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Rich Soos and Cholla Needles Press Interview by John Brantingham

Rich Soos and Cholla Needles Press Interview by John Brantingham

Just outside Joshua Tree National Park is the city of Joshua Tree, which has drawn artists and writers to itself forming a community of creative people in the Mojave Desert. Within this community is Rich Soos and Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library, which have created a space for these folks to share their creativity. He publishes a monthly literary magazine and hosts readings to celebrate each new issue. He also makes sure Cholla Needles is involved with other local events including the Big Read put on each year by the Arts Connection of San Bernardino County.  In 2021 the Big Read featured the U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo.

       What I find particularly fascinating however, is Cholla Needles’ publishing project. Soos publishes a wide range of work, but his series of books of poets who are also visual artists is stunning. These are often about forty pages and include full color art. They often feature desert themes and capture the spirit of the Joshua Tree’s arts community well with authors and artists like Kendall Johnson, Cynthia Anderson, Susan Abbott, Zara Kand, and Cindy Rinne, serious writers who take their art just as seriously. The effect is a body of work that is the best of what ekphrasis does, where the art and words work in unison to make new connections, to create new ideas, that the art or words alone could not do. These are not just exceptional books. This is an exceptional series.

      I wanted to understand the collaborative process between him and his writer/artists, so I talked to him about the project.

John:   Would it be fair to say that you are deeply involved in a collaborative process that is not just you printing the work, but helping the artists/writers to draw out ideas that they might not have necessarily found on their own?

Rich:   Well, a lot depends on the author. I am always involved in the collaborations, obviously. How deeply depends on the other parties involved. There are some poets/artists that I spend lots and lots of time with attempting to craft a final product that works. There are others who are excellent at self-editing, and describing their vision well, so I’m largely the old guy in the background making sure the technology matches their vision. 

John:   Did you self-consciously decide to develop this art/poetry project? Do you even see it as a project or is it just something that naturally built itself?

Rich:   I walked into pie for the people in Joshua Tree for some pizza and saw artwork on the walls that knocked me over. I discovered an artist who had placed my deepest dreams and poetry onto canvas and was fascinated. I found my heart pouring out words that had been waiting for these images and created two proofs – one called Interiors, and one called Exteriors. I created the proofs before talking to the artist because I did not have the language to explain the vision I had for these publications. The cover of both was the same, the titles were different. When I took the proofs to the artist we immediately bonded and collaborated to help make the vision I had a mutual vision. This experience started the series of art/poetry books and is solely the fault of Zara Kand. Without her art speaking directly to me this would never have started. I’m not sure the word “project” is the correct term, I just know it was something I had to do to satisfy my own need to see poetry and art that moved my soul become a single unit. I do like your description, “naturally built itself”.

     Many of these art books have come together the same way. A vision in my head that I can only express through the printing process. As an example, Cindy Rinne submitted a book of poetry that she wanted me to publish Called Moon of Many Pebbles. I loved the words, and was willing to publish them in the same way as most of our books – black words on white paper. As I read through the words I kept seeing her art, so using the same format, I decided to try the art/poetry approach to add a vivid dimension to the reading experience. Again, I was unable to use words to explain the vision, so I made up a proof version and shared it with Cindy. She was very happy with the presentation, and from that first proof we were able to collaborate to make the vision a mutual one.

      Now, of course, folks have seen quite a few of these books and are able to send me material to create these art/poetry books using their vision. For example here, I had published work by Cynthia Anderson and Susan Abbott. Cynthia saw Susan’s work and wanted to have her words enhanced by including full color pieces with her words. And that beautiful collaboration became Now Voyager. We have over 25 of these books by many folks available now, and I am proud of the series. Each book is unique, and meets a specific creative desire within me. I love the technical challenge of turning the vision in my head into a work of art others want to hold in their hands. 

John:   Would it be fair to say that you are deeply involved in a collaborative process that is not just you printing the work, but helping the artists/writers to draw out ideas that they might not have necessarily found on their own?

Rich:   Well, a lot depends on the author. I am always involved in the collaborations, obviously. How deeply depends on the other parties involved. There are some poets/artists that I spend lots and lots of time with attempting to craft a final product that works. There are others who are excellent at self-editing, and describing their vision well, so I’m largely the old guy in the background making sure the technology matches their vision. 

John:   I’m wondering about your placement in the Mojave desert and if that’s influenced the way you’ve developed as a press.

Rich:   My “placement” in the Mojave desert was simply a result of the big real estate crash of 2008. I had always wanted to move here since my first visit in 1972, and by 2008 I was very close to “retirement”.  We had honestly given up on ever being able to return to California to live because of the ridiculous costs of homes. In 2008 real estate prices were slashed to 25% of what they were in previous years, and we immediately bought our retirement home because we knew that was a once every 20-30 years opportunity. The entire country has experienced the doubling and tripling of real estate prices in the past few years, so I made a good decision. There’s no way we could afford to move here now.

