The Necessity of Poetry
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Dear Reader: I have in front of me the Curriculum Vitae I have never had the stomach to finish. Even now, I can't bear to face it: these lists under headings like Teaching; Degrees; Literary Editor; Fellowships and Awards; Publications: Books, Magazines, Anthologies, Tapes... Okay, at last something whose irrelevance is a little bit interesting:

1991: The Book of J, interpreted by Claire Bloom (Caedmon, 1991)
1993: A Poet's Bible, interpreted by Michael York (Dove Audio, 1992)

Both of these tapes strike me as comical. In Michael York's case, he reads my translations as if they were scripture itself, so that it comes out a kind of tug-of-war with anti-scripture. Not that I would put it in my car stereo. Mostly I like real-time ancient ecosystem recordings when I drive, especially of the Everglades. To me, this is what scripture ought to be. (If you live in Ontario and drive much, let me recommend to you the CD "The Slow Peepers" ((exquisite frogs)) by Phillip Schreibman, recorded live in Washago).

Under the category "Anthologies" I like the first and the last. First was "Canada First" (Anansi, Toronto, 1971) which I haven't seen in ages. I think it was edited by Dennis Lee. "Primary Trouble" (Talisman, NJ, 1996) was edited by Leonard Schwartz, Joseph Donahue, and Edward Foster, all of them innovative poets. I am just reading a first book of essays by Schwartz, "A Flicker at the Edge of Things," which contains remarkable invocations of Robert Duncan, for one.

You can find out more about my involvement with Canada in the recent issues of OPEN LETTER: A Canadian Journal of Writing and Theory, 9:8, Spring, 1997, and 10:4, Fall, 1998. I found out as I was writing these essays just how much I remain grounded in my Coach House past.

For the past six years I have been living in Miami, near the Everglades, while writing a novel in collaboration with my wife, Rhonda Rosenberg, an environmental scientist and writer. It is just finished, The Eden Revelation: An Evolutionary Novel. My editor will try to convince us to rewrite the thing "more simply." Like, give us a "simple" definition of an ecosystem. Okay, here it is in one word and phrase: complexity, beyond our simple imaginations. For us, the book had to encompass many genres, including a chapter in verse, but the crucial pull is the psychological one, recreating the anxiety of having to emotionally process the evolutionary facts of where or who we are (the two - where and who - merge for us). The where is not landscape, though many still think of nature in terms of landscape. If you think instead in terms of species, your primary texts become their lives, their histories - our prehistory and future. As our necessity becomes more and more how to read them (to save our interior lives) it returns to the necessity of poetry.

I couldn't tell a male plant from a female one back in 1973, but I was still trying to extricate myself from that ignorance I didn't even know about. "The Necessity of Poetry" is a book of extrications, I believe, from various cultural landscapes. All landscapes are cultural, and threaten to smother us while we're not looking. So it seems to me, now as well as then.

Here's a list of the old books:

Excellent Articles of Japan (Coach House Press, Toronto, 1969)
Disappearing Horses (Coach House Press, Toronto, 1969)
Headlights (Weed/flower Press, Toronto, 1970)
Night School (Voiceprint Editions, Essex, England, 1970)
Paris & London (Foreprint Editions, Toronto, 1971)
Paris & London (Talonbooks, Vancouver, 1971)
Leavin America (Coach House Press, Toronto, 1972)
A Star in My Hair (Foreprint Editions, Toronto, 1972)
Frontal Nudity (Telephone Books, New York, 1973)
The Necessity of Poetry (Coach House Press, Toronto, 1973)
Some Psalms (Angel Hair Books, New York, 1973)
Blues of the Sky (Angel Hair Books, New York, 1974)
Blues of the Sky (Harper & Row, New York, 1976)
Job Speaks (Harper & Row, New York, 1977)
Lightworks (Harper & Row, New York, 1978)
A Blazing Fountain (Schocken, New York, 1978)
Chosen Days (Doubleday, New York, 1980)
The Book of J (Grove Weidenfeld, New York, 1990; Faber & Faber, London, 1991; Vintage, New York, 1991)
A Poet's Bible (Hyperion, New York, 1991)
The Lost Book of Paradise (Hyperion, New York, 1993)
The Book of David (Harmony Books/Random House, 1997)
Dreams of Being Eaten Alive (Harmony Books/Random House, 1999)
Books (continued)

Congregation (editor) (Harcourt, Brace, 1987)
Testimony (editor) (Times Books/Random House, 1989)
The Movie that Changed My Life (editor) (Viking/Penguin, 1991)
Communion (editor) (Anchor Books, 1996)
Genesis: As It Is Written (editor) (HarperCollins, 1996)