Posts Tagged ‘Investigative Poetry


First Brief Notes on Paleopoetry

I stumbled upon this image just a moment ago.

Woman with Horn

It’s called Woman with Horn. (There may be other names, but that’s what I’m using.) I found a decent brief description of this Woman with Horn carving:

This limestone image of a female carved into the cliff wall at Laussel, in the Dordogne, in France, carries an object that perhaps is a horn, or, by virtue of its lunette shape, might evoke the moon. It dates to roughly 20,000-18,000 BCE, and seems more imposing than its mere 17 inches of height. (Nature and Society)

There’s a lot more to it than that, as I remember from studies, and I think I get to some of it in this poem, which I wrote sometime ago.

All Objects Contain History in this House
after Louis Zukofsky & W. C. Williams

The pregnant lady
on the wall,
she lived here
first. Her left arm broke.
Too brittle
we assume.
We feel sorrow
for her
fingers reach
only inches
above her navel.
No farther. A bit longer
is her right arm
& strong.
She stands with her elbow cocked
as if to throw
the crescent moon
to the end of the year.
We can tell.
She looks
forward with the stone stance
of determined aim,
the crescent has thirteen scratches
made with intent
& a blade.
The marks obviously
are for the passing year’s
every new moon.
Her expectant face
though is blank. Not without
totally but flat
as the wall.
We barely
notice her breasts
to her wrist
& stretch marks.
Her right nipple
also has broken off,
we can’t explain that,
but we can understand
why she wants to throw
away the past.

I started that poem in October 2003 and finished it on April 27, 2007. It now appears in Poems for an Empty Church (Palettes & Quills Press, 2011). If you like that poem, you’ll love the book because the other poems in it are even stronger.

I wanted to share that poem tonight for two reasons. One, I had forgotten about the above sculpture for a long time, and when I saw it, I remembered I wrote a poem about it. So there it is. Two, this is an early attempt at what my friend (Christine Noble) and I are calling Paleopoetry. Clayton Eshleman got there first, and he’s the man, but we are doing it differently. Except for this poem, I think the neo-Paleopoetry (where Eshleman is Paleopoetry) is more imaginative in the direction of the human spirit and soul at the time those Paleolithic artists existed. This neo-Paleopoetry likes to branch out into everything we can find and imagine and that made us human and how we became human. It about how we came to invent things like dolls and burial and cooking. And how the invention then turned back on the inventor and the spiraled outward to humanity and culture and fear and death and love and metaphors and sex and . . . . What it’s really about is living and the beginnings of living and the beginnings of the creative processes and imagination. The above poem isn’t really like that, or not much, but these new ones my friend and I are writing are. Maybe I’ll share some more as time goes by.

Additionally, Paleopoetry is also good place to also continue my explorations into investigative poetry. If I can study the Paleolithic era with enough integrity and write about it well enough, then the Paleolithic era will connect all people at all times. It will become a lense through which I see life and the universe and that I hope others will use to do the same.

I hope to have more detailed thoughts on this as I progress. I just wanted to get those first thoughts out there so I can remember to think about it and come back to it.//


Notes Towards Investigative Poetry (Part One)

Notes Toward an Investigative Poetics

These are my initial notes towards an Investigative Poetics. I am trying to negotiate what this means to me. In this writing, I am drawing exclusively from Ed Sanders Investigative Poetry (San Francisco: City Lights, 1976) (yes, I found and purchased a first edition on for a very fair price), and I am trying to interpret it or make it mean to me. In the end, I think I will usurp the term, Investigate Poetry, for my own means, but pay high tribute to Mr. Sanders. There is absolutely nothing wrong with his version of Investigative Poetics. It is highly commendable. I just wish to go someplace else with it. Below are the notes.


On page 11 of Ed Sanders Investigative Poetry, Sanders writes two important things in regards to defining Investigative Poetry:

History-poesy, or investigative poetry, can thrive in our era because of the implications of a certain poetic insight, that is, in the implications of the line, “Now is the time for prophecy without death as a consequence,” from Death to Van Gogh’s Ear, a Ginsberg poem from 1958.


For this is the era of description of the All.

I’ll get to the first quote in a moment, but the last one, man, is that ever true today with the internet and its Google with so much information at hand. All the information we have today is not only overly readily available and abundant, but it has lent the way to very, very detailed people. In the States, we over analyze everything, in part, because of all the data we have. All this data provides us with the information we need to describe the All, or as I would say, “connect the All.”

