Tribute to Leland Hickman

Tribute to Leland Hickman
Poet, Actor, and editor of Temblor
The Poetry Center
San Francisco State University

Featured readers included:
Todd Baron
Beverly Dahlen
Kathleen Fraser
Larry Kearney
Kevin Killian
Bill Mohr
Laura Moriarty
Stephen Motika
Brian Teare

Norma Cole and Bob Gl├╝ck were on the program but unable to be present.

I attended the Poetry Center’s tribute to Leland Hickman Saturday night, February 6, 2010 at the Unitarian Center in San Francisco. The event honored the writing of the late Leland Hickman, who edited Bachy, and with Paul Vangelisti, Boxcar, though he was perhaps best known as the editor of Temblor, an impressive journal that ran from 1985-1989. In this large format journal, Hickman published writers such as Robert Creeley, Kathleen Fraser, Aaron Shurin, Ron Silliman, Lyn Hejinian, Alan Davies, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Laura Moriarty, Sally Doyle, Stephen Rodefer, David Levi-Strauss, Susan Howe, Bob Perelman, Mei-mei Bersenbrugge, Ronald Johnson, Barbara Guest, Rosmarie Waldrop, Bruce Boone, and many others. (I’ve pulled most of these names from issues number 9 & 6).

All of the readers, those who knew him personally and those who did not, gave moving testimonies about Hickman’s generosity as an editor and mentor, and the demands that he made on others’ attention and time. Apparently, Hickman was well known for giving poetry readings and having conversations with friends that lasted, and demanded, many hours. Engaging and moving anecdotes abounded, but no time to share them all here. Note: Todd Baron read excerpts from letters Hickman had written him exploring the self and autobiography as constructs. I hope to share some of these with you here soon. Kevin Killian read from his memorial speech for Hickman and he has kindly allowed me to post it here. See below.

I wasn’t aware of Hickman’s poetry. And no wonder. Until now, it has been hard to come by. The young, energetic, and kind Stephen Motika, editor of Nightboat Books, in conjunction with Otis Books/Semiocity Editions, has published Tiresias: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman. Motika and his press are doing some really valuable work, making sure that difficult to find but important writing is available to readers, critics, fellow writers. This collection of Hickman’s work is just the latest in an impressive run, including most recently, Bruce Boone’s Century of Clouds. And there’s more forthcoming. Keep it coming, Stephen, and thank you. See here for more details.

Leland Hickman was born in 1934 and died of AIDS-related causes in 1991. He was 56. “His literary career began in the middle 1960's with the publication of ‘Lee Sr Falls to the Floor’ in The Hudson Review. A book-length section of his serial poem, ‘Tiresias,” entitled Tiresias: I:9:B Great Slave Lake Suite was published by Momentum Press in 1980. It was named a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry. Although Hickman did not finish ‘Tiresias,” additional portions were published in Manhattan Review, Trace, Momentum, Bachy, New American Review, LA Weekly, Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Rara Avis, Little Caesar, Invisible City, Boxcar, and the anthology The Streets Inside: Ten Los Angeles Poets. A second book, Lee Sr Falls to the Floor, which collected early poems and several sections of ‘Tiresias,’ was published posthumously by Jahbone Press in 1991" (Tiresias: The Collected Poems 205).

Now that Hickman’s poetry is available in this generous collection which includes previously and never before published work, I hope that more readers will discover his moving and expansive writing. I am smitten. Hickman’s work is incantatory. Dark. On the edge. Operatic. It makes use of repetition, runs its diction, images, phrasal units through some sort of fractal process that parses, plies, duplicates, unravels, and proliferates. It does indeed, “tell, tell, re-tell” (“The Hidden”).

Here’s what Aaron Shurin has written about Hickman’s work:

“Maximal: as if the towering world above him, writing from the kneeling position, were bursting with element and import– and down they rain! Leland Hickman’s poetic abjection is one of deep saturation, a full-body sensorium, slurped to the brim and fearless of overflow. The stance is worshipful even as it sorrows, incantatory while it keens. His verse lines open in paratactic elaborations that are also compressions: a restless, animating, outward-seeking erotic energy that wants to turn event into body, cauterizing memory and sizzling attention via absorption. Poetry in Tiresias is a relational act in the Whitman tradition, where the reader is taken in and stuffed underneath the shirt to lie close to a shameless beating heart. As I see it, the goal is to make two hearts beat as one. Reading throbs for such poetry at last!”

A few excerpts from Hickman’s work:

from “Virgo I”

Virgo is visited
demons of dark he
sees also alone
bits of beauty.

from “He Who Delights in Signs”

angerly glad flung, mad by infected
feastings, starkt as to dread, dasht to last
wishes, cobwebby viral word blood temblor this
stumbler in naked elision, enjambments stunned, at alarm’s
distance, syllable hell in a panic deathwell toxic bittersweet sleep of who drink thee

I wanted to include an excerpt from "The Hidden," but alas, I cannot. The formatting on blogger here, given the margins on this blog, just won't do it justice. But, do, seek the book out.

Here is Kevin Killian's memorial speech given at the tribute to Leland Hickman held at Intersection, San Francisco, October 22, 1991.

For a Tribute to Leland Hickman

Late 1990, I went to LA to read with Leland Hickman at Beyond Baroque. When he asked for me I took it as a commoner might receive a royal summons, and I bought a book on how to curtsey. I gave a light, febrile, amusing, desperate reading, then came an intermission, then he appeared–he looked like a normal person, then he opened his book and all this grandeur fell out.

After the reading Sheree Levin took our picture, sitting on a bench in kind of the faux-Spanish decor of Beyond Baroque. We blinked at the flashbulb–it was so harsh. The next night, Saturday, Dodie couldn’t come so I took Matias Viegener to the dinner–to which Lee had invited me, at his apartment. Lee and Charles [Macaulay–Lee’s parnter] were charmed, I think, by Matias’ beauty, grace and intelligence. In the elevator I said, “You’ll recognize Charles right away,–he’s been in a million distinguished shows,” and sure enough when Charles opened the door, Matias said, “Oh my God you were on Star Trek,” and began quoting all the dialogue of the episodes Charles had appeared in 25 years before.

As we were walking down the stairs from their apartment, Matias said, “Aren’t they wonderful!” but I couldn’t reply.

You remember the symposium Phillip Foss and Charles Bernstein made for Tyuonyi–I was a little shocked, but not surprised–when as it turned out only one writer spoke about AIDS in the context of experimental writing. And so it was that the same shock, yet lack of surprise, enveloped me as Sheree sent me a print of the photo. I look so light and handsome, but he is wreathed in darkness–inside the darkness of his own genius, and inside the darkness–I had almost said the genius–of AIDS. But let that stand, because AIDS has its own genius, otherwise how could it have beleaguered us, tormented us as it has? I know how cameras lie, and how slogans lie, and how death lies to a certain extent. After dinner Lee and I sat around a table while I interviewed him about the scope of his work, while Charles and Matias took to another room to have coffee. Again his passion and his control made Leland Hickman an enormously living force as he spoke about Olson and Duncan and Pound, about Eliot and Jeffers and Yeats while I tried to write it all down, take it all in. Inside the body of the camera the film, the frame, was taking shape at that moment, and I was growing more attractive, and he was darkening with his twin demons, though this was not manifest. All of us are doing work which we feel is important, and we look pretty attractive–there’s a light beaming from us that beams also from our writing, and AIDS has done this for us. And this is the century we all live in, and this is the disease that history will ask us all these questions regarding–and we will be giving these way–lame–answers.–Kevin Killian

To read Kevin's review of Tiresias, click here.

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