August Kleinzahler

August Kleinzahler ’s latest collection of poem, Snow Approaching on the Hudson, was published in November.

Like the faint sound of thunder, rumbling in the distance, then gathering in volumeuntil, with a great roar, it all comes crashing down, an avalanche of Europe’s concert halls,like the 7.4 cubic kilometre chunk of the Jakobshavn glacier, calving into the sea below:the red and Alaska yellow cedar stages and smoked birch parquet floors, a reverberating crack,splintering on the rocks below,...

His One Eye Glittering: Creeley’s Chatter

August Kleinzahler, 20 May 2021

Logorrhoea:​ Charles Olson, Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley were all afflicted with it. I only ever witnessed Duncan’s performances – free-form, extended, mostly improvised soliloquies. The one I remember best was at the poet Carl Rakosi’s house. It was many years ago, but I think he touched on Plato, Beethoven, Milton, Tom Thumb, Lysistrata, the genus Asterias (starfish)...

Poem: ‘A History of Western Music: Chapter 88’

August Kleinzahler, 18 February 2021

The river craft moves slowly upriver in the heart of Terra Magellanica,this forest land of earthquakes, hurricanes and volcanic eruptions,sitting low in the mud-coloured water, laden with its cargoof appoggiaturas, mordents, sarabandes, gavottes and trills,along with Domenico Zipoli in his black cassock, lately of Rome, Florence, Bolognaand Naples, scene of his famous contretemps with...

From The Blog
7 January 2021

Trump’s wannabe stormtroopers were all eagerly lined up to do his bidding, with a quiescent Republican Senate and compromised Justice Department under my old high school classmate Bill Barr, terminally stained and diminished by their allegiance to the monster, or so one hopes. They are now, at very long last, beginning to distance themselves from him, after he incited his armed acolytes to break into the Capitol Building in Washington DC on Wednesday afternoon.

From The Blog
17 August 2020

I’ve never seen the sky this colour in the years I’ve lived here, somewhere between Methyl Violet and Lobelia Blue. It has an unreal feel to it, like the old Stereoscope cards from the 1950s. And it comes on the heels of two nights of unprecedented lightning strikes that went on for hours, like slow-motion, erratically staggered strobe lights, along with the distant rumble of thunder. There is, very rarely, every few years, a bit of thunder and lightning during the summer in San Francisco, but I can recall nothing remotely like this. A high wind has suddenly kicked up, ominously bending the large palm in the backyard, freighted with decades of unpruned dead fronds and bedizened with thick ropes of trumpet vine with its orange flowers.

Poem: ‘Traveller’s Tales: Chapter 90’

August Kleinzahler, 16 July 2020

It was a fortnight before le couple coiffure turned up for the high season.A small flat her tante in Paris owned and let to the couple every year,and for many years. They were not young. Mlle’s discomfort was evidentfrom the moment they stepped off the bus that night, as if she found himunworthy somehow of such a gift as a free flat in St Tropez, or her, or both,or perhaps a general...

From The Blog
20 March 2020

The enormous, blinking radio tower on Twin Peaks is half-hidden in mist, as it usually is this time of morning. And the N Judah streetcar rattles and squeals in and out of the tunnel below every fifteen minutes or so, as it routinely does, except on weekends and holidays when the intervals between trains are longer. I have woken to its sound and fallen asleep, often late, to the last train in the very early morning, for nearly 38 years now. Much else has changed around me here, but these two, the streetcar and mist, have not. I suppose they have become more a part of my identity than I realise.

Short Cuts: Ubu Unchained

August Kleinzahler, 5 March 2020

‘We’re  fucked,’ my wife said, ‘truly and utterly fucked. None of these clowns can beat Trump.’ It had been a hideous 36 hours: the Iowa caucuses were a debacle, Trump – Père Ubu brought to life – had been acquitted by the Senate of impeachable crimes, delivered a rousing, if thoroughly counterfactual, State of the Union address, and...

Poem: ‘Murph & Me’

August Kleinzahler, 20 February 2020

Windshield wipers slapping back and forth, Murph’s Celebrity SedanHugged the curve as it sped onto the Edison Bridge, Super 88 four barrelHigh Compression 394 Rocket V8, Roto Hydro-matic transmission, Power Steering,Pedal-eeze Power Brakes, the rolling black cylinder speedometerFlashing green, yellow and red, holding steady at 65 mph, midnight blue frameEncasing me in terror, where I...

Pound & Co.: Davenport and Kenner

August Kleinzahler, 26 September 2019

In​ 1882, the year Virginia Woolf and William Carlos Williams were born, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter, a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball. It wasn’t as good as a Remington but it was cheaper. Nietzsche was losing his eyesight, probably as a result of syphilis, and hoped the Writing Ball would help. But first he had to master touch-typing. He soon gave up on the experiment. But...

On Tom Pickard: Tom Pickard

August Kleinzahler, 22 November 2018

In June​ 2002, Tom Pickard moved into a cramped attic in the Hartside Café in Cumbria, perched on Fiends Fell, six miles from Alston, where Pickard had been living. The café sits at the high point of the road between Penrith and Alston, one of the few trans-Pennine roads. At just below two thousand feet it was the highest café in England, and felt like the windiest. The...

At the Nailya Alexander Gallery: George Tice

August Kleinzahler, 11 October 2018

I find​ this image ravishing, as others might find a Vermeer or Velázquez, although it’s only a cheap copy of a 1972 platinum print, Esso Station and Tenement House, Hoboken, New Jersey (the photograph can be seen in George Tice: A Celebration, at the Nailya Alexander Gallery in New York until 13 October). In the foreground is an Esso gas station, a Ford Fairlane parked...

Poem: ‘Sergio Leone’

August Kleinzahler, 2 August 2018

– Lamb Posse is what tops the bill this a.m., Sheriff,Plus your shot of choice, plus a slice of pie, pecan or rhubarb, you pick.– I’ll skip the pie, thank ye, and have a beer back instead o’.– Don’t know that I can swing that, bud.– Swing it, brother, swing, you dozy cull, Slapping down my sidearm on the counter, loudie-like, to make a point. A head...

Wait a second what’s that? Elvis’s Discoverer

August Kleinzahler, 8 February 2018

One night​ in 1939, 16-year-old Sam Phillips jumped into a ‘big old Dodge’ with his older brother and a few friends a little after midnight and set out to drive from Florence, Alabama to Dallas, Texas to hear a celebrated First Baptist pastor deliver a sermon. At four or five a.m. the boys arrived in Memphis, where they found themselves in a black part of town called Beale...

Poem: ‘Chauncey Hare’

August Kleinzahler, 25 January 2018

It was just a block or two off Palisade Ave, a sprawling, second-floor living room, faux wood-panelled, stuffed chairs, big sofa, cheap ceramic Disney figurines on the coffee table, but with a wall-sized picture window facing east, the midtown ‘moody, water-loving giants of Manhattan’ nearly in our laps, a 3-D mirage, a Fata Morgana of the sort you see sometimes on Rt. 46 headed...

The Only Alphabet: Ashbery’s Early Life

August Kleinzahler, 21 September 2017

Karin Roffman​’s superb biography of John Ashbery’s early life concludes with a photograph of the poet striding towards the camera. He is a tallish, handsome young man. The photograph was taken in the autumn of 1955 when he was 28, shortly after he arrived in Montpellier to begin his Fulbright Fellowship. He looks to have the world at his feet.

Earlier that year Ashbery had...

Poem: ‘She’

August Kleinzahler, 27 July 2017

She was eating an onion as if it were an apple, keeping her distance from the rest of us gathered there on the shore of the vast and famous volcano lake. It was an interlude for writers at some sort of literary affair. We had just been served a dreadful local Prosecco the event’s organisers seemed unreasonably proud of, hick culture functionaries in this distant corner of Oceania.


