Arts & Events

New: Around & About Poetry: Jack Marshall & Gerald Fleming Read From Their New Books at Albany Library

By Ken Bullock
Saturday June 08, 2013 - 11:14:00 AM

Jack Marshall, who lives in El Cerrito, has been one of the bright lights of the Bay Area poetry scene for four decades, his successful series of books by Coffee House Press since the 80s bringing his constantly evolving work to all of North America ... 

This Tuesday at 7, Marshall will read at the Albany Library from his newest book, just released by Coffee House, 'Spiral Trace--A Poem.' It is, in fact, a book-length poem in 85 sections of mostly a page or two, many of which could stand free as poems in their own right. 

'Spiral Trace' is a delightful paradox: elegiac (it contains, among others, very literal elegies for late Bay Area poets Larry Fixel and Morton Marcus), at times a jeremiad, it's nonetheless relentlessly upbeat, moving fast on long-limbed periods that break down into short lines, often a half dozen or fewer words ... 

Clearly with a debt to Whitman, 'Spiral Trace' explores the contemporary world in all its vainglory in a rush of language, sometimes somber or lyrical, more often racy, slangy, humorous.  

After briefly recounting the story of Surrealist poet Robert Desnos reading others' palms in line for execution at Terezin Concentration Camp--and saving their lives by disorienting the guards--Marshall exclaims : 

"Poetry had better see through the doors/of boxcars, or else not play/on the tracks anymore.//No more songs/to the balcony;/the balcony is closed. So long ... //And to the new King of the Poetry Slam/I say, I'll see your Poetry Slam,/and raise you Islam." (section 17) 

He opens the book with a kind of prologue, an unnumbered tableau, "The Beautiful Hidden," listening to a chemotherapy patient, sitting in a car on his drive home from the clinic, zealously chattering about his "practiced foreboding," " 'His mind [ ... ] pure, his house [ ... ] a mess' " as the patient's driver says--before the tableau suddenly breaks: 

" 'The beautiful does not exist [ ... ] it is not waiting to be seen.' [ ... ] Then,/I swear, out of nowhere, two deer/come clattering down the street, two mighty, meaty/four-hooved tap dancers//on tip-toe./skidding sparks, at the intersection/stop, look off: a deer and a doe in El Cerrito,//peering toward San Pablo Avenue, tails/twitching panic in their pause, turn,/and head toward the hills."  

It's a long, serious, often hilarious, sometimes offhanded epic spiel, perfect poem for and of the times ... How will we explain today's dire breeziness to future generations? Marshall's new poem will be a singing Exhibit 'A'--especially his excellent tag lines at the end: 

"We live in, on,/through, traces of flow/before song sung, tongue stone ... //or strewn, then sown. I don't know,/song, stone, strewn, dumb-- /I gotta go." 

Marshall will be joined at the reading by his old friend, prose poet Gerald Fleming of Lagunitas, Marin County, reading from his new book 'The Choreographer' (Sixteen Rivers Press)-- 

"Companionship,//she'd written, certainly at first, and he'd answered--wanted to meet early--so okay, we'll meet at 8 a. m., she wrote, and at least this is no lazy man [ ... ] " 

Crucifixion, Kinetic: "Often, the scene depicted as tranquil--fait accompli, three men in their proper places, on crosses, assorted provokers and grievers below, sky leaden, sense overall not meat but vegetal, varnishes, tableau. [ ... ] " 

7 p. m. Albany Library. 1247 Marin Avenue (at Masonic, across from BART elevated tracks), Albany. Free. or contact Dan Hess, 526-3720, extension 17