Winner of the 2010 Sawtooth Poetry Prize
Sand grains on a bikini bottom, in the spare, gentle lyricism of these poems, become stardust, and also moments in history. Dayglo never shies from the hurts of reality—a dead bird on a car, an imagined mushroom cloud, a childhood home visited much later and found destroyed—yet it is filled with the light, from sun to “icky cinematic / light,” that pervades the mythic landscape of California. Surfers’ locutions like “dude” and “no way” are colors of paint in a mirage depicted and embodied.
“Think of Thoreau inhabiting a city like San Diego, perhaps on a beach where ‘when brightness becomes your halo / it’s just sun / and nothing holy,’ and you will have a sense of the wonders of this collection. . . . Like the images of (sun)light and water that recur throughout Dayglo, James Meetze is a poet of irrepressible latitude and depth.” —Terrance Hayes, judge of the 2010 Sawtooth Poetry Prize
“James Meetze is, in some sense, a ‘landscape poet,’ except that his landscape includes ‘FA-18 Hornets’ that ‘boom above the freeway / as eucalyptus leaves rustle.’ He has a feel for his hometown, which is also mine. In fact, San Diego, with its ahistorical ‘Dayglo’ pastels, best glimpsed in passing from a freeway, is where we all live now, somehow, or soon will. James Meetze is a poet for this time and place.” —Rae Armantrout
“Meetze’s Dayglo is a conscious artifact of writing, the way lyric experience changes and is changed by the act of writing, by the object of the book. These poems speak out of a deep sense of isolation, an isolation of place, memory, and desire. Meetze’s work resonates with the best traditions of the west coast, Jack Spicer, George Stanley, and Robin Blaser, as well as that of New York, especially the work of James Schuyler, to make something wholly his own. The sun over everything, beautiful and merciless.” —Ryan Murphy
I was looking for blue on a blown surface
the ocean’s bifurcated horizon blue.
We advance on habitat with abandon.
I saw the business park impede the view
a wisp of cloud enough to say phantom dew.
Subtle chaparral where shipping centers are
I wanted a vision and got a wall.
Are we oscillations again, that sun machine?
To predict the survey (of land), I thought
she’s kinda beautiful when the wind and sun do that.
Like to excavate the canyons I said parking lots
here, listen to their hollow thump.
We bang the drum of progress as if to row.
Blue leaves, blue paperwork, blue a window
to the brown day with clouds toned so sepia.
I’ve repeatedly wanted to leave, to drive home
and not have to drive back.
Starling that died on my hood, I’m still sorry.
Copyright © 2011 by James Meetze.
“A co-editor of the recent volume of uncollected James Schuyler poems, Meetze is not shy about demonstrating the influence the late poet has had upon his work. ‘So to want without war in the sun,/ to be at war with what we question,’ ends one poem, echoing Schuyler’s own acute sense of rhythm and pointed syntax. But Meetze is distinctly a poet of the West Coast, where, ‘in all the movies about California youth,/ we are made to believe in gold everywhere.’ Always at work in these poems is a tension between an ideal, nostalgic California and a real California of today. ‘Put our city where our mouths are,’ Meetze writes, ‘watch all the cars pour out of it.’ When he moves from dense, fleeting poems into longer, political works, Meetze begins to ask his most poignant questions. The book’s title poem, a wandering portrait of California’s freeways, graffiti, sunlight, and sounds, reaches its height with a question that defines the book as a whole: ‘do we ever put down roots?’ ”—Publishers Weekly
My father was a Lt. Commander in the Navy, which brought him to San Diego in the late-60s. My mother came to San Diego with her sister on a whim. She taught kindergarten. I was born three-weeks late in San Diego and raised in a suburb that was then mostly citrus and avocado grove. I have two older half-sisters (also teachers) who turned me on to bands like The Smiths, Joy Division, and The Cure when I was still too young to mope. This was when I fell in love with music, and probably when I developed an interest in lyricism and language. I was a California boy, so I was also very interested in skateboarding and surfing. I remember being excited when I got my first pair of Jams, which were de rigueur.
