(nine muses books/ a small-scale poets' collective)

Ralph La Charity

  Note: this essay will be appearing in the Spring issue of Temple (Volume 3, Number 2), which is due out 1 April 1999.    Temple is a quarterly one can subscribe to for $20 a year through its editor, Charles Potts, at Box 100, Walla Walla       WA 99362-0033 or More information regarding Temple can be found at the Temple website:

     (Caveat Necessaire:  I apologize in advance for vastnesses &
     richnesses within the Seattle body poetique not evinced by
     my ken here following.  At the conclusion of this cavalier &
     partial & manifestly biased overview, a complete list of all 
     nine muses offerings is appended, along with information on
     how to contact nine muses books sole proprietor, margareta
     waterman, formerly of that city.)

     What do you do if you find yourself privy to certain of a great 
     city's sacred secrets; what makes a place a city, a city great, 
     what makes something a secret, a secret sacred?  If you are new 
     to town, how even become integral, useful, engaged?  I remember 
     when I was new to the city of Seattle, back in the early 80's, 
     there was a fitful and notably clumsy worrying in the air that 
     had very much to do with the question of greatness.  An example:  
     somewhere in that same timespan, the poet Stephen Thomas asked of 
     the poet Joe Keppler why there was no great poetry being 
     accomplished.  If memory serves, the question was alluded to in 
     print, perhaps in conjunction with projects then being initiated 
     by the city's then-signal independent poetry collective, the Red 
     Sky Poetry Theater.  I remember reacting to the existence of that 
     question in that city at that time with acute discomfort: not at 
     all privy to any of Seattle's secrets due to the fact that I was 
     such a new guy, it seemed then, and seems still, that merely by 
     virtue of getting to overhear such a question, I was being 
     initiated in and made complicit with an awakening self-
     consciousness that was both embarrassing and exhilarating--if a 
     public poet in and of the ville could voice such a query, 
     whatever did that say about the distort yearn & skew roiling 
     within what could only be identified as the spirit of the place?
     My intuition told me that canary Thomas was sounding an alarm, 
     howsoever wannabe, as to the existence of soul and aspiration 
     deep in the creativity mines of a pre-microsoft Seattle.  
     Something was stirring, down deep in the bowels, else why would a 
     public poet flail his rhetorical arms so? 

     By the middle of 1985 I was gone from Seattle, after only two 
     years during which I'd met a full host of Seattle canaries, none 
     of whom ever had quite the temerity to voice so goofily riveting 
     a query as had the then-young Mr Thomas.  Those other poets, I 
     suppose, were rather more distracted by the eerie & manifold 
     discomforts of divining the sacred secrets of actually being of 
     the poets' ilk in that community.  One Seattle poet whose 
     acquaintance I'd not made by the time I left was margareta 
     waterman, and the reason for that was simple:  margareta did not 
     get to Seattle until 1986.  When she did get there, I have no 
     doubt she, too, wondered those new-guy questions:  integrity, 
     utility, and engagement.  As for other matters, of geatness, 
     secrecy, and the sacred, margareta knew exactly what to do, and 
     her actions were decisive:  she founded nine muses books, a 
     personal, workable strategy of self-publishing that in no time at 
     all evolved into a working, poets' collective for both 
     performance and publication.  Pursue the Sacred, Share the 
     Secret, yea, & as for ol' Generalissimo Greatness--nobody had 
     time for that jefe, oyez. 

     nine muses' modal operandi was (& remains, tho' now based in 
     rural Oregon) to take the work of a given writer, most typically 
     a poet, and expand the presentation of that writer's work to 
     include that which is physically tangible, rather as if to 
     demonstrate the radiant force of vision as it penetrates from the 
     ineffable down thru sweat & fibre:  Word become flesh, as it 
     were.  Consequently, nine muses books are designed to be 
     conceived objects as opposed to conveniently reproducible text-
     only facsimiles.  The task of calling attention to an actual 
     Sacred via the nine muses ethique meant not quite those 
     illuminated scriptures of Blake, nor of the medieval monks, nor 
     even of the visual burstnorm poetics so prevalent in some very 
     bright warrens of experimental quest this century.  nine muses 
     was simpler, more direct: to make of the meantness of a made text 
     an object that is co-equally made, a deliberate physical vehicle 
     that serves the text rather as an enabling embrace.  Unseen, one 
     might suspect this aesthetic to flirt with the precious, as in 
     "art book poetics", but the proof is in the making on the one 
     hand, and the finished project on the other.  The ethique 
     typically has been collaborative: margareta's design expertise 
     oversees & suggests, combining with deft illustrative visual 
     improvisations inspired by the texts & accomplished by 
     sympathetic artists &/or artisans, all rooted in the intuitions & 
     instincts of the original poet-authors, who in all cases always 
     had the final say (& not infrequently execute their own visual 
     accompaniments).  Notably, book & copyright ownership remain the 
     authors', while production equipment is held in trust for all. 

