Wednesday, February 01, 2006

neglectorinos: darrell gray

ca conrad launched the neglectorino project yesterday...

58 poets responding to his question of what poets they admire whose work is out of print or difficult to find -- and what a treasure trove! (not to mention the hundreds of links that conrad put in to help get people headed in the right direction.) how many hours of reading enjoyment, how many reprint editions and scholarly commentaries await the trackers-down of these many wonderful suggestions! this is an invaluable resource i will turn to again and again.

i was hoping conrad might open up a comments option on the neglectorino blog, but in the meantime i thought i'd start my own here, and hopefully make it through the list of commentors from armantrout to wallace.

Darrell Gray can't believe rae armantrout and tom raworth both mention darrell gray, whom i'd only known ron silliman to express an interest in. gray was in iowa in the late 1960s when ted berrigan came through to teach and turned a lot of young poets on. gray moved to the bay area at some point mid-to-late 1970s and apparently drank himself to death by 1987, but in the meantime published some half dozen collections of poetry overall, also edited three issues of suction magazine, co-edited the actualist anthology and put together a collection of prose essays and dissolutions. and somewhere in all this there's a great history small-press poetry between the coasts in the 1970s and 1980s. (according to silliman, after gray died his landlord threw all the poet's papers in the dumpster.)

i have three of his books: something swims out (blue wind press 1972), scattered brains (toothpaste press 1974), and halos of debris (poltroon press 1984). if i had to give a quick take on his work i'd say it's a bit berriganesque with a heavy dose of euroamerican surrealism. and occasional pieces of pre-langpo weirdness like

                                    Ages thud.

                    Given brain.        Chair tone

                                      thru the "dog"

          A clutch predestinates; a care attends.

                                   So: ones.

                    ["Passages 1" from scattered brains]

which initially sounds a bit like early coolidge to me. here's the opening poem from scattered brains which i think shows a lot of the appeal of gray's work.

               Time With Birds

               My shadow is also theirs
               when they're within me.

               I feel the wings widen,
               I roost

               in the new
               bones, opening

               world for world.
               Is the head an amplitude,


               What would it hit?

               I become a child.
               The wild rose opens

               its soft machinery--
               a tenseness fired into

               song, or a nest
               for losses.

there's a perfectly natural and yet very odd identification here with the outside world of birds the title announces, internalized -- and by identification of both place and activity ("I roost" which looks ahead to the "nesting" in the poem's closing). it's endearing bordering ever so slightly on the precious. the opening and newness of bones looks ahead to the opening rose later in the poem, but there's also a kind of indecisiveness at this point over whether the poem is going to go for creeley-esque cut lines and enjambment or a longer romantic lyric. then the leap to the two (really three) rhetorical questions comes outta nowhere, really disorienting. is the head an amplitude, what? fantastic. only to return us back to the wordsworthian child (as father-of-the-man perhaps), but not before nature is yoked to the machine in good surrealist fashion. (with perhaps an allusion to burroughs?) the wonderful closing lines -- "a tenseness fired into // song, or a nest / for losses" -- offer a better description of creeley, or niedecker, or any truly great lyric poetry than i've come across lately. this poem really takes us from the endearing almost naive communing of self with nature, through the expanded mind and back to very tight and intense imagery.

gray's work has all but disappeared and is in definite need and deserving of bringing back into print. below is as thorough a bibliography as i can come up with. looks like from a quick tally of the book publications we have a 300-350 page collected poems waiting to be compiled. so fill out those interlibrary loan request forms, poet-scholars, and let's get to work!


Excuses. Madison, Wis.: Abraxas Press, 1969. 8pp.

The beauties of travel. [Bowling Green, OH:]Doones Press, 1971. 28pp.

Good morning: 14 sonnets (with Allan Kornblum). Oakland: Stone Press, 1975. 14pp. [Note: "These sonnets first appeared in Strange Faeces magazine."/ "This is J Stone Press weekly nos. 48-54/June 16-July 31. First anniversary, septuple issue. 81 Bermuda Triangle Spaceport, Planet Zuban."]

Something swims out. Iowa City: Blue Wind Press, 1972. 90pp.

Scattered brains. (with 3 phtotgraphs by Tim Hildebrand). West Branch, Iowa: Toothpaste Press, 1974. 77pp.

Crabs. Berkeley: Sombre Reptiles, 1978. 20pp.

A dog's life: poems rural & domestic. Berkeley: Poltroon Press, 1978. 32pp.

Ruby port: the food poems of Phillipe Mignon (translated by Darrell Gray). Berkeley: Sombre Reptiles, 1979. 45pp.

The new conventionalism: observations on a mode of contemporary American poetry (prose?). Berkeley: Sombre Reptiles, 1979. 11pp.

Halos of debris. Berkeley: Poltroon Press, 1984. 67pp.

Essays and Editing

Essays & dissolutions. Madison, Wisc.: Abraxas Press, 1977. 155pp.

