Wednesday, October 17, 1984

Jim Dodge lecture at College of Marin

Jim Dodge at College of Marin, October 17, 1984


Jim read my favorite poem about his freerange chicken outracing the Fulton processing plant workers which made me laugh. He read many social political poems and elegies and love poems. He said they were tough subjects. I particularly liked his elegy for Jack Spicer.

He said thought Robin Blake's intro to Jack Spicer's book by Black Sparrow Press should be scrapped. He said the book the poem ends when the feeling comes. Like the darkness comes for your bones…where language is not enough…

Jim read a poem that was a letter to the editor about his dog name Homer, the audience was laughing hysterically. He said his love poems included his grandmother. Mahogany China. He said some poems you hear, and you know where credit is due. 

He read poems about magic, of how Houdini did his tricks off the barge in the Mississippi. The kiss is where the key was swapped. 

"The ferocity of obsession has obsessed me for a long time."

The conceit of the poem is that that the writer has been through past lives. I don't believe in it. I'm part Cherokee, everybody is, why not me? 

He likes Frank O'Hara's poems. And did a riff on Frank. People think I like to torture the reader I think it's just pivotal playfulness. I invented the crow to torment my dog.

He read a poem on gambling: We were living on $35 a month, I was learning cards and I had an opal ring I lost. it's a good thing about being a poet because I gave her this poem instead of the opal. Instead, I presented myself.

There are dominant and recessive traits in bad humor. Take donkeys and onions. What happens when you cross a donkey with an onion? You get an onion with big ears. He said that's the playfulness of language, you get a piece of ass that brings tears to your eyes.

People flood Jim with myriad questions and he said, I'm in a situation right now where I don't know anything, I can only ask small questions. He elaborated; the love we imagine against loneliness lost by imagining what we cannot know and knowing what we cannot have we are left even wanting more.

Question on Jim's love of gambling. Jim says: I had no money for food, there was no money to publish Fup. The first piece of prose I'd written was put up for auction, it's owned by City Miner books, which means I can't change anything.

I'm a gambling man and I live in an isolated rural environment. Gambling is for real, it's not glamorous. I grew up with a brother who was a good cardplayer and I learned out of the backseat of a car. We worked hard for money. I worked seven hours a night for 50 bucks. Maybe get a thousand a week if I was lucky.

Someone asks what Jims working on next and Jim turns the tables, saying, what's working on me? Another novel, probably a successor to Fup. I have to pursue that pressure I've imposed on myself. Some of this latest book is full of lies. 

It's a novella set in the 50s, and uses that as a structure or vehicle of being on the road—it's about a tow truck driver. About a guy who stole a car, as a gift to the Big Bopper. Someone who heard Chantilly Lace on the radio. He steals a car in hopes of meeting the Big Bopper one day. It's based on the idea, that the day music died, in Clearlake Idaho in a plane crash with Buddy Holly. 

Jim asks the audience; Does anybody know where the Big Bopper is buried? Then said, the problem with the book is, that the epigraph is better than the book.

Rock 'n' roll changed, it got wilder, then in 1965, all hell broke loose with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, so the book is about the years '59 to '65. I was a bomb baby born in 1945, so it's my era. 

Someone asks if Jim had been to Cholame, where James Dean died. Jim said the protagonist, my tow truck driver has. I take a certain latitude of invention, delivering this stolen card to the Big Bopper's grave. I'm all for the mirror of invention. There's a lot of 60s dynamic in the story. This book is an homage to poets to everyone, and the dream emerges, a marvelous eruption of human experience.

I don't think of evil but of oppression. It's up to us to change the perspective, we don't have. I'm proud of my generation. We stopped the war. When has a whole generation set up like that? I was brainwashed into thinking America was just, and moral. Nam was an idealist revolt. My peers, don't be disillusioned just because we are yuppies, and eat a lot of gelato.

It's been confusing with fame, it's been abstract, and it's been fun keeping up. I went through puberty in Labrado. Where I grew up there were four girls within 1000 miles of me, they were interested in the team players and I hated the stars. They robbed you of possibilities. Fame distorts who you are.

Novels require a lot of research. I've spent $1000 just on phone calls. Writing is a business, you'll just get ripped off if you don't pay attention, so you better know what it's about. I used to spit on lawyers and now I chew on them in poetry. With Fup came the film rights, and world rights, and universal rights, so you have to pay attention to where the royalties are going.

