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Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Lorenzo Thomas: Studying War (from California Songs, 1970)


Sign on a fence at the Camp Pendleton Marine Base warns the public that this portion of the beach is restricted to military personnel: photo by Charles O'Rear, May 1975 for the Environmental Protection Agency's Documerica Project (US National Archives)


Among the reasons why the beach is beautiful is
The music on the radio is alright
Because it has nothing to do with you
And still it reminds me of something
Has to do with you,
On my way to Vietnam. And loving
Your dope too
....La Jolla
Where even the freaks ask dumb questions about you

...............................San Clemente

................When worlds Collide on tv

That is our talk here; sweating
And dirty
...Where through the wood a moiré ribbon

...Speeding linnet and the circling crow

Studying war

Lorenzo Thomas (1944-2005): from Fit Music: California Songs, 1970 (1972)

Marine vehicles on maneuvers along the ocean at the Camp Pendleton base: photo by Charles O'Rear, May 1975 for the Environmental Protection Agency's Documerica Project (US National Archives)

Employee near the construction site for the expansion of the San Onofre nuclear generating plant, San Clemente, California, warns swimmers to detour to the beach. Located south of Los Angeles, the work area has a sea wall which forces swimmers to detour and swim about 100 yards to reach the other beach area: photo by Charles O'Rear, June 1975 for the Environmental Protection Agency's Documerica Project (US National Archives)


TC said...

Lorenzo was the only one of the "New York" poets of my generation who went to the Vietnam war. He enlisted in the US Navy in 1968 and served as Petty Officer 2nd Class (Radioman). In 1971 he was sent to Vietnam as a "military advisor".

Also by this fine and insufficiently known poet:

Lorenzo Thomas: Downtown Boom

Lorenzo Thomas: The Leopard

ACravan said...

This tells such a story. I didn't expect to be "grabbed" as much as I was and then gripped in the sense that I think this piece will be lodged in my memory for quite some time. What the words say, the way they unfold and the colors in the pictures immediately unlocked memories of the way things were and felt, so much so that I anticipated the second picture before seeing it. This is really something. Curtis

Ed Baker said...

thanks for the link to his poems.... I especially like his line/image of "her" walking in my Houston Street Mind 'with
my girl' in a yellow polka-dot summer dress.... knowingly as an advertisement for ....:

To keep her fashionable in New York
Leopards are dying

Wooden Boy said...

I have to thank Beyond the pale for the introduction. More people should know Thomas's work. Can't help but think this ignorance has at least something to do with race.

That is our talk here: sweating
And dirty
Where through the wood a Moire ribbon

The remains of an exorcised fairytale.


Since moving back to CA and the shore this beach access issue has made its way into notice. There's a law on the books that says the CA beach will be open to public access at all times, no exceptions. But there seems to be a few exceptions, and funny that predominate among them are two monolithic complexes of influence and force, the military and the nuclear industry.

ACravan said...

Revisiting this again, I'm pondering WB's race comment. I'd like to respond, but am inclined to defer to the professional poets whose insight might be more acute. I think view of race (and bigotry in general, which is to say universally) is a pernicious factor affecting all sorts of things. However, in Thomas's case, I assume poetry's relative unpopularity in comparison to, for example, pop music, where black performers have been able to achieve star-level popularity for a long time at this point, is more relevant. But I defer to people with more knowledge and experience. Curtis

TC said...

I neglected to provide a link for another Lorenzo Thomas poem that was posted here, one that perhaps addresses the subject of this conversation. In this poem America is seen in light of what a very different sort of poet, Jeffers, spoke of as its "perishing":

This afternoon I watched
A group of young men
Or tall boys
Handsome and shining with the strength of futures
Africa's stubborn present
To a declining white man's land


Here Thomas sees the republic from the oblique viewpoint of its dispossessed, and gives voice to:

Our disappointment

With the world as given


One Nation, Invisible: Lorenzo Thomas: Back in the Day

I see that in the comments with that post, this was said:

"...this is a poet so fine it's only his diffident retiring nature and sly quiet humour kept him from being better known. But of course it's those same qualities kept him out ahead of the pack all along.."

That may come at least as close as the undeniable shadow of race to explaining Lorenzo's relative lack of fame. Not that he didn't achieve substantially and gain respect in both the academic and literary worlds. But that ironic sense of humour which gave his poems the critical distancing so many other poets lacked is closely related to cultural history in ways that it would be tiresome to elaborate, because they are obvious.

That comment chain also offers four video links to a late reading by Lorenzo in which his performance says everything I have just said, in a much more artful way, as per the style of the man.

Ed Baker said...

It's about that there is no bout-a-doubt IT :

we've sanitized and pissed away what is / was the Heart and Body and Soul of OUR culture

put things into little boxes and pissed things basic and important and .... honest, awayyyyyyyyy

It' just not enough to re-visit "stuff"....
yuh gotta BE IT !

no apologies necessary .... or explanations....

perfecting intentions is what matters

Lally said...

When I was asked to put together an anthology of contemporary poetry in 1972, which wasn't completed til '74 and only published in '76, I called it NONE OF THE ABOVE, because I tried to collect the poetry of poets otherwise neglected in anthologies at that time. Because there were several recent anthologies of "black poetry"—the only identifiable "black" poet in my anthology turned out to be Lorenzo. His work was pretty much neglected by all sides in the poetry anthology world (wars) then. I loved the man and his work and believe the comment about his "diffident retiring nature" etc. is probably closest to the truth.

TC said...

Michael, your good judgment, stylish independence and intelligent refusal of "scene" and "School" pigeonholing -- both as an editor and as a poet -- have not been lost on this observer.

Good for you for all your good work over the years, and for putting in a word for Lorenzo in the here and now... "showing the colors". (Acutely conscious of late that we may not be getting too many more chances.)