We had come to Joshua Tree every summer and I can’t deny it’s influenced me as a writer and artist – and probably as an editor. I have a deep love for work that is sparse and carries deep meaning below the surface, and I’m sure that comes from my walks in the desert. Also, our motto here at Cholla Needles is from a poem I wrote 40 years ago when I learned the hard way the strength of those little needles. The motto basically says that I look for work that slices through the surface, and leaves a healthy scar long afterwards. Poetry should bear repeated readings, and stay deep within us long after we’ve turned the page.

The development of the Cholla Needles phenomena happened quickly once we started. My initial desire was simply to have a monthly magazine. I started receiving full length manuscripts almost immediately, and when I’m presented with work I know others should be reading, I can’t help but desire to print it. In five years we’ve published 60 monthly issues and over 120 books.   

John:   Speaking of the monthly magazine, you’ve told me that you draw many of the people you publish from Cholla Needles Magazine. This involves both art and writing as well. Was one of your impulses for book publishing to get a more complete vision of individual artists?

Rich:   Cholla Needles magazine is presented as what I call 10 mini-chapbooks between two covers. This was on purpose – to give readers a real good flavor of each writer and artist. And you are correct, this mini-chapbook is a mere taste of what they are capable of, and the books offer much more depth into the authors. I did plan that specific requirement – that an author or artist appear in Cholla Needles prior to being considered for a book – for a reason. My sanity. I always feel obligated to read material that comes across my threshold. I’m sure no one would be surprised how many people have book manuscripts ready to be read. Any editor will tell you – it is very easy to become overwhelmed. By making sure authors/artists first appear in the magazine before I read their full book manuscript, I save a lot of time. I do believe the best books come from mutual respect and a willingness to work together. If we can work together to get their work prepared for the mini-chapbook, we have a much better chance of some real success with a 120 page book. 

John:   Do you have any plans or dreams for the future of the press or do you plan for it just to develop organically?

Rich:   Oh yes, we have dreams, big dreams! However, our plan at this point is simple – to survive the pandemic, and to build back to where we were pre-pandemic. 

            Understandably people’s financial situations have been in havoc the past sixteen months and their ability and desire to support magazines like ours has almost disappeared.

            Our three dreams remain the same, the same dreams we have included in our non-profit by-laws. 

            First, we’d love to pay our authors and artists. Our plan pre-pandemic was to change from a single copy to several copies as payment starting 2022, with the continued dream of being able to pay in greenbacks as we grow. 

            The second dream is to move our library from the garage into a site that would double as a poetry bookstore/art gallery. The dream is to sell new poetry from around the world, and maintain our library for the classic books of poetry that are no longer available for sale. We have several thousand books in the library already, and it continues to grow. Many writers donate their own books to the library, as well as books they’ve collected that they no longer have room for. 

            And finally, the biggest dream was practical pre-pandemic, but since real estate prices have tripled in the past 16 months it feels impractical. That said, a dream can still be a dream, and we want to have a Cholla Needles retreat where poets can reserve a place to come from anywhere in the world to be inspired by our beautiful landscape to either start a new book, or find the peace to complete a project they are working on. The dream is to have this space available to writers at no cost and underwritten by donations from patrons of the arts. There are folks who still do that and we simply wait for the right ones who love Cholla Needles and love our area and love writers. The perfect trifecta.

            In the meantime, as these dreams continue to motivate and inspire our board members we will continue to develop organically. Last year for example, a single board member pointed out since I was answering emails 10-12 hours a day seven days a week that I didn’t have time for my own writing. I hadn’t stopped to consider that, but it was true, so I asked the simple question – how do we change that? She suggested “guest editors.” Such a simple, organic solution, and yes, we have had four issues by guest editors in the past year, and it’s been so successful we will continue to keep that new tradition alive.

    We’ve been blessed to be able to continue publishing during these days when folks are more focused on survival than poetry. Maintaining our schedule has proven to be inspirational to our readers, and their monthly notes of thanks and praise help us tremendously. Mutual love and respect. Good times!!!

John Brantingham 10th September 2021

Festival Conversation between Simon Collings and Allen Fisher

Festival Conversation between Simon Collings and Allen Fisher

Questions for Allen Fisher, Answers for Simon Collings

Tears in the Fence Festival 2020

The Friday evening session of this year’s Festival included a conversation between Allen Fisher and Simon Collings. Simon sent Allen written questions before the event and Allen prepared written answers. During the session the conversation took a somewhat different course from the one planned. As a bonus, therefore, we are sharing here the written texts of the questions and answers prepared prior to the event. The discussion was about Allen’s magnum opus Gravity as a consequence of shape, composed between 1982 and 2007. I’m delighted to be able to share this additional material. David Caddy

Q1: You had a structure for the project from the beginning, a framework which guided the subse-quent facturing of the work. You created this framework by marking a number sequence on a card-board tube and then crushing it. Could you say something about the overall structure of the book?
A1: My poetry writing uses processual and procedural methods. For the Gravity project I chose a complex of numerical structure and a small playful book of research into some scientific practices, particularly bio-engineering and quantum physics. The premise behind the initial numerical struc-ture was that the norms of structural pattern put in place in terms of line count and line lengths, but also in terms of overall narrative schemes that you could find in Dante, in Chaucer, in Spenser and in, for example Shakespeare’s Venus & Adonis, these are demonstrations of an earlier aesthetic with a basis in coherence, exactness and certainty. We are now in a culture and civilisation that is run by liars focussed on their own riches their ownership. I am not in favour of these criminals. They are de-stroying the planet, they encourage poverty. They support torture. They refuse joy. I explicitly seek to invent, develop and provide a new aesthetic attention. I take into account a decoherent position that comprehended uncertainties but as I wrote elsewhere gives a confidence in lack.