On Roy Fisher

August Kleinzahler, 29 June 2017

It’s always​ Roy Fisher who comes to mind when I consider the phenomenon of those who come to know a place, especially a city, through literature, photography, painting, film or music, or all of the above, and then collide with the fact of the place in real time. I wonder, then, whether the idea of the place, the imaginative site, is displaced by the so-called reality of buildings,...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 2 March 2017

La Belle Ville

Passenger jets float silently across the thunderheads in the direction of Chibougamau and Matagami Lake, one after another. Who can say why: the Midsummer Meti Mosquito Festival, featuring live performances and dance workshops, handicrafts … I watch them pass overhead through the skylight as I stretch out on the yoga mat, aligning my sore bones. The loud snap of a...

On Michael O’Brien: Michael O’Brien

August Kleinzahler, 16 February 2017

Very few​ significant American poets called as little attention to themselves in their lifetimes as Michael O’Brien, who died last November at the age of 77. Much as with Lorine Niedecker – whose ‘silences’, he wrote, ‘derive from an intellectual conviction that art, like science, demands total concentration on the object of attention’ – his poetry...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 16 June 2016


I found under the tongue, when he opened wide, a harvest of minuscule Thai red peppers clustered either side of his pink frenulum, twin fields of fiery stalagmites. And as if that were not passing strange enough, behind and above two shelves of tiny Lucite drawers to my alarm one of which you chose to open and examine closely in its moist mucosa casing before gently replacing it, and...

Poem: ‘30 Rue Duluth’

August Kleinzahler, 2 June 2016

Elvis is dead, the radio said, where it sat behind a fresh baked loaf of bread and broken link of kobasc fetched only lately from Boucherie Hongroise:Still Life without Blue Pitcher. I read that piece of meat as if I were Chaim Soutine, with its capillaries and tiny kernels of fat, bound up in its burnt sienna casing. There and then the motif came to me that would anchor my early...

Under the Flight Path: Christopher Middleton

August Kleinzahler, 19 May 2016

Christopher Middleton​ hated New York. Among the things he particularly disliked, I suspect, is New York’s position as a cultural bazaar, where reputations are bought, sold and traded, with the attendant buzz of speculation. He was incapable of schmoozing, and his career suffered accordingly. New York’s greatest draw, people action and brute energy, would have been lost on him.


A Peacock Called Mirabell: James Merrill

August Kleinzahler, 31 March 2016

James Merrill​ has in Langdon Hammer the biographer he would have wished for: intelligent, appreciative, sympathetic, thorough, a first-rate reader of the poems, and an excellent writer to boot. Merrill would have hated to be the subject of a plodding biography. He was all about stylishness and elegance, in poetry and in life. But James Merrill: Life and Art shows that you should be careful...

On Hiroaki Sato: Hiroaki Sato

August Kleinzahler, 21 January 2016

The act​ of making a poem – and it is a made thing, like an Assyrian brooch or Bolognese sauce (thus the word makar for ‘poet’ in old Scots) – requires a large set of decisions, at least dozens, more likely hundreds, even in the shortest of poems. The translation of a poem from one language to another requires a large and not dissimilar range of decisions or, slender...

At the Rob Tufnell Gallery: Christopher Logue

August Kleinzahler, 5 November 2015

Christopher Logue​ dwelled in a state of perpetual agitation that ranged from unbridled curiosity and enthusiasm to unbridled indignation and exasperation. If one were to find him at rest between the two poles, one wouldn’t have to wait long for the weather to shift dramatically. He was like that when I first met him in Melbourne, sometime in the 1980s, when he was sixty or so, and...

All the girls said so: John Berryman

August Kleinzahler, 2 July 2015

As John Berryman tells it, in a Paris Review interview conducted in 1970, he was walking to a bar in Minneapolis one evening in the mid-1950s with his second wife, Anne, the two of them joking back and forth, when Berryman volunteered that he ‘hated the name Mabel more than any other female name’. Anne decided Henry was the name she found ‘unbearable’. For a long time afterwards, ‘in the most cosy and affectionate lover kind of talk … she was Mabel and I was Henry.’ Not long after that Berryman began to write his Dream Songs with a song he later ‘killed’.

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 21 May 2015

Shadow Man

Shadow man’s still there, his back to it all, huddled over the picnic table, even after Halloween, after the first big December rain, the pre-Christmas all day Church&Baseball Posada,mariachi trumpet, impassioned orators:GOD LOVES BASEBALL. GOD LOVES YOU.

Still there, under the sycamores, big dun leaves plastering the basketball court, staring, as he does, at nothing.


On Lee Harwood: Lee Harwood

August Kleinzahler, 9 April 2015

In​ The Orchid Boat, the most recent of his more than 25 collections, Lee Harwood lights out from his seaside eyrie in Hove to many places, real, dreamed of or imagined: New Zealand, north-east India (‘where the Khasi people still sing some/hymns in Welsh’), fourth-century Alexandria, the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, 15th-century Constantinople, Bologna in 1992, Amiens...

At the Smithsonian: Richard Estes

August Kleinzahler, 22 January 2015

The​ retrospective of Richard Estes’s work (until 8 February) is dazzling in more than one sense. From the late 1960s, when he established his mature style, his paintings of New York make use of hard, reflective surfaces like plate-glass shop windows, car bonnets, fenders and windscreens to fragment, distort and multiply images, replicating something of the visual complexity, speed...

Little Lame Balloonman: E.E. Cummings

August Kleinzahler, 9 October 2014

E.E. Cummings​ is the sort of poet one loves at the age of 17 and finds unbearably mawkish and vacuous as an adult. But in the mid-20th century he was the most popular poet in the United States after Robert Frost, and from early in his career, among the most admired by writers and critics. It wasn’t just the usual modernist suspects like Pound, Williams, Stevens and Marianne Moore who...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 25 September 2014

Snow Approaching on the Hudson

Passenger ferries emerge from the mist       river and sky, seamless, as one –             watered ink on silk

then disappear again, crossing back over       to the other shore, the World of Forms –...

Odd, unsettling somehow, visiting here again after so many years, travelling through town at this hour, the Baixa nearly deserted, then along the river, the lights of the bridge blurred by rain, just me and the Consul’s driver: customised Citroën C4 Aircross Picasso, outsized smoked-glass windows, upholstered like the inside of a leather queen’s crypt, brown Bavarian bull...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 9 January 2014

The Bench

What passed through your mind, old man, what passed through your mind back then, staring out beyond the shingle and sea wrack, the islets and rocks, to the Olympics on the far shore, snowy peaks poking through cloud?

I would spot you often on this bench, smoking your unfiltered Players, gazing into the distance, reading the grain of the sea, the currents and wind, as if parsing the...

Poem: ‘Summer Journal’

August Kleinzahler, 26 September 2013

[3 p.m.]

Loss leaders in shop windows, fog spilling down the slopes of Corona Heights, Twin Peaks, Tank Hill –

my name on everyone’s lips:

August, they say, with resignation and dismay, pulling up their collars against the wind.


The student doctors in blue scrubs, passing up and down Parnassus to the hospital, now invisible, on top of the hill,

past the...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 20 June 2013

My Life in Letters

There you are, looking like the Khan’s most favoured concubine, but in a London doorway, cigarette and beige Aquascutum, smiling, at me, it would seem, all ardour, woundedness and hope. How would I not have adored you? And you … and you … ‘Dear August …’ Oh, no I can’t, please … The carnage …

Drifts of blue...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 24 January 2013

Traveller’s Tales: Chapter 12

The cruise ship heads out of the harbour before dark in the direction of Point Blanco and the sea beyond, the din from the convent playground below having subsided and the sickle moon making ready to take up its post beside Venus and Jupiter, aligned this month, and on display above the flood-lit cathedral.

