Sporting a bushy white beard, David Gitin leans back from the table and says he’s feeling a lot like Rip Van Winkle these days.
The renowned poet and MPC professor hasn’t exactly been asleep for the last 15 years, nor has he even been a recluse; he just hasn’t been doing all the normal things that poets of his stature and reputation usually do. Like giving readings or publishing books.
For a poet who Beat legend Michael McClure called “a master of subtle rhythms,” a poet whose work Allen Ginsberg called “maybe the clearest sort of writing anyone can do,” 15 years between books seems like a long time.
But thanks to a student from one of Gitin’s creative writing courses at MPC, that’s about to change. Dan Linehan, who first took Gitin’s class in 1999, has nudged Gitin out the door and back into the spotlight with Passing Through, a brand new book of 34 poems which Linehan’s small press published earlier this month.
“It’s sort of like I’ve woken up and I’m suddenly reentering the poetry world again,” Gitin says, “I feel good about it. I look forward to reading to people who’ve never heard of me.”
Gitin will wander out of the forest of self-imposed obscurity this Saturday for a reading and book signing at Morgan’s in Monterey. But that’s only the beginning; he’s also scheduled to read with the poet Jack Marshall at Moe’s in Berkeley next month and then embark on an East Coast reading tour this summer which will see him hit a number of cities between Portland, Maine and Philadelphia.
“That’s a lot of activity for someone who’s been out of the loop for a long time,” Gitin says with a wry but plainly happy grin.
The last we saw of this quiet but highly-respected poet, the year was 1979 and his book of poems, This Once: New and Selected Poems, 1965-1978 was being distributed by Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s famed San Francisco press, City Lights. The subsequent book tour took him around the nation and brought him national acclaim and praise from luminaries such as John Cage and A.R. Ammons.
“Then in 1980 my daughter was born, and my situation became radically different,” Gitin says. “I pulled back from a lot of public activity. During the ‘80s I was trying to evolve, to write something different. I stayed very quiet.”
Gitin staged a brief reappearance in 1989 with the book Fire Dance, and then decided to “go the other way than other poets. Instead of publishing bigger and longer, I got into just putting things out for friends. I did small things, almost like notebooks, and just privately distributed them.”
But when Linehan showed him Spindrifting Through Ocean Archways: Poetry of Monterey, the chapbook of his own poems that Linehan self-published last year, Gitin was impressed with the way it looked.
“I saw how clean his book was and I asked him, ‘How did you do that?’” Gitin says. “I got interested in doing another book. It was just supposed to be another small thing. A book for friends. All the escalation of what it has turned into is Dan’s fault. Now I’m in all the way with readings and a book tour.”
Gitin originally intended for Passing Through to include 20 poems, but as he looked over his body of work, he found 14 other poems, the oldest dating back some 40 years, that he wanted to include. He also surprised himself by ordering the book chronologically.
“I’ve never done a book that way,” Gitin says. “My friend [Robert] Creeley always did them chronologically and I thought that was limiting. Just to shock myself I put them in chronological instead of the original order and it looked interesting to me. It allowed me to see it freshly.”
He admits that Passing Through doesn’t have the singular tone and voice, the lyrical cohesion of past books, but says, “this one is cohesive in a different way, it has more than one tone and diction, but there’s an overlying sense that ties them together.”
The result is his most remarkably fresh and vibrant publication since This Once. The lyrical and minimalist poems of Passing Through are fearless. Their precision and economy, the oddly solid core of meaning that he wraps in a handful of words, is a testament to his courage in a world of compulsion and excess (“chuckle down/fear/year after year/smile/like a porpoise,” he writes).
The poems move seamlessly between the abstract and the concrete. Compare, for instance “The Crabpicker”:
the crabpicker/cracks/the shell spines/breaking bonds/to savor/the pass of energy/up our straight/spines/full circle/into meat/for some future/formwith “Pierce Street”:
a black/man staggers/as he carries/a dead/German shepherd/across his shoulders
Clearly, Linehan has done us a great service by waking this slumbering literary giant and leading him blinking and smiling back into the spotlight.
The book release and signing takes place at Morgan’s, 498 Washington St., Monterey from 7-9pm this Saturday, Feb. 26. Passing Through is available for $10 at the MPC Bookstore, Bookworks in Pacific Grove, and Bay Books in Monterey. For more info visit www.dslinehan.com.