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Brandi, John

BRANDI, John


Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 5 November 1943. Education: California State University, Northridge, B.F.A.1965. Family: Two children. Career: Member, Peace Corps, South America, 1965–68. Poet-in-the-schools, Arts Division, State of New Mexico, 1973–90, and State Council of the Arts, Nevada, Montana, and Alaska, 1980–90; poet-in-the-parks, Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains, New Mexico, 1979; writer-in-residence, Just Buffalo/Literary Center, New York, 1989; literature/visual arts residency, Djerassi Foundation, 1990. Poetry, language arts residencies, Navajo Nation, 1986–97. Founder and editor, Tooth of Time Books, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Painter: individual shows—Alla Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1984; Thompson Gallery, Albuquerque, 1986; North Columbia Cultural Center, Nevada City, California, 1987; Claudia Chapline Gallery, Stinson Beach, California, 1988; Laurel Seth Gallery, 1991; Woodland-Pattern Book Center, 1995. Awards: Portland State Review prize for prose, 1971; P.E.N. writers grant, 1973, 1983; National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, 1980; Witter Bynner translation grant, 1983. Address: P.O. Box 2553, Corrales, New Mexico 87048, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

Thachapi Fantasy. Privately printed, 1964.

A Nothing Book. Privately printed, 1964.

Poem Afternoon in a Square of Guadalajara. San Francisco, Maya, 1970.

Emptylots: Poems from Venice and LA. Bolinas, California, Nail Press, 1971.

Field Notes from Alaska. Bolinas, California, Nail Press, 1971.

Three Poems for Spring. Bolinas, California, Nail Press, 1973.

August Poems. Bolinas, California, Nail Press, 1973.

San Francisco Lastday Homebound Hangover Highway Blues. Bolinas, California, Nail Press, 1973.

A Partial Exploration of Palo Flechado Canyon. Bolinas, California, Nail Press, 1973.

Smudgepots: For Jack Kerouac. Guadalupita, New Mexico, Nail Press, 1973.

The Phoenix Gas Slam. Bolinas, California, Nail Press, 1974.

Firebook. Virgin River, Utah, Smoky the Bear Press, 1974.

Turning Thirty Poems. Placitas, New Mexico, Duende Press, 1974.

In a December Storm. Bowling Green, Ohio, Tribal Press, 1975.

Looking for Minerals. Cherry Valley, New York, Cherry Valley Editions, 1975.

In a September Rain. Port Townsend, Washington, Copper Canyon Press, 1976.

The Guadalupes: A Closer Look. Carlsbad, New Mexico, Carlsbad Caverns Natural History Association, 1978.

Poems from Four Corners. Fort Kent, Maine, Great Raven, 1978.

Andean Town Circa 1980. Guadalupita, New Mexico, Tooth of Time, 1979.

As It Is These Days. Socorro, New Mexico, Whistling Swan Press, 1979.

Poems for the People of Coyote. Socorro, New Mexico, Distant Longing Press, 1980.

Sky House/Pink Cottonwood. Guadalupita, New Mexico, Tooth of Time, 1980.

At the World's Edge. Tesuque, New Mexico, Painted Stork, 1983.

Zvleika's Book. Santa Barbara, California, Doggerel Press, 1983.

Rite for the Beautification of All Beings. West Branch, Iowa, Toothpaste Press, 1983.

Poems at the Edge of Day. Buffalo, White Pine Press, 1984.

That Crow that Visited Was Flying Backwards. Santa Fe, Tooth of Time, 1984.

That Back Road In: Selected Poems 1972–1983. Berkeley, California, Wingbow Press, 1985.

Circling, with Steve Sanfield. Santa Cruz, California, Exiled-in-America Press, 1988.

Hymn for a Night Feast: Poems 1979–1987. Duluth, Minnesota, Holy Cow Press, 1989.

Shadow Play: Poems 1987–1991. Kenosha, Wisconsin, Light and Dust Books, 1992.

Turning 50 Poems. Pie Town, New Mexico, Age Spot Press, 1993.

Weeding the Cosmos: Selected Haiku. Albuquerque, New Mexico, La Alameda Press, 1994.

Heartbeat Geography: Selected & Uncollected Poems: 1967–1994. Fredonia, New York, White Pine Press, 1995.

No Reason at All. Farmington, New Mexico, Yoohoo Press, 1996.

River Following. Farmington, New Mexico, Yoohoo Press, 1997.

No Other Business Here. Albuquerque, New Mexico, La Alameda Press, 1999.

Short Stories

The Cowboy from Phantom Banks. Point Reyes, California, Floating Island, 1982.

In the Desert We Do Not Count the Days. Duluth, Minnesota, Holy Cow Press, 1990.

