by David Clippinger

Redrawing the Boundaries of Poetry:
The Small Journal and the Example of Maps

When Orpheus and his Eurydice
walked up from the underworld, they thought
of the light up there, how beautiful it was,
how much they longed for, needed it;
but even so, they’d been a long time
in the dark, too long. They’d learned it needed them.

                "The Look Back," William Bronk

      The gaze of literary history always retraces and rereads what has come before as if the comprehension of the present is contingent upon a backward glance and dialectic inventory of what has been. While the literary historian may seek to sanctify a text by situating it within a historical context or tradition, the act is more akin to Orpheus’ look back toward Eurydice that, despite his desire to free her, sealed her fate in the underworld; that is, the desire to validate a text within a literary historical continuum and thereby preserve a writer’s place within the canon can lead to ascribing certain categorical imperatives and characteristics that freeze and crystallize a text as representative of, say, high modernism or concrete poetry. Most anthologies, with their project of representing and sanctifying literary history, circumscribe the place of a work within certain boundaries. A journal, on the other hand, is part of a more fluid, evolving continuum that is engaged in the ebb of flow of the now: in its most ideal form, a journal is Orpheus at the mouth of the cave before he turns; it is the look forward with the past trailing behind. In this context, Maps, the journal that John Taggart edited from 1966 to 1974, offers a particularly insightful means of interrogating American poetry as rendered by anthologies and journals; more, it addresses, in its philosophical stance, how to avoid subjecting poetry to the fate of Eurydice.

      Using Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as a critical springboard, the brief introduction to the first issue of Maps speaks of "the need for making new maps of man’s consciousness now, and of the past as seen from that now" (np). As opposed to the use of the past to valorize the present, Maps inverts the hierarchy in that the "now" supercedes the past by bringing that past into relief. Within the pages of Maps, the past is not being used as a means of validating the present moment, but, as the introduction explains, the historical past is one of the voices of the evolving heteroglossic poetic moment:

The maps would be of those regions just discovered, somewhat known, but not to the extent of the older areas or of the most recent projections, MAPS, then, takes its title and purpose from Kant’s observation. These poems are not on the furthermost borders of the avant-garde. They are of the now in the continuum sense of "being" . . . and, occasionally, they are of the past as renovated by those open eyes.

The introduction foregrounds the historicity of the now as part of the "renovation" and "revision" of the past—thereby accentuating the fact that "all our acts have histories" ("Deep Jewels" 7). Maps situates itself in relation to the continuum of poetic history—positing that the "now" rendered within its pages is not divorced from the past but is not merely its product, either. Rather, it is a past re-presented and re-interrogated.

      The rhetorical positioning of Maps as a vehicle of "renovation" suggests that it might be read as a corrective to the so-called poetic mainstream, thereby gesturing toward the socio-aesthetic binary that dominated the poetry climate of the 1960s and continues into the present day. Taggart’s journal, subsequently, might be seen as one of the passionate voices directed against a static (or what Olson would call "closed") model of poetry. When Maps first appeared in 1966, the poetry world still responded to the force of various forms of conservative poetics: the valorization of the poem as an object or product via New Criticism; the formalist thrust championed by the Pack, Hall, Simpson anthology, New Poets of England and America, and the academic sanctioning and proliferation of MFA programs that espoused and produced a poetry more interested in the cultural cache of being creative than in creating art that was innovative or new. The environment, in effect, resulted in an academic homogenization of poetry as a guild that valued imitation over art, and rewarded that imitation with academic positions and patronage. But as John Berger observes, "Hack work is not the result of either clumsiness or provincialism; it is the result of the market making more insistent demands than the art" (Ways of Seeing 88). The poetry world, as evidenced by the rise of MFA and academically-sanctioned and economically-supported journals, was being absorbed by the academy. Few poets and journals strayed far from the purse-strings of their academic patrons. Within this context, Maps stands in sharp contrast to the homogenization of poetry that had been taking place since the 1940s—a poetry centered upon a lyric mode of the ego-on-display, typified by a desire to "restate" than to discover; and interested in reiterating the past instead of renovating it.

      The radical difference between a more mainstream magazine and Maps is clearly evident by merely glancing through the table of contents. For example, the second issue of the journal features poetry by Charles Tomlinson, Rene Char, George Oppen, Joanne Kyger, Ted Enslin, William Bronk, Hannah Weiner, Larry Eigner, John Newlove, Clayton Eshleman, Douglas Blazek, and Jerome Rothenberg. There are very few in this list who cross over in the cultural mainstream of the late 1960s or the present for that matter. Given that only a handful of names from many journals from the same era might still be part of the parlance of poetry, it is surprising that nearly all of these names from Maps #2 are regarded as notable poets (that "notability" not without critical debate, of course). The most significant contribution of Maps, though, goes beyond merely positioning itself in opposition to mainstream poetics—a point that the rhetoric of the introduction with its espoused multi-vocal poetics does not seem to support; rather, the strength of the journal is its cache of notable poets, who, within the cultural economy of the late 1960s, did not fit into the categorical imperatives of the "mainstream" or "avant-garde." In other words, Maps did not merely echo the stock positions of the mainstream or the "new," and by doing so, offered a reconsideration of the historical moment of 1960s and early 1970s poetry.

