Friday, January 15, 2021

Introduction to Poems by Larry Goodell in the Malpais Review by Gary L. Brower

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Mythic & Secular Rituals
of an Anglo Koshare Poet in Placitas

by Gary L. Brower

"Entrapment 1s this society’s sole activity.. . and only
langhter can blow it to rags. Bat there is no negative
pure enough to entrap our expectations... "

-Ed Dorn, Gunslinger, III

"I've always been interested in risking myself
at the boundaries others have imposed on me."
-Larry Goodell

"To be art-strong is the only resistance
and the greatest love."

-Larry Goodell

I first met Larry Goodell in the early 1970s when I came up from Albuquerque (where I was teaching at the University of New Mexico) to read my poems at the Thunderbird Bar in Placitas, a place known for music and poetry in the "Countercultural capital" of the Albuquerque area. Goodell was there too, and his reading was a real surprise because of the nature of it. Never had I seen such before (and I had attended many readings), because it involved masks, costumes, totem animals made of sewn materials, and a headpiece with two large, greenish, round discs on either side of his face. His wife, Lenore, (a photographer and artist to whom he has been married since 1968), handed him the totem animals at certain points in the reading. The performance was meant to puncture "everyday reality" and bring the poet's messages into the minds of listeners by dint of psychological "shock and awe." Since then, I have seen him read many times, sometimes with accoutrements and sometimes not, but his readings are always a dramatic experience, never a dull recitation. Like the Surrealists, who believed humor could be used to break through the veneer of common (low) consciousness to create an opportunity to enhance non-rational perception, Goodell uses his "visual aids" (as well as irony, satire, humor) to open up a "playing field" in the mind. The two levels of perception, it might be said, crash into each other like particles in the Hadron Collider. It's hard to say if the result is the Higgs Boson particle or not.

Goodell (b. 1935, Roswell, NM), who studied piano during his childhood and still plays quite well, graduated from the University of Southern California (1957) with honors). He then spent two years in the Army in the Mohave Desert before returning to his native New Mexico. He studied for a Master's degree at UNM, taught at New Mexico Military Institute and what became Albuquerque Academy. Robert Creeley, already famous when he came to UNM to take a Master's degree, also taught at Albuquerque Academy while living in Placitas. (His friend Ed Dorn stayed for a short while also.) After finishing the degree, Creeley left, later returning to Placitas and to teach at UNM. Goodell studied with Creeley and visited his home frequently. Many poets traveling through stopped in: Ginsberg, Tuli Kupferberg, Ed Sanders of the Fugs, avant-garde filmmaker Stan Brakhage, and many more. It was like Black Mountain West, says Goodell. Creeley talked about the poetry of W. C. Williams, and they discussed Pound, Gertrude Stein, and many other writers. In a poem dedicated to the Creeleys and titled "The House that makes it so," Goodell says of that experience in the Creeley Placitas house:

I drove by the old Creeley house because I wanted to write a poem.

There was the piano-shaped bedroom Bobbie had Von Shutze build.

The floors of adobe with sheep's blood sealer that kept crumbling in the old house, the step-down new studio with that volcanic Jemez view where we sat & picked the energy of language apart and I could put my life in art back together. ... {....} The patio of corn & rhubarb & music to enchiladas Almaden white wine as

back to the kitchen, the slow night weaved on and the alternative worlds to where I was born. . .

(Here on Earth, pp. 70-71)

It was a time of artists being engaged in social change, experiments in "higher consciousness," and cultural renovation, none of which was popular with those in power. During this '60s heyday. Placitas was a rural "vortex," with four communes in the mountains and valleys around the village (an old Spanish town, part of Las Huertas Land Grant from centuries past). It was off the beaten path, attracting "creative Outsiders" who were part of the uprising against the nation's racism, exploitative socio-economic system, and the Vietnam War. It was also simply a place to "drop out" of the larger society, as were communes near Santa Fe and Taos. Like everywhere else, some fought the system and some took themselves out of the system as much as possible. Remnants of these communes still exist in New Mexico.

