Spontaneous Poetics – (Ed Marshall)

AG: I got turned onto that partly by Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, which were divisions of thought into the spaces of a notebook page, but for larger draughts of thought, or larger breaths of thought, I got turned on to this form of open-page broken phrasing arranged in series out on the page by a long poem called “Leave the Word Alone” by Edward Marshall, which is [was – sic] in and was, I think, the first, about 1958, breakthrough of this kind of block form, where thoughts were spread around on the page in a sort of logical order as they emerged from the mind of the writer.
“Leave the Word Alone” (that’s the title of Ed Marshall’s poem) is a long rhapsodic poem which also influenced me in rhythm for “Kaddish”, but I think it was one of the single monuments of original notation of thought on the page that was produced in the post-War period. Ed Marshall, (a) friend of John Wieners. The poem was originally published in The Black Mountain Review, edited by Robert Creeley, in 1957 (so the date is probably 1955). And it was different from Williams, because it was a more rhapsodic poem, dealing with his mother and aunts who were in (a) bug-house in Boston. It was sort of crazy, like Christopher Smart, but it had that element of continuous breath that wasn’t exactly (a) measured long line like Whitman or Christopher Smart – that was broken-thought-ed, fragmented thought, but the thoughts had relation to each other, in terms of their speech, so it arrived at a form that was unique, and which I later used a lot as a model. The nearest of my own texts like that is a poem called “To Aunt Rose”. And Frank O’Hara had somewhat of that same arrangement too – so I guess Frank O’Hara’s poems were contemporaneous with Ed Marshall – but Frank wasn’t writing (quite) that intense homosexual rhapsodic style. So for that rhapsodic style, (as a) modern Hart Crane, I think Marshall is the originator.But we still have the problem, yeah, chance. Yeah?

Addenda: “Marshall’s Service” by Allen Ginsberg – (Introduction to the 1979 Pequod Press edition of Leave The Word Alone) –


This poetry serves for recurrent sacrament as given in Noon at Toxcatl
“…the beauty of
the boiled red and blue of the
seat of the emotions – the heart -”
The Creed or vision or most raw experience was shown to Irving Rosenthal, one of Edward
Marshall’s early editors & connossieurs, as
I believe is He
that comes as a germ
in and out and in
my feces…”
Like Christopher Smart, obscure in theological reference, as obscure as citizen, this poet’s retired in privacy at time of these writings to bleak sexual apartments in a great dying city. And there to ecstatic transcriptions of Peyote in Brown Church
“If I were to have heaved thee up/ O Earth”
and we hear a Refrain,
so characteristic of Marshall and Smart, one of many odd quotidian refrains mixed with archaic sacramental diction.
The figure of Steve Jonas returns (with Alice O’Brien) as in John Wieners mythos, here’s Last of Jonas Cycle, an older traditional form, the Epistle now wisely used, for a personal (not impersonal) quarrel – a social or moral ideological hassle between two brothers/sisters
Eighteenth Century divine Letters, free style twentieth-century poetics, again similar to Smart in mad sound, as the choruses of Hellan, Hellan roar louder in Bellen (The Bellowing Bear). Again Marshall’s similar to Smart as prophet personalism’s spokes-man with odd rich common language in eccentric mouth saying Let Us Sit And Meditate
“Let us sit and meditate
and we shall do things
and get places
before the Government
ever gets there

And now the knee-caps are
shaking –
and the knee-caps touch the
ground –
Yes, watch he is kneeling –
And he sees the stars above – ”

extended rhythm of Hellan, Hellan stays in my mind a decade as of this preface, it was a lovesong through the religious coverings, a love song in 1960 Hell.
Leave the Word Alone – I first saw text in 1956 in San Francisco. Creeley (perhaps the earliest Marshall editor-connoisseur) had a sheaf of blue paper onionskins, in strange-typed open-page form – the poem was scattered all over the page more (as in first published version Black Mountain Review #7) – now it goes downpage in logical order, one breath suspended beneath another, the ideas as phrasings clearly stepping downward indented to the end of each thought, each thought a sort of strophe broken within itself, as if analyzed and divided by breath/idea line. I Thought shewing parts in profile, each long-breathed idea-sentence diagrammed into phrases.
Hearken within each unit a kind of strophe-antistrophe antiphony – Biblical apposition they call it?

take it any longer – pressure
and she ran away.”