To cut a longer story short, I devised a system of allegedly exact proportions and exponential devel-opment and part of my procedure was to scale these proportions onto a cardboard cylinder. And as you noted, I put the cylinder in a vice and crushed it and folded it so that the exact numbering be-came self-interfering, became visually energetic. It became more exact to the situation it was in the process of producing. There’s no need for anyone reading the text to know the scheme used, the via-ble knowing has to do with understanding the disruption and excitement in unpredictable aspects of what at first seemed like a straight forward narrative or description. This procedural device was then subjected to a variety of improvised and homophonic attentions both intimately in some of the indi-vidual poems, but also across the larger work to provide the potential for a pattern of connectedness.

As you have it, the poems in Gravity each have the title of a jazz dance and the design of the book derives from my earlier small research book called Ideas on the culture dreamed of, which is alphabetical. In the initial scheme I start with African Boog and end with Zip. The reader may enjoy knowing some of this, or may not, but the reading through is affected by the schemes, the reader need only be alert to the variety of patterns and broken patterns, the narrative expectations and then their subversion.

Q2: You use collage extensively, lifting material from a diverse range of sources. We’ll hear references to Blake and Dryden, material from various works on neuroscience and physics, and later on references to the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. These discourses are woven together into a poly-vocal text, reflective of the way each of us today is surrounded by multiple disourses, many too technical for us to understand. Could you say something about the poem’s appropriation of these varied discourses? You could characterise the writings in Gravity in terms of their function.

A2: The undercurrent writing takes concepts on contemporary scientific thought and practice be-cause I am paying attention to them. Trying to comprehend them. Much of the material comes from studying bio-technology as it might affect our conditions and futures as physical substance. Quantum physics in how it discusses our conditions in terms of where we are and what we are. These attentions lead into the use of language used by these groups of theory and practice. It’s a matter of taking back the language as part of the poetic material part of its substance. Both of these usages lead into and out of narrative themes in the work and also play with the vocabularies in the text. As substances to transform within the larger text.
Q3: Of course you’re making poetry, not trying to explain quantum theory or the nature of con-sciousness, so these different vocabularies are mixed in ways which produce new and surprising for-mulations. These often serve as a kind of commentary on the poem’s own process. In Cakewalk for example we have the lines: ‘The variety of their phase behaviour/encourages a focus deception/His long range special ordering/fantasises a language progression/from colloidal fluids to crystals.’ You’re interested in creating an aesthetic effect here, in provoking an experience for the reader. Is that right?

A3: Maybe aesthetic effect characterises what this is about, but we need to understand aesthetic, its basis in providing information or thoughts, in delighting the reader, in persuading the reader that it goes on and is saying something albeit elusive that there are a number of small conclusions and openings. The aesthetic effect would be a sense of wonder.

Q4: There are a series of ‘characters’ who appear throughout the text, one of the central figures be-ing the Burglar (capital B.) We’ll hear many references to the Burglar in the material you are going to read. Does the Burglar connect with your practice of appropriating text from other authors?

A4: The Burglar the Painter the Technician the Photographer the Bellman are persona in the work, I have mutual feelings about who they are and what they represent. They are metonyms for different aspects of human conditions. The Burglar steals DNA as a commodity on the stock exchange, he turns human substance into a commodity, he can put it on a USB stick, he steals consciousness, he attends to your sleep. It’s incidental that I gather my texts from texts that already exist. That would be a paradigm for Shakespeare and Chaucer, I only need to be an artist to make use of what is available. The character of the Burglar is multiple, his image is fleeting and unrecordable except as a passing wisp in the air. In a sudden lost breath. In a lost balance, stolen in that moment, in a trip on the step. Persuaded by gravity to drop instead of lift. The Burglar is a device to give the reader you or me, a landline, something to provide a recurrence and catch of bird song as it passes.

Q5: The concept of ‘entanglement’ in quantum physics interests you – the phenomenon where parti-cles remote from each other mirror each other’s behaviour. By analogy texts within Gravity are ‘en-tangled’ with each other. For example, poems at the end of the sequence, mirror texts from the be-ginning. The lines ‘The Burglar’s struggle against gravity/begins in irreversible vertigo/practiced in a periodic and reversible fashion/otherwise the lure of his search of self’ which you’ll read from ‘Bun-ny Hop’ are mirrored by: ‘The Burglar’s confrontation with exactness/held sway in this intuition, his immediate/seeing, in that false concept of a present/ trodden by fiction’ which appears in ‘Stroll’ (which you had planned to read but which we won’t have time for.) These poems were written many years apart and in very different settings. How do these textual entanglements relate to the concept of space-time?

