Celebration of Kathleen Fraser's 80th Birthday!

On Sunday March 22nd, Kathleen Fraser turned 80

Claim through and through,
breathe me now window.

Lift. Oh turn your back.
Turn will do.
                          --"Claim" from Notes preceding trust

photo by Steve Dickison

and a crowd of people from far and wide

a small portion of the audience
photo by John Sakkis

gathered at the California College of the Arts Writers' Studio on De Haro in San Francisco to fête Kathleen.

The event was organized by Stephen Motika and Susan Gevirtz, and co-sponsored by The Poetry Center and Small Press Traffic

The Writers' Studio was jammed with countless writers, book printers and artists, former students, colleagues, friends, family, and admirers. A group of about 15 writers each read for some 6 minutes, offering selections from Kathleen's work and their own responses, some in the form of poems or mini essays in various styles; some spoke extemporaneously about their encounters with Kathleen's work and with Kathleen herself. Opting to give myself entirely to the event, I didn't take notes, but here's a bit about what I remember people presenting.

photo by John Sakkis

Frances Richard talked about Kathleen's work and poetic matrilineage, Brian Teare beautifully re-encountered Wing via Mel Bochner's work, one of the original inspirations for the piece, John Sakkis elaborated a kind of litany inspired by Fraser, Jeanne Heuving told the humorous story of her move from an admirer of Donald Barthelme as a model for what she might be aiming for in her own writing to an encounter with Kathleen's New Shoes and its playful erotic energy, and then later with when new time folds up, in which Jeanne found pleasure in the graphic elements of "Etruscan Pages."
Eléna Rivera, Norma Cole, Beverly Dahlen, and Brenda Hillman addressed Kathleen's work in poems and experimental mini essays. Kazim Ali recounted an experience of taking Kathleen's workshop in New York City and his excitement about the promise of working with scissors and glue although the workshop never got around to actually using these materials since their discussions were so vibrant; nevertheless, cutting and pasting are integral facets of Kazim's process. After working through the lunch break, the whole group walked down the street for the Robert Creeley memorial.

Linda Russo recounted her experience of meeting Kathleen at a reading and Fraser's impact on Linda's own writing and book work. Lauren Shufran discussed moving to San Francisco from Buffalo and completing an interview with Kathleen started by Linda Russo. In Washington Square park Kathleen and Lauren talked for some 6 hours. Listening to these recordings later, Lauren was struck by how much of the time Kathleen was engaging her. Lauren and a number of other readers noted Kathleen's generous correspondence and the beauty of her letters. I read from "Notes re echo," briefly contextualizing Kathleen's use of the epistolary in poetry and literature's long and ongoing interest in the letter, from Ovid and Horace to Spicer, Mackey, Bellamy and Adnan, suggesting that the letter provides a formal and rhetorical zone in which the personal and the lyric can be remade, enabling poetry to work the lyric, record and remake the social, poetic and political landscape of our presents, or what will become our histories.

Kathleen closed the evening first by reading "little joy poem," published in The New Yorker. The New Yorker asked Fraser to change the title of the poem, but Kathleen refused. They published it.

little joy poem

Like a shiny bus in the snow,
I feel good this morning--
new upholstery, green and tough,
I'll never wear out!
The snowplow came at 2 a.m.
last night on its lonely task
and I looked from the window
waving my toothbrush.
(At night, the snow
changes color.)
Here I am--two legs
a new morning
and joy,
like the whiteness of cold milk,
filling me up.

Then, reading from WING, gorgeously produced by Dale Going who was in the audience from the east coast, Kathleen left us with her words and resonant voice vibrating in the air.

photo by Dale Going

The good news is you don't have to rely on my memory. Night Boat Books is going to publish a limited edition collection of the essays and encounters with Kathleen's work. This is forthcoming in the Fall. Keep an eye out for it.

All of the presenters offered rich and engaging encounters with Kathleen's work, but of course, even this diversity barely scratches the surface of Kathleen's contributions to the poetry world. There are indeed her more than 15 books, but there is also her work as a teacher, her feminist poetics seminars, workshops, and other classes at San Francisco State, her mentoring, her work as the founder and editor of the groundbreaking HOW(ever) and HOW2, her role as the Director of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State (1973-1976), her dumpster diving there to rescue NET Outtakes footage (a fact John Sakkis noted in his talk as "legendary"), and more.

I first met Kathleen at SFSU where I was an MA student beginning in the fall of 1985. I remember being in Kathleen's seminar and working with classmate Mira Pasikov on our presentation of Barbara Guest's Seeking Air. I was in my early 20s. It was daunting and exhilarating. During the years I spent at State, Kathleen suggested I interview various writers, write reviews of books or performances. She prodded me to do this and to submit these pieces to Poetry Flash. And I did. I'm still doing it!


H A P P Y   B I  R  T   H  D  A  Y  KATHLEEN!

Some more pictures of the event:

Arthur Bierman, Kevin Killian and Kazim Ali

Beverly Dahlen and Norma Cole
photo by Kevin Killian

Elena Rivera
photo by Kevin Killian

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