Friday, July 22, 2005
The day my piece on the PIP 5 anthology runs, what do I get in the mail but a package from Joshua Kotin, managing editor of the Chicago Review, sending me a reminder that once upon a time I also co-edited something akin to a regional anthology, a 63-page feature entitled Fifteen Young Poets of the San Francisco Bay Area, which appeared in the Summer 1970 issue of ChiRev. My partner in that project was David Melnick, during that relatively brief moment when we were both students at
When I first met David in 1968 – hitchhiking back to
As success wasn’t immediate in that campaign (we gradually had a little, but only after I’d transferred over from SF State to
When I look back with 35 years of hindsight at the list of poets we included –
– my immediate thought is that we didn’t do half bad. Al Young is
D. Alexander died far too young, Harvey Bialy went off to
Melnick & I tried to represent all of the active formations we saw around the Bay – we wanted the best
If Melnick’s particular contribution to the overall tone of this project had been his insistence on the street poets, mine was the circle of writers who were either former students of Robert Kelly (Bialy, Gorham, Perry) or else visibly around the magazine Clayton Eshleman published with Kelly’s assistance, Caterpillar (Alexander). A part of me finds it odd & a little sad that that scene evaporated as completely as it did, tho it may have been my own wishful thinking back then to have called it a scene in the first place. Alexander was a fairly isolate character, as was Perry – I don’t think they ever even met one another. Gorham’s departure from poetry was one of those larger scale rejections, disapproving of the progressive politics that were virtually universal among poets during the Nixon years. (Only a couple of years earlier, he’d been the one to drive me to the hospital after I’d been beaten by the
But, as I’ve said more than once here, the first & best test of an anthology is invariably what’s missing, and I cringe at the realization of what’s not included in our ChiRev feature. First, there were two poets whose work Melnick & I both liked a great deal, but it wasn’t at all clear to us in 1969 that there might be any sort of scene evolving around such writing – Rae Armantrout & Robert Grenier. In retrospect, I think it was as much our lack of self-confidence as well as not being able to see the forest for the trees that kept us from proposing their inclusion. Grenier’s poems were already telescoping down to the miniatures that would make up Sentences. Armantrout had not really begun to publish, tho frankly neither had David Perry or John Gorham. Melnick & I discussed both at length & came to the wrong conclusion each time.
The other major omission is any clear representation of the women’s writing scene, as such, in the Bay Area, especially Judy Grahn, already a major poet in 1970 but one who was only then beginning to move beyond the early chapbook versions, say, of Edward the Dyke. There were other possibilities here as well – I’d known Pat Parker since we’d read together in the open reading series at Shakespeare & Co. in
There were other poets whose work we might have included – Aaron Shurin was a poet we thought about, but we weren’t sure that he’d arrived at his own writing yet (we were right). Others like Steve Ratcliffe & Michael Davidson were around, but not showing their work to anybody. Barrett Watten & Curtis Faville – two other poets we knew who weren’t showing their work to anybody yet – had gone off to the Writers Workshop in
On the other hand, the Chicago Review was a major publication – at least in terms of distribution – for all of the poets we did include & one of the first such instances of this for all of the poets there. Bromige, Irby, Kyger & Stanley really were the center of the feature, tho I’m not sure that David or I fully appreciated that at the time. Bromige & Irby were clearly the major young poets in the
So we got some things right even as we had a couple of major misses. If we’d edited the feature just one year later, Armantrout & Grenier surely would have been included & we might have opted for a different SoQ poet than Shonwald. Would we have included feminist poetics? I’d like to think that the answer is yes, but that might be wishful thinking on my part. Another couple of years beyond that & all the langpos who had moved into the Bay Area – Kit Robinson, Steve Benson, Carla Harryman, Bob Perelman – as well as the returned Watten & Faville – surely would have been there.
It’s interesting how one can sort of peel back the layers on an almost year-by-year basis like that. Even tho it came out in 1970, the ChiRev feature is a snapshot of the scene in 1969 – it would have looked so totally different by 1974 that it’s almost unimaginable. I can only wonder if younger poets in the Bay Area have the same sense of the scene as evolving with such rapidity now.