Interview of Kathleen Fraser, conducted by Robert Glück, April, 2002


RG: Can you talk about the people and writings that shaped your idea of what a poet is, and what a poetic career is, that is, what you imagined for yourself when you were beginning?

KF: That's a book-length question! So here goes a condensed version. I know that from an early age I saw the names of poets like Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll and Robert Louis Stevenson at the ends of poems or on the jackets of childrens' books almost every day. Before I could read for myself, my parents would read to us at bedtime from these verbally precocious and silly nonsense verses, but individual poet identities remained unfixed. Then, in the middle of sixth grade, we changed environments from Tulsa to a small mountain town in Colorado. Because our house was larger there, my father decided to move his private library from his upstairs study into the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of our family reading space, which meant I could look at the titles and choose one to read any time I felt like it, without disturbing him. It was almost like going to the town library, except there were none of the novels my mother and I loved to read...but the privacy was there, and the sense of discovery.

By then, I was bored with most of the books I'd been reading and ready for something entirely new, so I went looking for a lure among my father's more austere bindings. I would bet that it was the wonderfully incised cover of Leaves of Grass that first caught my eye but, in any case, I spent a blissful Saturday morning, early that summer, sitting behind the house in a little area where I couldn't be seen or called upon, reading Walt Whitman and feeling my first intense connection to his ecstatic language.

Whitman was the first POET to enter my private reading life. I was, even then, intrigued by the long lines and thrilled by the sense of freedom and connectedness the poems gave me... and how surprised I was to find that I liked them! For I was fairly caught up in rejecting anything that my parents suggested as worthy. But with Whitman, I was time-traveling inside my own mind and body, completely released from the confining public family life I'd been assigned to by fact of my father's profession. Still, as for any personal connection between me and "the poet" himself, there was none I can remember... no conscious idea of being like him or writing poems, etc. He was definitely "other," this unfamiliar man in rumpled clothes, looking out at me with his dreamy, twinkling eye. Biographies or poet role models — all that didn't yet exist for me the way, say, popular singers or movie stars had... because I wasn't looking for them.

It never occurred to me until many years later that I, too, might write poems. Privately, I savored the language and claims made in Leaves of Grass... but there was, in me, this zero place of self-knowledge. Half of me seemed to be waking up from a barely remembered dream. It was someone else's life I was reading through. I was still a cipher of others' needs and expectations.

Then, in my third year of university, a light bulb went on. As part of an intensive Humanities program involving hours of daily reading assignments from the "great works" of literature, I met some upper-classmen who were writing and reading poetry on their own — books that didn't appear on our required lists. One person said I should read Virginia Woolf. This sophisticated senior roamed the dorm halls late at night like a truant, smoking cigarettes and offering me my first taste of Drambuie in her room (a bottle stashed behind her larger textbooks). She was excited by writing and I wanted to be around people like that. She lent me her copy of The Waves and that was it. I was home.

Woolf's language completely captured me — there was no problem of understanding anything. I'd been reading the classics and English literature's masterpieces like an awed spectator. But in this writing, I was instantly living inside her words, fascinated by their mysterious unraveling of people's thoughts and feelings and back-trackings... a sort of musical conjugation of a larger mind's voicing of endlessness, uneasiness and fracture that seemed entirely accurate to me. Woolf's multiple lines of thought and digression provided me with an annotated map of how I experienced/listened-in on the world.

But this is my description — now — of a work and its impact. While her inner world seemed profoundly familiar to me then, its effect was not, at that time, consciously owned. Woolf was presented to me as a novelist and essayist, but I would say that the very "eccentric" terrain of her writing texture, syntax and movement provided the first ground of poetic language linking me to a desire that would eventually push me into writing my own poems.

At the time, I didn't think about her "career" or daily practice or struggle to write, because I hadn't yet read A Writer's Diary , nor did I have sufficient biographical information about her to provide some "real world" context for the fiction. There were too many assigned readings and term papers required for my classes to leave much time for foraging. And anyway, I hadn't yet begun to write poetry. I was fairly clear about pursuing a career as a journalist. I knew I was good at that, and it seemed to promise a way of escaping the provincialism of Southern California and tasting the larger world. Poetry, if anyone had asked me then, was still very much tied, in my mind, to a highly private, mostly sorrowing or sublime life in which poems delivered themselves to "the great poets" — mostly men — in some inexplicable event called "inspiration," for want of a better word.  A bit like the Virgin birth idea, come to think of it.

