THE GREAT COSMIC MOTHER (1987)
by poet & activist Barbara Mor (1936-2015)
“Relentless Love”: Letters 1988-2002
from a Writer’s Best Friend
...& who is jesus what else
does he do can he sing
can he plant corn i saw
a picture of him once on
the dome of the sky looking
down dark & fierce at the
green earth & who is jesus
what else can he do can
he scrub floors can he make
the bread they say he
suffered 9 hours of pain
for the world tell that
to any mother what man
son of what father king of
what desert saver of what
flesh can he mold pots
can he make the rain come
can he find his way home
naked after being raped
can he wail like janus can
he burn in fire after
2000 years of dying can he
laugh & hand Death a beer
can he smash the last
mirror can he know me who
is this jesus what is
he: next to any woman’s
blood-red truth no wound
in a man is big enough
to birth a world to
return an earth
so now here is our old mama in the junkyard...
(from “A Song A Song For Tralala,” 1975-1997)
Through a grapevine of serious and hence little-known writers, I have only just heard of the passing (January 24, 2015) of the best friend we ever had—Barbara Mor.
Before the barest bones of Barbara’s life, how we became close, and some of the soul-sustaining things she wrote to me over many years, I want to emphasize that Barbara Mor taught us with her life and work that what we do matters, in the midst of a civilization-gone-mad whose overwhelming mission has been the suicidal turning of living things into controlled and commodified corpses. Between the lines of all she wrote I find a warning and a hope. If we do not work at the root of the problem we only make it worse. If we don’t look full-bore into the hatred of life at that root of “traditional tradition,” we can’t see, or feel, or think, or remember what we’ve truly been and really are (that is what it intends), and so find a way to change our course—which is still possible. What dooms us now is certainly not nature and our human share of its evolution, but our artificially-instilled sadomasochistic addiction to the stupid, corrupt and vengeful ideas of nature and human being that history itself (His-Story: that lie of the text-obsessed charlatans) has foisted on us.
On that basis, I’m sure that Barbara—in all her volcanic anger, born of her loving will to help us heal ourselves and the Earth—would agree with another kinsman of ours, Terence McKenna, who observed that the prehistoric tribal shaman had become the modern artist, taking us back to recover the way forward, combining scientist and seer, explorer and healer, activist and artist; and, that “if the artist cannot find the way [to our healthy further evolution], then the way cannot be found.”
While some facts here about Barbara’s life come from published sources and from her letters, these are vetted directly by her only son. Born October 3rd, 1936 in a southern Californian San Diego that she called “once beautiful,” Barbara described her grandparents’ heritage as Black Irish/Welsh with touches of French and German. According to her 1995 interview with Charles Cantalupo, her mother "was a jazz pianist before she got married": "My mother sat me down and taught me how to play the piano when I was four." In the 1940s, they also shared "going to the movies—the great musicals, right?—and getting the sheet music and coming back and playing it....Sitting on the bench, playing the music, I met the first poetry to come into my life." They also shared many trips to the San Diego Zoo, where "very young" Barbara felt so close to the animals that she "sensed...the feeling of being tattooed with pictures of the beasts," and they began to fill "all the critical dreams throughout my life...a leakage between the beast, the image of the beast, and something that becomes my body....[My] luck, my destiny, this feeling of mysticism." But, when Barbara was seven, her parents divorced: when she turned 12, her mother died, and she lived with her father and step-mother through her teens, until she finished high school.
After a marriage that lasted only about one year (with no children), Barbara struck out for new horizons. She was writing seriously already, because in September 1955 (just before she turned 19) she met film star James Dean, who saw enough promise to tell her “It’s important to me that you keep writing.” After some time in the Santa Cruz mountains and L.A., Barbara was living in “Beatnik” Baja by 1960 “with a Beat artist.”
Here—courtesy of Cantalupo’s interview (Poetry, Mysticism, and Feminism from the Nave to the Chops: Harlow-Essex, Spectacular Diseases print ed., 1995)—we can listen to Barbara talk about the growth of her young-life spirit and imagination. Their roots we saw in the presence of powerful wild animals, whose beings wrote themselves into her, dreams and body, though she knew them only through a rail of theatrical iron bars. The other great felt presence and guide had been her mother’s jazz and all the sensory richness of learning to make a piano sing out, increasing her range for managing multiple rhythms and wedding them to consummate language. As in “Gershwin, Hart, Cole Porter: gorgeous stuff.”
“I got that jingle in my head, and I grew up with this lyric pop music as the first paradigm in my mind. And that has given me an inferiority complex.” Barbara now the Baja Beatnik found that she had to outgrow the superficial “light and cute” aspects of her pop culture’s training (told by a first college professor, “Don’t ever try to do anything too serious”). But, by now there was “literate” rock and roll to help her on, “Bob Dylan, The Beatles,” from whom she got “that Dionysian, mystical power.” The poetry of academic journals had begun to pale for her:
That’s the way I am a mystic: the whole world around is a theater, a work of art. I see the wounds of the Earth, but for me they are also poems and mirrors, where we are living within this allegorical theater....My mysticism is the consciousness of matter, that we live within a conscious body. Mystic communion means a communion within this body: of oneself, of the Earth atmosphere and things, of the universe of quarks and fields. Within this mystic body, all things are in symbolic communication with each other. Everything makes symbolic statements to and about everything else....
Tigers, snow tigers, giraffes, leopards: they were so aesthetically overwhelming and satisfying....the sensation of the living, pulsing power of the world...totally within the context of being within a body....[Under a microscope] a stained potato was a gothic window. It was aesthetically pleasing and gorgeous. At every level, if I get an aesthetic hit, I don’t make a distinction at that point between aesthetic and mystical. It’s so gorgeous, meaning: something there is an artist, long before me, in the first cell.
This Barbara summed up as “the media of Earth’s evolving and continuous lust to make art.” “Matter is a superb artist, and that implies something about the conscious body we’re involved in.” If her own one word for this was “animism,” perhaps she was after a poetry giving unruly body to the pulsing conversation between world, body, spirit and world, and the form(s) she found became a constant significant jazz of slippage among domains of consciousness. None of it meant to be limited by time, identity, or trivial convention.
By 1963, developing in these ways, Barbara was studying Humanities and Linguistics at San Diego State, sharing in SDSU’s creation of America’s first Women’s Studies program. When her son was born in 1965, she found herself on welfare, and in 1969 quit school within sight of her degree because she’d begun to see that her education was ignoring too much of the full human past. Immersing herself in books and historical research, and sharing in the communities of penurious artists around her (“all the serious artists I know live like ex-cons,” Henry Miller observed in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare), Barbara helped to publish women’s poetry collections such as Rainbow Snake and Greater Golden Hills Poetry Express.
Barbara’s first of two daughters was born also in San Diego, in 1971. As her son describes this time, Barbara was teaching poetry and giving talks and readings at high schools of underprivileged Black and Hispanic youth, thus earning a “token trickle” of subsistence. Before long, she moved to Taos, New Mexico, and published her first poetry collections, Bitter Root Rituals (1975) and Mother Tongue (1977). As the culture-war on welfare wore on, Barbara moved to Albuquerque in 1979, where her second daughter was born---and by 1982, she’d returned to Taos with both girls. That year Barbara published poems in her Winter Ditch, tried (below) to publish a piece of innovative fiction called Here, and all the while developed her early research. Her co-creation of a feminist-historical pamphlet with European visual artist Monica Sjoo became the still-growing seed of the major historical work to come.
By 1985, that pamphlet was a complete book whose text and visual qualities brought a $5,000 advance from Harper & Row. Thus disqualified from welfare, Barbara moved to Bisbee, Arizona, to share a house and write alongside the indomitable artist and activist Meridel LeSueur. As Barbara awaited the first copies of The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth, she dedicated the work to her mother and to “everyone’s mother” LeSueur. Barbara never liked the title imposed by her editors. Indeed she reviled it increasingly over time (“as if a woman can’t be cosmic unless she’s a mother”), and preferred her phrase for the Earth itself: The First God, or as she put it, “the only God we know.”
Barbara’s hope was for some kind of university position, but she found little if any work and “basically had zero income” as she waited still longer (1987) through publication delays. When the book did appear and began to sell, she waited another six months for royalties, but then learned that the advance and the book’s many permissions had to be paid first. According to Barbara’s son, it seemed best for her to move to Tucson, while her eldest daughter lived with her father and Barbara’s youngest joined her son’s household. But Barbara found nothing but more “shit jobs” and unemployment there. Hence, she found herself at age 51 “broke and living in back-yards and nefarious drug-dens.”
Here below is, to me, the core statement of what Barbara was hoping to help us recover in “GCM” and her poetry, the very center of Human Being which was both our original inheritance and is, hopefully, our evolutionary future—if we can remember our full demonstrable past, and so move beyond the adolescent wishes, limiting mirages, and biophobic delusions imposed by patriarchal power: what Frederick Turner in Beyond Geography called a “suicide note,” namely that prison of blind, dismal ontological assumptions, reductive mechanistic sciences and absurdly-linear political screed called His-Story. Few artists said it as succinctly as Barbara did, defining the essential, liberating (and so, outlawed) experience of ek-stasis or “standing beyond oneself,” beyond the limits of a regressive, isolating, disempowering fiction called the separate ego:
What is ecstasy? It is our original state of being. It is the conscious expansion of the universe into a multitude of interconnected dimensions and forms. It is Her dance of being, from which all of us were born. Ecstasy is passion, self-expressed through form. In the case of Earth, human beings and all other creatures and biological and geological activities are the forms, cosmic energy is the passion....
In and with the whole world is where we are supposed to feel it. In and with and as the whole world is where our human ecstasy is born. It is the celebration of the recognition that our spirit and flesh are One.
Who else, meanwhile, so efficiently summed up how actual human progress—for example, in The West’s first, longest, most relatively peaceful, creative and egalitarian period, in Minoan Crete—had become a nightmare called “progress” which, to this day, never defines the goal against which it might be measured, even as its ontology carries us blindly ever-deeper into outright fascism and ecological suicide?
Because The West was arrogant enough, or insane enough, to believe its anal eye was truly the eye of God, its will to total dominance truly “God’s will”—its perpetual machinery of observation and control in fact “the machinery of God”—it made “progress.” Western leaders, the political, religious and economic elite, officially merged their profits with God’s profits; and the Western peoples were conditioned, consistently and grindingly from the 13th-century beginnings of the Christian Inquisition, to accept submission to this profitable machine as their “moral lot.”
The patriarchal denial of the Mother becomes the political denial of the people; which becomes the total mechanization, via capitalization, of the human body. And as the body moves, so does God move: the Biblical capitalist West has created God as a prison-keeper, as a factory-boss, rather than as a living cosmos. God as an assembly-line rather than a dance....
As you can see from readers’ comments at Amazon.com, the reception of GCM ranged from raves of gratitude to a minority of critics who tried to dismiss it on familiar “utopian,” “angry” and “female-biased” grounds. GCM began to sell and have an impact, such that the U-Arizona Library purchased a copy. This in part led Barbara to apply for various jobs there, as lecturer, assistant to its press or library, or as cleaning lady. But her hopes vanished when she was caught simply trying to wash herself in a library rest-room with the luxuries of hot water and soap. And this (December 1st, 1988) was when Barbara somehow managed reply to a first letter of mine:
...In the meantime, I had no income, no job, nada....I went from subsistence poverty to absolute zip...Was told by the managing editor of the U of A press that “Writers don’t make good editors.” Arizona is a very yahoo state, including the population of academics. Whatever. I’ve been living on the street, sleeping in abandoned houses in the barrios, hanging out over cups of 59-cent endlessly refillable coffee at Burger Kings and Carl Jr.’s, trying to avoid the tracer beams of Tucson’s police helicopter at night. Altogether, not exactly a book-signing party. But great experience of the wild west, public toilets, street trash, the crazies of the homeless night....So, I’ll read your work with what brains I have left....
So had “our old mama” entered “the junkyard,” her eyes and heart torn open wider than ever to the needlessly suffering and constantly terrorized people in the belly of the American Dream. My own turn had come in the spring of 1980 when, becoming a writer in New York City after a youth of nothing but under-appreciated blessings, I fell in love with a 20-year-old Jewish woman named Eve Helene Wilkowitz. Six weeks of new life ended when, in March, Eve was abducted during her late-night trip home to Long Island, held alive for three days, and then brutally murdered and her body dumped in the backyard of a house near her own. The case was never solved.
Completely shattered, I vowed to understand and manifest why, as one detective told me, a murder like this was “an everyday event,” and I began to shake my education by the heels at the Public Library. That was where and when I found, like Barbara, that the vast majority of history—most centrally to me, the first, longest, most peaceful and progressive period of The West, in Minoan Crete—had been as buried by history books as it was by its “heroic” Mycenaean Greek conquerors. In a few years after multiple stays in Crete I had a 2,000-page manuscript of the future novel Ariadne’s Brother to show American publishers, and I quote one response as wholly typical: “We don’t even want to look at it, because of what it’s about.” I’d made the mistake of telling them that the actual first major life-loving phase of Western Civ, still going strong when it fell through natural disaster and invasion, had never been told from its own Minoan-Cretan point of view: all we had was a myth from their enemies describing doomed decadence, a nymphomaniacal queen with a naïve treasonous daughter, and a man-eating Minotaur, all of whom got what they deserved at the hands of a hero brought up on the religion of war.
