Altogether, Jack Foley has written 1,287 pages on California poetry – and that’s only 65 years of it, from 1940-2005. It’s a feat that would not go unremarked in an earlier era – say, five years ago. But at a time when book review sections are folding left, right, and center … crickets.
Visions & Affiliations: A California Literary Time Line, Poets & Poetry, volumes one and two, published last March by Pantograph Press, is a “chronoencyclopedia scene” describing, as Jack says on his title page, “the twentieth century in all its confused and troubled eloquence.” Jack spent a decade documenting the writers, poems, and events in a tumbling, giddy present tense, from the first page when Kenneth Rexroth, in 1940, “invents the culture of the West Coast,” according to Robert Hass.
That’s the moment, writes Jack, when “California’s image had changed. The state had moved out of its early provincialism and had begun to take its place in the nation as a whole.”
According to the product description on amazon:
People, ideas, and stories appear, disappear, and reappear as the second half of the century moves forward. Poetry is a major element in this kaleidoscopic California scene. It is argued about, dismissed, renewed, denounced in fury, asserted as divine, criticized as pornographic. Poetry is as Western as the Sierra foothills, and the questions raised here go to its very heart. Beginning with the publication of Kenneth Rexroth’s first book, this all-encompassing history-as-collage plunges us forward into the 21st Century. California authors keep generating massive anthologies in an attempt to tame the chaos of California, to pretend it isn’t there. Yet there it is—staring them in the face like a great bear, alive, hungry and more than a little dangerous.
What could be more Californian?
Jack was introduced to me about a decade ago by Dana Gioia, who is acknowledged as a motivating force in getting the project launched.
The Oakland-based poet and critic has a radio show, “Cover to Cover,” aired on Wednesdays at 3 p.m. on Berkeley station KPFA (it’s available at the KPFA web site – see here). His column, “Foley’s Books,” appears in the online magazine The Alsop Review.