Wednesday, March 30, 2011



Pitch – Drafts 77-95 by Rachel Blau DuPlessis
(Salt Publishing, London, 2010)


Day out of Days (Stories) by Sam Shepard
(Vintage Books, New York, 2010)

Pitch – Drafts 77-95 by Rachel Blau DuPlessis

It was a cold and windy night that Rachel B. Du Plessis came to read at the University of Kansas. The wind whipped across Mt. Oread and the Jayhawks were in a mighty battle for first place in the nation, the fucking nation (!), basketball of course. You don’t know? But here is a warm room almost, really almost full of persons come out to here the poet read. And she did. Yes she did.
So for me, listening to RBDP was somewhat, and I mean all respect and that she deserves, but at first, for me, like Italian opera when first listened too. It is beautiful, magnificent, stunning….but I don’t understand Italian so have no idea what they are talking about. Or it is like the first few times one heard Jimi Hendrix at a party through a haze of dope and beer….someone leans in and yells: “Man, do you hear those words?” and you suddenly realize that Hendrix is singing? Know what I mean. RBDP is sort of like that, for me, since there seems to be a lot going on that I miss since I don’t know much German or Rilke, or French poets, or styles of poetry or Jewishness or modern critical thinking or numerberlogy or what not. I didn’t realize till after she read and then I bought the book Pitch and then looked in the back and saw the pages of “notes” that there was a lot of stuff going on in this work. I mean one poem, and it is a doozy, there are 2 ½ pages of ‘notes’ in really small print naming stuff like : plenary, and Heidegger and Derrida, and “syntactically altered citations”, the Natchez Trace, Ozymandias by Shelly…you get the drift (see notes below). So I guess, for me, sit back or sit up and read what you can. Ignore what you need too (remember first reading Pound – Chinese?). I really do think it is okay to say to ones self: “Okay, I don’t know why she is smiling as she reads this passage, but that is okay. That guy is laughing with her. That is okay too. Maybe he is some kind of scholar.”. And why not. I am not trying to be snotty here…or disparage the educated. That is there job for sure…and RBDP I am sure is very good at her job. No doubt. And she can write…she can write.

There are options. One can read as written OR one can read as written and then read what is written behind what is written. Should one be inclined? That is what the ‘notes’ are all about I suppose.

Here is what I treasure from this book Pitch and then I will stop.
From Draft 78 Buzz Track

S/one stalks those Sprechstimme blues.
Yeah, it’s noise that stays noise, nous saying news,
With a go and a blow and a ho-T-ho
And a We and a twee and a twisted three
Cawing heh-heh-heh and hoo-poo-poo,
And KUK oo,
Random biddyings
Swoop to the road, lope, this torsion and pip
That loop around the fitted middle of “home”.

These few lines in no way illustrate the works totality..but they do, for me, give indication of what she does throughout what little of the whole I have read. The sounding, the comic, the NOISE, the NOSE, the thoughtful combination that comes out as a whole, in effort, by the author to put down the line…no matter the interior reaction come up as it happens. This the artist at work.

Well, there are hundreds of pages to choose from, thousands of lines, maybe a zillion words…I am not counting just now. But I am sure RBDP has and one has to respect and admire the incredible amount of energy that goes into writing such a work as Drafts…yes THIS is such a thing and there are really very very few such around these days. Think DeFoe and The Crystal Text two of very few examples. Funny thing that RBDP, during the reading at KU last night, ‘apologized’ more than once, in an offhand way, about reading such long poems and how the audience should just “grit and bear it…” or at least that is what I heard. But perhaps she didn’t have to make the point…her audience as it looked to me, had been exposed to the long poem and the poets who spoke them in the past. They were ready and when it ended they responded with relish and charm. Who wouldn’t.


Day out of Days (Stories) by Sam Shepard

Well, what do you know? Another old straight white guy reviewing another old straight white guy’s book. Oh my…oh my. Let us pray that there is no mention of tennis!!! What we all pay for some jerk in Iowa making bad poetry and the rest of us who try not too. Well.

Recently I was on a trip and tried to read Keith Richards’s bio book and also Patti Smith.‘s book about her and friend Robert Mapplethorpe and this collection from Shepard. Ah the 60’s and the 70’s and the 80’s….dot dot dot. Well truth be told the only one I read thru was Sam Shepard’s recent collection of ‘stories’ from the last couple years. Not that the other two books were not worth reading….but not through and through. Richard’s had some funny stuff (anyone who calls Mick Jagger “Brenda” gets my vote). And Patti Smith well that was okay too but sometimes a bit too…flowery? Overdone? Mushy? I donno. Something just too much. Must a been okay for the prize giving out folks and who else is there besides Ms. Smith. Kinda makes me wish Jimi Hendrix was alive to write at age 65. Humm.

So…Sam Shepard writes with a style that creates the image for a reader that is hard to ignore. I guess that is how he writes plays…or used to. His plays, I think I can say, helped a lot of us get through the 60’s and 70’s which were not the easiest decades to be ‘outsiders’. It was Sam Shepard plays that one could find being put on in alphabet city store fronts or San Francisco bars called theatres sometimes. Walk in, buy a beer, sit on floor, fire up a Kool, lay back and watch some mad play about people going nuts and maybe some guy in a lobster suit bashing through a stage door (is that right?). So thanks to Sam for helping out. Was there any other theatre going on, other than in the street? Sure and it was a happening time. What happened to that?

This book, this collection, Day out of Days is rightfully termed (by Sam or his publisher) “stories”. Okay, maybe in some cases they are conversation or poems or letters maybe. Each does somehow tell a little something about an event in Shepard’s life as he drives around the rural US by himself and sometimes road buddies or travels to Mexico with family, for instance. Here is the closing line for a bit called Las Vegas, New Mexico: “She smiles sweetly and flees.” What does that tell you about the rest of the story? Not bad for a last line, I say, after reading a lot of modern writing in various forms. He says. Shepard is for one thing very funny, very very funny. And most times, it is he that is the butt of the joke. Ditto the sadness that comes through as always in Shepard's writing either for stage production or prose. A lot of time, like the story Land of the Living. Any one who has stood in a line for Immigration at an airport will identify with this one. He can, well he is a play write, certainly with few words bring the reader onto the ‘set’. But this one is, I suppose , a typical ‘short story’…that length. A lot of what is in this collection is a paragraph, a few lines of dialog, a brief description of a Normal, Illinois jail cell for instance. Or guns going off in the neighbors Minnesota woods. It don’t take Sam much to create a ‘scene’.

Well, I can’t go on writing a critical review of this collection. If you want to be taken along for a ride around the US of A…and a bit of Mexico…here it is. It IS entertaining and well written. Oh there is a cringe here and there….he is a skinny old white guy after all. Ex wives and kids scattered across the country for Christ’s sake! And you do know that Patti Smith had him as a boyfriend for a good while. That counts for sure. Good on ya, Sam Shepard.


Jim McCrary's latest publication, Po Doom, is just out from Hanks Original Loose Gravel Press. The text is response to reading poetics blogs for a year online each morning. Along with Steve Tills, Richard Lopez and Henry Mancini, he will be publishing a series of chapbooks under Hanks Original Loose Gravel Press...stay tuned. Occasional blogging at:

And here he also is with kitty pal, Fae. Fae lives with her brother Che in barrio San Juan on the east side of Todos Santos, Baja California Sur.

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