Friday, August 21, 2009

Warren Tallman Busts a Nut

Warning: put on protective wear before reading the entire essay, here>>

"When some powerful need or desire compels a man so decisively toward speech his voice is likely to take on qualities of otherness, not because it has been taken over by strangers—although that too is possible—but because years of concentrated exercise build it up into almost another person who is in, then alongside, then out beyond the poet. This strong sense of otherness becomes apparent when Duncan reads"--Tallman

Ah ha, that vatic, precious, oracular, sage-hushing, mysterious "otherness".

Which stranger? And are all strange visitors adepts and gurus? It reminds me of the old joke, pithy and appropriate: "Why is it that every seance leader and channeller tells me I'm descended from royalty? Who's taking out the garbage, and who has the bubonic plague, in these past lives?" Not so good for the intermediary business, what?

I like " "almost" another person". How is that possible? It's like being almost pregnant. You're either you, complex or simple, or you're another person. "Beyond the poet". So even a self-appointed bard is not enough. The marketers have to up the ante with the "above and beyond" charade. No, thanks, I'll take an in-the-flesh, good, poet over a Godlike out-of-body intoner any day.

"As he warms to the reading an almost Orphic ground sense or swell enters, as though his voice is not so much in the midst of a room as in the midst of a life it knows. When he turns from that life to his own, the Orphic gives way to the more ordinary"--Tallman

How's that for abstract shenanigans? Voice "in the midst of a life it knows". I prefer a voice that arises from the larynx.

"When he turns from that life to his own". Thanks for the compassion, O Wise One. A veritable Boddisattva, returning to teach us poor deluded souls.

"Given this extent of physical presence, the exceptional amount of body English—body articulation—he exerted when speaking or reading was inevitable. The Wednesday evening that he read from the Howl and Kaddish volumes he always broke off when the body presence wouldn’t enter into the voice tone. When it did enter, the audience was caught, bowled over into corresponding awareness as though stunned to be so fully reminded of all the ways in which they had emotions, a physical being, presence"--Tallman

I like quite a bit of Ginsberg's poetry, but I don't need to hear him read it to experience my own emotions, as if I'm an empty shell waiting to be filled with the guru's benevolent mantras. In fact, I experience varied emotions (yes!) on occasional days, without pretext or subtext, where I hadn't read Ginsberg's offerings for months previous.

And if Ginsberg actually broke off a reading because he "wasn't feeling it", than it's out of vanity that the angels weren't currently dictating, and/or out of a precious posturing. If a composer/musician stops the song or sonata mid-vivace because of a perceived lack of perfect pitch/force/nuance, he or she would be on a short leash of credibility with the audience, who rightfully expect to hear continuity, respecting the fact that the performer isn't always "in the zone".

What arrogance for Tallman to presume to judge the audience's reaction. Did their "awe" transmit itself so easily to Tallman? I confess to not having a clue how any other single person is responding to a voiced poem in the same room as me.

"And on the Friday evening that he read his more recent poems and the spell weakened he entered into a heroic, arm-swinging, head-swaying, all-out dervish attempt to reassert the physical sway"--Tallman

"Heroic"? Is there a bottom to embarassment? Reading the above sentence again, I become troubled, even frightened, since it closely approximates the meteorically snapping heads in the great horror film Jacob's Ladder, which I saw again last night. I wonder what the collective response from the audience would have been to that visual?

"The night [Creeley] read lightening flashed about in the sky, thunder rumbled, rain poured, the lights went out and the Alamo was in the dark."--Tallman

The parallels to Tim Robbins character in the aforementioned movie are becoming clearer. Warren, were those transparent communion wafers or window-pane LSD tabs?

"Wisdoms, truths, experiences, memories, moralities, realities becomes not end points but food, meat, manure, lending nurture to that living tree of breath called speech."--Tallman

I've known a slew of fascinating raconteurs, sure-paced verbal wizards, sonorous insinuators, mellifluous word-lovers who've also shown a distinct and certain knack for not being able to tell a poem from a pork chop. Speech is not poetry, Tallman.


Anonymous said...


What, you don't like shit (tish) rolling downhill to BC? You don't like the meaningless breath? You don't like oracular PR pronouncements?


Brian Palmu said...

The San Francisco/TISH church smeared BC poetry for decades. It's only now that new shoots are popping up, no thanks to the "necessary manure" comment by Tallman, (though I agree with one of those two words).

Anonymous said...


What's worse is that tish smeared more than just B.C. poetry. If I recall correctly, Tallman served as a GG juror one year.

And to think that the Schier win caused a controversy!


Brian Palmu said...

Yes, Doc, Tallman was on the GG jury in 1970 when Bowering was given the nod over Milton Acorn's I've Tasted My Blood.

Anonymous said...


I remember Purdy's ire at the thing. Though he was partly defending his friend, and partly making a nationalist argument, it's hard to argue with his aesthetic preference.


Brian Palmu said...

Indeed. ANY tish entry over Acorn's best volume is a disgrace, on aesthetic grounds, and in this case, ethical procedure.

The nationalist/colonial masters arguement by Atwood/Mathews/Tallman is a red herring. I don't have sympathy for either side. That Acorn was a rabid Canada-first poet misses the point that his work, artistically, is several leagues higher than that of the West Coast coterie.

When I have time, I'll do some contrast analysis between several of Acorn's and TISH's poems.