the glade of theoric ornithic hermetica

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Philip Lamantia Day -- 2019

San Francisco
and

– say it LOUD, say it PROUD –  

Frisco!   
– yes, my friends, FRISCO! – 
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Hey now, today’s the 92nd anniversary of the birth (October 23, 1927) of Philip Lamantia. Let’s cerebrate, and celebrate!

Lamantia was born (on Sanchez Street) and raised (the Excelsior District) in San Francisco, and for most of his life called The City home. Perhaps not surprisingly, his poetry – see please The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia (University of California Press, 2013, with a paperback edition published – hey now – just this month!) – occasionally alludes to places in or features of The City. His poems also contain many references to The City’s name. Almost all these allusions and references are found in poems written after approximately 1970, when after various world travels Lamantia returned to and settled back in San Francisco (the North Beach neighborhood).

Now, there’s no Fisherman’s Wharf, cable cars, Transamerica Pyramid, or Golden Gate Bridge in Lamantia’s poems (though there is “Golden Gates” (“Revery Has Its Reasons”) and “Goldengate” (“Last Days of San Francisco”). But the allusions to specific places in The City include, for example, Coit Tower (“Redwood Highway,” “America in the Age of Gold, ”and ”Other States”), Crissy Field (“Birder’s Lament” and “Diana Green”), Lombard Street (“Sweetbrier”), the Lombard Steps (“Shasta”), the Cliff House (“The Mysteries of Writing in the West”), the Shrine of Saint Francis (“Seraphim City”), Guerrero Street (“Deamin”), Market Street (“Meadowlark West” and “Reached the Turn”), Mission Street (“Virgo Noir”), Union Street (“Shasta”), Telegraph Hill (“Poetics by Pluto”), Grant Avenue (“Flaming Teeth”), Columbus Avenue (“Seraphim City”), the Embarcadero (“The Romantist”), the Presidio “Death Jets”), North Beach (Altesia or the Lava Flow of Mount Rainier”), Alcatraz Island (“Flaming Teeth”), Jimbo’s Bop City (“Time Traveler’s Potlatch” and “Bird: Apparition of Charlie Parker”), and Mission Dolores (“Fourth of July,” “Altesia or the Lava Flow of Mount Rainier,” and “Invincible Birth”).

There are also references in Lamantia’s poems to more general features of The City. These include “slanting parks” (“Flaming Teeth”) and “seven hills” (the number traditionally said to exist in San Francisco). There are also – and these are obviously more pointed and critical allusions – “solemn melancholic towers” (“Tonight Burned with Solar Slime”) and “buildings of monolithic glass” (“Once in a Lifetime Starry Scape”). Another example are allusions to fog, both direct, as with “[t]he patch of summer fogs [that] screws the ears of the forest city” (“Other States”), “[r]ed fog in the night” (“In Yerba Buena”). and “enveloped by grey moist density” (“Recall”), and metaphorically, such as “On a hill . . . / the gothic spread of the mantle” (“Irrational”).

In addition to the allusions to certain places in and general features of San Francisco, Lamantia name-checks his hometown in about two dozen poems. The name-checks are particularly interesting to me – and I hope to you – because of a shift in nomenclature that Lamantia made in the work written after approximately 1980. Before then, in nine poems published between 1959 and 1970, Lamantia exclusively referred to his hometown as “San Francisco” (see list below).

But that formal appellation disappeared – was never used again – starting with the poems in his collection Meadowlark West (1986), most likely written over the course the previous five years. In five poems in that book, and then again in five poems written and published thereafter, Lamantia when referring to his hometown chose to use not “San Francisco” but the contraction or nickname “Frisco.” And he not only chose to use that term, but used in often: it appears seventeen times in those ten poems (again, see list below).

As you probably know, many consider “Frisco” very wrong, gauche, a rube’s giveaway, a term to be assiduously avoided. This view has been espoused for decades, and in the last approximately half-century was primarily and quite solidly reinforced by the long-time San Francisco newspaper columnist Herb Caen (1916–1997), who in 1953 published a popular book about The City titled Don’t Call It Frisco.



Caen’s title served as a commandment, and most obeyed, although there were exceptions including perhaps most popularly the lyric, “Left my home in Georgia / Headed to the the Frisco Bay” as sung by Otis Redding in his 1967 smash (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay.

Lamantia rejected the cultural taboo on Frisco, using it repeatedly in his later poetry. Best I can tell, he first used the word in print in a short prose work, “Alice Farley: Dancing at Land’s End,” included in the anthology Free Spirits (City Lights, 1982) and republished in Preserving Fire: Selected Prose (Wave Books, 2018). Why this shift in names occurred is, I think, interesting to consider.

Around 1999, when Lamantia and I became friends and he was relatively socially active, the term “Frisco” came up in a conversation. He told me he liked it partly because of his contrarian nature, given that it was a term despised by many. But more important, he strongly disagreed that the term was inappropriate, recalling its use by old-time dock-workers and others when he grew up (1930s and early 1940s) , as well as by those in the jazz and drug cultures in the late 1940s and 1950s, and people he met on his travels in the 1950s and 1960s. He thus used the term proudly, including declaring “my native Frisco” in the late poem “No Closure.”

In addition, the word “Frisco” appears to have been embraced in the late 1970s by a subset of the ecologic counter-culture that interested Lamantia. Specifically, Reinhabiting a Separate County: A Bioregional Anthology of Northern California (Planet Drum Foundation, 1978) includes an essay on the Bay Area by the otherwise anonymous “Frisco Bay Mussel Group.” As explained below, Lamantia’s was highly attuned to Planet Drum precepts, particular regarding bioregions.

Lamantia also appears to have known of the findings regarding “Frisco” published by Peter Tamony, a self-taught collector and investigator of colloquialisms and slang. In 1967, Tamony published a short article, “Sailors Called It ‘Frisco’” in the journal Western Folklore. He conjectured, convincingly, that Frisco derives from “Frith-soken,” which meant “refuge” or “sanctuary.” In the words of journalist Lynn Ludlow, from whose writings I learned of Tamony, “[b]ecause San Francisco Bay is just such a haven, sailors called it Frisco Bay.” I don’t know if Lamantia actually read or knew about Tamony’s research, but it would seem so, given the line “a true Frisco, ‘haven in a storm at sea’” in his poem “Once in a Lifetime Starry Scape.”

