Antler’s Original Poem (1968)
Antler's original poem for Kenneth Rexroth is what I based my online poem on:
Rexroth as He Appeared to Exist
March 24, 1968, 5:15-9:00 P.M.
It were as if he were slowly falling asleep,
Sitting in that chair, while everyone at the party
asked him questions.
Suddenly I wondered if someday I would become
And if I would, as they asked me questions,
tilt back my head and for a minute or so
pretend to doze, eyes peering under lids,
And I wondered if then, in that future crowd,
There would be anyone like me who once
could not think of any questions to ask.
And only through my mind the thought: how soon
he will be dead,
An that's the way he’ll look in a coffin,
his head back like that
with Halley's Comet hair
And the crowds whispering A GREAT POET HAS
yet feeling about as sad as old men do
when they see a boy lose his beauty
and become one of them.
Years from now when I hear the news of his death
I will remember that night and this poem
Shivering a little as I did now and as I did then,
with the thought of salmon shooting
up the rapids of his brain,
What he was as far as Orion, as near as a grosbeak,
And what he is now —
the sound of mice moving
in the walls of his flesh.
—Antler, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Volume 19, Number 1, Fall 1968 http://www.bpj.org/PDF/V19N1.pdf#zoom=100&page=26
Comparing my version with Antler's, one can perhaps see how I was both looking back in time to 1968 when Antler published his Rexroth thoughts in the BPJ and later in Last Words in 1986.
Looking back and then looking forward to now 40 years later revisiting Rexroth as he was then—perhaps as the way both Antler and I are now. Political poetry then—the Viet Nam War—has changed somewhat now with the Iraq War. Between the two wars a great deal of water has flowed under the bridge.
The politics of engagement—and disengagement. Have they changed much at all for poets? Sam Hamill continues his mentor Rexroth’s anti-war commitment with his Poets Against the War anthology and blog.
As I read Revolutionary Rexroth: Poet of East West Wisdom by Morgan Gibson, it’s interesting to trace Rexroth’s changing POV as he moves from San Francisco to Santa Barbara and then Japan.
So I did my own Fabulation on Antler's Rexroth poem and posted it. Earlier in 1979, I got a letter from Antler saying how much he enjoyed Chicken (1979). A year later he came out with Factory (1980), a rather depressing City Lights pocket series chapbook about how working in a factory kills the soul and creates a dehumanized mindset that's totally anti-Whitman and suicidal.
I mentioned to Antler that we've been discussing Rexroth's political poetry in the NYTimes Elba Exile poetry and Latin American Literature forums; and that I'd been posting poetry about Rexroth, Bolaño and Pessoa in an online Thread series in Snarke.com, my modest literary blog, i.e., cleaving Rexroth, Bolaño, Pessoa poems over into a new format modeled after a fellow poet Phuoc-Tan.