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November 27, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Neglected Poet 5: Charles Potts

Charles Potts, major American poet

Charles Potts is the most notorious neglected poet in North America. You will never hear his name in the graves of academia, where contests get divvied among masters and mistresses of fine arts, nor in the articulate, partisan blog of Ron Silliman, whose preferred poets prefer a high brand of opacity.

Correction: Ron Silliman reports himself a fan of Cahrles Potts and has indeed mentioned him on his blog. See comments. I stand corrected.

IMNSHO, the two most important male N.Amer poets of my generation are Jack Hirschman and Charles Potts. Well, indeed, Al Young. Leaving aside the dictum, which I promulgate, that the greatest poets of my generation were Bob Dylan and John Lennon.  What they all have in common is a highly political vision and an absolute whirlwind of voice.

I name Charles Potts (1943)  as the fifth member of my Neglected Poet series, following on the considerable heels of  Edward Smith (1941-2003) , d.a. levy (1942-1968), Donald Schenker (1930-1993) and Rebecca Parfitt (1942). If you accuse me of assembling an alternate constellation of poets, you could be right, and you read it here first.

Cover of the Charles Potts Magic Windmill Band album

I met Charlie Potts when he arrived at an open Sunday night Shaespeare & Co. reading on Telegraph Avenue in January 1968, howling through Berkeley, on his way to Oaxaca. I lost my Aldebaran Review co-editor Robert Parker (no longer married to the future Black Patner and lesboan separatist poet Pat Parker) because I insisted on publishing a Potts poem after hearing him read it. Soon Charlie was back in Berkeley, carrying on with the poetry mad Litmus which he’d started in Seattle. He was living on Fulton Street in a house full of Pacific Northwest exiles, Jan Kapley and wife Edie, David Hiatt aka Vanish, and others. Charlie and my printing-press partner Berkeley poet Richard Krech, and I became a troika, a triumvirate, running the poetry revolution on the cutting edge of a wave which, it turns out, was headed southwest of nowhere. It is a shame, or is it, that Charles Potts is not a name bandied about by the curators of experimental reading series. In January 1968, at Nighttown at 10th and Universioty in  West Berkeley, curated by Harold Adler, Charlie read the twenty-something Dreams from Oaxaca in front of a  flickering projector framing surreal images. Pat Parker also read there. Luis García.

At the highest point of the curve of ’68, Charlie renamed himself Laffing Water:

*

Charlie Potts is dead

And I wonder if I should

be opening his mail

just as if it was

addressed to me

from all his friends

and for him as well as me

I tell you I have gone

all the way with Charlie

back to nothing…

*

Charlie Potts aka skated on the heighest dizzy cascade of that cutting edge where “the civilization is refuted every night at the poetry readings.” publishing and hawking and editing and toking and not eating and not sleepinbg and vision-poeming his way to a classic schizophrenic breakdown, which he later narrated in wry nightnarish spellbinding detail is his autbiographical two-novel sequence, Valga Krusa, in which (full disc losure) I am cast as the Rabbi. Rubbing salt into the wound, perhaps, Pat Parker became Charlie’s lover, hairy freak from nowhere and svelte black fox. Charlie broke down in June 1968 at San Francisco State, demanding to see Larence Ferlinghetti and Eldridge Cleaver, into Highland and Napa while Alta and I ,who actually oiccasionally fed him, were absent, riding high on a paranoid refugee route among the northwest crown of radical poets, such as Ed Smith.

Charlie was amazed when I told him many years later that the ending of his greatest poem was pure triumophant iamcic pentameter (11 syllables, feminine ending), disguised by figleaf of linebreak:

*

if everything is true

this match will sparkle

*

Charles Potts reconstituted himself from Salt Lake to Walla Walla where he hosted Kia and me in 1979 for the total eclipse of the sun. He is a local realtor and candidate for public office with three grown daugfers as well as more or less the poet laureate of his native Idaho. His poems are terse if sometimes discursive, didactic without repeating received wisdom, and genial in its insistiveness. I said — blurbed — of his book Inside Idaho and I’ll paste it, in a louder voice, here:

Charles Potts, son of a government trapper and a one-room schoolma’rm who had to sell the farm at auction, and the greatest poet born in Idaho since Ezra Pound, has carried a newborn lamb wrapped in the bloody skin of its slaughtered sibling through a blizzard to the kitchen stove, been picked up and shaken in the teeth of an Appaloosa named Sonnie Boy, been bailed out of the Butte County Jail on a cold Sunday morning for being happier than the law allows on East Pass Creek Road, and lost his true love to a reckless arrogant driver in Wild Horse. True poetry is local and universal at once, “down through a dozen distinct strata of velveteen basalt,” passing it all down to his three beautiful daughters, to find the root conjugation where “Idaho is an intransigient verb.” Invisible and ubiquitous as the laughing water of the Pahsimeroi, Charles Potts is one of the true faces of North American poetry.

*

If I sit on this bridge long enough

all the water on the earth

will eventually pass beneath me.

*

The current photos here are from a reunion reading Charlie and I and my ertswhile partner Richard Krech did in Massachusetts in November 27 and followed up in Albany in May 2008 for four deacdes. I’ll insert pix of me and Richard here at the end.

JOS — breathing fire into my poems.

Richard Krech: the poet of criminal law

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4 Comments

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  1. Ron Silliman / Nov 27 2010 2:07 pm

    You will find Charlie Potts (whom I’ve known for over 40 years) in my blog lists of September 8, 2009 & October 5 of the same year. We may be partisan, but Charlie is one of the things we’re partisan for

    • johnoliversimon / Nov 27 2010 3:19 pm

      I stand corrected.I tried searching Ron’s site, but bogged down and demonized him instead. Yay for Ron!

  2. Bill Anderson / Feb 21 2011 8:00 pm

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