The Lawrence Hart Seminars, going back to the late 1930s, are by far the longest-running literary workshop in the San Francisco area. In them, poets continue to explore and refine the literary territory that Lawrence Hart and the early Activists opened in the middle of the Twentieth Century.
There is a nominal tuition. Visitors are welcome. Poetic “sophistication” is not required–may even be a drawback.
Below are a few poems produced in the Lawrence Hart Seminars and showing the range of styles developed under the influence of Activist approaches.
STARI MOST (OLD BRIDGE)
After dark, the dogs bark east of the equator
and in the absence of lilacs and of rivers encircling the earth
the orphans do not sleep well.
The grandmothers listen
beside the stone bridge.
What can they say to the mumbling of doves?
After the last months of shelling —
not to mention the ancient earthquakes and the old, old wars —
the mortar of eggs and goat hair
collapsed in the arms of these women.
I look for answers in newspapers, in old books,
where I find sulfur,
neither a metal nor the name of one of my children.
see fires that burn forever under our shoes.
© 2001 by Judith Yamamoto
Judith Yamamoto’s “Stari Most,” first published in The Women’s Review of Books, July 2001, recalls an ancient bridge destroyed in the Bosnian war.
Working in the Activist tradition since the 1970s, Judith Yamamoto has honed a style in which an almost conversational surface masks continual surprises of image and word choice. A recurrent subject is the role of women in a world at war—as survivors, caretakers, witnesses, and in general holders-together of things. Looking back to the origins of conflict, the poet finds something elemental and always ready to catch fire: “neither a metal nor the name of one of my children.” Yamamoto has appeared in publications including Blue Unicorn, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Partisan Review, Ploughshares, Seventh Quarry, Southern Poetry Review.
THE STATION 3
The past we chase. A train moving out. Great blasts of steam,
great wheels, gradual at first, out of the station—
glass, iron ceiling, and steam dispersing.
And a ridiculous figure who runs hopelessly, helplessly after an untraceable past.
Those whom he loved were so briefly present. They do not look back,
they being of the past. As he slows, without breath,
perhaps stumbles, catches himself, and turns back slowly, reluctantly,
disbelieving, in a confusion of loss, death, memory, tricks and falsifications of his time.
What is they take with them?
Returning to a vacant, waiting present, the numberless clocks,
A station with all trains gone.
© 2003 by Fred Ostrander
COMMENT ON “THE STATION 3”
This is a poem on age and loss, of memories that dwindle, leaving the remembering mind bereft. As often in Ostrander, the piece is made up largely of lists. The first stanza evokes several details of a railway station (of another era), focusing finally on a running figure. In the second stanza, a list of this man’s actions—slowing, stumbling, turning back—merges into a list of psychological realities: “loss, death, memory, tricks and falsifications of his time.” This is the heart of the poem. A brief coda shows us the station empty, the attempt to reconnect to the past abandoned. Published 2003 in Blue Unicorn.