The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2014

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MAR 2014 Issue

from Slow Poetry in America



            Long days of summer spin unevenly.
            Past a place of stillness you pass
            time in play and labor.
            Chinaberry losses. Horizon.
            Watch a storm swell there. Black
            clouds bloom the internal chimera.
            Find a way back to native origin.
            Azimuth. No path but what circles
            back these days—sound, wording other.








Slow Poetry in America the hidden, the submerged. What comes to mind is a quick drifting and settling, a determination of inexact orders.
            The whole sound of quick flight and figures featured
            like a pet terrapin, the band Styx, lifting weights in summer
            nighttime garage. A sleeveless top, exposed arms and bench
            presses cohere a young mind in the mindlessness of a new
            body awareness. Quicken the tempo of operatic
            shifted signals, cross beat passages into a future beyond.
            Alert in new salvages of haywire destiny—observe.







Wake to the chatter of children. We adhere to shifting narratives that hold momentarily.
            A violent lake monster from Oxtongue breathes
            Fire between pines. Watercolor dries.
            Look between lines. Go behind words.
            As witnesses to events migrate through time
            let the record show: dispersed leaves; a lit
            November sidewalk (freshly cemented);
            black squirrels clinging to bare pear limbs;
            and voices of children like the chorus of oneself
            remixed and replayed in dissolute loops.
            A mistook clarity. Light the illusive fest….







Philip Whalen spent every day with Slow Poetry In America.
            Once Mike, Anselm, Eddie, Hoa and I met him at the Hartford Street Zen Center and held the door open as he huffed and ducked and tucked himself into Mike’s big Impala. Philip was blind, or mostly blind, and took up a lot of space with his body. He was enthusiastic for Chinese food, and we drove to a place on Church Street.
            We ordered onion cakes and dumplings and he beat his chest like Tarzan and sang: ONION CAKES.
            Philip told us about his friends Lew Welch and Gary Snyder, and about Portland, Oregon, where he had met William Carlos Williams as a student. He gave us an impression about life at the Zen Center. It was an uneventful and pleasant lunch, a moment, I’ve always thought, as a kind of transmission. What I liked was the ease of Slow Poetry in America into the life of the poet. The living and the writing, the eating and the aims of attention cohered within the every day presence of the seemingly mundane. Philip was concerned with whole systems of bodies of knowledge and feeling: physics, botany, travel, art, literary history, sunlight, waves, clouds, eucalyptus, redwoods, and ferns.
            And here is a taste of Slow Poetry in America in the voice of one Philip Whalen:
            “I have trouble displaying, expressing that sensation, it drives me to dance and laugh, to write, draw, sing, caper, gesticulate wildly. This seems to frighten many of the people who happen to see me hopping and giggling. I must imagine ways to explain this feeling to them, and wish that they might have more frequent accesses of it, equal to or more profound than the kinds which I’ve known. For several minutes at a time I become a glowing crystal emitting rays of multicolored light. (What a metaphor . . . ugh . . . but a beginning) because I’ve forgotten (or remembered, which is it?) so much while I was asleep?”
            “Quite often when I feel that I have an idea, a notion or an insight, I’m actually understanding something I once read or heard—or I find that I’m not able to express an idea of Plato or of Whitehead in my own vocabulary, in words which correspond with exact feelings, with personal experience—I suddenly ‘see’ something, comprehend.”
            Hail Slow Poetry in America for your “glowing crystal emitting rays of multicolored light.”








            Anselm and I dropped acid New Year’s Eve. When we set out from his place through the park, the air warped and glossed our vision. Giant eucalyptus branches had been blown down by an earlier storm. The mighty glory of Slow Poetry in America had come on in the mordant afterglow of the drug.
            When we arrived at Darrin’s south of Golden Gate Park, the city sparked and then settled into a slow, unctuous density. The houses peaked with creamy thickness as moonlight scoured the eaves and windows facing the Bay. Car lights presented thick globs of orange; the colors of each passing vehicle refracted with spontaneous billowing waves of motion: red, navy, mauve. Yellow moon, silver moon, a spume of greasy light poured from Darrin’s window, and we climbed the narrow stairway to his apartment.
            Someone presented me with a glass of whiskey. The marvelous glowing feeling I had was amplified tremendously. Sitting at the kitchen table, John generously passed around a beautiful pink pipe. When I took a hit the room expanded: it released colorful sparks, absorbing the entire space. And then the ceiling seemed as if to open entirely, and a mud-like creature stood out over the entire peninsula, bending under the starry sky.
            The next morning I woke up to a new year of Slow Poetry in America. At 6 a.m. the luxurious light of San Francisco carried the city to my eyes.
            I don’t remember getting home, though Anselm led me there, worried I’d finally done serious damage to my brain. Next day he came by and we went to see a movie in Japan Town by Claude Van Damme.
            Just the other day I saw Anselm for the first time in five years. He was playing with his daughters Sylvie and June when I arrived at the park near his house on East 4th. We talked about many things over the next few days, catching each other up with our lives. For a while we were content to be alone with Slow Poetry in America at The Ramble in Central Park, where red wing blackbirds, finches, and sparrows flitted spontaneously in the new warmth of spring. We’re in our forties now—a long way from San Francisco. But still trying to “figure it out.” His patient, thoughtful press into imagination and language inspires me to relocate attention in the dream-work. To compare and compose, reoriented by the warmth of friendship.


Dale Martin Smith

Dale Martin Smith is a poet and literary scholar in Toronto, ON, and is the author most recently of Flying Red Horse (Talonbooks). He teaches at Toronto Metropolitan University.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2014

All Issues