Larry Goodell: Co(s)mic Clown

ARTSPACELarry Goodell: Co(s)mic Clown                                                           by Gus Blaisdell

Headdress of candle flames or engorged coxcombs; muscle-shirt rolling and bopping with bulges; and his cloth phallus thrust and wobbled by his raunchy hunching hips, Larry Goodell steps out upon the stage, possessing and invaded by his own poetry and paraphernalia. In the course of his caperings the stage becomes a charged piece of this whirling planet as he enacts, incarnates, and embodies in performance what poetry must have once been like before it was expurgated categorically into epic, which was tribal and gave to the bard shaman-like powers; into lyric, in which a single voice, sometimes masked, sometimes naked, hymned his friends, mourned them too, or celebrated Olympic as well as battlefield victories; and into tragedy, where the polis gathered to see itself confessed in the tension between the good sense of community and the overweening individual desire for knowledge or personal justice.

Goodell’s poetry is more ancient than these first, classic, Aristotelian resolutions. It is antediluvian, the seed and essence out of which these later categories will grow, twistedly—so twisted that the root and origin will be forgotten. And his poetry is also deeply comic, in a sense so attenuated as to be nearly unremembered: it is the work of the clown of power who ridicules as he celebrates the absurdities of being and existence, who probes Dasein, if you’ll permit that lugging term, with a hard-on, who stinkfingers existence, and who in his lightest and most powerful moments seduces the young woman, who is also being, into playing Doctor in the backrooms of bars like the now archaeological Thunderbird in Placitas, Goodell’s home. It was in the T-Bird that Goodell gave some of his most memorable performances to a wonderfully drugged and drunken audience willing to be gathered together by the powers of his poetry; making cohesive and momentarily coherent a disparate, desperate bunch of discrete creatures all tottering on the edges of every imaginable variety of unconsciousness, bloatedly expanded consciousness, and violence; and for an hour or so magnetizing the iron rings in them all, connecting himself with the ironic and co(s)mic sources of his own art, until not only the audience but the whole bar was, like the planet upon which it all spun, rocking and rolling through spaces public and private.

Obviously this is not the poetry of page and podium, book and lectern. The page is the speaking poet; the podia are quite literally the poet’s own dithyrambic feet seeking a measured rhythm in the midst of riot; and the book has become a score, the lectern tossed aside so that the poet, bedecked, can enter into the very medium in which he works: poesis dramatized. Here drama is a form of incarnation rather than performance, and it dilates the present to metaphysical proportions.

Antediluvian, I said, and by that I meant some prelapsarian time well before the Flood, when a being like Goodell could be both bird and snake, when these two powerful avatars shared a single phylum and before we separated them into specialized species, dividing essence as we do labor. The metamorphosis in Goodell’s works, speaking still in avatars, would be that one in which a snake sloughed his skin, shed scale for feather, and emerged surprised in radiant plumage readied for flight. In the peacock, for example, one can clearly see the snake. But in his plumage, in the hushed fanning out of his tail, one sees far beyond the peacock. As his eerie screams transform into the metaphysical, peacock becomes phoenix. Beyond the phoenix is the demigod, Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent. Beyond the demigod? Only the Sun itself.

Goodell is pre-Choric, a single manic creature wrestling with making sense out of being. His is a poet’s tongue, untwisting the commonplaces that tie it so that he may speak out clearly, the poem enveloping him; and as he speaks it out, dissolving the membrane, it becomes an action best represented by a breathless flame unraveling upwards, climbing higher for more air, more light, until the air thins and, subsiding, the consuming flame is extinguished. A priapic clown, shoving it up the world, he is exploring and inventing existence with hoots and a virile member. Locally, in the ancient Pueblos, this clown would be a mudhead, a creature still confused with the earth and blood into which he was thrown from the between piss and shit of his birth—anciently obscene, secular, profane as dirt, autochthonous. This is a creature like those wonderfully androgynous beings in Aristophanes’ contribution to The Symposium: creatures who sought each other, one always in need of the complement of the other, and who seemed to think they might put back together the sundered halves of the world by fucking each other crazily, restoring the anciently divided essence—whether of snake or bird, man or woman, being or nonbeing. Silenus Goodell! A creature who just can’t get enuf of it!

