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August Kleinzahler interview

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An interview with August Kleinzahler in The Guardian.

For many years, Kleinzahler's main residence has been the "rather androgynous" city of San Francisco, but he flies back frequently to Fort Lee, one of a string of small towns on the Hudson river facing the west side of Manhattan. His elderly mother still lives in the house where August, Harris and their sister were raised. Four years ago, he was named Fort Lee's first poet laureate, a post which offers payment in the form of a slap-up meal now and then, in the company of local cultural officials. The poet remains passionate about his New Jersey identity, sometimes referring to it as if it were a separate character, and about his home town in particular. His poems set in his native surroundings are free of bravado, touched instead by fondness that matures while its focus recedes into memory. "Away now nearly thirty years", he writes in "Gray Light in May", a poem located in the family house, in which he is presently seated. "How many years / For how many years / A stranger to my own heart".
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It's a good interview--thanks Dirac. AK writes a lot for the London Review of Books, on Basil Bunting, James Schuyler, and his neighbor Thom Gunn, on San Francisco in his poetry and nice lumpy essays. (Thom Gunn I could never get into--and never forgive for calling Elizabeth Bishop's work "a bit twee.")

In "Drinking Bourbon in the Zam Zam Room" in the LRB, not free, AK gives this picture of the Haight Ashbury district:

The best bar in San Francisco reopened for business the other day under new management. But it’s no good. They’ve got it all wrong. For one, the place is too bright and cheerful now...

Bruno [the previous owner] was raised on Haight Street. His father first had a tiny restaurant with five stools called the Pall Mall and then, in 1941, opened the Zam Zam. It was a successful bar, open seven days and nights a week, with two bartenders and barmaids on hand. The Haight has always had a carnival or fairground aspect to it. Golden Gate Park begins at the foot of it...Kezar Stadium, where the SF 49ers played their Sunday football games for many years, is only a few blocks west.

According to Bruno, the street changed in 1966. Bruno always blamed it on the Miranda decision, which required police to inform arrestees of their rights, and Chief Justice Earl Warren, on whose death Bruno closed the bar and went off to celebrate. In the mid to late 1960s the city, and the Haight in particular, became a catch-basin for kids from all over the country who, lured by Time and Newsweek, wanted to be part of the hippie adventure. The crush of new visitors can’t have been a very palatable spectacle to those already in middle age who had been raised on Haight Street with its milliner and dry-goods shop, when everyone knew one another and would stop to chat, discuss the weather or gossip about that Italian boy who plays baseball, DiMaggio, who was still hanging around the bank at closing time, trying to get a date with pretty Mary Ann DiMeeko.

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Thanks for that quote, Quiggin. I hate the word “evocative” but it fits. I’ll have to look up the whole thing. It was a piece by Kleinzahler that directed me to Kenneth Cox.

Kleinzahler and I are both devoted to “Briggflatts” but Gunn leaves me cold, too. I didn’t know he’d called Bishop twee but it doesn’t surprise me. But then poets aren’t always to be trusted when criticizing each other. Robert Graves had some very odd views on his fellows, but in terms of his own aesthetic they made sense. But I don’t see how twee and Bishop go together no matter where you’re coming from.

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