The Grand Piano

San Francisco 1975–80

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Rae Armantrout – Rae ran the Grand Piano reading series with Ted from September through December 1977. During the Grand Piano period she published her first first books, Extremities (The Figures, 1978) and The Invention of Hunger (Tuumba Press, 1979); she also published poems in Tottel's, This, Hills, Big Deal, Caterpillar, and many other magazines. Rae is Professor of Poetry and Poetics at UC San Diego. Her recent book Versed (Wesleyan University Press, 2009) won the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry as well as being nominated for the the National Book Award. Her next collection, Money Shot, is forthcoming from Wesleyan in June 2011. More information about Rae can be found on wikipedia.

Steve Benson – Steve and Carla organized the Grand Piano reading series from February 1978 until February 1979. During the period 1975-1980, he published his first book, As Is (The Figures, 1978), a recorded cassette, On his Own (Widemouth Tapes, 1980), and two small self-published chapbooks, X words (1977) and no name crossroads (1978), as well as poems and other texts in small press magazines. He gave three public talks in Bob's Talks series: "Views of Communist China" (1977), "Careers in the Arts" (1978), and "Close Reading" (1980). In 1977 he began integrating oral improvisation into many of his poetry readings, as well as in extended performances such as "Blindspots" at 80 Langton in San Francisco (1977) and "Narcissus" at the Washington Project for the Arts in DC (1979). He performed in Frank O'Hara's Try! Try! at the Grand Piano (1979), Carla Harryman's Third Man at Theater Eremos (1980), and Celia and Louis Zukofsky's "A"-24 at the Grand Piano, the University of California at Davis and San Francisco State University (1978). Steve's most recent book is Open Clothes (Atelos, 2005). Since 1996, Steve has lived in Downeast Maine, where he has a private practice as a clinical psychologist and co-parents his two children. More about Steve on wikipedia.

Alan Bernheimer – During the Grand Piano period, Alan's work was published in various magazines as well as in his first book of poetry, Café Isotope (The Figures, 1979). In 1979 and 1980 he hosted and produced "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets," a radio program on KPFA. He was also very active in San Francisco Poets Theater productions. His "Paris Journal" can be found here; his translation of Valery Larbaud's "The Hamlet of the Bees" is at Whale Cloth Press. Alan's most recent book is The Spoonlight Institute (Adventures in Poetry, 2009). More information about Alan can be found on wikipedia.

Carla Harryman – Carla curated the Grand Piano reading series with Steve from February 1978 until February 1979. Her poetry, performance writing, and prose of the period have been collected in Percentage (1978), Under the Bridge (1979), and Animal Instincts: Prose Plays and Essays (1989). Between 1975 and 1980 she completed her B.A. and an M.A. in Creative Arts Interdisciplinary, co-edited with Stephanie Bernstein two issues of The Los Angeles Review, engaged in interdisciplinary collaborations, and produced, performed in, and wrote performance works and Poets Theater Plays. Performances include Frank O'Hara's Try! Try!, the Zukofskys' "A"-24, and her conceptual play Percentage. Her play Third Man, along with Eileen Corder's Mr. Sister, inaugurated San Francisco Poets Theater. Recent performances experiment with polyvocality and bilingualism and have been presented in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Barrett has documented the Detroit performance of her Mirror Play. Carla's most recent books are Adorno's Noise, a collection of conceptual essays (Essay Press 2008) and The Wide Road, co-authored with Lyn Hejinian (forthcoming Belladonna). She is an Assistant Professor at Eastern Michigan University and serves on the MFA faculty of the Milton Avery School of the Arts at Bard College. Performing Objects and wikipedia provide more information about Carla.

Lyn Hejinian – Lyn founded Tuumba Press in August 1976, and between then and September 1984 she published 50 handset letterpress chapbooks under its imprint. With Kit she hosted "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets," a weekly show on KPFA from August through December 1978. In 1978, she performed in the Zukofskys' "A"-24, reading the "Story" line in Bob Perelman's production. With Barrett, she founded Poetics Journal in 1981. Her books A Thought is the Bride of What Thinking (Tuumba Press, 1976), A Mask of Motion (Burning Deck, 1977), Gesualdo (Tuumba Press, 1978), Writing is an Aid to Memory (The Figures, 1978) and My Life (Burning Deck, 1980) appeared during the Grand Piano period. She is Professor of English at University of California, Berkeley. More information about Lyn can be found on wikipedia.

Tom Mandel – Tom and Ron ran the Grand Piano reading series from January to August 1977. His books, EncY (Tuumba Press, 1978), Ready to Go (Ithaca House, 1981), Erat (Burning Deck, 1981), Some Appearances (Jimmy's House of Knowledge, 1987), and Realism (Burning Deck, 1991) collect work of the Grand Piano period. In 1977-8, Tom edited and published six issues of MIAM, a magazine of new writing. He was Director of the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University in 1978-9. With Kit he curated the Tassajara Bakery Café reading series in 1980. During these years, he worked as a community arts organizer, edited an alternative biweekly of politics & art, wrote for the California Arts Council, and directed advertising for Supercuts. In the years since, Tom has been a pioneering entrepreneur in online collaboration, Web-based communities and social media, founding a number of companies and consulting for organizations around the world. His most recent book is To the Cognoscenti (Atelos, 2007). More information about Tom may be found at his website and on wikipedia.

