Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Leland Hickman: Against Taxonomies

There may come a time when our cultural provincialisms will be seen with a wider lens.  In the world of poetry, what urgently seemed the product of one or another region, of this or that school of thought or MFA program or social network or journal, will be seen as threads of a whole fabric, American perhaps, perhaps European.  That we haven't yet arrived at that moment does nothing if not cement our notions of boundaries, categories, organizations, and the specificities, but also the limitations that go with them.

Leland Hickman would have none of that, at least not when it came to poetry.  In his work as editor and in his vocation as poet, he resisted such limitations, he rejected orthodox taxonomies.

-- Dennis Phillips, introduction to Tiresias: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman, ed. Stephen Motika, Nightboat Books/Otis Books, 2009


o my offence is rank     it smells to high heaven   try what repentance can   what can it not?    o wretched state    o bosom black as death    which means mainly England and the United States    forever since birth alone hometown hero    used to scream at his blue apartment walls because he was    I wish I had an excuse to really hate you    after I got the money    I prepared myself dinner    I have become inordinately fond of chicken livers    you gave me a very important gift    loneliness    you could listen to my Peter Paul and Mary records    I could cook you lots of roast beef and potato salad    what without love we touched pronouncing good    a master of comic timing    bene dick of insolent charm    and grace enjoys every minute of it

-- excerpt from Leland Hickman, "rhapsody Macaulay not historian his story," ca. 1964?

Pictured: Nepenthes smilesii


Kent Johnson said...


One of my most prized pieces of correspondence is a short letter from Leland Hickman, written shortly before he died. I'd ordered the full set of Temblor from him, and he'd originally sent me issues #2 through #10, explaining that he had no more copies of #1.

Months later, I received a battered copy of issue #1 (front cover badly damaged), accompanied by a handwritten note from LH. In it, he wrote that he'd come across this one last copy by chance, and that he had remembered my order and wanted to be sure to send it so I would have a complete set.

He didn't know me from Adam, and since this was not long before his death from AIDS, I imagine he was not feeling well. A gesture like that says much about a person, seems to me.

I have Tiresias, and I hope it gets read widely.

(I should add that I am a fan of the old Perry Mason show, and LH's longtime companion, as the essays in the book explain, was one of the show's stars!)

Don Share said...

Great stuff as usu., Kent. You might like to see this blog post by someone who was influenced by having picked up the whole run of Temblor - click here