Having found The Great Cosmic Mother, and assuming from annual mountains of published shit that connections were what it’s about, I sent a pile of pages to Barbara—and to this day, her response and further letters from the midst of her own dire conditions were/are the most detailed, articulate and encouraging I ever received. Thus closed her first letter:
I’ve put off to the end your experience, the “everyday” destruction of a young woman named Eve. Yes. That’s all I can say: Yes. Our world is built on it, like a vampire is built on blood....One of my biggest revelations was really focusing on the timing of historical events; realizing that The Inquisition, the “witch”-burning, the pornographic details of the dungeons and the tortures of daily life which we sloppily relegate to “the dark ages” truly occurred, in their maximum ferocity and misogynistic legality, during THE RENAISSANCE, that glorious time of Shakespeare and Rubens and the glorification of Greek nakedness and female flesh and the gorgeous reawakening colors of life.
That’s when most women were burning at the stake. That’s when the stench of their flesh was “a daily event,” the quotidian incense. That’s when horror was so habitual, we are still numb: we, the inheritors of those who survived, we still don’t know what happened to us. That’s how all-pervasive it was. It’s Gestalt Theory: the thing we notice least is the thing that is everywhere, we no longer question it, the daily background. It takes a personal tragedy to hook into that background, like a terrible crochet needle, and pull it forward: we see the threads of life are all bloody. They are made of the torn tendons and screams of tortured beings. It’s explained as “human nature,” and that is what we must question now....
So began our friendship, with Barbara sharing copies of her published and latest poems, constant encouragements, reading and publisher suggestions, manuscript-feedback/ideas, and notes on her ongoing “tremendous education” on the street at age 51, even as GCM went into its 4th edition. Besides a few cursive letters, most she sent in a rickety typescript seen in the samples here: Meridel LeSueur had left her “this Brother typewriter, a pretty blue color, [which worked] after I cleaned out her cookie crumbs and plum pits and dried flower petals and butterfly wings and our mutual gray hairs and house dust.” “Sorry it has no good ribbon: I wind it by hand.” This next letter Barbara dated January 8th, 1989:
I don’t regret it [her fortunes “turning toward the streets”]—if I just survive it, to tell the tale....[H&R] very much wanted me to write a second book, and all I could say was Yeah, when I get my desk back, plus a room to work in....I don’t have great job skills...and in the competition with people younger and more experienced and all the rest, I end up getting motel maid jobs....It’s a very low-wage, shit-job state to begin with. I tried sales clerk in second-hand dress shops, library clerk, proofreading, several motels—I just didn’t get hired. Also, living on the street means no baths, no hair in place...slept outside all summer in the backyard of a barrio shooting gallery with cops coming through once a week rousting us at 3 a.m. looking for somebody else. Another planet, Jack: employers can smell you coming, and they’d rather have a certified American. Porque no?....Best regards [for now] to you, Jack—Your vision, your voyage to reality, our common dream....
That “voyage” referred to my leaving New York freelance for a full year in Crete to finish Ariadne’s Brother and find a publisher in Europe, if I could, blessed by the astonishing support of my then-fiance Susanna’s brilliant and ebullient father, Thomas Dant, a would-be writer too. Barbara wrote at length that making it first abroad had been the story of most American authors worth a damn—and lo, I found a publisher in Athens, but learned just in time that the contract’s Greek fine print divested me of any rights in my own work: business as usual. And with that same January 8th letter Barbara sent a swatch of new poems, “the long one” focused fearlessly on the gang-rape murder of yet another young woman. We were bonding across the transatlantic treasons of “our civilization”:
The long one called “A Song A Song for Tralala” you will find meaningful. It’s been read over the radio in Berkeley, at least. Was bought by Ms Magazine in 1976, they kept it two years without printing it, two or three editors disliked it, too violent they said, i.e., might offend advertisers or readers. I asked for the first rights back and a friend printed it, but Ms had it through 1976-78, squatting on it as Fundamentalism rose and the controversies about the Rolling Stones’ Black and Blue [album] billboards and other abusive ads was beginning, and the Women Against Violence Against Women groups began counter-fighting. A timely poem, in other words, kept deliberately out of print by Ms Magazine while Gloria Steinem was editor. Whatever. I kept the $150 they paid for it!
Thus, as I came back to America with my book unfinished and without a contract, Barbara returned to Albuquerque (1989) still split off from her children. “They are smart, talented and disciplined kids,” she wrote (February 9th): “I’m very fortunate that they are doing well [sharing a house in Albuquerque] while I crap out [on the streets].” So it went on for both of us through the next two years, struggling hard to keep each other positive and creative: I went back to Crete and lived in a backyard garage to finish the book (for which a new contract came only years later), while Barbara moved from tread-water job to job and “wrangled” with Harper Collins (now owned by Rupert Murdoch) over a new edition Intro to GCM “that they would accept” (January 2nd, 1991). “Truly, editors have a hard job I guess but they drive me crazy.”
No, I’m not OK—but will survive. On November 15th I was burglarized....They left behind street-marketable items, a stereo with five speakers, etc., and took all my typewriters (two broken manuals, one that worked) and a green plastic file box containing my life as a writer: GCM contract, royalty statements, all reviews and letters from Alice Walker, Barbara Walker pertaining to book—all reviews of my poetry, printed and readings, all final manuscripts of my poetry etc. Maybe it was a literate junkie, I live in a high crime area. But who needs a plastic box full of book documents and poetry mss.? Maybe it was a hit by the Fundamentalist crazies very active here....Maybe it’s my time to be erased. If I have anything to say in the future, it will have to be written in Blood and Spit....Be of hope for 1991, a good year for people who walk upside-down....
Our letters through these years had another focus, too, connected with our shared belief in working at the roots: namely, the foundations of our country as shaped by the first transatlantic age between Early Modern Europe and Native America. While Barbara introduced me to works from Frederick Turner’s Beyond Geography: The Western Spirit Against the Wilderness (1980) to Fredy Perlman’s Against His-Story, Against Leviathan! (1983, which she called “magnificent”), she merrily insisted that I develop early work on the Renaissance English planter Thomas Morton of Merrymount and his many-sided New English Canaan (1637)—whose loving portrait of Native New England, its paean to the continent’s natural endowments and scathing satires against the bumbling savagery of Pilgrims and Puritans had fascinated both of us since youth. This, Barbara thought—a new edition, a Morton biography, maybe even a film—would surely connect me with American audiences as Ariadne’s Brother (she rightly rued) likely could not. May 7th, 1991:
Timing is everything, said Shakespeare looking at his watch. Get hard with yourself, Jack. In the sense of considering that all us writers are in the same shit-filling boat now. I wrote a great 30-page story (“story”) about Mining in U.S. [It was called Here.] It had no characters, no dialogue, and the plot is just history—it is in the genre-family of Kafka’s Penal Colony and Swift’s Modest Proposal—and it’s excruciatingly funny, also thick and hypnotic in language, etc. Every time I send it out, many times in past 5 years, I waste my money it comes back you see. Either I totally rewrite it (and then destroy the story which is in how the language describes it), or I put it away, move on and hope my kids don’t throw it away with the trash when they come to dispose of my dead body. Study the territory we are all living/writing in now....There’s much possibility if you explode your own strictures. That’s what I must tell myself every day, for I am trying to learn how to write also. It ain’t easy. Get serious (-er!). Even more serious than you are, I mean. Get your valuable material across the river of ebullient words, which might echo the writing of Morton’s day, but you are also writing to now, and that too is an obligation....You must decide which convictions are truly worth your courage....
Next I knew after Reagan’s “down-sizing” had destroyed most New York freelancers’ livings, and working shit-jobs too back in Massachusetts, I was producing (via local cable studios) 1992’s Thomas Morton and the Maypole of Merrymount: Disorder in the American Wilderness, for which Barbara generously agreed to read from GCM as part of the historical surround. She took considerable trouble to have her musician-son record her on cassette, and that was the first time I heard Barbara’s gentle, richly-honeyed voice—which besides the GCM passages above (and more), brought the whole program together at the end. This was Barbara’s core challenge to her planetary family and fellow artists—to realize that hers was no utopian urge to return to human infancy (“we are too far gone for that”). It was rather an urging to realize that “going back” to retrieve our long-erased memory as a natural and cultural species was the crucial first step forward out of our increasing captivity:
The universe is undergoing ecstatic exponential expansion into 11 or more dimensions. Surely, 3-dimensional religions cannot keep us in touch with such a universe. If we do not want to die, then we must evolve. And that means, we must dance—expand exponentially with the dancing cosmos. We return to the cosmos only by becoming lovers of life, rather than life’s victims, voyeurs, and policemen....We must become beings who do not wish to control life, but only to listen to its music, and dance it. This is not easy to do, it might be impossible. But it is our only alternative to mass death, whether by war, or by total global mechanization.
The patriarchal God has only one commandment: Punish life for being what it is. The Goddess also has only one commandment: Love life, for it is what it is.
That June of 1991, Barbara’s editor at Harper arranged to fund a bus-trip for her to New York City, where she’d participate in an American Booksellers Convention event called Booksellers for Social Responsibility. There, invited authors were to read “and then introduce a homeless author from New York”: this from the flyer that Barbara sent, and she let lie the irony of one homeless writer, now age 55, introducing yet another.
I’m a barefoot Western poet, but here I go to New York City. No comment except I’M SCARED SHITLESS...and after 48 hours on the Greyhound that will probably be to my advantage as I step down into the streets of the alien planet Manhattan for the first time. Wish me LUCK, or whatever it will take to survive the experience!
So landed Barbara in Hell’s Kitchen at the West 46th Street apartment of the “excellent brilliant active women (twins)” Cathleen and Colleen McGuire, co-founders of EVE (Ecofeminist Vision Emerging). “They do study groups, GCM was their first book to explore, Mary Daly et al, put out a newsletter, contribute to Feminists for Animal Rights and other movements, and have done a pamphlet (enclosed).” In the next letter I have (December 27th), this was what Barbara shared:
I’ve been to NYC twice this year: the ABA Convention in June, and to participate in a Learning Alliance Panel on November 9th. Bus trip paid by them. Needless to say, yes, NYC a big experience. I have very generous friends there who spoiled me ROTTEN indeed, so many events and experiences they paid for (I assume NYC is exhilarating the more the less one has to pay the bill). We biked around Manhattan lower east and west sides: they beautifully happened to have three mountain bikes. I am a biker also, so day and night and past midnight I saw the best of Manhattan the best way, through the Village and Chinatown and Little Italy, Battery and Tribeca and up the Brooklyn Bridge—on a bike, in and out of the incredible traffic, over the tops of taxis etc. A GREAT TRIP, in all ways.
This was June. The November trip was briefer, and from Tulsa to NYC and back again there were continuous clouds rainy in NYC so we rode subways and a taxi or two. Of course I was given the best of seasons for the last trip, all the way through Missouri Penn NJ the autumn colors through mist, leaves still on some trees others bare and the ground covered with glorious color, not yet snow (the return trip through ice-storms in Illinois and Indiana: otherwise just rainy but bright and fun).
So I found I liked NYC, not overwhelmed by architecture as I dreaded but charmed and hyped by the crowds and varieties and info flow, I guess you’d say. Everything falling apart, I guess I can like the East when it’s in trouble. My people: my grandmother born in Newark grew up in Brooklyn, my grandfather born in Mt. Savage Maryland went on to settle in Pittsburgh and Uniontown where my mother was born, and although I don’t know any of them they are still there, the bus station phone book in Pittsburgh had two columns of Carneys, some of them must be my cousins and their children, so, though born and always identified with the Southwest, I was forced to feel that my heritage at least half of it is there, the Eastern sad Irish and other European wandering tribes.
My Dad’s people also from Ireland through Nova Scotia settled in Montana. I mean, I’ve always been a stranger in Spanish and Indian land, so in the East I felt more the stomping ground of my people, weird and ripped up as it might be. I love Pennsylvania, seeing Pittsburgh only at night it is a fantasy of lights reflected in the river waters: maybe not so pretty in the daylight, I don’t know. I’m sure Mass. and NY state are also very fine. So the strange thing is only that a lifelong Westerner finally age 55 “Faced East”—and I liked it. I don’t know how people can afford NYC and the East generally, but it certainly is condensed. I would think this adds to political consciousness and organizing possibilities, but maybe not. Perhaps what I feel most is the mental energies of the people. Cowboy land is very different, now I have something to contrast with it.
Here in the same letter, Barbara encouraged completion of the Morton film; and then, she spoke to my new default-plan, which was graduate school.
I do hope all the celebrations and historical dates now erupted in consciousness will begin a continuous teaching of the early history of New England, the [Salem witch] persecutions and Morton’s drama seem to be absolutely RIPE now for documentation and dramatization. So please keep this project going, very important, especially in relation to all the terminal environmental and economic and church-state issues leaking from the skulls of the facades of Uncle Sam....I think [graduate study] is one very serious mode of attempted survival of the mind in this time of empire break-up. Hard enough to maintain the body, food shelter and warmth: to keep the mind alive is an enormous challenge....Our culture and the world path now is so desperate, insulting to all pursuits but brutal survival of too many brutal addictions (most simple needs have been artificially swollen into addictions now we must deal with them as mass needs). You know as well as I that few care about the survival of the good books and best thought. It is called an elitist concern: I think we are the skull of evolution trying desperately to keep above the flood....