The Actualist anthology (edited by Morty Sklar and Darrell Gray). Iowa City, Iowa: Spirit That Moves Us Press, 1977. 144pp.

Suction (edited by Darrell Gray). Iowa City, Ia. Three issues, 1969-1973.


Days, on the back (with Raymond DiPalma). Bowling Green, OH: Doones Press, 1971. [5] leaves. [U CONN]

The catastrophic unrush of beauty (broadside). Iowa City, Iowa: Blue Wind Press, 1972.

A correspondence. Norwich, CT: [G.P. Skratz], 1974. [1 postcard ; 10 x 15 cm. "J Stone Press weekly no. 15. SUNY-Buffalo.]

Lullaby. Norwich, CT: [G.P. Skratz], 1974.
[1 postcard ; 10 x 15 cm., "J Stone Press weekly no. 16." SUNY-Buffalo.]

Morning. Norwich, CT : [Stone Press], 1975.
[1 postcard : ill. ; 16 x 11 cm., "J Stone Press weekly no. 26," picture by Stephen Homsy. SUNY-Buffalo.]

A big day at the pit: noon to midnite, Sat. Dec. 20. [1 folded sheet ([4] p.) : ill. ; 22 cm. Non-actualist convention ;; no. 1; Actualist convention ;; no. 3; "Some introductory remarks" by Darrell Gray. 1975. SUNY-Buffalo]

I've had over 12 visions this week. Oakland, CA: [G.P. Skratz], 1975. [1 postcard: ill. ; 10 x 15 cm. "J Stone Press weekly, no. 66. SUNY-Bufallo.]

This is just to say. Oakland, CA: [G.P. Skratz], 1976. [1 postcard ; 10 x 15 cm., J Stone Press weekly no. 81." SUNY-Buffalo.]

Poem for annabelle patience kornblum. Berkeley, Calif.: Poltroon Press, 1979. [Broadside. Univ of Arizona.]

Wreck o' lections. San Francisco: Transitional Face, 1987. [Poems. "150 copies printed ..."--P. [2]/ Five folded sheets containing poems by Darrell Gray, Alastair Johnston, Anselm Hollo, and Allan Kornblum laid in a multicolored illustrated paper folder.]

Under the dragon's shadow. New York: Stele, 1997. [Broadside. Printed on speckled brown paper./ Title in upper left corner./ Short passages of poetry printed at different angles./ At lower left statement of authorship: Merrill Gilfillan; Darrell Gray; Ray diPalma, 1971./ Colophon at end: Stele, New York City, 1997. Brown University.]


Ron said...

Darrell was enormously talented and at heart a very nice guy, but alcoholism washed over him like a tsunami and as a result a lot of people stayed away (save for a few who tried to save him and a few who helped to fuel his drinking). He got bitter about that towards the end.

Curtis Faville said...

Darrell was still in Iowa City when I arrived there in 1969. He'd graduated from the Workshop the season before, and was sort of hanging around looking for a scene (this was before Kornblum (Toothpaste) and Mattingly (Search For Tomorrow, Blue Wind) and Morice (Gum, Dr. Alphabet) hit town the next Spring and Fall). We met in the old Mill Tavern one afternoon--a big spread of his poems had just appeared in Poetry (Chicago) magazine and I told him I thought the stuff was just terrific, which flustered him (I guess no one had ever really praised him to his face). I thought then, as I do now, that Darrell was really a closet Formalist (something people have said about Berrigan at times, in the same way) who'd accidentally wandered out the garden of verse into the empty fields of vers libre. He was full of ideas and very eclectic in his wide reading and taste(s), much the same way that Ron Silliman is.

Darrell later took up seriously with the "outsider" scene in Iowa City, and tended to shun the formal Workshop bureaucracy. Mattingly and Gray and Company would attend the university readings and cackle and hoot from the back seats. They tended to identify with Anselm Hollo, who had come to the Workshop about the point that Berrigan was leaving. Anselm was the radical element inside the whale.

Darrell was essentially a shy person, who had grown up quietly, raised (I think) by his Mother in Oakland; he was self-effacing, a chain-smoker, and was even then starting to drink heavily. He visited us at our farmhouse Northwest of town one afternoon, and polished off a bottle of sauterne in 20 minutes. When drunk, he tended to loosen up, and when really tight, became somewhat incoherent and rambling and "in your face."

We lost touch in the mid-70's and I didn't see him again until about 1976, at a reading in San Francisco. He was slobbering drunk that night, and I could hardly understand what he was saying.

His selected earlier poems, collected in the Blue Wind edition of Something Swims Out, contains most of his best work, in my opinion. I think he killed his talent through drink, but I'm not altogether certain he had that much good work left in him, even so. His pronouncements had become increasingly rigid (like the doctrinaire surrealists)--I thought Actualism a trumped up "movement" with no real authenticity outside Darrell's mind. The most authentic thing about him was his talent, which was evident from the start.

The one basic fact about him was his loneliness. That was impossible to miss.