A5: Entanglements characterises a summary of our condition as humans on a planet that is in the process of being destroyed. Our spacetime is a muliplex of where we are. The plurality of worlds that David Lewis and that for example the poet Jacques Roubaud returns to is one dimension of this, this is similar to Robert Duncan’s multiverse. It’s also more connected and interactive and self interfering than their concepts. It is disruptive in a positive way, it is energetic and the basis of our existence. It characterises that we are part of a pattern of connectedness, it’s how our human physiology works, how consciousness works or memory and our immune responses our weather. The mirrors are more extraordinary than a hall of mirrors or singular camera lens they are mobile. They are the basis of my aesthetic and my practice and my cooking. Entanglements are exemplary of the decoherence that we experience on a minute by minute condition. They articulate our loss and gains our uncer-tainty and confidence. Our accidents and corrective attentions. Our collective presences.

Your suggestion attends to composition over a broad time. You say over many years. It is also at that moment of energy that momenergy in a multiple of situations and conditions some consciously experienced others lost in the fleet of being. The benefit of project working is that it articulates the production of a poem as a job to do. It is conceptualised and planned and carried out. The idea over many years is lost to the spacetime of multiplicity and that is where the entanglement takes, is effi-caciousness, is how it is experienced as lost and found at once. Stolen and recovered at once.

Q6: A final question. On first encounter the work may seem rebarbative to a reader. But there’s a great deal of playful humour in the work isn’t there, both at the level of the language and in some of the narrative?

A6: The work is necessarily rebarbative, what a word, it feels like a blurb on the back of the book. The work is as you say playful and has an intension in humour. I can think of no better description of the human condition. In states of adversity we move through in good humour and get on with it. We interface adversity, the whole damaged condition of our planet and motivate a recovery. Maybe it is rebarbative in the sense of the barber, like the Burglar takes from you, when you are face to face with the Burglar you don’t see who it is. It is the activity that you encounter. Rebarbative because it uses vocabulary that you don’t recognise or because it feels like a demonstration of confusion, an underlying need to cohere and quickly understand, Gravity can’t be understood in that way, it offers fleets of comprehension which are continually stolen from you. I resist coherence because coherence is a death. It is lie we have been told all our lives. This civilisation does not cohere except as a death culture. We need to transform that, we need to counter it. We are tired of dying, and seeing the death of others, we are sick of the torturers and the victims of torture, tired of arms dealers and the buyers of armoury. We are rebarbative with the psychiatrist and the loss of memory. We are clowns in a circus that demands we fall over and get up. We have funny faces and cry. We demand fun and playfulness and humour, it is restorative.

Simon Collings, Allen Fisher 14th September 2020

Tears in the Fence 64

Tears in the Fence 64

Tears in the Fence 64 edited by David Caddy is now available from https://tearsinthefence.com/pay-it-forward and features poetry, fiction, prose poetry and translations from Jeremy Reed, Jim Burns, John Welch, John Freeman, Sally Dutton, Chris Hall, Michael Henry, Beth Davyson, Kinga Tóth, Paul Kareem Tayyar, D. I., Lydia Unsworth, David Pollard, Mike Duggan, Jeff Hilson, Sheila Mannix, I.S. Rowley, Richard Foreman, Jay Ramsay, Alison Winch, Andrew Taylor, Alan Baker, Sophie Herxheimer, L. Kiew, Ric Hool, S.J. Litherland, Rachael Clyne, Andrew Shelley, Tom Cowin, Morag Kiziewicz, Matt Bryden, Jessica Mookherjee, John Phillips, Ian Brinton & Michael Grant trans. Mallarmé, Terence J. Dooley trans. Mario Martin Giljó, Greg Bachar, Jennifer K. Dick, Matthew Carbery, Mark Goodwin, Aidan Semmens, Peter Dent, Sarah Cave, Julie Irigaray and Maria Isokova Bennett.
The critical section features John Freeman on Jim Burns: Poet as Witness, Andrew Henon on Timeless Man: Sven Berlin, Mary Woodward on Rosemary Tonks & Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Jeremy Reed on John Wieners, Norman Jope on Chris McCabe, Marsha de la O in conversation with John Brantingham, Neil Leadbeater on Jeremy Hilton, Nancy Gaffield on Geraldine Monk, Lesley Saunders on Alice Miller, Belinda Cooke on Carole Satyamurti, Steve Spence on Dear World and Everyone in it David Caddy on Andrew Lees’ Mentored by a Madman, Nigel Wood & Alan Halsey, Duncan Mackay on E.E. Cummings
, Notes on Contributors, and Ian Brinton’s Afterword.
The front cover is a black & white detail of a Sven Berlin watercolour (1982, private collection) and the magazine is designed by Westrow Cooper.

