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Monday, January 6, 2014

Poetics of Listening: The San Francisco Poets


CW 881-02 Poetics of Listening: The San Francisco Poets

Spring 2014, San Francisco State U., Creative Writing: Tuesdays, 7:00-9:45 pm, HUM 211 (though we'll be meeting in the Poetry Center, HUM 512)

Steve Dickison, steved at
Office hours: HUM 511, Tuesday 6-7pm and Thursday 2-3pm

steved at

Under the rubric “Poetics of Listening”(*) this Spring 2014 graduate seminar will focus around the spectrum of Bay Area poets working from the period following World War II.  We’ll attempt to listen closely to what is there in evidence—in the historic record of published works and archival audio and visual recordings—with awareness keyed to the poetics and theory contemporary with the poets.  Under this emphasis, the course is being offered for the first time at San Francisco State, and will give us the pretext and permission to dig into the wealth of work of the poets famously associated with this place, and to explore new territory in our own writing.  

We’ll also be listening acutely for what is not so apparent (what is, maybe, ‘present in its absence’) on the “San Francisco Scene.” So, we'll be locating our initial lines of inquiry in among the celebrated “Berkeley Renaissance” poets (we'll spend time, especially, with Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, and Robin Blaser).  It's my sense right now that we'll benefit most greatly by a fairly concentrated emphasis on this triangle of friends, "great companions" (as Blaser put it) who individually and as a group have exercised enormous continuing influence on later poetry.

[Alternately, and owing to time to a smaller degree, we could explore some of their “San Francisco Renaissance” compatriots (e.g., Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, Joanne Kyger, Bob Kaufman, Michael McClure, John Wieners, Helen Adam, David Meltzer, George Stanley). These names needn't however define our limits.]

Specific subject areas of research and writing will be related to individual students’ directions. Students will be responsible for research, engagement in a seminar-styled setting, and original writing in response to their own and our collective work as a group.There are a lot of directions in which your work might go. I'm very interested, once we get some grounding, to step outside the "usual suspects" view of Bay Area literary history. Ideally we'll seek to expand inherited impressions beyond the given picture.


At this point, in addition to a course reader (which will be provided via PDFs, supplied by myself and by students), we will all be reading two assigned books: 

The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer, ed. Peter Gizzi (Wesleyan, 1998). An edited transcription of Spicer's four remarkable talks given in the last year of his life (1965) while visiting Vancouver and then back home, at the Berkeley Poetry Conference. Spicer illuminates his own work and poetics, focusing around his concept of poetry written by dictation, the serial poem, his work in process, and the conversation as he saw it between poetry and politics. An essential document.

Robert Duncan in San Francisco, a memoir by Michael Rumaker (City Lights/Lost & Found, revised edition, 2013). Black Mountain College student, writer of fiction, who moved to San Francisco briefly in the late 1950s. Along with its focus on Duncan, this book's a unique picture, from the perspective of a young writer of imagination, of queer San Francisco in the postwar/cold war/McCarthyist/homophobe 1950s. (The intro and first chapter is posted at the link above.)

Steve Dickison directs the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at SF State, and teaches in the Department of Creative Writing, as well as in the Writing and Literature program at California College of Arts. Author of Disposed (Post-Apollo Press, 2007) and Wear You to the Ball (performed as a collaboration with new music composer Bill Dietz, 2009), with poetry published in Hambone, Mandorla, Aufgabe, Vanitas, Amerarcana, et al. Co-editor of Shuffle Boil: a magazine of poets and music (with David Meltzer, 2002-06),
Prison/Culture (City Lights Foundation, 2010), and Homage to Etel Adnan (Post-Apollo, 2012). Research and writings have centered on music and poetry, and historic Bay Area writing. Curator of the 2004-5 exhibition Poetry and its Arts: Bay Area Interactions 1954–2004, for the Poetry Center's 50th anniversary, at the California Historical Society; guest curator in 2006, for Recent Visitors: Poets and Publishing on the Bolinas Scene in the Seventies, at Book Club of California, San Francisco. 

(*) The "Poetics of Listening" seminar was originally introduced by late poet and SF State faculty member Stacy Doris, who died in January 2012. In many ways, this new manifestation of the course will be happening in her honor and under her influence. I am remembering Stacy's acute attention to sound—as heard, generated, reproduced, détourned—and to an always active practice of listening in all its modes, alongside her relentless inquiry and explorations into historic and radically new poetic forms. As Norma Cole said, "Poetry and the world of imagination meant everything, were everything for Stacy." We remember.

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