Thursday, June 5, 2008

Joseph Semenovich, Kerouac, and a Handful from the Archive

Cover by Oberc

In last week's post, I featured a couple of poems by the late poet Joseph Semenovich. In the discussion that followed, there was interest in his work and I discovered that there was very little on the net. Joseph died 10 years ago, a small press poet, well regarded by those who knew his work. I found out about his passing when mail I sent to him came back from the post office simply stamped "Deceased." It was at once a shock and a great sadness. In order to take a bit of the edge off of that feeling that still resonates today, here are the balance of poems by Joseph I published way back then:


poet's lament

there's hardly a piece of silence
i can listen to
without myself
trying to accompany it


the sunlight
through the window
over my shoulder
over the surface
of the table
the cup
of tea

on the ceiling
le mot juste



Figure out the sky.
Tally up the bricks.
Count the windows.


That's it, 5 poems in total including the two from last week, but it's more than I've found anywhere else. #97 of Lilliput was dedicated to Joseph and here is what I wrote then, the only prose piece ever published in Lillie in its nearly 20 years history.


Sometimes it's necessary to pause for a moment and think what we are about. The life of a small press poet is fleeting in so many ways: the impression that is left, the recognition (if any) that comes, even the time allotted to practice one's craft. The constant battle for validation while all too frequently fighting meaningless jobs to just get by. And, so, Joseph Semenvoich, a poet, has died. I knew little of him besides a fleeting (that word again) correspondence. But what I did know of him was something of his essence: his words. His work was at once beautiful and cutting, to the quick. As with many another poet, his poems were an exploration of self, the eternal quest for meaning and worth. The following three poems (which were included in this post and last week's), from previous issues of Lillie, say it all, and then some.

This one's for you, Joseph.

July 1998


Before heading to the archive, one further note of interest from the website Beat Scene. They've posted a clip from a forthcoming Kerouac film entitled One Fast Move and I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur. Here's a synopsis from the Internet Movie Database:

"He was called the vibrant new voice of his generation -- the avatar of the Beat movement. In 1957, on the heels of the triumphant debut of his groundbreaking novel, On The Road, Jack Kerouac was a literary rock star, lionized by his fans and devotees. But along with sudden fame and media hype came his unraveling, and, by 1960, Kerouac was a jaded cynic, disaffected from the Beat culture he helped create and tortured by self-doubt, addiction and depression.

Desperate for spiritual salvation and solitude, as well as a place to dry out, he secretly retreats to Lawrence Ferlinghettis rustic cabin in the Big Sur woods. But his plan is foiled by his own inner demons, and what ensues that summer becomes the basis for Kerouacs gritty, yet lyrically told, semi-autobiographical novel, Big Sur.
One Fast Move or Im Gone: Kerouacs Big Sur, takes the viewer back to Ferlinghettis cabin and to the Beat haunts of San Francisco and New York City for an unflinching, cinematic look at the compelling events the book is based on. The story unfolds in several synchronous ways: through the narrative arc of Kerouacs prose, told in voice-over by actor and Kerouac interpreter, John Ventimiglia (of HBOs The Sopranos); through first-hand accounts and recollections of Kerouacs contemporaries, whom many of the characters in the book are based on such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Cassady, Joyce Johnson and Michael McClure; by the interpretations and reflections of writers, poets, actors and musicians who have been deeply influenced by Kerouacs unique gifts like Tom Waits, Sam Shepard, Robert Hunter, Patti Smith, Aram Saroyan, Donal Logue and S.E. Hinton; and by stunning, High Definition visual imagery set to original music composed and performed by recording artist, Jay Farrar of Son Volt, with additional performance by Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie." IMDB

This week's issue from the archive is #87, published in April 1997 and dedicated to the memory of small press pioneer and publisher of the legendary Wormwood Review, Marvin Malone. The further back in time we go in the archive, the more the tone alters and so it is a bit like reading a personal journal for me. Here's a few numbers from this issue:


stink bug
on the blackberry,
look carefully

Ralph S. Coleman



A scar of clouds
creeping down the belly
of the sky

means no one.

Tidepools: a season
of futures
hung on the short tail
of now.

Jane Vanderbosch


go tell
it to
the sky.

Cid Corman


Until next time,

Note: If you would like to receive the two current issues of Lilliput Review free (or have your current subscription extended two issues), just make a suggestion of a title or titles for the Near Perfect Books page.


Charles Gramlich said...

I'm sorry to hear of Joseph Semenovich's passing. The poetry is very fine. You tell a great story with your introduction to his work, a very sad but true one. I hope he knew a good life, had family and friends. I hope his death was not a hard one.

Grant Hackett said...

Re: Joseph Semenovich
Isn't it important to do these things? To remember, and to say that we remember, the souls with whom we live. Done here with great kindness and care. No small thing.

Anonymous said...

Dear Don:

As always, thank you for the many interesting postings of late. I've caught up a bit . . .

The Robert Hass readings of Issa were wonderful. A very nice representation which could have been longer and remained interesting. But perhaps the brevity of the reading is perfect in a fashion. I read his first three books a few years back but need to familiarize myself with his more recent work. For example, I didn't know he was doing Issa translations.

Also I see someone has suggested a book of Carl Sandburg's in the "Perfect Books" list. I appreciated that; Sandburg is one of those poets that seems to have been forgotten to some extent. I carried the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich hardback edition of the Complete Poems on a college "Wild Youth" hitch-hiking trip and have fond memories of Sandburg (and other things) from that adventure!

Best Regards,


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks for the kind note. I'm glad I was able to put a little something into "print" about this since I've thought about him many times over the years.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


Thanks. I think being able to reprint Joseph's poems and have them connect with people today makes the "then" of remembrance into the "now" of remembering in a living way.


Issa's Untidy Hut said...


One of the amazing things about the Hass Issa translations is that he has made them available free on the net and they proliferate on poetry sites everywhere looking for content and what content they've got!

This is the point where the spirit of Issa and a truly free Net dovetail nicely.

The Sandburg poems are, indeed, a nice surprise. At his best, he is right up there with Frost and Whitman. Since I just got back from a week away from the computer, I've gotten some new suggestions for the list, which I posted this morning. The list is expanding slowly but surely.