5 reasons why we need August Kleinzahler in our lives; Or, How August Kleinzahler blew into town and made off with all our women

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club in 'The Wild One'

Have I told you I’m troubadoring over to Brisbane to preach some tiger-by-the-tail type sermons and sing some frenzy-filled gospel songs at the Queensland Poetry Festival?  Well, I am.  (Thanks to G.Nunn and all the other peeps who are making this happen.  Your kindness abounds.)

Andrew Burke, Andrew Taylor and I are heading over to rep the West coast steez as part of a stellar line-up of poetical hepcats and lyrical astral travellers.  I was thinking about asking Burke and Taylor if we could go as the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.  We could make jackets.  Like in The Wild One, not after the band.  Although the band is awesome too.

I just found out August Kleinzahler is swooping for the ole QPF onstage love-em-n-slay-em while blowing minds and raising the winds.  New Jersey borne, San Fransisco Haight-Ashbury hombre August Kleinzahler!?!?!  Yes, August Kleinzahler.

Is August Kleinzahler in your life?  No?  He needs to be.  He’s one of the last of the red hot lovers.  Here are 5 reasons why.

(Oh, and just quickly, I can only ever say August Kleinzahler’s name in full.  Think RZA and GZA and Bill Murray in Coffee and Cigarettes.)

5 reasons why we need August Kleinzahler in our lives

1) August Kleinzahler gives speeches for the ages.

If you win this thing called the Griffin Poetry Prize, you have to give a speech at the next year’s ceremony.

August Kleinzahler slays ’em with the funniest

Those of you who don’t win can find solace in the knowledge that you’ve been paid far more attention to the past couple of days than you’ve probably been paid before and that the judges are pusillanimous, blinkered, compromised gits, so what did you expect.


Months from now you all will receive in the mail a package containing the enormous banner bearing your name and image. You will find yourselves puzzled as to what exactly you’re expected to do with it. I suggested to my significant other that she wrap it around herself sari-style and wear it on our evenings out, as a sort of tribute to my genius and achievements. She told me to go … well, I won’t tell you what she told me. It reflects poorly, I think, on her upbringing.


I suppose you want me to say something cheery about poetry. I recall my friend, the English poet Christopher Logue, who was shortlisted for the Griffin prize a few years back, telling me about a visit he made to Prague not long ago … spotted another Anglophone old-timer, an American … As it turns out the American was Elmore Leonard, the famous crime writer. Logue was suitably impressed and introduced himself. Quite reasonably, Leonard had never heard of him. “What do you do?” the author of Get Shorty and Jackie Brown inquired. “I’m a poet,” Logue replied. Elmore Leonard looked at Logue intently for a few moments, then said in a genuinely earnest, heartfelt tone of voice: “You know, the first thing that comes into my head every morning when I wake up is ‘Thank effing Christ I’m not a poet.

and then goes on to give this incredibly poignant speech about a 21-line poem about a Canadian sunset and his ideal reader and the beauty of poetry.

2) August Kleinzahler is cool with thrashing people and getting thrashed in return.

I’m cool with that and you should be too.

An example is when August Kleinzahler reviewed Good Poems, edited by a Garrison Keillor, in a Poetry Magazine article No Antonin Artaud with the Flapjacks, Please.

Ninety percent of adult Americans can pass through this life tolerably well, if not content, eating, defecating, copulating, shopping, working, catching the latest Disney blockbuster, without having a poem read to them by Garrison Keillor or anyone else. Nor will their lives be diminished by not standing in front of a Cézanne at the art museum or listening to a Beethoven piano sonata. Most people have neither the sensitivity, inclination, or training to look or listen meaningfully, nor has the culture encouraged them to, except with the abstract suggestion that such things are good for you. Multivitamins are good for you. Exercise, fresh air, and sex are good for you. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not.

Conversely, Marjorie Perloff reviews August Kleinzahler’s award-winning Sleeping It Off in Rapid City in the Times with praise but also with:

What this predictable catalogue lacks is the particularity that makes poems like Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died” (whose middle section, like Kleinzahler’s, is a tour of bookshops, each image and action subtly anticipating the final revelation of Billie Holiday’s death) so arresting. To call the used bookshop’s clientele “dowdy” and “ferrety” (weasel-like) or its proprietess a “swollen arachnid,” to remark on a girl’s bad skin and a man’s tic: such dismissive gestures are themselves tics: we miss what Pound called “luminous detail”—the image as “radiant node or cluster from which or into which ideas are constantly rushing.” Wouldn’t it be interesting, for example, if there were a moment of erotic eye contact between poet and proprietess, in the vein, say, of Baudelaire’s “A une passante”?  The title poem (originally published in the London Review of Books) has a similar predictability.