In addition, I believe Lamantia enjoyed the consonantal and vowel crispness of Frisco. Admittedly, this an educated guess, but after all, as a poet Philip was intimate with the wonders of language, and there’s no doubt of the fricative, sibiliant, plosive power of the word’s consonants, to say nothing of the big round “o” with which it ends. Atop all this, of course, the word’s relative concise.

Finally, it seems to me – and this seems important – that “Frisco” fits best with a kind of alternative, re-imagined or prophesied locality and region that Lamantia alluded to in the poems in and after Meadowlark West. This alternative place included what he called “Calafia” (and related terms such as “Calafian landscapes”), an allusion to the fictional (from a16th century Spanish novel) Amazonian Queen from whose name probably comes “California.” Lamantia may have first heard, or been reminded of, Califia when it was used as the title of a very diverse Ishamel Reed edited poetry anthology, published in 1979 and which included two of Lamantia’s poem.

Calafia, as depicted in a painting in the Mark Hopkins Hotel
In Lamantia’s poetic world, Calafia seems to be a place encompassing all the greater bioregion of northern California and southern Oregon. This notion presumably stems in large part from Lamantia’s study of and belief in bioregionalism as developed in the 1970s and championed thereafter by Peter Berg and Judy Goldhaft of the Planet Drum Foundation. Lamantia’s friendship with those two visionaries and their principles is mentioned in “High Poet,” the detailed and beautifully written introduction to his Collected Poems (see page liii therein). More directly, Lamantia’s brief Contributor’s Note in the journal Caliban, No. 7 (1989) discusses the ideas of Berg and Goldhaft, characterizing the two as among the “central minds” of the Planet Drum Foundation. This poetic and re-imagined place certainly includes his hometown: in the late poem “Egypt II,” Lamantia specifically names “Frisco, Calafia.” That particular appellation makes clear that Lamantia has rejected, and wishes or foresees that others too will reject the dominant, ingrained political and cultural labels, paradigms, and structures.

Other elements of Lamantia’s alternative world include “Ohlone” and related uses such as “Ohlonian spring” and “these Ohlone shores” (the latter phrase appearing in “Redwood Highway,” the long opening poem in Becoming Visible (1981)). This, I believe, refers to the Bay Area or some part of it; as Lamantia put it in the Caliban Contributor’s Note cited above, “my specific re-name for the micro-bioregion I am re-inhabiting, OHLONIA.”

Lamantia also references “Shasta,” by which, to quote the poem with that title, he appears to reference an area “from Suisun Bay north to the Rogue River,” and which he implies is adjacent to “Frisco,” which, in turn, is a “diplomatic zone between [Shasta] and southern empires of regrettable memory.” This too presumably derives from the Planet Drum worldview, as that organization (and Peter Berg in particular) used the appellation “Shasta Bioregion”often, including in the mailing address for its San Francisco post office box.

More specific to Lamantia, I believe, is his re-imagining of Telegraph Hill, on whose slope he lived during the last decades of his life, as“Bear Hill” and “Avian Hill” (see “Once in a Lifetime Starry Scape”). The names imply a hoped-for return of animals and birds of the kind found there before arrival of European: a prophesied Frisco, one as different as the names Lamantia uses to describe The City and its place in our world.

Addendum: After reading the above post, Nancy Peters, Lamantia’s widow and editor of his Bed of Sphinxes (1997) collection, provided the following comment regarding Lamantia’s use of “Frisco”:
Philip didn’t believe that . . . Frisco was actually derived from the old Icelandic.  But he was familiar with Tamony’s findings, and he loved the coincidence.  That the word and the sound would have been used so long ago and that it referred to a refuge, sanctuary, safe harbor.  His own Frisco!
I thank Nancy Peters for the clarification and additional information.  Her her last sentence, I think,  should be emphasized: by using the nickname, Lamantia created “[h]is own Frisco!” For me, that’s a singular and beautiful poetic act!


A panorama of Frisco, Ohlonia, in the Shasta Bioregion, with Bear Hill aka Avian Hill in the foreground

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The Lamantia poems that include “San Francisco,” the name of the city, with date of publication, are: “Immediate Life” (1959) / “Last Days of San Francisco” (1962) / “U.S.S. San Francisco” (1962) / “Destroyed Works Typescript” (circa 1962) / “From the Front” (1962) / “Crab” (1962) / “My Athens Terrace Ruins” (1965) / “Altesia or the Lava Flow of Mount Rainier” (1970) / “Flaming Teeth” [two mentions] (1970) / “Tonight Burned With Solar Slime” (1970).

The Lamantia poems that include “Frisco” are: “Invincible Birth” [two mentions] (1986) / “America in the Age of Gold” (1986) / “Irrational” (1986) / “Other States” (1986) / “Shasta” [three mentions] (1986) / “Poetics by Pluto” [three mentions] (1986) / “No Closure” (1989) / “Once In A Lifetime Starry Scape” (1990) / “Unachieved” [three mentions] (1997) / “Egypt II” (1997).

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Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Harry Crosby and "Chasing the Sun"

Harry Crosby's The Sun -- a magnificent one-poem miniature book


Richard Cohen's Chasing The Sun

Richard Cohen’s Chasing the Sun (2009) is an “information-packed miscellany on solar worship and solar studies,” in Booklist’s words.  It’s easily the best recent general book on our Daytime Star.

Being a “miscellany,” the book favors breadth over depth.  Unfortunately, this means apt details are absent at times, dulling the presentation.  For example, the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaten is gets but a single sentence, in which it’s stated The Sun was an “all-embracing diety” during his reign.  That’s true, but there’s no mention of Armana, the city he had built where temples and doorways were positioned catch the rays of the morning sun, or of the “Great Hymn to the Aten,” the beautiful paean-poem  to the sun-disc god (sample line: “Earth brightens when you dawn in lightland”) attributed to him. 

The book’s treatment of Harry Crosby – five paragraphs over not-quite-two pages – is another example where a few more salient facts would have greatly brightened Chasing the Sun.  Crosby, called a “sun worshiper” and “fervent apostle of the sun,” is rightly included in the book, which includes a compact summary of his life, including his obsession with death and suicide. 

