The Black Crowned Night Heron of the Archive and the Memoir

December 29, 2022

This past year I worked on an article on William Carlos Williams’s influence on West Coast poets that will appear in the next issue of the William Carlos Williams Review. I am hoping to meet the editor of this special feature issue of the WCW Review, Mark Long, at the MLA convention in San Francisco next week. Long first approached me about the article a year and a half ago, and I demurred, feeling that I wasn’t sure I had enough to say that hadn’t already been commented upon. However, by chance, I had served as an outside reviewer for a book on Harold Norse, and I also had some knowledge of a magazine in Los Angeles that Williams had been in touch with in the late 1940s. It turned out that I had enough to say to make it worth the effort, and I do want to thank Mark Long for his encouragement and knowledge of the subject during the months in which I devoted myself to this topic.

I have also finally begun to get my own literary archive down to the Archive for New Poetry at Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego. In 1996, ANP acquired the archive of Momentum Press, which was a finished part of my life, but my own literary undertakings were very much a work=in-progress. Now, the William Mohr Papers are formally underway; I have delivered almost three dozen boxes and overside items to ANP in the past five months, and I plan on taking another dozen boxes down in mid-January 2023. The items include correspondence, holographs, full-length manuscripts, journals, photographs, rare books and magazines, and reading flyers. One of my favorite reading flyers is this one:

Given the company I keep in the quartet of photographs on the flyer, one would little suspect that it was a low point in my life. I was working 30 hours a week as a typesetter for RADIO & RECORDS, an industry newspaper in Century City. I was barely making enough money to pay rent, buy food and pay back taxes on the job I had had before as an incredibly underpaid artist in residence for the California Arts Council. I had edited and published POETRY LOVES POETRY the year before, however, and had managed to get considerable attention for the five dozen poets I had included. I still regret, however, the absence of several poets in that volume, in particular Scott Wannberg, Manazar Gamboa, and Linda Albertano.

The next ten years I worked as a typesetter would be very difficult ones. On one hand, I would get letters of rejection from the NEA with incredibly sarcastic comments on the poems I submitted for a creative writing fellowship. On the other hand, an editor would write me from a magazine such as Sonora Review and comment in a post-script to an acceptance letter, “I don’t understand why you’re not internationally famous.”

I appreciated the compliment very much, but let’s face it: as much as I had aspired to be a local version of Ferlinghetti or Pound, I was hardly even at the rank that Paul Vangelisti’s achievements had attained. Nevertheless, as I have worked on the portion of my archive concerned with the 1970s, I have thought about the people I knew and the choices I made and I have been working on an archive of those tender, bewildering, and rambunctious years.

Recently, I saw a bird for the first time, and I think of this chance encounter as a symbol of reconciling the relationships I had all those years ago with a warmth and affection I have not always granted myself or others.

May your new year be equally endowed.

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