Beat Scene 76, edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 76, edited by Kevin Ring

This issue features an extensive profile and interview with James Koller by Peter Garland, Ken Kesey’s second novel, Sometimes a Great Notion (1964), Kurt Hemmer’s interview with Herbert Huncke, an essay on Kenneth Patchen as read by Kenneth Rexroth, Mark Howell’s recollections of meeting Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, and Jim Burns on ‘Underground London – Bebop and Beyond.’ There are additional memories of Ken Kesey’s visit to Filthy McNastys pub in London, although it is unclear whether the article references a 1978 or the 1998 visit, the 1974 bootleg publication of Kerouac’s Old Angel Midnight and Bob Dylan’s 1975 Rolling Thunder tour visit to Kerouac’s birthplace at Lowell. The review section includes the selected letters of Wendell Berry, (a friend of Kesey) and Gary Snyder, and Nobody Home: writing, buddhism and living in places, Gary Snyder in conversation with Julia Martin.

The James Koller interview covers his biographical, personal and poetic influences, his novels, poetry and work on Coyote’s Journal and Coyote Books, which published Beats and ethnocentric poets. Born in northern Illinois in 1936, Koller became part of the Fifties North Beach, San Francisco scene, and was friends with Joanne Kyger, Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, Philip Whalen and Robert Creeley. He published Charles Olson’s famous 1965 Berkeley Lecture in Coyote’s Journal. He was inspired by Pound, cites Carl Sauer’s The Agency of Man On The Earth (1956) as a bigger influence than Olson’s work, anonymous folk songs, native American songs, which he translated for Jerome Rothenberg’s 1972 Shaking The Pumpkin anthology, the ethnocentric epics and Icelandic sagas. This comprehensive interview helped me to locate Koller as a poet somewhere between Ed Dorn and Jerome Rothenberg, as well as bring to light such figures as Jaime de Angulo, a poet friend of Pound, and author of Indian Tales. Pound called de Angulo the ‘American Ovid’ and was also highly regarded by William Carlos Williams. He tutored Jack Spicer and Robert Duncan, and was written about by Kerouac.

The Kesey article could have examined Sometimes a Great Notion and Paul Newman’s 1970 film of the book, more fully. It tends to follow a populist version rather than literary one of Kesey’s life and work. In fairness, there was a great crossover between the Merry Pranksters, Beats, Diggers and Deadheads. A truer understanding of the flowering of the Beats would require a grasp of many factors, historically from the eclipse of the old Left to the birth of the Internet. The Internet evolved as a direct means of communication within the Deadhead community, and a reading of that community with its numerous and continual allusions to and from the Merry Pranksters and wider San Francisco North Beach scene has yet to be written. A fuller picture would also relate the activism of Diggers to poets, such as Kenneth Rexroth, Ginsberg, and Pound, their connection to City Lights Bookshop, the Planet Drum Foundation, founded by Peter Berg in 1973, to ethnomusicologists, such as de Angulo, Frederic Lieberman, Mickey Hart, as well as poets, such as Koller, Kyger and Snyder, as well as the Whole Earth Catalog, which featured Kesey’s Further bus on its July 1969 cover, and other ecologically aware publications and groupings, and so on.

Jim Burns unearths an underground Soho scene from the late Forties and early Fifties, centred around Club Eleven, a bebop club opened in 1948 at 41 Windmill Street, not far from the Fitzroy Tavern, with its similar clientele of showbiz types, Soho characters, dealers, and military absconders. Here though the atmosphere was provided more by the smell of marijuana than beer. Burns notes that this particular ‘Underground’ predated there more popular Sixties notion, and provides useful literary references to support his findings.

There is, as ever, much to ponder in Beat Scene.
http://www.beatscene.net/

David Caddy 11th June 2015

Rebels, Beats And Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications, 2015)

Rebels, Beats And Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications, 2015)

This sixth collection of informative essays and reviews showcasing Jim Burns’ encyclopedic knowledge of twentieth century bohemianism contains thoughtful insights into the current scene and is by no means set in the past.

His first substantial point is that literary criticism by highlighting a few writers and poets from the Fifties and early Sixties overlook the wider social and cultural circumstances and sheer excitement of the period through an excess of analysis. Burns opens out the artificial boundaries and distinct categories of official criticism to reveal a more confused, floating world of writers and poets, little magazines, small presses and the ephemera of bohemia. Here we glimpse through essays on political rebels, beats, jazz musicians, poets, writers, filmmakers, artists and photographers a somewhat looser field of connection and relationship as well as a deep enthusiasm to move forward to a better place. Underlining this is the contention that minor figures may well yield as much social, cultural and literary insight as some of the major figures. Burns is quite clear in understanding that, for example William Burroughs, whilst linked with Allen Ginsberg through friendship, is clearly drawing upon very different sources and techniques. His essay on Cities Of The Red Night portrays Burroughs as a moralist with the power to shock, provoke and disturb, employing humour, visual effects and shifting action from within the American tradition of outlaws and pirates.

