday to me, while to others it must be like what the twenties felt like to us back in the sixties. It’s a story, then, from forty years ago, and forty years in real time is, I think, a great duration by anyone’s reckoning. But ”the sixties” as such is also an idea, and the idea gets repeated and modified over the intervening years, until it becomes, in anyone’s mind, more real and clearly more enduring than the time itself was. The difference between then and now, for me, is that then I lived with hope and now with only a kind of desperation. Yet it was at the beginning of the 1960s – which weren’t yet the 1960s as we speak of them – that Robert Kelly proclaimed for me (for us) a “poetics of desperation” in which we came to share. In relation to that and what followed, the real 1960s (which included also the early 1970s) were a kind of time between – a liminal moment, as we liked to say, in which what was possible and hopeful dared to assert itself against the odds. And those odds, that oddness, meant a real war then in progress and a real clash of ideas in which we called for change and transformation – not just a change of political parties as now, but “a total assault on the culture” (in Ed Sanders’ words) and growing from that a total transformation, for which we thought (or some of us did) that poetry’s changes were a signal of the greater changes still to come.

It was in that milieu of desperation and hope that El Corno began – part of a cultural underground that thought it was finally coming to the surface (to the light). Many of us had magazines and presses then (it was part of our privilege where we lived and worked) but with El Corno there was also something different. In the U.S. the greatest exultation among poets was over the flowering – and the domination – of North American poetry. (The ”American grain” clearly as William Carlos Williams had it – not an imperial venture but pretty close.) But what Corno did, what it brought together were the two Americas – not only an international perspective but a truly collaborative venture across two or more languages and cultures. The larger world view (weltlieratur as Goethe had it long ago) was implicit in this – in practice here more than in theory – and something more than literature in fact: a youthful call on the revolutionary poets, the shape shifters of the world – to unite!

With all of this I was a delighted fellow traveler, looking up from my own poetic efforts and glad to respond to Meg’s and Sergio’s call when it came [Margaret Randall and Sergio Mondragón]. And for six or seven years thereafter I was a recipient of the amazing mix of images and voices that was El CornoEmplumado and blesst to think that I was a part of that as well. I had a place in nine or ten of their issues and they were the publishers as well of my fourth book of poems – The Gorky Poems (Poemas Gorky) in 1966 – a bilingual work with translations into Spanish by Sergio and Meg. In the mode of celebration, I want to read a poem or two from that and to end my presentation with a poem I wrote in 1966 and translated myself into Spanish, to mark the fourth anniversary of El Corno Emplumado. I will read a few lines of the Spanish translations and then the poems in English.

[Reads] from The Gorky Poems: ”The Pirate” and ”Child of an Idumean Night.”
[Then reads] A Poem for El Corno Emplumado:

CORNO EMPLUMADO IMPROVISACION BLUES Y FANTASIA
PLUMED HORN IMPROVISATION BLUES & FANTASY

6 agosto 1965

corno emplumado deliciosa pluma albaricoque y aurora
de inventos enmascarados con corno emplumado
levantándose del mar revelándose corno emplumado
corno emplumado corno emplumado de muerte
corno emplumado de recuerdos corno emplumado de relojes y manzanas
corno iridiscente y emplumado mis muebles de lienzos vacíos


. . . . . . .

plumed horn delicious feather apricot & dawn
rising from the sea revealing plumed horn
of masked invention with plumed horn
plumed horn of memories plumed horn of clocks & apples
iridescent & plumed horn my furniture of empty canvases
plumed horn abandoned horn delightful whispering & vanished horn
is plumed horn dreaming in me forcing
plumed horn’s knowledge growing plumed horn’s veins & arteries
the pulse of plumed horn I was mad to feel
of plumed horn thrust of plumed horn through your flesh
of bullets bursting from plumed horn
of jellyfish & squid black sperm liquid liquid liquid plumed horn mass
of plumed horn substance substance into shape
of birthshape submarine plumed horn
plumed horn of sex
plumed horn of risen penis swollen cunt plumed horn
plumed plumed horn is biting
opens into empty rooms the flesh is red & violent with plumed horn
white along the sides of plumed horn
sweat is plumed horn
cunt on tongue is plumed horn
clitoris is plumed horn
fat of buttocks hair of ass is plumed horn
plumed horn passage plumed horn entry entry
dawn is plumed horn
dust of streets is plumed horn
marsh is plumed horn
vegetable is plumed horn
eye of squash is plumed horn
featherseed is plumed horn
flag is plumed horn
cry of the dying animal is plumed horn
white white is plumed horn
black is plumed horn’s sighting of plumed horn
plumed horn learning all the colors
plumed horn all liquids meet & are plumed horn
plumed horn my love my loves my deaths my memories my cry into your throat
o let us never die plumed horn plumed plumed horn plumed horn
plumed horn to bury us & to be plumed & be plumed horn

[first published in el corno emplumado, number 17, january 1966]