Saturday, August 12, 2006


One new journal that has started up this summer that promises to make a significant contribution to American poetics is Celery Flute: The Kenneth Patchen Newsletter, edited by Douglas Manson out of Buffalo. It’s a great idea, given that Patchen is one of the most important of the neglectorinos of the last century, patron saint to American visual poetry & an important influence on poets from the mid-‘30s onward, especially on such Beats as Kerouac & Ferlinghetti. Indeed, City Lights’ Pocket Poets series took its famous (if now sadly abandoned) design from Patchen’s An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air, designed by Kemper Noland & published by his Untides Press at the Conscientious Objectors’ prison camp in Waldport Oregon in 1945.

Mason, in his introduction, calls the journal

the beginning of a critical reassessment of a poetic career that stands out in twentieth-century American literature for its ability to astonish, arrest, and reveal, for its unique historical and cultural importance, and as an example of the ongoing suppression of a popular, radical avant-garde practice of innovation in poetic form.

In addition to an this editor’s note, the first issue contains a piece by Michael Basinski, who discusses Patchen’s correspondence with Jonathan Williams & contemplates ways in which to historically place this unique working class radical poet/painter, given that the categories still widely available (New American, etc.) still fail to address what was happening in poetry prior to 1950 – it was not simply New Critical/Fugitive, Objectivist, Pound-Williams, etc. – there was more (and different) that has yet to be understood.

Manson attempts to accomplish much the same thing in a long piece – it’s really the great find of the first issue – that uses the concept of prepoetics to compare & contrast the careers of Patchen & the likeminded (tho historically later) Canadian poet bp Nichol.

This is followed with two pieces relating to another early radical poet associated with Patchen & the evolution of the literary scene in the Village, Holly Beye (a deep neglectorino). First is a review of Beye’s journals, 120 Charles Street, The Village: Journals & Writings 1949-1950, which is then followed by an excerpt. Even then, it is clear from Beye’s notes that Patchen was suffering from the crippling back condition that essentially made him a recluse in Palo Alto by the 1960s, making his relationship to the SF scene that I was just then starting to enter into all the more mysterious. Just who was this guy whom Robert Duncan, Tom Parkinson & Kenneth Rexroth all obviously looked up to, but who appeared to be all but invisible?

At 34 pages, the first issue has been heavily seeded by Manson doing triple (maybe quadruple) duty, editing, writing three pieces & publishing the journal. Hopefully, Celery Flute will resonate with a readership & generate more work from a broader range of participants. There’s a lot here, for example, that I could stand to learn, all of it worth the effort.

My only complaint is that the journal needs to have a web site, especially so that it can post out-of-print past issues to the web and ease the process of acquisition. The first issue costs $7 and a four issue subscription is $20 for individuals, $35 for institutions, check or money order payable to Douglas Manson & sent to Celery Flute, 425 Bird Ave, Apt. 2, Buffalo, NY 14213-1235.


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