Jack Foley
 
Jack Foley is a widely-published San Francisco poet known for his "spoken-word performances" which involve choruses. His Cover to Cover radio show, can be heard online at Berkley Radio KPFA www.kpfa.org

Jack Foley Day in Berkeley
Saturday, June 5, 2010

Celebrated at the Berkeley Poetry Festival
Courtesy of Louis Cuneo
Videography: Rhodespoetry.com

 
 



ON REACHING 70


SEPTEMBER SONG

(Septuagenarian)

US Army helicopters fly relief missions in flood-devastated Pakistan
Septuagenarian

Federal indictments charge US citizens with helping a Somali terrorist group

Septuagenarian

Agents check inside the mouth of a man arrested in a sweep near 80th Avenue and Hillside Street in Oakland

Septuagenarian

The federal judge who overturned California’s ban on same-sex marriage ended his ruling by saying the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians are being violated every day that Proposition 8 remains in effect

Septuagenarian

Ron Dellums ended his political career the same way he acted as mayor of Oakland—secretly and away from the public. The entire event was designed to create an alternate revisionist history that neither reflected the true nature of his work here nor the reality of the organizational chaos and daunting finances he’s leaving behind.

Septuagenarian

Google Inc. must stand trial in a lawsuit by a fired 54-year-old manager who said co-workers called him an “old man” and a “fuddy-duddy” while bosses told him he was a bad “cultural fit” in the youth-oriented company, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

Septuagenarian.

The San Francisco city attorney’s office sought a court injunction Thursday against two street gangs whose bitter rivalry has left 10 people dead in the past three years in the city’s Visitacion Valley area.

Septuagenarian

The California Republican Party already challenged to win key races this year in a blue-leaning state, has a new problem to deal with: The two GOP gubernatorial primary candidates are still tangling two months later. Meg Whitman “apparently hasn’t gotten the memo that the primary is over.”

Septuagenarian
The Senate confirms Elena Kagan as the 112th U.S. Supreme Court justice on a mostly partisan vote of 63-37.
Septuagenarian

One day during training camp long ago in Rocklin, Jerry Rice was spotted in the cafeteria at lunchtime carrying a plate with sparse offerings: mixed fruit, small salad and possibly enough animal protein to fill the upside-down lid from a jar. A small jar. Sharpest knife in the drawer. Entering the Hall of Fame.

Septuagenarian

Heat plus humidity equals home runs? C’mon. That’s the easy way to explain the events at Turner Field on Thursday night. There’s more.

Septuagenarian

“More than anything, he wants to shake that stigma he can’t pitch in the heat,” manager Bruce Bochy said. “He pitched a nice game tonight. That’s a tough club over there, and two pitches were the difference.”

Septuagenarian

Fairfax slaps a moratorium on PG&E’s Smart Meters.

Septuagenarian

“What name do you publish under?” “John Ashbery, though I occasionally use Robert Frost."

Septuagenarian

Back-to-School 2010. Night&Day door busters.

Septuagenarian

Kenya’s voters pass a new Constitution designed to curb abuses of power.

Septuagenarian

Ferrell is one of the stranger figures currently making movies and one of the stranger figures in the history of American film. Toward the outer limits of man-boy eccentricity. “Guys.”

Septuagenarian

A British drama that does more with three people than most movies do with a cast of thousands.

Septuagenarian

Chiara Mastroianni can’t save weak screenplay.

Septuagenarian

Dancing can’t help inept screenplay.

Septuagenarian

Why did this man renounce life and live 40 years like a grinch in a children’s story?

Septuagenarian

Monday: Sunny

Septuagenarian

“Earthsea” challenges longtime soundman

Septuagenarian

During the day, the housepainters. During the night, Netflix.

Septuagenarian

Blood sugar good. Pills. Periplum!

Septuagenarian

Friends. Darkness. Light. Overcast skies. Bright sunlight. Hybrid car. Son and daughter-in-law on way to Malaysia.

Septuagenarian

Something released from the world which I cannot change, cannot make better.

Septuagenarian

Horrible B.P. oil spill.

Septuagenarian

Cannot make anything better.

Septuagenarian

Dreams forgotten. Remembered sex. Kisses, tenderness.

Septuagenarian

”You’re the youngest septuagenarian I know.” “How many do you know?”

Septuagenarian

Work on time. In time. Time, says Hawking, is entropy. Ave. Vale. When Meshugge walks down the street. Sept (a long, long while). A long, long while.

Septuagenarian

 

*

After reading my poem, a friend wrote this:

Dude!  Great to hear from you.  Life is really wild chaos.  Won't go into it all just yet.  However, I relate to your 70 number issues.  They must make my 51 number issues seem silly.  In any case, one thing is sure.  You've had a hell of a lot of fun reading, writing, performing, recording, etc.  And your voice, for certain, is a perfect addition to the human poetic court-chorus-cast.  Additionally, you've sustained a very long and meaningful marriage, which is a feat I can't even envision attaining in the remaining months/years I have left.  I think life has been good to you.  Now, I do think life sucks for most people, but I think you got a better-than-average deal.  So, in general, I say that life isn't worth it for most people, but I think the cosmos has given you a relatively plush gig overall.  Cheers!
 

