Gene Fowler is a poet-shaman-seer-newscaster-teacher who lives in California. He wrote this letter to Judy Hogan, whose article, “For Freedom” — about neglected poets — appeared in last April’s Sun. Gene welcomes invitations for readings. His address is 463-C 61st Street, Oakland, California 94609.
I no longer read articles about poetry and the “poets”; but I must confess to residual stirrings of curiosity as to what use will be made of my poems in an article — so I read yours.
I’ve no comment to make on the “sore thumb” school of poetry. And I’ve pretty well gotten over my bitterness toward the “poets” and their tight little realm. I feel I still have something to offer the human beings on this planet (or those who might want it); but I shall try other channels than poetry, the poets, and the poets’ communities and publications.
Yes, your generation of “generously funded” poets does, indeed, have as a primal problem what you’d call “authenticity.”
But the problem is a deep one; it certainly has nothing to do with their surface tendencies to be fashionable, to sell out, or whatever. Their work is not authentic because they are not. And I’m not referring to some sort of “dishonesty” in ’em, but to a simple but basic lack of growth.
You apparently see as a first step the business of “saying what you think.”
But your poets cannot “say” what they think. They have no notion whatsoever of what the act of “saying” is, or of how the language works, far less how it is coordinated with sentience. (Did ye know that “sentence” and “sentience” are the same name???) The learning of surface pseudo-craft doesn’t help — hence the academics who’d seem to know something about prosody, about language, etc., in fact do not.
But the inability to “say” is only the tip o’ the berg, m’ lady.
These people do not think. And, alas, neither do those youngsters you hold such hope for in your classes. Having thoughts (opinions) pop into your head is not thought, it most certainly is not generative intelligence.
And deeper? These poets cannot even observe. They may bellow about “telling it like it is.” They not only don’t know “how it is,” they do not even know what is meant by that statement.
They assume that at the ground level of sentience are the senses, windows to the “out there” through which they can “see it like it is.” To begin with, the “senses” are not mechanisms outside perception. The perceptual field is experienced as a whole; then, out of this field, you may differentiate sub-fields — and call them the senses. It’s an act of analysis. Still, it’s useful enough. But the field is your creation; and the sub-fields are your creation. And “out there” is a high order abstraction.
Vivisection’s power lies in the fact that it doesn’t attempt to tell how it is “out there.” It tells how it is “in here.” But that isn’t the whole secret.
Ever think about is; and about means. Now, you likely assume that what something means is a matter of your interpretation. (But you assume the interpretation can be validated by others, or by some “objective” judge.) But you think of is as having to do with the “out there.” After all, if anything is “out there” it must be the essence of things, right?
Wrong. The is-ness of something is your abstraction through the perceptual field of currents of your own manufacture — and your classification of the resulting system.
Okay, people can’t say, think, or sense because they don’t know how.
I recall John Dewey saying, in one of his lucid moments, that it isn’t enough to desire a result in the absence of, or in opposition to, established habits.
It isn’t enough to “decide to be” an authentic poet. It’s necessary to “learn how to be” the functional entity an authentic poet is. And that doesn’t mean taking on an attitude such as “honesty.” That won’t help a bit.
When I offered to teach poets, I most certainly did not mean that I’d help ’em learn to scan. I did, of course, mean that I’d teach ’em “how to say” (the “deep craft”). Of course, none of ye could perceive anything to this deep craft of mine. (Based on sech oddball validations as the fact that m is not a picture of “waves” but of “closed lips,” and w of those lips and the mouth “unhinging,” opening into the vowel position.)
But, of course, I’d have gone on into how to think, how to sense, and how to experience.
Why do you think Graves found evidence that the original poets were trained. Do ye really think they simply learned how to patch together half-lines?
In the jargon being discovered by recent “growth movements,” the poet is a master of “guided fantasy.” He creates for the listener or reader experiences that individual would not otherwise achieve. And I mean experience in the deep sense — at the levels where it restructures the experiencing person.
