From Monterey to Mexico

The first set of galleys for Cross-Strokes has arrived from Rebecca Chamlee, the book designer for the final volume of what has proved to be a trilogy of anthologies. When I first got involved with publishing books back in the mid-1970s, I didn’t have a clue as to what I was getting involved with. I just knew that I wanted to get the work of some older poets I admired into print. By 1977, it was clear to me that the slim, but substantial anthology edited by Charles Bokowski, Paul Vangelisti, and Neeli Cherkovski back in 1972 needed a follow-up, and I put together a book I entitled The Streets Inside. I made a number of mistakes in editing the book, not the least of which is that I tried to give each of the ten poets the same number of pages. The decision to give Leland Hickman the lead-off position in the volume with a total of 25 pages left me in an awkward position. I certainly felt that several other poets I wanted in the anthology were no less deserving of an equally large sample of their work, and so it wasn’t long before the book had filled up its allotted size. The focus was on poets I had published in Momentum magazine, and I ended up leaving out poets I should have included. I especially regret not including Manazar Gamboa, Ron Koertge, Wanda Coleman, John Thomas, and Paul Vangelisti. I should have limited the page number for each poet to 15 pages maximum, though ten would have been even better. The Streets Inside: 15 Los Angeles Poets would have made for a more comprehensive look at a scene that was already so vital that Robert Kirsch claimed my book portended “a golden age of Los Angeles poetry.” If I had included Charles Bukowski, Jack Grapes, Bert Meyers, John Harris, Joseph Hansen, Alvaro Cardona-Hine, and Aleida Rodriguez, and upped the ante close to two dozen poets, Kirsch’s assessment would have been exponentially underwritten.

Perhaps it is the fate of editors of anthologies to struggle with regret. My second anthology, “Poetry Loves Poetry” (1985) left out Scott Wannberg, and I rebuke myself to this day for that error. In Cross-Strokes, I have already launched my self-recriminations for failing to take note of Juan Felipe Herrera’s eligibility for this book. At least, though, the book is approaching the finish line, and there is considerable gratification at being able to include poets I’ve never had a chance to include in an anthology before, such as Richard Garcia. If you have not yet read any of his books, then you have a chance to surprise yourself with metaphors that goes beyond the ordinary logic of poetic playfulness.

This is a very busy time: not only did I just return from two exhausting weeks of work at CSU Monterey Bay, but I must also get my talk written for the “Modernities” conference in Dijon, France in late November. Next week I leave for Mexico to give three readings there as part of the celebration of the publication of Pruebas Ocultas. My students at CSU Monterey Bay gave me a beautiful journal and a lovely ink pen to write with at the end of their reading on Friday, July 24th. I don’t know that I’ll be able to write much in this blog while I’m in Mexico, and I hope to fill this journal with entries about my journey there. In the meantime, I have already begun having to attend several committee meetings for the upcoming year at CSULB, including a Dean’s Review Committee and a job search committee.

On a personal level, I have found myself beginning to mediate more and even on occasion to pray. Let me be clear on one point: I have no desire to belong to a church. Too much evil has been done in the name of religion for me to accept being immured in the kind of communal identification. One challenge in praying is to disengage with any notion that prayers have a cause-and-effect efficacy, though they do seem to have a value that goes far beyond what I would attach to other speech acts as performative gestures. My act of praying, for instance, has altered my nominative perception of myself and enabled me to envision deeper relationships with others who share this kinship. As I told a friend the other day, why do we not have a word for one who prays? A prayer is what a person says who is praying. But what is the name of a person who utters a prayer? I wonder if in fact Stuart Perkoff is pointing at that odd ambiguity in the first line of an unfinished sonnet: “The morning utters stillness like a prayer.” Maybe he means not only the words said, but also the one who utters the prayer. The morning utters stillness as if it were one who says a prayer.