WCH WAY now: The First Issue
On the afternoon of Monday, the fifth of October, 2009, over a three-hour period Jed Rasula and Sam Truitt exchanged emails on the origins of Wch Way and the insides and outsides of its inaugural 1975 issue. Below is the transcript of that exchange. Please note the different colored texts indicate three different email streams.
Truitt: In “Canadada,” in the guise of Rory Pungle “(509 BC)” you write: “(wch way = learning).” What’s learning then and are we still at it, asteriskly or otherwise, now?
…justice reigns tonight whether travel is possible
to Atlantis via Albany cut off or not I don’t think
anymore to it than harboring something that’s
—“ A Marriage of True Minds,” John Clarke, 24
Rasula: I like that Clarke phrase “harboring something that’s Unknown”: thanks for digging it out. Looking through this first issue of Wch Way now I realize I probably haven’t even opened it in more than thirty years. It feels like having a telescope trained for global circumnavigation, through which I can see the underside of my foot or something.
Learning was a kind of mantra, it turns out, looking back at the editorial paraphernalia. For the third issue we put these lines from the 30s musicalVarsity Show on the back cover: “We’re workin’ our way through college / To getta lotta knowledge / We’ll probably never ever use again.” But I don’t think we had any intention of repudiating the kind of learning we got in college. Rather, it was the evident discrepancy (especially where poetry was concerned) between what passed for Useful Knowledge (to quote Gertrude Stein’s title) in academia and what didn’t have to pass because it was so evidently of use.
Truitt: Right, there’s that Mandelstam saying (Michael Ruby uses it) that there’s nothing to learn and nothing to teach—but at what point does that, even held close and spoken through, become a cop out—but seems to hold a certain non-acceptance of what is given—to make rather than be given it. And then of course all the “nothing” sayings—of Cage and Khlebnikov, etc. But then one of the distinguishing features of this first issue (and we’re on opposite sides of the “circumnavigation” as I only have the first issue here) is the degree of information, of knowledge—and a lot of it of an esoteric nature—but also prescient (Quasha’s use of phrase “speed of thought,” “virtual space” and “cyberspace” (ca, 1975). Or it seems a characteristic of the Wch Way “class”?
The New Orality streaming arrows of light will restore
both American history and politics replacing
math and physics citizens require to survive The
Energy Crisis caused by Woman’s Lib shrinking
Lots of Doom
— “The Lansville Sighting,” John Clarke, 26
Rasula: I should add something about “we”: Wch Way was started by me and Ron Barnard in a preternaturally predestined way. I was at the Indiana University library reaching past someone working at a reference desk for some volume, and happened to glance down to see on this guy’s paper a list of names of poets he was looking up. Among the names were several poets I actually knew, like Robert Kelly, so I promptly introduced myself to Ron and that led, fairly quickly, to the notion of editing a magazine together. He, like I, had recently finished his undergraduate work there at IU. But he was married and had a small daughter (“chairman of the border” in our masthead).
You mentioned Rory Pungle: an invented name. (We obviously delighted in inventing names.) The first issue was dedicated to Leonard Slye—an inside joke, really: LS was the given name of Roy Rogers, cowboy crooner. I was a devotee of his tv show in the mid-50s. His theme song “Happy Trails” is grooved deeply in my musical imagination. And the earliest records I ever had were colored 45s (blue and red) of his songs.
Truitt: Nice—so Wch Way happened in this reaching across (evoking the asterisk) and at a library reference desk—and a tribute to Indiana University and you that you both were aware of Kelly et al.—and touching on “the chairman,” my daughter’s name is Indiana.
That penchant of popular culture seems like more your own rhythm, compared to whom you and Ron choose to collect in first number, though—and really could one almost say that a lot of what is magnetized of culture by the contributors was almost unpopular culture—instigative, needling, uncomfortable?
…biopoesis to the vertical mind: It,
Our Continent, pied de terre
—Earthan Sign,”, Quasha, 2
Rasula: Indiana—what a name!
& what a coincidence.
Coincidence was obviously the operative magnetic field bringing me and Ron together at that time. You’re right to surmise that the pop references fielded in Wch Way came from me, not Ron. This is really where the inner dimension heralded on the masthead comes into play: Information Collage & Collate Energy Collective was presented there as the shadow organization behind the whole enterprise. Without his daughter, I’m sure Ron would’ve been an avid participant. But ICCEC was a fairly wild organization, involving the whole spectrum of alleged 60s indulgences (research, for us). As you surmise, there was perhaps some anticipatory sense of mismatch between our shenanigans and the literary sobriety that invariably attends the presentation of literary content in a so-called serious poetry magazine. Errol Flynn’s stalwart “Ride ‘em thru town!” spoke to that on the title page.
