Remembering Richard O. Moore, Part One

by Garrett Caples

Richard-O-MooreWith the death of poet-filmmaker Richard O. Moore (1920-2015) this past March—two days before his second collection, Particulars of Place, was published by Omnidawn—American poetry lost the last surviving member of the original SF Renaissance, that group of anarchist poets centered around Kenneth Rexroth in the 1940s that also included Philip Lamantia, Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Madeline Gleason, William Everson, James Broughton, and Thomas Parkinson. Those who knew Richard continue to mourn his death even as we celebrate his long and extraordinary life. Not the least extraordinary aspect of this life was the intensity of his devotion to writing poetry, even in blindness, virtually up to the day of his death. As a result, a number of poems post-date Particulars of Place, and he grouped these under the title In Passing, an understated pun reflecting his wry sense of humor as he observed himself in the process of dying. The following is, I believe, the last poem he completed:

After Tomorrow

Systemic failure and the death of time
are the companions of my every breath
—high rhetoric for an ordinary matter.
Their time used up, all systems end in death:
cells, circulations, pumps, and valves,
a bloodless recitation of the facts;
but that’s to miss the story of a life
before the inglorious dying of a heart,
time’s other side—depressions, illuminations,
a grand entrance, a grand jeté of love,
voyages from Byzantium east and west,
the bittersweet persuasions of the mind.
As this life leans into the rest of life,
time is the first to falter and give way.
Next, love’s attachments to the world.
The house is empty. No grief can penetrate
the deathly silence of the non-event.

So much of Richard dwells in this poem! His almost egoless calm in the face of impending death remains awe-inspiring, as does the virtuosity of these 17 lines, scored as deliberately as a Webern concerto. Sightless at this point, he was composing in compact units he could keep in memory until a member of his devoted Poetry Collective could transcribe his recitation. The sheer distillation of lines 9-12 represents the whole of a life in a flash and, ever the filmmaker, Richard delivers it in deft montage, collapsing time into eternity.

I mention all this because this coming month (October ’15) in the Bay Area, there are two significant events in the offing. On Friday, October 9, at 6:30 p.m., at the Mythos/Firehouse Gallery in Berkeley, there will be a celebration of the life and work of Richard O. Moore, featuring readings of his poetry by his friends Brenda Hillman and Paul Ebenkamp (co-editors of Moore’s first book, Writing the Silences (University of California Press, 2010) and Particulars of Place), and Garrett Caples (co-editor of Particulars of Place). Richard’s daughter Flinn Moore Rauck will also read and share recollections of her father. After the readings, there will be a screening of one of the rarer episodes from Richard’s famous USA: Poetry series: his rarely seen half-hour film of Robert Creeley! This is be-there-or-be-square terrain for the East Bay poetry crowd. David Reid will host and the gallery is asking for $10 at the door, but, in true Richard Moore anarchist spirit, no one will be turned away for lack of finds.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 4.12.17 PM
Still from Moore’s “USA: Poetry” film series, this one of Robert Duncan reading his own work in his home c. 1965.

Also coming up on Saturday, October 25, from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m., on KQED TV, will be a retrospective of four public television films of Richard O. Moore. Watch this space for part 2 of “Remembering Richard O. Moore.”

Fri., October 9
Mythos Gallery
1790 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA

6:30 p.m.

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