Fles on the Wall

Compared to Jones/Baraka and Ginsberg, John Fles is something of a marginal figure.  Yet in that 1959/1960 period (when this photo was taken), Fles could play the bongos with the Beat elite and do quite nicely thank you.  Fles was on the editorial board at the Chicago Review when things got filthy on the Midway.  He edited a one-shot called The Trembling Lamb during the first boom of the Mimeo Revolution alongside mags like Yugen and Big Table.  Along with Jones/Baraka, Fles was one of the contributing editors to Kulchur.  In short, Fles does not deserve to be cropped out of any recounting of that monumental year of 1959, when Beat went mainstream.  Yet Fred Kaplan does not mention Fles in his history of the year that changed everything and I would suspect that Fles has managed to slip the minds of most, including those in the know about the Beats and the Mimeo Revolution.

Pity really, because many times those hanging at the edge of the crowd get the best view.  In light of the passing of Amiri Baraka, there will be much talk of Yugen as a pivotal little magazine.  Without a doubt, Baraka was one of the best little magazine editors of his time, if not for all time.  Fles himself says as much.  Yet even a mag as mighty as Yugen was not perfect.  Maybe this is an example of an eyewitness having better vision than the historian or, in the present moment, the eulogist.  Here is Fles reviewing Yugen 1-7, as that magazine was in the process of dying, within the pages of the recently conceived Kulchur:

Yugen 1-7; (The Flower of the Miraculous)
            The Devil’s cleverest wile is to convince us that he does not exist.”  Baudelaire

First Yugen published 1958.  No. 4 was the best.  The turning of the tide – or just before the surf breaks.  (I was in town then, and remember.)  Six full as a ripe wave, when I’d ride them in, at Laguna.  With No. 7 we reach a plateau.  Smooth water as far as you can see.

I go home with the book on Friday, read it through, except the Marshall poem, and go to sleep considerably depressed.

I see him bent against the wind; we’re crossing Seventh Avenue “in a few years I’ll have to put down poets using Creeley’s voice.”  Or Marc’s admission, “… all seemed to me, on rereading, to’ve been written by the same person” (there were four or five concerned, including Mr. Jones).

What has developed tonally, is a rhetoric.  Clever, often cute, elisions and abbrevations of language.  Deliberately coy and devious handling of a subject.  Coming in, as it were, through the back door; Lester Young, but not one, many.  “You can spend so long cleaning the goddamn gun etc, you miss any shot at all.”

And they’re on top, kicking someone littler.  Tired remnants of the thirties and everyone, anyone in his right mind knows it.  Certainly the readers of Yugen.

The sad part is, there energy’s there, waiting, to be used.  Humor’s always a clue to what you do with it.
“Ah but the thought to write nursery rhymes/is prelude to stark poetry.”

II.  That thought when certain things become predictable.  Creeley’s rehash.  Read Yugen Share This Poetic Reality.  (Bessie Smith dies.)  Artaud’s funnier than Olson.  “Louder and funnier!!”  Who’s the Dalai Lama?  The former dean of Black Mountain College?  The beauties of the Maximus Poems, however, before me.
The other notes continue the Black Mountain tradition (“yii!”).  The gaze, yes, is reverent.

I’m straying from the point?  Yugen is a magazine of poetry.  Has it, too, uniformity of tone?  Was the register the same?  “A hand raised against the blossom is implicitly directed also, toward the root?”  Was that whined?  Shouldn’t the hand be raised at all?

Jones is a great editor (one of the two or three in the country).  His range and catholicism of taste; a continuum roughly from Olson to Corso.  In each issue, also, a “discovery”; Meltzer, Bremser, Barbara Moraff “appeared mysteriously out of Paterson,” Rochelle Owens.

At the end Creeley opened his doors to Ginsberg, Kerouac, Corso.  From that fusion to Evergreen Review No. 2.  And so on – The New American Poetry 1945-1960.  A NEW DAY COMING Yugen editor says.
            “How deep is thy love for making me jump
                for I am a true Quaker and how can you quake
                 at the meeting house whey you have reduced
                     all to the elements and can only use song to
                     make rationale mind confused – is that why
                     you want my songs because you hear
                     something announced that something is
                     around the corner – a footing – conspiracy
                       going on.” 
But stiffness of swing bands a “professional” publication.  The new academy’s buildings are shinier, that’s all.
A tradition becomes inept when – oh!
                        in striving by what we hate
                surrounding us.  And do not break it in our strike
                                     at it.  The part of us
                      so trained to live in filth and never stir.”
III.  It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter.  Another generation drifts into town . . . What’s left for them?  Allen?  much shuffling of feet, attitude ambivalent, as it should be (the poet of our time).  Burroughs remains firm.  Jack not yet born.  Gregory, yes.

McClure.  “I am close to Lawrence and Melville and find how much I despise Williams and Pound . . . If Olson’s is poetry of the intellect and physiology, I want a writing of the Emotions, intellect and physiology.  The direct emotional statement from the body (from organs and from energy of movements) . . .  I do not see with my senses but with forms and preconceptions thru custom.  I will kick in the walls and make a destruction of those things.”  Who’s he speaking to?

All seven issues in front of me.  Talk about evolution, yes.  It’s only that, an early childhood experience, I’m abnormally sensitive to death by suffocation.

Additional Questions
1.     1.  Why do I give Personism:  A Manifesto a special prize for “(This is getting good, isn’t it?)”
2.      2. “be done with these walking products of crime” is “stark poetry?”  vice versa?  Who is Gregory Corso?
“I want to be as though new-born, knowing nothing, absolutely nothing about Europe.”  Klee
3.     3.  What about the problem of provincial (parochial) American poetry?
4.      4. What does Broom mean?  Secession?  transition?  YUGEN?

John Fles



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