A Question of Journey: India, Nepal, Thailand Vignettes. Kenosha, Wisconsin, Light and Dust Books, 1995.

A Question of Journey: Travels in India, Nepal, Thailand & Bali. New Delhi, India, Book-Faith Publishers, 1999.

Reflections in the Lizard's Eye. Santa Fe, New Mexico, Western Edge Press, 2000.

Other

Desde Alla. Santa Barbara, California, Christopher's Press, 1971.

One Week of Mornings at Dry Creek. Santa Barbara, California, Christopher's Press, 1971.

Towards a Happy Solstice: Mine, Yours, Everybody. Santa Barbara, California, Christopher's Press, 1971.

Y Aun Hay Mas: Dreams and Explorations: New and Old Mexico. Santa Barbara, California, Christopher's Press, 1972.

Narrowgauge to Riobamba. Santa Barbara, California, Christopher's Press, 1975.

Memorandum from a Caribbean Isle. Brunswick, Maine, Blackberry, 1977.

Diary from Baja California. Santa Barbara, California, Christopher's Press, 1978.

Diary from a Journey to the Middle of the World. Berkeley, California, Figures, 1980.

Editor, Chimborazo: Life on the Haciendas of Highland Ecuador. Rooseveltown, New York, Akwesasne Notes, 1976.

Editor, with Larry Goodell, The Noose: A Retrospective: Four Decades, by Judson Crews. Oakland, California, Duende Press, 1980.

Editor, Dog Day Blues: An Anthology of New Mexico Prison Writing. Santa Fe, New Mexico, Tooth of Time, 1985.

*

Manuscript Collections: University of California, Davis; Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; State University of New York, Buffalo.

John Brandi comments:

(1990) Desde Alla and Narrowgauge to Riobamba are two books akin to two separately painted panels translating the one-same diorama, that of isolated hamlets in the intermountain basins of the remote Andes where I spent a few years living with Quechua Indians.

Whenever I journey, I travel in two separate vehicles. One over the physical landscape, the other within the metaphysical. My writing and painting link the two spheres, migrating back and forth between inner and outer geographies.

My books are geography books, earth primers. Nothing I could have dreamed-up could be more astounding than the reality upon which my poems and paintings are based. They represent purestream, deep-cave, raw-pulse extracts from a realm at once mythic, at once physically accessible. Pen, brush, drops of ink, oil, gouache begin to widen across a blank tablet, dancing in rhythmic steps, disappearing and reappearing in a dream maze, a mirage. Images burn, become a pointed flame, a phoenix whose body joins two wings—one temporal, the other ephemeral; one male, the other female; one spirit, the other flesh; one dark, the other light. The ultimate mystery is to be alive. With each step forward what we walk into disappears. One day we discover something reflected in the mirror which is not our own. Rather, it is a body greater than ours whose image reveals the Body inside the bodies of everyone.

(1995) In 1971, after spending two years in the Andes as a Peace Corps volunteer and another couple of years between Mexico, Alaska, and the California Sierra Nevada as a war resister, I moved to New Mexico. I had grown fond of arid uplifts, particularly those in which humans paid homage—through elaborate systems of ritual drama—to the unseen forces which turn the wheel of life. The Mexican sierras of the Huichol come to mind, as does the altiplano of Bolivia. With its crystal atmosphere, sparse horizon, and elaborate indigenous ceremonies, New Mexico shared a similar identity. It would, over the next twenty years, become a well-suited base, a place where dream and reality converged, where one could live life without a marked division between either.

New Mexico nourished my spirit as a painter, writer, wanderer, and homemaker. Native American traditions of song, dance, and art in acknowledgment to the earth, air, water, and sun that sustain all life reaffirmed my own belief systems. My children—daughter born in Guadalajara, son in a tiny Sangre-de-Cristo adobe house—grew up in the mountains of New Mexico, a rich outback which continues to feed them.

Many poems written during my first decade in the Southwest were collected in That Back Road In. I introduced them as "topographic or even typographic projections of the landscape" and viewed the book as a kind of emotional or psychic schematic of territory where "heart, mind, rock and mirage all overlap." I was curious to record everything: what people spoke, how they worked, sang, and played, the look and feel of the land, each place and event that filled me with heightened tranquillity and awe. The poems became a record of exploration: getting to know new territory, finding out who my neighbors were, investigating the hidden canyons of the self. In 1982 a collection of prose called The Cowboy from Phantom Banks was issued, later to be expanded and republished as In the Desert We Do Not Count the Days. Again, the focus was on the land and the people of the high desert.