On the other hand, I did begin to attempt my own poems soon after reading Woolf and to read other books of poems that were passed my way — mostly male modernists like Eliot, Williams and e.e. cummings. I showed very little of my early effort to anyone until the following year in a mixed-genre writing class where the idea was "to keep on writing," but where the career concept — and its public information of graduate writing programs, journals & prizes, most admired writers, etc. — simply was not in circulation. Writing and reading poetry that year became, instead, a happy discovery of a few others who were turned-on by poetry and the writing of it. This was a hot connection for me, along with studio classes in sculpture and painting.

RG: Who were your first mentors?

KF: Well, it depends on what you mean by mentors ... I learned mostly on my own, rather than through a formal MFA writing program, of the sort where one might seek or find a mentor. After I moved to NYC, in the early Sixties, I began to hang-out in various poetry writing seminars — at the 92nd St. Y (Stanley Kunitz) and The New School (Kenneth Koch) — and also attended free-floating, open mike readings on the Lower East Side... pre-St. Marks Poetry Project. Within these radically different poetics & practices came the beginning awareness of micro-community-based approvals and persuasions, in particular the "downtown" preferences of American speech-based work coming from Black Mountain and certain New York School writers.

I was reading everything in sight, but several writers began to dazzle me as poets whose lives and work gave me something to aspire to and build on, via their interest in abstract expressionist painting and jazz improvisation as models for breaking-through and going beyond the norm. These poets were Frank O'Hara and Barbara Guest. In 1964, through the unplanned substitution of Kenneth Koch as poet/teacher at a two-week summer writing program I'd signed up for, I met a number of young writers who followed the trail of first generation NY School poets Koch, O'Hara, Ashberry, Schuyler and Guest. My ideas of what it meant to write poetry were considerably opened that summer, at first resembling scores for Dada musical comedy through Koch's playful, bordering-on-silly assignments.

These soon segued into an intensified interest in NYC urban culture revolving around contemporary experiment in painting, jazz/new music, dance, film and "happenings"... plus a range of live poetry readings and nonstop parties where the news of all these events passed swiftly. At these readings and parties, I first met Frank O'Hara and heard him read "Lana Turner has collapsed!" and heard Barbara Guest read "Parachutes, my love, could carry us higher." Eventually we became friends... but I very seldom showed them my work.

RG: So how was it that two such entirely different personalities and writing practices found equal attraction in you?

KF: Well... Frank, and his expansive, heartful poems represented freedom: refusal to conform, spoofing of authority, joy, spontaneity and permission to include the tiniest and largest phenomena in one's poems. His was a nonstop interest in (and spontaneous notation on) every manifestation of the creative & sexy mind that showed itself in '50s-'60s NYC, 19th century Paris, early 20th century Russia, etc. — from local jazz clubs, featuring the most difficult players, to the high culture of NY City Ballet; from unhappy love affairs to elevated spiritual aspiration; from intellectual foraging to sentimental longing.

O'Hara's poetry practice was a model and an invitation to let anything that interested you, anything that entered your life, enter the poem... and to get it down as fast and as fully as it arrived in your imagination. If he was at a party and felt a poem beginning in his brain, he'd stop everything and go sit in a corner and write it down. If you were were walking down Fifth Avenue together and passed the typewriter displayed (at body height) in front of the Olivetti building, you'd stop and improvise a poem collaboration on it — right then. Clearly, this practice of O'Hara's was backed-up by an immense physical energy that supported a non-stop brain. He was a social animal who craved continuous stimulation, both for itself and as provocation for his poetry. The model was: Try it! You can do anything you want to in a poem, especially if "they" tell you you can't.

