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That 70’s Po

June 7, 2008

Making poetry the news ain’t easy, ‘specially when there really ain’t no poetry in the news (unless, as my colleague stated in a previous post, folks are talkin junk about the ole po).

So we were giddy with glee when we found this gem in our contemporary poetry google alert,

Did the ’70s begin with Altamont, or with the Ramones? Did it end with Reagan? When HIV/AIDS was first identified? The first time someone shouted, “Disco sucks”? At the Poetry of the 1970s conference, set for June 11-15 at the University of Maine, all such avenues will be explored — as seen through the lens of the poetry that emerged from that decade.

Whoa. What? How did we miss the call for papers on this one? We can’t figure out why but this conference not only seems intriguing, it seems like it could be the coolest conference EVER. Who cares who’s there, we’re convinced there’s gonna be at least seven asides about (insert famous alcoholic/addict poet of your choice here). I mean, weren’t the 70s just effing ridiculous? Like KISS makeuped, Patty Hearst communiqued, frat party, disco ball panties, doing lines off of your copy of Brautigan’s Abortion with one of your co-ed students ridiculous?

The conference schedule probably includes a panel on Robert Bly’s foray into the world of native garb (circa 1970) and his reluctance to ever come back.

Of course, in the most timely of all serendipities, Ron Silliman flexes his po-cool just days before (June 2nd) the alert hit our google radars. If Silliman’s experience is any indicator of the variety and tenor of the kind of shit that went down in the poetry world during that decade of decadence, then we children of the 80s and 90s have a hell of a lot of spin to start up to defend the lifeless decades we rode in on,

In 1973, Richard Nixon was still president, the Paris Peace Accords were signed in January. The mayor of San Francisco was Joe Alioto, the second in a string of eight consecutive Democratic mayors. George Moscone, who would be third, was still a state senator, a solid liberal but a man known often to be bleary-eyed after lunch. Harvey Milk owned a camera store on Castro Street. Tho he’d only lived in San Francisco for a year, Milk first ran for the Board of Supervisors in ’73. The Oakland A’s, led by Reggie Jackson, who led the American League in homeruns with 32, defeated the New York Mets in the World Series in 1973.

I was living on Sacramento Street near Laurel on what is now shrink row, paying $67.50 for my half of a three-bedroom flat. A few blocks down Sacramento was Rae Armantrout & her husband, &, two doors off Fillmore, Ronald Johnson, who lived in a household he referred to as the Vinyl Vatican. Barrett Watten had just moved back down from Mendocino, where he’d been living after graduating from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. David Melnick may have still been in graduate school in Berkeley, but many of the poets now routinely associated with San Francisco in the 1970s – Steve Benson, Carla Harryman, Bob Perelman, Lyn Hejinian were just arriving or not yet on the scene. The only ongoing reading series in town were at SF State out in the fog mid-day (I was working in San Rafael & could never get to those) or at Intersection in North Beach on Tuesday nights, save for a short-lived series in a bookstore/print shop high over Noe Valley called the Empty Elevator Shaft. Barry & I gave a reading at the Shaft, our first reading together, and The Black Tarantula came up afterword to give me the latest chapter of her work-in-progress, I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac Imagining.

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