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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:




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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