Ted Pearson – Ted organized the Grand Piano reading series with Rae from September through December 1977. Six of his serial works from the second half of the 1970s — "The Grit" through "Refractions" — are included in Evidence: 1975-1989 (Gaz, 1989). He also contributed several prose pieces to the San Francisco Review of Books, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Magazine, and The Poetry Reading (Momo's, 1980). During the Grand Piano years, he worked as a bus driver, janitor, shipping clerk, and domestic, and taught for the Poetry in the Schools program at the Richmond Branch of the San Francisco Public Library and at Lowell High School. He currently teaches English and Race & Ethnic Studies at the University of Redlands. His most recent book is Encryptions (Singing Horse Press, 2007). More information about Ted can be found on wikipedia.

Bob Perelman – Bob and his wife, Francie Shaw, came to the Bay Area in 1976. He started the Talk Series in 1977; in four years over 40 speakers appeared. During the Grand Piano years, Bob published nos. 4-9 of Hills magazine, including the Talks issue (no. 6/7) and the Plays issue (no. 9), featuring plays produced by San Francisco Poets Theater. A second collection of Talks transcriptions, Writing/Talks, came out from Southern Illinois UP in 1985. The two collections will be reissued as a single volume by Salt Press. In 1978, Bob organized performances of the Zukofskys' "A"-24; he played the piano; Barry, Lyn, Kit, Steve and Carla spoke the vocal parts. Selections from his books of that period, 7 Works (The Figures, 1978) and Primer (This Press, 1981), can be found in Ten to One (Wesleyan, 1999), Bob's selected poems. He discusses the writing of this period, among other subjects, in The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History (Princeton UP, 1996). Bob's most recent book is Iflife (Roof, 2006). He is Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania. More information is available at his faculty website and on wikipedia.

Kit Robinson – Kit met Steve and Alan at Yale in the late 1960s. In 1973, he met Barrett in San Francisco. The same year, Steve introduced him to Carla, and he introduced them both to Barrett. Through Barrett, he met Ron, Rae, and Bob. Kit published Streets and Roads (1974), a one-shot magazine where work by these and other poets appeared together for the first time. During these years, his books The Dolch Stanzas (This Press, 1976), Down and Back (The Figures, 1978), and Tribute to Nervous (Tuumba Press, 1980) appeared. With Lyn, he co-produced "In the American Tree: New Writing by Poets," on KPFA in 1978. With Tom he ran the Tassajara Bakery Café reading series in 1980. Kit has published 20 books of poetry to date. Recent books include Determination (Cuneiform, 2010), The Messianic Trees: Selected Poems, 1976-2003 (Adventures in Poetry, 2009) and Train I Ride (BookThug, 2009). Kit lives in Berkeley, California, where he works as a freelance writer and plays Cuban tres guitar in the Latin dance band Bahia Son. More information about Kit can be found on wikipedia.

Ron Silliman – Ron curated the Grand Piano reading series with Tom from January to August 1977. During the Grand Piano period, he was variously a lobbyist, editor, creative writing teacher, ethnographer, community organizer and member of the San Francisco Fire Department's Arson Task Force. He co-authored pieces of legislation that changed the penalties for over 3,000 felonies in the state of California and preserved over 10,000 units of low-income housing in San Francisco. He wrote The Age of Huts and Tjanting and began The Alphabet as well as editing Tottel's. With conceptual & visual artist Jill Scott, he curated the Verbal Eyes performance series at The Farm in 1979. In 1980, he started the Tassajara Bakery reading series with Bob and David Schneider of the San Francisco Zen Center. More information about Ron can be found on his blog.

Barrett Watten – Barrett founded the Grand Piano reading series in 1976. He edited and published the periodical This from 1971; during the Grand Piano period, many poets of the emerging Language school were represented in its pages. He also edited This Press, which began with publication of Clark Coolidge's The Maintains in 1974 and published work by Larry Eigner, Ron Silliman, Robert Grenier, Carla Harryman, Ted Greenwald, Kit Robinson, Bruce Andrews, and Alan Davies. His Opera-Works (Big Sky, 1975), Decay (This, 1977), Plasma/Parallels/"X" (Tuumba Press, 1979), and 1-10 (This, 1980) are collected in Frame: 1971-1990 (Sun & Moon, 1997). Martin Richet's French translation of Plasma/Parallèles/"X" has just appeared. Several of his early Talks, given in the San Francisco Talks series and at 80 Langton Street, became the initial chapters of Total Syntax (Southern Illinois University Press, 1985). His most recent books are Bad History (Atelos, 1998), Progress/Under Erasure (Green Integer, 2004), and The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), which won the 2004 René Wellek Prize. He is professor of English at Wayne State University. More information about Barrett can be found at his website and on wikipedia.