      In the 1960s, the precedent of Donald Allen’s New American Poetry (NAP) loomed on the horizon as the paradigm par excellance of the "new," so much so that it would pave the way for some of its poets—most notably Olson, Creeley, Duncan, Ginsberg, Snyder, and Ashbery—to enter the Poetic Hall of Fame, the Norton Anthology. Maps was a resilient and passionate voice in the redrawing of the boundaries of poetry, but its overt desire "to avoid the monotonous sameness of various in-groups" and its commitment to present a "vital synthesis of several perspectives" mark it as different from both the mainstream and the "other" poets represented by Allen’s anthology. Maps was not wholly unique in this respect, but its only equivalent is Cid Corman’s now mythic Origin magazine, which was more eclectic than programmatic. Corman described his overarching editorial philosophy as being

devoted to giving adequate outlet
            to those new/unknown writers
who have shown maturity/insight
            into their medium
                                                to giving
the push to creative minds, to
            demonstrate the going concerns, di
rections of contemporary
                        creativity (Gist xxii)

As opposed to a mere polemic realignment of taste, Origin was a window for recognizing and studying the nuances and directions in contemporary poetry. For this reason, Corman began "offering work by writers, no matter their age or even if long dead, who seemed to me ‘alive’ and inadequately, if at all known in America" (Gist xxii). This editorial policy is reiterated in a 1994 interview with Corman when he remarks that "Origin meant most in giving me a chance to present the best new work/new poets that came my way (& I went out looking for them, not waiting), poets of no particular movement or trend, but for the freshness and savor of their work" (American Poetry Review July/August 2000, 25).

      Similarly, Maps incorporates a range of voices, and coming seven years after the publication of the NAP, it expands the limited vision of the "new" espoused in Allen’s anthology. Still, many of those who were featured in Maps were part of NAP—namely, Paul Blackburn (#1), Larry Eigner (#2 and 3), Charles Olson (special issue #4), Barbara Guest (#3), and Robert Duncan (special issue #6)—and many who made it into the pages of Maps were considered for NAP but were excluded from the final version: i.e., William Bronk, Cid Corman, Ted Enslin, and Joanne Kyger. The inclusion of these particular poets corrects some significant omissions on the part of Donald Allen. More significantly, though, in respect to defining the "moment" of contemporary poetry, Maps includes George Oppen, who was never considered for NAP, and also devotes a special issue of critical essays to Louis Zukofsky. Zukofsky was briefly considered for inclusion in the original configuration of NAP as part of the second generation made up of Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Patchen, and Zukofksy, all of whom were to follow the "first" generation of William Carlos William, H.D., e.e. cummings, Marianne Moore, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens, yet both groups of these "progenitors" were cut in response to Charles Olson’s opinion that

I wldnt myself add either of those two units: either the ‘aunties’ or the grandpas. If the thing we are now in is just in its own character, and there isn’t one of us who isn’t bound together in that way, than by any of those older connections. In fact those connections strike me as smudging the point; 1950 on. [sic throughout] (The New American Poetry 448)

Allen says of Olson’s remark that "That decided it for me; I would concentrate on the new poets . . ." (448)

      Allen configured his anthology around the Olsonian image of the "new," which relegated Zukofsky and Objectivism to the margins, thereby failing to recognize Zukofsky’s vitality in the face of 1960s American poetry. Oppen’s omission from NAP, though, is more easily justified given the huge hiatus between his first book (Discrete Series 1934) and his second, The Materials (1962), which was not published until two years after NAP. Nevertheless, the salvaging of Oppen and Zukofsky in Maps from the discarded rubble of Poundian modernism captured more accurately the vitality implicit in the interaction of poetries of the 1960s, with poets moving across the very boundaries and categories that literary historians and critics wish to impose such as the geographic/aesthetic categories of Black Mountain, San Francisco Renaissance, New York School, and the Beats.

      While many poets central to NAP are featured in Maps—most notably the Charles Olson special issue (#4, 1971) and #6 (1974), the Robert Duncan issue—the journal is less an echo of the NAP canon as opposed to a more open awareness of the "now." Maps, in this respect, nods toward Allen’s revised NAP, The Postmoderns: The New American Poetry Revised, in that it features work by Jackson Mac Low, Jerome Rothenberg, Joanne Kyger, and Robert Kelly, four of the nine poets who were added to The Postmoderns and who, in the words of George Butterick and Donald Allen, the anthology’s editors,

had become active or whose influence was felt after the 1960s. They were not so much hard on the heels of the older writers as in step with them throughout the 1960s, and so logically and readily belong here. (10)

Read through these two Allen anthologies, Maps testifies to the emerging "influence" of these writers, and in this regard, the journal bridges the poetry as rendered by The New American Poetry of 1960 and The Postmoderns in 1982.