With our imagination and its ability to leap and associate and with all this information, a copulation is at hand. Information inseminates the imagination to make more connections. It’s now possible to study, for instance, the history of the crabcake and soon find connections to Baltimore, the Baltimore Ravens, Edgar Allen Poe,  the history of the macabre, the history of literature, an episode of the sit-com Cheers or The Simpsons, and a stunning investigation into American culture, all the way to how our Paleolithic and Neanderthal ancestors hunted and ate food, and how the crab evolved, how through the course of history crab was served, hunted, and was a component of economics, how it affected astrology and the universe, how it affects cancer when improperly connected to on an etymological level as Skeats did in the first few editions of his An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, and how that improperly connected etymology affected James Joyce when he wrote Ulysess, which was banned in America like Ginsberg’s Howl, who is the ancestor of Whitman and who is the contemporary of Edgar Allen Poe, who is from Baltimore where they make delicious crabcakes.

The study of one thing can connect the universe, though I’m not sure this is what Sanders has in mind, but it’s what I have in mind.

As for the first quote, I’m concerned with the “History-poesy” part. I had never though that would be synonymous with Investigative Poetics, but now that I think about, it has to be. How can an investigation occur without a study of history. All investigations will have to go into the past. The past is what defines us. There’s a long tether in humanity and it stretches back to the Neanderthals and to the first amoebas to cosmic background radiation to quantum foam to the big bang and into the future where it will end in fire or ice . . . or Frost.

Example Investigative Poetry texts:

  • Charles Olson’s The Maximus Poems
  • Hart Crane’s The Bridge
  • William Carlos Williams Paterson
  • Ezra Pound’s Cantos
  • Sanders says Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, but I’m not quite sure why at this point
  • T. S. Eliot’s The Wasteland
  • Jerome Rothenberg’s Poland 1931
  • Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger
  • Many of William Heyen‘s collection of poems
  • Any of my collections of poems (I mention not for ego, but because I was doing this before I knew of Investigative Poetry and now I want to study what I’ve been doing.)

Could any of these books have been written without an historical perspective? The Maximus Poems must study the history of Gloucester, The Bridge without a long study into the creation of the Brooklyn Bridge and the events that happened on it during the construction and after couldn’t come to be, nor Paterson without a study of Paterson or even the Genesee River in Rochester, NY, nor the Cantos, which is almost all history, nor The Wasteland, which meanders through history and Eliot’s present, nor Gunslinger without an historical study of the Wild West and philosophy. History, does in fact, seem to be the key. (Joyce’s Ulysess, if it were a poem, would fall into Investigative Poetry, too, and on a number of levels, as he charts Dublin precisely and then writes in each of the main styles of writing through the history of writing, and the whole early Celtic alphabet thing.)


Our minds naturally associate, so why does Investigative Poetry seem so foreign to the contemporary poet?


In a moment of Olsonian possession and Ginsbergian yawp, Sanders announces:

     The verse of the investigative poet of
     genius will discharge data as if scanning
     eye-brains were passing across a high-energy grid,
     the vectors of verse-froth leaping up from
     the verse-grids at every points. High Energy
     Verse History Grids!

High Energy Verse History Grids. The investigative poem must be a high-energy discharge. The poet must gather the energy of the original source and put it into the poem. The poem is a capacitor. It contains the energy of the investigation. No wonder Sanders says to channel the voice and rhythms of Ginsberg as the means of transferring that energy.

The investigative poem is an extension of Olson’s “Projective Verse.” Investigative Poetry needs the mandates of Olson, which Sanders shares with us:

A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it, by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.


Then the poem must, at all points, be a high energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge.

(p 21, quoting Olson from “Projective Verse”).

Let me tell you of Investigative Poetry. When you, the Investigative Poet, are doing the research, and you are always doing research as commanded by the muse and demanded by the imagination, you read a lot. Even in the most mundane of research writings you will find moments of passion from the author. Here is where you know something is happening. Here is where you know the author knows something more than the facts are saying. Here is where you, the investigative poet, must be at high alert. Here is your inspiration. Muse be ready. Imagination raise your eyebrows. The investigation is about to begin. But it’s not the passion we study. It’s what precedes the passion. Preceding the passion are the facts. It’s the running start to the passionate leap that the author makes. Where the author transcends the facts. We, the investigative poet, must go back and start running on our own and then make our leap. The author has left us a trail. Can we get to the same place? Will our landing be different? No matter as long as we make a perfect three-point landing like a sky diver landing on solid ground. The muse and imagination will do with the facts as they please, and they will create a great truth as great as the author’s truth but more musical and more readily available to the novice or uneducated in the field. We, the Investigative Poet, break it down. We make it accessible. We make the jump obvious for the reader. We give the reader a bridge, though the reader won’t realize the bridge is there. The Investigative Poet is the interpreter of the universe. And we, as Investigative Poet translators, must follow Pound’s logopoeia, melopoeia, and phanopoeia. At bare minimum we translate verbatim and insert line breaks and tidy up the language – logopoeia. At our best, we find the best rhythms and music to give the reader’s legs the energy to run and jump from fact to truth – melopoeia. More often, we lay down a bridge for the reader, though kinda shaky like a rope bridge across a great divide – phanopoeia – but it gets us, the Investigative Poet, the facts, and the reader to the truth.

