more on Frank Samperi poet-mystic

 it made me happy to see you talking about Frank Samperi on the blog (see 10/27).
 I've photocopied the long piece NIGHT & DAY for you from Cid Corman's anthology THE GIST OF ORIGIN. Yeah-yeah, I know it's against copyright laws, but the anthology is out of print, and as far as I can tell this piece has never been published outside the anthology, and the magazine from which the anthology is made. (It's a fantastic anthology by the way)

To be honest my first feelings about Samperi were mixed, mostly because I kept getting stuck (annoyed is a better word) with his religious ideals. Soon enough though it became clear (or so it seems) that he was a spiritualist who happened to be catholic. I've met other spiritualists who were also catholic. My old friend Rosina is a pagan who follows her Sicilian mother and grandmother's traditions of the Strega, but also has a serious PASSION for the Eucharist. It can all be just fine together, and I guess I needed to relax about this, and both Rosina and Samperi helped me realize this.

And I'm glad I didn't let the religious language interfere because Samperi is unlike any other poet I can think of from our time (almost from our time).

One HUGE Samperi fan was Gil Ott. One of the questions I asked the first set of 9for9 poets was, "There's a face of a poet on the kite you are flying over the city. Who is this poet? When you reel them back from the wind what will you ask?"
Gil Ott answered:
The poet's face on my kite is Frank Samperi, reclusive when he was alive, but now deceased at least a decade. I would ask him to elaborate on the word "procession," which he used to distinguish from "process." I imagine this man's mind as pure witness, tuned to the essential deity of events, and so

Samperi has always been so elusive, physically, and more than almost any other poet I have wanted to know WHAT he looked like. He has a way of making you fall in love with him, really fall in love with him, without ever knowing him. For me, the only other writer who has done this is Franz Kafka, but for very different reasons, and in very different ways. Gil Ott is the only person I've ever known who met Samperi, and so I liked to pump Gil for details.
In that interview I did with Gil for BANJO, Samperi comes up again. Here's an excerpt of that section:

CA: Earlier you mentioned Frank Samperi, and he's someone you have mentioned over the years as being an inspiration to you. Can you share some of your thoughts about how his poems fit into your life as a poet?

Gil: Poverty and art is something I've discussed with the Australian poet David Miller, who is also familiar with Samperi. At the time--which would be the early 80s--Frank Samperi seemed to me to be a great undiscovered poet in our midst. The notion of poverty and art was very strong, and he seemed very monkish to me. This is something I have adopted, as a condition, which is what's interesting in that quote you pulled out earlier from my book WITHIN RANGE.

CA: You met him once didn't you? At the Ear Inn, isn't that right?

Gil: Yes. He gave a once in a lifetime reading at the Ear Inn. It's funny, because sometimes you meet people at the Ear Inn and you expect something from them that they're not. I guess that's true of many things. I expected this guy to look like a monk. And he shows up with his wife, who is wearing a frilly outfit, with fur around the edges. Everything I saw in them bespoke a struggle to maintain a middle class existence. Anyway, he sat down and read, and he read very softly. I have long-sought a recording of that reading, but apparently, due to the Ear Inn's technological failures, no recording is available. But it was beautiful! You really had to listen hard, because his voice was so soft, and the microphones weren't working.

CA: Didn't you say that he died soon after that reading?

Gil: Yes he did. He seemed fairly fragile. I also want to say that part of the appeal of Samperi were the books of his work that were produced. Grossman and Mushinsha published his trilogy. Also some very nice chapbooks of his work that Cid Corman had put out at one point. The linkage with poverty was through the line. His line was very spare. Sometimes one word or two words to a line. And you get these long thin lines that are just barely there, but powerful.

No one put it quite like Gil did.
Thanks Kyle for bringing up Samperi, let's get more going on this amazing poet!
# posted by a Philly Sound Poet PhillySound : 7:33 AM


  1. " [...] you get these long thin lines that are barely there, but powerful."

    I called them (what I was doing) "down lines" & JP called them ("nails")
    anyway ..
    Gil Ott is no slouch, either.

    (who is this "Kyle")

    last time I checked amazon there was a dozen or so copies of The Gist of Origin from about $10 to $70

    last time I was at the Ear Inn was about 2002... and before that in the 70's Fay and I used to hang out there...I went to high school with the (2002) bartender

    was great fun sitting out front and drinking Buddha Beer and scmoozing

  2. CAConrad is a fine poet and a great enthusisast for poetry.

    But his tribute to Samperi (wonderful as it is)seems stuck on what seems to me almost an unfair generalization: that he was a 'spiritual' poet with a monkish disposition. We owe it to Samperi to offer more well-read, better articulated analyses of his individual works.