They erupt like cicada whirr, like starlings...

Poem: ‘A Baroque Scot’s Excess’

August Kleinzahler, 25 October 2012

Sesquipedalian Thomas, aureate Urquhart, Sir Thomas of Cromarty,


and, not least, his PANTOCHRONOCHANON:or, A PECULIAR PROMPTUARY OF TIME which, with rare exactitude, traces the URQUHART line...

They follow you around the store, these power ballads, you and the women with their shopping carts filled with eggs, cookies, 90 fl.oz. containers of anti-bacterial dishwashing liquid, buffeting you sideways like a punishing wind.

You stand, almost hypnotised, at the rosticceria counter staring at the braised lamb shanks, the patterns those tiny, coagulated rivulets of fat make, both knees...

Poem: ‘Tuq-Tuq’

August Kleinzahler, 2 August 2012

Thass me, your jibber-jabbering Sulawesi booted macaque, most amused to be braining rodents with fig buds from up high, near the tippy top branch of my tuq-tuq tree, and that’s no lie, when you passed by below wearing I forget now which look. You gazed up and smiled, sweet-like: ‘Why not c’mon on down, Joe?’ How’d you get onto all that? And we’re talking...

Poem: ‘The Hotel Oneira’

August Kleinzahler, 22 March 2012

That was heavy freight moved through last night, and has been moving through since I’m back, settled in again by the Hudson at the Hotel Oneira: maps on the walls, shelves of blue and white Pelicans, multiple editions of the one epistolary novel by K., the curios – my sediment, you might say, my spattle trail.

Look at them down there by the ferry slip, the bridal party, organza,...

Poem: ‘Lo Mein’

August Kleinzahler, 15 December 2011

You were still only a child, I, 19, the age of your eldest boy now. It was the evening of the Marijuana Caper your eyes first met mine at the China Chalet. I believe it would have been spring, early, but days clearly lengthening, a patch of ice maybe here or there, pussy willow catkins … We nearly bought it twice that evening, my father swerving left and right, Mother, beside him,...

Poem: ‘Sports Wrap’

August Kleinzahler, 30 June 2011

Who would have credited their late August collapse? They flourish like jumpweed over these punishing summers, or did do, adversaries going faint here alongside the river. Eighteen-wheelers bust across the interstates, devouring horizon, tuned to the one same station, signal fluttering as this distressing tale unfolds, inning by inning, game by game.

Do you suppose, in the beginning, there was...

Poem: ‘Rain’

August Kleinzahler, 14 April 2011

I The room darkens, then darkens further with the approach of yet another storm cell from the west with its columns and plaits, the tall, ghostly chambers of space between –une fraction intense du météore pur … willow, sage, Sung green, a hint, perhaps, of veronese; now darkening further still until sufficiently dark, as if at the beginning of a show, and with the...

Poem: ‘Snow’

August Kleinzahler, 20 January 2011


The tank column moves east in the snow. You cannot hear them at this remove, High above and at an oblique angle: The ‘bird’s-eye view’, much favoured by mapmakers. There are no birds, long gone to the south. The sky is empty and will remain so for months, Excepting attack planes and bombers, Nowhere in evidence this evening. Nothing aloft In this weather. The tanks...

Diary: My Last Big Road Trip

August Kleinzahler, 2 December 2010

The Maestro is clearly moved by what he has just heard. I’d put us around Bobcat Flats between Fallon and Ely on US 50 in Nevada, which likes to call itself the ‘loneliest road in America’. An article in Life magazine from 1986 quotes someone from the AAA saying of this 287-mile stretch: ‘There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it. We warn all...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 18 November 2010



The Super Chief speeds across the American West. Herr Doktor Doktor Von Geist pulls the ends of his moustache, almost like a seabird manoeuvring his wings in unsettled weather, while he gazes out at the desolation and tumbleweed – the echo-less-ness, as that bore Krenek likes to put it – moon drifting in and out of the clouds. With a formal solemnity, confused, perhaps...

Poem: ‘Closing It Down on the Palisades’

August Kleinzahler, 25 February 2010

1: September

Kettles, rain hats – the small, unopened bottle of Angostura bitters, its label stained and faded with the years.

The breeze is doing something in the leaves it hasn’t been, not at this hour. The light, as well.

Early yet for the cicadas, their gathering rush and ebb. Too cool, the sun not high enough.

A cardinal darting among the shadows in back of the yard, only at...

Diary: Selling Up

August Kleinzahler, 11 February 2010

In a couple of days I’ll sit down in a small, noisy, cluttered room with lawyers, the realtor, my sister and brother-in-law, and hand the keys to this house over to a very pleasant young Chinese couple who will begin their own lives together here. They are very excited. I am not. I like it here. This is home, even if I haven’t really lived here for 42 years, my psychological redoubt: red brick, slate-roofed, sitting on a 500-foot basalt sill that reaches down to the ‘lordly Hudson’. It is what is most solid about me and what has allowed me to live the sort of life one might not associate with any notion of solidity.

And thus did the Atmospherical Theatre play out, with its transmutations & shifting of vapours, whether the rain-bearing clouds of January riding over our heades like vast Carracks or Bulging, dull-swelling Bas-Releive clouds bloated & pendulous, ubera caeli fecunda: sky cubbies or udders clouds; Enclosed & stufft ye whole visible Hemisphere in colour like Lead-vapours or a tall...

Poem: ‘When the Barocco’

August Kleinzahler, 24 September 2009

When the Barocco came over the hill with its cerulean vaults and golden exhortations Otto in the tower took leave of his fleisch, attending to the rumble in the near beyond.

Up the staircase of the Dolomites and along the length of the turquoise river, streaming in channels of differing hue, it bounded like a beach ball across the great passes,

the summer pastures, flattening all that came...

Poem: ‘How Many Times’

August Kleinzahler, 11 June 2009

Master claps of thunder, Wrath of God thunder – Sitting on the porch at night and waiting For the rain to fall in Texas;

Or at the Cantina Grill Express In Denver airport, between flights, Watching as you dab at some hot sauce On your chin:

How many times, how many places, Have I said ‘I love you’? How many _____ does it take To change a light bulb?

Watching smoke from the...

In Vanity of Duluoz, a cross between a novel and a memoir published in 1968, a year before his death, Jack Kerouac wrote about the circle of friends he had met in the spring of 1944, on his return from a stint in the Merchant Marine, describing them as ‘the most evil and intelligent buncha bastards and shits in America’. The group included Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Lucien...

Poem: ‘A Wine Tale’

August Kleinzahler, 12 February 2009

For Lee Harwood

Behind the château, its celebrated ‘candle-snuffer’ towers and Gothic traceries engraved and worn proudly on the labels of how many bottles of Pinot and Bourgogne,

the old caretaker sleeps in the shadow of the cistern, its wood sweating and frayed, the autumnal, late afternoon light bringing to this rustic tableau the kind of orange-tinted, unworldly radiance...

Poem: ‘Hollyhocks in the Fog’

August Kleinzahler, 4 December 2008

Every evening smoke blows in from the sea, sea smoke, ghost vapour of lost frigates, sunken destroyers. It hangs over the eucalyptus grove, cancels the hills, curls around garbage sacks outside the lesbian bar.

And every evening the black bus arrives, the black Information bus from down the Peninsula, unloading the workers at the foot of the block. They wander off, this way and that, into the...

