Arts & Events

Around & About Poetry: George Stanley Reads for Mythos Gallery in the Berkeley Hills

By Ken Bullock
Friday October 25, 2013 - 02:46:00 PM

"there is more here than memory"

George Stanley, one of the finest Bay Area poets of the 50s and 60s, who moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, in the 70s, is back in town for his first local reading in 15 years. Much of his poetry since his move north has been published in Canada, and is often unfamiliar to American readers, even those who know what he wrote when part of the circles around Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan in San Francisco from the late 50s. It's a shame; Stanley's is a unique voice in North American writing, one that has evolved continuously without losing touch with its original impulse, only gracing it with changes of perspective, adding to his discovery and exploration of what it is to be a poet, to be a person, a human being in these times, one among others, in the anonymity of cities and institutions--and in the familiarity, yet strangeness, of small towns.  

Stanley, a third generation native of San Francisco, is distinguished from more famous SF natives, like Robert Frost and Gary Snyder, by having grown up in town and eulogizing it, maybe more memorably than any other poet, in his long poem, "San Francisco's Gone," about the Irish members of his family arriving on the West Coast, the life of his mother growing up, going to school and working, raising a family, and about moving from one part of town to another ... a kind of intimate epic of the city's human side, which nonetheless comes to grips with the bigger movements of history. 

Calling himself "a realist," in his open workshop at the Poetry Center at San Francisco State (Stanley's an alum) Thursday afternoon--and in a recent phone conversation, an "Aboutist" (which may have deeper resonances in the speech of Western Canada!), Stanley touches on the principle of the real, of reality and its realization in thought, speech and poetry, a thread which runs through all his poetry. 

It's a complex, yet appealingly open and straightforward body of work of over fifty years, some of which may be heard in four readings from 1957 on the Digital Archive of the Poetry Center's website, --two being poems written in Spicer's now-famous Poetry As Magic Workshop. 

Just to suggest Stanley's approach, his voice, these two brief quotations from his work over the past 15 years: 

"The common areas are where we meet/but don't meet.//Somewhere, I read, or was told,/I should smile.//An error here/might reflect on my right to be here." (He goes on to describe encounters with neighbors in his building, others on the street, concluding:) ""would heaven be/total anonymity?" ("The Common Areas") 

"She wore a red hat. Flat-brimmed./She wore a flat-brimmed red hat./It was at Sharon's place, on West 18th./It was New Year's Eve. Michael Ondaatje was there./She wore a flat-brimmed red hat and she grinned.//She grinned with delight. With the delight of disbelief, as if her disbelief had cleared/the air. Like a hailstorm, sweet sun/to follow." (from 'Vancouver, a Poem,' Book One, 4) 

George Stanley will read this Saturday, from 2 to 4, for Mythos Gallery at a residential location, 2725 Hilgard Avenue at La Vereda Road, David Reid and Larry Felson hosting. Refreshments will be served. $5-$10 suggested donation. (Info: Sue Steel, 277-2269) that evening, at 7:30, Stanley will read for the Poetry Center with Lew Elligham, also from the Spicer group and Spicer's biographer, 7:30 at Meridian Gallery, 535 Powell above Stockton, downtown San Francisco. $5.