Thursday, November 02, 2006

 


Cid Corman

I noted Tuesday that

Whereas I felt intimidated by the poetry gods who turned up in Coyote’s Journal … I actively campaigned over the next few years to get my work into Caterpillar, Origin and Poetry

This I think is not atypical for young poets. I would be surprised to discover that a young poet did not have a gap, indeed a gulf, between the magazines they read & the ones in which they publish or seek to publish.

My very first experience of print (outside of one occasion in the highschool literary mag) came in Richard Krech’s Community Libertarian, a one-shot mimeo publication that focused primarily on the street poets of Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in 1965, tho I think Rich coaxed an article out of David Dellinger to help give the publication the mix of poetry-meets-politics he was seeking (and I can’t help thinking that his sense of this helped set me in the direction I’ve gone ever since then). He followed this again the next year with a more purely literary magazine, Avalanche – saddle stapled into the familiar 8.5-by-5.75-inch format – that had more of a hippy feel to itself. Those were my earliest publications, although I was already starting to send work out in the kind of scattershot way that only a 19-year-old poet can do, failing to distinguish between The New Yorker & a mimeograph magazine. My work in Community Libertarian is an inept hybrid between Howl and The Waste Land, literally my first serious attempt at writing anything. By the time Avalanche came around the following year, I was still an incoherent mix – Gary Snyder mixed with Alan Dugan, one might say – but at least the tone of angst had calmed down some.

The next two publications to pick up on my work had profound, but divergent impacts on me. One was Poetry Northwest, a School of Quietude venue that has recently re-emerged from the crypt. David Waggoner accepted a couple of poems on the condition that he could revise the final lines of each. He told me what he wanted to do, which basically was to provide a more sharply defined sense of closure, and I agreed. Afterwards, tho, I felt completely abused by the process. I have never knowingly let somebody else rework my verse again, and I’ve been known to have a hair-trigger temper over sloppy translations as well.

The other publication was Kauri, a mimeo mag stapled together with pages that were faint enough when the journal first arrived. Where I found the work in Poetry Northwest completely boring – my own included – Kauri was lively & full of controversy. Somebody in an earlier issue had dismissed the work of some unknown visual artist by the name of Andy Warhol & some acquaintances of his by the names of David & Eleanor Antin were writing back to peel the cobwebs out of the earlier writer’s eyes. They were blunt & uncharitable & it was fascinating. There was another poet, if my memory serves me correctly, by the name of Clayton Eshleman who also had work that I noted & liked. I had never heard of any of these people before, not even Warhol, so I made a mental note to pay attention to any work of theirs I might see in the future.

Poetry Northwest’s format was simple, but relatively professional. Kauri, frankly, looked like crap, but it was by far the more exciting publication. I was beginning to get just the hint of a critical sensibility.

As it turned out, being accepted at Poetry Northwest opened lots of curious doors for me. I soon had work accepted by the Chicago Review, TriQuarterly, Southern Review and Arts in Society. Both the Chicago Review and Arts in Society seemed to me to be ambivalent about which side of the aesthetic divide they owed their allegiance, but the other two were anti-New American poetics, the Southern Review militantly so. The Chicago Review’s editor at the time, Eugene Wildman, though, was an experimental novelist who had already put out an anthology of sorts of concrete poetry. One of several poetry editors, as I recall, was Iven Lourie, whose older brother Richard was already part of the Hanging Loose collective. Lourie had this idea – or maybe it was Wildman’s idea & Lourie’s role was execution, so to speak – that Chicago Review should “discover” a half dozen young poets and then push them aggressively until they all were famous, which would in turn allow it to thrive from the backwash of their notoriety. The people they selected for this effort included Robin Magowan, Dennis Schmitz, William Hunt and me. This enabled us to get our work into the journal on a slightly more regular basis so that we could begin to actually get some kind of continuous following. Nobody seemed to notice that none of us had all that much in common – tho as it turns out I’ve enjoyed & followed both Magowan & Schmitz’ writing ever since.

By now, however, what I was writing & where I was publishing had diverged dramatically from what I was reading. Most people whose work was compelling to me by 1967 – Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robert Creeley, Phil Whalen, Jack Spicer, Louis Zukofsky – were not showing up at all in publications like TriQuarterly (tho Duncan would published a chapter of the H.D. Book in the very same issue where I had work). In Arts in Society in 1969 – again the work had been accepted years in advance – I had poetry on a page opposite one C.H. Hejinian. I didn’t know that people called her Lyn, or even that she was a she. It would take us nearly another seven years to meet. But I was at a stage where I felt that there were three very disjunct world of poetry: the one of the work I was most interested in reading, the one in which I was publishing, and a third one composed of the younger poets I knew around San Francisco & Berkeley.

By now I was studying at SF State & making great use of its library. The poetry buyer right before I arrived had been Robin Blaser, tho he’d already moved north to Canada, but the collection that he left behind was superb. While I mostly focused on the books in the collection – I read every volume in the American poetry section, A to Z – I did read every copy of Origin, which was in the rare books collection, & began writing to Corman. Origin’s magical period, when it had been a direct extension of the Black Mountain poets, had long since passed, but the aura of its imprint lingered on & Corman’s own vision has itself had a significant impact on American poetry.

I was also writing to Clayton Eshleman fairly regularly as well, sending him work that might be for Caterpillar & getting back detailed if brusque critiques. His tone could be daunting but it was apparent that he had always seriously read the poems & thought about what he was going to say before writing – I was amazed at how rare that seemed to be (still am, in fact) – and tho I seldom fully agreed with him, at least not in simple terms, defining myself against his criticism was extraordinarily useful. I had a parallel, if less intimidating, correspondence going on at the same time with Robert Kelly, one of Caterpillar’s associate editors.

In retrospect, it’s interesting that none of the most ambitious work of mine from that period ever did get published, tho you can find it in the archives at UC San Diego. Both Poetry and Caterpillar ended up taking work that I thought of as being finger exercises. What that probably means in practice is that I was able to focus adequately in those short spaces to adequately get through the poem, brief as it was. But by the time Henry Rago had accepted my piece for Poetry, my interest in publishing further in academic (or what I would now call School of Quietude) journals had dissipated almost entirely. It was not just the bland & ultimately lazy work I felt I saw all around me in such publications so much as it was a growing recognition that I would never find the readers I was seeking in those pages. So far as I can tell, Ray DiPalma is the sole individual who ever read my piece in the Southern Review. Though the poem was written in 1966 or ’67 & had been accepted almost immediately, it didn’t reach print for another five years. When it came out, Ray sent me a note that asked simply “Do you have a secret life?”

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