Letter From the Editors: Soothsayers

Christopher Bernard

Jack Foley
Poet and literary historian Jack Foley.

“To tell the truth is not the fastest way/to get someone to sleep,” as Bradley W. Buchanan writes in his poem “Soothing and Saying” in our current issue. No doubt this might be the motto of our current issue -- as for the three recently published books discussed below, though the books and the issue may keep readers awake at night for very different reasons.

Jack Foley -- the distinguished poet, critic, radio personality, and a longtime friend of, and contributor to, Caveat Lector -- has just published an enormous history of California poetry since 1940: Visions & Affiliations: A California Literary Time Line, Poets & Poetry, 1940-2005.

Foley insists that this extraordinary achievement is not, strictly speaking, a history, since the book, a “compendium” (as he put it) of dates, descriptive entries, and quotations, has, deliberately, no single authorial voice or point of view; as he has pointed out, “Jack Foley” appears in the book as just another of the many poets in the epic saga of California poetry of the twentieth century. The choices may be Foley’s own, but he acts in the relatively modest spirit of an editor of history, not its sovereign author.
The result of this radical openness, while reading the “time line,” is a sense of total immersion in a hugely busy yet curiously limpid crowd of events, personalities, dates, tumbling end over end but always kept clear and proportioned by Foley’s clarity and good judgment; of an immense film in words: the experience is exhilarating.*

Many a future historian of American poetry of the latter half of the 20th century will be grateful for Foley’s labor of love, his wide sympathies, insight, and candor, to say nothing of his infinitely patient scholarship.

Juan Goytisolo, Spain’s greatest living writer, and one of the world’s most audacious innovators in fiction, has two new books out since the spring, both in spirited translations by Peter Bush: Nijar Country (originally published in Spanish in 1954), from Lumen Books, and Exiled from Almost Everywhere, from Dalkey Archive. The latter book is especially welcome, as Goytisolo had said he intended his immediately previous novel, The Blind Rider (a lean, bleakly magnificent meditation on time and mortality), to be his last. Lucky for us, his muse would not be quieted, and we have more of his teasing, lyrical, provo-cative prose to help us through these lean times.

-- Christopher Bernard


* For the curious, and anyone who might want to compare our history with the goals of the idealistic gang of four who founded this magazine, a profile of Caveat Lector appears in the section on the year of its founding, 1989.