Barbara Guest, on the other hand, represents Dickinson's dictum to "tell it slant." Her person and work were always witty, mysterious, emotionally encoded, noble and deeply intelligent, her poems discreetly sculpted in phrasing and lineation... and in love, always, with painting and a quite particular and selective body of French and English-language writing. Guest's life and her work have provided an extraordinary example of a woman poet determined to continue working, regardless of scant critical support until her later years... and of an oeuvre that has persevered in its fabulously originating poetic invention. Her writing does not provide a quick study, but demands a committed attention and rewards accordingly. Her model provides an invitation to attend closely, word on word... and to read into the great literatures, allowing others' texts to sustain and reassemble their passions through your own listening and imagining. Guest's brilliant poetic imagination and her will to continue working have long provided me with a central role model.

So here I am, wanting complete freedom and long-lined spontaneity with part of me, and a highly attentive, inventively assembled line with another part of me. I did not want to give up one or the other, nor did I stop reading Elizabeth Bishop or Marianne Moore or Adrienne Rich, all of whom nurtured my conviction to write and to find my own path. Fortunately, a passion for the poem-making process, shared by both Guest and O'Hara — and, to some extent, Olson (a later interest) — have provided me with the scaffolding for a variety of formal possibilities, depending on my state-of-perception. Frank and Barbara were, after all, mutually admiring friends. Both collected paintings by artists whose studios they visited regularly and whose works they sometimes collaborated with... and they both wrote for Poets Theatre, with a great deal of wit & hi-jinx and re-invention of the wheel.

There were, of course, a number of other poem/poet models on the way to Here, and I would be remiss if I did not note the immense importance of George Oppen to my work and life. I first heard Oppen read, just before leaving NYC for SF in 1967, and was stunned by the gravity and force of his unadorned language, and his intentional use of silence, perhaps to allow the presence of a larger spirit or context to reside beyond ego, showmanship and personal account. His presence and his modality of poem/speech proposed such an extraordinary contrast to the fun & games spirit of high imagination practiced by the NYSchool that it was almost like changing languages.

When I subsequently began reading Oppen on the page, I probably learned more about line break and discrete placement of fragment within the page's unscrolling than I had since first beginning to think consciously about my own writing. I noted (through hearing Oppen's voiced sense of the line) how his fought-for words were interleaved with eccentric spaces that called me to attention — without sound — underlining absence (loss). During our subsequent friendship in San Francisco, he led me to Lorine Niedecker's amazing ear and condensed, straight-ahead writing. While George had come from a family of great wealth, he put his poetry-writing on hold for years in order to fully practice his Communist beliefs and his trade as a carpenter in Mexico, where he fled the dangerous effects of the McCarthy witch hunts going on in the U.S..  The integrity I clung to in Oppen's poetry came from a life deeply aligned with his political and ethical beliefs. Clearly, his spiritual and humanistic concerns did not stop at mere rhetoric, and this knowledge provided me — as had the articulate courage of Adrienne Rich — with the models I needed to be a teacher and editor in the Seventies and Eighties, during the gender struggles and power re-alignments taking place nationally in universities and publishing.

RG: So you are a citizen of the East and West!

KF: Without a doubt... actually quite a few "coasts" have provided me with distinct but important elements in my education as a writer... my students and peers, not the least of those! When I moved out from NYC to the Bay Area in the early Seventies, there were an increasing number of poets who persisted in their practice as innovative writers, even as they were working at often exhausting jobs, raising children and actively engaging a community politics. Their writing lives gave me models and the courage to continue writing towards the new. Your writing practice was among the most important to me... also, there were extraordinary younger writers coming along-many of whom, at various times, had been my students at SFSU... & later, yours and Myung Mi Kims's and Aaron Shurin's — going on to form an entirely fresh roster of those who now enliven our reading/writing/editing community.

RG: Looking at your poetry, you were and are always a singer, a lyric poet, but your sense of the medium (language) changes dramatically — perhaps a number of times. I am thinking of a period when you were building an aesthetics on a kind of stuttering or uncertainty, giving a formal representation to women's experience, but there are other periods too, both before and after that particular focus. Will you chart some of these changes, with examples from your work?