Indiana Jones and a Rope Bridge

Indiana Jones is the Investigative Poet of the Big Screen

The Investigative Poet, in the end, is the medium between fact and truth.

Indiana Jones is what Sanders wants the investigative poet to be. Delving into the research. Keeping careful notes. Cross checking. Making leaps from the limited information he has has into the truth. And killing the right-wing Nazis.


Just so it is known, Ed Sanders back in 1976 invented emoticons, though he called it them emotion-glyphs.

It seems obvious that the language of poetry may well evolve into 1000 color hieroglyphics utilizing a near infinity of typographies. The availability of colors & photographic images and the 100’s of type faces, even in a good art supply store, foretell the birth of an international hieroglyphics. The upcoming laser hologram revolution – that is, poetry and collage and perspective join to thrill the eye-brain with glowing, animated (“poetry in motion,” the rock-and-roll song so prophetically sang), multi-color, 3-d “memory gardens” or verse-grids. This new hieroglyphic language may well use letterless symbols, emotion-glyphs say, 3-d soundless glyphs or tiny photographs depicting complex emotional states, inserted in the hieroglyphic grids, to augment the poet’s inherited word-horde. (p 33. My bold.)


Sanders’ Investigative Poetry is about real investigation, however. Investigating as to expose those right-wing, oppressive cops who spied on Wordsworth and Coleridge and who caused Wordsworth to lose his home, who spied on Shelley until he left the country, that made Dostoevsky complacent, to expose the “FBI-CIA Surrealistic-Complex” (p 23), or:

Victor Jara With Children Supporters

Victor Jara With Children Supporters

Nor shall we forget how the Chilean poet-singer Victor Jara was leading a group of singers while imprisoned in the soccer stadium following the 1973 CIA-coup in Chile, and the killers chopped off his fingers to silence his guitar, and still he led the singing – till they killed him, another bard butchered because of the U. S. secret police (p 12).


Nor shall we forget how the Czar’s secret police hounded Alexandr Pushkin with a nightmare of surveillance and exile. In fact, a brief look at certain aspects of Pushkin’s life is here appropriate, in order to gauge some of the pressures that can force a poet “to become more objective,” or, as the English professor who writes for the CIA-funded magazine might giggle, “to come to terms with the harsh facts of life.” Or to escape into the forgetful symbols (p 12).

Sander’s investigations are more political than mine. Good for him. There should be more political poetry and exposing. An Investigative Poetry that leads to “a genre of Indictment Verse” (p 38). Sanders then expands on how Indictment Verse can sound:

Once again we can reiterate how Howl, with its long-line iambo-anapestic, bacchic and beat dactylic structure, could easily serve as model for blistering indictments and descriptions of your investigations. Read it a few times and see how it fits: invent melodies for sections of it. Chant it with percussion, say, of a tambourine as background; practice singing your investigation grids with its long-breath rhythms. If Sappho’s unique metre could serve as the basis for a whole school of endeavor, why cannot certain modern poems serve in the same way? (p 38)

Man, conviction by poetry. I love it.

Frank Sinatra

"Such meditation would certainly help to center the poet, who, say just last night had gotten roughed up trying to walk past Frank Sinatra's body-guards in Las Vegas to try and ask him a few questions about his buddy Sam Giancana and CIA assassination squads" (p 32).

I can do the political poetry thing, but the way Sanders goes about it is not my way. I’m too shy for that, and he has a whole section explaining why this isn’t for they shy. He gives you tips on what you should do when you go deep the oppressors realm or confront Frank Sinatra.


Do not hesitate to write investigative songs (as in Ginsberg’s smash CIA-Calypso song detailing CIA dope-dealing in SE Asia). No one owns the modes. Ahh the modes. Do not hesitate to use every mode that anyone ever devised. The modes of poetry are more powerful than any so-called magic, for they are a proven input. Do not hesitate (p 38).

Some of his investigative styles, however, are useful even to us shy folks. Dig deep in your research and keep good notes and cross references and document.


