|Seven Paragraphs for Cervantes
...whatever rhythm there is
will find the heart that wants to go along.
During the thirty-three years Cervantes and I have been editing periodicals together, Jim has always done the heavy rowing. Make no mistake about it. He is the best partner any editor could ever have, allowing the other co-schemers who joined us over the years and me to flit about like Nabokovian lepidopterists. Occasionally we would net a specimen worthy of show and tell, while Jim manned the home port, mending sails, braiding rope, and caulking planks.
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.
Ballast arrived simultaneously, sent to us on an almost daily basis through the mail by a diverse band of fellow sailors that Jim and I and our wives had met, pursued, or attracted during our travels. I loved Jim, Dorothy, Helle, and Porch with the naivete of a poet who believed the world existed only for the purpose of creating literature, and preserving it for the faithful.
Laura Jensen, that fiendish talent, was our first poet. While I was working on a lost book I once intended to call "Mekka", Norman Dubie sent us a poem about John Clare, the poet with the most imperious name. Tess Gallagher and Michael Burkard, either just married or unmarried, contributed to the first issue, and two of the poems Tess sent, from Dublin and Port Angeles, have never been reprinted. "Here on the safe side / we know it isn't safe..." "Someone knew we'd all / get old enough to be here..." Young and old, married or not, friends or enemies -- poets were encouraged to apply in any language.
No one, I think, least of all us could ever explicate the theorem we relied on for acceptance. Except to say it doesn't appear to have been whimsical. Jim never sifted things based on letting the page slide down the rickety back steps in Seattle, or if he did, never told me about it. Because we were human, we often had to edit with abruptness, but all together we strove never to be accused of meanness or poverty of spirit. If our deadlines were the conventional ones of time and space -- the principle was ethereal, from an inexplicable place Jim lived in and lives in still, somewhere beyond but not excluding words, where poems line up and become greater than themselves in like company.
It seems fitting that the final issue of Porch's entirely grownup peer, The Salt River Review, would include writing by me that mirrors, to a great extent, one of the initial essays I wrote for Porch. "Enchanted Silt" (1978) was included in "The Brazilian Issue" (No. 4), whose non-sales almost put us out of business. (I may still have a box of them in my basement.) But I can't claim this kind of felicity is, by any means, intentional. Obsession, often harmful, can also be preternatural. And even if I am at least more mature, more world- travelled than I was in 1978, I still seem to have stubbornly crossed the Atlantic Ocean from Brazil to Portugal in prose in 2010, reversing the Age of Discovery, grateful to have had an editor who tolerated such backwardness.
Does this mean that for now, at least, as in the dream I once had about Henry James and Gary Snyder, I believe the future of world literature might come to be written in Portuguese? I recall a hand-written letter sent to me during an extended period of time when my great friend Steve White and his family were living in Brazil. The pizza parlor they frequented was a favorite hangout for off-duty prostitutes and their prospective boyfriends. (Boyfriends, not customers.) Steve and his wife and son enjoyed matching young couples together, as they thought they should be -- playing a delicate game of shadowboxing, of predicting an always-uncertain future. All of this was conducted in high speed Portuguese, accompanied by food and wine, human beings being human, with an ever-present writer who understood both language and life, taking notes on the blank paper of his mind. Notes in black ink. The way they should be.
August 28, 2010
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Ten years ago James Cervantes asked me to send him a story for his brainchild, the new online literary magazine, Salt River Review. He accepted the story, and then asked if Id be the fiction editor. I thought about it for a second and said yes, though I had no idea how, and what Id have to do. Id met Jim maybe once at an annual AWP Conference. At that time there were only a few online literary magazines. Anything published online had little cache among writers and readers. At that time, too, I was still freaked out every time I had to do some new technical thing on a computer. Authors who submitted wondered whether their writings published online were copyrightedor whether they could submit something just out in a print journal. New rules were invented. We all wondered: Will publication in an online journal qualify one for an NEA? Will anyone read these magazines?
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