October 03, 2016

Getting Love Right

Just a little time, to get love right

— Akilah Oliver


Scatter rocks, petals, tea leaves, bones — they will fall into patterns reflecting and reflected by stars, planetary movements, traffic, bullets, the vortex of a hurricane or arc of a single wave. What makes a locality local? How do we know the places we live? Through their negative spaces, borders, sources of light, or the details that one leaves behind to reside here awhile?

To evoke a history is a matter of tuning: the act of selection laden with what has been forgone. Questions of tone, texture, address, rhythm — these particulars all clamor. Whose voices came toward me from the Poetry Center’s newly indexed “Courseshare” drive of recordings, destined for residence in the Poetry Center Digital Archive, was a matter of chance divination and personal resonance these fleeting days of August 2016.

One name, Akilah Oliver, leapt up at me the moment I agreed to curate a few selections from the archive. Others presented themselves or were stumbled upon as I combed the drive and correspondences evolved: Diane di Prima, Al Young, Raúl Zurita, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge.  These artists speak across time to us and with each other, weaving trails of sound between memory, erasure, embodiment, and knowing.

So those coming from down south or back east arrive in the amalgam of San Francisco and make this a site of writing. So San Francisco looks at Los Angeles and Los Angeles looks back. So reverberations of the 1973 coup d’état in Chile, featured prominently in Steve Dickison’s selections, send aftershocks of stunted light that still rumble Bay Area shores through voices such as those of Raúl Zurita, Cecilia Vicuña, Ishmael Reed.

We hear and see the static: video images flickering and breaking down, sirens careening through a poem of roses, a camera stuttering the poet’s words — residue of our shaky, human being-ness. One is forced to think about time. How it loops and folds in on itself. How it is all now again.

Diane di Prima calls forth mythic and political time from when she took up residence in San Francisco in 1968 — “the diggers had just been digging” and poets were reading on the steps of City Hall and from the backs of flatbed trucks. Al Young brings Mexican folk song and political satire in the black oral tradition with O.O. Gabugah “out to smash your bourgeois ass,” as if today were echoing 1974. Mei-mei Berssenbrugge in 2014 invokes the sacred space of no time, speaking from the old McRosky Mattress Factory on Market Street, closing the distance in consciousness between people and plants: both “have in their cells particles of light that can become coherent.”

And then there is intimate time — a time of the body, a time of the body and its passing, a time of memory and “disremembering,” a time in which Akilah Oliver says, one might “realign the possibilities of identity” from “a political or conceptual concept of blackness,” a time in which “this victimization shit is not stable, and the victors either,” a time when Oliver was with us in February 2010, one year before her passing, revealing to us the many ways in which those beyond us live through us asking, “am I now the dead person?” Oliver reminds me that we are in time, of time, and that we need time, “just a little time, to get love right.”

Diane di Prima, June 21, 1974

On this Summer Solstice at the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University, di Prima remarks on poetics, her writing process, politics, astrology, myth, and the I Ching. She reads from Revolutionary letters (1971–1980) and Loba (1978).

Diane di Prima on her arrival in San Francisco from New York in 1965 and her book Revolutionary Letters.


Diane di Prima reads “San Francisco Notes” from Revolutionary Letters.


“This is the Dream itself, the dream where Loba reveals herself.” Diane di Prima reads from Loba.


“Is there other time than too late?” Diane di Prima reads an unpublished excerpt of the long poem “Loba” from her notebook.

Al Young, May 25, 1974

Decades before he became California Poet Laureate, Al Young reads from Some Recent Fiction (1974), The Song Turning Back into Itself (1971), Geography of the Near Past (1966) and Dancing (1969) at the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines (CCLM).

“The only way to love a city is to live in it until you know . . .” Al Young reads “New Orleans Inner Mission” from Some Recent Fiction.

“By we, I mean the community.” Al Young introduces the character, O.O. Gabuggah, and reads “The Old O.O. Blues” from Geography of the Near Past.


“What beautiful eyes you have.” Al Young sings the Mexican folk song Malagueña Salerosa and reads a poem by the same title from his book The Song Turning Back into Itself.


Al Young introduces and reads the first section of his poem “Two Takes from Love in Los Angeles” from Dancing.

Akilah Oliver, February 18, 2010

“Holy graffiti in the big night. Unstable shapes that won’t break” — Alice Notley

Akilah Oliver reads at the Poetry Center from the she said dialogues: flesh memory (Smokeproof Press / Erudite Fangs Editions 1999) and A Toast in the House of Friends (Coffee House 2009).

Akilah Oliver remarks on her poetic investigations into desire, memory, “a political or conceptual concept called blackness,” and “realigning the possibilities of identity.” She reads “Lover One” from the she said dialogues: flesh memory.


Just a little time, to get love right.” Akilah Oliver reads “In Aporia,” and “Go” from A Toast in the House of Friends.

Raúl Zurita and William Rowe, April 9, 2009

Preeminent Chilean poet Raúl Zurita reads from El Libro INRI (Marick Press 2009), followed by translation from William Rowe. This reading was part of the “Poetics of Healing” series curated by Eleni Stecopoulos, with the support of a grant from The Creative Work Fund. Through the series, Stecopoulos asks not only how can language heal, but how and when is it a poet’s task to try to heal the damage done to language; in this instance Zurita describes his book INRI as “a screech” he couldn’t get away from when unspeakable horrors of the coup were finally publically recognized on television.

Sorprendentes carnadas llueven del cielo/Strange baits rain from the sky. Raúl Zurita reads from El mar/The Sea, followed by translation from William Rowe.


Un rostro es un rostro es un desierto florecido/A face is a face in a desert in flower. Raúl Zurita reads from Flores/Flowers followed by translation from William Rowe.


Y serás tú/And it will be you. Raúl Zurita reads from Una ruta en las soledades/A Path in the Solitudes followed by translation from William Rowe.

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, April 26, 2014

Mei-mei Berssenbrugge reads from Hello, The Roses (New Directions 2013) at McRoskey Mattress Co. in downtown San Francisco.

“Because plants and people have in their cells particles of light that can become coherent.” From part one of the poem “Hello, The Roses.”


“I set my intention through this sense of moving into coherence.” From part two of the poem “Hello, The Roses.”


“You could be a person or you could be immortal.” From the poem “Immortals Having a Party.”


The video clips featured here are all from “unreleased” videos, a small selection out of approximately 5,000 hours of original recordings housed in The Poetry Center’s American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University. Most of the audio-only collection, 1954–1973, is presently online or soon to be posted as streaming and downloadable audio at Poetry Center Digital Archive. Some thirty recent programs, fromFall 2015 through Spring 2016, recorded and edited by arrangement with SFSU’s DocFilm Institute, are available as full streaming video programs (with a downloadable audio option). “Highlight” clips from these recordings are at Poetry Center Video Highlights.

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