Later, as events brought often-violent responses from all levels of government to nation-wide protests, there were manifestations of the national conflicts in New Mexico. The Power Elite was scared! At UNM, student protestors who had arranged with authorities for a peaceful anti-war protest, were, in spite of the arrangement, bayoneted by National Guardsmen, along with journalists covering the event. Students blocked Interstate 40, helicopters dropped tear gas on them, and then on the campus when they retreated there. UNM Regents, a collection of reactionaries who bought their way onto the Board, used their power to try to repress students and faculty, attempting to censor and prohibit free speech on campus. In northern parts of the state, supporters of Reies Lopez Tijerina and his Alianza de los Pueblos Libres de Mercedes clashed with authorities over issues related to government seizures and Anglo encroachments on Hispanic land rights, leading to a deadly confrontation at the courthouse in Tierra Amarilla. Federal and state authorities moved to destroy Tijerina, his family, his movement and political party. (He has lived in exile in Mexico for many years.) This was a time of turmoil in the nation: University students were shot-killed and wounded-at Kent State, South Carolina State, Jackson State, University of Kansas, UCal Berkeley, and countless other institutions; the Black Panthers were attacked by Chicago police and nationwide by the FBI; busloads of drafted young men bound for Vietnam were blocked by anti-war protestors in Oakland; the American Indian Movement, trying to defend itself, was assaulted by the FBI at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge (Lakota) Reservation in South Dakota; Civil Rights marchers were attacked by Kluxer police in the South; JFK, RFK, and MLK were assassinated; the "police-riot" attack on protestors in Chicago at the 1968 rigged Democratic convention; the U.S. Constitution ignored by the authorities who refused to follow the laws they imposed on everyone else; the world-wide uprising in 1968. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was busy.

Larry Goodell had attended the famous 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference where he met Allen Ginsberg, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov; Philip Whalen and others, attending many presentations. Creeley was there. In "Yesterdays," a poem from his 2003 book, If I were writing this (New Directions, p. 91), Creeley refers to the conference: "Then that / Summer there is the great Vancouver Poetry / Festival, Allen comes back from India, Olson / from Gloucester, beloved Robert Duncan / from Stinson Beach. Denise reads 'Hypocrite / Women' to the Burnaby ladies and Gary Snyder, / Philip Whalen and Margaret Avison are there / too along with a veritable host of the young. / Then it's autumn again. I've quit my job / and we head back to Albuquerque / and I teach again at the university."

Goodell also went to the Berkeley Poetry Conference in 1965. In New Mexico, he established Duende Press (which published a series of books, or a journal, depending on your point of view, in which each issue focused on only one poet), and poetry/art magazines Fervent Valley (1972) and Oriental Blue Streak (1968). Over the years, Goodell organized readings for Albuquerque's Downtown Saturday Night, the Rio Grande Writer's Association, the Central Torta Series, ABQ United Artists, Living Batch Bookstore, and Silva's Saloon in Bernalillo. Since 2004 he has been one of the directors of the Duende Poetry Series of Placitas. Goodell has published his poetry in innumerable journals and anthologies through the decades and in four books: Cycles (Duende Press, 1966), Firecracker Soup (El Paso, Cinco Puntos Press, 1990), Out of Secrecy (Yoo-Hoo Press, 1992), and Here on Earth (Albuquerque, La Alameda Press, 1996).

In 1972, Goodell went on a nationwide reading tour with poet Stephen Rodefer in which he performed "Ometeotl Trilogy: The Staff, The Bowl & The Book" at various venues, and later he was at the Mandeville Gallery at UCSD in La Jolla, Ca. This production included costumes, masks, and an array of props. Today (though he may not perform the longer pieces), he still presents, from time to time, his "word performances" that manifest his belief "in extending poetry to its ceremonial roots." Goodell is dedicated to "oral poetry" and has said that he always thinks of poetic structure in terms of rhythmic musical compositions, related to his training on the piano. As he says in his poem "Performance," "Language should do something other than pray for reality to come true." (Here on Earth, p. 42).

In an essay in Artspace (Southwestern Contemporary Arts Quarterly/, Vol. I, No. 1, Fall, 1976), which Goodell has posted online, he says: "Poems for me no longer could be trapped in a book or stay too long on the page. They had to be enacted from real life. At the same time, their source remained a mystery." (p. 6). However, Goodell is both a "page poet" and a "stage poet," though not a slam poet. He believes what Charles Olsen was telling younger poets: "we weren't doing things large enough, we had little bits and pieces poems." (p. 5). Goodell has created mythic contexts for many of his poetic structures. As he says, "Now that I look back on it, I was exploring to the hilt the tremendous longing for rite in me. Living all my life in New Mexico observing people with their own meaningful rituals, I wanted my own and had only me to come up with it. {....}! was... .magician and fool at once. The Sacred and the Profane. The Clown-Priest, not really, just me." (p. 5). Is Larry Goodell the "Clown Prince of Poetry" in New Mexico, as he is apparently the "Poet Laureate of Placitas" because of his longevity there? Perhaps, and he is also the origin of all his dramatis personae, of which there are many manifestations. There may be the common tensions between the "T" and the "Poetic I" in his poetry, but there are many more contrasts between the masked characters who show up to dramatize a performance, as if all of Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa's heteronyms come to life, with masks? Poet Gus Blaisdell (1935- 2003), who owned the Living Batch Bookstore and is known for his collection Dented Fenders: Poems, 1960-75, named what Goodell does "Poesis dramatized."