His second provocation concerns the role of the little magazine. He echoes Samuel Beckett’s publisher, John Calder’s point that the Fifties sowed the seeds that sprouted in the much vaunted Sixties, and examines the world of Merlin, a short-lived little magazine in the Parisian bohemian world of the Fifties, which drew attention to Beckett’s writing. Merlin subsequently spawned a publishing house, which published editions of Watt and Molloy. In the essay, ‘What Will You Read Tomorrow?’ he laments the passing of the ‘alternative’ bookshops, which grew out of Sixties unrest and offered reading matter far removed from the big publishers and distributors. Given the decline of the independent and second hand bookshops, the narrowing range of Waterstones and Borders, and the fact that the Internet cannot always supply writing that is beyond the ordinary and fashionable, Burns sees a vital role for the little magazine as an outlet and resource. He writes:

And it seems to me that little magazines, for all their problems,
are a way of providing us with a system of exchanging ideas and information about the overlooked and the unusual. Isaac Rosenfeld once said of little magazines that they were outlets for ‘a small but vigorous and very vital, active and conscious group which knew fairly well the sort of thing it stood for even if it had no specific programme and whether or not it had any political allegiance.’ He also
said that one of the characteristics of a conservative age is ‘the shrinkage of extremes’ and he added: ‘I am used to thinking, because of my upbringing, of the writer standing at one extreme from society; I mean, of course, the serious writer, the conscious writer, then, as a man who stands at a certain extreme, at a certain remove from society.’
He asserts that the little magazine could provide the variety missing elsewhere, and the reassurance that there are other dissidents who don’t believe the big publishers and mass markets can supply everything that the imagination needs to keep it alive and alert to the world.

His essay on David Gascoyne’s life reminds the reader of the importance of the Parton Street Bookshop in Bloomsbury as a gathering place for young poets and their readers. It was there that Gascoyne met George Barker, Norman Cameron, Geoffrey Grigson, Roger Roughton and others, as well as where he bought imported surrealist publications. From there he would walk to Zwemmers Bookshop in Charing Cross Road to chat with Ruthven Todd and compare their imported stock. The key is that Gascoyne had a range of places to increase his reading and knowledge.

There are other fascinating essays on a range of subjects from the Paris-Amsterdam underground, Surrealistic Prague, to Henry Miller, B. Traven, and the Edward Dorn / LeRoi Jones correspondence, as well as the extensive Beat Scene interview with Burns by Kevin Ring from Spring 2014. This compelling volume of essays is a joy to read and contains much information and material that is hard to find.

David Caddy 13th April 2015

Marius Kociejowski’s God’s Zoo: Artists, Exiles, Londoners

Marius Kociejowski’s God’s Zoo: Artists, Exiles, Londoners

Carcanet Press 2014

This beautifully structured and illustrated book consists of a series of encounters with creative artists living in London who have become exiles from their cultural and geographical roots. It bears witness to the myriad of life stories and historical-geographical connections, which form multicultural London and fuel its underbelly of creativity.

Kociejowski distills their lives of through interviews, conversation and stories, and produces some compelling portraits of character struggling through adversity and a desire to give voice to those that have none. The Turkish novelist, Moris Farhi, for example, speaks eloquently of the survival of Turkey’s eroticism despite the pressures from Islam, the impact of the Holocaust, his work on the plight of gypsies, thinking on ‘otherness’ in Europe and his campaigning for writers imprisoned for their writing. It is a compelling story.

There are stories of poets, such as John Rety, who left war-torn Budapest for London in 1947, Fawzi Karim, who fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and Chinese poet, Liu Hongbin, who moved to London in 1989 following his involvement in the Tiananmen Square protests.

Rety left Budapest, occupied by Germany in 1944, liberated by the Russian army in 1945, with the Russian women soldiers who ran the city etched on his memory as the personification of the Russian Revolution. Rety, born Réti János, has some fine stories from this period involving chess and a whore. He became immersed in Soho’s bohemian literary scene in the Fifties, editing Intimate Review and publishing a novel, Supersozzled Nights (1953). His mother fled the new regime and moved to London but found her now bearded and anarchist son unacceptable. I found Rety’s story captivating. His life touched on Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe in the early sixties when he sold furniture in Camden High Street. Later he returned to poetry organizing events at the Torriano Meeting House, Kentish Town, presiding over an atmosphere that according to the late Julia Casterton, was

‘somewhere between that Aldermaston March and Brendan
Behan’s aunt’s tea party, because everyone’s very nice, in
a pugilistic, revolutionary way.’

The book also features the lives of Brazilian artist, Ana Maria Paceco, Polish actor, Andrzej Borkowski, Zimbabwean novelist, Brian Chikwava, Indian filmmaker, Rajan Khosa, Iranian poet, Mimi Khalvati, irish poet and novelist, Martine Cotter, Russian pianist, Nelly Akopian-Tamarina, jazz bassist, Coleridge Goode, from Jamaica, and Razia Sultanova from Uzbekistan.