Someone asks do you believe in karma? Jim said his notion of karma was a direct result of human action. Predestined karma doesn't excite him very much. His uncle said You deserve the consequences you get but you don't have to like it. He turned the question back to the audience: I collect consequence does anybody else here know?

Jim Dodge: Stone Junction: An Alchemical Potboiler
Jim Dodge, Stone Junction, The Paper, Sept 27, 1990
James Dean Memorial on Highway 46

added, rev. 9/17

Friday, October 12, 1984

SHEPHERD'S SLEEP

SHEPHERD'S SLEEP

Sometimes when shadows are right
my hand traces along some curve,
something of the animal stirs
& I am savage for your flesh.
I see you dressed in leather & we talk
of buffalo & the streets of Paris.

Your cock curls down to fill a lost place
beneath the gibbous moon.
I check the wideness of my hips
& darkened aurioles.
Like betrayal, my breasts rise
when I hear my name called
& I am calling out yours in the same breath.

As we slip into the silvered orchards of sleep
we are nameless after all.
We need a buffalo robe under us
as an offering for the seed
we farm in the night.
Who is taking all the dreams
wrapped in brown silk bags?
What shepherds gather sleep?

10/12/84
radical editing job

Friday, October 5, 1984

CLARIBEL AND MUNCH BEFORE THE VOLCANO

CLARIBEL AND MUNCH BEFORE THE VOLCANO
      Dream segment involving Claribel Alegria's Flowers From the Volcano
        For Julian Beck

Edvard Munch dreams of iron beds dotting the landscape
and outside, a woman screams in the night.   
Light catches the dull gleam of your eye                           
as you are torn from sleep                             
and I feel the coolness of these bars,
cool as rainwater in this torrid place,
he said, and he listens to her vanishing in the dark.                     
Your breathing is like footsteps, like cool air. In what country?
The waters of the trench surround this bed.
This heat. I cannot swim. Will I never see home?

A faint light catches the dull gold on her hand.
In this marriage of darkness and sleep,
the iron bars of the beds grasped
during orgasm, abortion and death
keeps us anchored to the land, Claribel said,
There is no time for children.
It's all the same thing in the end.

The whiteness of her hand clutches the bars like a silent scream.
No one has ever let go of the hand holding the dream.
And we dream of our homeland, a place where we've never been.
Ashes of Izalco in my mouth. My eyes are dreaming.
Fitful sleep ties us to this bed like incomparable ropes.

He said, We breathe beside each other, 
   almost, but not quite touching.
In this conspiracy of sleep we have committed the crime
of breathing together. When they arrest us,
they will bind our hands and feet to the iron bars of this bed.
And we will be lost but they are afraid of what we are.
What remembered countries, 
iron bars placed there for you to hold?
What white doves on smooth painted iron?
I'm afraid for you. Will you never stop?

She said, They are stealing our land from us as we sleep.
Bars of the bed grasped by a woman who dreams of love or prisons—
it is the same thing. In my country, my remembered country
ashes fall like rain. Yes, they will bind us
and death keeps one anchored to the land.

Each of us sleeps alone—
especially when we sleep together, said Munch.
All that we remember sleeps with us
on the bed where the sheets bind us
like long winters of my northland.


She said, We, on this bed form new islands.
We, on these islands, form a plan of escape.
The bridge between our continents is a kiss.
The iron bars on this bed are a kiss.
The screams in the night—our hands do not touch.
Our breath like footsteps running through the dark streets,
like a woman pursued, whose scream 
       hangs like a thread across the abyss.
Why are we tied to this? Edvard, I am brushed by my own silences
and even your strong arms cannot contain the screams of a woman
We keep our ashes inside the volcano of Izalco.
Pale ashes bloom in the country of the dead, said Claribel.

Are we silently mouthing this with slack codfish jaws,
our hanging lips opening and closing like doors
where pools of sleep gush in at high tide?
There is nothing to be said, he said.
We are marooned, stranded on the rocks of this island
and the chasm keeps us from wandering in this country.
I can no longer paint, he said.

She said, The only thing tangible—
the only thing we hold, we need to let go of.
and in the letting go, we hold what we need.
We hold our need.





10/5/84
San Francisco Art Institute
Julian Beck Benefit