From 1979 on, my Southwest travels alternated with journeys into more remote deserts: those of Asia, Rajasthan, Ladakh, the uplands toward Tibet in the Himalayan rain shadow north of Mt. Annapurna. As in the Southwest, these places were filled with sacred sites, venerated waters, and time-tested pilgrimage spots. There were also elaborate ceremonies: tribal, Hindu, Buddhist.

Between 1980 and 1990 I exhibited paintings based on three sojourns to India, Nepal, Burma, and Thailand. Simultaneously, I worked on journal notations which, via letters or in limited-edition xeroxes, were shared with friends. A few poems issued during this period in Hymn for a Night Feast and That Crow That Visited Was Flying Backwards gave a hint of the Asia experience. But the real work consisted of slowly compiling a book-length prose manuscript.

During this time I discovered the poet Alain Bosquet's words, "essential writing raises wild notions and a challenge." In reading his poems I experienced the same disturbance that overcame me while writing about the world I had traveled in: that it was rapidly shrinking, tilting, clouding; that languages, the power to listen, observe, and speak truthfully had nearly disappeared; that tradition, truths, remembrance, even a realistic concept of mortality, had vanished along with clean water, breathable air, and a once abundant population of beautiful, intelligent, necessary life species.

Such realizations made it clear that we need a psychic or physical transformation and a challenge—unreasoned—to carry us beyond stale boundaries—mental and geographical—imposed by uninspired leaders and enforced by brutal regimes who disguise themselves in suits and ties and work predictable hours in "respectable" offices. One can stay at home and read about the world and realize these disturbances or journey, experience the pathos, feel a small bit of joy in the lives of real people struggling with daily activities in real places and know the tremendous odds presented by a heartbreaking world filled with nuclear arsenals, tree-toppled mountainsides, smuggled arms, slaughtered elephants, horrid atmosphere, and a population that continues to explode. A journey to Indonesia in 1993, focused on the island of Bali, brought me into a culture productively obsessed with art, music, theater, dance, insight, transformation, finding balance within the interplay of good and evil, and maintaining equilibrium within a complex weave of natural and supernatural forces.

"Being is difficult," Bosquet says. "Imagining is fruitful. The poem is tomorrow's truth. It offers the reader a secular prayer through which he can imagine new rapports between man and the universe, man and the void, man and himself." In agreement, I wrote A Question of Journey as a means toward the transformation, the metamorphosis that Bosquet implies. Travel, step away from the familiar, touch, be touched. Leave home, let the unpredictability of the road shake your beliefs, find a new way back. Along the way become someone else. Perhaps this new he or she is the you that was there all the time, before you were defined or began to define that person who stares back from the mirror.

*  *  *

John Brandi is an energetically prolific writer-artist whose work restlessly seeks sources of renewal in travel with its disruptions, encounters, labyrinths, mysteries, and delights. His writings embody a naive persona with a shrewder urban self, a curious fusion of Candide with Céline. Like many in-flight writers born in postwar American urban sprawl, traces of a self-absorbed relativism and noble savage sentimentality sometimes block the more purely documentary flow of his writing.

Brandi's work exemplifies the impressionistic and telegraphic writing style celebrated by Jack Kerouac. While its surfaces are often attractive, the political and social realities of poverty's enforced lifestyles often get glazed over with a romantic patina. Reflective depth is often absent in Brandi's visceral celebrations of place. His work makes clear that travel is essentially an inward reordering, a pilgrim's quest for a transcendent equilibrium.

That Road Back In: Selected Poems 1972–1983 and Hymn for a Night Feast: Poems 1979–1987 give an ongoing picture of Brandi's work as a poet, reflecting varied concerns and influences, for example, Gary Snyder, Native American ceremonial song, classical Chinese nature poetry, and Michael McClure's bioenergetic forms, and always reinforced by the quest "to know" writ large à la Ginsberg and Whitman: "Life's a speeding wheel/caught with shadows. Hummingbird here/& gone at my window./Crosslegged, I listen to cricket & flowers./And though I inhabit this world/with every sense & sensation, I breathe from/somewhere a deeper light/unlocked from a Perfect Scent./ —all free & a billion times multiplied!/ —all sifted finely through the waist/of an hourglass." He sometimes expresses himself in haiku-like discrete exhales of insight: "Trees/for bodies, nests/for heads, we are/mirrors/moving/in the wind."

As Brandi has matured, a sense of time lost and retrospective melancholy has added depth and difficulty to his writings. He is a multifaceted talent whose wide-ranging work—poetry, paintings, illuminated travel journals—is a distinctive history not only of a unique artist but also of a cultural and regional generation of western American poets who emerged during the turbulently utopian 1960s.

—David Meltzer

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