This wonderful collection of essays amply illustrates the value of art and creativity in voicing what matters most in our lives.

David Caddy 24th July

Edward Dorn – Two Interviews

Edward Dorn – Two Interviews

Edward Dorn’s Two Interviews (Shearsman Books) edited by Gavin Selerie and Justin Katko is a useful companion to the Collected Poems (Carcanet Press 2013), reviewed by Peter Hughes in Tears in the Fence 58. Dorn’s poetic achievements are towering and well worth exploring. If you have never read anything by Dorn, I recommend starting with Recollections of Gran Apacheria (1974), which works by revealing a history of effects through suggestion and has a deep emotional pull, and proceed to the satirical epic, Gunslinger (1968-1975).

 

Two Interviews features The Peak Interview from July 1971 in Vancouver with Robin Blaser’s students, Tom McGauley, Brian Fawcett and John Scoggan, with Jeremy Prynne, Stan Persky and Ralph Maud present and contributing, and The Riverside Interview from 1981 between Dorn and Gavin Selerie. Both are terrific conversations, with Dorn speaking informally in the first and more extensively in the second. Justin Katko’s Preface surveys recent and forthcoming Dorn related materials and gives a context to this decade of adjustment for Dorn. There are obviously differences of tone and occasion, in Dorn the speaker in 1971 and 1981 that provide the book’s vitality. Dorn, as these interviews and Iain Sinclair’s memoir American Smoke (2013) suggest, was a man who knew the lie of the land and what happened in the wide spaces of the badlands and beyond. His methodology, derived from Charles Olson at Black Mountain College, was to locate himself in a place through a close reading of its cultural landscape, history, geography and geology. The great joy in this book comes from a greater understanding of his practical working methods as well as the way he adapted to new locations and developed his use of wit and aphorism. He was to some extent a nomadic exile by choice looking across and beyond the American West. There are questions devoted to his time in England, teaching at Essex University, and his fruitful friendships with Jeremy Prynne, Tom Clark, his first biographer, and Donald Davie.

 

Two Interviews includes a short selection from Dorn’s unpublished daybook, The Day & Night Report, from 1971, a selection of two chapters from Dorn’s unpublished prose work, Juneau in June (1980-1981) and three uncollected poems, originally published in Spectacular Diseases No. 6 in 1981, and rare photographs, including the human totem pole of Jeremy Prynne, Ed Dorn, Jennifer Dunbar Dorn, Kidd Dorn and Maya Dorn. Gavin Selerie provides a highly informative and detailed introduction to the Riverside Interview and there is also a bibliography of Dorn Interviews. The whole book as Justin Katko indicates is a worthy addition to Ed Dorn Live: Lectures, Interviews and Outtakes (University of Michigan Press, 2007).

 

David Caddy  December 22nd 2013

The Happy Hypocrite

The Happy Hypocrite

The Happy Hypocrite 6, an experimental art writing journal, guest edited by Lynne Tillman (Book Works 2013), dedicated to Nelson Mandela, on the theme of Freedom, has contributions by artists, poets and writers of fiction, theory and essays, mostly, but not exclusively, American. The journal is beautifully designed and has a good amount of stimulating material.

 

One highlight is Lynne Tilman’s interview with Thomas Keenan on the construction of human rights language. They discuss the assertion by protestors during Libya’s Arab Spring that they were human beings and not sheep suggesting that that the rights and liberties of citizenship were not self-evident and needed to be claimed. I liked this recognition of human rights as something that is fragile and needs to be approached as a movement towards becoming that involves struggle. Paul Chan’s sequence of visual poems ‘Really New Testament’ stimulated with their philosophical asides on artistic expression framed within beguiling language art.  I also enjoyed Lynne Tilman’s Parnoids Anonymous Newsletter from 1976, Chloé Cooper Jones article on the connection between morality and art through Socrates’ ‘The Apology’, Robin Coste Lewis’ long poem, ‘Felicité’ and Sarah Resnick’s story, ‘Time Spent’. The latter piece dealing with issues of domestic work and independence.

 

The lack of a working definition of Freedom and the editor’s insistence that stories are ways of thinking is a hindrance to a more considered exploration of the theme in global or historical terms. Some contributions are rather woolly and divorced from the real world of differing definitions of the word. Competing concepts and notions of freedom are clearly economic as well as moral and religious. It is here that loss of rights and division has rent more global unrest and difficulty.

 

Following Milton, Blake and Hazlitt we might argue that freedom stems from the ability to dissent and hold contrary, heretical views and not be detained or imprisoned for doing so. Freedom is thus not about market choice but rather the right to think and act differently to the State and religious orthodoxies. Blake’s assertion that he belonged to the Devil’s Party deepened Milton’s assertion, in Areopagitica (1644), that freedom stemmed from the rights to know, utter, think, argue and choose, into full recognition of heresy as the main bulwark against State and religious orthodoxy. The United States Supreme Court in its defence of the First Amendment refers to Milton’s justification of the rights to freedom of expression and speech. Human trafficking and slavery, the enormous gap between urban affluence and rural deprivation remain chilling facts of life.  It is also possible to argue that we are still in the pre-feminist world where only a few of the Women’s Movement Manifesto demands from 1970 have been realised and several parts of the world deny basic rights of independence, education and morality to women.

