Notes from the Editors is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class. They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process. Today, enjoy the work of the Synesthesia editorial board.
With the joy in our spirits of warm days and sunny skies, a friend and I dusted the seats of our beach cruisers and headed through North Park neighborhoods to San Diego’s delightful Balboa Park. As luck would have it, we happened upon a rummage sale put on by the local philanthropic organization The Thursday Club. In the midst of clothing piles, artwork, antiques and dishware, we found ourselves trapped for the better part of the afternoon browsing through the book section. At first, it felt a little overwhelming, much like walking down the spice aisle of an open market without a recipe in mind. We lifted, flipped, scanned, and read the back jacket covers of the seemingly endless colorful and diverse selection and in a matter of minutes I was searching for a box to relieve my arms of the balancing act I had begun.
Recently, I have been an active participant in the debates of paper versus electronic forms of reading. I have entered the world of blogging and online literary journals, zines and I am no hater. I very much enjoy electronically keeping up with classmates’ literary endeavors and reactions while switching tabs to annotate my PDF class reading assignments, but pleasure is about sensation. Maybe I’m a sucker for the smell, the accomplishment of turning a page, or it could be the fact that I am a fanatic bookmark collector, and there is something to say about being able to physically share literature.
At this rummage sale, I purchased titles such as Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled with renewed inspiration to begin my educated contribution at the poetry parties hosted by my MFA friends. I collected for discovery, Arthur Phillips’ Prague, and even found a 2006 catalog of MFA writing theses from the California College of the Arts that I plan to pass along to a friend. Please tell me where on the World Wide Web I would have found online books with personal and poignant inscriptions to accompany valued books for $1 per paperback and $2 per hardcover? Even though my spring-cleaning goal was to tackle the books I already have on my shelves, I suppose there’s no harm in accepting another man’s trash to add to my treasured collection of possibilities. A few more to read, to learn, to lend and recommend among my growing literary community.
“Rothenberg and McClure: Impressions from a Non-Poet”
Jerome Rothenberg and Michael McClure read at Scripps Cottage Monday, March 14th, and it seemed the entire English department was there. I was there too, though I profess a preference for (speculative) fiction and my knowledge of contemporary American poetry is consequently limited. I have read and enjoyed several of Jerome Rothenberg’s poetry anthologies and was extremely impressed with the amount of work that went into each volume. I am most fond of Technicians of the Sacred, which features a collection of poetry from unconventional sources—underrepresented countries, traditional shamanic chants, Inuit oral tales and ancient Babylonian love poems. These glimpses into near-forgotten poetic traditions really moved me, and I was curious to see the man behind the books whose scholarly vision preserved these overlooked poems for a modern readership.
The elderly gentleman who read at Scripps Cottage was more than venerable scholar and poet, though. He was a humble and friendly person, possessed of an upbeat sense of humor and a genuine verve for art and life. His performance style was unpretentious, cheerful, like a master storyteller sharing his experiences with a community. I was hoping to hear, “I Come Into the New World,” which remains my favorite Rothenberg poem, but I heard some lovely lines regardless: “Where a shadow in the sky is a magpie.” Many of the poems, Rothenberg announced, were written based on a Hebrew form of numerology.
Michael McClure, by contrast, was a graver presence. His performance style was more lofty and serious, his remove from the audience compensated by the music in his delivery that enchanted his listeners. His poetry was likewise more fanciful than Rothenberg’s, rife with symbolic images. Hummingbirds and tigers abounded through the verses. My favorite lines: “What’s on your side of the veil?” and “Do you dip your beak into the vast black lily of space?”
I listened. I jotted down favorite lines. And when the poets had finished, my notebook was filled with impressions of the event, scenes from my latest novel-in-progress, and—dare I say it?—something like a poem of my own. I didn’t have to reach for this language like I sometimes do while writing; it was available to me at the exact moment I needed it. Ultimately, that is the real benefit to me of attending a reading by two of our great contemporary poets, whether I am familiar with their work or not: I absorb their poems word by word, image by image, discovering through them the words I need to pursue my own art. I’m sure I speak for many a listener when I say: thank you, Jerome Rothenberg and Michael McClure, for giving us an evening of pure inspiration.