KF: It's an interesting subject, the impact of the lyric — its compressed patterns of sound on the ear — and one I've often tried to sort out or reconfigure in my own work, using intentionally idiosyncratic syntax or prose rhythms/diction as a way of escaping the historic load of baggage & attitude & sound accumulation that creeps in with the lyric impulse.

The "problem" begins, of course, in the body and its earliest imprinted pleasures of song — i.e. rhyme, rhythmic repetition & pitch, as well as the giddy encounter with sheer nonsense, if one has come into regular contact with it, as I did, in my very early acquisition of language.

These are not mere abstract delights, but are deeply connected to their originating source, in the voice and physicality of a beloved parent or care-taker. Because of this connection, it is perhaps more difficult to track — and to delete, or harness for new purpose — the lyric's powerful demands than if you were dealing, exclusively, with cooler issues of the mind's invention.

My observation of my own impulse to incorporate compressed "sound" into my poems has been rather continuous since the mid-Sixties, a surveillance in which I've tried to undo early traditional lyric habits with a displacement — or replacement — of contemporary speech patterns and musical influences (in this case, American) that have made their impact. This practice became particularly conscious once I began to understand how thoroughly the measure and beat of English prosody (not American) had marked my ear definitively in my earliest pre-school years.

The lyric impulse is probably not as absolute as a genetic imprint... but exists, powerfully, in one's ear-memory which, in my case, included a lot of song delivered daily in various positive contexts by my mother and father. Often at lunchtime my dad, whose British up-bringing made him a big fan of John Cleese-style nonsense, would teach us very silly songs that had peculiar off-rhymes and odd tunes. I instantly preferred them to other poems and associated them with the free & improvising parts of my father's personality. Lyrics also entered my life almost every night when my parents would sing us to sleep with poignant (at least to my 4 year old ear) duets from Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy musicals, standing in the door of our bedroom with their arms around each other, harmonizing the soprano & tenor lines from songs like "Indian Love Call." It was high romance on the Canadian plains... and I was smitten.

My early English Literature classes unfortunately tended to reinforce the mediocre downside of the poetic lyric with mostly badly taught models. In college, I became aware of the highly contained "verse" models being proposed rather exclusively to us in our textbooks and how a certain polished tone of achieved formality — so admired by my professors in journals like The New Yorker and The Partisan Review — was not often compelling to me. I preferred the lyrics of e.e.cummings that hung on the wall in a friend's room, with their aberrant & exciting punctuation.

By the time I re-located to NYC in the early Sixties, after finishing my B.A. at Occidental, and began to consciously drench my ear with contemporary American poetry, my consciousness of "the problem" was on high alert. I began to understand that the lyric impulse driving my poems, which had once seemed a spontaneous act, was instead often hovering as an unwelcome bully, pushing my "ear" into unnecessary words and extra beats in order to satisfy the rhythmic requirements of some earlier literature that no longer pertained to my life or my developing poetics. Excising this persistent old music became something I wanted to figure out how to achieve.

In the Tenth St. coffee shop (on the Lower East Side), I often sat at the edges of conversations about work being done by Black Mt. poets — Levertov, Blackburn, Creeley, Olson, Duncan & John Cage/Jackson MacLow chance compositions — practicing differences currently being explored by American poets — uses of voice/breath/measure and intention vs. accident, as in contrast to British traditional prosody. Almost parallel with these sessions were my encounters with two generations of NY School poets. All of these began to suggest a greater range of options for my writing — i.e. ideas for how the lyric might re-invent itself.

At first, I determined to get rid of lyric overtones entirely, and would set assignments for myself meant to flatten the music, i.e. to be more "colloquial" and allow multiple registers of voice to be present. By the time I finished writing the pieces gathered in my seventh book, Each Next [1980], I was working primarily with the sentence and paragraph, which gave me a greater emotional and intellectual range — including the use of satire to undercut high lyric tones that still felt to be the enemy. Even my poems written in lines were mostly intended as a series of juxtaposed, sentence-like statements.

