In poetry, publishing is a kind of broadcasting. Never heard how to preserve our stack of poems.
I. Apologia & Proemia
My original intent was to write a review of the new anthology, In Like Company: The Salt River Review & Porch Anthology, edited by James Cervantes, but anyone who’s ever written a review knows what a pain in the ass that can be. Besides, I’m not sure I’m intellectually equipped to tackle this brick of a book, over 300 pages, nearly 30 works of fiction & over 60 poets, some in translation. Daunting. Besides, it’s easier to reminisce so I took the liberty of writing a paean & homage to a long-time friend & correspondent, one-time roommate, former mentor, editor emeritus, fellow traveller & a damn fine poet in his own right, Jim Cervantes.
I first met Jim when I stumbled into one of the creative writing classes he was teaching at Arizona State University; I was an undergrad & this was like in nineteen-and-ought-eighty. I had abandoned my pursuit of a degree in philosophy & so wandered across campus to the Language & Lit building & became an English major instead. Spent the next four years in that red-brick monstrosity as well as the bevy of bars conveniently located just across the street from campus: The Chuck Box, The Warehouse, Cannery Row, Chuy’s & others. I imagine the landscape has greatly changed since then & I highly doubt you can still get $2 pitchers in Tempe.
Jim won’t like this but, in honor of the occasion, I dug this out of the archives.
A pitkin dug & squared in the tough caliched
Earth, clay & dung or straw mixed with water, mud
Brick baked in the sun & thus was made the adobe
House we shared near the back nine of the public
Golf course just off Van Buren, which runs along
The Salt River, by the power plant & over the bridge
Into Tempe. It all seems seems so Heraclitus.
We fucked & cavilled our way out of our respective
Marriages; honkytonks in Sunnyside;
The liaisons in Scottsdale or Mesa; furtive
Meetings after class in bars or restaurants
Near campus. It’s all a long time ago
& the women who’ve names out of story books
Like “Dorothy” or “Becky” have their own
New names, new husbands & lives which in no way
Absolves us of our own lubricious insipidities
Our wanton, self-serving mendacities.
I remember early morning jogging
Around the periphery of the golf course –dewy
Fairways & greens a glittering diamond sutra–
Trotting up to the house, winded & sweaty.
I’d crack a cold one & have a smoke on the south-
Facing porch, dull spectre of fading rush hour traffic
My only witness. In the evening, we’d chat
Drinking scotch or beer like a couple of characters
In a Ray Carver story & the apocryphal
Tale you spun of a some poet who, after taking up
Running himself, quit drinking. & then one day
I awoke to find you’d moved to Bisbee or Cochise
Somewhere else, south & west & closer to the border
Leaving me with nine cats, the rent & a stove full
Of cockroaches. The landlord, finally towed
The sea-blue Toyota my ex-wife had bought
To square the back rent & I too eventually split
The exes off to King of Prussia or Boston
Or Singapore & the setting sun & lazy blue skies
& dreams of California or grad school. We were
Cads, Jim, hardly lashed to the mast & the earth
Has moved a little & we’ve since found
Others who’ll take us as we are & the amber
Drinks in half-empty glasses glinting
On the railing of that dilapidated porch
The orange Saab you drove, a color of the setting
Sun, still parked beneath the shade of the chinaberry.
II. The Foreground: Porch Magazine, 1977-1981
In the Introduction to In Like Company, Cervantes writes: “Without Porch…The Salt River Review [‘just an electronic version of a print magazine,’ according to one wag] would not have existed.” Thank god for both.
Cervantes’ long-time co-conspirator, poet & translator, Greg Simon, who was with Jim from the start, writes in an Afterword in the Farewell Issue of The Salt River Review:
“In the Pike Street tenement Jim and his family occupied in Seattle in 1977 (each apartment had a back porch with a view of Puget Sound), management paid him to restore the floors of newly vacated rooms. That patrimony, our first and most beneficent, floated our fledgling ark. Issue No. 1 of Porch sold for $2.00, $2.25 if ordered by post.”
Porch was a chapbook-sized publication that came out three times a year & I imagine that copies of these (vintage) mags are extraordinarily difficult to come by these days. However, should you ever be rummaging around a thrift store or some musty used bookstore & come across a copy, you’d be wise to pick it up.
III. The Middle Ground: The Salt River Review, 1997-2010
The demise of Porch coincided with Jim’s departure from ASU & Tempe. Somewhere along the line he landed a teaching gig at California State University–Sacramento, eventually working his way back to his beloved desert; he settled in Mesa, AZ where he worked for several years as an adjunct or lecturer or some damn thing at Mesa Community College. It was about this time he again picked his editorial stewardship with The Salt River Review.
Many of the writers you see in The Salt River Review (&, by extension, In Like Company) made a previous appearance in Porch, among them Michael Burkard, Norman Dubie, Joseph Duemer, Tess Gallagher, Ed Harkness, Cynthia Hogue, Christopher Howell, Laura Jensen, John Morgan, Mary Ruefle & Pamela Stewart. In its 13 year run Cervantes published over 200 different poets from around the world in addition to more than 100 prose writers, essayists, translators. Formidable. Anyone interested in an off-beat eclectic snapshot of contemporary poetry in the 21st century would do well to start with the archives of The Salt River Review.
Kirpal Gordon, a poet who knew Jim in Arizona, conducted an interview with him back in the summer of 2012, on the advent of the publication of Jim’s book, Sleepwalker’s Song: New & Selected Poems (Hamilton Stone Editons, 2012). The review is of interest particularly as Gordon elicits some revealing details from the normally circumspect Cervantes that relate to this period of time. (I have written elsewhere about Sleepwalker’s Songs which covers some of this same ground.)