     With regard to chronology, in August of 1987 margareta waterman 
     debuted as a performance artist at the Seattle Center, under the 
     aegis of Roberto Valenza's Alternative To Loud Boats open 
     community poetry festival.  She was still an independant 
     operator, and the text of her performance was independantly 
     published that year as "THE SEED OF OSIRIS," which book included 
     illustrations from several artists: Gretchen Armstrong, Carol 
     Barth, Van Medcalf, Karen Worden, photographer Don Smith, and 
     margareta herself.  That very willingness to collaborate was a 
     seed quick to grow.  The text itself rewrote a myth, from the 
     Egyptian, that the goddess Isis searched the earth for the 
     fourteen dissembled pieces of the god Osiris.  Having made her 
     first book as an independant operator, margareta launched nine 
     muses books with her next chapbook, 1988's "ELEUSINIAN THEATRE."  
     It is possible to think of margareta's personal output over the 
     following dozen years as the playing out of the promise of this 
     rewritten myth: to date, she has published eleven of her own 
     books through her nine muses imprint, a number that tracks 
     inexorably toward that mythic fourteen, no? After all, nine 
     muses, although having removed itself from Seattle to rural 
     Oregon in the mid-90's, continues to publish.  As for the 
     fertility of the Seed, since she expanded beyond the personal, 
     starting with Martina Goodin's nine muses c-bk in 1990, "an 
     ordinary housewife," her publishing collective's output is itself 
     sixteen books deep.  That's close to thirty books from nine muses 
     in a dozen years, not to include two large postcard series, two 
     performance cassettes, broadsides, and a video documentation 

     Although waterman's output of frequently myth-oriented poetry 
     comprises the core of the nine muses list, a critical 
     consideration of her thematic achievements as a poet are the 
     substance of some further, future study, one quite beyond the 
     range of this entry of mine.  It is crucial herein, however, to 
     call attention both to her inspiring outreach to other poets and 
     artists, and to the design elan she wielded as an inspiration to 
     those she attracted to her project.  I think of three 
     breakthrough books she authored, the first of which is 1991's 
     "CRACKED CRYSTAL, jazz poetry in three sets."  It is her largest 
     chapbook up to that time, at 64 pages, and it includes a wrapping 
     strategy that allows for a non-attached, flat-spine cover.  The 
     book is illustrated by brushstroke evocational abstracts painted 
     by saxophonist/painter Wally Shoup.  The artwork is intimate with 
     the text to the point that a seamlessness is bodied forth, a true 
     visual/poetics duet-improvisation.  Later that same year, she 
     equals the achievement with "walkin' occam's razor," in which 
     artist Dennis Widstrand creates a scrolling book-length, page-to-
     page visual comp of uncommon technical precision wedded to a 
     grounded sense of profound esthetic integration.  The book is so 
     stunningly successful that Widstrand's own commentary, appended 
     on the inside of the back cover, mustneeds be quoted from: "the 
     illustrations for walkin' occam's razor are intended to establish 
     a moving line of reference, as in musical notation.  a visual 
     counterpoint to the words and their meaning rather than fixed 
     reference points.  the making of this book was in two stages.  in 
     the first I familiarized myself with the poems, finding the 
     rhythms, extracting the mood, extrapolating the form.  the 
     symbolism is abstracted from the meeting of the elements of 
     nature and machine. the second stage involved realizing these 
     elements into an organic visual form, first in terms of rhythm 
     and space, and then, more gradually, the details of symbolism.  
     the visual scroll is an audio visual reference.  a sound code to 
     accompany the voice.  the rhythms and pulses are implied in the 
     periodic frequency of the illustrations, the harmony by the 
     density of the illustrations, the melody by the silhouette."  A 
     triad of breakthroughs is achieved; waterman's 1993 chapbook, 
     "lady orpheus," completes the artist/poet collaborative thrust 
     with the charcoal art accompaniment of Roberto Valenza.  Again, 
     it is a book that would be unimaginable were it separated from 
     its interpenetration of visual and written elements.  Seamless. 
     Intimate. Mixed media resonant.  The flat-spine / chosen-papers / 
     visually-amplified enabling embrace of her technique is placed 
     before the town as a resource.  Having thus repeatedly 
     demonstrated collaborative, integral, conceived-object 
     bookmaking, margareta has challenged the future of her 

