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Book Review: Clearview/Lie by Ted Greenwald

A sprawling, enmeshing poetic memoir from an American poet


Posted: December 14, 2011

By Mark Terrill - For the Post | Comments (1) | Post comment

Book Review: Clearview/Lie by Ted Greenwald

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Following thirty-some collections of mostly poetry, Ted Greenwald's latest book is what you might call a "poetic memoir."

In both style and structure, Clearview/LIE resembles a sprawling book-length poem that narrates key episodes from Greenwald's life and times, from his childhood in Queens, New York, to his coming of age as a writer in the Manhattan poetry scene of the '60s and '70s, with excursions to Paris, London, Mexico and San Francisco. Eschewing the usual analog, chronological narrative, Greenwald has instead cataloged a wide array of salient images from his past and woven them into a vast tapestry, a virtual mosaic of observations, impressions and "takes."

The images or entries in the book are concise and telegraphic in nature (with collapsed-syntax-colloquialisms intact), rarely more than a few lines long, and separated from each other by enough blank space so that each image exists entirely on its own.

At first, the fragmentary nature and fractured chronology can be somewhat disorienting, but soon the inherent rhythm of Greenwald's style becomes apparent, enmeshing the reader in a kind of interactive, connect-the-dots bildungsroman, a portrait of the poet as a young man, as the following excerpt exemplifies.

Clearview/LIE
By Ted Greenwald
United Artists Books
193 pages

Other books by Ted Greenwald
Greenwald's work involves a constantly evolving sense of formal invention, which has often associated him with the group known as the Language Poets, but Greenwald's scope is wider than that, containing a variety of literary history mixed with New York street smarts. Here are just three highlights from his more than 30 years as a publishing poet.
You Bet! (1978). Now difficult to find, this is an early, groundbreaking, book-length poem.
Jumping the Line (1999). A collection of 111 poems written with the same ten-stanza, 30-line form.
In Your Dreams (2008). A series of poems expressing the inner workings of the darker side of the shared contemporary world.

"Been heading to the city from day one. Even in Brooklyn, when me and some friends are waiting to get on a train to Manhattan, the super from our apartment house is getting off the train. He corrals us. Where you guys think you're going, are you kidding, come with me. He walks us back to our block.

We'd scrounge Borden's ice cream pop wrappers and use the wrappers (ten) to get discount tickets for one team or the other don't remember which.

An uncle takes me sometimes Sunday nights, if Monday is off, to Ranger games at the Garden. Even have a puck from one somewhere. We'd also go to Knick games. He'd get tickets from Red Holzman who is from the neighborhood.

This uncle lives and works in Brooklyn and keeps in touch with the boys from the corner till the end of his life. He hangs out on the corner for so many years he is called the Mayor.

Listen, he waxes his moustache, introduces me to lavender lozenges and Sicilian pizza. My other uncle always considers him real tough, since the lead pipe he kept in his car (a Grand Prix I get after he dies) he picks off a garbage can going after guys who beat up my other uncle (who described him, pipe in hand, pushing through a door and saying Which one of you rat bastards beat up my little brother."

Born in Brooklyn in 1942, Greenwald had a childhood that followed the typical pattern for post-World War II America, growing up in a Jewish family with many relatives (some with dubious Mafia connections), attending high school and eventually college.

The title of the book comes from the large freeway interchange where the Clearview Expressway and the Long Island Expressway meet, a project that involved the displacement of some 421 homes when it was built in the late '50s, and which met with much protest from local residents. This was also the neighborhood in which Greenwald grew up, and the Clearview/LIE thus became a symbol of the irreversible and not always welcome changes brought on by the modern world.

An ongoing love for books and reading as well as art, music and the movies eventually led to Greenwald's first travels in Mexico and Europe, the subsequent discovery of the New American Poetry and falling in with like-minded poets and writers in the lively Manhattan poetry scene. The writing and the eventual publication of his own poetry soon followed and continues today.

By the time of Greenwald's visit to San Francisco in the early '60s, Lawrence Ferlinghetti had published Allen Ginsberg's long poem "Howl," which had survived a censorship trial and established City Lights Books as the leading publisher of Beat and avant-garde poetry. A visit to the City Lights Bookstore was de rigueur for any young up-and-coming poet passing up or down the west coast of California. 

The bookstore was a sort of literary Mecca and meeting place, with a well-known bulletin board advertising readings, rooms for rent, or even pleas for funds for poor poets. The San Francisco Renaissance was in full swing, with local poets such as Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan, Philip Whalen and others all involved in readings, workshops and small-press publishing. Popular nightspots such as the Cellar hosted poetry readings by Ferlinghetti and Kenneth Rexroth with jazz accompaniment, and the "hungry i," another nightclub, was the scene of Lenny Bruce's arrest.

"And finally

San Francisco. We stay in a hotel across from the storied hungry i, half of us duckwalking past the clerk's office sneaking in.

At City Lights Bookstore (next to Auerhahn Books with Philip Lamantia's Narcotica in the window) we meet John's cousin Larry, who tells us he's busy collecting for some library all sorts of SF poets stuff. Spicer, Blaser, Whalen, Snyder.

Then, haven't the slightest idea who are these guys. Larry tells me, you got to read Robin Blaser's Cups in Locus Solus, buy, read it, It's the New World, coast of. […]

Larry is kind enough writes down names, a reading list Creeley, Olson, etc. Allen anthology.

Carry this list in my wallet until the early 70s, read my way through it, pass through the Black Mountain guys to the New York guys (not on the list).

They're on my own list back in New York that fall after meeting Lorenzo we start hanging out, go into the city to catch readings.

There's a great scene happening. We come in from Queens. But people are arriving in New York from everywhere. […]

We read hot off the typewriter works at readings at the Metro.

These readings are great. Nobody here trying to impress some guys in the English Department. You can cut the ambition with a knife, and we're hearing totally new stuff. Keep you up in your mind, ah, so that's this week's competition.

Every time, you go home and write. Every time."

For an artist or writer coming of age in the '50s or '60s, these were heady times, fertile with impulses and impressions, a strong sense of artistic community, as well as the falling away of accepted norms and a continual questioning of the status quo.

Greenwald's sentimental education and gradual entry into the nonacademic world of poets and poetry is a heartening story told with both wit and warmth. The process of Greenwald's artistic growth is clearly documented and serves to demystify the sort of alchemy involved in turning everyday life into art.

A heightened sense of immediacy is added by Greenwald's conversational tone and his recurring asides to the reader, as though the text was being written as a live performance. The unusual style in which Greenwald tells this story and his ability to convey the spirit of the times eventually become so infectious and engrossing that it seems to come to an end all too soon. The only thing left to do is pick up one of his many other books.


Mark Terrill can be reached at
features@praguepost.com

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