on June 28, 2011
When I opened Jack Foley's Visions and Affiliations, I was John Keats turning the pages of Chapman's Homer for the first time. Keats entered the world of another poet and merged with the ancients. I entered the world of many poets, and merged with the lives, the friendships, the struggles, the visions and affiliations of writers associated with California from 1940-2005. I turned pages, skimmed, jumped forward in time, jumped back, everywhere submerged in the lives, the deaths, the drama and the poetry of seven decades. For days I read like one silent, upon a peak in Darien. I felt I had entered a secret society of poets.
Jack Foley writes this chronology in the simple present tense, a tense that implies perpetuity. This "timeline," then, this separation of years, exists only on the surface. The content, what escapes from the words, transcends time. Jack, seemingly aware of this, frequently nestles poems from one era with critical commentary from another decade. He adds flash forward comments in the middle of his exposition, and the only place where this electrifying suspension of time and space vanishes is on those powerful pages where Jack lists the deaths of poets, often with one line paragraphs.
Czeslaw Milosz dies at his home in Krakow.
Thom Gunn dies.
Petaluma poet Eugene Ruggls dies. (vol. 2, 589)
Jack juxtaposes personal details about poets, editors and publishers with lines of poetry from the famous and not so famous. In Volume 1, for example, he details how Robert Duncan's poem, "An African Elegy," which had been accepted for publication by The Kenyon Review, was later rejected by The Kenyon Review after Duncan's essay, "The Homosexual in Society," was published in Dwight McDonald's journal, Politics. Robert Frost's intervention for Ezra Pound's release from a hospital as "harmlessly insane" is included with appealing details. In Volume 2, Mary Marcia Casoly's poetry is mentioned as is Dana Gioia's courageous identification of himself as a "Catholic" poet when he wrote in The Irish Review, "the basic donée of the Catholic writer is to examine the consequences of living in a fallen world...The dissonance between those two realms of experience, the real and the imaginary, the visible and the invisible, is the fundamental tension of Catholic poetry."
These two lush volumes do not isolate poets from society, but present them fully integrated, revealing the affiliations of gay poets, black poets, interracial poets, beat poets and so forth, along with the relationships of poets with society, with government, with editors and publishers, disclosing how friends and social movements influence publications. For instance, in volume one, there's an explanation of the time, in 1948, when Kenneth Rexroth was given permission by William Everson to choose poems for a New Directions publication. Rexroth chose poetry that emphasized Everson's connection with D.H. Lawrence. And in volume two there's an entire section called, "Some Dates Having to Do With AIDS."
These two volumes are far more than a California timeline. They are an American timeline, and some might even argue an international timeline. As much as California would like to claim Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dana Gioia, Carollyn Kizer, Jack Spicer, Kenneth Rexroth, Judy Grahn, Susan Griffin, Fanny Howe, Czeslaw Milosz, Robert Duncan, George Oppen, Michael McClure and all the other poets mentioned in these two volumes, these poets don't belong to California, alone. There are no state lines or divisions when it comes to poetry. There is no time, nor space. These California writers helped change contemporary perceptions, causing frictions that sparked humanity. We, who live outside California, want to claim them, too. They belong to all of us. And so this book is not just for west coast readers. It has appeal for all Americans concerned with arts and poetry.
Admittedly, these volumes have stirred envy among the east coast poets. We'd like to have a Jack Foley on this side of the country to serve us in a similar fashion. But we realize (sigh) there is only one Jack Foley and his home, his love, is California.
Affiliated or not, visioned or blind, the poets, critics and activities of the past seven decades recorded in Jack Foley's Visions and Affiliations are sheer delight.
Buy these two books, read them, lose track of time.