Rasula: “Esoteric” and “prescient” go together, don’t they? I was certainly into esoterica then, not so much for its own sake but because it chimed beautifully with anything and everything I didn’t know (anything one doesn’t know is automatically esoteric). And the most beautiful thing was that in my ignorance I couldn’t really distinguish the traditionally esoteric (prisci theologia, hidden wisdom) from the simply mundane. The best model for this in my experience is that, as a teenager, I went around in a vividly haunted state for a while singing this song in my head that I thought I’d somehow written, but feeling awkward about it because I wasn’t sure I had. It turned out to be (though it took me years to find out) Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman”!
Truitt: I get that—that there is this pattern—the way songs are a structure that we can be inside, that can form that horizon of how you are between and preferably maybe large and reaching—and it is mundane (or as it comes up in this issue a “common” thing). And we are inside a pattern and I think of David Wevill “esoterically” writing: “We are afraid of the thought of the full circle: not as the Hopi were, who left the design unfinished so the soul could escape” (“statement from ‘Where the Arrow Fall,’ London 1973″).
The mind is
its “local fact,” I argued
& I agreed
we have moved
from nucelus or yolk
out fromthe nourishing clarity of the classics
& work now year by year
to break the shell of objective fact.
—“The Stream on the Other Side of the Mind,” Kelly, 4)
Rasula: Sam, you’ve scooped up two —maybe THE 2— of the signature provocations in the material we gathered for the first issue. At that point I had been reading Wallace Stevens for a number of years but in a Faber selected, so I hadn’t had my attention drawn to that deft selection his daughter made under the title The Palm at the End of the Mind. So Kelly’s poem turned out to evoke something very prescient, almost as if the Kelly Seesaw was about to tip me over into
Stevens (which it did). Still, that haunting chick pecking the shell image reverberated for a long time. I was still a chick, clearly, feeling the shell start to give way.
The Wevill quote was the zinger. I’d completely forgotten about it until looking over the issue this morning. But it clearly had an impact: I’ve had a lifetime of deliberately leaving a smokehole in the design. I suppose this might be thought a kind of anti-formalism, but it’s the final formalism, I think. Form outruns itself: you (me, we) end up otherwise.
Truitt: That incompleteness for me is what I find in your asterisk, actually/actively—”the table of relationships is an asterisk” (“EDIT/ ORAL/ ION”)—the infinitude of crossing that doesn’t obscure but deepens the interval (way forward) and for me it goes back Schlegal’s Athenaeum fragments, in which he writes of good writing as leaving things out in order to let in, in his case, the reader, though I think in your case “air” (can’t locate specific quote)—and even “err” perhaps there. But looking there (“EDIT…”), I really like “The time of the poem… is the same for all poems,” and later: “….everything is the first line.” That patterning is also, simultaneously, an unpatterning, as you are now here too. Or it’s a new structure, but you can’t see it (the indeterminacy). That’s the exciting thing—and really, in this local condition, arising from that first crossing of your arm at the library table and looking.
But rather than Stevens, it seems the really group-galvanizing figure before this first issue is Olson?
…nothing is possible without doing it…
— “Yours Truly,” John Clarke, 21
Rasula: You have a wonderful eye for textual details: every gob sticks on the ceiling (cf. Clarke, again: “…nothing is possible without doing it…”)
The time of the poem: I’d have to guess that I was following in Kelly’s footsteps there. I’d done an interview with RK in September 1973 (with my friend Mike Erwin, who died soon afterward: otherwise, he not Ron would’ve been co-editor of Wch Way), and in that interview (published in part in Vort) Kelly said that Creeley’s poem “The Door” was an epic if you didn’t look at the clock. That insight continued (and continues) to persist. And spread.
And to what extent was Olson behind it? Wch Way originated in what I’d called a Zwischenraum or between-realm in my Olson readings: i.e. after I’d read the first volume of Maximus, and had been quite fixated on a number of poems inThe Distances; but before I’d really plumbed deeply, and before I’d gotten around to really encountering the rest of Maximus (in fact, the third volume didn’t appear until after I’d done the first three issues of Wch Way).
Truitt: I just entered “Information Collage and Collate Energy Collective” into google and got hooked up to microsoft, viz. http://www.microsoft.com/everybodysbusiness/en/us/projects/communications-collaboration.aspx?CR_CC=100193171&WT.srch=1&WT.mc_id=Search&CR_SCC=100193171
So 30 year on it’s atomized into Bill—is not going anymore—and I guess I wonder why not—or did, by subterranean passage? I am thinking of your writing “the obvious remedy is to extend the activity into the whole labyrinth of available public image-flow and swamp the media with Dada” (“Canadada”)—and thinking too of Bernstein and Andrew’s LANGUAGE starting a few years after Wch Way and that seemed to cleat to your call.