It’s also said that Crosby “develop[ed] an obsessive interest in imagery centered on the sun which he introduced into his own writing with a vengeance.”  Crosby definitely did just that, and it’s a key point.  But the book’s explication here is superficial.   As supporting examples of the obsession, Cohen simply references and explains a bit of the symbolism of  “Black Sun Press” (Harry and his wife Caresse’s publishing company), then name-checks three Crosby book titles (Chariot of the Sun, Shadows of the Sun, and Transit of Venus) that reference The Sun or solar activities.  These examples strike me as obvious and inert.

Most glaringly, Cohen fails to mention let alone describe “Sun-Testament” and “Madman” (aka The Sun), the two stellar examples of solar-saturated Crosby poems. 

 “Sun-Testament” is a prose poem in the form a will (the legal document disposing of one’s estate upon death).  As the title implies, it’s the imagined last will and testament of The Sun.  It was first published by Crosby in the collection Chariot of the Sun (1928) then expanded, revised, and republished as such in Mad Queen (1929).   In addition to introductory and concluding paragraphs that mimics or echoes language typical in a legal will, the poem in its revised version contains twenty-eight numbered codicils, each of which reflects on, or is emblematic of, Crosby’s creative energy including, for example (remember, the sun is the “speaker” in the poem):

          EIGHTH, I give and bequeathe to the planet
    Venus all my eruptive prominences whether in
    spikes or jets or sheafs or volutes in honor of her
    all-too-few transits.
                                           . . .

          FIFTEENTH, I give and bequeathe to Icarus a
    sun-shade and a word of introduction to the Moon.
                                           . . .    
          EIGHTEENTH, I give and bequeathe to Arthur
    Rimbaud my firecrackers and cannoncrackers,
    to Vincent Van Gogh my red turmoil and hot-
    headedness to Stravinsky my intensity and fire.

Gregory Wolff, who long ago now wrote what remains the definitive Crosby biography (Black Sun, 1976), opined (see page 7 of that book) that Crosby “was a wizard with figures, conceits, lists, [and] correspondences . . . .”  The fanciful and elaborate list-poem “Sun-Testament” is surely an example of the masterful at times magical intelligence of the poet. 

“Madman” (aka The Sun) obviously draws its inspiration from a passage from the “Ithaca” episode of James Joyce’s Ulysses, in which the narrator provides a lengthy catalog-list answer to the question, “What in water did [Leopold] Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier returning to the range, admire?”  The answer beautifully sets forth various features and qualities of water.

Crosby’s prose poem in a similar way expounds upon The Sun, for approximately 100 clauses, each separated by a well-spaced colon, thus giving each discussed quality or feature a kind of stand-alone forum of its own while keeping the reader’s energy moving ever-forward.  It totals a bit more than 900 words, and here’s a taste, from the very start, and then from towards the end: 
When I look into the Sun I sun-lover sun-worshipper sun-seeker when I look into the Sun (sunne son soleil sol) what is it in the Sun I deify — 
His madness : his incorruptibility : his central intensity and fire : his permanency of heat : his candle-power (fifteen hundred and seventy-five billions - 1.575.000.000.000.000.000.000.000.000.) : his age and duration : his dangerousness to man as seen by the effects (heatstroke, insolation, thermic fever, siriasis) he sometimes produces upon the nervous system : the healing virtues of his rays (restores youthful vigor and vitality is the source of health and energy oblivionizes ninety per cent of all human aches and pains) : his purity (he can penetrate into unclean places brothels privies prisons and not be polluted by them) : his magnitude (400 times as large as the moon) : his weight (two octillions of tones or 746 times as heavy as the combined weights of all the planets) : his brilliance (5300 times brighter than the dazzling radiance of incandescent metal) : his distance from the earth as determined by the equation of light . . .
[. . . ]
. . . his mountains of flame which thrust upward into infinity : the fantastic shapes of his eruptive prominences (solar-lizards sun-dogs sharp crimson in color) : his brilliant spikes or jets, cyclones and geysers, vertical filaments and columns of liquid flame : the cyclonic motion of his sports : his volcanic restlessness : his contortions : his velocity of three or four hundred miles an hour : his coronoidal discharges : his cyclonic protuberances, whirling fire spouts, fiery flames and furious commotions : his tunnel-shaped vortices : his equatorial acceleration : his telluric storms : his vibrations : his acrobatics among the clouds : his great display of sun-spots : his magnetic storms (during which the compass-needle is almost wild with excitement) . . .
Again, Crosby’s wizardry with lists is evident here, as is, more obviously, his obsession with The Sun.

“Madman” was first collected in Mad Queen (1929), of which fewer than 150 copies were printed.  That same year, Crosby published the poem as a miniature book titled The Sun, in an edition of 100 copies.  “Miniature” here is no exaggeration: the book measures 1" by 3/4" and the poem is printed in 3 point type, meaning each letter is about a millimeter.  Crosby’s book has been featured a couple times on the internet this year.  In February, a post quoted the New York Public Library’s Curator of Rare Books, who said The Sun is that august institution’s smallest book and that he needed both a magnifying glass and a reading glass to read it (click here to see the post, and photos of the book).   More recently, Fodor’s Travel featured The Sun in a list of “Tiny NY Sights” that should be overlooked (click and scroll down to number nine).  This is dang fine for a poem and book now 90 years old.


I love that Crosby made a book about The Sun as small as The Sun is huge. That inverse treatment of the subject is poetic – pure poetry to me.  This all makes it more of a shame that it Chasing the Sun fails to mention it.

I’m not sure why Chasing the Sun author Cohen didn’t mention “Sun-Testament” and “Madman” (aka The Sun).  Surely, a half-sentence about each could have been included.  Unfortunately, it may be that Cohen may not have read or even known of these two brilliant works: his footnotes only cite works about, not by, Crosby.  Whatever the reason, the omissions are unfortunate.  The presentation of Crosby’s poetic obsession with The Sun is dim where it should blaze.

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And yes, today’s the anniversary of Harry Crosby’s birth (June 4, 1898).  He’d be 121.  He died at age 31.  His writings – including his poetry – still live.



Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Philip Lamantia Day -- 2018



Love’s the thing in “The Talisman,” a four-stanza, nineteen line poem by Philip Lamantia.  The poem was first published in 1969 and is of course included in The Collected Poems of Philip Lamantia (University of California Press, 2013).  And this poem, with love at its center, is most certainly right for today, the 91st anniversary of the birth of the poet whose work I adore.  Let’s celebrate by reading – then taking a quick, closer look at – this most marvelous poem:
The Talisman

Only for those who love is dawn visible throughout the day
and kicks over the halo at the pit of ocean
the diamond whirls
all that’s fixed is volatile
and the crushed remnants of sparrows travel without moving

I find myself smoking the dust of myself
hurled to the twilight
where we were born from the womb of invisible children
so that even the liver of cities
can be turned into my amulet of laughing bile

Melted by shadows of love
I constellate love with teeth of fire
until any arrangement the world presents
to the eyes at the tip of my tongue
becomes the perfect food of constant hunger

Today the moon was visible at dawn
to reflect o woman the other half of me you are
conic your breasts gems of the air
triangle your thighs delicate leopards in the wood where you wait
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 “The Talisman” opens strong with a bold luminous assertion:
Only for those who love is dawn visible throughout the day 

That’s a declaration that’s stuck with me for years now, and how could it not?  It powerfully conveys that love brings fresh, sustained visions, and the certainty with which it’s asserted persuasively sweeps you into the poem, which with quick rhythmic lines then showcases a series of surrealist images and actions, some drawn from classic surrealist ideas, including the first stanza’s
All that’s fixed is volatile
which echoes a fundamental precept explicated by Andre Breton in the first chapter of L’Amour fou (Editions Gallimard, 1937), translated as Mad Love (University of Nebraska Press, 1987): 
The word ‘convulsive,’ which I use to describe the only beauty that should concern us . . . .” [ . . . ] Convulsive beauty will be veiled-erotic, fixed explosive, magic-circumstantial, or it will not be.
Much else in the poem, such as the  mix of interior awareness, vibrant action,  and what I’ll call “elsewhere” in the last three lines of the second stanza– 
I find myself smoking the dust of myself
hurled to the twilight
where we were born from the womb of invisible children
–strikes me as quintessential Lamantia: the words dust, womb, invisible, and children are among those that recur in his poetry (by  the way, I continue to hope for a concordance to his works).  Other they-can-only-be-Lamantia images, it seems to me, are “my amulet of laughing bile” (in the second stanza, and presumably the titular talisman), then “teeth of fire” and “the eyes at the tip of my tongue” in the third stanza.

In the final stanza, Lamantia brings back the dawn of the poem’s first line: 
Today the moon was visible at dawn
and by reporting on what he presumably saw just a few hours earlier Lamantia also neatly returns us to the right here, right now.  It’s a lovely reverie-bloom of an image, bringing together, as surrealists sometimes do, the opposites of night and day.   “[T]he moon . . . at dawn” might also to be verisimilitudinous detail of what was seen after spending a night at play and in conversation, a possibility heightened by the concluding lines identification of a particular woman as the animating source of the love-energy that has fueled the poem.   

The beloved’s importance and delights are marvelously celebrated in the poem’s last three lines.  Lamantia first directly declares  her spiritual and psychological value (“the other half of me you are”) then uses cadenced references to her breasts and thighs (“conic your breasts” / “triangle your thighs”) as a poetic springboard for vivid praise.  The geometry trope reminds that Lamantia had an avid interest in that field, including its philosophical elements.

The rousing images that conclude the poem suggest and celebrate his beloved’s rare and exalted beauty (“gems of the air”), and, via a  metaphor from the animal world (“delicate leopards in the wood”), certain of her pardine qualities, including, if I may I run reverie-wild with the image, a fine, fierce intelligence, lithe agility, nocturnal energy, and patient self-assurance
Today the moon was visible at dawn
to reflect o woman the other half of me you are
conic your breasts gems of the air
triangle your thighs delicate leopards in the wood where you wait
What a lovely, loving poem!  Yes I said yes I will yes!  

Happy Philip Lamantia Day, and

¡Viva Lamantia!

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“Today the moon was visible at dawn . . .”



Philip Lamantia
February, 1999
Beyond Baroque / Venice, California
Photograph by Michael Hacker

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Monday, June 4, 2018

Harry Crosby


Boston-born to a family of wealth (his uncle was J.P. Morgan), World War I ambulance driver (at the front, for a traumatic and transformative 18 months, including a searing miracle moment in which he survived a near direct hit by an artillery shell that vaporized his vehicle), Harvard grad (the accelerated two-year soldier’s  degree), expatriate (Paris), traveler (Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Venice, the Alps, trips back to the States), poet (he wrote seven volumes, all out of print, alas), diarist (the superb Shadows of the Sun), publisher (the amazing Black Sun Press, done with his wife Caresse) –  

Harry Crosby – 

believed in The Sun (the Sun above all), the beauty and delights of women (including but definitely not limited to his wife, plus one lover only imagined), books (he had thousands including first editions of Baudelaire
s Les Fleurs du mal and Rimbauds Illuminations), reading (naturally, given all the books but this was serious, obsessive, self-directed reading, of seemingly everything, including the Bible, Shakespeare, encyclopedias, philosophy and all kinds of literature), horse racing (as a bettor and an owner, ultimately not very successful as either), poetry (lots, but Rimbaud, Blake and Hart Crane’s “O Carib Isle” would be in his top five), the Revolution of the Word (see the Proclamation at the end of this post), certainty of opinions (just as one example, he excoriated his native Boston as a “Target For Disgust” and “the City of Dreadful Night”), intoxication (champagne, absinthe, whisky (he liked Cutty Sark), gin, rum, beer, wine, opium, cocaine, and hashish, for example), 1920s Paris (the annual and wild Bal des Quat’z’Arts for example), contemporary writers (James Joyce was tippy-top for Crosby, especially the “miraculous last paragraph of Anna Livia Purabelle,” but also Hemingway, D. H Lawrence, and Kay Boyle, among many others including the poets Crane, Cummings, and MacLeish), music (jazz jazz jazz but much else including Stravinsky’s L’Oiseau de feu), art (Van Gogh above all, but also Brancusi, Redon and many others, including Alastair and Georgia O’Keefe), the forging of souls (not simply the furnishing of such), flying (he witnessed Lindbergh’s arrival (“ce n’est  pas un homme, c’est un oiseau”) and later obtained a license and soloed himself), and yes, Death (he died in 1929, at age 31, with his mistress, and it was a scandal: a murder-suicide or suicide pact).  