And closing that December’s two crammed pages came this passage, foreshadowed by her Ms Magazine experience:
As for “the Goddess” I totally broke with the spirituality women, and “movement” when it began that commercial/therapeutic process of personalizing “the Goddess”—the “Goddesses in every woman” kind of crap, Greco-Roman flashbacks for the suburbs, etc. Mary Tyler Moore in a toga, whatever. The Goddess is not supposed to be personalized into these PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES except as we study the process backwards to understand how we got so fragmented. My only goddess is THE EARTH, all her processes history back through the first bang and possible evolutionary futures.
The New Age and now Men’s Movement is too human too Jungian in its interpretations and the whole thing is self-indulgent and screwed up. This is my opinion....I fear and foresee this will be, or is now, the experience of too many. The goddess is not a parent except as we all are, and we all disappoint our children! Earth is the goddess, does she disappoint? When you’re wiped out by flood hurricane earthquake fire any of the living elements or forces, of course she bitterly betrays our consciousnesses. But, she has her larger planet to maintain, after all, with or without us, nowadays despite us. If we don’t like Earth’s processes, let us move elsewhere! Or sit in groups bitterly blaming her imperfections and refusal to be/give/create everything we want—you see what I mean?
When we Personalize the goddess, it quickly descends into OprahSoapOpera. When you remember always the only living god is Earth, then you get serious. The Jewish tribes who recorded themselves in The Bible began this process of blaming Earth for their political historical ideological downfalls and setbacks, and then personalized her rival, the better parent, Jehovah. So the soap opera began before the Greeks, or side by side. I don’t know, but it is silly to me. Earth is what we’ve got, and what do we expect? [Go on with mistaken expectations, and we] will be slapped with a Radiating Fish!....
I’ve had some things printed in Sulfur, #28 Spring 1991 and #29 Fall 1991. Most of all the new GCM is out at last in August 1991. And I have some stuff in Signal Fall 1991. Poems. I think I’m getting ready to leap from the creative cliffs, to write or to die. Onward!
Within a month (January 4th, 1992) came Barbara’s next, as I began to hang in fire for Brown University’s answer about their Ph.D. program—for which Barbara put no little time into a recommendation. Having written for two years beside Minoan ruins on the beach of Amnissos, Crete, there was no going back to New York’s unnatural canyons, and no more freelance work there anyway. I still had no publisher for the 15-year labor of Ariadne’s Brother, could interest neither Boston’s PBS nor any other mainstream network in showing the two hours of Thomas Morton: I was a 37-year-old omni-failure with no prospect but academe’s own growing exploitation of adjunct (permanent part-time) faculty. But here came Barbara’s pleasure with my application’s essay—a skewering of Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson—and she articulated more of her quarrel with colleagues left and right:
Zounds! Magnifico! When I was in NYC both visits, Paglia was all the rage, i.e., feminists were enraged with the book...and the whole neo-mold conservative establishment....I call her many things, among them Rip Van Paglia, who has been sleeping since the 1950s and just woke up spouting brainless enthusiasms for the gods of that day, O Freud, O Ayn Rand, O Philip Wylie, with an unabashed arrogance of bringing down tablets from the mountain, which is not in fact a mountain but a place in time 40 years ago. When yahoo America post-WWII was just beginning to attempt to sound “intellectual” with all its dumb capitalist-fundamentalist-infantile misreadings of European thought.
...Only in stupid America could such a dumbo pass for cutting-edge insight, only in post-Reagan America. The corrosion of the brain is complete. If Rush Limbaugh screwed Simone de Beauvoir and got her knocked up, the child would be Paglia....Catholic Bad Girls who grew up longing to jerk the Pope’s nose. Hey, look at me, I’m BAD, Daddy. Never leaving that fawning on the fascist context....
Between this and the Morton work you are moving right on the rim of the world. I went back to college when I was 26, and had a great advantage of much reading and experience way ahead of my classmates who had gone there from high school....I bet most of your peers will be much more conservative, less informed and all the rest.
The “victory” of the Paglias echoes the victory of the political Nazis of past decade: America’s will to become the Fourth Reich (nothing better to do when you’ve blown it on nukes dukes and beernuts). So trendy, it is hard to fight, and puts all of us on the other side Mother side within a defensive corral. You’ve shown how WILLFULLY the Paglia-type brain (Wm. F. Buckley Jr., Wm. Bennett, all the Good Books folks) manipulates and denies material. Yes, the addictive syndrome, which is pure America. She does this for revenge, to get attention previously denied her, to win approval from Big Daddy’s Printing Press Boot. She parades around in capes and boots with whips calling herself a Pagan Dyke. Sounds like the same press agent behind her as the one that works for Poppy Bush, Thomas Hill....Paglia is simply a spoiled little player with other people’s pain. You raise this serious issue and do it well, hoisting her on her own Nietzschean petard, Jack. So I want many people to read this....
Barbara filled the rest of this one with contacts to journal-editors with her gratitude and respect (Clayton Eshleman of Sulfur, Joan Silva of Signal and others). She was the great glowering thundercloud always over me, raining life-waters and brightening the sun. I’d rarely needed it more, but never did send the piece out, because that was also the month when I held my father’s hand through his final illness. (A decorated veteran and consummate family-man, he died in enchanted Joycean style on my birthday, and we waked him on his two days later, at Finnegan’s parlor in my native Stoneham.) After he and I watched the first roll of Morton in his hospital room and he smiled at its dedication to himself, I sent Barbara a copy. She could scarcely manage to buy a new typing-ribbon let alone a VCR, but she wrote back without having seen it yet (February 29th, 1992):
I know it’s good, Jack, because the SUBJECT is great, at the root of American history, our mistake and consequent dilemma, split from the beginning to ever-since....I spent December-January having the Big Flu, and then in 3 weeks grinding out a manic poemessay rap on the Men’s Movement for a collection planned by my publisher: they rejected it, too weird, too radical. So I did not make the promised $250....
You have seen how your parent becomes your child. My Dad died when I was 34, but my parents divorced when I was seven and he didn’t have much shaping influence on me, except that I inherit his looks, his stubbornness, and his Montana farm-boy nose for bullshit. He hated preachers priests politicians everything! Eighth-grade education. He also hated artists (all faggots), intellectuals (all communists), and what else....My Dad was very much like Archie Bunker, pig-headed! But from the distance of years, I love him for being just what he was. I took off from there in more respects than I could realize while he was alive....
I too have followed the “inner voices” the invisible path through the requirements and the obvious into my own weird that no one needs but it was my Destiny. FOLLOWED in faith and great danger sometimes, gullible and total. Ended in a dank alley up against a mute wall between a drunk oblivious Romeo and trash cans stinking overfilling with my own garbage—Whaaaa? Well Excusez-moi, sez the Goddess, you think coordinating all this destiny shit is easy? She wears a bumper-sticker on her cosmic ass that spells out B-I-T-C-H, you know that.
Bumper-cars, that’s what we are. We attract each other only to bump each other and ourselves away. But the mind that transcends Dualism (heh heh heh) learns as much from NO as from YES. Que no?....Beyond sentiment, what happens: that is the Real Text, which you weave from yourselves from the interaction, and that is what you need to read: the actual text of what happens. Which frees us from conditioned sentiments, don’t it.
We ARE important to “this great beast the Earth.” Read Rilke, some of The Duino Elegies. We are her poetic technologies, her extensions. Through us she makes music poems images from her dreams. I never doubt that. Through us she knows herself as in a mirror. What she sees right now is pretty ugly. That’s the problem. We’ve really hurt Earth’s feelings. She can get Sad. That turns to Mad. Emerging from patriarchally-imposed Depression will come a Rage.
That’s why we must “get serious.” Earth’s anger is not indifferent, She feels BETRAYED. Misunderstood. Misnamed and wrongly defined. I.e., her anger will be HEAVY....The point is, yes Earth needs us at this point! We’re making her sick, to get healthy she’ll have to wipe us out. She doesn’t want to, so the only option is for us to change. And the poets are the active electromagnetic fields trying to make the change. I believe this. I also believe the situation is desperate. So please believe your life and work are NEEDED, our Great Beast is dying....
Through Barbara’s next three letters (April 27th, July 13th and August 9th, 1992), I was reviving thanks to last-minute acceptance at Brown to begin work there in the fall. Barbara caught up with her children dispersed from California to Georgia, kept on writing and publishing in journals from Trivia to Talking Leaves, and managed to move herself to “a cozy cottage,” meaning a “sweatbox prefab one-room trailer eight miles east of Silver City, New Mexico, with centipedes crawling around over the shag beige rug—ahh, the Modern West!”
She’d made it there through three weeks of “hassle and dead time,” “squirming around on other people’s couches in Gila, while pissed-off redneck boyfriends yelled at my presence.” “Well, lots of Irish here all redneck reactionary silly drunk and riding their trucks like wild horses.” Silver City she found “a neat town, up and down hills [with] many of the old buildings intact from boom Victorian days...and I found to my great surprise new GCM in biggest local bookstore and also public library.” She was soon to move to “a rented duplex apartment downtown” and gave what she expected to be a “permanent address” at 409 North Cooper.
6,000 feet here: current abode is beyond city lights, so the stars at night are intensely thick to view. Jackrabbits horses yucca sage-thistle the Southwest high desert and pinon juniper, hills similar to Bisbee AZ: very fine. But I must bike along 6 miles of awful busy highway between here and town, continuous fast mean traffic trucks big rigs between Silver and Santa Rita Open Pit/Chino Copper Mine—not a fun ride. Lots of dead animals. But, here I am!
That summer of 1992 in New York I met the dynamic McGuire sisters via Barbara, and they showed me a tiny photo of her, the first I’d ever seen, with a great gray mantle of tangled locks and a sly Irish smile beneath twinkling blue eyes. “My smile,” she replied, “is maybe not sly or sweet, just can’t show teeth, which are rotten or not there. But yes, I do look wise now, at last. I love the OWLISH sensation I feel here inside my skull, my eye sockets. Younger, I was CUTE: worked 55 years to NOT BE CUTE. Enjoy Brown!”
Barbara also, “having nothing much else to do,” “doodled this cartoon” below, sent with her cursive letter of July. “I imagined a darker less cute more expressionist drawing, but just don’t have the art talent.” “At much of modern culture I am truly speechless, or feel no desire to add to the Neo-Noise, so I wish I could do cartoons, video, other ways than words.” Her caption was a paraphrase from Paglia: If women were running the world, we’d still be living in grass huts. I hear Barbara laughing a reply through this image from her own street-life—“Yeah, if only!”
Meanwhile on May 3rd, 1992, Barbara dug into what little she had to send the expensive Tibetan-style card below. She spent the money just to congratulate me on acceptance to Brown Graduate School, she knew I still grieved for my father—and, because I’d told her that my dearest friend, my younger sister, had just survived a harrowing full-scale bone-marrow transplant saving her from cancer, and had come home against all odds to rejoin her one little daughter. I include this because it shows Barbara’s caring and generosity no matter how deep-in she was herself, living on pennies with new works struggling to get done. It also revealed that she too had already battled cancer:
Dear Jack, You and your family have gone through such great upheavals, pain grief anxiety—and now the next turn of the wheel lurches JOY and SUCCESS into your lives and the embrace of your hearts. As our world turns—! and rocks and burns—my daughter as I wrote you was in midst of northern California earthquakes last weekend. I hope the terrible upheavals open our hearts and make us more real.
I was also in the hospital for cancer surgery (twice in one year), with my daughter still an infant. Your description of your sister and her return to her little girl was beautiful, one of the best moments life can know. I’m very happy for them. And for you, accepted at Brown: of course! This just might be our decade. We’ve earned it! Congratulations, Barbara
In October, Barbara sent two pages whose pairing might have exploded the envelope: this “How To Be An Artist” flyer first below, and a merciless gaze of a same-titled poem “for the New Mexico Art Resources Directory.” I don’t know if she formally published the latter. It is a staggering song of empathy, and rage (not excluding her own conditions despite all effort and achievement) at “souled-out mediocrities” and “the murder of all our possibilities by stupid knives and signatures of money.”
Given Barbara’s own next romp of words (below), I do not think she’d have disavowed the first group of playful ideas above. But that poem sent with it was a searing look straight into the eye of a Minotaur, an indictment and a warning: an unblinking measure of what one might well expect should one dare to live to create from an unfettered soul, and a measure of Barbara’s own courage in working ever “onward” full-aware of her teachers’ ghastly ends.
In proof of that, Barbara’s next letter (December 8th, 1992) was long and especially rich with talk of her latest works, connections and practical struggles—plus, as you’ll see, more significant indications of how and why her poetic style was to evolve in the coming years.
