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.
THE LOVERS (a Tarot card)
It is different here: the first man and woman
naked, colorless, their feet tangled in stillness.
And there is no wind or water
where the choice is made.
No meaning is hidden with darkness
but all is painted in odd glyphs.
Around the first ones are trees in all their colors.
More colors than the spread of your fingers.
Tree of fruit and snake,
tree of fire burning upward.
Voices they imagine.
And shapes, a mountain and a cloud.
They cannot see the red and purple angel,
a sun above him, colors on his hands.
His hair is leaf or fire,
a flying of red and green into the light.
They cannot hear knowledge, his billow of vowels.
They call upon the words they know--not many.
Only an ignorant choice can,
with pain and time, make them wise.
(c) 2018 by Patricia Nelson
About “The Lovers”
In this poem, Nelson is almost writing sensory reporting on a fictive scene, the Tarot card “The Lovers” as conceived in 1910 by Patricia Colman Smith. The details the poet picks out are all on the card, yet the poem’s vividness does not depend on the image. Adam and Eve are about to make their fatal choice; but, in common with a long line of “heretics,” the poet sees that choice as the necessary path to wisdom. Nelson’s book Among the Shapes That Fold and Fly (2013) inaugurated Sugartown Publishing’s Activist series; it is followed by Spokes of Dream or Bird (Poetic Matrix Press, 2017) and Out of the Underworld (Poetic Matrix, in press).
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 it they take with them?
Returning to a vacant, waiting present, the numberless clocks,
a station with all trains gone.
(c) 2003 Fred Ostrander
About “The Station”
Fred Ostrander, who died in 2016, had a thing about train stations, and a thing about memories that dwindle, leaving the remembering mind bereft. As often in Ostrander, the long lines are composed largely of lists. The first stanza invokes details of a railway depot (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.” A brief coda shows us the station empty, the attempt to reconnect to the past abandoned. The piece is not in any direct way autobiographical. Published in 2003 in Blue Unicorn, it is found also in the second of Ostrander’s three books, Petroglyphs (Blue Light PRess, 2009).
We come bent and stalking, secrets
adrift and the eyes' arrow directed.
As in dreams.
We move without argument,
in rooms, in shadows, our voices
catching spark, struck for fire or light.
Words, resinous, mute the willing throat,
linger on the tongue, almost waste,
words, in their thrust to rise, like a bird
Beating its crucial wings,
to rise, rise against gravity's thunder,
the shimmering, strutting gleam of them!
(c) 2019 Estelle Solomon
Estelle Solomon has recently turned seriously to poetry. “Words” captures both the difficulties and the joys of wrestling with language in the Activist manner. She makes more use than some of her colleagues of the Surrealist “automatic writing” technique, editing poems down from longer strings of rapidly generated lines. “Words” first appeared in Blue Unicorn in Spring 2019.
THE STEEP OF MIDNIGHT
The angels, my opponents, in line on the ridge,
the stance lifting from the bones that lie,
the mask shifting in sleep.
Captive in theater's pitch, the gavel and fist,
tight to the thigh or raised against air,
glancing against the stone.
This, the array of selves:
the dissident, plaintiff, the ankle-welded slave;
the back, hunched in anger
or the salt-pools of birthing and need.
I, the innocent, fail dominion over all,
lie in greatest undress.
Held in courts and the halls,
the abundant waters, low grasslands of childhood
ring out, call at the edge.
I must wake, descend the coordinates,
reach the beatitudes, beyond the soundless wall,
the vast absence of birds.
(c) 2016 Bonnie Thomas
About “The Steep of Midnight”
Who hasn’t had that dream–the clamoring chorus of past selves, the ego defenseless against all accusation? But at the end of the poem, a kind of peace arrives, which seems not to be the relief of normal waking but rather a strange and quiet place in some far corner of the dream world. Bonnie Thomas’s first book, Sun on the Rind, appeared in 2015 with Sugartown Publishing.
After dark, the dogs bark east of the equator
and in the absence of lilacs and of rivers encircling he 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.
(c) 2003 Judith Yamamoto
About “Stari Most”
Judith Yamamoto often writes–poignantly, not very hopefully–of war and atrocity; this poem hinges on the 1993 destruction of Stari Most, the Old Bridge, in Mostar, Bosnia. In her many years working with Lawrence Hart, Yamamoto perfected a voice that seems matter-of-fact but never fails to take the reader by surprise. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Partisn Review, Blue Unicorn, elsewhere; her book is At My Table (Sugartown Publishing, 2014).