It was early on in high school that my American Literature teacher, Gerry Schimke, handed me Ginsberg’s Howl. I was the only student who wasn’t allowed to choose a poet from his list of American poets we were to research and report on. It’s probably passé, but I opened the book (I still have that very copy) and knew I wanted to be a poet. Luckily, Ginsberg made no secret of his influences, so I read Whitman, Lorca, Blake and Williams. To this day, the long-lined, long-poem in the Whitmanic tradition still gets me off more than any other verse. I decided that I’d be a poet. I wrote poems about the ocean, mostly. I adopted a sort-of neo-beatnik-surfer affectation. My parents weren’t too excited about it. Nor were they entirely enthused about my desire to study poetry in college. So that’s what I did. I began at a community college in San Diego, where the teacher was too obsessed with Anne Sexton, and refused to “understand” my poems. In retrospect, I don’t blame her.
I dropped out of school and moved to Lake Tahoe to work at Kirkwood Ski Resort. I did that for a year. Then I moved to Santa Cruz, where I enrolled at Cabrillo College and studied with Joseph Stroud, a lovely poet. I also had a professor named Mike, an old Buddhist with a white beard, who told me I was Hart Crane reincarnate. I read Hart Crane for the first time. I wrote. I had a baby boy, whom we named Brighton, after New Brighton Beach. I got serious about studying literature and also worked in a nursery, where I learned the names and growing conditions of numerous plants.
I transferred to UC Santa Cruz and entered the creative writing program. My first workshop there was with Andrew Joron and it was his first workshop too. He turned me on to Ronald Johnson and Barbara Guest, who I later got to know in person. Then Peter Gizzi returned from sabbatical and I took his workshops and became even more serious about reading. I fell in love with the work of James Schuyler. Nathaniel Mackey was there too. On my first critical essay, it was on Robert Duncan, he wrote “A lackluster attempt.” I worked harder on my critical chops. I met a lot of real poets. I was a part of a real poetry community. I had a close encounter with a great white shark in the water at Waddell Creek and quit surfing.
I moved to Oakland and entered the MFA program at Mills College, where I worked with Elizabeth Willis and Stephen Ratcliffe. I fell in love with the Renaissance. I wrote poems about love and music. I fell in love with letterpress printing and typography in the Book Arts program and started Tougher Disguises Press because “no one listens to poetry.” The Bay Area literary community was this tireless and awesome animal. Then I got tired and moved back to San Diego in part, because I wanted to write about James Schuyler. I started surfing again. I sold medical equipment but spent most of my time in the office writing Dayglo. I found a bunch of unpublished Schuyler poems. That story is in my introduction to Other Flowers: Uncollected Poems by James Schuyler.
Rae Armantrout and Eileen Myles were there. They hired me as an adjunct lecturer at UC San Diego, where I taught for the past 5 years. I fell in love with teaching. I now teach at California State University, San Marcos and in the MFA program at National University. Brighton is nearly a teenager and loves skateboarding and surfing, but not poetry. I fell in love with a girl named after one of my favorite Cocteau Twins songs. By the time anyone reads this, we’ll be married.
Dayglo is a book of place and of exile, in which the poems always focus on (or unfocus in) the light and the sea. The variance of light and space affects how we engage with place and culture, in particular, for me, the city of San Diego. In this sense, Dayglo is a book made possible by my own return to, or exile in, the city of my birth. A poet exiled under very different circumstances, Edmond Jabès, in The Book of Resemblances asserts, “there is no place for the man whose steps head toward his place of birth.” For me, this statement parallels the notion of the anti-quest, the centripetal pull toward one’s origin, that Orphic inability to look only ahead, and it echoes throughout this book. In some sense, it also evokes an evolutionary displacement, a being without place because things constantly change, because nowhere is the same as when you left.
Thinking of the way in which California, and indeed, most of America, has grown, and is growing—urban sprawl—has a significant hand in the operating principles of this book, chiefly, the title poem, "Dayglo." Its ongoing-ness was an exercise in stamina, in seeing how the poem as an organism can grow like a population center grows with an irregular radius and an objective to consume everything in its path. It could be a mimetic representation of infinite suburbia, albeit one reliant upon military industry and unflinching beach-worship. But I don’t want this to just be a book about place and landscape. It isn’t just those things. It also shifts between the idioms of office work and the deeply contrasting spontaneity of academia.
The poems in this book are all of a piece, but that piece is, like San Diego, perpetually growing and often at odds with itself. Much of this book was composed while driving the various freeways—we are always driving here—being cognizant of suburban simulacra and isolation. I looked to overheard speech and lazy Southern Californian colloquialisms, the news, history of the Spanish missionaries, and the modern military, between which, one can find an undeniable concordance. So these poems are filled with chatter, effluvium. Ultimately, the poems in this book explore what it is to make art in a location more concerned with making war and making much ado about nothing.