Bromige, David (Mansfield)

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BROMIGE, David (Mansfield)


Nationality: Canadian. Born: London, England, 22 October 1933. Education: University of British Columbia, B.A. (honors) 1962; University of California, Berkeley, M.A. 1964. Family: Married 1) Ann Livingston in 1957 (divorced 1961); 2) Joan Peacock in 1961 (divorced 1970), one son; 3) Sherril Jaffe in 1970. Career: Worked as a cowman on dairy farms in England, Sweden, and Canada, 1950–53; attendant in mental hospitals in Canada, 1954–55; elementary school teacher in England, 1957–58, and in Vancouver, British Columbia, 1959–62; instructor in English, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Summer 1964; teaching assistant, 1965–69, extension lecturer, 1969, and instructor in English, 1969–70, University of California, Berkeley; lecturer, California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, 1970. Since 1974 assistant professor of English, then associate professor, professor, and professor emeritus, Sonoma State University (California State College), Sonoma. Awards: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Playwriting award, 1961, for "The Cobalt Poet"; KVOS-TV Playwriting prize, 1962, for "Save What You Can"; Woodrow Wilson Scholar, 1962–63; Poet Laureate Competition prize, 1964; Canada Council grant, 1965, 1966, and bursary, 1971; James Phelan Scholar in Literature, 1966–67; National Endowment for the Arts prize, 1969. Address: 461 High Street, Sebastopol, California 95472, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

The Gathering. Buffalo, New York, Sumbooks Press, 1965.

The Ends of the Earth. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.

Please, Like Me. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1968.

The Quivering Roadway. Berkeley, Archangel Press, 1969.

In His Image. N.p., Twybyl Press, 1970.

Threads. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1970.

The Fact So of Itself, with others. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1970.

They Are Eyes. N.p., Panjandrum Books, 1972.

Birds of the West. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1973.

Ten Years in the Making: Selected Poems, Songs, and Stories, 1961–70. Vancouver, Vancouver Community Press, 1973.

Spells and Blessings. Vancouver, Talonbooks, 1974.

Credences of Winter. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1976.

My Poetry. Great Barrington, Massachusetts, The Figures, 1980.

Peace. Berkeley, Tuumba Press, 1981.

Red Hats. Atwater, Ohio, Tonsure Press, 1986.

Desire: Selected Poems, 1963–1987. Santa Rosa, California, Black Sparrow Press, 1988.

Tiny Currents in a World without Scales. London, Ontario, Brick Books, 1991.

A Cast of Tens. Penngrove, California, Avec Books, 1993.

Romantic Traceries. Elmwood, Connecticut, Poets and Poets Press, 1993.

The Harbormaster of Hong Kong. Los Angeles, Sun and Moon Books, 1993.

The Mad Career. Seattle, Grey Spider Press, 1994.

From the First Century (of Vulnerable Bundles). Elmwood, Connecticut, Poets and Poets Press, 1995.

T As in Tether. Tucson, Arizona, Chax Press, 1999.

Short Stories

Three Stories. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1973.

Other

Out of My Hands. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1974.

Tight Corners and What's around Them. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1974.

Men, Women, and Vehicles: Prose Works. Santa Rosa, Black Sparrow Press, 1990.

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Critical Studies: David Bromige, Ken Irby issue of Vort (Silver Spring, Maryland) 1(3), 1973; "The Poet as Language: David Bromige's Tight Corners and What's around Them" by Michael Davidson, in Credences: A Journal of Twentieth-Century Poetry and Poetics (Buffalo, New York), 1(2), February 1975.

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Born in London, David Bromige worked his way across the Atlantic, first to Canada and then south to the United States. In 1965 he began graduate studies at the University of California at Berkeley, where he received a master's degree. He continued studies there until 1970, but as early as 1965 he had published his first book of poems, The Gathering. Three years later his book Please, Like Me appeared from one of the principal alternative U.S. presses, Black Sparrow.

Bromige's case is interesting in twentieth-century American letters, which has welcomed other writers from Britain into its higher circles. W.H. Auden, Mina Loy, Christopher Isherwood, the Scottish balladeer Helen Adam, and later Denise Levertov and John Ash have been among them. The lure includes America's experimental energies and its myriad journals devoted to the different edges of the avant-garde. The source of much post-World War II experiment was the figure of Charles Olson, who attracted Levertov and Bromige to venture westward.

Bromige arrived in California during the high noon of postmodern poetry. His models were Olson's open-ended, free-form lyrics and the poetic known variously as Black Mountain poetry or projective verse. Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan were the principal voices of Olson's new poetic, and all three styles are present in Bromige's chatty, quick-changing lyric style. San Francisco was the literary hub of West Coast writing, scene of the San Francisco renaissance and the beat phenomenon. Bromige appropriated the reigning doctrines and applied them with skill from early on.

The anatomy of a Bromige poem goes something like this: a voice fed-up with solitude finds an excuse to relate to someone else, usually a woman, and the result is either a brief sexual encounter or a querulous friendship. It is told to us in language that breaks into interjections, interrupted pathways, commentaries on the self and situation, a joke or two, brief flashes of lyrical music, and a mostly humdrum conversational patter. The poems are not exciting for their finish or intellectual daring; they are not well-made or rigorously composed. Rather, one is given a mind at work, the processes by which a self engages the world to escape from solipsism and fantasy.

A more subtle process is also at work, one that links Bromige to the projective mode. The crabbed syntax, the processual pace of his language, the surface detail, and the steady pace of ideas and perceptions flowing out of mundane subjects are all strategies for breaking down the boundary between the poem and life. This is shown, for example, in "A Call," from The Ends of the Earth:

   There is built a block in this city
   which, when you get to it
   very late into the night
 
 
   first sight tells you every light is out
   but can't stop making it
   grow bigger, till
 
 
   a door, you knock on, & nobody comes.
   You thought you stood in the street, certainly
   your legs were tired & cold, you thought
 
 
   you lay asleep, up there, the warm
   room the knock couldn't reach, your lips
   relaxt, yet still

Bromige's early American books are lessons in acquiring the casual, irreverent tonalities of postwar poetry. Duncan's hand is on the poems in which Bromige studies his imagination at work making images and commenting on their accumulating meanings. But the real force at work in shaping Bromige's vision is Creeley. Compared to Bromige, no other poet has quite mastered the intricacy and modesty of Creeley's lyric, as in the brief poem "Some Day Soon, Not Now":

   Fierce for one another
   that this be for ever
   this one time
   once more they kiss
 
 
   only to roll apart
   when she alone
   drest as for a journey
   walks in
 
 
   to bid goodbye
   to nobody at all, bare
   bed, a ceiling
   & some walls.

English poetry is also about solitude and its furies, resentments, and narcissism, but English poets who find their voice in the United States seem to be looking for the way beyond solitude in some sort of relation to others. The American avant-garde has been formulating such relations from early in the twentieth century, telling us that a world of events includes the human observer and that mind is not isolated from the world but part of its intensity and dynamics. Bromige's lyric is at once self-effacing in its reduction of surface artifice and self-reconstructing in forming its attention to events outside the self. The poetry is a dialogue with objects and landscapes and with others.

The result is a poetry that lessens our sense of self as something interior and subjective and that gives us an awareness made from encounters with the "not-I." The Bromigean self is more like the nerves that are aroused by contact with surroundings; lyric language arises from points of contact from the field, and the poem flows outward to articulate the experience. In another book, Threads, the poems achieve richer encounters with the field, and the syntax and diction are all given over to mapping the process of perception as it happens.

—Paul Christensen

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Bromige, David (Mansfield)

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