Photographers Unknown, Though It May Be One
the truth flies hungry, at least and otherous,
of which—-though it may be one—-Kafka said troublingly,
it has many faces
the faces one wants, tripping the light shadows of its
skin colours of its wordy swiftness, angry and solvent,
of its loud remarks
as of feeding flocks one
year, one, among the smallest birds in the Northwest, flew
into the house a darting, panic thought at the walls
and grasses perched on the top right corner of the frame
of Tom Field’s painting wherein adulterous Genji is found
out—so Lady Murasaki reads from her blue scroll—-and
permitted me to take it in my hand soft, intricate
mind honouring and lift it out into the air
and the next year, again, one flew into the house,
almost certain, like a visitor, gold-crowned winged
floating about odd discoveries and alighted on the brim
of the lasagna dish my hand trembled as I took it up
and moved slowly to lift it out of the window into
the air a kind of thinking like everybody else
looking for a continuing contravention of limits and
for Sharon Thesen
Robin Blaser, A Bird in the House, The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser, 2006, University of California Press
Born in Denver, Colorado in May of 1925, Robin Francis Blaser was an American-Canadian poet, essayist and editor. A member of San Francisco’s Berkeley Poetry Renaissance of the 1940s, he established himself as a key figure on the west coast of British Columbia and a prominent influence among Canadian experimental poets.
The son of Ina Mae McCreedy and Robert Augustus Blaser, Blaser spent his early years at small railroad depots in the desert areas of Idaho where his grandmother worked as a telegrapher. Through the efforts of his mother and grandmother, he was able to attend the University of California at Berkeley where he studied under the renowned German historian Ernst Kantorwicz, known for his 1957 work on medieval political theology “The King’s Two Bodies”. In 1946, Blaser met poets Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan and participated in the cultural scene which would be known as the Berkeley Renaissance. Along with Black Mountain poets Robert Creeley and Charles Olson, they were pioneers in the emerging new postmodern poetry movement.
Robin Blaser graduated in 1955 with a Master of Arts in Literature and a Master in Library Science. His degree in library science enabled him to obtain a position in Boston at Harvard’s Widener Library. During his four years in Boston, Blaser met fellow poets John Wieners, Ed Marshall and Steve Jonas; he would take weekend trips to New York City to visit poets Frank O’Hara and Donald Allen. After a year of traveling in Europe, Blaser returned in 1960 to San Francisco where, over the next five years, he wrote such poems as “The Moth Poem” and the first four works of “Image-Nations”, a series that he continued to expand over three decades.
By 1965, the Berkeley scene had changed; friends were feuding and Jack Spicer had just died in August from alcoholism at the age of forty. In the following year, Blaser read his work at a poetry festival in Vancouver and accepted a teaching position in the English department at the newly-opened Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. In 1974, he became a Canadian citizen and met his life-long love David Farwell. They would reside together in a gracious duplex on Trafalgar Street in the Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver for thirty-five years until Blaser’s death. In 1986, Blaser took early retirement from the university but continued to write, lecture, and teach at Naropa University’s summer writers’ program in Boulder, Colorado.
Robin Blaser was a prolific writer; he wrote eleven books of essays; fourteen collections of poetry; the libretto for an opera entitled “The Last Supper” by English composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle: and several works of translation. He studied the classics written in the original Latin and Greek and was fluent in German, French, Portuguese, and Italian. Following the example of German-born American historian and political theorist Hannah Arendt, Blaser sought through his poetry to restore the public world as a space where differences could be seen through multiple points of views.
Blaser’s poetry is filled with fragments, allusions, intersections of memory and myth, and concepts from philosophers and other poets. Like his friend Jack Spicer, he used the serial-poem format that enabled him to repeatedly return to ideas through different angles. Most prominent of these works are the numbered “Image Nations” and the series “The Truth is Laughter”, a part of his 1993 “The Holy Forest”. Blaser sought to redefine the lyric as not something presented by a solitary, insular voice but rather by a world larger than one human experience.
Robin Blaser’s collections of poetry include the 1964 “The Moth Poem”, the 1968 “Cups”, “Syntax” in 1983, and the 1995 “Nomad”. His poetry and prose has been published into three collections: the 2007 “The Holy Forest”, Miriam Nichol’s 2006 “The Fire”, and the 2002 “Even on Sunday: Essays, Readings and Archival Materials on the Poetry and Poetics of Robin Blaser”. He received the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry’s Lifetime Recognition Award in 2006. Two years later, Blaser’s 2007 “The Holy Forest” was awarded the 2008 Griffin Poetry Prize.
In 2005, Blaser received the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor, for a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. After a fierce struggle with cancer, Robin Francis Blaser passed away at the St. James Cottage Hospice in Vancouver on the seventh of May in 2009. He was survived by his brother, sister and loving partner David Farwrll, who passed away unexpectedly in January of 2020 at their Vancouver home. Robin Blaser papers, correspondence, and photographs are housed in the Special Collections and Rare Books department of the Simon Fraser University.
Notes: For those interested, I have noted two articles written about Robin Blaser’s poetry and life. The first one is the Dooneyscafe August 2003 article written by Blaser’s intimate friend Stan Persky. This article which covers the early formative years of Blaser’s poetry can be found at: https://dooneyscafe.com/about-robin-blaser/
A second article is Miriam Nichols 2017-2018 “I Am Writing a Biography”. This article contains many sections dealing with Robin Blaser’s life and his “project” as a poet. This article can be found at the Itinéraires website located at: https://journals.openedition.org/itineraires/3663?lang=en
Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Robin Blaser at Berkeley”, 1960, The Electronic Poetry Center, Buffalo, New York