More notes will come. This is just the first round. //


Footage from the Three Bad-Ass Poets Reading

The night started with a buzz, and then we got drunker.

Well, that’s not completely true, but there was definitely some drinking. It was actually one of the funnest readings I have ever been to. And it definitely was BAD-ASS.

The night of March 26th began as a party at A Different Path Gallery with the wonderful curator Katherine Weston. The party was then interrupted by some poetry for an hour and then party continued.

The poetry reading began with Charles Coté, author of Flying for the Window.

One of the first poems he read was called “April.”

During his reading, Charlie was caught texting.

Charlie then closed his read with the concluding poem from his book Flying for the Window, “After a Storm.”

Charlie was followed by Sarah Freligh, author of Sort of Gone.

Sarah Freligh reading

Of course, before she read there was a brief intermission so everyone (about 20+ of us) could refill their wine glasses. One of the first poems Sarah read was “Birthday,” I think, or “Happy Birthday.”

A bit later she read “Halfway House.”

Then there was another intermission to fill more wine glasses. Then I (Tom Holmes) read. The first part of what I was read was from my recently released collection of poems, The Oldest Stone in the World (Amsterdam Press, 12:00:01, 1-1-11). I gave a brief introduction to the book.

Tom Holmes Gesticulating

Then I commenced with the first part of my reading. (In case you’re curious, we all read about 15-20 minutes.) I devoted the first part of my reading to the book, and the second part to some of new investigative poems of Paleolithic cave art. But first excerpts from The Oldest Stone in the World.

Then some of the new poems: “Paleolithic Person Discovers Fear,” “Paleolithic Possession,” “The First Painting,” “The Invention of the Ellipsis,” “Paleolithic Person Tells of the Invention of Harmony and Melody,” and “Paleolithic Person Learns to Sing.”

Then we returned to the party where the poets words, along with the audience’s words, slowly became more and more slurred. Luckily there was a limo to drive most people home, and the rest of us walked home.

It really was a bad-ass reading by poets and attendees. Thank you everyone for coming.//


Investigative Poetics

I had never heard of the phrase Investigative Poetry until about two weeks ago when Sean Thomas Dougherty used it to describe my poetry. When I read those words, it was immediately obvious that he was right. He didn’t define Investigative Poetry, but I knew what he meant, and he was right.

Ed Dorn

Ed Dorn


Investigative Poetry is, to me, studying and staring at one thing for a long time and writing poems about that thing. I learned this from Charles Olson and Edward Dorn. Olson once said to Dorn something like, “Ed, if you study something long enough and think about it long enough and write about it often enough, you will understand everything. Associations will be made through that one something that connects everything in the universe.” Ed Dorn responded by writing Gunslinger. An epic poem about the wild west. Dorn study the wild west and connected the universe. So that’s what I do.

The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound

The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound

I first did this with an unpublishable book of poems called The Cosmology and Particle Physics of Love. That book certainly connected things in the universe. Then I wrote After Malagueña, which is really the study of one poem which leaps outward. But there are others, Negative Time (where I studied a universe that is similar to ours but where time moves in a contrary direction to ours), The Oldest Stone in the World (which was a long stare at the oldest stone in the world), Pre-Dew Poems (which is a long, never ending stare of my girlfriend), Henri, Sophie, & the Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex (which looked into the lives of Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Sophie Brzeska, Ezra Pound, a statue, and Vorticism and Vorticists). And now I’m investigating Paleolithic parietal (cave) art.

Each time I do this, I gain clarity.

But it’s this latter book, the book on Paleolithic parietal art, that is making Investigative Poetry make more sense to me.

The Man, The Bison, and the Bird of the Shaft (The Shaft of the Dead Man)

The Man, The Bison, and the Bird of the Shaft (aka The Shaft of the Dead Man)

With this book, I stare back to understand today. I also understand our origins better. I study and imaginatively think and write. I’m making more connections with the universe than ever before. I’m discovering humanity. It happens because I’m investigating. I’m investigating humanity, and so far it’s not guilty.

My description of Investigative Poetry is not all the good.

A better description is in the review that just came out today on Gently Read Literature, “Khurshid Alam’s Investigative Poetry—An Interpretation on Subject, Treatment, and Technique.” This essay is wonderful. I love it. I love it because it describes very well what I am doing with my poetry. It’s got me nailed.

I never thought my poetry could be nailed down, because, until recently, I’m all over the place. But this, this Investigative Poetry nails me, and I like it.

Read this essay on Investigative Poetry and you will read me.

(I apologize if this post seems self-serving, but, damn, the review so excited me.)//

The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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