She typed its first page on the back of a flyer for a new CD called Oikos (Greek for “household”), Songs for the Living Planet, produced by Lone Wolf Circles and Friends. Barbara took much trouble at a copy-machine to lay out the CD’s cover, contents and quotations from participants on one page: it was inscribed “For Barbara, giving voice to to the muse, embodying the Goddess. Rave on! Rave on! With respect and love, Lone Wolf,” and included many artists from herself and Jenny Bird to Stone Biscuit “and the womyn’s group Joyful Noise,” with “both mystical and danceable music celebrating the traditions of Native America, Africa and the Middle East—a deep ecology soundtrack, a rhythmic pan-tribal prayer to sacred mother Earth.” Barbara included its manifesto, too:
[Oikos] describes the crucial relationship between organisms and their environment. Virtually everyone knows that life on Earth is dying, through personal observation or exposure to even the most superficial media. What’s more, we know who is doing the most to kill it. In spite of our denial, we sense our own culpability, virtual accomplices as a result of consumptive lifestyles and an unwillingness to take a stand. Intellectual understanding, however, is not enough. The radical personal and political changes necessary require below the neck response—emotional, visceral, and spiritual. Instinctively, we know that we are the Earth, dancing cells of a living, breathing planet-body. Instinctively we know that as we do this to the Earth, we do [it] to ourselves, and that the fate of humanity is...[end of clipping]....
And here were the words printed inside from Barbara, “a visionary prophet and volcanic poet”:
A joyous dance of resistance! It is one minute till midnight for the life of the Earth, demanding our relentless love and most vigorous response. Get involved with whatever skills you have, drawing on the power of the wilderness within you. Participate! Do something unplanned! Stay up late! Get dirty! Take chances! Replant the playground! Tear up some concrete! Re-create the wild, as you celebrate it! Perhaps the serpent of life’s flowing energy will begin to rise again, all luminous and of the Earth, and the children of the Great Mother will rise up with it, and the universe will be our home again as before. This flight is not an escape, but a return. Oikos invokes the rhythmic return to our true, wilder selves as sentient extensions of the sacred Earth: Gaia. We return home as both lovers and defenders. From many different dispersed places we all arrive now at one place: between birth and death, what is truly worth living for. The answer is in place. That place is Earth.
Before Barbara’s full letter that carried all this, two of her references to clarify. The TMA or Thomas Morton Allliance was a 1970s-90s group of New England pagan activists including Gae Sidhe, Franque Dufner and Flora Green, and published a first-rate journal called The Merrymount Messenger founded long before I knew Morton. In that year of 1992, working in parallel with Oikos and talking back to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ New World invasion, we put out a merry-men’s sardonic booklet called Glory Here with a piece of mine called “Suffering Fools” (a title used again in later work), and Barbara engaged with all of it.
We all looked up to her, and never stopped laughing to deal with her sheer breadth of mind, spirit and humor. Who else could just drop a line such as, “Every spring, the Nile River ejaculates into the Mediterranean”? Onward now to her December 8th letter:
Excuse again long delay of responding, but we understand each other’s desks piled up with DUTY (doo ti doo bi doo doggie doo doo in my case: my family crest motto: Shit Work Is Forever). Truly I’m glad you are in the academic world, compromising to one’s taste as it might be: cuz you ARE getting some audience, attention, and the mind-wrestling though exhausting can also hone a great mental weapon. Your work is valuable, I mean as times and political atmospheres change around us you are already way ahead, moving in the Great Direction, don’t you feel? Onward.
My excuses are it takes four times longer than I expect to complete any task I set myself. I’ve been working four months on another essay for Trivia: deadline was December 1 and I ended up sending half the work, 15 pages: all boiled down from 75 pages of insane material. Not quite so compacted as the Drums piece [published as aWoman Drums on MEN and Letters in Trivia 19, Spring 1992], but in the same way of working: a ton of material trash compacted into an ounce, a pound. Real heavy work: it’s supposed to sound like it comes out so easy BLECH...I used to write that way. But the new style I’m working out is the opposite of the old ease.
I really appreciate your response to Drums. Only writers can read it or dig it I guess. Part of the message of all my work now is the utter meltdown of Language, of typefont of phonix of sense under the bombardment of news noise reels of unwinding reality...that jammed format is known as MetaLinguistic Comment on the universe of discourse enclosed. I know where the Fem Franco-babblers are coming from, I was on my way to a Linguistics Masters in 1969, fired by Saussure (never said I could spell it) and most of all Benjamin Lee Whorf, changed my life...so much so I just walked out of college to do my work. So I have conflicting responses. Cuz I believe the FrenchLinguistic analysis is much closer and richer and ultimate to the cosmic problem than the typical American sociology crap, or psychobabble and all the rest.
But when all these are layered, decade after decade, in the name of a Feminism that NEVER LEARNED TO THINK FOR ITSELF...what a disaster. I couldn’t stand it in person! So glad I’m buried here in the open pit copper mine. Today also buried in snow. Further, today December 8 is when Jim Morrison was born, and John Lennon died. So, I thought a good day to stop the madness and write to a poet.
Are you familiar with work of Ward Churchill? Injun, teaches in Boulder [CO], I saw him on Las Cruces PBS late night after November election. The McGuires you visited in NYC have met him and developed a friendship. He does great work, defining “multicultural” politics on the cutting edge of his tomahawk. I know the Thomas Morton Allliance is one of the most important concentrations for the future, attracting and defining real issues, energies. I owe you a great deal to make me aware of it, and for Glory Here, all the rest.
Other side of this paper, Oikos a tape and CD by Lone Wolf Circles, has some good tracks, I read a poem. I don’t know if I sent you info on his book Full Circle, I think I did: I wrote Foreword for it. EFer, Deep Ecology, he does a lot of RebelRousing out here in west, but also goes back east, New England. Maybe some day you can connect with each other’s work: he gave me first copy of [Fredy Perlman’s] Against History to read, he worked with The Fifth Estate people, great newspaper in Detroit.
There IS a national global network of US building. I know we are doing important stuff. Weird as it sometimes gets! Petra Kelly’s death I am still in shock about. On November 19, Kate Keely’s trailer burned to the ground, malfunctioning water heater. She lost all her writing, poetry and music, plus all the machinery for doing The Wilderness Outlook, word processor $5000 laser printer, lists...and the Queen of England had her Bridges Burned, and...what’s it all about Alpha....On the funny side I saw Camille Paglia last week on, yes, The Joan Rivers Show. Why not....
Often I think since they’re unbeatable I’d like to join them: get Madonna to hustle GCM, invite Paglia to join your TMA. She mouths off so much re “the PAGAN”...in reality she has a pagan reference only the fairly decadent opulence of Mediterranean humanism, Michelangelo as homoerotic and all that Italian rococo....ooops! You too Italiano? I have to watch my references. Wash out my mouth with Mafia Soap. There must be something inspiring about Italian-Irish mixtures, I must say: Cathleen and Colleen McGuire also have Italian mom, Irish dad. Jane Caputi too is Irish Italian.) My son has paternal grandmother from Sicily, Josephine Genovese...pure Italian Catholic widow, she married my son’s grandfather who was a Dutch Pennsylvanian Lenai Lenappe Irish-English mixture, so my son is IrishItalianInjun. A genius naturally.
Nonetheless: Paglia is wrong in her sweeping definitions of Erotic = Pornographic = PAGAN. Apart from that lush Latino Mediterranean really recent Paganismo, the Pagan sensibility of the northern Europeans Celts Gauls Vikings Teutons, as well as the Paganism of American Injuns, is NOT EROTIC, but ENCHANTED. Nonhuman ECSTASY of animals vegetation dreams entangled beasts and fruits and jewels of dreams; but the Human like Sinead or any Irish poet stands very stiff straight eyes staring straight ahead at the shape of its enchantment. Not Erotic, because not HUMANISTIC. Continuous reincarnation parallel incarnation into the nonhuman beasts and rocks and seeds of terrestrial energies: not a worship of the human body as Paglia intends by her sweeping generalizations and dumb UNINFORMED definitions. But, I like her. She’s fun.
Oh yes, I’m corresponding with a great superb Italian poet scholar, prof at Penn State Schuylkill—Charles Cantalupo. Now I know you have the Italian blood I recommend his work, he is editor for Studia Mystica. I will have some stuff in it, plus an interview we did last week via phone: I’ll send to you so you can have info. He is one of the most gorgeous poets around, does performance work; and is brilliant also, works with Spenser, Hobbes the original Leviathan.
Deeper than all this I guess we are trying to retrieve some vision and experience of our European existence. Did you see the recent PBS on the Ice Man? Wholly preserved body from 3300 BC, European Bronze Age, fell into a protected space covered with 5000 years of snow just on border of Austrian-Italian Alps. Our guy: we know about all the world more than these strange ancestors of our flesh and neurons, he died they guess crossing back over Alps from flint fields in Italy, caught in sudden snow...the oldest full body yet found, intact with clothes, medicinal mushrooms on thong, neatly cut hair and great intelligence of being. Waiting for us to find him.
Wow, thanks for reading Drums, I know it is a task of typography in itself: I appreciate your responses to it, I know you can read The Lines and I sure wish you were doing the reviews! “Gritty fearless sweet uncompromising visionary angry weeping MAD laughing....” Yeah yeah yeah! Plus I learned from working on defective sticky keyed typewriters with unwinding ribbons, the text records my true battle with the machinery of my mind, JD. Right now we are in the midst of a total swirling blizzard—really heavy. My fingers stiff the keys stiff just Friggin Frigid everything. So I am going to give up typing wrap in blankets and read: Big Injun in the Cave Day. I treasure Glory Here, by the way: tell John Wildman his “Suffering Fools” is so great, especially to see the W.C. Williams quote and reference. In The American Grain should replace The Bible, such a beautiful work. If you send a copy to Lone Wolf Circles and ask him in my name he should return to you an Oikos tape. Try it, his address on flyer enclosed. At least be aware of each other’s work for our common CUZ what else is worth it? Conflictingly discursive, Brrrrrbara.
More about Barbara’s evolving style near the end of this collection. Here below comes her next letter (June 4th, 1993)—including reference to her then-latest work in Trivia (Issue #20 1992, Part 1 of “the mirrors of her ice/eyes: After Reading Vagabonding: Feminist Thinking Cut Loose, by Christina Thurmer-Rohr”: Part 2 in Trivia Issue #21, 1993, and Part 3 in #22/Part 2, 1995). If you read Vagabonding yourself—first published in Germany in 1987 and likely then reaching Barbara via Monica Sjoo—you find a blistering critique of both the males who “guide” ecological destruction and nuclear weapons races, and of feminism’s “various New Age and ‘transformational’ theorists, whose embrace of ‘feminine’ values appears as yet another condescending, [self-enslaving] and exclusionary tactic” (quote from Kirkus Reviews). All of which, given Barbara’s 3-part and 3-year engagement with the work, has clear echoes in her letters.
Barbara kept a conscientious eye on me through my years of privilege at Brown, and notes at the letter’s end below my clerking for Brown’s Copper Beech Press. I’d sent her a copy of the book I’d found most remarkable there, Kay Ryan’s Strangely Marked Metal (1985). To Ryan, another California poet then surviving by teaching English in its prisons, I’d written a note soliciting new work, and her reply asked why she should bother. Yet, she sent some, and her next book Flamingo Watching (1994) won multiple awards, leading to appointment as U.S. Poet Laureate (2008). I don’t know why since then, after letters so grateful for this turnaround, Ryan ceased our exuberant contact altogether: another measure of Barbara’s persistent friendship.
Dear Jack, Thank you, and Bianca [Nebab, a brilliant fellow grad-student] for reading and sending your generous responses to [her latest work in] Trivia. You must read Vagabonding itself, for me it is the antidote to American feminism, New Age Airheads or PostModernist Prose Butts (i.e., the only thing worse than having prose in your head and air in your butt....)
As I’ve said a few times, I wish you were writing all my reviews. In fact, yours is the only response I’ve had so far. I believe this is because you know how to READ. Feminists, even the best, don’t. So my genre as I’m inventing it going along (FemPolemoPoeticks: it is not SUPPOSED to be a Pretty Thought) just stops them cold, they can’t get through the first page. It is “indigestible”....Well this is my intention of course, not to be plagiarized cannibalized by the Hungry Ghosts. Did you watch Oliver Stone’s Wild Palms? Bad reviews, I thought it beat Rosanne...in fact it was full of fun quotes, e.g., Rebel Without A Cause and Blade Runner and Brazil, all my favorite flicks. Well, mental food is very thin gruel nowadays. Stone’s second episode was called “Hungry Ghosts” quoting Tibetan Buddhist ideas of afterlife...probably the world did end a few decades ago and we are all in the Bardo State but only a weird few of us Know It. Everyone else thinks this is still Life.
“As if patriarchy’s over because the intellectuals are bored with it.” Great summation, Jack. The Troubadour and Trouvere elite in southern France were bored with Christianity, the Catholic Church and its moral restrictions on the flesh and spirit in the TWELFTH CENTURY. Their boredom followed by 500 years of Inquisition: on that flesh, on that spirit. So much for the Bardo State of the American Intelligentsia.
