Saturday, June 21, 2003

I have a dream. It’s the idea that once each quarter, all of America’s major metropolitan newspapers should publish & distribute, as a Sunday supplement, a genuinely good book review. I’m not thinking of the jokes that are the book review sections of papers like the San Francisco Chronicle or Washington Post, or even the dowdy advertisers’ shill that is the New York Times Book Review, but one that genuinely explores the whole range of published work in the United States, and perhaps even beyond. I’m thinking of Rain Taxi.


Rain Taxi has been publishing for the past eight years from the improbable city of Minneapolis – improbable because reviews such as this depend so directly on advertising from publishers & the New York trades think of Minneapolis as being Garrison Keillor maybe with a hint of Prince & Kirby Puckett. Or maybe just as the place where the L.A. Lakers used to play.


Rain Taxi just plugs away, providing a genuinely eclectic & democratic view of publishing in America. The current issue, which I picked up at Kelly’s Writers House in Philadelphia – you can almost always find the current issue by the table at the foot of the stairs – reviews 17 non-fiction volumes, 22 books of fiction, 16 more of poetry & drama & 5 graphic novels. Some of the writers &/or producers of these books include the great photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, intrepid world traveler Robin Magowan, Ishmael Reed, Kim Stafford, Wislawa Szymborska, Lynne Tillman, Lisa Gornick, Stephen-Paul Martin, Theodore Roszak, Octavio & Marie José Paz, John Latta, Jordon Davis, Jack Collom, David Bromige, Lytle Shaw, Susie Cataldo, Gabriel Gudding, Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Edwin Torres, Muriel Rukeyser & Howard Zinn. On top of which, the issue  contains interviews with Andrew Vachss, Meg Randall & Lord Nose himself, Jonathan Williams, plus essays on the poetics of exile, the music of Henry Cowell & the memoir of an Alcatraz “screw.” On further top of which, Rain Taxi has so much good stuff on hand that the interview with Jonathan Williams, for example, which is a hoot & a half, appears in much fuller format on the magazine’s website. Plus there is an essay on the website on Bei Dao, a lengthy interview with poet, artist & gender activist kari edwards & reviews of still more books by the likes of Joanne Kyger, Arielle Greenberg, William Gibson, Gore Vidal, Edmund White & more. It’s such a rich, well-considered gathering that Rain Taxi just stuns you when you first see a copy. This is what a book review really could be like if only editors dared to be great. If only! I don’t agree with every review & some of the writing certainly is pedestrian enough – but there is more in the way of good material in a single issue of Rain Taxi than you will find in a year’s worth of the NYT Book Review.


I’m looking at the current issue & thinking of the drivel that is Parade, which passes for “the Sunday magazine” in maybe half the newspapers in America, & of the ridiculous chain store catalogs that are the Christmas-time book catalogs of papers like the New York Times, thinking to myself that if only Rain Taxi could get itself into the daily papers, perhaps with advertising (and even sponsorship) of local independent bookstores – the stores that are most apt to carry the small press titles that Rain Taxi actually understands are the core & soul of American publishing – it would be an instant, nation-wide success.



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El Mecurio, the Chilean daily newspaper, ran an article in its Arts & Letters section on June 8 on weblogs, written by Sergio Coddou, entitled “El autor al poder,” which I would translate as “Power to the Author,” with a subtitle roughly along the lines of “Internet weblogs or the death of the editor.” It’s a reasonably broad survey of mostly English language sites – Heriberto Yepez’ & Jonathan Mayhew’s Spanish language blogs are exceptions – that ranges from Andrew Sullivan to Nick Piombino & covers several poetry blogs, including mine. Of this one, Sr. Coddou wrote, “Un verdadero lujo para los amantes de la literatura contemporánea,” which translates pretty directly into “A true luxury for the lovers of contemporary literature.” Thank you!



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Lanny Quarles had an interesting & detailed exegesis of my reading of Bob Perelman as well as of the excerpt of Bob’s “Writing Time With Quotes” in his blog ::(solipsis)//:phaneronoemikon:: (say that three times fast) on June 18. Google doesn’t find an instance of the word, presumably Greek, phaneronoemikon that doesn’t link back to Lanny’s site, so I can’t tell you what it means either.



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Yesterday, this blog greeted its 40,000th visitor. I’ve expressed my amazement on this aspect of the blog more than once, and I continue to be amazed. I’ll be taking a couple of weeks off next month – my idea of a vacation involves leaving any computer I can’t fit into my shirt pocket at home – and thinking about what this all means. To date, the blog has run to just about 900 pages since last August.


I have a number of hesitations & criticisms of what is going on here – the limitations of Blogger are maddening, but I don’t really want to have to learn a program like Radio or Moveable Type. If Brian Kim Stefans can’t figure out how to replicate the poetry formatting I’ve managed to get done with this particular template (written initially in Microsoft World, which I have to open in HTML to strip out all of the extraneous code & debug every single blog – that’s why you find the occasional yellow paragraph & Macs for awhile got variable margins not quite the same as what we in the Windows world saw), my chances of doing so are nil. Contrary to Mike Snider’s opinion, I’m not really a computer geek, but rather a market analyst who works in the computer industry. There’s a difference.


But I wonder more about my stamina – will I recognize the moment when I start to repeat myself & become predictable?* I’m also quite aware that, while I love this short pieces for the range they permit, the presence of the blog has made the production of longer critical projects infinitely more complicated. I have a talk I want to give next spring on Duncan’s H.D. Book & it’s not something I want to slough off or do in any perfunctory manner.


One of the functions of the blog, as I near the end of my work on a poem I’ve been writing since 1979, is to reorient myself to the scene of writing as it exists today, as I think about What Comes Next. I already have some inkling, of course, but I’ve promised myself really to not get started until I complete The Alphabet. So until then, the blog functions as a kind of intellectual prod – a goad to pay attention. It’s really all input, not output.


&, if you want a clue as to what comes next, I’ll offer you the same one I have. You’ll find it on page 61 of Anselm Hollo’s book Corvus.









* Worse still, of course is the nagging variation: did I recognize the moment when I started to repeat myself & became predictable?