Writing the Silences


The poems in Writing the Silences represent more than 60 years of Richard O. Moore’s work as a poet. Selected from seven full-length manuscripts written between 1946 and 2008, these poems reflect not only Moore’s place in literary history—he is the last of his generation of the legendary group of San Francisco Renaissance poets—but also his reemergence into today’s literary world after an important career as a filmmaker and producer in public radio and television. Writing the Silences reflects Moore’s commitment...
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Writing the Silences

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The poems in Writing the Silences represent more than 60 years of Richard O. Moore’s work as a poet. Selected from seven full-length manuscripts written between 1946 and 2008, these poems reflect not only Moore’s place in literary history—he is the last of his generation of the legendary group of San Francisco Renaissance poets—but also his reemergence into today’s literary world after an important career as a filmmaker and producer in public radio and television. Writing the Silences reflects Moore’s commitment to freedom of form, his interest in language itself, and his dedication to issues of social justice and ecology.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Almost 60 years of thoughtful, terse, decidedly modernist verse and prose poetry come together in this first collection. Part of the circle of West Coast radical writers around Kenneth Rexroth during the 1940s and '50s, Moore helped to found Pacifica Radio, then produced hundreds of literary programs for the public TV station KQED. All the while he was writing poetry, much of it tersely humble, both philosophical and political, with cadence reminiscent of George Oppen: “How may I be wrong and/ at random say 'I know'/ as the wars go on?” Moore's prose poems show more emotion, and more detail, letting loose with rage or else with satire: “There are those who will start again and again and alone, and there are those who will wait for War to come in their time.” Advancing years (“baggage/ of old age/ tagged and waiting”), landscape, and grief provide occasional themes, but rarely interrupt Moore's focus on the largest questions of ethics, of thought, questions he addresses in the serious fragments out of which his poems are made. The volume offers obvious parallels to other poets discovered in late life, especially to Landis Everson, who moved in the same Berkeley circles. (Apr.)
Bomb Magazine (Bomblog)

“Richard O. Moore’s no sapling by a long shot, but his poetry is lithe. It expands itself in the off-handed dialect of this country’s newest voices, but remains rooted to the old codes of keen sincerity. It is real poetry, sure enough to break from silence and, when need be, return.”
Redwood Coast Review - Jonah Raskin

“[These poems] are at once sensual and intellectual, erotic and philosophic, and they appeal to all the senses.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520262447
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 4/2/2010
  • Series: New California Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 136
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard O. Moore, now 90, is a poet, filmmaker, and seminal figure in public radio and television. Moore belonged to the San Francisco Renaissance literary circle of Kenneth Rexroth in the 1940s and 1950s, which was a precursor to the Beat poetry movement. Writing the Silences is his second book. Moore is the 2010 recipient of the Milley Award for Achievement in the Literary Arts. Brenda Hillman is an award-winning poet who has published eight books of poems, most recently Practical Water. Her collection Loose Sugar was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1997. She is Olivia C. Filippi Professor of Poetry at Saint Mary's College. Paul Ebenkamp holds an M.F.A. from Saint Mary's College and works as a research assistant and editor.
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Read an Excerpt

Writing the Silences

By Richard O. Moore, Brenda Hillman, Paul Ebenkamp


Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-94615-6


    Shadow and Light

    Incised in concrete
    knife-edged shadow
    frond a perfect
    arrest of clarity

    a palm frond arrow
    from a declining sun

    shadow and light
    lust of epiphany
    the illusion that walks
    with me on concrete

    invisible come-along
    shadow and light

    epiphany of the shadow
    tangible as light palm shape
    holds me timeless until
    without thinking I pass by

    an arrest of clarity held
    and released by a declining
    sun : step over the shadow
    light vanishes a passerby


    Monologues of white interiors
    time-dried of water and wind

    crowds gather in history's emptiness
    weightless in the hollows of memory

    description without witness
    so long ago lost.

    By the Lake

    Past years are figures in old glass
    wobbly in a lake
    wrinkled by a stone.

    The lake will settle down
    a face will reappear
    in a scent of evergreen.

    Years are present as noon as now
    or in a rippled moonglade night;
    they summon shadow as in fragile memory
    easy as stepping into a lake
    breaking the present mirror.

    It is the way events are stored,
    they come back twisted
    in wrinkles of water

    blurred inscapes into today.


    An available palette thickened by air
    words I hold and so fast lose.

    A thunder so low an inaudible present its slow
    cycles place me shaking in its throat.

