Saturday, May 09, 2009

`The Rebellion of Particulars'

I was saddened to learn of the death of Robin Blaser, the American-born poet who became a citizen of Canada. Next week he would have turned 84. An early friend and colleague of Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, he was not the sort of poet I would typically read but in 1994, in preparation for a telephone interview with him, I ordered The Holy Forest, his de facto Collected Poems. I found little to understand but much to charm me. Blaser was best appreciated as a poet of fragments and illuminating phrases.

I remember our interview on a Friday evening in October. I resented the lateness of the weekend hour but the interview turned seamlessly into conversation. We spoke at unexpected length about Whitman and Yeats. Blaser seemed flattered that a newspaper reporter from upstate New York knew his work. He was courtly, deferential and funny. See what the Canadian poet George Bowering says of his friend:

“Robin did not put up with any crap from politicians or poets who put themselves before the world and its languages. And he did everything in style. When one of us would push him in his wheelchair and down to his chosen spot outside the hospital for a cigarette, he wore his favourite beret. When we gathered at the hospice to be with his sleeping person in the last couple of days, we shared martinis and Blaser stories. Now, I would like to suggest that we honour Robin today by spending the early afternoon in our housecoats, and reading Maimonides.”

I had attended a memorial service for a friend, a much-loved professor of English, and arrived shortly before the start of Blaser’s reading. Clearly, he was a raconteur, a performer-poet who loved being on stage. His reading was more conversation than recitation, and I observed he was a serious chain-smoker. Afterwards, he shook my hand, embraced me, said he loved the story I had written, and asked why I came late. When I explained about the memorial service, he ignored the poetry groupies and asked me to tell him all about my dead friend. As he was ushered off to a reception which I didn’t want to attend, I asked Blaser if he would sign my copy of The Holy Forest. Here’s what he wrote:

“for Patrick, Robin Blaser [I assume: it’s a scrawl], first meeting 26 Oct. ’94.”

That was my 42nd birthday and our final meeting. This is from his “Dreams, April, 1981”:

“so it is death is the
condition of infinite form –
the rebellion of particulars,
ourselves and each thing,
even ideas, against that infinitude,
is the story of finitude…”


Judith Fitzgerald said...

Thank you, Patrick; although this made me weep all over again, these tears flow freely, cleansing, thank you. Of all the snippets you'd quote, you quoted the very one I was recalling when those lines just appeared before me on the page at exactly the time the prayer for Our Lady, on 8 May, is said around the world. Frank will tell you about his public-school name; but, lovely, truly lovely and clear-eyed true, too. (I'm so happy to know you made him feel good, though; really, that's what I meant to say and convey.)

Anonymous said...

gosh that's lovely poetry.

i especially enjoy the idea of wearing a housecoat & reading Maimonides, not that i know anything about M but i like the name.