Friday, July 29, 2011

The Poker: an appreciation,

KD: I had a really great high school teacher, a fiction writer, Jack Hodgins. He's a well-known Canadian novelist. In Canada, you got educated in “the tradition” to a certain extent, but also there were all these local Vancouver Island writers. They exist. And that was pretty interesting, but then, in The Capilano Review, 1975 issue, which was somehow in Jack's classroom, they have some poems by Spicer. These were later included in One Night Stand and Other Poems, the early work Spicer rejected. And then there's Williams. Williams just barely makes it into the canon at that point, but I started reading him then. I remember also, this last year of high school, seeing things by a poet named Christopher Dewdney.

MG: Yes, I wanted to ask you about him. I just stumbled on some of his work. Is he still alive? (“Marcella Durand Interviews Kevin Davies,” The Poker #3, Fall 2003)
It may have taken me a while, but recently I managed to get my hands on three issues of the late American poetry journal The Poker (“Half with loathing, half with a strange love”): issues one, three and eight. Edited and published by Daniel Bouchard out of Cambridge, Massachusetts, with contributing editors Beth Anderson, Kevin Davies, Marcella Durand, Steve Evans, Cris Mattison, Jennifer Moxley and Douglas Rothchild, the journal published twice a year publishing engaging poetry, interviews, essays and even the occasional review. What happened?

The story not so good had the reindeer
showed up and withered. Mule.

In some afters we must steal our glittering
coup de foudre's, burning little lexicons.
A traveler like Carmen, but less
of an archaeologist, Don Jose could clamor

thunderclaps. I'll storm no more of that!
Won't no longer so wander no coughing

so trembling at the sentiment braying I in I:
even John Locke claimed the Prince of Naasua's

parrot could talk sense, say “Homo Marinas”.
And Parascelsus was such a fine scientist

putting his jism in the mare, cooing
this nature, all homunculi. (Anne Boyer, from”Ode Amo,” #8)
The contributors list of The Poker reminds very much of the late, lamented Toronto journal, Queen Street Quarterly, publishing a range of writers not often seen in literary journals, therefore providing an important alternate to journal culture. There aren't that many venues where one might find interviews with such writers, from Kevin Davies (#3), Ange Mlinko (#4), Robin Blaser (#5), Anselm Berrigan (#7) or Jennifer Moxley (#8), and essays by Moxley (#2), William Carlos Williams, Fanny Howe and Aaron Kunin (#3), Juliana Spahr and Steve Evans (#4), Laura Riding (#5) and Dan Beachy-Quick (#8). If you go through the website, its easy to see the appeal of the journal (listing all issues but the eighth, for some reason). Certainly, there are publications and projects that have their natural lifespan, and for whatever reason, don't live beyond particular borders, such as Queen Street Quarterly, or, like Vancouver's The Capilano Review or Saskatoon's Grain, become rejouvenated through the natural movement of new editors coming in to replace those who had long held the helm. And, not be as aware of literary culture in the United States as I am here, I'm left to wonder what has come up to fill this space? One could cite the recent appearance of Jacket2, but surely there must have been something in between.
I have been meaning to write an essay on the nature of doubt and poetry. Before reading Descartes I had dismissed him, and now reading the Discourse and the Meditations, I find him in my mind as a splinter is in a thumb. Not a pain to extract, but rather, a pain that reminds me the thumb exists, that the thumb is mine, and here I am, thinking about it. A sliver of pine becomes the world—at least, the potential for a world. I can encounter it, consider it. The poem is this crucible in which the world heats up—grasses sere, then the pond disappears, then the ocean becomes cloud, then the cloud grows absent, then the air. Then the flame is turned down, then the crucible cools, and we look in to see what remains. (Dan Beachy-Quick, “'To Know by the Natural Light of the Mind'—On the Poetics of Thinking & Doubt,” The Poker #8)

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