    Stare and beauty opens like a work of fire
    a made thing a connection must be made.

    This is to say necessity is a place made all of stares
    come beauty come the final ruin of the world. Stop :

    for what it may be or was a burned-in-after-flash of fire
    over distance measured light years. The glamour of it all.

    Driving to Fort Bragg

    "... the existence of the appearance is the reality
    in question ..."
    John Searle

    Inferred only this time is history, yet uncovered:

    hawks on fence posts, even ravens those acrobats, fog
    has called a general strike along the coast, no
    thermal-lazing, hovering, no tidying-up by vultures
    descended from above;

    through cataracts dimly, once winged enterprise,
    feathers tented against rain, these vision-
    masters of the air ... headlights
    catch them in refracting dawn;
    whatever their hunger the ceiling will not yield,
    bird shapes lost in the moment of discovery,
    as if light, after millennia released, reduced substance to ash,
    a part of the vast curriculum of circumstance and nothing,
    with yesterday's blinding sunlight withheld there,
    so many questions fearful to be asked;

    place this with the pacific fence post
    posturing of hawks.

    Dog in the Forest

    A city in ruins as ever.

    In the forest every scent comes arrowing true,
    a "state of exception" where the air opens up to death
    as everyone's property thrown in the corner
    a loose rag "the ultimate configuration of facts."

    When we were young and feral
    we made paths into the city
    a sanctuary with doors and corridors.

    Then were promises and obligations kept
    like subway tokens against uncertainty.

    There were nights that continued ecstatic to morning,
    in the red of your hair dawn sprinkled you with diamond light.

    Can it be told when an ancient trace of faith
    gave way under stress in every modern word?

    Running through a melancholy of photographs and kitchen knives
    have we no more than that which happens?

    There are paths which have left behind no odor of life.

    The city was it a phantasm erotically believed?

    Read the wind dream a sleep of unknowing lie down
    with the Noonday Demon.


    The dead, what can they lift?
    They can be let go.

    Was there a bridge passed over?
    I did not notice it.

    A shopping bag of absence
    is carried home.

* * *

    The dead, what do they hear,
    a fearful nothing?

    Or is it our twittering cries
    that go unheard?

    Our birdsong complaint
    without answer.

* * *

    The dead, a haze at sunrise,
    an atmosphere.

    They have a way of being
    here in my breath,

    Yet unclear in the glaze
    of memory

* * *

    The dead, they live in the words
    I say to them.

    They reply in my words only,
    in family talk.

    Socrates, do you recall

Columbia 1960

It seems to me that the new poem will not come out of the soul's loneliness, but rather out of a concern for language: i.e. what can be said that will not lead us into the same alienation that our previous language—the whole store of images that we call civilization—has produced for us. It will not be a poem of idealism or separation and longing. Rather, it will be a series of propositions whose ambiguity will produce, not alienation, but a kind of attention which can only be called mystical, which is to say, not reducible to logical form or language as a tool of logic.

It once was that in speaking we assumed that we were speaking of something objectively there in the real world. We then presumed to know the world in speaking of it. We assumed we could change and improve the "state of affairs" of the world.

Tell me now in your own words, "What happened?"

Ten Philosophical Asides

467. I am sitting with a philosopher in the garden; he says again and again "I know that's a tree," pointing to a tree that is near us. Someone else arrives and hears this, and I tell him, "This fellow isn't insane. We are only doing philosophy." LUDWIG WITTGENSTEIN, On Certainty


2. From its seeming to me—or to everyone else—to be so, it doesn't follow that it is so.

    We can ask and
    in the asking doubt
    finds its ground

    the proposition itself
    is questioned the red
    leaf I have brought
    indoors to say it is
    autumn dries before us

    the red changing less red
    leaf is no proof at last

    we are alone again doubt
    and silence hold the ground.


8. The difference between the concept of 'knowing' and the concept of 'being certain' isn't of any great importance at all, except where 'I know' is meant to mean I can't be wrong.

    At random aspen leaves
    spot fire the evergreen
    outside my window.

    Inside my eyes that's
    where the spears are thrown.

    Yellow blades on the dark
    green needles of pine.

    Sun-struck bronze
    of Hammurabi's legions
    soon to be blood-tipped.

    How may I be wrong and
    at random say 'I know'
    as the wars go on?


33. Thus we expunge the sentences that don't get us any further.

    Surf backs into ocean
    after breaking bones.

    A tone of voice
    foams into rocks.

