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Dennis Cooper reads from I Wished


I first met Dennis Cooper in the late 1970s when he visited Philadelphia. He had heard the poetry scene in Philly was hopping and had come to check it out. He read at the Painted Bride if I remember. Afterward I took him for a very long walk from one river to the other starting on South Street going north and west down Spruce Street, crossing Broad, past the gay bookstore, Giovanni’s Room, where I pointed out that I had bought my first copy of Little Caesar, the magazine that Dennis had been publishing in Los Angeles since 1976. In that second issue, I found poems by Tom Clark and Ron Padgett, poets I’d never heard of. To open Little Caesar was to discover in a way I had never discovered before. 

I heard someone recently say that Dennis Cooper is iconic; and it’s true, you’d know those deeply gazing blue gray eyes anywhere penetrating, when he looks, very kindly and with interest into your soul, but my adjective for Dennis would be seminal because, not much more than a kid himself, by publishing Little Caesar he had the vision and the wherewithal to know where all the good young poets were in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York and add them along with the older generation, a community of poets that would include by the 1980s Elaine Equi, Jerome Sala, Joel Colten, Kathy Acker, Michael Lally, Brad Gooch, Tim Dlugos and Eileen Myles.

In 2019, I happened to be in Philly visiting my nephew Daniel. We watched a film by Dennis that was streaming on the Internet called Permanent Green Light. When it was over, Daniel said, “It was slow, but full.” This was true. Permanent Green Light’s words and images clearly occupied every moment of the film and carried the story along, a story I continued to think about long after it was over. So Dennis Cooper was on my mind; and when I heard he had a new novel coming out called I Wished, I found myself looking forward to it like I used to look forward to a new issue of Little Caesar. 

But what if I didn’t like it? I think I worry as a way of edging, putting off the pleasure, building up the intensity so when what I wish for actually happens, it makes the occasion even happier and more ecstatic. In August I ordered I Wished on my Kindle. It appeared on September the 14th, a Tuesday, but I hesitated, dread mixed with anticipation, until Saturday the 18th where, propped up on pillows—I’m recovering from a COVID breakthrough, the Delta variant, don’t get it—I read I Wished in one sitting. I laughed, I cried, sometimes my dick got hard, and I took the time to reread sentences that popped out at me like a sentence by Montaigne might because I Wished is an essay too, and full, as essays tend to be, of truth. There is even a magic lantern quality to it like looking through a peephole not unlike Duchamp’s to view a fairy tale à la Charles Perrault where a volcanic crater and prairie dog talk and Santa Claus gives you what you want. And Santa was good to me too. When I read I Wished, what I’d wished for did happen: I really enjoyed the prose.

I remember another walk Dennis and I took maybe a decade after Philly walking in my memory through the East Village around Saint Mark’s. “I’m going to stop writing poetry,” he told me. “It’s going to be prose from now on.” The news startled me and made me defensive as well. “Why?” I asked. “Because nobody reads poetry,” Dennis answered telling me the truth.

Recently, Dennis reassured me that “Poetry is no slouch,” but honestly, as far as I have come to know, prose is much harder to write. Poetry can come in a burst of inspiration like it’s supposed to and you can swirl like a dervish if you want. But prose, you have to sit down and write, face that laptop which is yourself and every little doubt. Poetry happens. Prose does not. Poetry is like sculpture spoken into the air, written in stone, eternally there in your ear. I can put a poem down and finish it twenty years later because it is a stone and will remain so till I finally chisel it into saying what I want. Prose is more like flesh and blood; it’s like the wood you build a house from; and once you start you cannot stop—you’d have to be dead or broke to leave a house unfinished—because prose comes from loving the work and having the faith that what you form day by day will become more than you are when you’re done. The architect leaves a house like a novelist leaves a novel for others to inhabit. I have lived in Willa Cather, Mark Twain and Jane Austen. As I read I Wished, I realized I could live in Dennis Cooper. Some might say, “Oh no that’s Dennis Cooper! I’m too afraid to enter.” But I am here to tell you that only love is there.

In the Vimeo below Dennis reads the penultimate chapter from I Wished. Enjoy.


I Wished is published by Random House. You can check it out here:



You can check out Dennis Cooper here:





Dennis Cooper talks about Permanent Green Light:



The Vimeo above comes from the Poetry Project’s January 1, 2021 Poetry Marathon. I would like to thank them for letting me use it here in this review. You can check out the whole Poetry Project marathon on the link below: 




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