I answered:

All lives
Are deceptions
Of ourselves
Of others
The only joy
Is to break through
(In what may be
Itself a deception)
To an illusory
Sense
Of “The real”
Patterns
Repeat
The only joy
Is always
And never anything other than
NOW—
This sudden, illuminating, vanishing, flourishing, empowering, fructifying
Moment
Is the only
Joy
The only time
When we can stand clear of error
(Or believe we do)
And it is open
To anyone
No matter what
His or her circumstances
It is to experience ourselves
Not as suffering, complaining, miserable, happy, dissatisfied, satisfied, terrified
“Creatures”
But as (in the root sense)
Beings
This moment is nothing less
Than the heart of joy
And can occur
Even in the acutest of suffering
All life, said the Buddha, is suffering
Except
For this
Except for
This

[My friend answered:

Dear Jack:  Thank you for this, not just in the poetic sense, but also because this is the exact message my Buddhist priests try to get through to me, (with mixed success).  Anyway, I found it quite edifying.]

 

*

Leslie Scalapino
Dennis Hopper
gone to their maker
proving that dust
is only dust
no matter what or what’s—
Dennis Hopper
Leslie Scalapino
actor and poet
we are all dust
even Hopper
even Scalapino
no matter what or what’s
to this grave truth
we make obeisance:
mortal are we
like Leslie
like Dennis:
Close their eyes

*

Hearing Ella Fitzgerald sing an amazing version of “Perdido”—she had forgotten the lyrics—I wrote this:

When was it decided
That singing
Was something separate
From speech
When was it decided
That singing
Was anything other than
A mode of speech
When was it decided
That speech
Could be separated
From song
So that we could speak
But did not have to
Sing
When was it decided
When was that bad
Decision made
That birds
Sang but did not
Speak
That song
Was to speech
As soul
Was to
Body
When was it decided
That the sounds we make
As we walk daily in the air
Were anything
But
Song?

*

What is the status of private property in a world of collage and shared information?

 


 

Click here to open a PDF of  Jack Foley's poem, CHARMES,
extracted from his recent book KING AMOUR, published by Argotist Online, 2010.

 


NOTES TO “CHARMES”

            This sequence was written in 1972. The poems in “CHARMES” are, I believe, different from other experimental work of that time, though they were influenced by writers such as Clark Coolidge, John Ashbery, David Melnick, and Larry Eigner. The poems arise out of what is perhaps an ecstatic over-reaction to individual words. They are in that sense an example of “pure poetry.” The title was meant to recall both Paul Valéry and a kind of candy from my childhood. I was also aware of the etymology of the word “charm”: Latin, carmen, song—and of course a spell. I had also been reading Heidegger at the time, so the word “gathers” in the opening poem has overtones of the Heideggerean Logos. That the sequence was made up of twelve parts was not accidental. Virgil’s Aeneid (twelve books) suggested that I should work with Roman numerals. The ambiguity of many of the phrases was intentional.

            Immediately after writing “CHARMES,” I offered my friends (all of whom were quite puzzled) a statement:
 

  All of these poems are about the movement OUT of the self: one which I haven’t included talks about “egotism withOUT substance”--that is, with substance that moves outward: that’s the “crossing” that’s crossed, the bender that’s ing-ed (made process), the fundamental gesture & movement of everything—a gesture & movement which nevertheless leaves “you” a sort of “nothing,” a nullity, a zero: consciousness.
 
            My idea about “the movement OUT of the self” is a direct reflection of my reading of Charles Olson. I would put it somewhat differently now. The poems centered—intuitively—on words which, removed from context, were simultaneously nouns and verbs (the word “drone,” for example). As such, they were related to passages like these:
 
  A true noun, an isolated thing, does not exist in nature. Things are only the terminal points, or rather the meeting points of actions, cross sections cut through actions, snap-shots. Neither can a pure verb, an abstract motion, be possible in nature. The eye sees noun and verb as one...Like nature, the Chinese words are alive and plastic, because thing and action are not formally separated.

—Ernest Fenollosa, The Chinese Written Character As a Medium for Poetry

 

 
                          it is not the point

either of the hook or the plume which lies

on this brave man’s grave

—on all of us—

but that where they cross is motion,

where they constantly moving cross anew, cut

this new instant open

—Charles Olson, “LETTER FOR MELVILLE”
 

One has to drive all nouns, the abstract most of all, back to process—to act.

                        —Charles Olson, “Against Wisdom As Such”

 

            The quotations from Dylan Thomas in VI (“Poem on His Birthday”) and XI (“In My Craft or Sullen Art”: “the strut and trade of charms”) were meant to suggest that such perceptions were present in that poet also. Many of the poems in CHARMES are about a moment of pain or bewilderment which is relieved by the ecstatic discovery of a noun/verb. In VII, two noun/verbs (“Spelling” and “Wind”) are followed by a threatening substantive: “Razor.” The result is “Silence.” (There is also some play in the fact that the line about “silence” is in quotation marks, so it is “spoken.”) These poems were struggling to tell the story of a kind of return to life: “Frontly! / (...he’s back).” In “The ALL”—my numbers racket—the zero should be at the very center of the page; I imagined “1” as “one,” and the “all” I had in mind was influenced by Emerson’s essay, “Nature” (“I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all”). Of course, “all” numbers are generated by the sequence 0-9. “Utters leaves” in VI recalls Whitman’s “I Saw in Louisiana a Live Oak Growing.” The “she” in IX was connected to Gertrude Stein, whose works I had been reading with great interest. Number VIII is dedicated to my friends, Richard and Judy Segasture. I had been signing letters “Frontly,” “Folly,” “Foully”—punning versions of my surname.



Copyright ©  2010 Jack Foley