Echo Chamber

James Alexander’s Eturnature was a joint venture by Oannes-Open Space in April 1965. Ebbe Borregaard ran Oannes Press. The Lilly Library has a small archive of material related to the press including the typescript for Eturnature. Borregaard also published Helen and Pat Adam’s San Francisco Burning (illustrated by Jess) and a prospectus announcement for that ballad-opera. Not much came out of Oannes Press, which named after a Bablyonian Sea-God. The open sea joins the open space. Oannes had the head of a fish, but with a human head underneath, and the tail of a fish, but again with human feet underneath. Oannes is credited with bringing civilisation, wisdom, art, science and writing to mankind. That is him on the cover of the dust-wrapper to Eturnature, which is not mentioned in the White Rabbit Bibliography. James Alexander’s brother, Paul, provided the illustration for the cover as well as the striking illustrations on the cover page and throughout the text.

Jim Alexander arrived in San Francisco in late 1958 and soon met Jack Spicer. After reading Alexander’s The Jack Rabbit Poem, Spicer’s initial attraction bloomed to love. Russell Fitzgerald and Dora Dull also fell under Alexander’s spell. Alexander became Spicer’s primary muse and the inspiration for The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether and other works. Spicer supported Alexander’s poetry and encouraged its publication. Alexander was like wise greatly influenced by Spicer.

A poem in Eturnature reads:

Jim and Fran
someday I’ll type up all this crap and send you a copy
i go on and on writing with no disire to
finish, publish, get married or die
significantly my influences ar heads/spach/seasons/Olson
currently i call it all “eturnatur”
the first book of which is “la chasse spirituelle”

“Heads” highlights the influence of Spicer, and Eturnature relies of the seriality of Spicer for whatever form it has. Spach refers to Friedrich Nietzche. Alexander believed he was the reincarnation of Rimbaud (with Spicer playing the Verlaine role) and “season” refers to the overwhelming influence the reading of A Season in Hell had on him. The influence of Rimbaud cannot be overstated as evidenced that Eturanture opens with the first book “La Chasse Spiritualle” (The Spiritual Hunt). Verlaine believed this poem to be Rimbaud’s finest. Unfortunately it has been lost, although in 1949 it was believed to have been re-discovered only to be revealed as a hoax by two French students. Forgery, translation, plagiarism, dictation. This is all familiar Spicer territory and Alexander soaked it up like a sponge. Jim’s brother, Paul, attended Black Mountain College and took Charles Olson as a mentor. Jim read Rimbaud after Olson recommended Rimbaud to Paul.

That is a lot of voices and while reading Eturnature I sometimes had trouble hearing the poems (or seeing the structure) clearly. It is certainly a mishmash, but the more I read it the more I find myself getting into it. It is the longest work (92 pages) Open Space published and a return to the small details of The Moth Poem after the austerity of The Fork and The Door. I look forward to reading The Jack Rabbit Poem and seeing what Spicer initially fell in love with. If Eturnature is any indication, it is sure to be a wild ride.


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