    Sound fulfills laws

    Silver sheathing tricks
    illusions of surfaces
    illusions of silver depths
    all law bound formal
    as an ocean of lies.

    What point have we
    reached is there any
    place else to go?

    In what manner of
    speaking may I ask?


63. If we imagine the facts otherwise than they are, certain language games lose some of their importance, while others become more important. And in this way there is an alteration—a gradual one—in the use of the vocabulary of a language.

    It is October and
    rabbits fly amidst
    rising autumn leaves.

    The lake makes a statement.

    I (the I is not important)
    have never set foot
    on the moon.
    Some things
    are taken for granted.

    Of course he is who
    he says he is. I can
    tell by his necktie.


141. When we first begin to believe anything, what we believe is not a single proposition, it is a whole system of propositions. (Light dawns gradually over the whole.)

    Once only under a rising
    illusionist moon ethereal
    presences traceries of a face

    body parts plain more
    odorous than photographs
    or telephones slowly connecting

    explicit parts revealing
    names the sum of which the
    names of things wastes away as

    light dawns gradually over the whole.


229. Our talk gets its meaning from the rest of our proceedings.

    Because it happened I say
    a dog barking means
    the end of the world I say
    this is the way it is
    and then a dog barks
    and what I believe unravels
    within me and the shell
    of the world echoes the barking
    of dogs because it happened
    this is the way it is I say
    it may happen again.


410. Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it.

    That tree is wise
    that does not up
    and walk away.

    True to the value
    given it
    it bends and sways.

    One step
    over the line
    and we are stopped
    forever in silence.

    No matter that
    the mountains march
    into the sea.


442. For may it not happen that I imagine myself to know something?

    Imagine the pieces
    whole again fact
    and odds and ends

    ends beyond means

    a landscape with clear
    features except nothing
    to know valley and plain

    silence against silence

    sound empties the ears

    unlocatable pain.


454. There are cases where doubt is reasonable, but others where it seems logically impossible. And there seems to be no clear boundary between them.

    Like missed baggage we sit
    in places that have names
    unknown to our claimants
    who fret in other places
    at speeds and pressures
    that split all things apart
    a condition necessary
    perhaps to the birthing of stars
    but fatal to simple pairing
    necessary to recognition
    and the claiming of our own.


559. You must bear in mind that the language game is so to say something unpredictable. I mean: it is not based on grounds. It is not reasonable (nor unreasonable).

    It is simply there—like our life.

    Whatever it is there it is
    bent beneath the full burden
    of a life our language
    carries us we are born
    to the equation both sides
    equal these words these
    vows this rising-falling breath.

Marginalia: Whitehead

"The notions of the Past and Future are then ghosts within the face of the Present."


    is the result neverending creation

    is like you know breath
    may I recall the painful wastes of the past
    and anticipate death shrive the present
    with a backward glance
    Suffer vision
    attend me that I may remain human
    to the end.

    Columbia 1960



    Logic of properties,
    hieroglyphics of logical
    situations are, of necessity
    true, although independent
    of falsehood or truth.

    Thus, in speaking the truth,
    "A world is, as it were,
    put together experimentally."


    At the very least, we
    represent a relation. We are,
    put this way, "On good ground."


    Once again
    it all makes sense
    except where we have not
    given meaning
    to what appears
    to be a word.

    "Even when we believe
    we have done so."

    To be ambiguous
    would be to run on
    forever. Simplicities
    are enormously
    complex. Consider
    the sentence "I love

    It can be said
    to be good without
    knowing whether it
    is false or true.

    Columbia 1960


Excerpted from Writing the Silences by Richard O. Moore, Brenda Hillman, Paul Ebenkamp. Copyright © 2010 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Photographs follow page

Preface Brenda Hillman


[Therefore, set forth over the black river]
Shadow and Light
By the Lake
Driving to Fort Bragg
Dog in the Forest
Columbia 1960
Ten Philosophical Asides
Marginalia: Whitehead
Analects from d{ens}e{ens}l{ens}e{ens}t{ens}e
“Come Live with Me”
from Writing the Silences
“Come Sunday”
This Morning
Visiting Hours
The Parachutist’s Annunciation
Holding On
. . . a divertimento . . .
A Funeral of Memory
The Winter Garden
A Treasury of Darkness
Over the Shoulder

Early Poems from A History Primer
Seascape from September Elegy from At Caesar’s Gate
A Reminiscence
Birthday View Opening on a Garden


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