     In two years, she reaps a notable reward when Arizona resident 
     Gary David enters into the mix with his set-in-New Mexico 
     chapbook, 1995's "TIERRA ZIA."  The book delves into the imminent 
     arrival of Zia, father Gary & mother Anita's first child.  It is 
     a sand-colored book of principally spiritual poetry set in a 
     world of dry, scintillating light.  Illustrated with pen & ink 
     drawings by native american artist Dawn Senior, the ancient 
     ancestral world of northern New Mexico is channeled as the 
     poetry's accompanying Spirit.  When Zia arrives, mid-book, it is 
     into a world thrice-factored:  primordial timelessness, Anasazi 
     ancestral ruins, and now-time secular abomination.  In his 
     handling of each of these elements, Gary David  emerges as a poet 
     of uncommon precision and breadth, and as one who believes 
     wholeheartedly in the promise of poetry's deepest orders to 
     consecrate the individual soul beyond a bio-blasted circumstance.  
     Its mere 40 pages is no indication of its fabulous range:  from 
     poem to poem, the poet moves without a lapse, condensing the 
     quotidian & the breathtaking, history & nature, topography & 
     appetite.  It is a book to carry for a lifetime. By way of 
     quotation, two poems, both fierce, one questing, the other 
     loving, both having to do with birth: 

                        BLEEDING BLUE FIRE 

               Last night I lay in a concrete cage
               no larger than those cardboard shacks
               the homeless build beneath the thunder
               of urban bridges.  Cobwebs and cracks
               snaked with urine, its bed chilled 
               my haunches like a morgue's slab.
               Naked and dusty, a low-watt lightbulb
               my only heat.  No window.  Smells
               of musty breath and bread mold
               crept across my pillow.  Rats
               with gray armadillo scales kept
               running on my chest.  All night
               I lay in a concrete cage. 

               Today I'm trapped in the distance
               the Sangre de Cristo brings to my eyes.
               In waves, sapphire on indigo, they lift.
               There must be justice somewhere
               I whisper - somewhere within
               their arms of spruce and fir.
               Beyond cloudy mountains bleeding
               blue fire through canyons of sky
               there must be a clearing -
               some quiet place 
                                the sun is born. 

      ... a poem conflating secular & primordial elements with the 
     most basic spiritual desire. But how much more loving & 
     excruciating is the actual scene of Zia's birth: 

               THE RIVER WITHIN  THE TREE 
                  birth poem for Zia Ann

               Between the wave of each contraction
               your mother had gone so far away
               tiny clouds hung on the horizon
               of her eyes. 

               Belly bulging like the burl
               of a great elm, she rooted herself 
               and bore down.  The weight
               of the whole watery world
               inside, her trunk split and
               a river poured out.
               Upon the shore of afternoon 
               you tumbled, gasping the blue
               puddle of sky at your chin. 

               You've come from so far away.
               From deep within
               the oldest forest of wings
               your heart would ever dream, you drifted
               nine rippling moons
               downstream - drawn here
               by the conchshell call
               of a song-drunk sun. 

               Love, the name of the river
               is yours alone.  The tree of the world
               is ours together:  the Great Mother.
               Listen!  Before she leaves
               her perch, a yellow bird warbles
               softer than the water
               I weep on your cheek.
               The branch springs back, quick
               as new wings swirling
               in the swelling flock
               of her tears. 