But to go back to 1963, for just a minute, there was a first conscious moment of rebellion when I wrote a series of short lyrics called "Blues for Sylvia," following Sylvia Plath's suicide, as a kind of alternative to the "confessional" model that, in the Sixties, was luring so many readers and young writers into its language of female-poet martyrdom. In these little poems I wanted to admit a bluntness and a colloquial directness to the telling of certain grim facts, which I saw with a kind of mordant skepticism... instead of raising them in a high-priestess gesture to the gods of sacrifice. I felt very annoyed with the theatrical romance of suicide that seemed to thrill editors and confer a place in history for a few more women poets, and wanted no part of it for myself nor, later, for my students. Among these "blues" was The Baker's Daughter:

The Baker's Daughter

Personal things is all I care about, she said.
He wouldn't be personal.
That's why I changed hearts. Parts of me ache.
But when OUR legs touch
I know what WE have in common. We loving two.
And pancakes, the joy they bring, is what I wanted to tell most.
We made a crack in the wall to whisper through.
That's personal.
Or the dream, his skin full of blood. You've been crying, I said.
I gave him sympathy because I wanted sympathy from him.
I thought I was good. But it was lonesome.
I woke up full of lonesome. I wanted to be personal.
So I lit the oven. She said.

                                                — from Change of Address [Kayak Books, 1966]

As is evident, there's a lot of internal music packed into these lines, partly managed by the line & juxtaposed movement of direct-but-intimate speech, and partly by internal rhyme. But I wasn't "trying" for a particular adherence to any rule of measure or scansion (often linked to lyric verse); rather, my intent was to speak from an unsentimental voice, saying the blunt (naive) truth as I saw it.

This was my first attempt to upset the lying seductions of the lyric's traditional beauty.

Two years later I wrote Gloom Song, in which I consciously tried to take-on a normally sentimental "female" subject — pregnancy — and say something real, caustic & uneasy about this revered pre-maternal state, in an unconventional register. [Interestingly, the poem was recently set to music with a very atonal/"new music"score, by the American composer, James Lentini. In performance, the singer brought a pitch of comedic over-the-edgeness to her interpretation that seemed exactly right.]

Gloom Song

The gloom queen rides by

in her
  her horse
a rocking chair
makes her dizzy

with small white words click-clicking
against her teeth

"What I want,
oh I want it,
tho I don't know
what I want."

                           — from What I Want [Harper & Row, 1974]

RG: I love the verbal rocking chair, and the lyricism flung across the page in exasperation.

KF: Thanks, Bob... It occurs to me that shuttling between the Sixties & Seventies, my poems were often rocking through highly unlyrical spaces — first experiences of death, and the necessary re-thinking of assumptions re. romantic relationships. Whatever lyric impulse remained in me had to carry a good deal of flat-out loss and sarcasm. Now and again I would still write highly organized narrative lyrics (such as "The History of My Feeling"), but I think this was a sort of throw-back to a known sound, à la O'Hara, as I attempted to musically organize events of despair and in some way contain or subvert their power to destroy me.

Probably the more interesting poems I wrote were not "beautiful" sounding, but more like stark line drawings. There is a poem of twelve very short sections, called "Little Notes to You, from Lucas Street," written from literal notes in my journal made during the late autumn of 1969 when I'd gone to teach at the Iowa Writer's Workshop and had to deal, soon after arriving, with the unexpected trauma of my young sister's sudden death and the decision to end my first marriage. I was quite alone with these events, in an unknown place with a small child in tow and no real friends, and felt quite barmy at times. I wanted to capture this unease with short, ruptured lines — fragments of disorientation and hesitancy that did not confess, did not ask for pity, but contained, nevertheless, interior witness and clear detail. Here are a few tiny sections from that account:


Red paint and blue paint
bicycles The sun's
the sun's out as a presence
of snow running


I don't know
where I am Bread rises and smells
Only half an inch
of pink detergent and my hands
compose with two oranges.


