My friend was wheezing something about free books near the BQE when he came in and threw an Evergreen Review Reader at my chest. I put on shoes and we walked over. The pile was large. Not a city block, but enough boxes and bags of the bound word to keep me muttering, “I don’t know where to begin,” though already plucking books from the mass. “What do you do,” we demanded of the man and woman who disappeared with empty hands and returned with more books, over and over. “Novelists,” they said, providing their first names, which I promptly forgot. Passersby inquired after the books. “Wow,” they said and came back with 40 gallon trash bags.
At my apartment my friend and I and divvied up our loot—this for keeps and this for cash. We made it to the behemoth indie store with minutes to spare. A gentleman in a sweater vest appraised the lot. “You’ve done very well,” he said, handing back a worn copy of The Nick Adams Stories and a mint condition first press hardcover by some lady wearing bedroom eyes in the dust jacket photo. Two priceless books. The next day I visited the corner where we’d been lucky. The hundreds were gone. A volume of Shakespeare’s tragedies was wedged between two plastic trash cans.
I suspect a fair share of writers publish, or at least seek publication, as a project of self-affirmation and social identification—I am (a writer). I do not suspect that much of what gets published is much good, though I do suspect that much of what does not get published is much worse. And perhaps therein lies one ruddy USA fantasy, that of the gorgeous outsider whose purposeless gesture signals truth, or at least reprieve from the bullshit of maestros.
Richard O. Moore is quite a different case. He’s spent many of his 90 years in television, radio, and film, no loner’s playground. Despite publishing work in Poetry in his mid-twenties, despite hanging at Rexroth’s anarcho-art salons on Portero Hill, Writing the Silences is only Moore’s second book, decades of poems—a lifetime of poems—pared into one stark collection. As Moore himself acknowledges, without the persistence of editors Brenda Hillman and Paul Ebenkamp, the collection would have never seen the light of day or desk lamp.
This isn’t poetry for poetry’s sake, or rather, this isn’t poetry for the sake of a book. It’s Language poetry that isn’t ashamed to make sense. Angel-headed poetry, minus the drugged pomposity. “The only way out is accident. / Someone has to jump or be pushed. / The descent is the same the crushing weight of the ordinary,” Moore writes in “The Parachutist’s Annunciation,” the extended white between words, syllables pacing the halting voice, which finishes itself in exuberant if bitter paean—“That knowledge!!! / Oh, to be fed on thistles salt the unshaded sun.” Moore’s brand of synthesis sways in easy accordance to the American line of Olson or Williams or Creeley, yet possesses singular muscle enough to pull off three points of exclamation. What Moore gets away with then is spry sagacity, deep wisdom made buoyant.
His “History” involves a “shopping bag of absence” and “birdsong complaint / without answer” while the ars poetica of “Columbia 1960” aims at liberation from “the same alienation that our previous / language—the whole store of images we call civilization—has / produced for us.” Even here we aren’t saddled with the boredom of politics. Instead we get philosophy, and a philosophy that revels in its irreverence, absorbed with, though refreshingly unperturbed by, dissolution. Selections such as “This Morning”—“madness crept into my pocket / like a hairy bug”—or “Come Sunday”—“there are lonely snipers / in the ruined spires”—further evidence the poet’s mystical attention to figures of doubt and obscurity. Richard O. Moore’s no sapling by a long shot, but his poetry is lithe. It expands itself in the off-handed dialect of this country’s newest voices, but remains rooted to the old codes of keen sincerity. It is real poetry, sure enough to break from silence and, when need be, return.