     Also outstanding among nine muses poets is Roberto Valenza, whose 
     three separate titles each delineate another aspect of his many-
     years residence in Nepal, under spiritual apprenticeship to 
     Tibetan Buddhist monks.  When Valenza's teacher, the beloved 
     Chokyi Nyima, finally advised Roberto, "Go back to your own 
     country, they need you there," it was with these three texts 
     (among, no doubt, many others) that he returned.  In addition to 
     their poetry, his books include a sampling of his Nepal 
     photographs and are illustrated further by direct reproductions 
     of the charcoal art he learned under the monks' tutelage.  As 
     these are hair-raising accounts of spiritual awakening in a far 
     land, I find it exceedingly discomfitting to quote only for 
     effect...  that aside, here are two personal favorites from out 
     of the estimable many, notable as much for their colloquial pith 
     (always characteristic of Valenza) as for their cosmic lividity: 

      I love my singing teacher (guru) 
                 He tells me without art  
                 Man is a beast
      So we sing
      and if someone blows us up 
                         the pieces 
                         will sing. 

                                Then I saw the king in the stone corral, 
                                         sniffing at a spotted cow. 
                                         He got up on her, all his 
                                         wonderful fur feathers flying loud.
                                As he walked along alone 
                                         all else moved in the necessary 
                                         pattern he was inventing.
                                He squatted like a dog, he lifted up 
                                         his huge earth colored tail, 
                                         he shit yak shit 
                                         the color of autumn. 

                                Buckskin Brown Bull is him 
                                         the center of the yak mandala.
                                Big Bull Yak whose shade trees 
                                         are the Himalayas 


     Both of the preceeding are from RV's 1st nine muses c-bk, 
     poems for the glancing eye.  Almost enough to say that Roberto 
     did return, & has been an acutely generative presence in Seattle 
     now for at least fifteen years.  His books are idio-Valenzaic 
     cantorings, fully devout, their accessibility a result of its 
     author's having adhered to Herodotus' advice, to "seek for 
     oneself evidence of what was said"...  Seek the Sacred, share the 
     Secrets, indeed. 

     One of the truest sons of the spirit of Red Sky is poet/performer 
     Michael Hureaux, who was, when I first met him at Red Sky 
     readings in 1983, that collective's tyro extraordinaire, a 
     vigorous quick study of a poet who always surprised and was never 
     not extremely curious & receptive.  Michael's performative elan 
     is well documented on the muses/Manifest videos, where he is 
     revealed to be Seattle's Black heyoka of improv, always getting 
     it wrong in a way only inspired clowns do, which is to say right 
     with a twist straight up & faraway.  By the time Michael came to 
     nine muses, he'd already taken a lifetime of poetry-investigative 
     risks, and his three titles for the muses pair with Valenza's as 
     accounts of remarkable awakening & achievement.  Although I was 
     aware that Michael was alert to composition by visual field 
     through having published his work in W'ORCs/ALOUD ALLOWED, 
     his books take dvantage of the design & lay-out resources of the 
     nine muses collective by using unusual self-styled graphics.  
     Michael was margareta's willing student in matters of design, 
     quickly enough finding his own expedient graphic sensibility, at 
     once ragged, searching, and unsettled.  Both thematically & 
     technically, he is as surprising on the page as he is on stage:  
     his lines enjamb the colloquial & the musical, and his content 
     riffs with bravest appetite thru mythic contexts at once Alaskan, 
     African, Pacific North-western, & utterly & indeedy Mike: 
     "sheekatay sheekatong chi kon kon kateng // sheekatay sheekatong 
     chi kon kon kateng // in the Fairbanks summer kon kon kateng // I 
     think of Ms. Jay tong chi kon kon kateng // she ate clam 
     sandwiches chi kon kon kateng // in the dark of a practice room 
     kon kateng // with sandalwood incense burning kateng // at the 
     summer music camp chi kon kon kateng // at the Universidad chi 
     kon kon kateng // of Allah's Ka chi kon kon kateng // sheekatay 
     sheekatong chi kon kon kateng // sheekatay sheekatong chi kon kon 
     kateng" yea, & the poem goes on, you bet. But Michael sings far 
     fiercer lays, as in his rending four-part meditation, "X at the 
     Crossroads/X in Zombieland", from his muses c-bk, 
     hallelucinations --