Is my mouth a pocket?
Its mystery
a presence as separate as the porch?
The children in our puddle
walk reverently
in green and red sweatshirts

               — from Little Notes to You from Lucas St. [Penumbra Press, 1972]

As I continued my teaching career — one year as Writer-in-Residence at Reed College ('71-'72) and, from then on, in the graduate writing program at SF State — I noticed that most student poems submitted for discussion had a sameness of tone and movement — even vocabulary — about them and gave no evidence of the often hesitant, flawed, frantic and disrupted lives many of them were leading as they attempted to be artists and scholars, as well as the parallel activities of working and, sometimes, parenting. I began to invent assignments of linguistic exploration & spatial extension whose intent was to bring into question their learned lyric habit of writing only well-made, "highly-crafted" poems and to propose various possible solutions suggested by field composition — i.e. uses of page space and language cluster (or fragment) as introduced by Olson, Duncan, Guest and others. I wasn't "against craft" — one always revises, I hope, towards surprise and away from the clichés of expectedness. But I wanted to give my students a way of paying attention to and legitimizing — in the poem — the erased or unacknowledged/unofficial atonalities & arhythmic imperfections that flooded their daily lives.

It was as a part of this "experiment" that the psycho/physical conditions of stammer, error, uncertainty and ambivalence began to strike me as primary states to be rendered in poetic diction, locating other legitimate perspectives outside the accommodations of neat & tidy/left margin lyrics.

About this time ('72-'73), I would sometimes stay up all night in a frenzy of reading & collaging fragments that flew to the surface of my mind. Several of these poems appeared in the otherwise fairly traditional book of love lyrics, Little Notes to You from Lucas Street. A series called "Seven Uneasy Songs"(to be included, much later, in my Selected Poems) also captures, I think, the profound displacement and slippage that collage allowed me to articulate. My sound-loving ear was still making its claims with internal rhyme — particularly in the first song, "What I Want" — but the other "songs" in that series are full of abrupt stops & starts, achieved through lineation and fragment:

2. To Start

At a tremendous speed my throat makes its door slide.
Open. Pure guess work. . . I have lost the other

side of me. You'll see. In teeth dreams there are only three
wrong guesses. A surprise doesn't exist.

Just a guess against the door.
To think is simultaneous. I'll take another network

of teeth (by pairs) as my answer. Stars. Anymore.

                                     — from What I Want [Harper & Row, 1974]

RG: In our refigurings of literary form and intention, we were influenced for a time, perhaps as fellow travelers, by the Language Poets.

KF: Fast-forwarding to 1980, when Each Next was published, some of that work was certainly stimulated by the emerging language-writing project that often privileged sentences and paragraphs over the poetic line. Certain "language-centered" works suggested to me, by their systematic rejection of the personal lyric, a further strategy for curing my "problem." I was able to extend the range and multiply the identities of my writing subject, and to continue my intrigue with code language and intentional hiddenness. Here is a 12 line section from one of the three lyric poems in Each Next, narratives:

Somebody who is hooked on the color red

is just coming into your blue room
which ruins another person's life.

You can get right off the hook.

To put out his own scare you have a child. Enough of these goings.

You'll proliferate now, thoughts misbegotten to strike through
every face truly. People whom you are.

Getting on with this blank, are you saying
one should follow when the position comes?

I think that door is closed.

                 — exerpt from Each Next, narratives [The Figures, 1980]

Something (even human voices) in the foreground, a lake (1984) uses sentences exclusively, except for the single middle poem dividing the book. The first section is a series of mostly discrete paragraphs, assembled with declarative sentences and random fragments. Much of this was written among the company of Italians, at a lake site, when I could barely speak Italian. It is notation from the purely witnessing position. Is this still "singing"?

They did not make conversation

A lake as big, the early evening wind at the bather's neck. Something pulling (or was it rising up?) green from the bottom. You could lie flat and let go of the white creases. You could indulge your fear of drowning in the arms of shallow wet miles. You did not open your mouth, yet water poured into openings, making you part. Bone in the throat. That dark blue fading, thinning at the edges. On deck chairs, with bits of flowered cloth across their genitals, the guests called out in three languages and sometimes pointed, commenting on the simple beauty of bought connection. The swan-like whiteness of the day. That neck of waves. There was always a tray with small red bottles. And pin-pointed attentions, at each slung ease.