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  4. I agree Conrad with your comment.
    My mom was a very eccentric woman and because she was an actress she loved to be theatrical in the way she carried herself.
    Some people see the difference in people as being odd and that is not a fair description.
    My father in his younger days was not a monk at all. I think as he became older and he was ill that is when he retreated from the world.

  5. Claudia,

    I think it's probably better to see Samperi's religiosity not as some regrettable idiosyncrasy that alienated him from his contemporaries (as Gil Ott thinks,), making him into some 'new age' guru: even as I casually look at the design of the trilogy it seems Samperi must have envisaged religious orthodoxy as a part of textual design itself. I really can't help seeing titles,cover design, spaces and minimalist language as making the work (in a sense)even more than its content, whatever the topic. Content and design can (and ought) to be treated as different items. Samperi could be considered a "text-poet" as much as any of the flashier contemporary post-avants.

    Like Conrad and Ott, I am also interested in the personality of the man, and esp. the life with your mother in Japan and in the US, and of course the remarkable correspondences with Corman.I'm intrigued by the mystique, charisma of poet and poet's life. Conrad's right: there's something about him that makes him instantly likeable. I'd love to talk to you one day by phone about your father: that would be wonderful.

    But the critic and student has to separate image from reality: the two very seldom meet in a strong poet, as I find. Derrida is right: there's nothing beyond the text.

  6. from Lamentations (from Kyoto,1964) April 6

    "Not good to make any comment re the quality of objects confronting us - the high seas should be [enough]. The simplicity one must at all times cultivate, so that every action becomes humanly moved is in the blood because of a tender predisposition. Even this writing can evince a similar structure - for instance sitting in the lounge, a picture-window holding in its defines lines a number of freight trains. Next the sea against mist coming from mountains is background for the freight trains, one is lead to pay least attention to the words around him, for the vision tends to hold, whereas the noise is a source of unrest: to whom? to what? no answer for what is at bottom a line of vision. I do have some fears that the voyage's purpose may end in despair, but they are probably due to some quality of unrest that is consequent upon noise. What has caused me to use noise a choice metaphor? No doubt about it: the ship is at all times humming (below breathing?) - the life is in the breath!"

    WOWOW: this really struck/strikes me. This is the highest form of an
    art ... of a communication a journey/exploration far beyond any religious body or or body politic

    Cid-Will-Frank ... a perfect enso

    1. has Lamenations (this Diurnal) been or ever been published ?

    2. were you born in Kyoto ?

    "nothing beyond the text" where every word MUST do their job

    where between the colons are simultaneously two sides of the same

    ...pilgrim's journey

  7. Conrad and Ed,
    Your comments are very moving to me and I get so excited when I see there are more posted comments after I have entered the post. It seems that lately I am getting about 1,000 page views a month which tells me that there are many people interested in Samperi. Wonderful!
    No, the DiJournal has not been published. I have a copy - the original lives at NYU. Yes, I was born in Kyoto, Japan in 1964.
    I was only there a year.
    Yes, Conrad I would love to speak with you over the phone and talk about my father.
    Thank you both.

  8. Gil Ott was a very considerable poet and an intelligent person. He would not, I believe, have spoken of Frank's "religiosity" ( a regrettable and condescending term). Frank's spirituality and his sense of a "poverty art" drew Gil and I towards Frank and towards each other. Robert Lax was the other contemporary poet I would see in this light, and Frank definitely respected him - as shown by his contribution to 'The ABCs of Robert Lax', which the late Nick Zurbrugg and I edited, and which must have been one of Frank's last publications during his lifetime.
    I must just say how grateful everyone who admires Frank's work should be to Claudia for continuing to celebrate his work.
    David Miller

  9. I'll reply to my own remarks. Frank INSISTED on the idea of poetry as SPIRITUAL ART. If you don't agree with this, you can still analyze Frank's work, of course, but you are going against his sense of FUNDAMENTAL ORIENTATION and you are missing the point. Rothko was confronted once by someone who said that all he saw in R's paintings were colour relationships. R said, if that's all you see, you've missed the point. Same with Samperi. Samperi isn't just about minimalism (though minimalism isn't inappropriate), he isn't about Objectivism (possibly not at all).... He is about poetry as SPIRITUAL ART. And there is nothing New Age about this... my God, Frank would have despised the whole notion. (And I can't imagine Gil Ott going along with it.) Frank's poetics were rooted in Aquinas and Dante. I can imagine it otherwise... possibly Vedanta, possibly Mahayana Buddhism... but would Frank? I don't really think so... though I may be wrong,
    David Miller


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