A Commonplace of Poetry

A Commonplace of Poetry: Poems by Charlie Pendergast (RiskPress, 2010).

A complimentary copy came to me, courtesy of the author, a few days ago. It’s a collection of poems and also a commonplace book (an assemblage of quotations that someone finds moving, thought-provoking, significant, or entertaining; see, for example, W.H. Auden’s A Certain World: A Commonplace Book (1970)).

[Copies of this first edition can be purchased for $25 with a donation to the foundation Food For Thought, a Northern California food bank; and the press is connected to an art gallery. Some details from the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa (5/11/11, “New art gallery opens in Sebastopol”):

The new RiskPress Gallery opens its first exhibit, titled “Three Times the Risk,” with a reception from 3 to 8 p.m. Sunday, May 15, at 7345 Healdsburg Ave.,

The show features paintings by Warren Bellows, Patti Tauscher and Larry Banaski, and will continue through June 15.

This unusual gallery is the creation of poetry and art book publisher Charlie Pendergast, who turns the gallery over to artists for a month at a time, allowing them to put on their own exhibits.

Artists take responsibility for installing the show and staffing the space during the exhibit’s run, but can use the gallery without paying rent or sharing a portion of their sales.

For more information: www.riskpress.com

and from the Sonoma West Times and News: (5/7/11, “New Sebastopol gallery takes a cooperative approach”)

While most galleries make their livings through commission of sales, Sebastopol’s newest galley, RiskPress, offers a venue to display all mediums of artwork at no cost to participating artists.

In addition, RiskPress does not require payment of rent, according to owner Charlie Pendergast who covers all the costs associated with running the gallery.


“I have been very reasonably successful in real estate … (this is) my way of saying thank you back to the world for my own success,” Pendergast said.

Pendergast does ask that artists donate one or two pieces in their show to a local charity. (The first exhibit, May 15 through June 15, will be making a contribution to Food for Thought.) And, participating artists are required to run their own shows.

“The RiskPress mission is to provide an efficient and attractive (free) space for their presentations, and be an evolving model of the ways a community lends its support to the important work and conscience of its artists,” Pendergast said. “More than simply creating the work, the artists hang and light their pieces, handle their own publicity, organize receptions, and then, during their month on exhibit, they become the gallery staff,” he said.

“They take the risk,” he added. “I don’t have any charge whether they succeed or fail. It’s all about visibility and the community of art. As soon as they find me and they get booked, it’s kind of up to them. I don’t have to do anything but show up and make sure the doors are open,” he said, noting even the gallery hours are up to the artists.

RiskPress features artists who have never had their own shows, including students, but also makes exceptions to established artists who are making changes in their style or taking risks with their own work, Pendergast said. RiskPress, originally located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, is open to all types of art, including paintings, pottery, photography, printmaking, sculptures, quilting, graphic arts and even web design.

“We consider all of the things that human beings do to be expressive, to be art,” Pendergast said.

Each month will feature a different artist or group of artists. Pendergast referred to the arrangement as a “cumulative cooperative kind of thing,” because successive artists will be encouraged to share the benefits of their experience with each other, including their mailing lists, their expertise, and publicity contracts.

But now back to the book.]

The book is beautifully produced, a pleasure to look at and to hold. (There’s a tradition of physical excellence in small presses that publish poetry, even as they fall rapidly by the wayside.)

Pendergast has been accumulating these poems since the 70s, and puts them together here with some trepidation. From the Preface (p. xiii):

Young, overwhelmed, seduced by every pleasure, I went mute. Silence calibrated my eyes and enlarged my interests. I used the ruse of insecurity and inadequacy to prolong my recovery and took a luxuriously long time to write and assemble these poems. Even now I have a visceral reaction against saying, here, you may read them.

Sexual desire is one theme. In the more recent poems, aging and the prospect of dying is another. There are of course more; I’m reading here through the lens of my own preoccupations.

One (#76; I cite the poems by the numbers Pendergast gives them, rather than by their page numbers) is “about” language:

Metaphor lives viscerally in language.
It is the virus and language is its carrier.
Metaphor, warmth and moisture,
the three pillars of our lives,
are seen against a backdrop of cruelty.

Many of the poems have a high carnality index. Perhaps my favorite here is #31 (“These men excite me / in their youth”), with

And though a juicy cock is delicious
I am far more thrilled
by what I learn of each man’s heart

But there’s also #39 (“Love stories are candied legends / made into entertainment”), #49 (“I kiss the powerful men / who yield and wrestle”, with the later “spraying each other in messy gratitude / for unbridled pleasure”), #51 (“He absolutely knew that sex would prevail / and basked in its searing power”, ending “a lunatic purveyor of erections / grinning with his fun firmly in hand”), #60 (“He especially loved the men / the many willing men”), #63 (“I love this life / And I will only reluctantly leave it”, ending “In my musings there is a parade of men, / some hesitant, / some bold, / all on the lookout for / a sudden match. / I am here to join them”), and #80 (“I am a man in full possession of my limitations. / I used to work harder than I do now”, with the later “For long I lived with the distraction / of being desired, which though it / might have been a curse / has become a very good friend”).

Pendergast is especially good at beginnings; many of his first two lines are wonderful données: in addition to some above, #25 (basically iambic tetrameter: “There’s nothing in the mind to trust / each thought is rejected for the next betrayal”), #37 (also iambic: “How like a drug / this shedding of clothes”), #66, on aging and dying and the agony of influence (“I now lay down / the heavy inheritance of Harold Bloom’s wrath”), #70 (“Poetry chose me / because I was good for nothing else”), and #75 (“I still wonder what eats us. / What gets us when we’re ripe?”).

And from the back cover (2010): “How will I distract myself next? / Will I turn to poetry? / Who reads when the sex is good?”

A fine surprise in the mail.

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