Blaisdell Jaffe duo0006

Poet as dancer, as chanter or singer who compels assent and prayer, he is the one who steps out of the poetic swamp, or slithers out, who rises above his own storming and confusion. As high as he can get on his oddly jointed limbs, he rests briefly above his work, his head coiled in feathers or lifted above rustling cool coils of scales. His body halts momentarily atop the locked joint of a single extended leg, the other tucked up below. Out of the nesting feathers of the body the head lifts, the eyes beady with concentration, the craning neck serpentine. Then the uplifted leg descends into the waters of the slough; the neck slides over and down, and as the talonful of rich muck is raised from the bottom, this creature either minutely inspects its contents, listing the details and making a poem, or else, dissatisfied with the results of his analysis, hurls this mud rich in restorative virtues into the roaring faces of his tipsy, toppling, soaring audience.

Truly to laugh with Goodell, to understand his Old Comedy, is to see revealed the weakening prehensile underpinnings of common sense; it is to see laid bare our uncommon prejudices and the contingency of what we commingle. On whirls the world: on the poet’s fingertip or, transformed by his rhythms, upon the nose of a seal—that sea lion of being that Hart Crane evoked from the beach once and for all, writing beyond himself: “Bequeath us to no earthly shore until / Is answered in the vortex of our grave / The seal’s wide spindrift gaze toward paradise.” This fleeting glance beyond is also the clown’s roaring, rapturous disillusionment with being.

I have used extended figures to explain the work of a man who is essentially a mixed metaphor. My purpose has been to evoke in the reader a feeling of Goodell. Yet the point implied throughout the preceding, and the point most worth making, is that Larry Goodell is a natural—a category that academe either explicitly denies, actively discourages, or has forgotten. Goodell is the poet fully gripped by song, the man who must dance, just as a goat must leap or make himself attractive to other goats by pissing down his throat. The natural is today treated as the aberrant, the freak, the perverted, and the consequence is that poetry now is only muttered up and printed on the page. Yet there is in art, as there is in sport and mathematics and chess, a prodigious category, full and exuberant and youthful. It is the category of the natural—swimmer, shortstop, painter, poet, or jazzman—and local examples include Goodell, Bill Pearlman, and Kelly Robertson. They are not shamans because they are unsponsored by a group and because they are not representative of a collective mind. They span only themselves. Free in their creations, which come from the isolate powers of their singular imaginations, they are their own centers, single points eccentric to academic circles. The sources and wellsprings and powers they display are not held in common. They are their talents themselves, all alone out there, dangerously ventured in their own originality.

Without this category of the natural, art of any kind is impossible. Because? Because against what academe teaches, theory only succeeds art—in a quiet, active meditation on work done by oneself and others. And art, if it is genuine, is a response of the whole individual to being-in-the-world, and it is not, not primarily anyway, the dramatic solution to an anteriorily posed critical problem. Having chosen not to deal with the natural, not to groom or train or nurture it, academe is left with only its own accomplishments—the brilliant but gelid genres of the modernist novel and poem, achievements somehow against the grain—and that turgid confusion of filched formica laurels, an arbitrary criticism that seeks to usurp and absorb its object and thereby, by digestion, to gain autonomy. But food digested, though it nourishes, turns to shit. –Well, but doesn’t everything? Ultimately, I mean. If you don’t know the answer to that one, you’d better keep on reading. (The proper question is not what survives but rather what does not turn to shit.)