If you don’t know his life-story, seek and ye shall find. 

Today’s the anniversary of Crosby’s birth – June 4, 1898 – and hey now people get ready it’s a mere five years to the Quasquicentennial! – and so I celebrate his poems and other writings.  I might just have an absinthe too. 

Philip Lamantia in his 1976 essay “Poetic Matters” rightly suggested that Crosby was a precursor of American Surrealism, along with Mina Loy, Samuel Greenberg, and Poe.  Lamantia called Crosby “a true dandy of explosive Promethean desire” who “left in The Mad Queen and elsewhere, signs of ‘Sadean’ magnanimity in the realms of mad love . . . .”   (Lamantia’s essay will be included in Preserving Fire: Selected Prose, to be published this October by Wave Books.)

True to Lamantia’s “true dandy of explosive Promethean desire” characterization, some of Crosby’s poems are fiery detonations of rebellious creative energy.  Three examples follow; you may agree the intensity is, well, intense.

First is “The New Word,” published in the Eugene Jolas edited magazine transition (no. 16-17, June 1929)
the famous Revolution of the Word issue (see the Proclamation at the end of this post).  It’s a short prose ditty, to be cheap about it.  More accurately, it’s a poetic manifesto or vision.  May its “Panther in the Jungle of the Dictionary” and “Diamond Wind blowing out the Cobwebs of the Past” jolt your lexical energy field:


Next up is “Empty Bed Blues,” published in Mad Queen, Crosby’s 1929 collection of “Tirades” (his word, used on the cover and title page).  The poem gets at, and well, desire and its aftermath.  I love too that it takes its title from Bessie Smith’s amazing 1928 record:


 In a February 10, 1929 diary entry Crosby recounted a small gathering of friends at which there was “a great drinking of red wine and the Empty Bed Blues on the graphaphone and a magnificent snowball fight . . . .”  And you know what?  Every party should have music and the stupendous Ms. Smith is always special so let’s enjoy: 


Finally, here’s “The Ten Commandments,” the final poem in Torchbearers, which can be considered Crosby’s final collection.  It was published posthumously in 1931 and features an afterword by Ezra Pound.  The Sun-God’s mandates are prototypical Harry-fever Crosby-fervor:



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 Here, as a coda,
is the
“Revolution of the Word”
 Proclamation
 (Crosby is a signer),
as published in
transition, no. 16-17 (June 1929):
 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Philip Lamantia Day -- 2017


Yes yes yes my friends it’s time again to celebrate the anniversary of the birth (October 23, 1927) of Philip Lamantia, the late great San Francisco poet (he died in 2005) and this year – 


– I’m throwing a stellar party for Philip: laid out below are the 145 (yow!) instances in which “star” or “stars” (or variants such as example “starlight”) appear in Lamantia’s Collected Poems

It would take a concordance to know for sure (and I dream that some day there will be one!), but my best guess is that “star” / “stars” and variants are most certainly among Lamantia’s most frequently used nouns, and they may well top the list of such words (and yes, I know I’ve included some adjectives below).  The reason why “star” / “stars” and variants are so common in Lamantia’s poetry is worth a celestial reverie or three, or probably, if I may borrow a phrase, billions and billions of such thoughts.  So focus your imagination’s Hubble-scope, channel your inner Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, and constellate a theory, will you please? 

For the moment, I’ll simply observe that while Lamantia’s poems date from 1943 to about 2001, his many uses of
“star” / “stars” and variants do not seem dated today at all.  Indeed, it might perhaps be said that Lamantia’s star-filled poems were ahead of their time – or should I say their space-time continuum – given the current and most welcome ascendancy of “dark-sky reserves” where we might more fully enjoy the  “cosmic energy engines” or “luminous sphere[s] of plasma” which populate the universe.

In any event, my fellow earth-dwellers, I hope you find the following excerpts a most scintillating intergalactic poetic trip!   Happy Lamantia Day star-gazing to all (please note, I
ve excerpted as many or as few lines from each poem as I thought necessary or fun, bolded each instance of “star” / “stars” and variants, and tried to preserve the formatting of the lines), and here we go: 

. . . leaving behind a limpid song
heard by a million murdered stars.

                         – The Ruins

O the mirror-like dirt
of freshly spilt blood
trickling down the walls
the walls that reach the stars!

                         – Automatic World

and with our mouths opened for the stars
howling for the castles to melt at our feet
you and I
will ride . . .

                         – Hermetic Bird

The naked lovers!  All of them, fifteen years old!  One can still see their hair
growing!  They come from the mountains, from the stars even, with their handsome
eyes of stone. 

                         –   A Civil World

Neurasthenics
with young blood
ride to the stars
with horses from Peru

                         – The Enormous Window

The stars are wet tonight
the naked schoolmasters
are no longer in the gardens of childhood
and the sea has been heated for lions

                         – The Enormous Window

Your body reclaiming the stars
lifts itself in a wooden frame
to be seen in boulevards
that twist themselves at dawn into my room

                         – Mirror and Heart

Butterflies have come to rest upon your lips
Whose words clothe the dancing stars
Falling lightly to earth.

                         – Awakened From Sleep

We have been carried here against our will

Burnt stars
Oceanic gardens
where the clouds are soaked into my eyes

                         – Celestial Estrangement

just as no one has the right to understand
why you were born in a house of cigarettes
or I in a howling star

                         – You and I Have Nothing to Fear

Rest assured
we have not been uttering a word
against the master
His leafy ears heal too quickly
and besides the stars have crossed over
our tight embrace

                         – You and I Have Nothing to Fear

To You Henry Miller of the Orchestra the Mirror
the Revolver and of the Stars of Stars

                         – [poem title]

You flee into a corridor of stars.
You sleep in a bleeding tree,
And awaken upon the body of trance.

                         – [You flee into a corridor of stars]

Your mask disappears in the sky
Leaving the veined star open
For my kisses. Your star, above
Pain’s phantom touch, slowly entering
The net of my arms to sleep again
In the rib’s infinite eye.

