July 12, 2011

Gilbert Sorrentino

Gilbert Sorrentino (USA)

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1929, Gilbert Sorrentino attended Brooklyn College. He founded the magazine Neon in 1956 with college friends, including the novelist Hubert Selby, Jr.

The magazine survived until 1960, the year in which the author published his first book of poetry, The Darkness Surrounds Us, issued by the renowned Jargon Society, headed by Jonathan Williams. The following year Sorrentino took on the editorial position of Kulchur, a magazine and later press supported by Lita Hornick, which he would edit until 1963.

After working closely with Selby in editing his 1964 novel, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Sorrentino published is second collection of poetry, Black and White. The Perfect Fiction followed in 1968, but in the meantime he had published his first fiction, The Sky Changes (1966), which would become the author's primary genre.

Over the years of his life, Sorrentino wrote dozens of longer and shorter fictions, including masterworks such as Mulligan Stew (1979), Aberration of Starlight (1980), Blue Pastoral (1983), and Gold Fools (Green Integer, 2001). Several of his fictions and poems use Oulipoean strategies, such as in Gold Fools, where every sentence of the work is a question.

Throughout most of his writing, Sorrentino was an inventive satirist, with affinities to the Irish writer, Flann O'Brien. In several of his fictions, characters from other fictions appeared along with riffs and attacks upon each other. At times, Sorrentino's writing could be brutally cynical, but often the writing displayed a deep American romanticism.

In 1965, the poet was hired as an editor at Grove Press, where he worked until 1970. One of his major editorial projects there was The Autobiography of Malcolm X. But soon thereafter, Sorrentino began to teach creative writing at various universities, including Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, the University of Scranton, and the New School for Social Research. In 1982 Sorrentino was hired as a full professor in English at Stanford University, where he taught until 1999, returning to Brooklyn.

Other major works of poetry include The Orangery, his Selected Poems: 1958-1980, and his final New and Selected Poems (2004).

Among his many awards were two Guggenheim fellowships, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, and the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Sorrentino died on May 18, 2006. A posthumous novel, The Abyss of Human Allusion, with a preface by his writer-son Christopher Sorrentino, appeared in 2010.


The Darkness Surrounds Us (Highlands, North Carolina: The Jargon Society, 1960); Black and White (New York: Totem Press/Corinth Books, 1964); The Perfect Fiction (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968); Corrosive Sublimate (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1971); A Dozen Oranges (1976); Sulpiciae Elegidia/Elegiacs of Sulpicia (Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin: Perishable Press, 1977); White Sail (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1977); The Orangery (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1978; Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1995); Selected Poems: 1958-1980 (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1981); New and Selected Poems: 1958-1998 (Los Angeles: Green Integer, 2004)

Click below for a selection of poems that appeared originally in Douglas Messerli, ed. From the Other Side of the Century: A New American Poetry 1960-1990 (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Press, 1992):

A Connoisseur's Guide to the Bay Area

When news reached San Francisco that, on January 24, 1848,
James W. Marshall had picked up a gold nugget on the South
Fork of the American River, its first effect was to depopulate
the town.

--The WPA Guide to California (1939)


Sleep, the Sun Is Shining

A lavender sky slathered above
the unseen ocean. Violet. Purple.
It makes us wish to be home.
Where oceans are actual oceans.

What am I doing here? is what
I am doing here. Hello, they say,
see you soon: or drop by! They
don't know how to speak

yet often they speak of dining.
Sometimes of opera or theatre and always
of the city, ah, the "City."
Soft, they are soft they are mush

in the moxie, watery. They
confide in cars, conspire, don't like
other cars that take up their room.
They also like big trees. And ducks.

Oh here they come! Right back where
they started from. Back where the
brown grass blazes and the
mud slides slide golden brown.


Will Work for Good Food

They often walk out of the fog
and the "low clouds along
the coast" right into some
wine extravaganza.

The sun whacks them
in the head their brains boil
but they mumble lexus and
mercedes as they jog away,

smokeless and sweet. But there
are many more to come, on bikes
and wrapped in spandex breathing in
that invisible and absolutely

fine and okay carbon monoxide
lead and arsenic and blank death,
what they can't see may be
an orange or a rugged muffin!

Are they right or are they
right? Are they okay? Are they
reasonable? Are they thinking of
the stinking saintly homeless? Well!


Natural Air Conditioning

They don't like you they come
shoot you, in Vietnamese Spanish
or English with a Giants cap.
Firestorms raze the patios.