     — from Something (even human voices) in the foreground, a lake (Kelsey St., 1984)

... or another section from that same serial poem, more attentive to lines and the space of the page... but is it lyric?

Covertly, her husband('s eyes)

The boy with white apron hurriedly, tray in hand, the usual small coffees and head not visible due to position of green shutters,

his red comb.

           both selections from Something (even human voices) [Kelsey St. 1984]

RG: Actually it reminds me of Reverdy.

KF: Really? How so ... I'd love to know where and how you make that connection... I mean, I'd love to go back and read Reverdy's poems, knowing this — especially if I knew whose translation? Frank O'Hara loved his work but as I don't read French poetry, except in translation, I don't feel that I "know" Reverdy at all... and this feels like a loss.

But I want to quickly finish this "lyric" trace you requested, and I would guess that Notes Preceding Trust (1987), may provide more evidence of my push/pull relation to "the lyric" poem. (It collects work written on both sides of the specific book project preceding it... i.e. poems that move between highly condensed & eccentrically lyric sound forms and sentence-built, prose poem sequences.) It seems clear, by now, that I require both directions.

By the time when new time folds up was begun in 1989, I'd come to understand and affirm the part of me that loved to work with compressed variables of music as part of my practice, and I became newly focused on rearrangements of sound. They'd been there, all along, of course, but in disguised forms. At this point, I gave the poems full permission to invent new measures of speed and languor, as a positive tool for musical investigation.

The four longish poem sequences in this book — organized around Italian historic and contemporary subjects — investigate time (tempo) in quite different ways from each other, juxtaposing archeological fragments, retrieved drawings, Etruscan alphabet fragments and the rushing forward of contemporary event, to both visualize and enact the human map of Italy as I have experienced it since my first trip here in 1981.

The final sonnet sequence that ends this book is meant, in its pile-up of phrase-upon-phrase, to suggest the contemporary pulse of daily life in Rome & Berlin, where I'd recently experienced a closely spaced sequence of violent events. The final half of each 14th line is spewed-out into the right margin, as evidence of the many forms of violence — the violated whole — going on throughout the writing of this sequence. Repeated images and words multiply, divided only by commas, throughout the 14 sonnets. The title of each sonnet was found by pulling a phrase, arbitrarily, from the body of each poem to create a repeated line of "song..."

a violated sorted white

Crumpled uniform heap, they shut                          whatever
the gate before it is not over,
dangling places you've never seen
and could be, similar roses cut,
"his smoothness was a cover-up,"
still rowing on Wannsee, bumping
on Berlinerstrasse, big room and
wall, a violated sorted white with
tablecloths, a little messy crash,
his wife's instant flash-bulb, bent
paint evidence, the sea could not
                                                                                                                 back of
keep it out, could not keep the                                                         his
various gray waves just at the
window out,

                  — from when new time folds up (Chax Press, 1993)

So, to return to your question, the writing has evolved into something still generically linked to the lyric poem, but has attempted to embody, visualize and address the multiple assaults being made on a Twentieth century urban person attempting to map that expanding sensibility, with its time constraints & political arguments & moments of grace — the wish to make a place in the structure of the poem for the temporal reality of that interrupted life: Noise, silence, line, pause, fragment, space & other spaces.

RG: I think you've covered a lot of ground. Now that we have the meat and potatoes, how about some dessert?

I associate your interest in music with your lovely voice — first heard when you sang in your kitchen on Jersey St. while preparing dinner for us some evening in the early Eighties — chicken braised with vegetables in your blue oval enamel baking pot. And your reading voice is musical. Then you took voice lessons, deepening your involvement. So I'm going to resist asking the somewhat impossible "what has music meant to you?" in favor of asking you to list five recordings (records, discs, or individual songs) that have been important to you for whatever reason. Tell me what you found in the recordings. That way, I can get them for myself and listen through your ears.