Blaisdell also said, in an Artspace essay called "Larry Goodell: Co[s]mic Clown," (Ibid, p. 9) that the Placitas poet:".. . steps out upon the stage possessing and invaded by his own poetry and paraphernalia. In the course of his caperings, the stage becomes a piece of this whirling planet as he enacts, incarnates and embodies in performance what poetry must have been like before it was expurgated categorically into epic, which was tribal and gave the bard shaman-like powers into lyric.. . .and into tragedy. Goodell's poetry is more ancient than these first, classic Aristotelian resolutions. It is antediluvian.. . and his poetry is also deeply comic." Goodell described himself in "Ears please too" (from Here on Earth, p. 67): "Larry Goodell is a poet whose overdose on poetry / has left him inebriated for life, like the Zen student / whose shins have been kicked by the Zen master."

In an unpublished interview (2009) with fellow Roswell native Randy Biggers, Goodell said about his creative process: "I wait 'til some line pops into my head and I put it in my notebook. It can be any time day or night. I try not to force it. I generally wait for something .... and write it down as quickly as I can. There is no intention; it's like listening to what appears in my mind. I have a sense when it is the end, then I try to find a title and that's it." He also noted that he often writes two or three poems per day, and that he doesn't revise a lot. Influenced by his early interest in jazz, it is perhaps a lot like musical improvisation. Asked who his favorite poet is, Goodell said "Gary Snyder.Or rather, Allen Ginsberg." Other favorite poets have included Tom Raworth, Ken Irby, Joanne Kyger, and Gino Sky. Regarding Jimmy Santiago Baca, he says: "He howls and luxuriates in the coyote yelp, he returns to the reader the gift of happiness and vibrancy he infuses his language with. Page after page, the marvelous poetry displays both grandeur of spirit and courageous heart." Goodell also explained that he doesn't really write the "long poem," and that he considers rhyme to be important in poetry. And, finally, "My poetry is best if it has a ceremonial aspect."

Goodell has an affinity for some types of experimental poetic structures when they merge with dramatic form, genre mixtures at times too, but he is particularly fond of unique combinations of repetition and variation in poems, especially when they play with syntax. He likes puns and word plays, which often lead to humorous lines that reverb back onto the main topic of the text. The repetition can accumulate, double, or even triple up. Sometimes the repeated words look the same on the page, but each segment is different when read aloud, and at times italics give distinct emphases on the printed page. Often he's using the same word as both noun and verb. And, as he has said:".... only poets and artists who are attuned to the world as a whole. . . have the primary power to warm over the hearts and allow illusion to cast its spell. . . . Our imagination places auras around the specifics of our daily lives. Not all the time, but some times. Hilarity is the only escape .. ." (Artspace essay, p. 7). This sounds a lot like the epigraph by Dorn I placed at the beginning of this essay:. only laughter can blow it to rags..." This emphasizes an important aspect of Goodell's poetry, the use of humor in all its multifarious forms. Word play is frequent, for example, in "Republican"

			Republican
			repugnant din
			repube lick in     
			re pug lick sin    
			re plug bite in     
			re puke lick can
			republic banned
			republic canned
			the public damned
			republic jammed
			the pubic tanned
			the pubic damned
			the pubic planned
			re-pubic man    
			re-pube your man
			repugnant man
			repuke replan
			repugnant plan
			republican 

Although Goodell likes word play, he is not a fan of the "language poets" for they "throw meaning to the wind." As for common themes, his note on "Anthrax Avenue" says, "the poem touches on New Mexico, the WIPP (nuclear waste disposal) Project, Los Alamos (nuclear weapons issue), drunkenness and greed, gardening, compassion... (heck, that's all I write about)".

