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June 02, 1972 - Image 9

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Michigan Daily, 1972-06-02

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Friday, June 2, 1972


Page Nine

Friday June 2, 1972 THE MICHiGAN DAILY Page Nine

Interviewing Tom

I spent five years getting my
Ph.D. in American Studies at
Yale. I finished in the fall.
which is a bad time to look for
teaching jobs, so I decided to
look for a newivispaper job for a-
year. I went to New York and I
thought I'd have no problem
cetting a job on the New York
Times I didn't know sanything
about it. I finally got a job as
copy boy for the Daily News.
It wasn't too bad until one
day at work I heard one of the
reporters laughing. I asked him
what was funny, and he said
that they'd never had a Ph.D.
for a copy boy at the News. I
realized that I didn't want to
be doing the same thing, sitting
behind a desk, for the next
forty years, so I left New York
and found a job reporting on a
Springfield paper. I loved it so
much that I never went back to
Q.: How did you first begin
writing new journalism type
T.W.: Do you remember the
newspaper strike of 1962? I be-
gan freelancing for magazines
then, and my first article be-
came the basis for my book,
The Kandy-Colored Tangerine-
Flake Streamline Baby.
Q.: How do you get your
ideas for stories?
T.W.: Sometimes editors give
me ideas . . . I prefer it when
I hear about something in con-
versation and track it down be-
fore anything else is written
about it. ,
Q.: What made you decide
to write about Leonard Bern-
stein's party for the Black
T.W. The idea for Radical
Chic came to me after hearing
about a number of parties of
that nature. I decided I wanted
to go to one, so I invited my-
self. I saw an invitation that
another journalist had received
with a telephone number to
RSVP. I called the number and
told them I'd be delighted to
come, so they had my name on

Wo 44
tIhe reception list twhe I got
. . . One of the people later
accused me of smuggling in a
tape recorder, which I thought
was a compliment. I just took
notes throughout the evening.
I didn't consider it an
invasion of privacy. When some-
one holds a. fund raising party
for a group like the Black Panth-
ers, with over ninety people, I
consider that a public event.
Q: Do you think your cover-
age of the party hurt your
access to New York Society?
T.W.: No, I don't think so.
Most of those people don't have
long memories, and if they re-
member anything it's that they
saw your name in the paper.
Anyhow, it's a risk you have to
Q: Do you become involved
in the causes or movements
that you write about?
T.W.: I get so obsessed with
trying to pull it off-bringing
people to life-that the issues
become secondary. Not that I
don't have any reactions to it,
but I've never felt that I was
writing for a cause.
Q: How involved did you be-
come with Ken Kesey and the
T.W.: I spent ten weeks with
them . . . At that time they
really disliked what they called
the weekend hipster, who had a
collection of all the Coltrane
and Beatles albums, a stack of
unread New York Review of
Books on the floor, and came
around on weekends . . . I wor-
ried a lot about fitting in, about
what my role was . . .
But, they were very accepting
people, I could come in with my
tie and my double breasted suit
and no one would tell me to get
out. In fact, one of the girls,
Doris Delay, came up to me af-
ter a few weeks and told me
that I had on the best costume
in the place. They just thought
I was a freak of another sort ...
Kesey did indirectly ask me
to make a decision. He said,
"Why don't you put the note-

The following interview by Meryl Gordon, an assistant
night editor for The Daily, is one of a series of interviews
she has done this year tvith well-known authors ineltding
Anais Nin, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Jorge Luis Borges.
Meryl interviewed Tort Wolfe after he spoke to a
college audience at the University of .Rochester.

Interview by MERYL GORDON
QUESTION: People s a y
that you started what's called
'new journalism'. What does
that phrase mean to you?
TOM WOLFE: Some people
think bf it as advocacy journal-
ism or the underground press.
It's just that a lot of jour-
nalists have discovered 'that in
journalism you.can use all the
effective devices of literature,

such as stream - of - conscious-
ness . . . In magazine pieces,
the tone that used to be ad-
mired w a s understatement.
There were all these pieces of
punctuation that weren't being
used and I started using them.
Q.: How did you originally
become involved in journal-
T.W.: I didn't really plan on
writing for newspapers. I start-
ed out thinking I'd write novels
or be an artist.

book away for a few days and
just be here." I'd been there
long enough to know what he
meant, and that would have
been putting the notebook away
for good. It was an all or noth-
ing move. I was sure about what
I wanted to do, I wanted to write
about them and about a lot of
other things, so I kept the note-
book around. I was accepted, but
I was not "on the bus." It was
still an open proposition.
Q: Did you go on the bus
trip cross-country with them?
T.W.: No.
Q: How did you describe it
so exactly then?
T.W.: I did a lot of recon-
structuring . . . they had so
many films and tapes that it
wasn't hard to do. Someone al-
ways seemed to know where to
find whatever it was that I
But, if he started acting less
like a Bantu king and more
like an American Jew is 1972,
he could give us more lines
his own shadow
was more than he could bear
the war
came & he ran from it
back in the cellar drinking
too much he grew thin
(From: "The Student's Tes-
A real Navajo horse song in
contrast goes:
Before me peaceful,
Behind me peaceful,
Under me peaceful,
Over me peaceful,
All around me peaceful-
Peaceful v o i c e when he
I am Everlasting and Peace-
I stand for my horse.
"Peaceful" has been repeated 7
times, but who cares? I can
identify this as poetry and its
poetry is not a matter of alpha-
bet. It has to go with that old
Indian(s) who had nothing
but a horse to make it across
the earth, whose life depended
on his animal. It has to do
with sand, red rock, cactus,
turquoise, corn, thunderbird.
With the "Little Holy Wind"
that plays through his horse's
hair. It is real, but also flows

into mystery, myth, dream.
That is how it is "an invasio
of the psychic core," as Rothen-
berg so desperately seeks.
A poem, after all, is more like
a sand painting to be destroyed
at sundown. The poet gathers,
colors, and beads the sands, re-
lying on his own Little Holy
Wind-not Programs for Mini-
mal or Total Poetry.


