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Thursday, 16 July 2009

Scenes Along the Road (for Arthur Okamura)

Park’s Summer: Arthur Okamura, c. 1961, gouache, 21 x 29 in. (via Marcia Miner's Room with a View, 14 July 2009)

Thanks to you, Arthur Okamura
for ping pong and vibrating cows!
& now THAT, too, past
& petering out
......"behind" us bus stations
in that Simon & Garfunkel
song, something about America?

Windy, a day of candid shots (clear eyed)
.........................of long ago
distant handsome guys, who are they
what do they do for a living?

We decide to ride in the car
along the road, why not, to where
soft people, hardly stars
finger the proofs of a
beautiful first edition, high
in the artist's studio, with
the pleased poet standing by.

TC: Scenes Along the Road (for Arthur Okamura), from John's Heart, 1972

Abstract Trees
: Arthur Okamura, n.d.,
mixed media on paper 18.2 x 23 in. / 46.4 x 58.4 cm.(via Marcia Miner's Room with a View, 14 July 2009)


Arthur Okamura: February 24, 1932 -- July 10, 2009: photo by Ron Garrigues, 2006


andrei said...

What beautiful homage, Tom! sad news. Thank you! Andrei

TC said...

Thank you, Andrei. Arthur was a rare soul.

At least he died in a place he loved, where he'd lived and worked much of his life, out among the greenery, under the sky, by the ocean, upon the earthen roads of the world, walking with a beloved friend (his dog).

Anonymous said...

He must be very flattered to read your nice verses. He is in Ithaca now.

xileinparadise said...

Tomas -- that we should all be so fortunate. To have lived enfolded in natural beauty, sometimes that's all you need. As the man say, livin' the life you love, lovin' the life you live. Believe it.

TC said...


You said it, brother. E'er since departing that place I've felt a bit like, dare one say it, an exile from paradise.


Yes, as in the Cavafy poem you love, life shows itself to have had no destination; everything important was contained in the wonderful long journey made to reach that finally illusory "home".

Whence wafts away the soul...

Arthur was a singular figure, self-contained yet always accessible to friends, an aethereal yet always solid presence. Forty years ago we and a few other friends played pingpong every day... for about a decade. The table was set up in the studio where Arthur made his paintings. He worked in oils, so the big canvasses would take five or six days to dry. While playing pingpong we were always careful not to brush up against the slowly drying paintings. Once when Arthur was at work on a series of big oils featuring cows, in the heat of a game I over-hit a shot (as was and it seems always is my way), the ball flew past the edge of the table and lodged in the thick wet impasto hide of one of Arthur's lovingly painted cows.

The game stopped.

A moment went by.

Arthur showed no reaction.

I went over and delicately removed the ball. Wiped it off with one of Arthur's painting rags.

The game resumed. Arthur never said a word. He was a man of great inner strength and dignity as well as great good humour, an example to us all.

By the way the only kind of pingpong balls ever used in the games in Arthur's studio were a Chinese-made brand called (in Chinese) "Double Happiness".

Dale said...

Tom, thanks for this: what sad news. Joanne introduced us years ago, and Hoa, last time in Bolinas had dinner with Arthur and Joanne and recalls what a wonderful evening it was with them both. He did the line drawings in Joanne's Just Space--the first time I saw his work....

Tom Raworth said...

A. O. K.

TC said...


Yes, poets were always drawn to him. Something deeply poetic in his nature, perhaps, some withheld attentively observing glimmer promising that full light one knew might always be forthcoming.


AOK -- That about gets it.

I have neglected to provide biographical/career details. These exist. Poets far and near will remember AOK's work on such books as Robert Creeley's 1234567890 and Joanne's Just Space. In the former, as Curtis Faville recalls in a backchannel note, AOK turned numbers into "little bodies" -- wow, could we ever use more of that sort of transformational nous right now. These poets were friends and family to AOK, and vice versa, so let me take back that word "career". Replace with "community". Also I have forgotten to mention AOK's genius at party tricks and people magic. The subtle gifts of creating laughter, these are to be memorialized also.

AOK obit (Marin Independent Journal)

AOK page at Cuke

AOK Wiki

On the pingpong games, I have neglected to mention that Arthur was a master player. Reminded of this again by Curtis, who recalls being introduced to PingPong Seriousness in his Berkeley student days:

"When I went to Berkeley in the 1960's I lived for a time in the institutional dormitories.

"Late at night after knocking off studying for exams, I'd go down to the rec room and
play torrid matches of ping-pong with the Hong Kong boys--they were real hot-shots,
and I got so I could hold my own with them. Playing under the table, every shot a
corked spin veering off at crazy angles--the ball a white blur under the fluorescent
lighting. They hardly spoke a word of English--this was the only turf we could communicate
on...hmm. I haven't played that seriously since."

Arthur played that under-the-table "cooked spin" style and in our games the seriousness was considerable, yet laced with a wondrous trickster humour; he was happy to cede me massive points, the consequent handicap providing him the challenge he needed to play his best. I don't remember exactly, but I believe most of my games with him began at about 17-0 in my advantage. I would then toil to steal a point or two before inevitable defeat.

There were others who could give him a better game: Hanford Woods, Keith Lampe. Both power players, up against AOK's infinite finesse. In those games the seriousness and concentration were significantly ratcheted up. Spectatorhood was a privilege. I am watching with held breath in my imagination now.

Mariana Soffer said...

This guy okamura seems to be an amazing one, thanks for showing him to us, mixed in your fabulous words.
Take care TC

Stv_Emerson said...

Besides ping-pong, I seem to remember Arthur was expert with a cue-stick. More importantly, at the pool table, he looked really good. Not to mention intimidating. He'd move around the table in a kind of rapid shuffle, heels clacking, shoulders stooped a little in a gunfighter's crouch, very decisive in his shot-marking thwack.

TC said...


Lovely memory of the man, you have made him present as though he were here among us.

And he is.

Unknown said...

I so

TC said...


And I so needed that.