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September 25, 2011 / johnoliversimon

Neglected Poets 6: George Hitchcock

My notes on a reading by the late great Santa Cruz poet George Hitchcock (1914-2010), on October 5, 1980.

George Hitchcock

Intensive detective work in my 28th blue notebook does not reveal the venue of the reading, only that I paid a 75-cent toll on that date to cross a bridge. San Francisco, probably. Somebody named Ivan, probably Argüelles, was the M.C. Evidentally it was in a bookstore-cafe. Could it have been the Blue Unicorn?

The first link takes you to a deeply-felt essay by Morton Marcus, who knew Hitchcock for decades and was frequently published in his seminal magazine kayak. Marcus never missed a kayak collating party. I never went.

Marcus narrates Hitchcock’s labor-organizing background in the thirties, when he wrote a sports column signed Lefty for the People’s World. He was famous for a 1957  colloquoy with the counsel for the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), who got Hitchcock to admit he did underground work. “Of course I do! I’m a gardener!”

Hitchcock was a protegé of Kenneth Rexroth, and kayak published early work by current U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine, Charles Simic and Raymond Carver, among others. George and I collaborated a little bit years later; George spent every winter in La Paz, Baja California, where he became good friends with the poet Raúl Antonio Cota, whom I translated.

The Blue Unicorn reading:

Nostalgia for the Infinite

[GH’s] first poem [refers to] Conrad Aiken, De Chirico, Black Diamond Bay. Antique clarity with psychological focus. GH sitting in a wicker chair, wearing a white Panama hat, smoking a [Cuban] cigar. Voice shoots out of space with authority. Sharp mixture of vivid and reduced, contexted and not.

*

Each April another government

evaporates at the Finland Station.

*

Unavoidably. The fact is. A little too Mozartean in the quilt poem. Insects restore Italian focus. Detail. Imagistic conviction reminds me of [L.A. standup poet] Jack Grapes, from quite another tradition.

His poems fall into pentameter, catch themselves, painterly. His dedication: attitude weakens “roseate wound” O god.

*

Sleep settles its lion

on top of a distant red tower.

*

Meanwhile, as the reading proceeded, two young Black men went into the attached cafe, robbed the register without a weapon, passed quietly through the rear of the crowd, applauded as Hitchcock finished a poem, and slipped out into the night. A flawless poem of its kind.

I’ll leave you with a George Hitchcock poem that I wish I wrote:

*

AFTERNOON IN THE CANYON

*

The river sings in its alcoves of stone.
I cross its milky water on an old log—
beneath me waterskaters
dance in the mesh of roots.
Tatters of spume cling
to the bare twigs of willows.

*

The wind goes down.
Bluejays scream in the pines.
The drunken sun enters a dark mountainside,
its hair full of butterflies.
Old men gutting trout
huddle about a smokey fire.

*

I must fill my pockets with bright stones.

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