My Blue Muse Writing Life

October 11, 2004

35 Anniversary for SPD

This weekend was the 35th Anniversary for Small Press Distribution (SPD), and I attended the celebration held in Berkeley. 5 Bay Area Poets read: Justin Chin, Diane di Prima, Lyn Hejinian, Michael McClure, and David Meltzer. There was a wine and hors de ‘oeuvres reception beforehand and a book stand where you could purchase books for a signing to follow the reading. In flipping through their books, it occurred to me that most of these, di Prima, McClure, Meltzer, were West Coast beat poets, while Lyn Hejinian was a language poet and Justin Chin an avant garde, performance poet. I purchased Diane di Prima’s “Pieces of a Song” and Lyn Hejinian’s “The Fatalist” and enjoyed a glass of plastic cup of wine which mellowed me into a perfect mood for an afternoon reading. The crowd was composed of fifties-ish, upper middleclass, white women and men. The volunteers were much younger and dressed in their Sunday best. Everyone seemed happy and looked as if they were looking forward to an afternoon of poetry.

I was really excited to hear these poets, as I’m trying to open myself up more to different schools, an obvious shortfall in my experience. The reading was held in a church and the acoustics weren’t that great. It was echo-y and hard to hear. If the poets were too close to the mic it sounded muffled, and if they leaned too far back it was impossible to hear them at all. This was a bit disappointing when hearing clearly is critical to enjoying a reading. Alas, what I heard was great.

What I remember:
• Diane di Prima read a portion of a book length post 9/11 poem called Towers Down that was very moving.
• Justin’s work was exciting and uncontainable. He read one very long, as of yet unpublished poem which was fantastic. I would have liked to have heard more, but alas, that was it from him.
• Michael McClure was the clearest reader and he read several poems from a much older collection that paralleled the state of the world today.
• Lyn Hejinian was the hardest to hear. Because of this I didn’t get a real impression, but I have her book and will read it eagerly.
• Last was David Meltzer, who was my favorite. He read clearly and mentioned that his work used to be short but it was getting longer and longer—that maybe he had a poetry tapeworm. Ha! My favorite was a poem called Shimah (sp?) which he told us was Jewish for “Oh, Here.” Another favorite, and his final poem, was accompanied by a bass and had a real Beat feel to it.

Posted by mybluemuse at October 11, 2004 3:59 PM

Hi PJ!

I'm enjoying your journal so much. The layout is uncomlicated and beautiful, the writing is fantastic, and the photos of poets are fantastic. I bet a lot of people will benefit from your journal, especially isolated writers like myself (in Germany) who aren't able to attend workshops and readings regularly, at least not in English!

I so envy your access to a flesh and blood community of writers. Although the online writing community is amazing - I wouldn't trade being a part of it for anything. Not a thing.

I'm really impressed with the volume of your submissions, and how organized you are about it. I've just concluded a 6-month hiatus from writing and submitting (during which time we moved from Japan to Europe), so the thought of submitting so abundantly is an inspiration.

I agree with you about the push, or rush, to publish. At first it was all about my ego, needing to KNOW, to be told by other people, that I could write. That I was on the right track, appreciated.

Now that I feel happy in my writing skin and could honestly care less about rejections and acceptances, it's more about sharing. Just like you said. I think the desire to publish HAS been tarred and feathered, and it's a real shame.

The only reason I write now is to feel an intimate sharing, a connection to others. It's vital. Not only a connection to my readers and contemporaries, but a connection to all writers, in some small way, throughout the ages.

That said, back when I was hungering for acceptance, I got trigger happy and submitted to many online journals. Although I got published by them no problem, I now look back and grimace. Many of those poems needed a little extra love before being shoved out of the nest.

It's a little embarrassing that anyone doing a search on me will inevitably read those half-baked creations. Ah, well...I just have to remind myself, try to convince myself, that they would not have been accepted if they had no redeeming value in the eyes of the editors.

I'm going to add your journal as a link in my blog. I hope people take advantage of the wealth of knowledge you have packed in these pages. I'll be coming back often.

~ Jalina

Posted by: Jalina Mhyana at October 12, 2004 6:45 AM

Jalina -
PJ's worse half here. Once when we saw Billy Collins speak he said that he was so embarassed by his first couple of books that he has been trying to buy up and destroy all copies in recent years. Obviously that was tongue in cheak as you can't really erase your past or your past work. You just have to accept your past work as part of what makes you the artist you are today.

Posted by: Martin at October 12, 2004 9:37 AM


You know sometimes I wonder if I'm rushing in the sense of wanting to get a book manuscript out before a chapbook manuscript. But after reading Whimsy's,, and Victoria Chang's experience,, I feel it doesn't hurt to get both out there, as it might take years to win a first book contest.

Anyway, I'm glad you're enjoying my blog, it's nice to know someone out there is. I've added you to my blog list, so I'll keep up reading yours, too.


Posted by: PJ Taylor at October 12, 2004 5:49 PM

Hiya PJ!

Just checking your website and re-reading some of my favorite poems. And checking out the online journal. The poem you are referring to by Meltzer is "Sh'mah" and it means "Oh, Hear" in Hebrew. You'd have no way of knowing this unless you were jewish and went to Hebrew school, but the "Sh'mah" is a very important Hebrew prayer for Jews.

Put more poems up on the website! I want to read more....

Posted by: Stacey at October 13, 2004 1:45 AM
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