Poem: ‘Shoot the Freak’

August Kleinzahler, 17 July 2008

Shoot the freak Cold wind, boardwalk nearly empty You know you wanna

A cluster of hip-hop Lubavitch punks, shirt tails out, talking tough You shoot him

he don’t shoot back Keeper-flatties thrashing in buckets, out there on the pier

Shoot the freakin’ freak A regular family of man out there, fishing for fluke

and blues in that wind How you gonna build memories Everything shut down


All There Needs to Be Said: Louis Zukofsky

August Kleinzahler, 22 May 2008

Born on the Lower East Side in 1904 to immigrant Russian Jewish parents, Louis Zukofsky spent his entire life in New York City, reading and writing and doing as little else as possible. He was abstemious, hypochondriac, a chain-smoker; he cared little for food, took almost no exercise and insisted that the windows of his apartment be shut tight at all times: he was very susceptible to...

Poem: ‘Secondary Sexual Characteristics’

August Kleinzahler, 13 December 2007


Spindrift of grunion spume in moonlight Granular, sorrel-coloured, ammoniac Upon the tide’s retreat A meniscus of foam hissing in sand The milt bores deep


His presence was more than unwelcome The change room strictly off-limits Except for the dancers

Relish of wild duck cooked with olivesThe slight scent of prussic acidA faint whiff of overripe peaches

These impromptu

Barack Obama, junior senator from Illinois and presidential candidate, passed through San Francisco last month during a three-day visit to California, the climax of which was an ‘exclusive’ fund-raiser at Oprah Winfrey’s estate in Santa Barbara County, expected to raise around $3.5 million. Winfrey is a good friend to have, whether you’re moving depilatories, novels or...

Poem: ‘Anniversary’

August Kleinzahler, 21 June 2007

You’d figure the hawk for an isolate thing, commanding the empyrean, taking his ease in the thermals and wind until that retinal flick, the plunge and shriek – cruelly perfect at what he is. With crepe myrtle igniting the streets and flowering pansy underfoot I’d get out there just after dawn each day, before the sun made it over the mesquite and honey locust. Cliff swallows...

Poem: ‘Sleeping It Off in Rapid City’

August Kleinzahler, 22 February 2007

On a 700-foot-thick shelf of Cretaceous pink sandstoneNel mezzo … Sixth floor, turn right at the elevator ‘The hotel of the century’Elegant dining, dancing, solarium Around the block from the Black Hills School of Beauty And campaign headquarters of one Jack Billion (‘Together we can move forward’) The exact centre of the Oglala known universeCante wamakoguake...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 4 January 2007

Retard Spoilage

Animalcules heave their tackling, ladders of polysaccharides, onto meatmilkshrimp&creamy emulsions,

sticking like putrefactive velcro. The refrigerator switches on in the darkness, a murmuring, perfervid sadhu close at hand.

Turbidity, gases, a silky clouding over – gray slime spreads across hot dog casings, a sour reechiness transpires below.

However much by day we...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 5 October 2006

Traveller’s Tales: Chapter 13

The bicycle paths of this Social Democracy are busy with pedallers, humourless and good, speeding down their privileged corridors, kinetic emblems of an enlightened state, efficient, compassionate, and on the go.

Our visitor shuffles to the fine arts museum and sits there, mildly hungover, before the Delvaux, not one of his best, as if that really mattered,...

The overtones drift out over the lake from the direction of the east-facing pavilion,

gathering themselves into a tree of tiny mirrors, mirrors and gold foil,

suspended above the water’s surface –

late sun through heavy foliage,

the clangorous exhalations dissolving into the low sounds of wind on water, on nearby lalang grass.

Frangipani and incense – the gods have been...

Diary: The Doomsday Boys

August Kleinzahler, 17 August 2006

Tony Blair came over to the US, where some people still like him. He’s getting to look more and more like Steve Bell’s caricature. I liked it better when he was feeling more himself – the evil head boy, half-sadist, half-sycophant. Bush is clearly the better man these days, even if he looks as clueless as the Channel 5 weather lady. The Blair/Bush press conference was revealing. The press, in this instance two members of the British press, laid into Bush, not like our boys here do. You could see the sneer starting to take shape in the corner of his mouth, but he’d left the smirk at home. This was for international consumption. Bush isn’t as stupid as the press, especially the British press, makes him out to be. He looks stupid, certainly, and sounds stupid, but he’s a clever man in his way, and much underestimated. Blair looks and sounds almost hysterical. If one were gently to strike his forehead with a sugar spoon his face would break into ten thousand tiny pieces.

Poem: ‘September’

August Kleinzahler, 3 August 2006

The long-beleaguered home team, black hats and orange piping, is eliminated on a cool night, the very end of September, with the phlox zerspalten by rain, as Benn wrote, and giving forth a strange animal smell, seltsamen Wildgeruchs.

While the neighbouring team from across the Bay, the ones with green leggings, younger and more brazen, were finished earlier still, after the clamour attending...

Poem: ‘I Went To See McCarthy’

August Kleinzahler, 11 May 2006

I went to see McCarthy

with cardinals rattling in the boxwood and pecans suffering their convoluted slumber in the heat, taproots humming deep underground;

from a parched, bare plain of yellow ochre to a green place, hilly and moist.

And a great sleep overtook me upon crossing Nacogdoches.

Until next I knew we were dropping, dropping down through the clouds, into the rain and old quarrels,


Snarly Glitters: Roy Fisher

August Kleinzahler, 20 April 2006

In a 1979 review of Roy Fisher’s collection of poems The Thing about Joe Sullivan, probably the most likeable collection by a not always likeable poet, John Ash wrote: ‘In a better world, he would be as widely known and highly praised as Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.’ This would be a very strange world, and not necessarily a better one. Fisher has never aspired to the sort of readership that Heaney and Hughes enjoy; it’s not clear he has aspired to much of a readership at all. Astringent in tone, the voice denuded of personality and with all the warmth of a lens, exploratory, restless, difficult: it is poetry almost entirely without charm. On first learning that his work was being read outside a small circle of poet friends, Fisher froze up for an extended period of time, as he would periodically throughout his writing life. There isn’t much in the poetry that would provide fuel for the more significant engines of reputation. It is too heterodox in form and method, and too various to characterise or place comfortably in the context of contemporary British poetry, beyond the idiotic and self-marginalising labels of ‘outsider’ or ‘experimental’.

Living on Apple Crumble: James Schuyler

August Kleinzahler, 17 November 2005

‘I am well. How are you? It is wonderful here,’ the first letter in this selection begins, and goes on: ‘I love it here; real mad fun. Especially the evening game of gin rummy before beddy-by (9.30); the 8 p.m. cup of cocoa.’ The letter was written on 15 November 1951, a few days after James Schuyler had been admitted to Bloomingdale Hospital, a mental institution in...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 20 October 2005

Traveller’s Tales: Chapter 18

A southerly buster off of Bass Strait was raising whitecaps in the Bay and jittering the flags out across the plaza. We were sitting under the famous bare-ass portrait of Chloe. You know the one, in the old upstairs hotel bar, posh. So _______ says to me, he says . . . Wait a moment, you knew _______? Not well, acquainted-like, a snort, or two, or...

Poem: ‘Over Gower Street’

August Kleinzahler, 1 September 2005

Rain a cab you Standing there on the sidewalk, in the dark The gathering thrum as the city awakens

A field of clouds below Below the clouds the sea On the screen overhead a movie

Across the great city They are moving, the two of them The freeways nearly empty In pursuit, being pursued Down ramps, among warehouses A girl in jeopardy A beautiful young woman in jeopardy Before dawn, before the...

Fulcrum Press, a small poetry publisher, operated out of 20 Fitzroy Square in London between 1965 and 1972. I don’t know of a more important or influential publisher of poetry in recent history, or one which achieved so much in so narrow a window of time. The press was founded by a 26-year-old physician-poet from what was then Rhodesia called Stuart Montgomery, the author of a...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 17 March 2005


Well now, it really is you, and after how many months? I had ceased keeping track. No, not given up, never that. I should die if that were true. But still – was it some affront? You’ve never been this cruel.

