Friday, November 03, 2006
Early in 1968, a friend at SF State, David Perry (a graduate of the writing program at Bard & master’s level writing student at State not to be confused with the current, much younger poet of the same name) convinced me to attend a reading at the Albany Public Library in order to hear one of his old Bard classmates, Harvey Bialy. The great irony, from my perspective, being that this was the very same room, even, where I’d spent nearly every Saturday morning for the past 20 years as part of my mother’s ongoing attempts to get my brother & I out of the house – it was the very room where I’d first discovered poetry, seriously discovered it, just six years before.
Bialy was quieter than I expected, more low key. But it was the fellow with whom he read, a Canadian grad student at
On my way home, tho, David Perry caught the F Bus back to his home in the City while I proceeded to hitchhike back to my apartment in the Adams Point section of
The immediate problem – challenge might be a better word – was that the executive editor of the journal, Lewis Dolinsky, was certain that bringing beatniks into the magazine was a career stopper for his editorial ambitions and so he appointed a new grad student, David McAleavey, poetry editor largely to serve as gatekeeper, hoping to ensure that the barbarians would stay on the right side of the wall. The problem with Dolinsky’s plan was that McAleavey wasn’t really a literary conservative – he was interested in the work of John Berryman, but mostly he was unread in the New Americans. So Melnick & I simply shared our various enthusiasms with the man – in response, McAleavey actually taught me, finally, how to play at least a passable game of chess.
This project had all kinds of repercussions beyond simply getting the work of Bromige & Shapiro into Occident. Melnick & I used our mutual Chicago Review connections to propose a feature on new poets of the Bay Area, which eventually was published in 1970, David McAleavey would go on to publish both my first book, Crow, and Melnick’s, Eclogs, when he was with Ithaca House (McAleavey having transferred to Cornell to finish his PhD, which turned out to be on George Oppen), and Melnick went on to work for decades alongside Lewis Dolinsky on the editorial staff of the San Francisco Chronicle (both retired when it was taken over by the Hearst syndicate). The Chicago Review feature, which got the work of d alexander, Harvey Bialy, David Bromige, Ken Irby, Joanne Kyger, McAleavey, David Perry, George Stanley, Julia Vinograd & Al Young into that publication, in turn is what set me up for the feature I would later edit for Alcheringa, which in turn led directly to In the American Tree.
That’s a lot to get out of a single act of hitch-hiking.
But throughout this entire period, it was always evident that the committee structure of Occident was not going to lead to great literature, as such. The best journals have always reflected the aesthetic commitment of a single individual, or a cabal of like minded co-conspirators. I was, by now, both disinterested in academic rags & had not yet fully found any alternatives that fit my own sense of what was needed.
While I was at SF State in 1968, my linguistics professor, Ed van Aelstyn, one of the founding editors of Coyote’s Journal, persuaded me that I should solve this problem by doing my own publication. That sounded like a great idea, so I began to solicit work, drawing principally from my favorite contributors to Caterpillar – this was made easier one afternoon when d alexander showed up at my apartment just below the Rad Lab woods in the Berkeley Hills with his rolodex in hand.
There was only one catch. I had no clue about how to publish a magazine and no cash whatsoever. My strategy for getting through college had been to get a student loan that would cover my tuition, books and rent for a semester – always taking care to pay the whole semester’s rent in advance – at which point I had so little cash that I always qualified for food stamps. Even if I’d understood what I was getting into, there was no cash around – I could go for a month on just $20 once I’d handled the rent, etc., so long as I had my “agricultural coupons.”
When, one day, I got a terrific unsolicited submission of work from David Gitin, somebody whom I really didn’t know – I had met him once or twice & that was all – I knew I had to do something. So I typed up a few pages of work, hand drew a title logo & took the first issue of Tottel’s to Krishna Copy on Telegraph Avenue. The first issue had work from David Bromige, Jerry Rothenberg, Robert Kelly, Daphne Marlatt, Robert David Cohen, David Perry & somebody I’d just gotten to know, Robert Grenier.
If you look at my bibliography on the EPC website, you can trace this transition in interests & focus. In 1969, I published work in Poetry and Caterpillar, and in Arts in Society, all essentially the outcome of attempts I’d made to do so over the two previous years. I also had work in the South Florida Poetry Journal, to which I’d been steered by Duane Locke. Herbert Kubly, a writer of travel memoirs, also used my poem from TriQuarterly as the frontispiece to a book on
The following year, I had work only in Occident and the first issue of Tottels (tho this is also the year when the Chicago Review feature came out). At this point, I was focused in on my own projects in writing, not concerned with publishing somewhere that might cause me to “get ahead.”