1. Come look   

X is the sable ancient with scarred legs.  X is
the whirlwind you look for them in.
X is the polyrhythmic treble that waylays
the inapropos curve and the whole nine yards.
X is alchemy in the tenement, a mule kicking down the lattice, black lace
bedsheets under a displaced femur.  Come look.
Here are the burgundy onyx sons of the chase.
Here are the kokomoed genesis eyed daughters of the hunt.
Here they are bebop zootriding the subterranean rails of escape.
Here they are fighting and dying for a sandcastle on the Carolina coast, 1863.
Here they are challenging dogmatized sobriety and gassed daddy dealings.
Here they are on the Middle Passage, 300 to a hold, saltwater to wash out
the splintered bedsores.  Here they are.
See them face up in cicada sequence.  See them screaming and
glorifying jackboots in the plasma'd gutters.
See the hematite rain changelings.  Elleggua / Toussant. Oya / Sojourner.
Yemaya / Fannie Lou. Osian / Martin. Shango / Malcolm. Ogun / Marcus.
Oshun / a sister called Souljah. See the hematite rain changelings
on the morning of the great getting up standing up day. 

2. Ghosts who walk 

Captain Zombie walks his beat at the Dan Ryan station
in Chicago's southside.  Loup Garou is at his side,
wire cage around his jaw.  Passersby tread heavily
and eat will o' the wisps.  Captain Zombie is the mayor
of Seattle.  He has a house in Mt Baker.  Loup Garou
is at his side, a federal badge pinned to his lapel. Passersby jog swiftly
and eat shit.  Captain Zombie has a subscription to the New Republic.
He has a degree in thorazine and electroshock therapy. Loup Garou 
is at his side. He has a new age outlook and munches granola
as he opens the ovendoor to help passersby inside. Somalia appeals
to Captain Zombie for assistance and he sends wienies to the barbeque.
Los Angeles asks Captain Zombie for help and he puts barbwire
in the nurseries. Seattle calls to Captain Zombie for aid and he
appoints parents to jail their children. Loup Garou watches to
see what happens. 

3. Experts 

Some experts speak of the heights of barbarity, other experts speak
of barbarity's depths.  The hour is late in Les Zombies' day,
so their subjects hear a lot about their retrograde propensity.
Captain Zombie patrols their neighborhoods with cop cruisers
full of blow-dried cro-magnons.  These are the captain's children,
raised on gunpowder broth and mediated mucus that told them
Batman always gets the Joker, Kojak cleans out the bad guys
in an hour, and for the all time low price of $39.93, one can
receive a penis enlargement kit personally autographed by Hugh Hefner.
They cow to the Dow and sing grand salaams.
"Buy low, sell high, bye bye buy the bicentennial of the Bill of Rights. 
Support our Blitzkrieg.  Blondes have more funk. Some of my best friends
are special interest groups."  Meanwhile, the kiddy show hosts
are jumping off of balconies and gassing themselves in their garages.
Welcome to the New World H'ors Doeuvres, where when they say
eat your heart out, that's exactly what they mean. 
4. Masquerade 

Everyone has a costume, a persona, a mask, a form.
It is us as knave, as whatnot, as Crow, as Coyote.
It is us as Loki, as Iktomi, as Arjuna questioning Krishna,
as Pele lindyhopping with Shango in the volcanic Philippines,
as Stalin working the gypsy twist with a handful of red and black 
aces and eights, it is us going down as death.
It is us as God with a loaded revolver in his hand, as God with a draped
automatic in her heart.  A grain of lie in the truth, a grain of truth
in the lie.  It is us as Dessalines hanging the French. It is us as
Legba hiding from Mawu, the Mother of Creation.  It is us
as Baron Cimitiere, granite cross under our hats.
It is us as Erzulie, primping and perfuming in the smoked glass.
We are fire, we are smoke, we are confusion driving and riding
the chariot in the morning.  Trick star.  We are knowledge
riding and driving the chariot in the evening.  Trickster.
We are breath.  We are engagement, we are life come up as foxglove.
We are knowledge made into confusion made into jest made into
implosion made into resolution made rich destitution made hoary
made harried made beautiful made formidable made oceanic
made organic made orgasmic made insufferable made ungovernable
made infinitesimal made magnanimous
made beatific made behemoth
made Black made Africa. 



To Be Continued

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