Distracted? To be sure; even you can’t begrudge me this: a father, friend, another friend. Death’s visits threatened never to end. I know better than to...

Diary: remembering Thom Gunn

August Kleinzahler, 4 November 2004

There’s only one naked lady left, going to ruin out there in the fog amid the dahlias and lavender, its pink trumpet flowers wilted and in tatters. There used to be a couple of dozen of them blooming in the yard every August. Not much else was out there in the yard doing much of anything so the ladies made quite a spectacle of themselves, like Rockettes in a dusty frontier town. The...

There’s a window, 36 hours or so, not even, after travelling by air between places, places where you’ve lived for a long time. When you’ve landed and into the next day, perhaps the evening – then you begin to lose it. It goes very quickly, decaying like a tone in the air. But for a while, inside that window, you’re hyper-awake. I’m talking about light,...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 9 October 2003

Epistle VIII

It’s simply untrue, Maecenas, that I do not care for nature. A vile canard: I do, but not unadorned. I need architecture, streets, and, not least, the human form, to frame, contrast and ornament. A birch among a sea of birches does not enchant. Rather, give me a birch, say, over there in the moonlight, to the left of the belvedere, by itself or part of a small stand, with...

Cutty, One Rock: My Big Bad Brother

August Kleinzahler, 21 August 2003

They didn’t look like hoods, more like mid-career bureaucrats, fortyish, chubby, thick glasses. But they’d brought two good-looking molls with them; I can’t imagine they were even 18: blonds, Marty and Will. It fell to me to keep the boys entertained while my brother retired to his bedroom with the two Mafiosi for what was to be a very, very serious conversation. My brother...

Poem: ‘The Bus Barn at Night’

August Kleinzahler, 7 August 2003

Motion is not a condition but a desire to be outside of one’s self and all desire must be swept away so saith fatso Gautama bus-like under the shade of some shrub in the Deer Park in some grove some municipal greensward chewing a leaf that has left him stoned as a stone stone-like mouthing this sententious drivel some errand-boy some rich man’s son dutifully sets down on a dusty...

Well, I’ll start with where born which is no doubt where I’ll end – a section of low land on the Rock River where it empties into Lake Koshkonong, all near Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Nature is lush here, I feel as tho I spent my childhood outdoors – redwinged blackbirds, willows, maples, boats, fishing (the smell of tarred nets), tittering and squawking noises from the...

Poem: ‘A History of Western Music: Chapter 11’

August Kleinzahler, 20 February 2003

Per le donne famiglia Paciotto-Piernera & Jeff-e

The beauty – the way the swallows gather around the Duomo for a few moments at dusk then scatter, darting away across the Vale with its checkerboard pastels dissolving into smoke along with the hills beyond. We saw it that one time from the Maestro’s apartments, through a little oval window above the piazza while that awful...

Poem: ‘A History of Western Music’

August Kleinzahler, 3 October 2002

April of that year in the one country was unusually clear and with brisk northeasterlies ‘straight from the Urals’. Their ancient regent at long last succumbed and laid to rest after much ceremony. Sinatra was everywhere that spring, in the hotel lobbies, toilets, shops – ‘Fly Me to the Moon’, ‘You Make Me Feel So Young’, name it. On TV a...

Diary: Drinking Bourbon in the Zam Zam Room

August Kleinzahler, 8 August 2002

The best bar in San Francisco reopened for business the other day under new management. But it’s no good. They’ve got it all wrong. For one, the place is too bright and cheerful now. The new owners have installed all manner of lighting and cleaned up the mural over the bar. It looked better with sixty years of smoke stains, a kind of patina. Now, it just looks like what it is: a...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 25 July 2002

Hyper-Berceuse: 3 a.m.

Imagine in all the debris of space The countless trade names

Jugurtha Tuwolomne Chert-Farms

Some of these belong to you Can you tell which ones Each has its own sequence of microtones Together they make up a kind of tune Your tune The ceiling and walls are star maps Breathing, alive Those aren’t stars, darling That’s your nervous system Nanna didn’t...

Poem: ‘The Tartar Swept’

August Kleinzahler, 9 May 2002

The Tartar swept across the plain In their furs and silk panties Snub-nosed monkeymen with cinders for eyes Attached to their ponies like centaurs Forcing the snowy passes of the Carpathians Streaming from defiles like columns of ants Arraying their host in a vasty wheel White, grey, black and chestnut steeds Ten thousand each to a quadrant Turning, turning at the Jenuye’s command This...

Poem: ‘The Art Farm’

August Kleinzahler, 14 January 2002

Another season comes to a close. Sunflowers nod, the mallards grow restive and hoarfrost sparkles on the lawns well into morning. After some discussion, the badminton nets finally come down. For one last time the cleaning ladies strip off the bedclothes of the week’s guest artist and do what they can with the wine stains. – Jerk, they say to themselves, village girls with almost...

For Christopher Logue

The talk-radio host is trying to shake the wacko with only a minute left to get in the finance and boner-pill spots before signing off, the morning news team already at the door and dairy vans streaming from the gates of WholesomeBest, fanning out across the vast plateau. Fair skies, high cumulus cloud – the birds are in full throat as dawn ignites in the east,...

Diary: Too Bad about Mrs Ferri

August Kleinzahler, 20 September 2001

On a fine, late October afternoon in 1957 I came home from school to a great commotion at the foot of the block where we lived. TV trucks and news reporters were clustered at the gates to the long drive leading up to Albert Anastasia’s enormous Spanish Mission-style home. The Palisades section of Fort Lee, New Jersey, then as now, was a sleepy, leafy enclave, overlooking the Upper West...

Poem: ‘The Old Poet, Dying’

August Kleinzahler, 6 September 2001

He looks eerily young, what’s left of him, purged, somehow, back into boyhood. It is difficult not to watch the movie on TV at the foot of his bed, 40ll colour screen, a jailhouse dolly psychodrama: truncheons and dirty shower scenes. I recognise one of the actresses, now a famous lesbian, clearly an early B-movie role. The black nurse says ‘Oh dear’ during the beatings....

An apple is an apple: György Petri

August Kleinzahler, 19 July 2001

György Petri (or Petri György, as he would have been called in Hungary) was born in Budapest in 1943 to a family with a Serbian and Jewish background. A year after Petri’s birth, in 1944, Hungary joined the Axis powers with disastrous result. The war impoverished the country and brought in its wake the Stalinist regime of Mátyás Rákosi, who was briefly...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 24 May 2001


A shriek hits the membrane

that canopies the street, falls, and the trough gets it. Sediment thickens with it, the dust of voices, the smoky penumbra around street lamps, finally settling to the ground.

A monster stirs, under this midden we love on, chafing himself against the crust, too miserable to rage.

Oat jism, perfume – the radio horn man blows a hole through, again...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 8 March 2001

The Installation

Until it all turned into a waxworks The lot of them In the same old rooms Same lamps, chairs, wainscoting The piano still there, out of tune Sheet music under the seat

A period tableau, late ‘50s But off, somehow, dark A hint of menace in the shadows It could almost be something out of Kienholz But eastern, domestic Taped voices issuing from hidden speakers

How strange...

Bolinas is a sleepy little seaside community about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, at the end of a long, windy road over the hills. It isn’t easy to find the turn-off, and over time residents have put up misleading signs or camouflaged helpful ones in order to discourage tourists. For many years a fair number of artists and writers have made Bolinas their home, or one of...

Poem: ‘September: Lake Wannsee, Berlin’

August Kleinzahler, 19 October 2000

I would rather have been Dufy with these sails and darkening clouds – well, not Dufy, and this is not Le Sud: better, say, Cranach, had he been given to painting sails against the day’s last light. Perhaps there is a kind of sail in Mary’s eyes, poor thing. The Baltic night is moving in, dragging its sombre quilt behind like a filthy bridal train. I would rather have enacted...

