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Arrangement of Text
Herein author has assembled all his poetry books published to date rearranged in straight chronological order to compose an autobiography. Collected Poems includes seven volumes published in City Lights Pocket Poets series: Howl, Kaddish, Reality Sandwiches, Planet News, The Fall of America, Mind Breaths, and Plutonian Ode, backbone of three decades' writing.
Books circulated less widely by delicate small presses (excepting song experiments in First Blues) fill gaps in the sequence. Youthful poetries were printed in Empty Mirror and The Gates of Wrath. Three odd books, Angkor Wat, Iron Horse and Airplane Dreams, interleaf poems of the 1960s. Poems All Over the Place flash on spots of time from President Kennedy's assassination day, through 1972 Presidentiad, to author's meditation practice in his fiftieth year.
Among half-dozen poems taken from prose journal and letter books, one singular rhapsody, "The Names," falls into place, with motifs from "Howl" particularized in 1958.
"Many Loves" manuscript, detailing first erotic encounter with a lifelong friend, not printed till now for reasons of prudence and modesty, completes a sequence of writing that included "Sunflower Sutra" and "America," Berkeley 1956.
Advantages of Chronological Order
The Gates of Wrath's imperfect literary rhymes are interspersed with Empty Mirror's raw-sketch practice poems. Disparate simultaneous early styles juxtaposed aid recognition of a grounded mode of writing encouraged by Dr. Williams, "Noideas but in things."
"A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley" precedes "A Supermarket in California" because it was composed on top of the same page, originally one poem in two parts, here rejoined.
Travel poems Calcutta-Saigon-Angkor Wat-Japan, 1963, mixed through three separate books, now cohere in sequence.
Cross-country Auto Poesy chronicle starts 1965 at Northwest border (The Fall of America), continues through Wichita vortex East (Planet News), recrosses U.S.A. Oakland to New York (Iron Horse) and tarries 1966 East, returns via Chicago North of vortex 1967, and comes back through Northwest passage 1969 (The Fall of America).
Reader exploring Collected Poems' mass of writing will find Contents divided into ten sections, roughly indicating time, geography, and motif or "season" of experience.
Reader may further observe poetic energy as cyclic, the continuum a panorama of valleys and plateaus with peaks of inspiration every few years. This chain of strong-breath'd poems links "The Song of the Shrouded Stranger of the Night," 1949, with "The Green Automobile," 1953, "Siesta in Xbalba," 1954, "Howl . . .Sunflower Sutra" and "Many Loves," 1955-1956, "The Names," 1958, "Kaddish," 1959, "TV Baby," 1960, "The Change," 1963, "Kral Majales," 1965, "Wichita Vortex Sutra," 1966, "Wales Visitation," 1967, "On Neal's Ashes," 1968, "September on Jessore Road," 1971, "Mind Breaths," 1973, "Father Death Blues," 1976, "Contest of Bards," 1977, "Plutonian Ode," 1978, "Birdbrain!" and "Capitol Air," 1980.*
Texture of Texts
"First thought, best thought." Spontaneous insight--the sequence of thought-forms passing naturally through ordinary mind--was always motif and method of these compositions.
Syntax punctuation Capitalization remain idiosyncratic, retaining the variable measure of nervous systematics. In many poems, semi-irregular indentation of verse conforms to divisions of original notation or spacings of first thought-speech mindfully recollected. "Mind is shapely, Art is shapely."
Nevertheless some touches are added here and there, adjustments made after years of reading works aloud, changes few and far between. Defective passages or words are excised from several poems, including "Sunflower Sutra" and "Wales Visitation." Author has altered a dozen or more phrases that consistently annoyed him over years, eliminated half-dozen foggy adjectives or added a half-dozen factual epithets to clear up the sense of dated verses, notably in "America."
Typographical errors, misalignment of verse on pages of previous printings, and unintended grammatic quirks are corrected. Apparent solecisms were judged, approved or cast out.
"Notes" transmit cultural archetypes to electronic laser TV generations that don't read Dostoyevsky Buddha bibles. Karma wants understanding, Moloch needs noting. Mini-essays hint further reading for innocent-eyed youths. Author took opportunity to verify ephemera in his poetry, interpret recurrent reference images for peers and elders.
Dante, Milton, Blake and Smart footnotes were made by scholars. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley wrote extensive commentaries for Percy Shelley's posthumous collections. Wordsworth and Eliot favored readers by composing their own notes; their practice had precedents.
The back of this book preserves old title-page "Epigraphs" and "Dedications," artifacts of original pamphlets which played their part in the drama of breakthrough from closed form to open form in American poetry. A small-press culture revolution helped change hyper-industrialized public consciousness from provincial wartime nationalist-history-bound egoic myopia to panoramic awareness of planet news, eternal view of both formal charm and empty nature of local identity. "Acknowledgments" alphabetize an extravagant list of publications that first printed these poems throughout three decades of explosive humor during which legal censorship broke down. Present gratitudes find place here. Artisans who collaborated on this volume are specified. William Carlos Williams's "Introductions" to two early books are retained, as well as "Author's Writ," jacket-blurb prose-poetries once composed as précis for each book.
"Index of Proper Names" is designed to make this large volume "user friendly." Collected Poems may be read as a lifelong poem including history, wherein things are symbols of themselves. Cross-reference between texts and notes can serve as rough concordance to the book's mythic actualities, from Cassady to CIA to Sakyamuni. "Index of Proper Names" and "Index of Titles, First Lines, and Original Book Sources" complete the work.
New York City
June 26, 1984
Gates of Wrath
I walked into the cocktail party
room and found three or four queers
talking together in queertalk.
I tried to be friendly but heard
myself talking to one in hiptalk.
"I'm glad to see you," he said, and
looked away. "Hmn," I mused. The room
was small and had a double-decker
bed in it, and cooking apparatus:
icebox, cabinet, toasters, stove;
the hosts seemed to live with room
enough only for cooking and sleeping.
My remark on this score was under-
stood but not appreciated. I was
offered refreshments, which I accepted.
I ate a sandwich of pure meat; an
enormous sandwich of human flesh,
I noticed, while I was chewing on it,
it also included a dirty asshole.
More company came, including a
fluffy female who looked like
a princess. She glared at me and
said immediately: "I don't like you,"
turned her head away, and refused
to be introduced. I said, "What!"
in outrage. "Why you shit-faced fool!"
This got everybody's attention.
"Why you narcissistic bitch! How
can you decide when you don't even
know me," I continued in a violent
and messianic voice, inspired at
last, dominating the whole roomDream New York-Denver, Spring 1947