The other side [of this letter] gives info on [the Detroit-based journal] Fifth Estate: I really recommend it as a news source of choice, they try to come out 3-4 times a year, just $6 a year. This is the group of people collected around Fredy Perlman, starting Black & Red Press and Fifth Estate: going 25 years [now, 50]. Excellent writing. The enclosed by Kathleen Rashid is one sample, it is all quality. Anarchist, eco-feminist, hip: they are NOT aware of the Thomas Morton Alliance, at least Loraine Perlman, Fredy’s widow, has not heard of it. I told her of it and sent copies made from Glory Here you sent, reminding her I had B&R Press send you a copy of Against His-Story. You should link up with them, subscribe to FE. As Situationists, Fredy was there live and reported from the student rebellion in France in 1967, they are from the actual French linguistic-anarchist mood, what American academics seem to be obsessively mouthing without a genuine experiential claim to. Faux French!
I don’t know if all the puns matter to anyone but the writer, but there was one great one that Trivia missed in typography. Next to last page it is “slavealleyes” not “slavealleys.”
Congratulations on Copper Beech Press, glad you are there. You apologize for temporary Funk episodes? It’s normal considering the Reality you face, and it probably won’t get better! The world, I mean: economy etc. UNM’s PBS station KUNM won numerous awards last year for series Surviving Columbus, their most acclaimed year of excellence, [and] they just got their budget slashed from $170,000 to $20,000, i.e., the rewards of achievement in Amerika. I am in a Permanent Funk, and don’t feel anything I’ve done holds together, not worth trying. When I die the Dumpster can collect my life’s work and make sense of it. In meantime, onward.
[Added in cursive:] Ryan, I like her. “The Other Silence” is spooky. She is true of ear and mind. Thank you! Barbara
Now comes an almost-two-year gap in my trove of Barbara’s letters, during which time Barbara had moved to Eureka, northern CA on the Humboldt coast (1995), enroute to her final home in Portland, Oregon (as of 1998). I know many letters are missing, but why? By the next one below (March 13th, 1995), I was near a Brown meltdown. While sinking into debt and teaching undergrad writing sections (80 brilliant students a year), the task of your third-year Oral Exams was to defend a list of 200 indispensable books against three gigantic professors—which of course meant you had read the rest of the library, in order to pick them. But truly reading even two books/articles per day per month was shredding my brain and others’ left and right. Such has to be the first layer of the typical Ph.D.’s haunting sense of fraud. On top of it all, I’d never stopped working on/hunting a publisher for Ariadne’s Brother. When I found one (Kalendis in Athens, Greece), the manuscript had to get finished (chopping 2000 pages into 700), and right in the faces of faculty/fellows with ready glib assumptions of a romantic utopian in my critical closet. My brain was turning to rotten cotton without anchor or reference-point—except for Barbara.
My first response is that Ariadne’s Brother is good. I can see why the Greeks want to print it. It gives a precisely, richly detailed but so loving picture of their old ways (or those they conquered, by now I guess all mixed up nationalistically with them in the same historic earth).
My impression is that the writing, the work you’ve done condensing (or whatever else, time) has evolved. Where before I felt some “imitation archaic,” I mean a wistfulness to live vicariously “there” dominating the writer sometimes to the extent of intrusion on the mood of the craft—I’m a jaded person who doesn’t live vicariously anymore, not young, no hope to travel etc.—now as Writer you are matured and there is a much more effortless “being There.” You are driving the writing as StoryEnergy, not your magic carpet to exotic places, which is how writers begin, I think. But “wistfulness” is [now at] a distance, “Believability” is THERE. I’m not a novelist, Jack, I’m just a student of writing.
The ms. is intensely detailed yet flowing, easy to absorb (all that good blurb on the jacket stuff!). I think you are very fair to the forces-in-tension: the women, the men, the Cretans, the gung-ho [mainland Mycenaean] Greeks. So that the huge change that is occurring (the tidal wave is lifting their boats right now) has an inevitability about it. So this is good historic dramatization, I am a Polemicist but I know that fiction and drama must embody polemic with muscle, flesh and subtle human interactions in character, and you’ve done so.
And then came three pages packed with feedback from comments on characters to typos in the text. Barbara’s typically-generous share of her time fell like rain on parched ground, and did more than anything else to feed the final flower. Because these pages are about her, below I share only what she wrote in further revelation of her thinking/feeling. Most critically, she taxed me rightly for mishandling lunar/solar eclipses; which, she wrote, would be “spooky and ominous for these people, [but] their Priestess/Priest class would not be caught by SURPRISE [by them].” Barbara then knew better than I the mounting proofs of “prehistoric” achievements in astronomy. “Please consult Realm of the Great Goddess: Megalith Builders of the the Mediterranean by Sybille von Cles-Reden, and think hard,” she wrote. I did, but by the time I published Calendar House: Clues to Minoan Time from Knossos Labyrinth (2006-2015 at Ancientlights.org), Barbara’s hands were too full, as you’ll see, with her own late works for a response to it in comparable detail.
In that letter of March 13th, 1995, she added:
You are pacing [the novel] well, with these flashes glimpses of the ground opening between the old [Minoan] ways and the looming [Mycenaean] threat, which is not petty but a whole new paradigm of consciousness....Descriptions like this of the Cretan male learning [mainland] Macho are very helpful to all of us to UNDERSTAND process young males are put through. My experience is that Macho men ARE incredibly numb, hungry inside, armored grotesquely outside (all the Reichian descriptions apply), and of course this creates Mr. Anger Machine for the system’s use. But as persons they are so confused, suffused with outrage that they must Punish something but don’t know what or who, so they do it to the easiest target (their InnerChild, as the jargon du jour has it)—and there goes the world.
If MALES don’t look at this, analyze it as it happens to themselves, no one can change them from the outside: the Macho Armor precisely RESISTS self-reflection. That is of course what it’s for: Males Armored to Reflect ONLY the SUN, bounce the Heat and Fire OUTWARD: not to Reflect Inward, to See the Mirror of the Moon.
...The description of [Knossos] Labyrinth House is superb....I like the showing of “The Labyrinth’s good life” and its effects on fierce Feminist/Amazon types. Right! The bit with [Minoan priestess] Cleite on [her fellow] Diamat, interested in pumice-stone over the end of their world, contexted with the Libyan amazons’ power and [their] Itiri apprehended as “cruel-looking,” “dour”—eek! Wild and woolly. These ARE the perceptions of New Age privileged spiritualfems vis-à-vis the earlier fem style Ferox (and whatever feral-stinking residual bag-lady might cross their yuppie path today, i.e., when they run into Me): because they are lolling in Oils, oozing WellBeing (for money: Starhawk’s workshops are obscenely expensive).
They’ve become altogether too “soft” and spoiled for the Reality of Now. And most of all they resent the Raw Warrior Woman staring at them from across the vacant lot: she reminds them that now THEY belong to the Establishment which is under Threat. It’s hard for once political people to admit they’ve let the muscles of their own Fine Rage go soft, flabby. And you’ve written this to allow hip readers, at least, to relate current New Age self-complacency with perhaps one element of the Cretan demise....
Before and after that letter, Barbara was following news of the 1993 abduction, rape and murder of 12-year-old Californian Polly Klaas by one Richard Allen Davis, who was convicted and condemned in 1996 but, at this writing, still lives to complain and appeal on Death Row. Hence one of Barbara’s next works, Linguistic Duplex (published in Sulfur #35, Fall 1994), about which she wrote to me next on May 28th, 1995. While Barbara knew that my 1980 experience of Eve made me share the searing rage in Duplex, she had little patience left (in “the Reality of Now”) for my hesitations at the work’s imaginary vengeance against Davis. Below is a scan and then a transcription (edited only in some punctuation) of Barbara’s two pages.
Thanks for taking time to read and respond with so much generous passion to LD. You probably sense I need some response. As I said, I believe it is a strong, human work, it certainly felt so as I was doing it, beyond me, human. The absolute absence of response from every woman I’ve sent it to, including “my editor” Barbara Moulton [at Harper Collins], has certainly put the last Nasty Nail in my relations-with-feminism coffin.
I didn’t send it to Moulton casually: rather, the GCM contract has an Options clause, requiring me to submit any second ms. to them first, before dealing with other publishers. So I sent it to Moulton in San Francisco as required, as the lead piece in my ms. Moulton was gone on maternity leave, her assistant Lisa Bach responded that they’re not interested in poetry mss. “Good luck elsewhere.” So I wrote again telling them both the genre is NOT poetry (it is Creative Non-Fiction in the NEA grant categories, I call it FemPolemo Poetics)—right there, of course, their bright little New Age Bimbo eyes turn to glass and fracture, oh my. If I’d sent them a ms. titled FUCKING GOD AND MAMMON: The Triple Goddess Does a Threesome for the Fusion of Body, Soul and Profit, then, then, they would not freak out, but be interested. At least, I think, they would answer my letter. As it is, after 6 months, no answer.
[Text of first page side-bar:] Yes, LD 1 and 3 are the Given, poetry. Part 2 deliberately not: Eshleman called it “waxy build-up”—YES! or a Taxform welfare form prison of forms your life trapped in depends on, or the Zen HotBall you may neither swallow nor spit out. Unlike Parts 1 and 3, HARD WORK BECAUSE it could not sound easy, or be easy, for reader, or anyone.
Anyway, I appreciate even more, in this context, your taking time to read LD as if it was serious. HSU ended its semester in mid-May here, but I think eastern universities run later, to end of May? (I just heard a Harvard student went berserk and stabbed several dorm-mates during exams, killing one plus herself. Ergo: must be Freaky Finals in the East.) And so your load as teacher as well as student must be double strong. I know my daughter Joanna exhausted herself with finals plus giving tests in her Zoology lab, plus her job in the Chem dept., I think education has some very sadistic streaks, toward students. Like 6 years of Hazing into some esoteric club.
The CONNECTIONS made in LD, incidentally, I didn’t make. They are There. Two news items above, e.g., Davis upon incarceration in psycho wing of jail complains he can’t sleep, “they scream all night”—this from the man on record as “mystified” the little girl he’d just kidnapped, mouth-taped and bloodily raped “didn’t scream.” And recently, he’s complaining about his DentalCare in prison. I’m sitting here, toothlessly, cackling.
Truly, you just need to Mind-Meld with the event. It gives you its Truth, its Poetry, all the Connections you need.
It does help to be, yes, Black Irish. We fall into the hallucinatory pool of words, drown drunk on their levels of darker and darkning meaning, who needs dope, you just spend 800 years choking on rocks.
My grandmother, who described my grandfather and his heritage to me as Black Irish (she was French and German), told me that, e.g., my dark hair and freckles came from the Spanish Armada, all those Spaniards crashed on the Irish coast and crawling up through the surf to impregnate the redhead native women. I grew up believing this (now I believe they came, in fact, from Berber Morocco the Formorians of northwest Africa). She also provided as evidence all the Irish names beginning with Don: Donnelly, Donleavy, Donahue...those Spanish Dons, of course. Those dark Flamenco Freckles, la la.
I have been wholly reluctant to use the word “evil” through most of my writing life, with its Christian connotations and instigations: with any prefabricated moral references at all, it has seemed beyond rehabilitation as a power word, and now it’s all twisted with heavymetal satanica as a fashionable frisson. So yes, I agree with your discomfort at the use of “evil.” The word was opened up for me by Kathy Acker, somewhere in Don Quixote (those Spanish Dons!). She writes, “Only women can know Evil, because only women can enter into trance...” and I was there, in such a tranced experience, for some time, observing the mechanisms.
You’re right, it is NOT naïve. It IS somewhere in that “willing suspension of disbelief” we activate to “enjoy” myth, theater, romance, the inhabitation of an archetype, and the following of leaders...something occurs in the Reptile Brain, the most ancient brainstem (i.e., powerful and resistant to “rational argument”), which is the brain of obeisance, hypnotic submission to authority, the Pope waving the magic crystal before the eyes of the masses from his balcony, Hitler before the Swastika, voodoo, drugs love rock n roll....
And it’s long past time for Us to be responsible for this part of us which/who wants to be manipulated, led, wants to surrender to the trance, but then not be responsible for it (the Devil made me do it, the Pope said, the Fuhrer the Boss my Husband the Boys Penthouse...whatever FacilitatorFlavor of the Hour one uses to rationalize going berserk on life and then not having to deal with the ripped body parts the next morning. What is war, after all? It’s a mechanism which gives young men permission to rape and mutilate en masse and not be criminally liable, but deemed heroes or patriots...which cleverly “channels” this psychotic energy to demolish The Designated Other, i.e., not turn on the Boss, the Pope, whoever is sitting back there profiting from EnergyManagement.
I.e., Davis and other “psycho killers” serve the function of safetyvalving this energy, reinforcing the Law and Order machine, and keeping women controlled via chronic threat and fear it will happen to them (like marrying one man’s abuse “saves” a woman from being at mercy of the male horde: Marriage Theory).
Seeing the devastation of the Earth and Human World, this IS EVIL. What else would you call it? It’s destroyed our planet, it has destroyed probably our species’ chance for further evolution.
