I’ve made the argument elsewhere on this blog (as for example here or more reasonably here) that there exists an alternate poetry style in California and on the West Coast which, embracing realism and narrative simplicity, derives probably from Kenneth Rexroth and from translations of East Asian poems that started to appear here in the 1930’s.
I think that the work of Eugene Ruggles (d. 2004) with its heightened social polemic backgrounded by nature is directly related, and I wanted to include here a couple examples. I didn’t know Gene personally, but recall him as an affable presence in North Beach 30-40 years ago. He always looked sort of outdoorsy and seemed red in the face from alcohol, as I thought.
The Fire at Midnight
— for my son Adam
A mile west the Pacific
pulls at the load of moonlight
Inside our potbellied stove
flame is praising a log. At times
like autumn untying a tree.
We live in a small place
miles from anyone in these woods.
You are nine months tonight.
Just half the length of time
when your mother and I held,
for an instant, the force
spinning through us.
That takes our breath away.
And that later
when the walls had returned,
was rubbing your lungs together
like two sticks, until they caught.
Now from the wooden crib
that I built last spring
you are crying and reaching
toward me. And all I know
is the glow from the fire upon you,
you release the light from me.
Outside the great trees
toss and stamp in their stalls
eager with green even at night.
I rise and go toward you
and reaching down, with the wind
bending branches in my back,
lift your beautiful heat upwards.
Walking down an Alley in Detroit
on the Lower East Side
Beneath a lean-to of shadows
four black checker players have drawn
a crowd beside a rusted barrel lifting smoke
around a coffee pot. October
circles easy in the alley, inhales,
is lined with old heavy clothing.
A few blocks down a Chevrolet
factory shifts into its second gear
of human bodies. The bottle of wine
climbing from hand to hand
leaps once more, and refills
as it sinks beneath the ashes.
When an old man reaches out
his dark face packed with scars
and clears the board in one move,
laughter opens against the brick
like a match, like iodine,
burning along the Detroit River.
Both poems are from Roads of Bread: The Collected Poems of Eugene Ruggles. Edited by Delia Moon, Petaluma River Press, 2009.
See also http://www.eugeneruggles.com/about.html and http://eugeneruggles.com/, which has a really good video.