Insofar as Goodell’s work is not academic neither is it part of the current late modernist movement of conceptual or performance art. Performance art is reactionary and self-conscious and offers its antics as a solution to a critical problem. Performance art is a dramatic response to what the performer believes cannot any longer be done in painting or sculpture. It is hysteria caught up and wedged between the slowly contracting walls of the two-dimensional and the three. In Michael Fried’s term it is theatrical—a bedecking of despair in which the performer simultaneously mocks himself and his work in the hopes that his ridiculed audience’s reactions to his own display of failure will, in complicity, acknowledge that to fail is really to achieve. It is as if Hemingway’s hideously painful gut-shot hyena in Green Hills of Africa were performing his death in order to win his killer’s approval. The shortest version of all this is the unexamined axiom of much bad modernist thought: that a vanguard precondition on having a subject is to declare the impossibility of a subject matter to be your subject matter. Yes, if you are Mallarmé, Bird or Trane, or Creeley. Otherwise the result is John Ashbery, a latter-day reincarnation of Wallace Stevens’ “muttering king,” who maunders among the shivering hinds of his verse like Elliot Gould’s overly murmurous, throwaway Philip Marlowe in Altman’s The Long Goodbye—an endless investigation of the erosion of imitative form by what it imitates.

Though natural, what is superb about Goodell’s enactments is that his is a naturalness re-achieved and against odds. His achievement of Old Comedy occurs in his unabashed willingness to say what comes to mind and, while avoiding the theatrical, to become, if needs be and the world demands it, the mouthpiece of ventriloquil being—by turns dapper Charlie McCarthy or bumpkin Mortimer Snerd—where a burp can become oracle, a Delphic choking or gargle, and a pratfall can jar loose the world. Goodell’s achievement gives credence to the comic’s ancient retort to How do you do it?—I just make it up as I go along. (And I am always going along!)

Certainly the priest’s vestments are nothing more than one resolution of the clown’s motley—just as the arithmetical norm called meter, the justice of the written poem, is merely a resolution of the poet’s own heartbeat in his jarred-loose response to an outtakilter world. A commodious vicus of recirculation: the poet in flight, or meditating, thinking down into the scales and pinions of himself, coiled to fly or strike or struggle. And once the recirculation begins within him and then passes to the audience, the measures of the poet keeping it all balanced just this side of frenzy—well, then the line comes inevitably to mind, filling something like a mind now held in common: “The light foot hears and the brightness begins.” (The line is a whole poem, Robert Duncan meditating on Pindar.)

I’ll close my prosaic anacreontic with a reminder in the inspired words of Stanley Cavell’s The World Viewed:

For poetry is so out of the ordinary that it could not appear unless the world itself wished for it. Not alone the poetry of poetry, but the poetry of prose—whenever the time of saying and the time of meaning are synchronized.”

[This essay appeared in the inaugural issue of ARTSPACE: Southwestern Contemporary Arts Quarterly, volume 1, number 1, Fall 1976 (where, unfortunately, inexperience left it riddled with typographic errors).]

Invitation to a Ghost

My Vampire

©Nicole Blaisdell Ivey

Invitation to a Ghost

for Henri Coulette(1927-1988)

I ask you to come back now as you were in youth,

Confident, eager, and the silver brushed from your temples,

Let it be as though a man could go backwards through death,

Erasing the years that did not much count,

Or that added up perhaps to no more than a single brilliant

forenoon.

Sit with us. Let it be as it was in those days

When alcohol brought our tongues the first sweet foretaste of

oblivion.

And what should we speak of but verse? For who would speak of

such things now but among friends?

(A bad line, an atrocious line, could make you wince: we have all

seen it.)

I see you again turn toward the cold and battering sea.

Gull shadows darken the skylight; a wind keens among the chimney

pots;

Your hand trembles a little.

What year was that?

Correct me if I remember it badly,

But was there not a dream, sweet but also terrible,

In which Eurydice, strangely, preceded you?

And you followed, knowing exactly what to expect, and of course

she did turn.

Come back now and help me with these verses.

Whisper to me some beautiful secret that you remember from life.