KF: OK ... sounds like fun. Perhaps I'll begin with several recordings that have stayed with me over the last few years, and work backwards from there ... but I may list a few more than you asked for, after that, because each is so particular. Unfortunately, I'm writing this from Rome where my personal stash of CDs is much more limited, so I may have to list musical artists without complete recording information. Here goes:

Madeline Eastman: jazz vocalist supreme, very witty live performer with shades of Anita O'Day/Bob Dorough "cool" in her presentation, but also a straight-on singer, with an immensely innovative delivery of the very most subtle new & old jazz classics — the songs are chosen, in part, for their writerly lyrics. Her voice has great depth, and the listener is never far from her art & craft. Paul Potyen, who does a number of her arrangements on several of her CDs, is her genius collaborator and should get special kudos, for he has understood what her voice and intelligence can do. Her first three CDs were backed by terrific musicians such as Tony Williams & Kenny Barron; Phil Woods, Cedar Walton & Mark Murphy ... however, her most recent recording, BARE, features simply the pure lyrical accompaniment of pianist Tom Garvin for a collection of ballads that finish with Eastman pairing her reading of W.H. Auden's "Funeral Blues" with an achingly beautiful rendition of "Turn Out the Stars." Her CDs are on the MAD-KAT label (available at Tower Records) & her website for ordering is <>.

Carla Bley: for years, a highly innovative composer for keyboards (hers) and for her various jazz quartets and trios ... the CD Social Studies (released some years ago) is music I still listen to rather often. (An exerpt from this CD can be heard when entering the homepage of this feature). There is something hypnotic and continuously revealing about these very interconnected works. One hears echoes of familiar phrases from jazz standards and Fellini film tunes, but deconstructed in unobvious ways. I listen to her musical writing the way I listen to demanding poetry.

Astor Piazzolla: Three Minutes with Reality or just about any of Piazzolla's recorded tangos for Argentine-style accordion, which he performs probably better than anyone else possibly could, since he understands the dark wildness that produced these compositions of his. I also love Gidon Kremer's violin renditions of Piazzolla... one intensity meeting another. Much of this music is available on CD... and you can't really go wrong if the composer is playing his own work.

Kiri Te Kanawa: lyric soprano from New Zealand (Maori tribe), whose operatic ascendencies are about as close to the "sublime" as I hope to get. Her voice is purely on the mark, meeting the highest purpose of each composer she chooses for her repertoire without any leaning on excess vibrato or interpretation. A selection of arias from various operas, recorded in the '80s-'90s, leaves everything else behind.

K.D. Lang: Shadowland was the first album of hers I owned and it remains my favorite. Her voice is full of sexual yearning... but not mawkish, like so many lesser "country" singers. I melt when I hear her sing the title song of this album and think she has a great pure voice, apart from whatever genre label she is stuck with. She is also a unique performer with a whacky, sly sense of humor, and has an immense heart that comes fully into her voice.

Other recordings, briefly noted — although no less important to me, in earlier decades, and still of interest:

Paul Desmond & Dave Brubeck: Jazz Interwoven, recorded in the mid-Fifties(?) ... the first jazz album I ever owned. I still listen to it for the incredible reflective progressions of Desmond's solos. (Available on CD).

June Christy & Stan Kenton: Duet... "Have you lost a lover? Lost a friend? Then, come to the party, at rainbow's end./ Lost perspective? Point-of-view?/ Then. Come. To the party./ And I'll be there, too.....".  I still know the phrasing by heart. Christy was my first great jazz love. She had a sweet & husky voice, truly pitched. This album was re-released on CD. The original album jacket shows Stan Kenton seated at the grand piano in his white dinner jacket and Christy standing in front of the piano in a pink & black satin "prom-queen" gown, with blonde pony-tail making her look for all the world like an innocent Fifties girl (which she almost was).

Other BIG ones, for me, in jazz: Bill Evans (piano), The Secret Sessions; Phil Woods (tenor sax) & Ben Webster (alto); Carmen McRae, Irene Kral and Carol Sloane (jazz vocalists).

Classical pianists who are STARS in the firmament: Ingrid Haebler (Mozart: The Piano Sonatas/Phillips); Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, everything he has recorded... but, in particular, Schubert's Piano Sonata D.537 (Deutsche Grammophon).

RG: Thank you Kathleen. I want to listen to all of them.



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