Caliban; KYSO; and Rae Armantrout

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Larry Smith has posted the latest edition of Caliban Chronicles, which is emphatically worth reading at this turning point in our country’s history. It is perhaps more than a little ironic that the heroic evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940 is being recounted in a major film right now. One might watch this film and be lulled into believing that World War II settled the matter of fascist government as an acceptable form of civilized social rule once and for all. Not so. Like an insidious, implacable virus, fascism has returned. Do not be deceived by the seemingly benign familiarity of its current malefactors. They are intent on imposing a firm, remorseless dictatorship on the American people that will be every bit as ruthless as that exacted on the people of Iraq subsequent to the American invasion. The prisons for those who resist will be administered by the same rule-book. Unless we act now in a vigilant manner, our fate will approach a precipice that will allow very little room to maneuver. Acting now, though, is not a matter of all work and no celebration. Larry Smith calls for us to affirm a balance in our lives in which joy also has time to cavort.

One of the very best magazines in the country right now, KYSO (Knock Your Socks Off) has just published its ninth issue. Clare MacQueen has kept this project going for five years now, and her roster of writers is growing more familiar with each issue. She is one of the five best editors to have emerged in the independent press movement in the past two decades. In particular, she has championed micro-fiction, transgressive poetry, and hybrids of those genres.

Finally, it is a personal pleasure to post a link to an interview with Rae Armantrout, a poet born in the same year as I was (1947) and who also briefly studied with the same teacher I had at San Diego State University, Glover Davis. Rae Armantrout is indeed one of very best poets of the Baby Boomer generation, and I have long admired her work. I think back on a meal at a restaurant in Ocean Park I shared with Ron Silliman and Rae Ron had come down from San Francisco to give a talk and reding at Beyond Baroque, which was also attended by Lee Hickman. Ocean Park had not yet gentrified, and eating at a restaurant within walking distance of my apartment on Hill Street gave his weekend’s presentations a celebratory touch. There was a sense of lively humor, in part because my girlfriend at the time, Cathay, was not particularly interested in poetry and had no stake in literary jostling. She primarily read mysteries, and it was thanks to her that I began to read Raymond Chandler seriously. Oddly enough, I had read Ross MadDonald lin the mid-1970s, but skipped right back to my usual fare of novels without moving on to Chandler. Cathay, Ron, and Rae seemed both to enjoy Cathay’s push-back wit. As we ate our pasta, the discussion hardly hid the fact that Ron, Rae, and I were all ambitious for our work, although we did not necessarily expect any larger recognition than what we were then receiving.

We would not eat together again until Ron gave a reading in San Diego while I was a graduate student. We had by then achieved more acclaim, but Ron had not yet published The Alphabet; Rae was still working as an adjunct; and I was a teaching assistant over the age of 50, which is to say that the odds were heavily against me getting a tenure-track job. Rae was not that much more optimistic. A literary life is not feasible if one is easily discouraged or given to stultifying self-reproach.

In thinking fondly, therefore, with retrospective appreciation of that meal in Ocean Park, and all that Ron, Rae, and I have done since then (and how it has not been easy), I post this link of Rae being interviewed at the Library of Congress. All three of us are fortunate enough to still be ambitious for our work.