Space is a consequence of matter. It is necessary
to understand this if one would chart the precise
anatomy of “collapse”
— “On Fallacies // On Energy,” Howard McCord, 47
Rasula: That’s a hoot. The key link is “information,” & remains a handy index to that cold war milieu in which information theory reigned supreme and made for a distinct interface between arts & sciences zoning in on signal to noise ratios.
Writing about General Idea in that final piece for Wch Way (“Canadada”), I clearly staked my claim with those who found it absurd to perpetuate the myth of escape (or Revolution, the moniker it wore at the time). It didn’t mean rapprochement with status quo—not by a long shot. But that binary imposition was as prevalent then as it’s remained to this day. We all can’t help but be insiders of our own culture. Sure, some people seem temperamentally better at never having “gotten it” in the first place; but I remember at the time of this first issue being struck by how even somebody like John Oliver Simon was a middle class American like the rest of us (I’d come across his work in some outsider anthology, so he had the imprimatur of renegade written all over him—& whatever happened to him, I wonder, or McCord for that matter). So the position
I was exploring was being (forever) in the inescapable American Gladmobile but looking for those smokeholes, vents, cross-currents that offered nourishment without any attendant blather about Escape.
Truitt: And I guess, from what you are writing, I perceive that the asteriskesque open IS that “time of the poem”—even may be in Kelly’s title “The Stream on the Other Side of the Mind” (which I guess rhymes with Rilke’s “other side of the air”)?
But in terms of the Olson thing, it really shoulders up in Clarke, “…these four as my double axis of medicine shield Okeanos for Illumination Odin for Introspection Oedipus Innocence & Olson Wisdom so that we have the full Tartarean Structure as well as its method of traversal…”
…listening like the blue bee
Of the Upanishad
— “Some Music,” Howard McCord, 57
Truitt: I remember Calvin Tomkins picks this up too—and I hadn’t really realized it, just what you say in terms of when you were writing in the “smoke” of revolution—and that you are calling it out—but Tomkins writes of how Picasso was an “inside invader”: That he worked from within the system to—what—make room? Or I guess for Picasso—his ambition—to make it—and then it’s interesting to think of, as you note, McCord and Simon… It reminds me of Cage commenting that the best way to succeed (not sure his language) is to outlive everybody else—but not maybe quite that but Creeley and his insistence of keeping going (like perhaps Beckett)… The signing off of emails “Onward!” which might have gotten picked up from the comic Mort Sahl’s sign off.
I can mean: you know how to use your time.”
— “The Stream on the Other Side of the
Mind,” XX, Robert Kelly, 4
Rasula: I wish I could accompany you down that asterisk trail, but that statement you quote just passes me by now, or snags me only to the extent that it reeks of tendencies in my writing at that time that I labored mightily to overcome. It probably struck me as meaningful, or else meaningfully meaningless; but now I can’t get with either, whatever it was meant to be.
All that aside, though, the asterisk remains doubly beguiling: first, because it’s got the word “risk” inside it; second, because I like it’s little starburst shape.
Truitt: I hear you—on both your counts re. what remains valuable about the sign, the * (you know, right there too, above the “8″), and that I was overplaying it—trying to make it do work it’s not outfitted for—though one could kick it around more. It’s a sun (of course, it is ASTER) but also pointing in terms of a mark to what is nether—or to quote Kelly, “where the etymon / is never found.“
so you speak of beauty as it was
a corner of a thing
a place, a cave
where a mountain lion looked out
— “Rincones,” VII, David Wevill, 5
Rasula: Turning the tables a bit, I’m curious to know what your own take onWch Way (‘s inaugural issue) is. Particularly, how does it date itself? & is its temporal specificity a disadvantage (a fatal anachronism) or is it somehow instructive?
Truitt: I’ve found a tremendous value of matter—of useful information—and tracts of writing of sustaining health. Almost throughout found passages of pause (as we’ve discussed and partially as I’ve written interstitially). These things are the real historical matter as I read—with historical as Olson marked it from Herodotus as being in a state of inquire—or as Olson: “Find out for yourself.” I get that from many here—and that’s not dated. There’s a certain innocence to the extra-graphology—the pictorial material—but then I read that as more reaches past words—to get more in—and in keeping with your insistence on possibility of “image flow.” I am particuarly interesting in the various attentions to orality and the getting here, present—and I guess particularly appreciate your going back over your pinning this issue down with fragments of Flynn and as you write coincidence. I guess I would go back to a loss, too: That what you “all” were doing was tremendously valuable but that it got threaded out, dissipated: That a significant vehicle of the continuity of this kind of work didn’t emerge (in the same way, as I wrote, LANGUAGE did). So, I feel that this issue is important for a circling back—a regathering, perhaps. But I don’t read that as nostalgic—but, as you write, instructive.