Men are responsible for using this energy, women responsible for excusing it, humans responsible for allowing it and following it...the way you look at a serious heroin addict who’s ruined his/her life and everyone around who loves them, and all you can say is, You kick it, or else. And this analogy brings us to our specific culture, Biblical patriarchal capitalism whatever, which refuses to deal intelligently with 1) biology, 2) drugs, 3) psycho energies, 4) the human reality. Because Denial seems Profitable, provides automatic energy for the machinery. Is this evil? Is there anyone on Earth now over age 12 who can look you in the eye and say, Gee whiz! I wasn’t aware of the consequences? I have no trouble with the “revenge,” the thinking behind it? HOW DOES IT FEEL, DUDE???
I’m not a Xtian, Jack. This ain’t therapy. Does a Mirror replicate a Crime? Then Art and Ritual are Crimes. So let artists Be Strong.
[Text of second page side-bar:] You want LD to end with some Deus Ex Machina, Mother Theresa? If so, you’re Hopeless, Jack. You need to do some time with Bosnian Serbs, the SS, R.A. Davis—they are “crazy” BECAUSE no one confronts them on this level, “once and for all,” don’t you understand? The CrazyOldLady is the only being in the story who takes Davis seriously, respects the God in him, and acts accordingly. The utter Failure of Liberals, they’re all SocialWorkers! Aarrgghhh....Barbara.
I’m sure Barbara sent me more letters in the 15-month gap from May 1995 to her next (September 1996) below. The loss remains my fault, although that May brought my third-year Oral Exams, a teaching-semester’s wrap, then a move from Providence RI back to my family home in Stoneham MA (as I sank toward bankruptcy and finished grad school with long commutes). Plus completing Ariadne’s Brother/creating a contract for it with Kalendis in Athens, and starting my doctoral dissertation—a two-volume study of Thomas Morton (i.e., a definitive edition of his New English Canaan, and biography), in tandem with a film that drove me from Novia Scotia to Delaware recording interviews on the life and impact of Nanepashemet—or “Nani,” a leading scholar of Native American New England who had suddenly died of diabetes.
New courses to plan, connections to make, research, and a summer 1996 lecture-tour for the novel in Greece; and still no reason why I failed to hold onto what Barbara surely sent through that maelstrom, because her friendship as always was keeping me sane and alive. September 20th, 1996:
I’m very glad you were able to enjoy the fruits of your long devotion to desire and duty, Ariadne’s Brother I mean. That Greece was so receptive and confirming also. Wouldn’t be surprised if your book becomes a film, and there you go. I don’t know much about Greece today except that Islam threatens them as everywhere (Cyprus events) and pushed back into ethnic/cultural/religious walls by such upstart forces, Greeks should welcome books that reanimate their creative past. Would be nice if they embraced pagan energies: Christianity has brought them nothing but fascist suffering, political submission, and Holy Tourism.
Of course everyone survives now by Tourism, regardless of spirit: Indians here want to turn their beautiful land on the Humboldt coast into another gambling casino, etc. I’ve seen, maybe 5 years ago, PBS on (title?) Road to Eleusis now: think it was Michael Woods, think I wrote you of it: he retraced the journey and could barely walk with endless traffic noise and dust and mechanical existence densely overlaid.
I think the Morton work could be the most important thing you could do now, and your brain is free to do it. Plus you are now a veteran, you’ve put your time in learning through the Ariadne process, and it will inform all your work now. I’m sorry about the Nanepashemet death, but [its happening] at a powwow sounds somewhat mystical. And the gestalt puts you in that work too, so you are now magnetized, through all the past decade of work, to work up a storm of works, film, books whatever, which are important to others as well as to you, so they will be done.
Yes, between the DIZNEY version of the world, Global Cute—and the nonexistent and even more rapidly disappearing counter-versions, I mean they are weak and even those now de-funding—the Global Cuts, that is—is a Vacuum there to be filled with other versions, visions, of what has happened, what’s happening, what can happen. I hear that some of the most right-wing militia types, crazy crackers in the South, call themselves “Celtic” in one patriotic rebel name or another, e.g., Celtic Sons of the Undefeated South, whatever. Poor Irish and Scot boobs, robbed of their continuous history from the Stone Age, really WANT deep prehistory identities, but don’t know how to access.
So they throw that barbaric energy into Pentacostal Patriotism and SnakeDancing for Jesus. Books like Gone to Croatan, all the Morton studies etc. including what you can do, would give them a Map Back, to re-connect their crazy energies with sane roots. Really important for beginning 21st-century American politics, which will break into tribes of race, ethnic, religious identities and all be stupid, because no one knows what they’re doing, or who they originally were. As you know, unburying our pagan history can be not only exciting but integrating of all energies.
So, all sounds like you’ve created, through your work, a stream for yourself that will carry you. This is great.
Hard to realize you’ve been five years at Brown, but by now it is a groove that you can no doubt bend to your own interests. If they support your Morton project, that too is great. You wrote that you were editing new book of Morton’s Canaan for “the Diss. Project,” and I read that as a DISS-Project, in the rap sense, then realized it was Dissertation, but the first will be a thread running through also I assume.
You have read W.C. Williams’ In The American Grain? Along with Crane’s The Bridge I think it is the greatest American poem, a book of prose-poetic essays on historical figures, like Lincoln, and men involved in that French-Dutch-English-Spanish protean playing with aborigynal American continent like PlayDough—with profound feeling, for the feeling sides of these men, the most amazing images of the WOMAN Lincoln, etc. Read it not for the history which you know but the style, which is utterly unique in American male—“male”—writing, which is compulsed to “prove” manhood, I mean, while Williams allows himself to be a whole sensorium with no apologies: ergo, great sentences, magnificent writing.
You wrote a very generous response to Linguistic Duplex, and I responded, I think before you went to Crete, but not sure, everything packed and confused as I moved one more time [to a place on A Street in Eureka on the north-Californian Humboldt Coast], I gave up trying to check data. I remember you questioned the word and concept “evil” and were not comfortable with what I did to Davis in Part 3. In response I said something to effect that I have always been always unwilling to use word “evil” (except in those quotes), because of the Xtian-Bible-Manichean connotations and referents.
Then reading Kathy Acker and experiences I experienced in Tucson etc. gave me another handle on the word. I agree, one must footnote it: if one cares anymore what people think, and I don’t, for I am walking around on the bottom of the ocean while everyone else is boating somewhere in a Florida or Utah pond. Whatever. As to the old woman’s drawing and quartering of Mr. Davis [Duplex], I have no problem with it whatever—whatever! For I am not a Liberal, nor a Christian (Liberals are Secular Xtians), so I don’t care about “redeeming,” i.e., “rehabilitating” this poor man. Davis IS a spirit, like all of us, and this is how he played his cards. This WAS his life’s work, and I respond to it as such. And the old woman, as I wrote back to you, is the only one in entire scenario who gives him what he Really Wants.
If you live with this type of man long enough (I did) you get to know what they really want. Even more important, what they must learn, or be responded with, by the world which does not exist for them until it becomes suddenly as big, cartoon monstrous, as they are wont to be, in their delusion. Well, it doesn’t matter now. My writing in LD, I mean, doesn’t matter: the problem of the Davis type of being, and future children being used to fuel his Cloud of Funk—this is quite real. It isn’t that I didn’t like your reaction to LD, I think, but that your reaction was just this “Liberal” in my definition (“two wrongs don’t make a right,” “answering violence with violence”)—this kind of Mathematics doesn’t apply in the Twilight Zone, the Nagual, Potentia...or anyplace else that matters, where poets SHOULD be living, I mean, Jack. Yes? Love & Congratulations Again, Barbara
Here, another gap of almost 15 months in my letters from Barbara, till the one scanned/transcribed below—including her cartoon. You’ll note her greeting to “John,” because for awhile in grad school I foolishly thought my more sedate legal name might help me to better fit in: I learned instead that lifelong “Jack” made more room, and Barbara slipped back to it also on page 2 below.
Barbara, now age 61, had just spent a year working day-care for lucky preschoolers. Then, according to her 1997-98 prose-and-poetry piece for Trivia called akaDARKNESS: On Kathy Acker, she landed a “weekdays” job at the other end of living, as an “activities aide for Humboldt County Adult Day Care/Alzheimers” in Eureka. While she lost great inspiring friends that year (Judi Bari and Meridel LaSueur), Acker too had died in November 1997, and as said below, Barbara was feeling “tired most of the time.” Yet, in Acker’s words that Barbara cited, she still had almost 18 years ahead of rising to her most powerful works, pushing “onward” for a style that might “break through the representational or fictional mirror & be equal in force to the HORROR experienced in daily life.” Barbara’s style, early and late, broke through to life’s shattering beauty as well.
December 24th, 1997:
Still on the Planet, etc. I work and fulfill the obligations of all concerned agencies, Medical FoodStamps, WorkSearch, EDD SCSEP AmeriVision JOB Drainage daily stuff, by hand and on foot so it takes time, and when done I listen to the BBC and dream of life on a different Plan[e]t. I don’t write my own stuff, or do much else in the way of Literature, while the correspondence piles up. This is a week vacation so I am trying to attend to bizness.
I am very proud and grateful that you have completed the [New English Canaan] book. This is, to me, very impressive work. I don’t have the scholarship necessary to critique “how you handle the material” vis-à-vis all your sources in Morton scholarship. Briefly, it seems to me you have served both worlds very well: excellent scholarship and great readability. This would be a very attractive book, and certainly your university wants to print it? If not, what about Beacon Press? They only do stuff now that works for academic reference, as far as women’s history goes that is. I don’t know what else they do. I don’t know much of anything, in fact (after one year of working at Day Care for preschoolers, I have just completed a second year working at AdultDay Care/Alzheimers, and Disappearance of BrainCells has simply become a part of my JobDescription, sorry).
I believe Thomas Morton is important, and the work you’ve done seems vital to me; following the whole school of Gone to Croatan interest in the subject which is part of the AnarchoSituationistLeft, texts published by Autonomedia etc.: you have an audience, apart from the academic, in the only counterculture game in town, have you read Peter Lamborn Wilson, etc. so all these possibilities.
Re Spielberg and the Amistad film, don’t let Hollywood steal your story.
I think your text moves swiftly, while respecting all the data. It’s a Good Read, John! and from the start you establish Morton in an English life and culture which makes sense of his activity. Of course I am predisposed to see him as healthy, normal while the American Puritans were/are Twisted, but you do the job of letting the material make this point responsibly, as it does.
On page 22, I love the “dragons into church” and other evidences of Monty Python in OldeEngeloony. Through the pages (45 etc.) where you detail the Christmas revels in the Inns, the source of Morton’s “paganism” in a legitimate English culture is clearly established: so the case is made, NOT that Morton was some freaky atavistic throwback to some idea long buried at home, but very confident because he came directly from this English rowdiness—that the Puritans did not, but were the aliens in all this, you establish. Morton was for being who he was by Puritans invested in NOT being who they were but fauxHebrews. Without pushing the point at all you succeed at documenting this political/religious conflict.
It would be as if someone wanting to Colonize the Moon today took a spaceship full of Promise Keepers to do the job. NOT representative, but THEREFORE rigid with defensive zeal. It would be nice if Americans could see this, their “history” just once clearly. You have certainly done your part to make this awareness possible.
Your literary skills, honed with all that work on the Ariadne book, really are at work too. So you move through the research data but with an excellent narrative skill, great pace! I really enjoyed Chapter 3 with descriptions of the Inns of Court; as with the pages descriptive of the buildings of Knossos, I feel I am “there”—you move reader through the architecture and life details with great authorial ease; so this is a book that has a chance to be read and appreciated by much wider than an academic specialist audience.
Sure you know all this, I don’t have to sell the book to you. GOOD JOB, Jack! Really impressive: you haven’t wasted any time or effort spent at Brown, but have been learning, improving your natural writing skills all along, and you’ve earned whatever reward comes from this work. Probably won’t be Money, but you’ve certainly accomplished a Scholar’s Task: to make your subject vital and challenging to the daily dust.
Well, clearly, I don’t have much verbal art left myself. Tired most of the time. From this exhaustion I can appreciate, and envy, your textual energy: it’s really there! I can’t believe you will have trouble getting this one published.
A year of many deaths, the Year of Great Extinctions, beginning November 14, 1996 with Meridel LeSueur’s death, not sad, for she had a full 96 years. But so many others, people I didn’t know but whose work was a big influence and standard, Mary Leakey, Laurens VanDerPost, Ginsberg no influence but I was a Beatnik and it is weird to see them all die. But the sandbags have been Judi Bari (last December) and Kathy Acker, November 29, 1997, two heroines from Hell and Back. I feel numb and utterly useless, vis-à-vis these 2 Amazons, BOTH taken out by breast cancer. I cannot accept the MYTHOS of it—of course, Mythos could care less. It is careless.
And now, in grief approaching the end of my surviving collection of Barbara’s letters, I come to a gap of almost five years between 1997 above and the next below dated January 5th, 2002. What happened, and why does this collection end (March 2002) long before Barbara’s end? I know she and I were still in contact through that time, and I remember more exchanges after it—right through her last years’ works (copies of which she always shared) including Rad Victorian Radio (2000), Rapture and Sea of Hunger (written in 2001), Suicidal Girls (2002), Text/Context (2004), Oasis 1, 2 and 3 (2005, 2008, 2009), Hypatia (2007), The Blue Rental (first appearing in 2010), The Inquisitor, Theater of Cruelty, the works on her Blogspot web-page, About Writing About (2012), and her final The Victory of Sex and Metal (2014).