                         – Nativity of Love

This love’s knowing silence
Flows toward divinity;
Is a finger of light
Upon grains of sand:
Our golden stars of infinity.

                         – Autumn Poems

I am forlorn.
The berry under the breast
Breaks its sea of sorrow over my head.
Resting on stone, I think of my unending quest
For the morning star gone.

                         – [I am forlorn]

As I watch him, I wonder what alien wind
Drove the savage tooth, as a sea,
To his body’s star:

                         – Sorrow

We walk arm in arm in the country,
With stars and grains of sand
Gathered for apt communion.

                         – Night Vision

Unable to move and hardly breathing,
I am before the stars’ alchemy of light
And eternal marvel of blue of sky into darkness,
Becoming balm to my blood’s long agony
Of we two wrested from each other
In these dreaded days
And unholy divisions of our love.

                         – [Unable to move and hardly breathing]

Not unlike, I imagine, Adam
Before the Fall, a man in coition,
Rousing great power out of dust and clay,
With the first star of night
Brightly in his loin, is carried upward,
And knows the wordless speech
From a quick rush of water,
Transformed among pebbles and rocks,
And through the toneful wind
In a darkened forest of moving trees.

                         – Symbols

I remember the day fused with the night
In the dawn of a moment’s eternity,
And hearing your voice from beyond the starry wall,
I know what we knew together is the way,
Now and even when the seasons are no more.

                         – Another Autumn Coming

At the crossing of the winds,
under the morning star, the rose
plumed and the violet plumed, fly out
returning the treasures while the Spring Wheel
turns in the blossoming flowering.

                         – Revelations of a New Order

Ashes, like stars, fall into the sewers.
A bird, hatched no longer than a second,
Falls from its nest
Fated for no other wings than death.

                         – Break of Day

   And this was my dream that lasted from some dawn to some midnight in the
fallingdown room overlooking the oldest graveyard of Manhattan:

    the poisonous stars: benign
    the rootless tree: nailed to the sky
    the black pit: enclosing ladders of white light
    the icebergs of the mind: floating to the tropics . . .

                         – Inside the Journey

        Fire
Crackles beneath and above:
        Watergrown
stars overoute the wordtide.

                         – [Ground grade guard the crucible] 


On a smiling crevice of street,
He cuts, for death, the diamond of her eye:
Star plumed hands put it
Burning on his brow.

                         – [In a garden that isn’t, but will be]

They curve, craned in a surging stream,
Until spasmodic rungs flame to leap
Toward a deathbed star
Of the spherical deep: they rise,
Drop, love, bird/ript in a highted dream.

                         – [In a garden that isn’t, but will be]

A tongue grew tongueless:
The breath, a wail of stars
And black sky: a flying milk—

                         – [Flame gates open to water gongs]

And the madmonths whirled
To never-die-alone,
And alone they died in a lie
Of the wildbleet sound of starry truth.

                         – To the Music

To the flat lands by the hills of Suum Nar
to MarMagAgog, onto sidereal semaphores,
to leech/hung prayer fields of Avadon
to Triptika on the sunbelted Nile
     where fish is god
to stars unravelling the numena/number
      snaked in iceflames of Baruda
      whirler of the wild,
to Smarachet . . .

                         – [To the flat lands by the hills of Suum Nar]

O rocket me,
He who is mine is I
         and wins the Sky:
A Sun & Moon ago, kissed to stars,
a momentary string of sands to go,
                        arriving on the silent       sea     roar.

                         – [To the flat lands by the hills of Suum Nar]

Glory crasht on time
and burden of the stars
elliptical HEARTS convex

                         – Christ

three magi on the road
and star wheels to
B E T H L E H E M

                         – Christ

I’ve killed them, stars and chains of lust
                          before magi, magi, magi,
            Cavalcanti on the stairs
                                                 La beauté

                         – Les Langueurs Allongées

                    the trouble with the stars is
             they’re too far from my eyes to yours

                         – Sheri

             I am smoked to dryness

Stars of smoke who made this road throw up
                                                                     your eyes
                   which are closed in New York

                         – Ball

by the sun from the page     I wait
                                            as long
                                              as a star

                         – Ball

Winds have not flown longer than time we stopped
Whose sail hit the rooms where you looked into voids
—A beast on a star, Jaiba on the moon, the sunken tooth—
Stalks of madness tripled fire
And sent gardens under the sea

                         – Dead Smoke

The stars have gone over the mountain
Meridians later your smile broke glass

                         – Deirdre

            As some light fell
on the inescaped facade
    stains of interior cancer
            intervined the stars

                         – [As some light fell]

For it is all blest by God
             water, earth, stars, souls
which is to say, all is blessed IN God
and what is not, is not
for God is that WHICH IS

                         – The Poor Paradoxes

Last night Mike told me he believed the stars are alive
Today we walk with the yellow haired child

                         – Boobus

The morning is burnt with smells of cooking and cooked stars
It’s nirvana!

                         – Boobus

                      Come lion    -    come tiger    -    come ocelet
                  come coon    -    come weed       -       come leopard
                                   come saliva     -    come STARS

                         – McClure’s Favorite

                   It’s zenith!
zodiacal beasts phospher
and stars devoured white!

                         – Observatory

No longer the razor from a sheath of stars
      over the face of day
come back from night

                         – Intersection

It’s useless to ask who’s behind these eyes
set like stars in snow
or name the creatures coming alive
    out of the exploding iris

                         – Intersection

My coat covered the stars
                the bird gave me a cap of hair

                         – [It was a time I didn’t see the beast]

goats, gangrene and The Stars

                         – Binoculars [Michael McClure]

Who is the star dancer the turn the glide speed the changes

                         – Binoculars [John Hoffman]


                                All night long, aztec messengers arrived
                                                  and fell stars!
                                All night long, end of time
                                                  jaguar in her eye

                         – Memoria

Can I make it to windows of fur?
Can I soup up her eyes in a can of star milk and shoot it for light?