Add to the list: political, mythic, and religious themes. Regarding the Mythic, he said he always identified with the Hero Twins from Pueblo and Navajo/Dine mythology, is interested in Mythic (circular) time, and relates strongly to the Native American figure of the coyote as trickster. Beyond this, there is a larger question of the archetypical figure of a shamanic, sacred clown from the Native American tradition, their global-cultural context, and their relation to the play element in culture.

Back in the 1960s when Goodell was first elaborating his poetic personae with masks, costumes, backdrops, totem animals, and other elements of his "word performances" there was probably a more positive context for this, given the nature of that era. But now, the context needs to be "filled in." We need to remember that the play element in culture is not just about amusement but a serious consideration. "Games" are the basis of war (battles were fought on demarcated, "pitched" fields, like life-size game boards), and trials within the law are arranged as "games" too. You can lose your life in these "games." In an essay in Jacques Ehrman's Game, Play, Literature, Eugen Fink notes: "Play is finite creativity in the magic dimension of illusion," and "... play is no harmless, peripheral or even 'childish' thing." (pp.28- 29). And in the same volume, Michel Beaujour says: "The poet plays against two opponents, which are, ultimately, two faces of the same coin: language and the subconscious." (p. 60). In Johan Huizinga's book Homo A study of the play element in culture, the author says that "Poesis" is in fact a play-function, which lies "beyond seriousness, on that more primitive and original level where the child, the animal, the savage and the Seer belong, in the region of dream, enchantment, ecstasy, laughter." (p. 119). Poetry; says the Dutch scholar, is not only aesthetic but liturgical and social as well. At the same time it can be ritual, entertainment, artistry, persuasion, sorcery, soothsaying, prophecy; and even a competitive game. An ancient appellation of the poet was rates (Seer), which implies possession of extraordinary knowledge. Huizinga: "Gradually, the poet-seer splits up into figures of the prophet, the priest, and even the philosopher, legislator (cf. Shelley's "Poets are the world's legislators"), the orator, the demagogue, etc." And: "Poetry in its original culture-making capacity, is born in and as play - sacred play..." (p. 122). Myth is always poetry, and "All poetry is born of play: the sacred play of worship, the festive play of courtship, the martial play of the contest, the disputatious play of braggadocio, mockery; and the nimble play of wit and readiness." (p. 123). And, "As civilization becomes more serious and developed, only poetry remains as the stronghold of living and noble play." (p. 134). This is part of the background to the various "mythic" performances that have figured in Larry Goodell's poetic-dramatic creations.

The various figures and incarnations of the poet, expressed through costumes and masks, totem animals and symbols, augment the texts recited, creating a "mythic" context for Goodell's readings (not all, but those with appropriate texts). The "visual props" and paraphernalia are basically made by Larry and Lenore. Gus Blaisdell's earlier reference to Goodell as a "Co[s]mic Clown" fits with a role that goes back to ancient Egypt, to European societies when the Court Jester not only entertained but was the only one near the King who could tell the monarch the truth without being punished, and in mainly "non-techno- logical" societies where the shaman connects and interprets different realities. In New Mexico, where Nature, Culture, Art, Myth, and History come together in a nexus distinct from anywhere else on earth, it is natural that Goodell would relate to the local figures of the Sacred Clown, the Koshare of the Pueblo Indian cultures (Kayemisi in the Puebloan Hopi culture, the Mudhead figures). He never dresses as or assumes similar costumes to these Pueblo figures, but the role he plays, no matter the mask or costume, is equivalent.

The role of the Koshare is a semi-religious figure which can embody a spirit, especially the Corn Spirits, in Pueblo cultures. They are generally painted in black and white stripes, faces painted like masks, corn shucks often tied into their hair and standing straight up from their heads. As corn grows from the ground, so they climb up the ladder from the underground sacred kiva at ceremonial dances. They amuse but are also feared for their social control role, their power. They often entertain but they also are allowed to be contrarian, to do things not generally allowed in the tribe; they can reverse normalcy for a short period. They connect the mundane and profane to the Sacred. Goodell, in the mythic roles which he assumes as poet, as Seer, fits into the Sacred Clown, the Cosmic Clown persona. And when assuming these roles, he is beyond an empirical reality; into the realm of poetry as myth, creating the "ceremonial" context for his "mythic" poems.