This was more than what Barbara had called, above, people’s being something like “bumper cars” colliding and falling out of touch. In a sentence, we’d begun to go our separate but connected/parallel ways as serious writers. I want to show what happened to each and both of us. Most of all, I say first, in plain shame, that I now consider the intolerance, impatience, career-frustration and thoughtless haste by which I must have discarded Barbara’s late letters an inexcusable failure and a genuine crime against Letters and civilization. Period.
Barbara never stopped evolving in the struggle to face, manifest and master what she’d called (above) the utter meltdown of language; striving to fulfill what her favorite editor Clayton Eshleman (in his Intro to the last edition of Sulfur) said what poetry “is really about: the extending of human consciousness, making conscious the unconscious, creating a symbolic consciousness that in its finest moments overcomes the dualities in which the human world is cruelly and eternally, it seems, enmeshed.”
Drawing here upon Barbara’s own phrases above, her “genre” of “FemPolemoPoeticks,” as she kept evolving it, was “not supposed to be pretty.” But it was leading her down a path toward becoming in her own words “indigestible,” “unreadable.” In the face of her daily realities, she had decided that those were the convictions worth her courage, arriving at a place where (March 13th, 2002 below) “only males, generally Brits, or total anarchists...print me”—yet, half-believing that “one hundred years from now, that will be considered a compliment (?).” “I have the impression there is not much hope in my writing, except that Wit is a gesture of belief in something...whatever that might be.”
And look, in Suicidal Girls (2002), at these hints of Barbara’s conditions through her last 15 years. After all, when artistic dedication consigns you to living hand-to-mouth, you find yourself trying to survive one brain-searing shit-hole after another, in this Wreck-of-the-Hesperus asylum-on-fire called the present American landscape, teeming with self-destructive faux-rebels dying of ignorance:
scream in my walls 4sex in a 4plex
their boys are crazy nightspliced wires
pliers glow in the dark
live here numb
in rental skull bang bang bang they move in
redone stucco studio used to be a garage
cars lived there leaked oil on the rug
wall to wall rust atmosphere end of the
world plus heat theyre not neat decorate
w/fists purplebluegreenpink hair tattoos
noserings amplifers huge ashtrays of
noise on bad days it costs too much to
live here we’re on a one way street wheels
roll west 24/7 nothing stops no rest don’t
mess w/our trucks...
white&black scared persian
kitty hides under porch as party rages at
dawn new strange girl passed out on asphalt...
400 years but nothing changes
they came to pillage&pray...
how did they cross the ocean how do i
cross the street daily life...
anyway it takes too long i like things in
cans and plastic packets...
...they don’t eat they die in the
street in fever chewing grass delirious
like the Irish history repeats if you let
it or forget humans not doomed by Nature
but by DumbIdeas im starting to like
these loud girls when they scream in the
daytime it must be serious
Barbara had counseled me to “get your valuable material across the river of ebullient words,” for “you are also writing to now, and that too is an obligation.” Hence, I had made one choice about our “obligations” and “writing to now,” and Barbara made another. While Barbara looked unblinking and “estranged” her own language in the face of what Acker called “the HORROR experienced in daily life,” I had angered Barbara in telling her that I’d walked out of a live Acker reading at Brown. For it seemed to me that Acker—too brilliant not to know—was working her pain and, while replicating (for example) the experience of rape for her enthralled Po-Mo-Privileged-hip Brown audience, in the end was inflicting yet more of its benumbed aftermath upon them—while Barbara, at times (for example in Hypatia, quoted below) could still also see and register not a “redeeming,” but at least a balancing, whole and still-enabling sense of life’s surviving and worthwhile—yes—beauty.
This you can see even in those “loud girls” she smiled upon above; but as I saw it (incompletely) years ago, it seemed her style had turned its back on hope of reaching her world’s larger, soul-imprisoned audience of “now.” Disgusted with my own fortunes, I turned away from examples that promised more of same. Today, I think Barbara’s choice was her wisest gesture of hope—the hope that her uncompromising life’s and art’s examples against “DumbIdeas” might invite that audience to spit them out also, to rise back toward true living and true culture.
Look for example into Hypatia (2007). Multi-dimensions of being interweave, speak and generate revelation, as a contemporary woman remembers earlier lives (Barbara’s life-project)—filled with horrors, and then suddenly becoming a vision of Life in the purest sense. I am convinced that this passage draws on one of young Barbara’s most ecstatic life-epiphanies. Too dense, too “difficult”? Just read this slowly out loud, and see where Barbara takes you:
mid20th c. we went surf-fishing below Pt Dume Malibu
not yet Dawn we drank red wine as dark erased,erase
March fog,chill i caught the first fish,another then as
light,warmth came i went to climb rocks,explore the
beach a woman southward running her horse in surf,the
strong ankles of the sea i began climbing up&up,dirt
path,rock to the top of Dume hunched over the ocean
lay down in my jacket,jeans head on arm to sleep,groggy
w/wine. for how long i woke from,a horse push at my
head,woman on his back gazed down “he thought you
were dead” i rose in a full sun,turned to look out,down
to the sea 2 California gray whales coming north from
Baja the larger,lead whale just below as i stood up
it breached heaved over,dived disappeared in a deep
lunge of ocean,then lifted up Rose huge motion slow
Rocket out of the sea straight up,the absolute sun
dazzling him,all the way to the flukes and he hung
there,stopped the world in Wild salute of joy forever
then in another slow time sank down dazzling dazzling
into the sea reappeared far north spouting laughing
rolling as the companion followed,due north home
to breed i turned, woman & horse were gone the
synchronous kiss of the horse,awaking a Dead Woman
the perfect Salute of the whale,the earth & the sea
Look at the rebirth Barbara made manifest with that “difficult” broken-over line fourth from the end here: “the companion [whale] followed, due north home/to breed I turned....” Young Barbara, her soul awakened by this visionary moment, turned “home/to breed” a whole life of works having known, this once perhaps, what it was to be truly alive. It was real: it was “only” nature in its normal ways; and it set for her a standard of feeling, seeing and being that—in collision with the amnesiac shit-hole of her daily America—set alight the caustic volcano out of which she wrote and struggled to keep writing.
While Barbara predicted no problem finding a publisher for Canaan, it was indeed rejected repeatedly. The same cater-to-the-bottom soporific cupidity met all my works before and after. Profit has shut the gates to virtually all but celebrities, criminals and formula-humping hacks from fiction to history: if an even half-literate agent foresees no big quick kill, no publisher: no publisher, no agent. And yet through years of small-time public talks based on one form after another of self-publishing, the main question from audiences (who say they love a book’s gnarly footnotes best) is, “Why aren’t you famous?”
So, here at the end of 2015, I have turned my bodily back after 22 years on the pig-fattening wheel of university adjunct teaching, sold my beloved family home in Stoneham, Massachusetts, left my remaining family and dear friends, and moved back to Crete for good. I can still try to publish in exile. It was a decision beyond rational equations, born of an instinctive urge to simplify my living and focus the more on works I must get done before I die.
The next is People of the Sea: A Novel of the Promised Land, a sequel to Ariadne’s Brother: it traces the post-Minoan survivors of invasion in their journey from Crete to Cyprus to the creation of Palestine, and to their foundational confrontation with the first Israelites known to history. In discussing this with Barbara in letters I no longer have, I described this post-Bronze, Iron Age shift as a violently-imposed change from cultures and spiritualities embedded in the contexts of cyclic nature to a monolithic, biophobic way of life centered round a text (The Old Testament). She liked and acknowledged this text/context meme enough to develop it in multiple ways, from her poem of that name to her 2004 interview expanding on it beautifully with Adam Engel (published as “24/7 and Your Dreams” in dissidentvoice June 14, 2004).
Not a single publishing entity even acknowledges receipt of a People query or manuscript. Those who want to feed safely at the Pig-Trough do not tamper with this planet’s central problem, the psychotic Holy Book of its Masters of War and its Iron Age “exceptionalist” delusions. Ahead—if anyone notices at all—I expect the standard barrage of charges that I’m simply an anti-Semite, like anyone whose documentations breed doubts about the absolutes of Zionism. My reply will ask who among the self-styled “fathers of our ethics” has said or enabled the hearing of one fucking word about the young Jewish woman, Eve, whom I loved more than anyone in the world and followed as a Muse through decades of labor since her 1980 rape and unsolved murder.
All in all, Barbara and I had gone our separate but parallel ways as serious writers. Unbeknownst to me, she fell and broke her femur late in 2014. According to her son, Barbara recovered well, but also developed a serious cough that led to a medical exam in case of pneumonia; and that revealed stage-4 pancreatic cancer, which had metastasized to her lung.
Barbara had been “carrying a huge amount of work with her for decades,” since the 1980s developing “aspects” of a concept planned as a trilogy—and her last published book, The Victory of Sex & Metal (Oliver Arts & Open Press 2015) was/is only the first of it. “I think her intention was [that] once these earlier works were out of the way, she would then begin to prepare her current work,” her son added. Barbara received Victory on ”the day before she passed,” he wrote, “the horrible injustice being that she was just on the verge of publishing the crystallized final versions....I think she left this world feeling pretty shocked, angry, and stunned that she should make it this far and have the rug pulled out from under her just on the brink of actualizing RESULTS.” There is, by implication here, yet more of Mor to come.
Declining chemotherapy and surrounded by her children, Barbara’s end involved more breathing-distress than her cancer’s typically-severe pain. She died at home in Portland, age 78, on January 24th, 2015. According also to our brilliant mutual Canadian friend Harriet Ann Ellenberger, poet and co-founder of Sinister Wisdom, Barbara was “still her caustic self” to the last. I will always be painfully grateful that her last words to me were “Love, Barbara.”
Below, the last two letters I have. I cannot clarify Barbara’s (or The New York Times’) opening linkage between the appalling 1952 film The Plymouth Adventure and writer Edna O’Brien, who was Irish (not “Austro-Hungarian”) and was not first-published till 1960. Secondly, I add the following clarification of Barbara’s next letter’s reference to NPR reporter Margot Adler (author of Drawing Down the Moon’s 1979 study of American paganism), as quintessence of the treatment both Barbara and I have received because of our works.
This true anecdote is from the final essay in my 2001 Good News from New England and Other Writings on the Killings at Weymouth Colony, about which Barbara’s letter-following speaks. I’d sent Adler, based on her then-bold study of paganism, a review-copy of Ariadne’s Brother:
Send your book-results of 15 years’ research and sacrifice aimed at healing to, among others, National Public Radio and its All Things Considered, care of star reporter Ms. Margot Adler. In a few months, she sends you a postcard inviting you to call her about it, at home. When you do [with millions of listeners at stake], she says her “friend” has read the first page and “wasn’t grabbed” by it. She’s also very busy waiting for the wisdom-packed confessions of mass murderer Timothy McVeigh.
As you see what is edging this work out of Adler’s attention, and as she insists she has no time for what she invited with her card, try the diplomatically-desperate. “Hold the phone, I’ll go shoot up the local McDonald’s. Will you ‘talk to me’ on-air then?” “Ohh,” Adler laughs, “I’d have to, then.” End of conversation. You miss her eventual report on how much we learned from McVeigh. A few months later NPR runs a filler asking “Where Was The West?” the last time the Hale-Bopp Comet swung by Earth (about 4000 years ago, smack at the height of Minoan Crete). The answer? “Nowhere: utterly primitive.” So was McVeigh, and his hobbies are “news.”
And so to the last letters I have, her first dated January 5th, 2002:
Dear Jack—Nearby Powell’s [bookstore in Portland] has stacks of old free NYTimes Book Reviews, in one found this interesting connection between The Plymouth Adventure and Edna O’Brien—which you might already know. Why that very strange Austro-Hungarian wrote that book, I don’t know. How it [?] became a Hollywood film, neither. I hope your Irish Link-Luck is well-working with these continuous connections of the story that is Bursting to be Told.
Note a Palindromic Year: in my lifetime this and 1991, not another till 2112. END TIMES! END TIMES! (Circa 1999-2001 definitely Apocalypse dates for Nostradamus, Mayans, some Muslims; and those who believe the Jews’ return to Zion signals the same, although I don’t know if they have a prophetic date.) You know how Godz Crazies love to self-fulfill their Bad Dreamz. So, for intelligent people, more critical post-September 11th than ever that your Plymouth stories be broadcast—and I know there are some smart ones in Hollywood Biz. I don’t know how much post-September 11th YahooNoises will drown them out.
Good News from New England is a wonderful book, Jack. The Introduction has that lucid clarity of scholarship with Alive prose-flow that your writing has been improving and evolving all this time. And I am very proud and glad you rooted yourself in this subject and stuck with it: Morton and Plimoth are yours, we should all be grateful you finally unburied this Allegory of America in all its true blood and grit.