                         – Füd at Foster’s

These are not poems I wanted to make
Ones I wanted to didn’t come out
They’re stuck in star thief land

                         – Immediate Life

they call to me, holy fires
holy fires to send me forth out of Loon
holy fires behind stars
numena cabalas of Fiery Disk

                         – Orphic Poem

as we wove thru street’s half light, a junky
leaned his arm on the stars of my sleeve

                         – Politics Poem

GONG OF THE WORLD OF SENSE / GONG OF EQUILIBRAL
     STARS.

                         – Last Days of San Francisco

EARTH / STAR

                         – Last Days of San Francisco

Together we watched for ten thousand years
— the first five an age of monsters
and I laid open to the plumage of the stars
magnetic wands and gourds fell upward in a dance
that shook the lice of the ages!

                         – Time Is as Eternity Is: On the White Road: The Muse

. . .  if the stars were colors of her eyes

                         – [Shooting down to L.A. in an open car]

Rosa Mystica! Holy Woman lighted by afternoons
        in the temple
Woman lit with the sun, crowned by stars
Womb of universes turning over in her eyes

                         – The Juggler in the Desert

that doesn’t stop my cry your hurt
        your death these stars upset
                  in the circumnavigations of the bed

                         – [in every way i am dazzled by you]

Ah the communion of spirits talking
vegetables, singing stars,
cruel gods gored my loves

                         – Jet Powered Suicide

Is NOT.   And not— it’s ended,
as star
             watcher
             skyred.

                         – Jet Powered Suicide

My friend, you sing songs of burden
I’m singing of the silence of saliva, streets, stars
the invading of angels
at the moment of a singular embrace
           for all time given
to set us free among the beautiful limits

                         – My Labyrinth

it’s everywhere
                        in this passage of assaults
PRESENCE of a new star opened in my throat’s wisdom
                 Child! Hope! looking for the key in the roar of mazes

                                                                     FOUND

                         – My Labyrinth

Take a shell of cotton
move a river south
exact a city with rain
paint a sign with stars.

Little do we know.

                         – [Why write about “things”?]

                         . . . after getting lost unable
to find the steps down a million stars blacked
out by Mantle Night . . .

                         – Ceylonese Tea Candor (Pyramid Scene)

hoping we’d find the stone stairway
and there were few stars to illuminate us down

                         – Ceylonese Tea Candor (Pyramid Scene)

for fifteen minutes outside in the night I SAW THE LIGHT BEHIND THE
STARS
LIGHT THE DARK
AND MY EYES WERE FULL OF IT!

                         – Crystals

it’s the moment interruption of hallucinated stars
now fallen down in my room with poetry
falling with lights of shimmering brains . . .

                         – Kosmos

They come with a scratching star
with a mugwort of madmanes of the Head
that point all the faces of the Beast at once appear!

                         – Year of Weir

Beast of mudajangi
the Lord of Youth
his head the spindle of stars

                         – Year of Weir

and a thousand bird cries fallen diagonally from the stars

                return to batú bató the stars are calling

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 10)

inside the earth by the arrows of your quivering breath, poet
penetrate the fins of the sand star out of the mist to the house of the sand star

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 18)

Last night I walked on 9th Avenue and the moon was my guide
The stars guided you Christopher Columbus
And I talked for hours about Spain

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 20)

Not the sublime among these baroque enscrollations
but a thousand angelfaces, star tilted eyes
out of sweating, sun baked bodies burning me
conducting me to silences
and mend my heart to God’s—

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 22)

I came throwing shells and beasts godfathered
                             for suns moons and zodiacal stars

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 33)

her head’s foot spades my head
                               stringing stars . . .

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 33)

                              . . . in Hades
           a star thief found it
           and sold it in Siam.

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 35)

Through a village suspended like a star of blood
going into the rites of the old men
silence invaded me . . .

                         – Destroyed Works Typescript (# 36)




I’m Osiris hunting stars his black tail of the sun!

                         – [old after midnight spasm]

Every time I smoke a cigarette the Creator has blinked all stars time pebbles of
    water in a trillion second of man’s sodomite existence my words can not lie!

                         – [Immense black void . . .]

black star of Amapola

                         – [In camera of sempiternity . . .]

seers shift in stars Amapola in clutches of white lice

                         – [In camera of sempiternity . . .]

spilled on swords of history Morgenroth I carve yr face by starspilled mariahs

                         – This World’s Beauty

I keep stoning you with black stars

                         – Resurrections [It is I who create the world]

    I think a star in monster’s mouth
Incisions of frosted flowers take up on its lake
    its clouds turn into iron hooks
its oceanic tower turns in yr entrails

                         – Fin del Mundo [At the sleeper of inveterate cars]

     Lost in a crowd, the mark on his forehead untouched, his cat fell out of the
clouds. For this police gyrated to him. I make it on the poem he said. The room he
slept in turned into a star. Down he went against the magnetism of the Flush!

                         – The Apocalyptic [Lost in a crowd]

     I’ve come to the time of brain crashed stars diadems of implacable women turn
in sewers of Los Angeles. My corner of meat is a necklace of guts, Oh bug of eternal
recurrence!

                         – The Apocalyptic [I’ve come to the time]

. . . Gabagava and the rest of doomed bones of starshit.

                         – The Apocalptic [I’ve come to the time]

Who giveth birth to the Morning Star, Here’s the quiet cry of stars broken among
   crockery

                         – Morning Light Song

O beato solitudo! where have I flown to?
stars overturn the wall of my music
as flight of birds, they go by, the spirits
opened below the lark of plenty

                         – High

    Cups the legends reveal & the ancients
  are beginning to pass around as if they were ordinary
milk bottles for the children newly born from
           top branches of the Tree with its roots
                  going back
                        to the starfields of Every Night.

                         – The Ancients Have Returned Among Us

                                      the youth’s vision
             is a vibrant string plucked by the gods
                   over the field of stars

                         – She Speaks the Morning’s Filigree

Over & over the dusk of the Chant from the plain of Segovia
rings up the veil through which the deities move prisms of desire :
the cup that swallows the sword, the wands that shake the stars !

                         – She Speaks the Morning’s Filigree

                          Epiphany
                              in a starspangled leather jacket

                         – What Is Not Strange?