That antiphonal extra phrase is an extra memory-detail rising at the end of first impulse thoughts, it’s form of the recall while typing that forms the verses, gives logical after-echo thoughts of particulars to each assertion, completes references with minute detail for Bodhisattvic explanation. “Add alluvials to the end of your line when all is exhausted but something has to be said for some specified irrational reason, since reason can never win out, because poetry is NOT a science. The rhythm of how you decide to “rush” your statement determines the rhythm of the poem in verse-separated lines…” – J. Kerouac 1959 explained his own similar practice.
Here telling about his mother, as I told mine in Kaddish, so here’s Marshall’s original Confession, that inspired my own, I copied his freedom of form, and wildness of line, and homeliness of personal reference:

“She reads nothing now for she is catatonic, dementia-
praecox among the wolverine
gang of girls who
couldn’t get what they
wanted in the ’29

“If I can finish this poem without cracking up and becoming
victorious onslaught resurrection
It was the first of August that she couldn’t
take it any longer – pressure
and she ran away.”

This poem was in Don Allen Anthology (with Kerouac’s & Olson’s essays on freedom of breath mind tongue) which did influence Poetics in 1960-1970 period till partly forgotten in a flood of obscure rhymed crap issuing from Rock and Roll technology, late synthetic Republican rock & roll, money and vagueness – but this Ed Marshall text is sharp-tongued prophecy, and poetry must recover the sincerity, awkwardnesss, naivete, and absolute seriousness of his revelation of his own sources of emotion, (early traumas and momma in madhouse unrecognizing him)
I remember kneeling over Marshall over a decade ago 8th Avenue 28th Street NY thanking him for displaying a model memorial family poem, model of what’s now tritely called “confessional” poem as if consciousness to fellow human beings to break the human ice (as G.Corso named a mood) were somehow emotionally degraded – Oh no, it’s an honor to bear witness to real tears, real tragedy, real one and only life, our own self archetypes honestly revealed as in Leave the Word Alone – This is the antidote to official poison gas and Mechanical Button Bomblets electrified o’er the nation – one human voice in wilderness stillness repeating the charming story of self truth. Ecstasy, yes, paroxysms of realization noted social. This piece is historic, like the poem Mayakovsky prophesied “At the Top of My Voice” :

“excavate in future like a
piece of rocket ship on moon”

Re-reading the text I’m amazed that in this time the poem and poet haven’t become classic, known to all youths in Nixon years of impersonal secret thought with hidden feeling and up-tightness dominating Nation from Whitehouse down to street robber – everyone in America a thief living of thievery from nature or man, thus secretive & shamed of inner thought – So that this poem, and the type of poem that rises from it, is emotional medicine to the Nation.
Where public speech is stilted, or cold, or conventional to police Bureaucracy, the speech of innermost private family thought becomes manifesto and standard of human (as opposed to non-human bureacratese, objective rational disconnected from raw meat body feeling) emotion & public discourse – no matter how un famously the speech is, modestly writ along and buried in Black Mountain Review or the memories of a few poet survivors of the ’50s, or poet youths who check the Don Allen New American Poetry 1945-1960 Classic Anthology.
This speech is still good medicine for the young of another generation who will have to break through Party conditioning of “thought, feeling and apparent sensory phenomena”, have to break through the nationalistic-ideological murder (mass-murder Good American as one recognizably Good German) “cool” apathy to reach, express, manifest, vocalize their own experience – actual momma knowledge, actual national grief, actual city subjectivity and personal body-lore.
Yes Duncan said it was grief driving those mad bombers through the skies to turn Indochina Heaven into US manufactured Hell this our last decade. Despite this poem. And it is the obscurity of Marshall’s poem & the excess publication given to the last several Presidents’ poems, the reversal of value in public discourse, the mass marketing of bad White House poesy that has allowed this emotional and physical holocaust to develop. Grief over what we’ve done to our fellow yellows, our planet, our selves – Bombed out in soul forever: America’s taken to violence to shield itself from the living grief expressed here in Leave the Word Alone.