The question of God, in Christian terms, is not one which plays well in Goodell's work, at least in the traditional sense, and it doesn't figure into the Mythic aspect of his "word performances" unless it is a topic of derision for the most part. The Christian God simply seems to be, for Goodell, a negative concept used by unconscionable minions of established sects for social control and repression, and long ago lost its mythic context. In a poem which satirizes the attempts of right-wing Christians to impose control over public (secular) schools during the terms of President Ronald Reagan (who wasn't religious but pandered to the Religious Right), Goodell uses humor to push the whole controversy into the realm of absurdity it deserves:

"God Has Been Expelled from the Classroom"
(The title is a quote from Ronald Reagan)

         God was a bad boy-

         he came to school

         with a snotty nose

         popping bubble gum at the girls.

         They all recognized him for the virgin he was

         but he was such a bully.

        

         And when he pulled Veronica's braids & almost

         uprooted one from her scalp

         the Principal had God on the carpet

         and expelled him right then & there.

(Firecracker Soup, p. 18)

If there is a secular ritual in Goodell's poetry; it would be in his political poems, where he takes the absurdity and lies to their source, confronting the Power Elite with the Truth they generally don't want thrown back in their faces, as they try to fool the people in order to take advantage.

Claude Levi-Strauss, in his many fascinating books, has elaborated several aspects of the artist in relation to the mythic and to science:"... art lies half-way between scientific knowledge and mythic or magical thought." (The Savage Mind, 4th U.S. edition, p. 22). The genius of the artist, says Levi-Strauss, is in uniting internal and external knowledge in the creation of an artistic object which can elicit aesthetic (and other) emotions. By way of a creative process of synthesis (uniting opposites, and beyond), a work of art is created out of nothing other than the mind of the artist. For most people who appreciate art, this is magical thinking in itself. When Goodell turns the aesthetic into a ritual through use of mythic text and context, then the event becomes an artistic structure on another level. The role of the poet in all of this is, of course, central. If, according to Levi-Strauss, such an event is ritualistic, it is a "conjunction" -conjoining the audience with mythic context, but if it becomes a "game" then it is "disjunctive” separating the audience into "winners" and "losers." The poet as shaman always speaks to his audience from the mythopoetic "Center of the World." (See Eliade's Shamanism, first Princeton/Bollingen edition, pp. 264-65). When Goodell puts on the mask, he is speaking as someone other than his literal self. He is speaking from Eliade's "Cosmic Mountain," another way of saying from the "Center of the World." He has moved from speaking as the "I" to the "Poetic I." William Blake created his own Bible-like mythopoetic "reality." While Goodell hasn't done this, he has brought the truth-telling Sacred Clown to the fore, and he, the Anglo Koshare poet of Placitas, can also speak Truth to Power in his political poems as well as present his mythopoetic structures to his audiences. And sometimes, they cross, using the one to illuminate the other.

Goodell of course, knows that these roles he plays, in the process of communicating on more than one level at the same time with his audience, are temporary. But he also knows, that all serious poets are Outsiders. As Colin Wilson says: "the Visionary is inevitably an Outsider." (The Outsider, first Delta edition, p. 203). Not all poets are visionaries, nor vice versa, but for those poets who are real "Seers," the Truth is the poet's strength and best weapon. It may also get the poet into trouble with those who don't want it revealed to the society at large. This is why the role of the poet must almost always be in contrast, or opposition, to the established Power in a society, for when (almost) all media have been brought under control of the governing elite, as is the case now, someone has to tell the King the Truth, whether he wants to hear it or not. Someone must inform the people that the monarch has no clothes.

And finally, Nature is also a common theme in Goodell's poetry: the role of Nature, the need to save the planet from destruction by corporate greed, the beauty of walking in the Ojito Wilderness, the yearly gardens around his house, his tasks with the local committee to clean out irrigation canals, the stark beauty of the Sandia foothills, the timeless poetry of the "fervent valley" where he lives, above the larger Rio Grande Valley; in the shadow of the Cosmic Mountain. We think you will find all these riches in the poetry of Larry Goodell.   - Gary L. Brower, Placitas, New Mexico

1 *Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935), the Portuguese poet considered by many to be one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, in any literature, created five different heteronyms, the poems of each were written in a different style. Ironically, and directly related to the multiple pseudonyms, is the fact that his surname means "person" in Portuguese.

2 *Latin poesis from Greek poiesis, literally "creation."


Note:I am grateful for the section of my poems in this edition of Malpais Review and for Gary's elaborate introduction reprinted here. My quest for a performance narrative on the stage or classroom or bar or wherever comes from my own rather isolated creativity and I do not have any pretense to compare myself in any way to the great clown culture of great societies that surpass anything I've ever done by centuries and cultural breadth. Gary's seeing parallels comes exclusively from him. Larry Goodell

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