 

Yasmin El Rashidi’s ‘An Imaginary Letter to a Bureaucrat: on permission to publish’ about the right to State funding for a not-for-profit literary quarterly to offer ‘a space for free expression’ in Egypt rather than the permission to publish was disappointing. I do not think that this is either a right or something that is useful. This bourgeois mentality could be offset by independent samizdat publication and the radical tradition of pamphleteering, which historically have won rights. Similarly Craig Owen’s Imaginary Interview ‘The Indignity of Speaking For Others’ from 1982 could more usefully have been used as the start of an essay on the politics of representation now.  Notwithstanding my comments there is much to savour and argue with. Congratulations to the editor and Book Works for producing such a provocative journal.

 

David Caddy

 

 

 

‘an intuition of the particular’ Peter Hughes

‘an intuition of the particular’ Peter Hughes

‘An intuition of the particular’: some essays on the poetry of Peter Hughes (Shearsman Books 2013), the companion volume to his Selected Poems, (Shearsman 2013), illuminates and excites the reader through close textual readings. Hughes is a poet, painter, musician and publisher of the award-winning Oystercatcher Press. He is undoubtedly one of the most prolific and accomplished poets currently working in England. His recent work translating Petrarch’s sonnets into the landscape of the Norfolk coast being both impressive and popular. This volume is a perceptive and useful accompaniment to his poetry.

Behoven 16

he would stalk

the winter quarters

of the circus

glaring at bears

The essays, edited by Ian Brinton, feature in an informative interview with John Welch, who also writes about publishing Hughes early collections. There are essays by Peter Riley on The Metro Poems, Derek Slade on three poems from Blueroads, John Hall on Behoven, Andrew Bailey on The Summer of Agios Dimitrios and Simon Howard on the Petrarch sonnets that significantly mark the range of Hughes’ output. David Kennedy and Simon Marsh offer insights into the ways that artists and musicians, such as Paul Klee, Joan Miro, Art Pepper, Keith Tippett, Beethoven and others have fuelled and shaped poetic sequences and collaborations. Nigel Wheale offers a reader’s response to the experience of reading Hughes over time. Gene Tanta writes on why poetic collaboration matters, Riccardo Duranti contextualises Hughes’ Italian poetic connections, and Ian MacMillan writes about Oystercatcher Press. Ian Brinton’s introductory essay highlights Hughes ability ‘to condense the universal into the field of local habitation and name.’ This wonderfully stimulating volume deserves to be read by anyone interested contemporary poetry.

David Caddy

Allen Fisher in Lambeth

Allen Fisher in Lambeth

Andrew Duncan’s comments on the back of this new book from Shearsman are inviting:

 

‘The first interview dates from 1973. I took the decision to collect old interviews rather than make an all-new book. I am fascinated by the idea of a very long base line, records of one person’s views over 30 years, change as part of the object recorded.

 

This is indeed a fascinating compilation of interviews and statements beginning with a conversation with Eric Mottram at the ICA in 1973 where the focus of the event was avant-garde magazines and self-publishing. There is an interview for Alembic (January 1976) conducted by Peter Barry and Ken Edwards and one for Angel Exhaust from 1987. Talking to Victoria Sheppard in 2003 Fisher refers to Spanner magazine that he had been running since 1974 as well as the Keith Tuma led UK poetry list run from Miami Ohio. Andrew Duncan’s own interviews with Allen Fisher form a significant part of this exciting volume and the more I read the more I came to realise how much of an informative background the whole book has to offer. If you want to know more about the fabric of contemporary poetry then settle down with these conversations.

 

‘A Note on Notes’: in conversation with Duncan in 2005 Allen Fisher says that he likes the ‘instance that Prynne put difficult notes in the back of Aristeas’. Andrew comments ‘Only that one time. And ‘A Note on Metals’’. The next response suggests an intriguing ouverture into Prynne’s work: ‘I never really got to a full conversation with him about that, but I have spoken to him about it. And I can see why. It’s a kind of almost like an alchemical reason for not saying what the resources are. So that someone can tease them out and get the pleasure of doing that, maybe.’

 

With that comment in mind I recalled Anthony Mellors telling me that a line from ‘Of Movement Towards a Natural Place’ [Wound Response, Street Editions 1974] was a quotation from Dickens’s Great Expectations where the character of the false ‘gentleman’ Compeyson is seen on the marshes and ‘upon his lips curious white flakes, like thin snow.’ And in Sub Songs [Barque Press 2010] the opening poem, ‘As Mouth Blindness’, takes us to the Lear who can say, of his daughter Cordelia, ‘her voice was ever low.’

 

The Marvels of Lambeth, Interviews & Statements by Allen Fisher can be purchased from Shearsman (www.shearsman.com)

 

Ian Brinton

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