IV. The Foreground: In Like Company: The Salt River Review & Porch Anthology
Did I mention the word “daunting” earlier. I used that term only in terms of the prospective reviewer’s task. With any anthology it can be a little difficult in portraying the work as a whole, unlike, for instance, a book of poetry by a single author. The closest I can get is to paint in a few broad strokes & suggest that Cervantes’ aesthetic tends to be eclectic, eschewing, for the most part, writing hued & tinted & colored by the usual (& expected) sensibilities of an MFA workshop. His interest, too, seems to lean towards writers whose works embodies a new, unexpected, or unusual use of language & imagery. Anent Porch Kirpal Gordon wrote in his interview: “I remember Porch as one of those rare lit mags that searched out and celebrated the quirky and uniquely personal voice over the many band wagons (schools?) of the day fighting out the alleged ‘poetry wars’ of the Seventies.” The same can be said for Porch‘s sister, The Salt River Review.
Put simply, this handsome tome is a joy & wonder to behold & be held & with the publication of In Like Company Cervantes returns to to his analog roots –the print medium– that fostered his editorial endeavors with Porch.
I don’t know if this has been mentioned elsewhere, but Cervantes took a fascinating tack in assembling this anthology. He went back, revisiting nearly a quarter of a century of poetry & prose. He then wrote & asked the various writers he’d previously published to submit new work for inclusion in the book. As best as I can tell, what you see is new or recent writing from writers that Cervantes published as long as 35 years ago.
Every poet & writer in the anthology deserves a word or two to be spoken on his or her behalf. All I can do I (or care to do) is to mention of few of my favorites, some long-time colleagues; others who have become new friends. We can start with the grande dame of Kentucky noir, Donna Vitucci, whose work appeared in The Salt River Review; a new story, “Rupture,” was selected for inclusion for the anthology & is reprinted in this issue of Hinchas. (Some of Donna’s more recent fiction has appeared in Hinchas #12 & Hinchas #14.)
Donna has carved out for herself an interesting, sometimes surreal territory, taking full advantage of the terroir, the hardscrabble Kentuckian earth & patois of semi-literate denizens, a language that at times, verges on the Biblical & which Vitucci handles with aplomb.
Translations? Why yes. There are the usual suspects: the late Mark Strand’s translation of Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s “Interpretation of December”; Alex Cigale translates five poems by Marina Tsvetaeva; Alan J. Sorkin & Tess Gallagher translate two poems by Liliana Ursu; Peter Robertson translates two poems by Paul Éluard. There are also translations by Inara Cedrins –“The Last Galindian Soldier,” by Peter Bruveris & Greg Simon translates various poems by Mario Benedetti (“Haiku), Gonçalves Dias (“Song of Exile”), Federico García Lorca’s “Widow of the Moon” & Pablo Neruda’s “Torrid Ode.” There are others, of course.
A poet of interest who’s published in both Porch & The Salt River Review (as well as Hinchas #14) is Cynthia Hogue. She was a grad student at ASU the same time I was there & was working with Norman Dubie (both of whom are still on the faculty at Arizona State) on some project that, as I recall, had something to do with Iceland. Cervantes selected her poem, “the good, from In June, the Labyrinth,” & it’s a wise choice. In an e-mail Hogue sent me in September of 2014 she explained that “‘In June, the Labyrinth’ is ‘an elegiac book-length work in progress … ‘in memory of’ those initialed in the dedication [L.W. and L.E.H.].” (For those interested, some of these poems, poems full of grace & a quiet dignity befitting an elegy, appeared in Hinchas #14; others have been published in Tupelo Quarterly.)
I would be remiss if I walked away from this without mentioning that In Like Company even has a centerfold: Roger Weingarten’s “Self-Portrait as The Magnificent Frigatebird,” a kind of post-modern sestina, if that can be said. The poem does indeed have six sestets & a closing tercet, but the usual repetition of end words is non-existent. I don’t know if Weingarten was channelling C.K. Williams or Walt Williams or both; some of these lines run over 25 syllables, a double alexandrine line. As a result, the poem is printed vertically, so to read the poem you have to rotate the book 90° wherein the top & bottom of the page becomes the left- and right-hand margin! The poem is written in the voice of a “frégate superbe,” “Lord Byron of Misrule,” “a wandering Jew zigzagging land’s end from the Isle of Man to British Columbia.” This is but a soupçon of this phantasmagoric poem that begins in the skies of “Woman Key, sanctuary for shipwrecked whore …” & ends with a father “[d]ead from brain cancer” & a “[s]phinx-faced Mom” who “playgirled Dad. Splitsville. Elvis Nutty Buddied into oblivion. Frig it. Word.”
In Like Company is available from MadHat Press (Asheville, NC). Order your copy now!
In Like Company might be considered Cervantes’ magnum opus representing, as it does, over 30 years –half a lifetime!– of publishing & shepherding hundreds of poems & poets into print. Jim has worked quietly, diligently & conscientiously over time giving a voice to a great number of talented & deserving writers. It’s been a love of labor. No one asked Cervantes to do this & no one paid him –his time, his choice, his true & scrupulous, unerring decisions. The only thing that might supplant this as his magnum opus would be for someone to publish his Collected Poems.
There’s a lot of quacking these days in some circles about being a good “literary citizen.” I”m not even sure I know what that means. To be honest, it sounds like a lot of New Age, feel good mumbo-jumbo to me. We should thank James Cervantes for his contributions to American letters. He has served, & continues to serve, the literary community well.
October 21, 2015