Have a piece of shark! Want
to hold my pistol?
Another chump gets washed into
the sea off picturesque

Point Santa Nada. Then
they all hop in the car
and speed through the shit
brown tinder hills.

To buy a pot a glass of
Cabernet or Zinfandel or
a cuppa latte. What a life!
Back in the white Sentrolla

they're home in time to see
the books fall down again
from another quake. There goes
Wallace Stegner on the floor.


Those Were the Days Like

Those were the days at Berkeley
remember the days at Stanford
remember the acid poster art
and remember the sunny crowds!

Remember how they all stopped
the war, that's right, just sat
all down in the fucking nude
and that was it for death, man.

Jesus do you recall when
things really meant things, like
the whole red span of the Golden Gate
was crazy? Do you recall

the days when the arts
were, well, the peoples' arts! The
poems and the poems and the poems
and the bodhisattva bus!

When every washed up bust out
sweetheart of a swell guy said
that it was all going to be like
authentically weird forever? Yes suh.


Town Meeting

Sure, the quality of life that is
the style of life that is to say
the life style is such that, well.
You see the gardens? The frazzled sun?

Certainly you do! Here is that
certain something how to say
a kind of, ah, "quality." Fog.
Couple of lost decrepit whales.

Down we go one cute street. Up we go.
Another. Spanish is fine.
In its own place. Will you
just look at these people right

on the streets. Seems that they're
looking for some kind of work? But
the crack of the bat the white whiz
of the ball! The shirts in the crowd.

And not just any crowd. This is
the quality crowd of stunned lawns and
the right sort of you know.
don't cotton much to actual people.


Health and Strength

Books say everybody can live forever
under depressing aerobic arms, there
you go. No reason why anyone
should actually die, come on!

Trees, ceaselessly
grey-green trees, sprayers
thunk expensively. The bicycles.
Glinting in baleful sunlight.

From one street to the other
all these items laugh that life
responds gratefully to low fat
and to high fiber and to running

here. And there. Mostly away away!
Complete with cellular plastic and
bad chanteuses vapid lyrics that
go vapid lyrics that go vapid

lyrics that go vapid lyrics that go
on. They are running faster into
the mist the low clouds the
fog the smog to life without end!


You Have to Come Over Soon

In the pollinated air
they walk backward as they
smile: Hello! You can't
beat this weather this weather.

They relentlessly put space
between their smiles and you
so that you seem to be in
weird pursuit importunate.

You soon understand that
they pretend this human trait
and that one. They are not
reasonable comatose.

They would by God love you
over for a drink and to see
the blown wisteria and the
mesquite charcoal! Spring is here.

If you should miraculously
arrive for Christ's sake don't
knock don't! They'll open
the door amazed and quite alarmed.


Old Palo Alto Classic

If you like you can sit out
in the blue fumes. You can
have a whole oat bran wheat
muffin and an immaculate water.

You can avoid satanic cigarettes
while you rev up the new
Aventra that will soon run on
that same great water.

Certainly! This is what
I can do too. Instead of
what? Instead of
what? (Sunglasses time.)

It never rains a cat or
dog that it don't grow a tree!
Right. Trees are mostly O.K.
They're opening a new live oak

factory here soon. Not near
the half-million-dollar boxes
where the people who value "open"
space sort of live. Of course.


Traffic Heavy and Very Slow

The stars are being pitched into
the imported sparkling water
from Gstaad and the waves
are avocado green

to set off the fresh-ground
coffee with the snappy monicker:
Arab indigo triple mint vanilla.
Open up that Golden Gate!

The last golden straw might
well be the hot dogs in
foil the buns in plastic wrap
out at the Old Ball Game.

Pathetic shiny packs to eat
in the parking-lot mud. Sh.
Sit, pal, the stars hover
fetchingly each night. The

stars are trig. And right.
Deep in the heart of which-its
the dock of yachtses. The dark
of vast machines always alert.


Birdies Sing and Everything

Friends, one of the facts
oft whispered to the Marines
is that a city is only a city but
San Francisco is something else.

Where else can you find
certain things? And hear the high
fine sound of first-class?
Not one of you can deny

if I'm not mistaken that when
you take this street it leads you
to the gala! And that one to
the weekend celebration, with candles.

Plenty of them! To divers arias
loads of authentic art and cuisine
this home of amazing says Hi!
Welcomes you and welcomes you

again. And yet again. When in
the slightest doubt, shoot over
sundry bridges while the bay
doth glint. Or smiling jump off same.

(from New and Selected Poems 1958-1998, 2004)

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