“Sore thumb,” my ass.
I’ve been reading a lot of the Sun lately, back issues included, which always translates into the number of sleepless nights I’ve experienced. This time they’ve alternated with 10-12 hour sleeping binges, so I’ve had some time to digest all this energy — and Sun.
You and Judy Hogan, in different ways, have both told me that I talk too much, and that I write too little. What a revelation to discover that the two were connected.
I guess I first discovered you in June 1974, sitting on a shelf in the Wildflower Kitchen: here was this little magazine, saying something about beauty in houses of the insane. I thought you must be nuts, some hippie idealists or something, but I was irresistibly drawn.
In that first April issue, I underlined a quote from Ram Dass about love — something I also did tonight in the Ram Dass piece in the April issue, 1977 . . . And this energy has changed, perhaps evolving along the same lines that I see within myself: we all seek reflections of our spirits, walking — or limping! — along the path.
In this past month’s Sun, Judy Bratten said that you, Sy, and The Sun were the best examples she’d seen of a mixture of the sacred and the profane. I found myself nodding in agreement to her conclusions, and to yours as well. But I guess I feel more like the guy who said he’d lost sight of that distinction. I recall it when I’m in a church, and also when I empty my cats’ litter box!
Here are some words from a hymn I discovered a long time ago. Sung to a traditional Irish melody, they are very beautiful: (I’ve mixed two verses here.)
Be Thou my vision O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me save that Thou art — Heart of my own heart, by day or by night, Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
“Versified by Eleanor Hull”
Used by permission of Oxford University Press in The Hymnbook, Richmond, 1955.
Bruce wrote this in The Sun office, after his bicycle was stolen, at an hour when both of us should have been asleep, at home. Is sleep yin, or yang?
Yes, friends, it has happened again. That bicycle that I so fondly attached myself to separated from me and found itself a new owner. Sad but true.
So what am I supposed to do? Call the police? Make out a report? Post signs? Advertise? Ask all friends and acquaintances to look for my bicycle?
Well, I’ve been that route before and what I’ve learned from it is that I have to take responsibility for it — take responsibility for having lost something that was cherished and take responsibility for finding it again.
Here’s the yin and yang of the situation:
I was floating around town late in the evening (certainly not taking the responsibility for going home) and I went into Fowler’s and got some sardines, a quart of grape juice and some plain yoghurt and, after consuming all that delicious nonsense, I floated over to here, where I’m writing this, and was asked inside to sit; I did. I sat and nodded on and off.
After a few hours I suddenly sat bolt upright and ran outside. Just as I had felt, the bicycle had found its new owner.
My friend offered to drive me around but I started to realize that this was a case of my irresponsibility, and therefore my responsibility, so I got out after a few blocks, walked around, got discouraged, hailed a policeman who suggested I fill out forms and they would do what they could. I almost fell for that as I had with previous bicycles but I realized the only person who’s going to look for that bicycle is me, and if they pick it up, I’ll find out about it.
The yin and yang of it? It’s simple:
Yin is centrifugal phenomena and Yang is centripetal. Yin is detachment and yang is attachment (the extremes cause the opposite effects). Eating a simple balanced diet of grains and vegetables, fish, fruit, fermented soybean products, nuts, seeds, tea, and an occasional beer or cigarette would be considered a more yang diet according to the dietary philosophy of the Orient — macrobiotics.
The Occidental diet of meats, sugars, refined grains, high potassium, liquids, fruits and vegetables, coffee, stimulating teas, dairy products, with alcohol and drugs for good measure would be considered to be a more yin diet because of the extremes of yin and yang, meat and sugar, potatoes and alcohol, etc.
So when I ate that combination of goodies I became yin and I became detached from my bicycle — but whose fault is that?
Yes, you’re right again. My fault. My responsibility. And though maybe biologically-spiritually (yin/yang) I lost my bicycle, the truth is that my irresponsibility (yin) shall have to be balanced by my responsibility (more yang) for the truth (for me) is yin and yang.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this as much as I.