Poems of silence or

Jerome Rothenberg, POEMS
1960-1970, Dial, $2.45, paper.
good day's line for an Ameri-
can poet like Jerome Rothen-
berg, artists deserve to starve
to death.
Plastic flowers, beef carcass-
es, death and other urban hells
dominate this 1960 - 1970 Roth-
enberg collection. The poetic
v o i c e s emanating f r o m his
underworld a re : 1) an old
lady disassociating at the wail-
ing wall; 2) a PDP-10 print-
ing itself out over and over; or
3) an American Jew pretending
to be an Indian.
"I think of myself as making
poems that other poets haven't
provided for me and for the ex-
istence of which I feel a deep
need," he claims in Program
Three 1968.
"I" is what gets in the way
of poetry. Rothenberg is seek-
ing something for himself and
gets trapped in near-autisms,
such as repeating the phrase
"Don Roberto" 42 times in the
same poem.
If a poet can't get it togeth-
er, beyond the "I,' he may
lapse into what I will call "tech-
nopoetry" - based on Pro-
grams (like those written for a
PDP-10), expressed in op-pop
typography, and numbered lines
Today's writer ...
Linda Silverman is a gradu-
ate student who won a major
Hopwood Award this year for
her poetry.

(for those who can't do line
counts anymore).
The poet's alphabet, in the
first place, is not a matter of
letters. Yet Rothenberg uses
fancy phrases like "minimal
poetry" that requires "exten-
sive use of a restricted number
of non-semantic vocables." Its
lines get numbered and tricked
around into alphabetical loops
and upsidedowns and visual in-
versions. Like a machine, it
deals only with the poem's out-
sides, not its guts.
Rothenberg has become a
minicomputer salesman and his
poems read like invoices. Tricks
like putting poems in boxes are
ways to avoid writing real
poems. It is a cop-out. If Roth-
enberg wants to be a technician,
let him consider the heart
chambers and cerebrum.
equivalent to BIBBADI BOB-
BADI BOO, but Walt Disney
handled it better without pre-
tending to be an "experimental
poet". (Is Cinderella's fairy
godmother a minimalist poet in
Heaven has been constructed,
in Indian myth, as a happy
hunting ground. We seek what
we don't have in our tribal
dreams, myths, legends. Our
earth is an unhappy hunting
ground and we need to talk
about it. The tribe needs to get
together on it, to soothe each
other in song, lyric, rhythm-
poems. It is the tribe that Roth-
enberg has forgotten in his
Rothenberg's obsession is with
silence. He generates poem aft-
er poem obsessed with silence.
He struggles to find "the crea-
tion of an equivalent area-of-
silence around each phrase of

succession of phrases in the
poem." It seems too obvious
that repeating "Don Roberto"
42 times is not exactly the
path to silence or minimal poet-
ry, although it may well be the
path to minipoetry.
No, he won't find silence that
way. Silence is not a matter of
alphabet or phrase or white
space on the page. Not at all.
A poem will automatically cre-
ate its own silence if it is strong
healthy, and deep. Take Mil-
ton's "Piedmont Massacre," If
the silence doesn't start flowing
in around you after reading
those 14 lines, I must suspect
you are one of those scientists
who asks himself questions like,
"Did Milton do an accurate,
random body count after the
massacres?" instead of being
stunned by imagery of chil-
dren falling from cliffs with
their little hands and heads
severed. Silence will be a na-
tural outgrowth of a poem if
the poet has hooked us up to
our minisouls, has indeed giv-
en the tribe something to be
quiet about. The poet who gets
hysterical about death can't
help his tribe face it.
At worst, Rothenberg is mere-
ly a Technopoet. He is seduced
by dissociative imagery like
"The night the moon was a spi-
der," or "We spent the night/
with angels/Fishing/in the
ponds of Hell." Or:
In the Hell of Times Square
boys binds themselves
to pain: the cock of fire
blossoms, bringing death
into the streets.
Appropriate to the hell and
death imagery, red white, and
black are his constant colors.
A one-act "Real Theatre
piece" forms a bloody extension

lack of
of many of his poems, for a bull
is required to be slaughtered on
stage and the blood to drip
from the sliced throat onto each
member of the audience, who
takes his turn squatting in a
hole beneath the animal. He
says a goat or male child could
also be used (meaning to be
witty or poignant).
He controls his agony from
time to time and manages to
use the alphabet as a poet
rather than rhetorician.
No! Give me plastic flowers ...
flowers formed by the hands
of young girls in lofts in
the Bronx,
cut out of papers in Tokyo,
hidden in shells,
flowers pasted on walls in
great bunches:. .
(From "Invincible Flowers")
This is real. I believe him. I am
moved. I begin to understand
his sense of urban hell. Here, he
is not merely talking about it,
but creating a poem around it.
If he simply gave up on YO-
HOHEYHEYHEY and confined
himself to life as real to him as
these plastic flowers appear to
have been, he might really get
to be a tribal shaman. It he
could get control of himself, he
would be able to get that silence
a poem needs to thrive, root,
He also tries to make "total
poetry" in sound-poems that, I
take it, are his reconstructions
of 17 Navajo "horse-songs," e.
g., "Some are & are going to
my howinouse baheegwing ha-
wuNnawu . . ." Another attempt
to find his "archaic and primi-
tice past" (he is famous for his
translations of Indian writings)
is reflected in lines like: "I
dwelt among the crooked./I
was taught./I straightened up."

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