The next day, Clark Coolidge gave one of the best readings I’ve seen him deliver. A benefit of living in the Bay Area was Coolidge bombing down from Petaluma every few months to read in all kinds of situations, often with David Meltzer, at tiny bookstores or in the modest basement of Moe’s, at memorials for other poets, sometimes to auditoriums, sometimes to just 10 or 12. He didn’t do anything different than I’ve seen him do before, but the large slab of work he read—stripped of intro, contextual remarks, orienting asides, or even I think a drink of water—wove image phrases of (presumably) childhood memories and alien invasion (“even the saucers have given up on us”) with those patented Coolidge one-liners that manage to insinuate one fraction of a conversation you wish you’d heard the whole of, with its atmosphere of razzing, zippy insult (“you deserve a good shrugging”), and stoned inspiration.
For me, a lot of the pleasure and “meaning” or whatever of Coolidge lies in the reader’s work of imagining the social contexts in which the conversational fragments of the poems might be said, just as his way with names—most often just listed as names, no further information given—compels you to create the character who might carry a moniker like that. “On the Nameways”—nouns as names, names as beginnings of movement and tumult, not fixed & given things (“I think I’ll name my garage ‘Adobe Marge.’”)
Immediately after the reading, as everyone filed out to Alex Katz or up to Joe Brainard, I hung back to tell Coolidge how much I’d liked the reading. He was in deep tête-à-tête with I think Peter Baker and I think Sam Truitt, talking with great intensity about Bernadette Mayer: How much of her work is still unpublished, who should release it, why someone hasn’t yet, how great it’ll be when it’s all in print, etc. So absorbed I never managed to break in.
I thought this was kind of magnificent. I’m sure Coolidge has had his share of cult adulation over the years, but to sort of cede your “moment” to a detailed publication discussion of your friend’s work was … well, it was like “Thelonius Monk sinking a drop shot—you could be that.”
Great reading, Clark.
1 hour ago