Put it away, like a good girl

August Kleinzahler, 16 March 2000

Lucia Berlin is a Western writer, by which I do not mean a genre writer of cowboy tales like Zane Grey or the younger Elmore Leonard, but that her stories, with only a few exceptions, are situated west of the Great Plains or in Mexico. Berlin herself was born in Alaska and spent most of her childhood in Chile – a setting for several stories. The daughter of a mining man, she also lived in Montana, Idaho, Arizona and Texas. El Paso, in Texas, is revisited time and again in her writing. Her adult life has been spent in New Mexico, Mexico and the San Francisco Bay Area, chiefly Oakland, and she now lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Four Poems

August Kleinzahler, 3 February 2000

The Swimmer

For Brighde

The japonica and laurels tremble as the wind picks up out the west-facing wall of the old natatorium, made wholly of glass. The swimmer takes her laps, steady and sure through a blur of turquoise and importunings of chlorine. The large room itself now darkens, lit as it is by natural light, as the storm clouds press closer toward land.

Back and forth, the solitary...

From The Blog
11 December 2018

The two most famous graduates of the Horace Mann School for Boys, class of ’67, were Barry Scheck, of O.J. Simpson ‘dream team’ fame, a lawyer who became expert in the use of DNA evidence in criminal defence cases, and William P. Barr, Trump’s nominee for attorney general. He previously held the post under the late George H.W. Bush. Barry and Bill at the age of 14 were almost entirely recognisable as the adults one reads about or watches on TV. Both boys, so far as I remember, entered Horace Mann in the ninth grade, as a handful were allowed to do. Most of us started in grade seven. We all were required to wear ties and sports coats and proper trousers. I remember Barry in a tweed jacket, a small-ish boy, my size, carrying around an outsize and packed-to-bursting briefcase. He was very determined, and academically aggressive. Bill was then, as now, a pleasant-faced, pillowy-looking boy.

From The Blog
11 June 2018

In the spring of 2009 I received a phone call from someone who worked for a programme on the Travel Channel called No Reservations, of which I had never heard. He told me they were planning to shoot an episode in San Francisco over the summer and would I be interested in appearing. As no one had ever asked me to be on television before (or since), I said: ‘Sure.’ I was told that the star, Anthony Bourdain, had borrowed a copy of my book of essays, Cutty, One Rock, on a long flight to Sri Lanka from one of his staff and liked it so much he wanted to have me on his show. ‘That’s nice,’ I thought to myself.

From The Blog
28 September 2017

In 1977, at the age of 51, Hugh Hefner endured an existential crisis when he found himself choking on a metal Ben Wa ball, one of a pair that had been in his girlfriend Sondra Theodore’s vagina in order ‘to enhance her physical sensations’. The ruler of the then considerable Playboy empire ‘fell back on the bed, choking and unable to breathe, and was about to lose consciousness when she squeezed his chest and finally dislodged the sphere’. (I’m quoting from Steven Watts’s 2008 biography, Mr Playboy.) ‘Is this what it has all come to?’ Hefner later wondered aloud. Then: ‘What will all the newspaper headlines in the world say tomorrow morning?’ Finally, regaining his composure, he asked: ‘Are we getting this on videotape?’

From The Blog
27 June 2017

He’s back, like Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5, and with a brand new book, Understanding Trump, his 28th or so, and hard on the heels of his two 2016 thrillers, Duplicity and Treason (written with Pete Earley). Newt Gingrich – one of the three amigos, along with fellow failed politicians Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, who hitched their wagons to the star from Queens during his campaign for president, all three desperately jockeying for the position of vice president or secretary of state, only to be spurned and humiliated – is back in the mix.

From The Blog
20 January 2017

As King Ubu from Queens makes ready to take the presidential oath of office, assuming the ‘leadership of the free world’ and the computer codes that unlock America’s nuclear arsenal, the Pollyanna in me would like to remind those hiding in their basements with an eight-year supply of protein powder and Green Giant corn niblets that when Ronald Reagan took office at noon on 20 January 1981, the prospect of an extremely right-wing B-movie actor and longtime shill for General Electric entering the White House was hardly less surreal and unnerving than what we face now. True, Reagan had served two terms as governor of California (1967-75), but we here in the Golden State are still digging ourselves out from under them 42 years later, during which time vast sums of money have been transferred from the state’s resources for health, infrastructure, education etc. to the wealthiest 5 per cent of individuals.

From The Blog
8 November 2016

Ron White is a comedian from Texas who delivers his monologues, to large crowds, in an amply tailored suit with an expensive bottle of scotch on a small table at his side. One of his most famous routines is ‘You Can’t Fix Stupid’. He’s speaking, unkindly, of his ex-wife and cosmetic surgery, not the body politic, but throughout the 2016 presidential campaign the title of his disgruntled riff has looped in my brain.

From The Blog
26 August 2016

When you’re listening to jazz in, I would argue, its greatest and most significant incarnation, a folk-based, body-based chamber music recorded during the 1950s – Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, John Coltrane et al – it was probably recorded by Rudy Van Gelder on analogue equipment in his parents’ living room in Hackensack, New Jersey, a room specifically designed for their son’s sound recording and where he made use of hallways and alcoves to tease out acoustic effects. By day, Van Gelder worked as an optometrist in Teaneck. He died yesterday at the age of 91.

From The Blog
21 June 2016

Basil Bunting wrote his long poem Briggflatts over the course of 1965, much of it while on the train commuting from Wylam to Newcastle, where he worked as a subeditor on the financial pages of the Journal, then part of the Thompson newspaper empire. Bunting had published nothing in the previous 13 years, nor had he written any poems, as such. Aged 65, he was struggling to support two children and his second wife, Simia, whom he had brought back with him from Persia to Northumberland in 1952 after being expelled by Mossadeq.

From The Blog
17 February 2016

Sixteen years ago, during the Republican primary campaign, John McCain went into South Carolina with a five-point lead over George W. Bush, having enjoyed a decisive victory in New Hampshire. A certain party with no official links to the Bush campaign organised a phone poll, asking: ‘Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?’ (McCain had taken his adopted daughter, who was born in Bangladesh, on the campaign trail.) It worked like a top for the Bush team. McCain lost the South Carolina primary by eleven points and never recovered. While the smear campaign was underway, during a break in a televised debate between the two candidates, Bush took McCain’s arm and assured him that he, Bush, would never countenance a dirty manoeuvre. ‘Don’t give me that shit,’ McCain told him. ‘And take your hands off me.’

From The Blog
31 July 2015

At the local fromagerie here in Montreal the other day my meagre store of French quickly exhausted itself, I think while discussing the desired thickness of the jambon about to be sliced. ‘S’il vous plait,’ I said meekly, ‘parlez-vous anglais?’ The proprietor, a tall, sturdily built man in his mid-fifties, gave me a gimlet-eyed, appraising look, then shrugged: ‘Where are you from?’ Had I said Toronto, I don’t know that he would have spat on the floor and thrown me out but I doubt he’d have continued in English. ‘Je viens de San Francisco,’ I said. And we were off to the races, discussing Quebec cheeses, charcuterie, what have you.

From The Blog
14 April 2014

I took a walk in the forest the other day, a national forest. I’m not, customarily, big on walking in the forest unless there’s a Hansel and Gretel Bar & Grill about 300 yards in, but I’m glad I did. It was an uncommonly sultry April afternoon for San Francisco, and windless, rarer still.

From The Blog
15 January 2014

‘One of the most wonderful places you can find anywhere,’ Will Rex wrote in Picture Play in April 1916, ‘is Fort Lee, that magic New Jersey town across the Hudson from New York City where murders, robbers and Indian chases take place while the police force – his name is Pat – leans, yawningly, against a convenient lamp post.’

