The endnote to this second installment of the Language Poets' "experiment in collective autobiography" announces that the original plan of each writer's following whatever "prompt" the first-up batter of a given volume supplies has begun to fall by the wayside, as bits of the project are being written out of order. The 1st volume hewed pretty closely to Bob Perelman's keynote pages on "love," each writing taking some approach to that oldest of poetic topoi. In Part 2, Barrett Watten provides the keynote – "city," one might call it, or "San Francisco" as place, as site – and while most of the other 9 writers do indeed the address the city, there's also some discernable "drift."
What strikes me the most about this second volume of "collective" autobiography is how little sense of collectivity comes thru in this round of writing, despite Lyn Hejinian's rather impassioned insistence that the group was a polis. (How many uses of that word in alt-poetry can be traced to Olson's "polis is eyes"?) Figures cross paths, reappear from one poet's account to the next, couple & decouple, but this time around there's little sense of a shared aesthetic or political endeavour – only a shared milieu, a San Francisco that – unsurprisingly – looks radically different to different member of this gang of ten.
But The Grand Piano 2 contains some lovely writing – I think Kit Robinson's anaphoric "I remember" section takes the prize here – and some fascinating accounts of writers' formations: Bob Perelman's and Tom Mandel's are the standouts. What they amount to, however, is some dandily-written traditional autobiography (tho there's some interesting genre-jumping in Perelman's piece) of the individual sort. This polis is, after all, a bunch of I's. It'll take more than Watten's collectivist invocation to make this "collective" – at least so far. On to Part 3.
Y'know, these memoirs by writers between 15 & 20 years older than me, remembering the events of a historical moment when they were at least a decade younger than I am now, are (alas) an occasion for readerly melancholy, for my own sense (oh Jesus there he goes again) of impending age, of mortality, of missed opportunity.
The avant-garde – that is no country for old men.