HOUSE ORGAN Edited by KENNETH WARRENPATRICK JAMES DUNAGAN Reviews
HOUSE ORGAN #58 Win/Spr ’07, Edited by Kenneth Warren
(Lakewood, Ohio, 2007)
FUN IN THE ETERNAL CITY
House Organ is a personal endeavor that escapes the crippling baggage that generally accompanies such affairs. Kenneth Warren edits and publishes each issue, sending them out from his residence in Lakewood, Ohio. Unassuming in appearance, House Organ consists of several sheets of 8 ½ by 11 paper folded vertically in half with a single staple affixing the spine; addresses are written on the back and postage attached—no need for envelopes—each issue contains poems, ongoing critical engagements, reviews, and memoirs. As Warren has termed the publication, it is a donor organ. This appears to be meant literally, those who receive it in the mail along with those who it publishes, donate their time and person to an ongoing, active engagement with poetry. Warren is paying attention below the usual radar. It would be of no surprise to one day run into him without ever knowing it and for him to have all the words needed for conversation at hand without any concern for hobnobbing or any “who’s who” nonsense. This is the sense of mind evidenced by his editorial judgment along with the continuing productivity and longevity of the Organ.
Stephen Ellis is among the core group of poets Warren draws upon for repeat appearances in the issues and he is pleasantly included in issue #58. Ellis marks his poetic engagement with striking word choice and rapid springs of rushed motivation, getting the physical down into fluid fourteen line structures of dazzling arrangement.
Returning Libido To Its Source
Lust perhaps turns into devotion
to object not inverted to subject,
beginning each phase of life as amateur
all over again, obligatory ritual
Ginger Rogers singing We’re In
The Money in pig-latin, as nothing
previously understood, except as the pre-
history each passing moment passes into,
pulled always back into the present as we are,
caught before nature’s hieroglyphs, garbled
as devotion’s objects often are, by one’s own
intercession to love itself, to release
the self from each subject’s hold, and hold
equally to each and every object’s activation
The poem is engagement with living. Ellis is working out his own psychological battles within the formal grace of language bent to his means. As an editor, Warren appears drawn to writers who are interested in writing with direct treatment of the text as an extension of their person over any particular branch of poetics or level of discipline achieved. As a result, the sensibilities displayed by the work in each issue vary wildly. Margueritte (a pen name? No last name is ever given), whose work I have not seen elsewhere, provides juxtaposition to Ellis.
eye round fastened to grass
tall waving eye follows
grass cooled by wind eye
why you say it is heaven
I say watch out someone
will take it away
when you are not looking
Where Ellis is challenging, engaging the reader’s intellect, Margueritte is coy and playful, simple in word choice and delivered in a relaxed mood of warning. Each poet is careful in craft and is intent on getting a message across to the reader, yet the ultimate atmospheres created by each are separated by distinctly distant relationships to the language.
Warren’s address book would be a pleasure to behold. The surprises contained inside must be like discovering a terrific used book store stocked full of small press ephemera that only those readers who have really put in the time are aware of. Reading House Organ returns the physical pleasure of the text to the reader in contrast to the screen culture so prevalent to many relations these days. The sense of community is strong and grounded by deeply extended roots reaching far back. Janine Pommy Vega, a poet found most usually in secondary sources on women of the Beat Generation, makes regular appearances in House Organ. Her poems continually pull at the reader’s sensibilities and focus the imagination upon the revelation the world about is.
(for Corine Young)
On the banks of the Tevere
eternity casts its light
on the trees at 7pm
Caravaggio saw this light
last gulls patrol the surface
for dinner, hold caucuses
on the muddy bank
harboring a populace spread
over seven hills for 2500 years
cut back on the bank
a flock of tiny birds swoops and dives
grey brown with white belly bands
like little ladies in aprons
they serenade the bridge Risorgimento
little neighbors of the Tiber
huing and crying in wide concentric
arcs from the water as high as the bridge
gold fades to rose on the ancient buildings
Michaelangelo painted this light
Leonardo de Vinci
having flung themselves in controlled abandon
the birds carve out figure eights
on the water, last hosannahs
Fra Angelico would have recognized
fun in the Eternal City
twenty of them circling in the light.