From The Blog
31 July 2012

Be glad Mitt Romney didn’t visit Auschwitz. That could have really been ugly. You know people like Mittens, as his former constituents in Massachusetts used to refer to him, without affection, also Mitt the Shit. You may even be related to someone like Mitt, perhaps by marriage: the sort of counter-intuitive person who, as if by some sinister gravitational pull, will inevitably step in it every time he opens his mouth. You may find something endearing about him, you may even love him in your own fashion, but you try, as best you can, not to go out in public with him if it’s at all possible. You certainly wouldn’t take him with you to Europe or the Middle East.

From The Blog
7 June 2012

The cover story in this coming Sunday’s New York Times Magazine is entitled ‘Prep School Predators: The Horace Mann School’s Secret History of Sexual Abuse’. Amos Kamil, who left the school in 1982, names several teachers, including the headmaster, as pervs. I was at Horace Mann 15 years earlier than Kamil – class of ’67, near the bottom of the fifth quintile and a great disappointment all round – and knew a couple of them: one was waving his baton as a young music instructor and the other, a large boy, a few years older than I, Stan Kops, later became a teacher at the school. Poor Stan wound up killing himself. I believe he swam butterfly on the varsity swimming team.

From The Blog
19 December 2011

It would have been a grey September day in Melbourne 25 years ago, lunchtime, that I was sitting in a car outside the ABC’s Broadcast House, listening to Christopher Logue being interviewed by Terry Lane, a former Church of Christ minister, who was laying into Logue with an unholy fury. The onslaught culminated in Lane declaiming: ‘Did you, or did you not, Mr Logue, claim the Queen of England is the Anti-Christ?’ There was a long pause, after which Logue remarked: ‘Well, I don’t remember exactly, but it does sound like something I might have said.’

From The Blog
5 October 2011

Chris Christie is very fat. That wasn’t the problem, as he contemplated running for president on the Republican ticket: 75 per cent of Americans are overweight, if not quite that overweight. Governor Christie is also Roman Catholic, and that is a problem, a very considerable problem, as regards his electability nationally. You can be certain his religious affiliation was in the mix as he sat down with his people this week and made his decision not to declare himself as a candidate.

From The Blog
1 August 2011

Barack Obama suffered a split lip nine or so months ago playing basketball, severe enough to require 12 stitches. Obama likes basketball and has played it competitively since he was a schoolboy in Hawaii. One of his enduring grievances is directed at his high-school basketball coach who didn’t make him a starter on the varsity team, a decision Obama regarded as unfair and, perhaps, related to a certain animus on the part of the coach.

From The Blog
5 January 2011

A few years ago a masseur I visited from time to time, a very able, very gay old German hippie said to me as I made ready to leave: ‘Don’t vait so long unless next time you come Schwarzenegger will be president and there’ll be tanks in zuh streets.’ Wolf, the masseur, has since retired and, as of the other day, so has Schwarzenegger, at least in his role as governor of California. I’m of at least two minds about his going, but I suspect I’ll miss him. He brought a particular glamour to the drab corridors of Sacramento, the sleepy capitol he commuted to by jet from Los Angeles as seldom as possible. I don’t blame him, really. Sacramento is a bit of a dump and the former governor is very LA: swept-back ’do, swept-back face, with that peculiar sheen the flesh gets when tugged in that direction; the big cigars and the shiny suits with the shoulders bloused out to accommodate his outsized pecs and lats and assorted ’ceps; the fleet of Humvees; the A-list social set, the Sunday Harley runs up the coast with James Cameron and the lads... Have you ever been to Sacramento?

From The Blog
3 September 2010

The Australian Labor Party, and Australia itself, scored an own goal recently with an inconclusive general election and the imminent threat of a hung Parliament. Or so one might reasonably surmise, but the locals don't seem too terribly agitated about it, at least the Aussies I run across. The country is prospering, in a way that Britain and the US clearly are not: building cranes sweep across the skylines, shops and restaurants are jumping. The most recent economic forecast is bright. This could all change in a hurry should Chinese real estate go bust and/or there's a double-dip recession in the West, but at the moment the situation is looking ripper.

From The Blog
9 July 2010

There are too many people on the planet, and that is why we are out there drilling at 5000 feet in the Gulf of Mexico. There are too many people, and it is not at all an acceptable thing to say so. The Left doesn’t like it, neither does the Right, in so far as those quaint terms are relevant in this context. And the Catholic Church really, really doesn’t like it. There are too many of them, to be sure, spitting betel juice and flipping tortillas all the live long day; but there are also too many of us, fussing with our handheld whatevers as we jostle one another amid the stalls of Camden Town or pour off the N-Judah streetcar at day’s end, down the block from me here in San Francisco, where a great deal of tortilla flipping goes on and, doubtless, the more than occasional instance of betel juice expectoration.

From The Blog
12 May 2010

There is agitation abroad in the land to put a likeness of Ronald Reagan on the face of the $50 bill, supplanting that of Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War hero and two-term president of the United States. Grant was a mixed bag; presidents almost always are. Consider Andrew Jackson, the face on the $20 bill, and nowadays a most familiar face since the advent of cash machines. Next time you’re in Oklahoma, why don’t you ask a Cherokee, probably an older one, not attached to an iPod, about Andrew Jackson.

From The Blog
11 January 2010

Whither the sea lions? That’s what’s on the minds of many here in San Francisco these days, no less than the vanished Nigerian head of state has puzzled citizens in that corner of the world. They disappeared a couple of months ago from their gathering place on the now abandoned boat docks at the foot of Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf, after the Disney parks the third most visited tourist attraction in the United States. Disgusting and malodorous as they were, lolling about and barking, plastering the docks with guano, occasionally slipping into the Bay for sustenance, these creatures were, apparently, the big draw on the pier, an open-air, rectangular hell of T-shirt, junk food and gee-gaw shops. There is absolutely not one single reason to visit Pier 39 unless you are a conspicuously unimaginative family with small children and a camera from Terre Haute, Indiana on holiday.

I called Poluszny, my friend the retired cabdriver. He knows many things. ‘Paolo,’ I said, ‘where did the sea lions go to?’

Three Poems

August Kleinzahler, 30 September 1999

Citronella and Yellow Wasps

Before the heat and after The little pink beeper shop and the flamingo In the logo Same colour as the icing on the cookies inside And the votive candles that heal bad sprains Also, the billboards overhead Through the dusty branches Big square decals mounted against sky A bit of nose here, some lettering Jesus or barbecue Exit 205 Cobalt blue background cut out of...

Two Poems

August Kleinzahler, 19 August 1999

Christmastime in Coronado

The attack jets comes in low over the ocean past the tennis courts and the Duchess’s cottage, in tandem low over the Navy golf-course headed for the North Island airstrip then wheel to the left out over the water again, the afternoon’s last light making a movie set of the offshore islands around and back once more past the grand old wooden hotel and its...

