A poet of Uncommon Élan sings the Intimately Oral
(guest columnist Ralph La Charity on the poet Richard Loranger)
Richard Loranger is urban and awake, and has been that for several decades, as poet principally. Now in his early fifties, he began his poet’s journey by arriving in San Francisco from Ann Arbor in the mid-’80s, where he immediately engaged the then-transitional Bay Area poetry environs and milieu. You could still find an open reading any day or night of the week back then, which was where Richard fed his demon, which demon we all know. It was the Ice Age Eighties, and a lot that was happening happened on the down low, whether at Kush’s candlelit no-chairs so sit-on-the-floor storefront on 16th Street or in those Clausen & Vinograd-frequented East Bay jousting spots in either Berkeley or in Oakland. North Beach was desperate to stay relevant after the long shadows of Bob Kaufman and the enduring legacy of the Beats. Yes, the likes of Corso and Ginsberg still appeared, but Bob was close to his own demise when Loranger first met him, while the ever-resonant Jack Hirschman was still a firebrand, and Paul Landry was printing limited bespoke editions of outlaw independent poets/poetics (with the encouragement of Ferlinghetti), and Bill Polak and Laura Conway, stewards of their own hand-crafted mag, Clay Drum, still ran frequent forays onto the aromatic coffee streets of the Beach. Loranger watched, and learned, and stood and delivered hither and yon with tyro-maniacal aplomb, startling in his calm regard as eye-witness and participant in every open scene the Bay afforded. Polak’s hosted scene was at the corner of Polk and California, an open air, traffic-noise-bedeviled open reading that became one of Richard’s first homes. QR Hand still lived in the Mission, where he would help found the raucous and oh-so colorful scene at Café Babar, while Tania Peterson still hosted opens on the 2nd floor at Rose & Thistle, Bill Vartnaw held down a notable redoubt in Noe Valley, and Karla Harryman continued to colonize the backroom at the No Name bar in Sausalito… back then, the Area’s premier poetry newspaper, Poetry Flash, still ran current and lengthy listings of the many obscure outlets for those of the oral/aural open reading persuasion, these that I’ve mentioned being only the notable few I can still recall, and Richard missed none of them. Here is how he typically addressed us, his auditors, circa ’85 :
TO NO POET IN PARTICULAR
Oh you can blah blah blah yourself to death,
but if you eye the sphere sharply,
sharpen fingers on each hour,
if you laser-splice all things = nexi
then you will sit pouring forth shine
digested of light,
throat shining ebullient kind,
and not hungry with your mouth full,
mouth full of earth.
If we could be blasted in space
we’d pin we’d brim we’d roar
but here we reptiles
divine means to leap
attempted landing thought sand
was soft forgot canyon snake
wasn’t meant to soar
Rock falls when it cracks
from within sap creeps
from the chest into light
making spores spring latch break clutch
Reeling off breathless tearing
pollen love eye-rivets
who can see virus legs
dinosaurs what we’ll be
Richard Loranger had a habit of finding the entirety of earth in grains of poetry back then, and he didn’t brake for formal gradualism. The guy just sang it, outright and all-inclusive. With poetry at once brash, focused, and intelligent, unapologetically hungry, giving off flares and flashes with scat-syllabic sappy delight, he startled.
Spring forward to the current millennium and to his second flat-spine poetry book, this one of more than 200 pages: He has his mother’s eyes and teeth, he tells us, in the book’s prefatory note. This from a poet who has by this time, alike to Johnny Cash perhaps, been everywhere over the course of thirty-odd years on the poet’s path: San Francisco, Austin, Prague, Chicago, Boulder, New York, to name an obvious few everyone knows. He ate with relish and alacrity along the way, accumulating dire and abusive masticulatory evidence that had, eventually, to be addressed. His book, poems for teeth, which the aforementioned note introduces, tells all. In poem and song, this series of thirty-two rhapsodies delves into the intimately oral as physical locale, and into the wholesale extractions and re-structurings said locale occasions. Herewith, the first page of a five-page poem almost halfway into the book, on page 81, the poem entitled TOOTH OF ENDURANCE:
# 9 — Upper Left 1st Incisor
Delight keeps the old man spry.
Lovely perseverant, take the rent with
a sweep of sheen — How gracious
the year mere as lightning
shocked and shot, the first, the
fleetest runner pardoned for backward
roots by the seem seam — lovely trickle
of shorn shards and cored
undulation, carved, stunned,
struck and honored — first, fleetest,
finest — beeline dancer, darting
spree, sheer scirocco
settled into reverence and, rightly, you,
Old Man on a Stick,
you do rock the house, keep the raft afloat,
burgeon more than mere mortality.
My own first reaction was “whoa!” followed quickly by “wow!” because hey — this is so clearly a work descended from and advancing in its particularity the modal élan of TO NO POET IN PARTICULAR.
Its lines are right there, which is as much to say all over the place. The words, so utterly s-reliant yet lovely, are placed with palpable rhythmic spring and chop — reading those lines aloud is like following a wizard somehow, but a wizard adept at seduction.
Skip ahead, roughly three quarters of the way in, to the poem TOOTH OF MEMORY, four and a half pages long, beginning on page 159 with these, the poem’s first nine lines:
# 20 — Lower Left 2nd Premolar
Foraging the Pacific floor,
closest to the roiling core of earth
yet hugging the cold mantle, calm and still
sifting animalcules and silt,
drifting with the roots of islands,
deeper than most fragile life allows
dwells 20, scavenging, snuffling,
burrowing a hopeful tunnel
Again, a seduction, yet, settling deeper than just alliterative sleight, this one sets a scene of intimate mystery wherein what is palpable teases and draws us in — anything, anything at all, might treasure forth. Well-whetted, we will follow the poet’s acute revelatory cues. The poet has mastered the trick of emboldening his readers: “Tell me more… ” is our breath-held plea.
Reverse direction radically now by tackling the first two stanzas, on page 27, of another four and a half pager, the jaunty TOOTH OF ENTROPY:
# 2 — Upper Right 2nd Molar
I dunno what the danger is, but I
will figure it out eventually, I’m sure,
as soon as I relax a bit, and then
I’ll take a look at everything again.
It’s just a matter of letting matters slide
along, if you can stand to sit that long,
and then sometimes I think I’ve gotta find
somethin better to occupy my time.
Ne’er a molar e’er was
like indolent Mr. 2,
brave as a fish,
twice as rich,
and thrice as oopsy-doo.
Nota bene: poems for teeth is published by We Press, ISBN # 0-9725663-2-5, paperback, 214 pp., $16.95 and is available through We Press, Amazon, and from the author. Thus far and upcoming into April 2015, Richard Loranger will be touring, starting from his current homebase in the San Francisco Bay area, from Chicago on thru Columbus, Cincinnati, and New York. For further information on the poet, see his blog.