Thursday, October 23, 2014

¡¡¡¡¡¡¡ Viva Lamantia !!!!!!!

Philip’s Poetic Prophecy
for


San Francisco!

Yes, Happy Lamantia Day, a celebration on the birth date (October 23, 1927) of the late great poet Philip Lamantia.  I’ve posted something here each year since I started way back (ha!) in 2008, and while this is nothing yet like the annual glass of cognac and three roses on Poe’s grave, let me take a few minutes to remember, honor, and enjoy the continuing vitality of Lamantia’s work.

Of all the vibrant (sometimes darkly vibrant) wonder of Philip’s poetry, I
am today while re-reading The Collected Lamantia thinking on the native son aspects of his work.

To focus on San Francisco / Frisco (Philip proudly used the latter term, with its working class roots and sonic force, in his poetry from about 1980 on) is reductive, of course, given the very worldly (and otherworldly!) aspects of Lamantia’s life and work.  There’s lots of Mexico and Spain, for example, in the poetry, and other places too.  Lamantia was no provincial, that’s for sure, and I’d have to agree with anyone who suggested that the idea of Elsewhere (capital E intended) is central in the work. 

But still, The City was Philip’s hometown, and there’s plenty of it  in the poems.  I pointed out some of this when I wrote and posted about The Collected Lamantia a year ago (click here to see): the fog, waterfront, autumn atop a hill, etc.).  There’s plenty else as well, from bits of childhood recollection (what was in his father’s garden) to particulars of place (e.g., Mission Dolores and Crissy Field) to more wildly imaginative or surreal images. 

Among the wilder San Francisco-specific lines, one of my favorites is this, from near the end of “Other States” in Meadowlark West:
The patch of summer fogs screws the ears of the forest city

I dig the energy there, the way the torque and in-your-headness of the incoming fog gets conveyed.  I think of this often when I happen upon the fog rolling in against the slopes of Mount Sutro and Mount Davidson, San Francisco’s very tree-y mid-city hills.  The former is pictured here:

The patch of summer fogs screws the ears of the forest city
Most compelling to me, though, are Philip’s prophecies about San Francisco.  There may not be a lot of them in the work, but Allen Ginsberg early on famously called Lamantia a “soothsayer,” and so perhaps Philip’s vision(s) regarding  San Francisco’s future are something to behold. 

Philip’s primary poetic  prediction for The City remained consistent over the decades, and is both startling and, more and more these days seemingly more and more exactly right, given the increasing awareness of possible environmental changes compared to fifty and twenty-five years ago when Lamantia wrote his poems.

Check out these wild lines, from the prophetic / apocalyptic “Last Days of San Francisco (1962) [emphasis added here, and in the quotations that follow]:
streets of water, masonic columns vaporize
chinabowls scream in steel bridges
          an old subaqueous tune, rambling
Goldengate spangles, Ferry Boat— Yerba Buena, isla del sol— a
hundred moons vibrate to MONEY, dissolved in yet/pot odors

[ . . . ]

I see the Cosmic Intervention! I see water over San Francisco!
I see God putting you down, moneylovers!
PLAGUESVILLE!
The astrologer: BREAKUP BY SCHIZOBOMB I see oceans over
    Berkeley!
I see
        the Angel’s
                           FIRST WEDGE COME DOWN!
That is some beautiful energy, including the sounds of Goldengate spangles, the neologisms PLAGUESVILLE and SCHIZOBOMB, and the mimetic rhythmic propulsion of the final three lines. But the main point is the emphatic way Lamantia puts the imagined aqueous future.  There is little doubt that it is a-coming.

Similarly, see these lines from the much later (1989) “Once in a Lifetime Starry Scape” (written on the night of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, 25 years ago this month!), in which Lamantia envisions a beautiful and quite different Telegraph Hill (re-christened “Bear Hill” or “Avian Hill”) in North Beach, in which the prominence (on which he lived) is surrounded by . . . (natch) water!:
I dream a moat between this Bear Hill I inhabit
and those buildings of monolithic glass
a stone bridge to this new island of three thousand,
later less than five hundred humans on it,
but before contact, brown bears, owls, oaks, bobcats
and lost bird species— now only fifty or so, resident to rare
It could be, again: Avian Hill, a new Ys in reverse
outlasting earthquakes from its Franciscan stone formation
a true Frisco, “haven in a storm at sea
to seed a coming cycle . . . 
That there is a beautiful vision, panoramic in its sweep.   

I think the idea of San Francisco inundated was, for Philip, but a return to what had been.  Consider please the following lines from the mid-1990s poem “Unachieved”:
Frisco once also covered with ancient waves
a kind of lost Atlantis several kalpas ago
Today, I believe in Philip’s poetic vision of San Francisco covered, or mostly covered, in water.  I mean, it feels right.  It’s Lamantia Day, after all.

And who knows, someday, perhaps we’ll all go for a swim down Broadway!  

Flip-turns against the top of the Pyramid!   

Float and splash about both sides of Dolores!   

Scuba through the Mission!  

Tidepooling at the edges in the Outer Sunset!  

Deep dive the Excelsior!

Happy Lamantia Day! 



2 comments:

Doug Stein said...

Oh Philip Lamantia!
What is America to do
Embrace its most emphatically ecstatic visionary
No
Not for you

No
Portion of
Fox news
Brought to you by
Becoming Visible

No
Children reciting
Blue Grace
Trance-ported to
Sacred gardens
Within Roses
Re-born

Only magnificent smoldering
Joyous Flame Seed
Eucharistic bread word
Wine

Fermenting
Grape Minds

John Olson said...

Thank you for this, Steve. I see Philip building an ark & filling it with rosaries & wine & wild mustangs & heading to some Bermuda of the Imagination à la Prospero. The contagion to the south that is Silicon Valley is the reverse of everything Philip valued. May his spirit continue to disturb & dismay the Technocrats & cleanse San Francisco of the homogenizing juggernaut of gentrification.