“And Harry visited the hospital to see my
mother – faint recognition –
She was gone, not gone, asleep – no more

This tender tone exact shorthand detailed hurried recollection, inspirations-on-the-wing from memory, uncovered my own natural style in Kaddish several years later.
I know it’s strange to praise another Poet’s work for influencing your own, but I have fame and name and shame of money where Marshall has none, yet much of my reputation rests on an original breath of inspiration that came from Edward Marshall’s own body lone unlaureled Prana intelligence, lung.

Marshall explains his breakthrough, in an extra Fragment of ..the Word:

“for it was the Holy Spirit
that made me jump out of my seat -”

Examining his book (December 13, 1972, men returning from lunar voyage) see how prophetic Mischief of the Spirit is, beginning and ending:

“The larger the territory
the greater the claim
into all space
not for sale –

And don’t forget the alchemists
and all the chief priests
who will wiggle their way to the moon.”

Well yes little slight generational social comments linking fad and style to Apocalypse too, as The Nabi, adorn the book.

“Thank God for the rhythmic generation
of bodily rhythms
For this is “the generation that seek him”

Another major anaphoric composition How Deep is Thy Love is vision of 1960s funky city apartment live as if in belly of whale:

“How deep is thy love because I did go out
on the roof this morning with the dog
and I felt September before the
Idea and then I discussed
color to sound.”

Absolutely quirky mad Smart – with some kind of hidden wisdom ram-rodding the poem forming a rhythmic spine – Emptiness and dispossession, he’s returned to natal New England & singing in the emptiness is at the edge of – over the edge of – compassion to himself and the world about which he sees, names and rhapsodizes around in the Deep Love refrained poem.
Yet it was thought for a decade to react, publish or comment – or read – this poesy, because it often seems it’s crazy punish-meant – till a familiar mood of hopeless human prayer sets in. So that you know he’s with You, You and You:

“I throw my manuscript and I surrender all, my
Dear, but God says that I must throw some
more of my conscience (pricks) at his
Son’s feet if I expect to be lifted high
angel-wise and go by I’s lifted –
archangels and lyres –
A little more surrender and you’ll go everywhere…”

What tradition is this? What poetic tantra?. Reading the Convicts I thought somewhere between Christopher Smart, Emily Dickinson, Browning and Gertrude Stein – there’s a lilt and logic to the short line interrogative prose arrangement – a quick form for self-interrogation same verse form as Last of Jonas Cycle. On That Web of Words, Marshall commentarys on his own method

“Short circuits –
or staccato
with no restraining wires
that give expectantly
to the next line
Short circuit…”

And Dramatic Silence provides a more classical explanation of method.

“The lyre of self-estrangement admitting sin
stroking these discords
then dischords
then chromatics
but then grace notes –
but only grace notes because of dischords –
disgraceful notes.”

An open-form poetry, projective or spontaneous has now become commoner practice than in the days when these excellent examples of natural individual. type of notation were scribed; it’s appropriate that as the innovative precision (accuracy to one’s own embarrassingly free mind) of original poet Marshall’s lines and divisions and breaks, chords and dischords, are finally published, they be available to younger poets for a working standard. Rule of thumb and sensitive ear and intelligent mind guide thought in these free forms, and many “minute particulars” keep the lines alive. Open form poetry when written popularly can also be a lot of slush, there is plenty of that in the ’70s. Marshall’s work is published just in time, to show the source of this style, and its native usage.
Thoughts rise. What mystic experience had he – all the way back to ’52 addressing “mortals on all Saints day”? like some XX Century Gerard Manley Hopkins. We can tell the divine Afflatus in How Deep is Thy Love among other poems. Yes and there’s the smallness of George Herbert, little poems with some complex image Fire worked out, ramified like Altars and Pulleys.
What major quality here? A unique sense of refrain powerful loud rhythm, Hellan, Hellan/Bellen Bellen, Leave the Word Alone, How Deep Is Thy Love all prove Marshall’s strange familiar genius of vocal movement, which others including myself can use, moved by his pioneer ear, and tongue, and lung. Andrei Voznesensky asked in Moscow in 1965 elevator to his apartment, “What language do you think in?”. I said something, Spanish, mostly English – He said I think in rhythm.

– December 27 1972

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