Donald Justice

*Read by Raymond Waddington at Gus Blaisdell’s memorial celebration Feb 2005

What Was Called “A Thought Echoed in Sight” Yvor Winters Centenary

Gus at home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently came across Ken Fields fine essay, Winters’s Wild West, in the Los Angeles Review of Books –  http://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/winterss-wild-west/  – a tribute to his mentor and friend, the poet and critic, Yvor Winters. Ken’s essay is rich in history, detail, and poetry, and it paints a clear portrait of Winters in his place and time.  While reading it I was reminded of my late father. The bit below is taken from my chronology at the end of Gus Blaisdell Collected, published by University of New Mexico Press.

_________________________________

In November (1966), while at UNM Press, Gus receives a telegram saying that his publishing mentor and friend, Alan Swallow, has died of a heart attack at his typewriter. Gus writes a short tribute, “Bio of a Swallow,” and publishes it in the Winter issue of New Mexico Quarterly along with Alan’s autobiographical essay, “Story of a Publisher”.

In a letter, Gus writes, “I began commuting to Denver on weekends to help with running Swallow Press and it happened that my great teacher Yvor Winters’ last two books, Forms of Discovery and its companion anthology, Quest for Reality, were mine to design and edit.” In a letter to one of the lawyers during the chaos after Alan’s death, Winters writes that, “Gus Blaisdell undertook this job with no payment from the company and at considerable financial sacrifice to himself. He has done this out of admiration for Alan and myself and out of loyalty to Mae [Alan Swallow’s wife].” Gus also refused Winters’ offer of payment.

To Swallow’s wife Winter’s writes that “Alan was an odd genius. . .  . He had a gift which is restricted usually to good poets: He could recognize good writing and recognize it at once (he recognized the same gift in Gus, and so do I). It was this that made him a success as a publisher, this plus the energy of three bull-mastiffs. He was almost ready to take Gus on, before he died, as a junior partner; but he had been a lone wolf for so long that he couldn’t bring himself to it.”

______________________________________

In November of 2000, Ken Fields and committee invited Gus to be one of the speakers at the Symposium in honor of Yvor Winters’ Centenary at Stanford University. Yvor Winters was a mentor to Gus and helped him in many ways. Gus was happy to be invited for the symposium. He said it felt like coming full circle. One morning, as I sat sipping tea across from my father at his glass and steel dining room table, he handed me an early draft of his Winters address to read.  In a few weeks I would move from his beloved New Mexico to Montana. He had only recently started giving me his work-in-progress to read. He gave it to very few people. So, this was an occasion. And as I sat reading this address he’d written to honor his mentor, I cried. In the essay I learned much about my father that I’d never known. I cried because I was moving away from my intellectual touchstone, my mentor. I cried for reasons I did not fully understand. So, after recently reading Ken’s essay on Winters it sent me back to reread Gus’s tribute to Winters now published in GUS BLAISDELL Collected. When I came to Winters’ poem, “At the San Francisco Airport”, what struck me on this reading that hadn’t struck me so consciously before was that Winters’ was saying goodbye to his daughter, as my father, not a man known for outright expressions of love or emotion, by giving me this tribute, this poem to read at his dining room table those now many years ago, was saying goodbye to me.

  An Excerpt from Gus’s tribute

What Was Called
“A Thought Echoed in Sight”
An address to the symposium in honor of Yvor Winters’
Centenary, Stanford University, November 16–18, 2000

For several years I have started all my film classes at the University of New
Mexico with a screening of Chris Marker’s masterpiece La Jetée. The
movie is twenty-eight minutes long, made almost entirely of still images—
except for a single sequence of a woman, after love, sleeping in bed. She
opens her eyes and blinks three times directly at her (offscreen) beloved,
her watching beholder; at us. When this point arises in the conversation
with the class I read them the first of two poems, William Blake’s “Several
Questions Answered”:
What is it men in women do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
What is it women in men do require?
The lineaments of Gratified Desire.
I tell the class that “lineaments” for Blake are the boundaries of the soul,
and that “gratified,” as opposed to “satisfied,” desire requires a thankfulness,
a thoughtfulness of two, and that it is genderless. My young are not
taught “corrosion and distrust”—and neither were Yvor Winters’ young.
[Stanley Cavell, in The Claim of Reason, offers this gloss on Blake’s rhyme:
“Here is a brave acceptance of the sufficiency of human finitude, an achievement
of the complete disappearance of its disappointment, in oneself and in
others, an acknowledgment of satisfaction and of reciprocity.”]