I haven’t read Jane Tompkins’ 1992 West of Everything (as one born and raised in the wetdream debris of The West, I should look for it. But the p. xxvii line in which you say she “laid bare America’s favorite self-image as an innocent hero ‘forced’ to righteous bloodshed” sure rings true forever, along with the other acute remarks from deTocqueville et al. Knowing that all our “American history” should begin here—with your work, I mean—and that it doesn’t: well, that’s “American History” ain’t it.
The “Stand-Up Historian” Wanakia [my alter-ego writing the final essay in Good News] is So YOU! It’s a beautiful rant. I’m sorry (i.e., disappointed) about Margot Adler’s response: Adler and Robin Morgan were the two “goddess-knowledgeable” feminists I respected. But the agenda is nailed down for them, copyright NYC.
When I visited back there, a big Goddess Celebration at some lower Manhattan cathedral (where The Learning Alliance is based), there were four Goddess-Speakers: Adler, Starhawk, Judith Plaskow, and someone named Sprague [cannot identify] who was an Episcopalian female minister: three Jewesses and a professional Christian, that is. No “pagan” women like me, or Mary Daly, or Z Budapest (although I’m sure 1-2 such types could be found in the city of NY???). The highly brilliant Jewish women, accompanied by such Christian professionals (e.g., Rosemary Radford Reuther) stand like a line of Ferocious Father-Guarding Amazons across the horizon, forbidding critique of The Bible.
Israeli politics might be earnestly critiqued, and Andrea Dworkin—the only true fighter—went after the misogyny of Her Fathers, and of the Holocaust Museum (and was collectively hissed out of the GirlClub for her guts); but “Deep Structure” analysis of The Bible’s textual propaganda as transferred into Western rationale for murderous expansionism was not allowed. When I did it (because I thought that’s what “Feminism” was about, and because as a Californian I was not shaped by EastCoastCodes), I was called “insane,” “a Liar,” “Dangerous and Awful” and branded a “person with no Heart or Imagination” by Adrienne Rich: all this in print, indeed in Sinister Wisdom (1982) under Rich’s new editorship. And it’s been downhill ever since for me!
The Bible is “God’s” RealEstateDeed to the Land of Israel, and if you go after it on this ground, you probably won’t be invited to the Prom. No doubt you could find your name on Head Inquisitioner John Ashcroft’s New List of Terrorists (meaning, with the Bush family’s mangled syntax, you are Asking To Be Terrorized For Eternity).
I assume you’ve read Ward Churchill—hear him now and then on NPR, local KBOO, he’s an Injun, teaches at Boulder, Colorado U: he’s got his feet on his own ground, so has courage to talk back. Rare. Well, your work joins the Company of Honorary Injuns. In GCM I wrote what should be a bumper-sticker: The Whole Earth Is Holy Land. I first wrote that on a construction-wall in Albuquerque, next to some Christian graffiti.
Indians understand, but when the call went up to remove the Zuni “swastika” from New Mexico State U’s yearbook and flag insignia, only the Zuni objected. The Zuni SunWheel, attached to the U since circa 1909, was erased in deference to some (relatively) newly arrived Santa Fean Jews. Supported by all the deplaced gringoes. It seems relentlessly Nasty to continue to harp on this issue, except that it keeps coming around, to fulfill the Prophecy of the Crazy God, Nietzsche’s God of Resentment and Revenge, Who Wants Everything Alive Dead.
My own personal Rant is so tired, redundant, I can’t really bear anything from me now but “fiction”—am very happy you are continuing the Chant in your own very fresh and still healthy voice. You sound like you truly are generous and want Peace, as you say, without losing humor or bull’s-eye direction of discourse. Also a rare achievement nowadays: Liberals are so stale and programmatic, i.e., brainless and gutless.
A whole new circle of communications must, I think, be made: people like Churchill, Michael Parenti, Vandana Shiva, Lori Wallach are saying brave and pertinent things, no taboos. I don’t hear them on NPR, but tapes of their talks in the West, mostly, broadcast on Portland’s independent radio KBOO. The argument that NEA et al.’s money ruins “public broadcasting” is supported by the self-censorship NPR seems to practice.
I DID see something good on Oregon Public Broadcasting last week, and am sorry I didn’t get more details on it: like the date, which I couldn’t see. It might be from any time in the past 5 years, I didn’t start watching TV till I got up here to Portland in 1998. It was a 2-part, 4-hour broadcast called Crucibles of the Millennium (aha, that must date it within a few years). The parties involved, and the speakers/narrators accompanying the broadcast, were preponderantly Hindu, Mexican, Peruvian, Muslim. Don’t remember American Indian, but a lot from the Spanish conquest of South America, with dramatized court case of Las Casas arguing against Sahagun (?) on the treatment of New World peoples.
It began with the lifeways of agricultural India/Middle East/Africa/Asia, then the first interactions from Western Explorers, although the first explorer noted was from China. And then in Part 2, the colonization of this hemisphere. Not radically hard-hitting, but clear: the God-rationalized genocide and theft of land that Built The West. And they did note that the original interactions of Euros (whites) and Africans (darks) was friendly and nothing we would later call “racist”: that is, mutual respect and interested curiosity re new cultures. This was one of the most multicultural views I’ve seen from Public TV, but they made the point that “racism” was not necessarily the original reaction of Euros—rather, the 16th-century Profit/Prophet motives developed “racism” as the rationale for bad deeds, Serving God and Mammon by demonizing the Used. Worth looking for if you haven’t seen it, but I have no clues re its sources, producers etc. I hope it runs again this summer, I’ll take better notes (they always do reruns).
In H.P. Lovecraft, again, in Call of Chthulhu 3, The Madness from the Sea [his 1926 short-story], there’s a passage: “I...was visiting a learned friend in Paterson, NJ, the curator of a local museum and a mineralogist of note....My friend has wide affiliations in all conceivable foreign parts....“ (i.e., weird news from the world). Note 38, the editor says: “An exact description of Lovecraft’s friend James Ferdinand Morton (1870-1941), who became curator of the Paterson NJ Museum in 1925. Lovecraft, who first met Morton in 1922, visited him frequently at the Museum and also assisted him in rock-gathering expeditions in New England.” Did Thomas Morton have any progeny, descendants (Ferdinand?!) who might have continued the Pursuit of What Really Happened/Happens in this region? [Answer, No.] Would be cool, but I guess there’s a lot of Mortons around. On the other hand, your northeast territory is Not Big! Like Ireland, must be a lot of interbreeding....Hmmm.
[Barbara’s handwritten close:] Three Excellent Books: You Go, Jack!
Below, my last-surviving letter from Barbara, dated March 13th, 2002. She typed it on the blank back of a sheet onto which she had xeroxed a page from Harper’s Magazine (undated), and Barbara had pink-highlighted the following Letter to the Editor headlined “Chimps and the Clap”:
Robert Gilbert’s studiously intellectual treatise on applause (“Understanding Ovation,” Readings, October 2001) danced all around the phenomenon quite entertainingly. The heart and soul of clapping, however, wasn’t pierced. Zoologist, anthropologist, biologist, and philosopher Desmond Morris wrote a book on intimacy in which he writes of the sociological study of, I believe in this instance, chimpanzees. When they see fellow members of the group arriving, they are inclined to stand and make a gesture of embrace repeatedly, which results in hand-clapping. Now, isn’t that simple and wonderful? Applause is remote embrace, making Gilbert’s first example of crowd applause, a reaction upon viewing a solar eclipse, a fabulous scene of people embracing the very cosmos.
As Barbara wrote below, fighting her way into the Internet Age, she must have had an early version of Mystic Fiasco: How the Indians Won The Pequot War, co-authored with archaeologist and artist David R. Wagner but not published till 2004. For the record, the work’s iconoclasm, based in comparing actual landscape with “historical” records, shows again the rightness of a major Mor argument—that Tradition uses Text to deny, falsify and conceal Context and hence reality (because the English “victors” actually got their holy asses kicked at their wished-for “Mystic Massacre” of 1637, creating a foundational paradigm of Catastrophe Posed As Victory still in operation today). Fiasco’s fortunes show too that this self-serving disgrace to genuine history goes on, since staff of the venerated University of New England Press admitted “sitting on” this work for a year, in hope that its revelations embarrassing to the standing insider-experts “might just go away.” The full text with Wagner’s color art is at Ancientlights.org: the book, self-published as usual. Nobody would or will touch it.
March 13th, 2002—Dear Jack, I think Mystic Fiasco must be one of the all-time great titles. It looks good, and the Coda’s poem by Little Owl/Ruth Duncan [“We Do Not Know How”] is genuinely moving, as most stuff that tries to be is not, I mean. I can see/hear the hundreds of Native generational years moving wearily through her lines. [It concludes, “They will not even hear/what their own stories teach.”]
So, yes, another ACHIEVEMENT—My take on it now is that some of us (maybe not you, but maybe you) must root deeply into the Irish monk genes, the few who kept scribbling in some manuscripts while all those years of murder conquest havoc whizzed around their cold ears. Surely you have some DNA déjà vu on this: the Irish did not save “civilization,” they saved the conquerors’ texts of course, but their own tweak is so pretty to look at. And, I think your steady work on these texts might be for the future, for those who crawl out of the next rubble and wonder: How? Why?
Earthlink [a defunct Internet Provider] sent a program that had to be inserted into my machine, to totally take over my thought processes with their Brand and their GeekGames. Teleport was so clean and simple, e.g., Delete meant Delete, Connect meant Connect: now I must search among twice as many icons being cryptically cute for “Trash” and “Sign On” and if I turn on my audio (I won’t) I can hear the MailTruck coming, Oooooo!! Am constantly being threatened with Disconnection and warned of illegal Actions bringing programs to a close—and I have no idea what they mean. My son installed this new program, and doing so gave him an attack of shingles!
But that was enough CRAP for the month? No. Next day, the Monitor blew up. Turned on, the screen turned blazing cherry pink, flaming orange, blotches of blueberry purple and bruise blue. My son thought it looked like Sherbet. Flaming faggot tie-die neon sherbet, uh-huh. It did this twice, then just clicked—oops—and died. My son at work (manages Music Millennium East Side here) has dealt with computers that have smoke literally pouring from them, but he’s never seen this apocalyptic display. Well, the warranty is still in effect, gratefully, so they sent a new monitor. It took a week, the new one doesn’t fit the desk, and if I manage to get it open it is just full of the geek monsters described above.
I feel somewhat like giving up on The Electronic Highway—I don’t drive, cars or gameboards. But then when it was gone, I missed it as a great opportunity, which the servers keep fucking up. This is the third time in two years I’ve been sent back to square one, required to learn new programs, new icons and routes and patterns from the beginning. My Brit correspondents are getting into publishing online, there’s a cool world out there, but I keep getting shoved back to starting all over, very depressing.
Glad you like Suicidal Girls, it was fun but hard to do: the condensation, or “believing” in females. I do believe in the Young, but they know they are being lousily educated, so not much hope outside of their music/culture scene, for sure. It is, after all and however, their Future being sacrificed on the Biblical gameboards. I have the impression there is not much hope in my writing, except that Wit is a gesture of belief in something, whatever that might be. Since I’m temporarily giving up the computer thing, here’s some written material. Rapture and Sea of Hunger done last summer, before September 11th (sent Sea to The Baffler in August, no response yet, it’s really hopeless).
I don’t know what you’ve read: here’s copy of pages from UK’s Intimacy and Ecorche. Did you ever read Here on the Bisbee copper mine? It is 30 pages with no characters no dialogue no sex, a real winner. Excerpted it’s in John Zerzan’s Against Civilization 1997. I think you’ve read it, nor do I know if you’ve read TraLaLa. Suffice it that only males, generally Brits, or total anarchists like Zerzan, print me. One hundred years from now, that will be considered a compliment (?).
This, then, is all I can offer of how much Barbara Mor gave of herself. I work meanwhile to create a video presenting her honey-voiced readings from Great Cosmic Mother done for Thomas Morton in 1992, and I hope it contributes to Barbara’s memory. I close with her statement on “Serious Writing in the World of Today” (from BookForum April/May 2009):
Our planet is a theater of sublime cannibalism. Our lives have always been sustained by the deaths of other living things, & vice versa: it’s an organic recycling process that, within the self-regulations & conservations of Nature, works. As a run-amock global factory & marketing system based on a corporate cannibalism that is regulated solely by the sharky appetites of Capital, Earth becomes a Factory of Horror. Writers respond to this by curling inward around personal pain, or reaching backward to connect with the larger agonies of human-made past history. But the Enormous Poem, in such a world, exists now & everywhere. It is inside us & there, performing sleeplessly 24/7: tragic epic, colossally cruelly funny drama, deadpan news items from hell. No extant “literary convention” approaches it. The writer/poet must see it for what it is without euphemistic self-protection; look long & hard without blinking or descent into memoirist babbling—& it will pour molten into yr eyes & brain forever. And then, with yr eyeballs burnt out & yr tongue charbroiled, you proceed to (try to) write. Play yr sacrificial part in this terrible feast. All the repressed gods &/or monsters from all the repressed mythologies ever on Earth are now returning to join you.
Such was my friend Barbara Mor, whose courage, tenacity, vision, “relentless love” and art reached out to show and embrace what we are, where we’ve been, where we can and must go. Onward. It’s up to every one of us to get serious, as if the stakes are Life or Death. They are.