      Yet Allen’s two anthologies are not the only paragons of poetry between 1960 and 1982, and such a narrow conception of literary history—one that is employed all too readily—enacts a fatal backward glance that sentences various poets to historical obscurity while reifying the position of those not in need of "saving." In contrast, by featuring the poetics of Olson, Duncan, and Zukofsky, and by including the works of Oppen, Bronk, Enslin, Mac Low, Rothenberg, Kyger, and Kelly, not to mention Ron Johnson, Toby Olson, and Ron Silliman, Maps eschews the programmatic and ideological constraints implicit in the debate over the value of "new" poetry. By side-stepping the issue of poetic valorization, Maps was open to the vitality of Zukofsky, Oppen, Bronk, et. al. And while one might think that within the proliferation of small poetry journals, Maps would not be an anomaly, in fact many of the poetry journals and anthologies that follow in the wake of NAP merely reiterate Allen’s canon as a more updated version of The Postmoderns—let’s call it The Postmoderns.2 or better yet, The New American Poetry. 3. The most representative example of this phenomena is Paul Hoover’s Postmodern American Poetry, which, like its predecessor, bypasses the works of Oppen, Zukofsky, Bronk, Enslin, and Kyger. More, many anthologies and journals simply accept, unquestioningly, the categories and schools posited by NAP, thereby compartmentalizing poetry to a series of identifiable attributes that are unwilling and incapable to accommodate poetic deviations from the accepted poetic "standards."

      Few anthologies escape the influence of Allen’s canon, and in the last decade only Douglas Messerli’s mammoth From the Other Side of the Century takes the "lead from Donald Allen" while also offering a more inclusive and representative poetic landscape. As Messerli writes in the introduction:

Since the late 1960s, however, dozens of poets, editors, and readers have talked of the new for such a [representative anthology of the time]. The model for most of us has been Donald Allen’s ground- breaking The New American Poetry, published in 1960, but no major volume has served our own generation—or even the earlier generation of poets such as Charles Reznikoff, Lorine Niedecker, Louis Zukofsky. George Oppen, and Carl Rakosi . . . (31)

As an anthology, From the Other Side of the Century attempts to delineate the poetry of "our" generation"—a broadened "now." Apparently that "now" is vast—1,135 pages to be precise (which, by the way, includes John Taggart, as opposed to Paul’s Hoover’s "now" where Taggart is noticeably absent)—but more importantly, that "now," as rendered in and by Maps, addresses the poetic stature of Oppen and Zukofsky, despite their disparity with Olson’s "Projective Verse."

      In this regard, an anthology, even a "comprehensive" one such as Messerli’s, lags 25 years behind the scene as captured by Maps, but such is, perhaps, one of the key differences between a journal and an anthology and their perspectives of poetic time. While an anthology seeks to preserve a body of writing, a journal traces and documents the debates, dialogues, and transformations of literature. In this sense, the anthology is more akin to the poeticized and embalmed body of Lenin permanently on display in Red Square—or in Jed Rasula’s analogy, it is a wax museum—scrutinized by a "living" person. And whereas many anthologies (and journals) are imprisoned within a polemics of "taste," the self-serving political and economic control over the production and reception of poetry, Maps avoided the monotony of the "same" by keeping its eyes open to the poetic continuum of "being" by not only giving voice to the poetries of its generation, and especially the figures of Olson, Duncan, Oppen, and Zukofsky, but also by granting space to those who would emerge as defining voices of the generation of Language Poetry: Ron Silliman, Hannah Weiner, and Jackson Mac Low as well as those who are only now being recognized as significant poets of the twentieth century. In this sense, Maps not only helped to redraw the boundaries of poetry, but approached poetry in a way that avoided the blunder of Orpheus by keeping one’s eyes front—even as one rereads what has come before.

      To approach poetry with eyes open is to long for the light in the darkness as depicted in Bronk’s "The Look Back," but such light and concomitant desire are reflected in the opening stanza of Taggart’s poem "Rereading" from Standing Waves (1993), which provocatively plays upon the theme of poetry and reading:

He has closed the door to his room and he is reading
he has closed the door and he is reading a poem
he is reading a poem he is rereading one of his own poems
it is one of his poems about singing about reasons for singing
reasons one of the reasons for singing
the reason was to light the most quiet light
the reason was to light the light that was radiantia
radiantia that was a singing light in darkness.

Extended to a journal dedicated to "being" and bringing poetry into the light, Maps unveils a body of poetry that, in 1966 and even in the early 1970s, had yet to be "read" despite the desire of other anthologies to grasp and render the "new." In this sense, Maps is a compendium of radiantia, which even the reticent and often brutally reserved William Bronk acknowledged when he remarked in a letter to Taggart: "All right. I read some more and Maps seems to me not only an attractive magazine but a distinguished one" (4 December 1966). The journal’s distinction is certainly "a singing light in darkness"—a singing that pierced the darkness and silence with a world beyond what had been previously charted within the history of twentieth-century American poetry. Maps marks a re-opening of the territory and the bringing back into play the living essence of poetry as the quiet light that illuminates the now.