When the conversation has ended or the class is coming to an end I
read my second poem to them, Winters’ “At the San Francisco Airport.”
Sometimes I read it twice, particularly the last stanza in which Winters bids
farewell to his departing daughter:

This is the terminal, the break.
Beyond this point, on lines of air,
You take the way that you must take;
And I remain in light and stare—
In light, and nothing else, awake.

Some students always come up after class wanting to know more about
the poet who wrote the last poem. My several tattered paperbacks of the
Collected Poems testify to their avidity.
Awake and in light. Heraclitus said that “the waking have one and the
same world, but the sleeping turn aside each into a world of his own.” But
Arthur is awake and alone, his daughter speeding away “on lines of air,” on
her own separate course, leaving him to remain in light and awareness of
the terminal break.

The Intellectuals at Okie’s Bar

Gus Blaisdell NM 1969 ©Arthur Lazar

Gus 1969 © Arthur Lazar

The Intellectuals at Okie’s Bar                                                                                                 for Gus Blaisdell

They are lovers of their own distortions                                                                               who sit in such darkness    music                                                                                     steaming about them                                                                                                                                                     beer swelling                                                                                       their muscles / sense and temperance                                                                                   tortured into hours of speech                                                                                                 to dowse their minds’ reflection                                                                                                                                                                  Ocean at night                                                     leaps up in tongues of green illuminated                                                                                 spume    and dies on sand                                                                                                       A residual humor flaps its wings                                                                                             evacuates into air                                                                                                                                                     The bar is                                                                                       headquarters for difficult gymnastics

There is nothing outside but stars                                                                                       and a sliced moon    cold now in Novermber that                                                                     arrogant Heaven peopled by the dead                                                                               Cars wearing holsters cruise                                                                                                   the boulevard                                                                                                                                                      at one with those harmonious                                                                         seasons and cycles to which                                                                                                   the balls of drunks aspire:                                                                                                                                                        to be contained                                                                           in Purpose     molten fluid pouring                                                                                 through strict cylinders                                                                                                                                                        to arrive at                                                                                       the laurel bush at last     completely relieved                                                                         done with hessian duty      into the arms                                                                                 of a goddess more woman than ghost

We are not the mob that coils                                                                                           around Fortune’s rim     Snake eyes                                                                                     inhabit our bones                                                                                                                                                             seeing fumes                                                                             canopy all gay processions (prophesy also                                                                         the pit where brains are buried)                                                                                                                                                      so we refuse                                                                       to march                                                                                                                                                         hippity-hop through Hell instead                                                                       our toes quick                                                                                                                                                           as red coals                                                                                             spend our laughter in heads of foam                                                                               matching the need for                                                                                                                                                                    bright occasions

Gene Frumkin (1928-2007)                                                                                                  from Clouds and Red Earth     Swallow Press

***First published in The Only Journal of the Tibetan Kite Society, 1969                                    edited by Howard McCord , The Tribal Press

Ken’s poem for Gus

Gussy

Gus
Albuquerque, NM

“Earth angel, earth angel, the one I adore”
–The Penguins

Ten months after your death I got the news.
All that time you were still alive.  Each week
I thought of you or told a Blaisdell story,
The way I saw you first, at my front door,
Six hours late, the middle of the night, festooned
With leaves in your hair from the back yards you’d crashed through
As curly haired as Bacchus and as stoned:
“Your neighbors don’t know you, man”—you kept shouting,
“Professor Fields, goddamn it.”  The next three days
We talked and drank around the clock, the only
Trace of that conviviality, the phrase
“Far fuckin’ out!”  We said it a thousand times,
Late sixties eloquence, we never looked back.
We burned our lives to the rail, in a few years,
You sobered up and in a few more, me too.
From then on we remembered what we said.