3) August Kleinzahler writes better essay-memoir-articles than us.

I’d not heard of Kenneth Cox.  Reading August Kleinzahler’s Kenneth Cox article in Jacket Magazine makes me wish I’d known about Kenneth Cox all along.  I wish I’d been the greatest of friends with him.

I enjoyed a long correspondence with Kenneth Cox. His letters have all the austere brilliance of style and acuity of observation as the critical prose. They could also be very funny, or at least generously sprinkled with oblique and telling asperities. They would make an interesting collection. I learned a great deal from his letters, and not only from the art of them:

‘I didn’t give a toss about the writer’s state of mind, all I cared for was the play of words. I would go round savouring a phrase to test it, taste it, till I could decide if it was ‘good’ or had to be spat out. That word taste is not a metaphor. People talk about the sound of language but the real thing is its taste, in the mouth, harsh crisp sweet pungent, produced by the movement of sound.’

4) August Kleinzahler dedicates poems to John Ashberry better than we can and has his photo taken by our John Tranter better than we ever will.

Photo by John Tranter. Published in Jacket 2

Napping After Lunch, For J.A. on occasion of his 70th was published in Jacket 2.

Napping After Lunch

For J.A. on the occasion of his 70th

On the tea green comforter with Babette
the pet mouse
stuffed and at sea on its expanse
a breeze in the curtains
how one then begins to float
naked but for fur as God would have
so many towns
unseen at first then bend after bend revealed
the distant slap and creaking of tackle
the great cedar and the fountain’s plashing
I recall, don’t you
say so, say you do
the bays, the teeming estuaries
say to me how possibility’s everywhere welcome

A hint of lavender, from the soap, perhaps the yard
out there with the swells of noise
of crowds on the cobbled quay, seaplanes
trembling in the curtains
the green dial, among the many signals
in there in the other room on the radio glowing
adrift like a dinghy
a mile maybe more away from shore
out there heedless, unmanned
the fading steel guitar
what sounds like Veronica’s pattymelt song
then clearly, the wind chimes on Nana’s porch
a clap of thunder
and at last long last host upon host of mummers

5) August Kleinzahler is.

And probably always will be.  It’s all in Green Sees Things in Waves published in his collection by the same name.  You will see it too.  Ebbing and flowing and swooning and tempest-prone overcoming.

Green Sees Things in Waves

Green first thing each day sees waves—
the chair, armoire, overhead fixtures, you name it,
waves—which, you might say, things really are,
but Green just lies there awhile breathing
long slow breaths, in and out, through his mouth
like he was maybe seasick, until in an hour or so
the waves simmer down and then the trails and colors
off of things, that all quiets down as well and Green
starts to think of washing up, breakfast even
with everything still moving around, colors, trails,
and sounds, from the street and plumbing next door,
vibrating—of course you might say that’s what
sound really is, after all, vibrations—but Green,
he’s not thinking physics at this stage, nuh-uh,
our boy’s only trying to get himself out of bed,
get a grip, but sometimes, and this is the kicker,
another party, shall we say, is in the room
with Green, and Green knows this other party
and they do not get along, which understates it
quite a bit, quite a bit, and Green knows
that this other cat is an hallucination, right,
but these two have a routine that goes way back
and Green starts hollering, throwing stuff
until he’s all shook up, whole day gone to hell,
bummer . . .

Anyhow, the docs are having a look,
see if they can’t dream up a cocktail,
but seems our boy ate quite a pile of acid one time,
clinical, wow, enough juice for half a block—
go go go, little Greenie—blew the wiring out
from behind his headlights and now, no matter what,
can’t find the knob to turn off the show.

PS – Every August Kleinzahler book I own has an Allen Ginsberg blurb on it and after some research, found that it gets caned all over.  This is more of an FYI rather than an ace up the sleeve.

August Kleinzahler’s verse line is always precise, concrete, intelligent and rare—that quality of ‘chiseled’ verse memorable in Basil Bunting’s and Ezra Pound’s work. A loner, a genius.

1 Comment

Filed under 5 reasons why, Australia, Brisbane, Poetry, Show, Spoken Word

One response to “5 reasons why we need August Kleinzahler in our lives; Or, How August Kleinzahler blew into town and made off with all our women

  1. gnunn

    I can’t wait to meet this cat JB… August is gonna rip a hole in the sky.

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