Wednesday, February 16, 2005
I’ve told this story about David Gitin a few times before. So if you already heard it once, indulge me. Back when I was a student at San Francisco State a mere 38 years ago, my linguistics professor, Edward van Aelstyn – a co-founder with Jim Koller & others, of Coyote’s Journal, easily the best little magazine of the mid-1960s – talked me into starting a little magazine of my own. “It’ll give the poets you want to see your work a reason to deal with you,” is either what van Aelstyn said, or the way that I heard it. But hear it I did. I mentioned the idea of this to the late d alexander (no caps & no period on that initial, it being his full first name) who showed up at my door with his rolodex, literally, and I began to send notes out to the likes of Robert Kelly, Clayton Eshleman, Charles Stein, Jerry Rothenberg, Ken Irby, Armand Schwerner & Seymour Faust.
What I didn’t know at the time was how you went from having some groovy manuscripts in hand to having a finished magazine. And given that I spent most of the time between 1964 & 1977 living on something less than $300 per month for everything, including a serious book-buying addiction, the amount of disposable capital at hand to pay for printing & binding was more in my imagination than in a bank somewhere. So my little pile of manuscripts sat. And they sat. I had never heard of the concept of Messerli Time in those days, but before you knew it I was inventing the problem all on my own.
Then one day, literally a couple of years later, I received an envelope from somebody I’d never heard of before – or of whom I was only vaguely aware, is probably more like it – my first unsolicited submission – and the poems bowled me over. Whoever David Gitin was, he was superb & his own self as a writer, nobody else.
At the time, I was living even more close to the edge of economic ruin than usual, getting by on something more like $200 per month in a little interregnum between college and starting my alternative service as a conscientious objector. But I sat down at my trusty typewriter and put together a first issue – using only those older works I’d been holding onto that had not yet come out in book form (as, for example, Schwerner’s contribution already had). I literally hand-drew the title & logo for the publication, then took it down to the local copymat to print up a small run of copies. The first issue certainly wasn’t any more than 100 copies, stapled in the upper left-hand corner. Thus was Tottel’s born.
I included four of Gitin’s poems in the second issue, one of which – in a revised version – appears now in Passing Through, the largest collection of his poetry publicly available since George Mattingly’s Blue Wind Press published This Once back in 1979. Gitin as always is at once the most precise writer imaginable & a very restless imagination, a great combination. These poems push-pull on the reader in ways that are as unpredictable as writing as they are as real-world experiences. Thus, for example, “
in the company
of a horesefly
Exactly. That’s a word that comes to mind a lot as I read & reread these poems. Gitin’s poetry occupies a territory that suggests his interest in any number of Objectivists & New Americans (Oppen, Rakosi, Whalen, Eigner were the ones that jumped up for me today, but there have been other times when Creeley & Blackburn seemed every bit as powerful), poets for whom the precision of perception seems very often the point of pleasure in it all. Yet there is a second aspect of Gitin’s work that I hear today, one that is largely absent from those older writers (with the one real exception here being Creeley) & which Gitin acknowledges ever so lightly in his choice of an epigram for the book from Clark Coolidge: “of roads to clouds as spoke of dreams.” I hear that as content, of course, & there is an aspect to these poems that suggests if not a Zen poet in the formal sense of a Phil Whalen or Norman Fischer, a poet very much in tune with Zen’s gentle insistence on attention as valuable in itself. But I hear also Coolidge the jazz drummer in the syncopation of that line – and it reminds me just how much Gitin’s work likewise proceeds by ear to thought, or perhaps I should say thinking. This is very much the case in how Gitin works a line break:
That’s from a poem entitled “Sex” that concludes just six words later with “apples.” Like Creeley or Eigner in particular – especially in this collection where all but two of the 34 poems head out from the left hand margin, working their way not only down but rightward across the page – Gitin’s poems can be deceivingly simple. The whole book can be read in less than an hour. Yet this is also some 30 years of careful attention & I’m reminded just how difficult it is for a poet to stay sharp for that long – there is that way in which being a writer is (not is like) being an athlete. Some of Gitin’s finest poems here are the most recent, which makes me hope not only for the next book but also some day a larger collection of the whole. Looking back at Tottel’s 2, there are not only just three good poems that are not incorporated here, but the second section of the original version of “Related to the Sea.” That section reads:
white waves on sand
in a welter of coral