The stars have gone crazy
and the moon is very angry
The old civilization
that rolled the dice of Hitler
is surely bumbling
into a heap of catatonic hysteria

                         – Astro-mancy

Another civilization
secret for six thousand years
is creeping on the crest of
future, I can almost see the
tip of its triangular star

                         – Astro-mancy

What, then, is coming to be
from undergrounds too fast
in their bright plumages
flailing our brains
with the gash of birth ?
Something storing mercurial islets
and fungi of being . . .
and sold for altars
pitched to the stars !

                         – After the Virus

I would marry all the stars sitting on the face of the sea
like a traditional wolf of the absolute
sucking down the dish served up by the flood !

                         – Coat of Arms

    the forest before me
replaced
               by a cartilage of stars?

                         – Coat of Arms

and only the starlight consoles.

                         – Difficult First Steps

prayer is constant Magick, the single beam
coming from the Sky Crown: the sure stairway
that writes the stars as the Scales measure
what you see, how you stroke cats or when the time IS
to cross bridges between earth & air . . .

                         – Without Props

to the schisms
of star & seed

                         – Thorn of the Air

The green eye on my coat
loots the sun’s paradise of green eyes
star caught in throat is a green eye

                         – Interjections

          It is you, Christian Rosencruetz
in the surrealist star that cries with sphinx’s bluefeet
triple dogmatism of apocalyptic night
the Rosicrucian horseman is butchered by Knowing Skulls of Mount Atlas

                         – Interjections



Like the fond palm leaves of my childhood
That broke from my breast of stars

                         – [San Francisco melts as I come together]

Manikins come alive
Their livers suckable as plums and raging stars

                         – [The maginot line of poetry has not been invented]

I can watch the children climbing the diamond temples at every corner
And there’s a taste of bituminous wine
For the solar incubation so rarely conjured
But for your hair shedding the stars

                         – Ephemeris

I comb the stars
And they undress the moon with their nipples

                         – Out of My Hat of Shoals

Your feet spread like vibrant chords over rustling plastic dolls
Bleeding american flags planted into your eyes knit with nazi stars
Leather brassieres wave through the universal televisions

                         – [The mosque of your eye has exploded]

Pea brain is the star’s octopus sucker or is not to be
disturbed . . .

                         – Tonight Burned with Solar Slime

for the likes of the adepts
who smile through the velvet fissures of the centuries
that are Waves & Blankets of Stars
under which we are given, if we burrow long enough
for the hidden script, the Key to the King’s Shut Chamber

                         – The Adept

Suck the bark to your star’s ease that illumines One, the cavern above the storm
Two, the desire which is desired, and Three phases from virginal to torture.

                         – World without End

I can barely see you mixed up to be chopped like so many valentine hearts by the fierce
blades that I roll out of the black star!

                         – World without End

Here heady garbage glitters
through the sand its own perfection
between minute star-specks

and the infinite calling the grains . . .

                         – [Flying beasts]

Not only the Star Woman luminous within convulsions at the apex of your
     cascading dress

                         – Luminous Lady

The look of haunted beasts
Slaughtered long ago through crystal flakes
Shimmers from the imaginal tropic
To a star field of birds
Whose cries paint the sonorous language

                         – Redwood Highway

Sleep-
          Flaking
To the hinterland
In a circle bound by shooting stars
Ears beneath the sands of sable dreams

                         – Redwood Highway

Nearing sleep, this same wind rustles the void of bloodstained horses (my first cabals) whose galaxy dissolves with a kiss the victorious rescue of the palpable shadow streaming stars, her face: this bed, the undulant phantom: her hips.

                         – Primavera

The stars dress up their furrows

                         – Becoming Visible

Violet Star

                         – [poem title]

between a star’s gleaming shadow
and its great coat of morning stilts
thrown on a grave like a glove of drenched eyeballs

there is a splinter of green dust
luminously taking off for the hurried horizon

                         – Precipitous Oracle

My foot in the hair of spinning stars

                         – Life Sciences

In my hand cupping sun assassins
lines of mercury and unknown stars
     pure poetry of Pomo night

                         – Willow Wand

Perishing star systems Enough of a raid on the tsetse-fly

                         – Invincible Birth


 standing like a star over the slaughter house

                         – Black Window

Star War syndromes hang like purple flowers . . .

                         – Black Window

the lugubrious pianos dim out the song of star wars

                         – The Romantist

She’s in their mouths
        a house like a pyramid
        built with rectangulars
perfect pear of a diagonal
down to the stars picked from photic jargon
The hand that writes is worth an empire on the moon

                         – Virgo Noir

They say there’s a world outside me but I know better
Enlightenment in the kali yuga is a daily recurrence
shubahdu it’s over taking a long trip to the stars

                         – Virgo Noir

‘Move the prisms north
                the south direction is not propitious
follow the star . . . ’

                         – The Mysteries of Writing in the West

the card of Blazing Star in the slow drawers of the Far West

                         – Exorcist Exercises

the sheep have lunged from their star paths over Alhambra . . .

                         – Other States

to catch the ring of stars
                                       at the still point
of infinite sur-rational flight

                         – There

In the alchemical legends, there’s a certain star seen at the completion of the Work, appears on the silver horizon through the trail in the grove.

                         – Shasta

There are none there— but stars

                         – Haiku for Satie

Once in a Lifetime Starry Scape

                         – [poem title]

Yet, this city’s night is marvelous when there’s a general electric breakdown
The stars come down to us, I see Orion’s belt close up in the eastern sky
With three-quarter waning moon

                         – Once in a Lifetime Starry Scape

. . . We are hidden by stars and tars of this time

                         – Poem for André Breton

 . . . Revolution the Star in the West springs the play of foam on the
rocks below. . . .

                         – Ex Cathedra

The star card bestows the charm of new rivers, this word tomorrow, Andromeda,
     and with you, Amor.   

                         – Ex Cathedra

 . . . The starry sky, Pluto’s mirror . . .

                         – Unachieved

          In my dream, the Goddess in her heavenly palace on the earth
          a kind of Marienbad in lunar light
          She in her silver gown slightly décolleté
          has me watch the Stellar Mirror
          while stars of the Pleiades run in a rhythm of Eight
          and do an astral dance, tout court

                         –  Unachieved

                         The great crystal pool Starry Night breaks into caves

                         – Diana Green

         . . . this Ohlonian Spring of
superfinches I love more than to become a star

                         – Passionate Ornithology Is Another Kind of Yoga



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