Poetry Reading at Moe's on Wednesday

By Ken Bullock
Tuesday March 08, 2011 - 01:01:00 PM

Poets David Gitin and George Mattingly will read for free at Moe's Books, 7:30 p. m. Wednesday March 9 (849-2089; moesbooks.com ), Gitin from his new collection The Journey Home, Poems 1962-2010, a Blue Wind Press book, published by Mattingly in Berkeley, who has also published other titles among Gitin's nine other books of poetry. 

(Gitin has other long-time Berkeley associations, including a stint in the late 60s-early 70s, working with Charles Amirkhanian, programming music and other cultural shows on KPFA-fm. He also co-founded, with poet Jim Wilson, Poets Theater at the Straight theater in the Haight Ashbury in the 1960s.) 

This reading gives a chance for local poetry readers to hear one of the country's finest--and most unusual--lyric poets read from what amounts to his collected poems, while on a visit to the West Coast, rare since moving to the Florida Keys after spending the better part of 45 years in the Bay Area and Monterey. Gitin's been praised by Allen Ginsberg, who called his poetry maybe the clearest possible, and Michael McClure, who referred to his mastery of subtle rhythms and his genius. John Cage has called Gitin's work beautiful. 

The Journey Home, which is usually described as a selected poems (it's not a complete collection by a long shot), is by far Gitin's most definitive assemblage of his poems so far--and has the unusual virtue of redefining his other books: they read differently since its publication. 

This comes in part from the ongoing rewriting and editing Gitin has always done with his work, usually compressing it, scaling it down in size but making it more expansive in scope, more musical in sound. Different matching-up of the same poems, often with newer ones or with unpublished or unreprinted work taken from the past, reveals new vistas: the poem "Touch" ("a feather/or a knife//at the crossroads/skin//of earth and fire//water and air//layer after layer"--which is the complete poem) is paired with "Sun Rays" ("sun rays/caught in our skins//tremble like snakes/and burst//horses through surf"--also complete) to end the fourth of five sections, "Sun Rays" being the compressed new version of a longer lyric in an older collection. 

This practice of remixing new with old is something Gitin shares with the late Carl Rakosi, Ezra Pound's favorite young American poet of the 1930s, a longtime friend of Gitin's, who died at 100 in San Francisco just a few years ago: 

For Carl Rakosi 

out/in the open//the shimmer of light/where the blacktop//appears to end/curves//to continue 

(Another complete poem ... many readers have commented on the haiku-like qualities of Gitin's spare poems, to which he's responded, "Sure!"--but cited other compressed lyric forms, like the epigrams in the Greek Anthology.) 

For a genuine take on haiku: 


in the company/all night/of a horsefly 

--immediately followed by: 

Kyoto Morning 

on a persimmon/leaf/wings/a butterfly 

The wit which renders a horsefly's attendance in the idiom of an ancient poet extolling a courtesan also captures: 


chuckle down fear/year after year/smile like a porpoise 

--yet the same eye glimpses a contemporary paradise of vision in a love poem: 

I See You 

on a curve of the boardwalk/between mangroves//black pants and yellow top/right leg forward right hand//holding a tree branch/your hair glistens//and your warm smile widens/for me 

Gitin strips a poem down to its essence, each word polished bright--fresh, unencumbered with its usual, habitual associations, whether poetic or conversational, then plays it like a note in a verbal harmony which opens up the possibilities of language, and the perceptions the words are cued to, on to new horizons ... 

A Leaf 

a leaf/caught in the mouth//a tone/in silence//breathing/the dark 

(David Gitin will also read for free at Bird & Beckett Books, 653 Chenery, Glen Park in San Francisco, 2 p. m. Sunday March 13. (415) 586-3732; bird&beckett.com ) 

For more information about Gitin's books as well as other books published by George Mattingly, go to: davidgitin.com