You got to Stanford through a pachuco gang
In San Diego, tattoos on the backs of your fingers.
Arrested for stealing a book, you finished high school
In a bad boys joint run by the nuns.  The bookseller
(Later your trade) thought about what you’d done—
He’d never had a thug steal Wallace Stevens,
So he sent you all the Stevens in his store
And In Defense of Reason, strange remorse.
This Winters is smart, you said.  You came to Stanford
Where Uncle Lumpy, as you called him, loved you.
Your master and mine, he called you his wild boy.
One day the dean of men confronted you.
He’d just found out about your tattoos.  “This school
Is a gentleman’s school, and I expect you to act
Like one, at least, and not come back next term.
We’ve never had anyone like you.”  When you told Winters,
He stood up, pushing his chair into the wall,
And stumped across the quad.  “I never knew
What he said to the dean.”  Hell, you know what he said,
“This boy is ten times smarter than you.  He stays”

You only taught the best:  Mrs. Bridge,
Basho’s Narrow Road, Kurosawa,
Chris Marker and Descartes’ Meditations:
“Wrong in every one of them, but read them
Like a French New Novel, narrated by a man
Trying to keep from going mad, and failing.”
You were my only intellectual.
Your charm,
Your beautifully vulgar equanimity,
Brought learning to the table and the street,
“Where the rubber meets the chode,” I hear you laugh,
The rude road Strode rode.  In that quick riff
You’d hear John Ford, Woody, and Sonny Rollins,
And the Duke holding court at The Frontier,
The all-night diner where you said good night.
When you described a round bed with a bedspread
Printed with a target—“it was like ground zero
At a fuckathon”—my wife fell in love with you,
“The funniest man alive.”  And you still are.

“Not too many words between myself
And the world outside,” you wrote.
Well, more than you let on.  A single room
Is overflowing with them, “Some white puff
Just beyond our mouth.”  I want to phone you
When a doctor tells me of a patient complaining
Of fireballs in her universe, another
Suffering immaculate degeneration,
And a man controlling his rage by taking something
He called Hold Off.  But no one’s home.
Gus,
Fireball, immaculate degenerate, you hold off,
You’re somewhere out there, as they say at Acoma
(Simon Ortiz recalls you at Okie Joe’s),
You’re somewhere out there, Gus, or as you’d say it,
(Corazon, baby) you are far fuckin’ out.

Ken Fields

I KNOW A MAN

In 2002, a year before his death, Gus wrote the bio below to accompany his poems included in  IN COMPANY: an anthology of New Mexico Poets after 1960

                                                                                      photo by Nicole Blaisdell Ivey

Gus Blaisdell for twenty-seven years ran an “alternative to an absence,” the Living Batch Bookstore, always close to the Frontier Restaurant. He continues to teach film at the University of New Mexico. He runs a small press, Living Batch Books , that continues to present his alternative to absences. A special line of his books is called Drive, He Said, after Creeley’s poem “I Know A Man.”

Message from Momaday

A note from Pulitzer prize-winning author,N. Scott Momaday, discussing                       GUS BLAISDELL COLLECTED (Gus was editor on Momaday’s second book,                     The Way to Rainy Mountain, published by UNM press).

Dear Nicole,The book is a clear mirror of the man. It is beautiful and moving. Gus and I made a legendary journey to Rainy Mountain in the hard weather that shapes mind and memory. It was a quest, a journey eminently worth making.With deepest thanks.Scott

DISCUSSING GUS at UNM bookstore Wednesday December 5th at 4pm