Warren is more than willing to provide a space of publication for those who often aren’t involved with any particular scene in the current poetry world. Reading through House Organ is a true fringe experience in the best sense, for found inside are folks who write for no other reason than testimonial to a life that has been given over to poetry. It’s a challenge to realize that the reason one or another poem come across might not be particularly appealing is due to inadequacies within one’s own reading and life experience. There’s little doubt that anything Warren publishes does not deserve an attentive eye and ear.
There’s a bevy of men living various lifestyles, what might once have been considered as blue collar, scattered throughout the upper Midwest who are all practicing writers often overlooked by a larger audience but quite familiar to each other. Brian Richards, along with the aforementioned Stephen Ellis, is one of these men. Here and there, a publication of theirs surfaces or the occasional piece appears in House Organ or another rogue journal. Much of this Win/Spr ‘07 issue is taken up by a long section from what appears to be a semi-fictionalized memoir of sorts by Richards, In Rain. Richards’ prose is of an uneven rambling sort but provides its own rewards to attentive readers. There are many characters and lots of starts and stops to any potential plot development, but a vigorous thrust is strongly held to throughout which propels the piece along on self-generated inertia alone. At his best, Richards is a reflective writer and when he comes upon the opportunity not to be mentioning this-or-that trouble this particular group of friends is having he revels in it, to the delight of the reader.
Or, once, he wandered up the hillside, close enough to keep the party in view, but far enough that the conversation went symphonic: a hum of strings, a murmur of winds punctuated by brassy laughter. As the night wore on and the drugs off, the quiet grew until he could hear the occasional fog horn on the straits. But the sky had cleared so he could see lights miles away on the water, and he realized that what he was hearing through his distorted perception were nighthawk wings cutting the air around him in pursuit of gnats. The sky swelled with light in the east, the remaining cloud above the mountains stretched like a dragon flying slowly north, its belly pulsing with the sun that seemed to take forever before it finally breasted the peaks and he walked down to find their bed.
Once again, the treatment is direct, the resulting sense of location vivid and lively. Richards breaks through any sentimentalism for the setting and writes just what is occurring, a reminder that writing is an act of communication, binding reader and writer together, to take share in a greater whole.
What Warren offers of his own writing is a section from an ongoing critical study of the relationship of Gloucester poets Charles Olson and Vincent Ferrini, The Emperor’s New Code. Warren is co-editor of Ferrini’s recent The Whole Song: Selected Poems and it is evident that he’s a familiar reader of this prolific poet. Ultimately, no matter how Jungian and mytho-exploratory in moments it may be, this excerpt of Warren’s interpretive critique of the personal/psychological dimensions shared between Olson and Ferrini is a constant wonder of fascination and sparkles with bursts of argument. Warren dives right in and goes deep, his attentive critique of the relationship testifies to its central place in current and future studies of Olson. Ferrini’s own work encourages the level of discussion at which Warren negotiates.
THE DIVINE INTELLIGIENCE
DEATH is asleep
for the EMBODIMENT of the WHOLE
THE GRAIL of my Mother & Father
the Carriers of the SPIRIT
of them both
& the Mystique of my Muse
in the ONE
by the Actions of the Creating Energies
where Time is a fiction
Humanity is constantly
all the Forms of Nature
& the ever-elucidating Cosmos
the Revolution & the Resurrection
lost & found in the ONE
Ferrini is the closest America has come so far in producing its own William Blake. His poems announce a personal cosmology which he has defined to suit his own purposes where the available materials were lacking. Warren’s commentary further explores the facts of Olson’s recognition of the powers Ferrini’s work possesses and elucidates the according respect Olson offered, along with his acting in the appropriately aggrandizing manner towards his contemporary rival.
Poet Simon Perchik closes his review of Bangalore Blue by Terry Kennedy with a note on the physical nature of the book:
One last word on the book itself. It is a joy to hold. Much thought went into putting it together and in the sequence. It’s a book, not just a collection of poems. Each poem leads into the next and the reader is comforted by the obvious care taken in presenting Kennedy’s work. Here is a case where all involved have taken duty to heart.
House Organ may not cater towards elegance in terms of materials used in its construction, but let it be assured that the endeavor has indeed “taken duty to heart.” Duty to the life of writing, living among the texts that they might breathe a little easier in turn as the humble reader turns from them to create her own.
Patrick James Dunagan lives in San Francisco and works in the library at USF. Poems and chapbooks have been published by Auguste Press, Blue Book, Chain, Pompom, and Red Ant Press among others.