the mind inflated larger than the sky,
revolving disk of numbers, dates at the end of poems
my childhood destroys itself through existing
(“Fifteen: 15,” from an untitled sequence, John Oliver Simon, 40
Rasula: Interesting. So you see it as a snip of Missing Text. Probably true. Though the other five issues would offer exemplary instruction on the range of what not only was to come, but what was latent in the beginning. It’s true thatL=A=N=G=U=A=G=E emerged and, for a time, prevailed, but I was in on the ground floor of that magazine by invitation, & they were all sending me stuff (mostly too late, though I recall publishing Bernstein & Watten & Perelman). At the time it didn’t seem like a sea change. The second and third issues of Wch Way had a big rambunctious colloquium on Roland Barthes’ The Pleasure of the Text, so it was a natural segue for me to turn from the country rusticity of open air poetics (to call it that, thinking of McCord & Simon) to continental theory, and to really get what Canadian writer Steven Scobie meant when he said (circa 1985) that the most signal event in adventurous writing of the previous decade was Barthes & Derrida.
What I do detect as ‘missing’ or at least underplayed (thinking of playing cards in a hand) is the Olson connection. Butterick and Clarke were solicited by Ron for that issue: he’d gotten the whole run of Curriculum of the Soul, and I’d only seen one or two. So he used the authors as a kind of checklist of invitees. This quickly led to our break after the first issue, as Al Glover had sent a piece that neither Ron nor I wanted to publish, but Glover got into Ron’s head & prompted him to think of our disregard for it as a showdown moment. Ludicrous, because even Ron didn’t want to publish it! But whether prompted by Glover or not, Ron would’ve been justified in regarding me as a bit of a bully, I’m sure. I was headstrong and wouldn’t be swayed—evidence of which is that I put my name above his, contravening standard alphabetic order, on the masthead. Anyway, if we hadn’t had that interference from Glover, I’m sure that the Olsonian axis would’ve become more prominent over time, whereas it went the other way.
Rasula: The early 70s were still inside a time capsule going back into the 50s, when a massively conformist society obscured its diverse roots. The conformity was a direct consequence of WW2. I grew up in the military, where it was probably easier to see in its historical profile: i.e., all the parents were roughly the same age, and all us kids were too (baby boomers).
The conformist society was the butt of movie spoofs, gave rise to MadPlayboy, among others); and while we were in it we felt very distinctly what it might mean to be out of it. What we didn’t realize was how recently that caul had been drawn over the collective head like a silk stocking over a bank robber’s face. The uniformity came right out of the uniforms. It was only the war in Vietnam that raised the gruesome consequence, inasmuch as the ruling class by then presumed everybody was tacitly in uniform already. So letting your freak flag fly (Jimi Hendrix’s slogan) was a necessary civil disobedience. magazine (and
The stakes then were so close to the surface that I find it unnerving now to think how deeply sub-dermal, as it were, the uniforms have since penetrated. A major influence has been the role of drugs, oddly enough, which have passed from being markers of bohemian experience (think of all the exposé pulp thrillers of the 1950s) to being routinized paraphernalia of American adolescence. The continuing illegality of drugs has meant that any expansive potential they might have had for the psyche have been demoted to a fairly innocuous experience every teenager passes through—and, in the process (chemically speaking) adding yet another layer of obfuscation to the ideological caul as it slips down over the eyes and nose.
Truitt: I am sympatico—and was struck by John Clarke’s “In the Spirit of Prophecy”—a capsule political tract of force—Blakean in tread—but his use of the term “Future Studies.” I pick up from this the notion that poetry (its making and study) might be housed in a new college department called just that.
And a question that occurs to me is that if you were to do another journal, what kind of lines would you form it along? I mean if you were going to play it back, how would it look?
Rounding the curve we saw
the wreck was us.
— “Rincones,” III, Wevill, 5
Rasula: Bulls-eye with another one: Wevill’s “Rounding the curve we saw / the wreck was us.” A key title for me at that time (whole book too) was Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck, which for years I misread as Driving into the Wreck. (I mentioned this to her a couple years ago & she told me many others were prone to the same misreading.)
Wch Way started out as the record of sheer enthusiasm, a state of mind I feel close to but biologically speaking quite distant from. One’s enthusiasms at 23 have the potential to launch into the unknown in a unique way: Start a magazine, sure! It’s unimaginable now. That’s in part because the sheer volume of interesting writing now makes coterie publishing inevitable. The eclecticism of Wch Way was deliberate, but also benefitted from a small field to survey. Now
it really would be equivalent to drawing names out of a phone book. The population difference (calculated every & any which way) is THE decisive difference between then and now. Paul Ehrlich’s “population bomb” did explode, just in slow motion, so it now seems like a cinematic special effect that the Department can reign in if need be.
“Future Studies”: the full phrase might read: “the future studies us.”