“The other side, the inside, the left side, and my good side”
Literary journal. Chapbook. Memoir. Such foreign diction to a literary-canonized naïve girl such as myself. Throughout my middle and high school English classes, I became all to familiar with the novel, and I know I am part of the majority that shares this knowledge of To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, The Scarlet Letter, The Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace—the list goes on. It’s thorough, but it’s novel-centric.
Now, I do not propose a total and instant revamp of the literary curriculum—especially now during budget crisis times that have more immediate issues. Rather I would just like to say: It’s too bad. It’s too bad it took nearly twenty years of education for me to hear the word literary journal. It’s too bad Gary McDowell’s uniquely excellent They Speak of Fruit has been my first encounter with a chapbook.
My college experience has finally given me the opportunity to explore and pursue my passion for writing, and thank goodness I signed up for the university’s literary editing and publishing class, because until this class, I had little to no awareness to the behind the scenes work, which is unfortunate but typical of American arts society. Even though the Academy Awards attempts to appreciate the work of the costumers, sound engineers, and script writers as well as the multimillionaire actors, me and you know that the cinematographers of this year’s Oscars will never be on the cover of People or gossiped about on Perezhilton.com.
BUT: thank you. Thank you for your work anyway, Mr. Sound Editor. Thank you for your work anyway Mr. Publisher. Mr. Editor. Although I want to pursue my passion for writing poetry and literature rather than my interest in literary editing and publishing, I am grateful that I will be pursuing this dream with this vital knowledge and appreciation of my future collaborators.
I look forward to meeting you.
“A Poetry Reading”
I went to a poetry reading on San Diego State’s campus last week, and upon arrival I didn’t know quite what to expect. An underlying theme quickly became obvious once I found my seat and began to look around. It was obvious I had invaded a community of sorts. There was a clearly an inner circle, which made for a more intimate setting. Also, ever before have I seen so many George Carlin look-a-likes concentrated in such a small area. Now admittedly, I do not attend as many of these events as I probably should, so I am unfamiliar with what is the norm at these things. So if this is perfectly natural, then I apologize.
Soon after I arrived a man from the literature department approached the small stage. He introduced an MFA student, who’s name I regrettably did not catch. The program was advertised as appropriate for all ages. That was probably a mistake. Her heavily sexualized poems complimented by her low, cadent voice made for an interesting mood in the crowded, quiet room. She was startlingly cool and confident, showing off her youthful wit. People came expecting to hear to men well past the period of getting used to graying hair, and here was this sprite young woman reading tantalizing poems that made them squirm in their seats. Nevertheless, she found the reception she deserved. Her poems were accessible, emotionally charged, and carefully worded.
Jerome Rothenberg took the stage next. A humbling character, he was visibly embarrassed to read his first piece. Constantly reminding us he wrote it when he was a kid, and that he wasn’t the same person any more, I thought we were about to hear some kind of Nazi propaganda. He read the broken-English prose, frequently pausing to smile bashfully, with the utmost amusement at the kid he used to be. “What garrrr Mama is World?” was one of the lines. He was modesty was touching, showing that even he could be embarrassed by such a delicate piece of writing.
The last poet arose from the beat generation. Michael McClure rose ominously to the stage. Rising to prominence in the 60s, McClure reminisced about readings alongside Allen Ginsburg and other beat poets. This was a man who had been inspired by some of the most impassioned poets of the last century. His poetry followed script of his intense persona. Grave and unwavering, his work hit you via his low powerful voice.
“The binds of the knowable are unknowable.” He stated in one of his epics. McClure is an inspiring relic of a time when poetry was a powerful sociopolitical force.