Blackfell’s Scarlatti: Basil Bunting

August Kleinzahler, 21 January 1999

In 1964 Basil Bunting began writing his long poem Briggflatts on the train from Wylam to Newcastle, where he was in charge of the financial page of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle. In June that year Bunting had written to a friend: ‘Nothing about myself. I feel I have been dead for ten years now, and my ghost doesn’t walk. Dante has nothing to tell me about Hell that I don’t know for myself.’ Bunting’s poem was completed in a year. At least a couple of reliable commentators think the original version of the poem ran to 20,000 lines. In its final form it is about 700. Although he’d published nothing in 13 years and written no new poems as such, Bunting had been filling notebooks. Wretched as he was at his job, and struggling at the age of 64 to support two children and the wife he had brought back with him from Persia as a teenage bride, he’d had a transforming experience. A local 18-year-old had phoned Bunting out of the blue and asked him if it would be all right if he showed the older man some of his poems. Bunting told him to come round and the boy showed up an hour later, ‘longhaired and fairly ragged, with a fist full of manuscript. He said: “I heard you were the greatest living poet.” ’ Bunting got a kick out of the young man, Tom Pickard, and found much in the poetry that excited him. He wrote to Dorothy Pound in June 1965: ‘Well, I thought, if poetry really has the power to renew itself, I’d better write something for these younger chaps to read … I planned a longish poem, about 750 lines, which I finished about a month ago and have just revised and sent off to Poetry Chicago today. I believe it is the best thing I’ve done.’ As we close in on the centenary of Basil Bunting’s birth at Scotswood-on-Tyne in 1900 it looks more and more as if this long poem written late in his life is not simply the best thing that Bunting had done but among the very best poems anyone has done this century.‘

Poem: ‘September, with Travellers’

August Kleinzahler, 26 November 1998

Coolness at evening, a delicate astringent

It seems only last week those sunsets, like gardens of sky in all their extravagance, kept on without end,

the lightest of breezes, trembling sage.

Now, the curtains drawn earlier each evening, the dinner wine left half-finished.

One guest after another passing through. A few quiet hours here, a long, difficult journey from town, before heading on.


Three Poems

August Kleinzahler, 2 July 1998


The janitor washing the blackboard in Mrs Turnaud’s class

February night not too far from the border with Vermont

snowless, and still a little stoned

thinks he caught a patch of aurora borealis out the window

or maybe just a headlight off a cloud


Thank you for kissing me just then It was getting to be rather a swarm in there with the tendrils,...


Rain streams from the stucco parapets of the Boomerang Academy well after midnight, early autumn, along this deserted stretch of Broadway between the railyard and boarded-up emporium where Aunt Peg got her trousseau, Dolores too, in the year-aught-something at the bottom-of-the-world.

And it roars in the canopy of leaves high above the sedate brick offices of the law and publishing firms...

Poem: ‘52 Pick-Up’

August Kleinzahler, 16 October 1997

Luminoso e dolce



Colourless green ideas sleep furiously






Slow loris


A bit of the other



Amber, civet and musk cods

Wahoo McDaniel




A bit of rough






Ten dwarves took turns doing headstands...

Poem: ‘Late Autumn Afternoons’

August Kleinzahler, 17 July 1997

Red pear leaves take the light at four, and a patch of brick on the south, rear wall stripped of wisteria: the two reds embering a little while then dying back into the shadows. A corner of the afternoon is all, maybe half an hour, not much more – October, November ... the beech tree bare now.

Sunday’s blow would have done it. And always the Interstate out there, like surf,...

Poem: ‘Self-Portrait’

August Kleinzahler, 6 February 1997

It was a lost dream, a bridges and heights and headed home dream, but too long, far too long and mazey and all the wrong tone. And then there was that station, so massive, with its tiers, platforms, girders and steps, trains rushing through on the express track, filled to bursting, commuters illuminated, each face vivid, highlighted – is that you? – exasperation, fatigue, concern...

Poem: ‘Tanka-Toys: A Memoir’

August Kleinzahler, 28 November 1996

The planet may have tilted, if only a hint when the shelf of cloud burnt angrily before dusk           jack-o’-lantern stuff

her hair the colour of her coat, fallwear


The wet stain her bathing-suit left on the bench           the shape of...

Poem: ‘August 1995’

August Kleinzahler, 20 June 1996

Under the floorboards Shadow and Smoke bark through these windy summer nights, always at queer intervals. Something’s got up their noses or call and response with a distant yard. All summer long awakened from dreams by barks, remembering each of them through, shabby kinescopes. The guys upstairs come fetch them in the morning and disappear till night, always leaving the light on in the...

Poem: ‘Snow in North Jersey’

August Kleinzahler, 22 February 1996

Snow is falling along the Boulevard and its little cemeteries hugged by transmission shops and on the stone bear in the park and the WWI monument, making a crust on the soldier with his chinstrap and bayonet It’s blowing in from the west over the low hills and meadowlands swirling past the giant cracking stills that flare all night along the Turnpike It is with a terrible deliberateness...

Three Poems

August Kleinzahler, 2 November 1995


An apocalyptic crack spreads like thunder over sintered gorges and alkali flats. The junco is knocked sideways then drops as if shot onto a granite bed, turning slowly mahogany there – wild peony. Somewhere in the bleached sky and cirrus a Phantom is at play, singeing cattle, lifting shingles off farmhouse roofs. An enormous ball of phosphorus bounds across the Carson Sink.


The soppressata fée outside of Califano’s with the swept back ’do and blood on her smock grabs a quick smoke on the sidewalk, tosses it in the gutter then sucks back her lips till they smack, getting her lipstick right....

Poem: ‘Uttar Pradesh’

August Kleinzahler, 9 March 1995

You were dozing over Uttar Pradesh well after the shadows of Annapurna swept across the big plane’s starboard wing,

dreaming a peevish little dream of Stinky Phil, your playground tormentor from fifty years before, his red earmuffs

and curious cigar voice vivid as the tapioca you used to gag on at the end of Thursday lunch, when the captain’s serene, patriarchal voice


From The Blog
30 March 2010

Now that Tiger Woods is making ready to pull the sock off the head of his driver once more, and with our concern and warm wishes going out to Sandra Bullock in her moment of heartbreak, who among us can ignore the devastating toll sexual addiction takes, not merely on the celebrities we love and admire, but on the broader society, a society reluctant to even acknowledge this serious mental health issue and the countless lives it affects, inevitably in the most damaging of ways.

From The Blog
2 December 2009

I went down to the corner bar last night with a few of my neighbourhood friends. We get together every few weeks down there. It’s a bit young, noisy and yup for my taste – I prefer the old man slob bar across the street – but it’s become our custom to meet there and catch up.


His Own Prophet

11 September 2003

What is disappointing, even embarrassing about the poetry of Robert Lowell in retrospect is not so much the tin ear or heavy-handedness, not the posturing and self-dramatisation, not even the straining after the important subject, the insistence on being taken as major, when, in fact, with very few exceptions, the poetry isn't really much good at all; what is, finally, so dreary about the oeuvre at...

The Admirable Logue

16 March 2000

I laughed like a drain all through A.N. Wilson’s review of Christopher Logue’s memoir Prince Charming (LRB, 16 March). It is really quite perfect. But it was only after finishing it, and weak at the knees from mirth, that I realised Wilson was an actual person and that the article was not a send-up of a high-handed, querulous review engineered by the mischievous Logue himself or some arch...
Marilyn Bowering was apparently so smitten by Basil Bunting’s eyebrows (Letters, 1 April) that she has forgotten what year he was at the University of Victoria. It was 1971-72. Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’ was on the jukebox and my distinguished fellow alum was, if I recall, in charge of the mimeograph machine at the English Department, which always made visits there worth looking...


11 May 1995

Bernard Knox knocks Christopher Logue’s Husbands for not being what it was never designed to be, a literal translation (LRB, 11 May). Really, it’s like going after Sonny Rollins for playing ‘All the Things You Are’ in a manner quite different from what Jerome Kern probably had in mind. But it’s a very interesting version, no? Logue has his antecedents in this sort of thing....

The poems in Live from the Hong Kong Nile Club are taken from August Kleinzahler’s first six publications. All were small press books with relatively limited circulations – the first,...

Read More


Ian Sansom, 7 March 1996

In a power-rhyming slap-happy parody of Thirties doom-mongering published in 1938 William Empson famously had ‘Just a Smack at Auden’: What was said by Marx, boys, what did he...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences