The Contrairian Torregian

by Garrett Caples


Sotère Torregian, the Newark, NJ-born California surrealist by way of the New York School, has just published a new expanded edition of his 1976 Kulchur Foundation classic, The Age of Gold, appropriately enough entitled The Age of Gold (Redux): Poems 1967-1975, with Richard Waara’s surrealist press, Rêve à Deux. This collection can be purchased in softcover here or in hardback here. It is a welcome companion to his magnificent new and selected poems, On the Planet Without Visa, published by Coffee House in 2012.

In his youth in the ’60s, Torregian was associated with such fellow Newark poets as Amiri Baraka, Frank Lima, David Shapiro, and, most crucially, Joseph Ceravolo, whose own brilliant Collected Poems was released to great fanfare last year by Wesleyan University Press. This in turn led to his association with the New York School, particularly Ted Berrigan and Frank O’Hara, though he would later relocate to California, where he became friends with the great American surrealist poet, Philip Lamantia, who wrote the introduction for Torregian’s 1970 Oyez Press volume, The Wounded Mattress.

On the back of On the Planet Without Visa, Anne Waldman writes that Torregian is “One of our most radically original poets,” and I have to agree with this assessment. For Sotère’s work is so inimitably his own and I’ve never encountered a poet who combined the quotidian element of the New York School with the full-tilt marvelous of surrealism. An Age of Gold poem written for Joe Ceravolo and his wife Rosemary, “The Warsaw Concerto Plays for the First Time on His Birthday,” provides as good a sample as any of Torregian’s singular lyricism:

The Warsaw Concerto plays for the first time
In my childhood
The pilot has crash-landed
And the beautiful woman is holding
A chrome-plated gun on him
I’m hiding under my seat
In the movie house
“Twenty-five years pass”
In the venetian blinds of tanks lightning

Once again the Tartar us drinking his own mare’s blood.
He needs either Listerine or a record
He walks right into the door-jamb of Adam’s Rib
Half asleep At the “cue”
A beautiful black model comes out wearing a rabbit coat

My Desconsorts
I fall in love with your image a hundred times
Your shadow in each face I see
As in a “jumbo animals pack” I am the ringmaster
in an interlude in Budapest
when you look out all
from rainy windows

Given that Sotère Torregian lacks a computer, living a rather destitute life in Stockton, CA, I thought I would do him the favor of posting the following “Manifesto” he’d written in protest of the Whitney Bienniale, at least in time for the end of that show.

Manifesto AU CONTRAIRE: The Whitney Bienniale

To: Michele Grabner, Chicago Art Inst.
Zoe Leonard, artist, Stuart Comer Museum of Modern Art

Notarysojack, as Barney Stover says,
to unlock the mystery of Existenz
—1 April AD2014

There are no “Women Artists.” There are no “Men Artists.” There are only Artists who happen to embody one gender or another.

When I speak of Art I AM ART I AM AMONGST THE ARTISTS, those who are so-called.

Again, I AM ART.

That which I do is “Art.”

That which I write: “Everything I do is poetry.”

I remain French Surrealist and therefore, therefore, Ainsi Mesdames et Messieurs, Vide Napoli e muori!

I revive my dictum after so many years in abeyance: “C’est la guerre totale” Total Assault!

Your museums and galleries must open the door to the Maelstrom which is US.

A man walking outside in the pouring rain. Prendre d’assaut! – Faire d’Orage!

Artists of Colour? C’est l’Afrique C’est l’Ethiopie C’est le Dogon! There is the veracity of ART, in the true cradle of Civilisation. (Not the Tigris or Euphrates, — Sorry!)

But if you would ask the Question: “What is Contemporary Art?” Ask, then, Africa; ask the Cameroun. Ask the Siné-Saloum!

One must enter the domaine of the oneiric.

—Thus, my absence from your midst is my Presence.

Art, what you call “Art” is going on beyond your conceptions—Au delà, Beyond the walls of your galleries and museums: Art IS HERE where I am. I speak it each day. In turn it speaks Ancient Egyptian, modern Bambara and Amhara. It speaks in every word André Breton ever wrote.


—Inscribed in the journals of Arshille Gorky; evidenced in the paintings of Gorky and those of Jackson Pollock.

It is they who lead the Maelstrom, the Siege of the Citadel.—Avant! Avant!

Yet despite all philistinism Je t’aime. JE SUIS L’ART.

I am sure Le Grande Artiste, the Cookie Monster, would agree with me.

Respondez s’il vous plaît

My tall next door neighbor’s long lovely legs. I am sure the rocks are happy as she walks on them. Alors, même que je suis encore fatigué. Alas I am not a Czar so I can’t sweep her off her feet. She knows nothing about Art. She is one of the tribe of technophiles, digitalized.

But there goes Art (in her) although it knows it not—The Unknown, the Nameless One (I do not know her name or station in life)….but that she goes into a house and emerges therefrom,–onto the thoroughfare, past this window from time to time.

Now I am all silent. I recall the grand artist—pope of us all!—Jackson Pollock once declared he would rather cease talking with human beings altogether, in favor of expressing his communiqué solely in his art of painting. Bravo. I concur. Yet I persist with talk—talk—talk—when I should only write! And otherwise keep silence.

“And disguised I sat amongst you. And you wrapped
yourselves in different webs. Silently, you guarded
the rusty keys of the gates.”

—These words could have come from my own mouth but they did not. They came from the Russian Artist turned Mystic and Pilgrim, Nicolas Roerich, who migrated to the Himalayas to live his life there.—

For you who so tenaciously guard the rusty keys to the Gates.

—Sotere Torregian
1 April – 30 April AD2014

video by Brian Lucas

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