Some Context for Contexts

How ‘bout a bit of context for Contexts of Poetry

Given that Creeley talks about materiality and process in his Vancouver lecture, a little attention should be given to when and how it was published.  Specifically as Audit 5 Vol. 1 (1968), edited by Butterick and Glover.  Other probably know the details more than I do but Audit was started in Buffalo in 1960 by Ralph Maud.  I believe it was the official vehicle of the Buffalo English Department.  Creeley arrived in Buffalo to teach in 1966.  By 1968 Butterick and Glover had taken over Audit’s editorial duties.  The publication of Contexts of Poetry by Audit was very timely.  Pieces came out that year and in that publication, even more than Words, Creeley puts into action the concepts that are gestating in Contexts.  The Postscript to the Audit edition of Contexts could have served as a foreword to Pieces

As for Creeley speaking through the official publication of the Buffalo English Department.  I have mixed feelings about that.  I have a vision of the Vancouver Conference as somehow  anti-university and anti-academic but that may not be accurate.  In this possibly imaginary scenario, Warren Tallman went rogue and established an academic La Costa Nostra in British Columbia.  Again this may not be true.  The publication of Creeley’s lecture in an official institutional organ like Audit diminishes its freshness and vitality in my opinion, sort of like pressing a tree leaf between the pages of a book.  What was a poet chewing the fat in the frontier amongst active poets becomes a lecture for a creative writing class attended by MFA students.  The oppositional, informal and outsider nature of Contexts becomes institutional.  

Much of this is based on what I think Audit is as a publication.  It strikes me as Buffalo’s version of Poetry.  It is the literary establishment at SUNY Buffalo.  As opposed to Fubbalo for example, which was published out of the student bookshop like an issue of Fuck You at Peace Eye or Corinth Books out of 8th Street.  Publication of Contexts in Fubbalo would be like Fuck You Press’ reporting on Vancouver in Berge’s The Vancouver Report.  Similarly Niagara Frontier Review would be in opposition to Audit as an alternative magazine independently financed by a student, Harvey Brown (like Frontier Press).  Thus Niagara Frontier Review continues a Mimeo Revolution tradition, like Big Table or New Departures, of the disgruntled and disillusioned student rebelling against the university.  Fubbalo and Niagara Frontier Review are therefore products of the Mimeo Revolution.  Audit is not.  Audit is an literary mag like Kenyon Review or Chicago ReviewAudit is academic and closely tied to bureaucratic structures.  For example, the Audit Contexts of Poetry was funded in part by the CCLM.  Like Fubbalo and Niagara Frontier Review, I view de Loach’s Intrepid as an alternative voice within the institution of SUNY Buffalo.  That said, de Loach took the government cheese as well I think.  Buffalo was heavily involved in the bureaucracy of the little mag at the time.  COSMEP held its annual conference in Buffalo in 1971. 

The prevalence of bureaucracy dooms the idea of a Black Mountain II project at SUNY Buffalo.  The sequel was more traditionally academic and establishment than the original incarnation (likewise with the reprint of Contexts).  Like the Vancouver Conference, Black Mountain College was intellectual but not academic.  The academy means bureaucracy.  Little at Black Mountain College was official or standardized.  It was informal bordering on completely disorganized.  Particularly in the mid-1950s.  In this atmosphere of total chaos (freedom??)  monuments of a high intellectual order like the Black Mountain Review developed.  A different atmosphere at SUNY Buffalo.  Tons of sponsored committees and clubs.  An official curriculum for everything, even the alternative curriculum.  State recognition and support.  Involvement in national organizations.  You simply cannot have a Black Mountain II at a state institution.  Something will be missing.  Or something will be added, i.e. an official, regulated bureaucratic structure.  The struggles at Buffalo with loyalty oaths (like Corso) are one by-product of this.  The persistent belief that Creeley was not a “true” professor and thus his classes were not proper study for a graduate student was another.  Black Mountain Review vs Audit (or Black Mountain Review II) also captures what I mean.  The Review remains one of the Ur-publications of the Mimeo Revolution.  Audit and Black Mountain Review II are scholastic.

Again let me stress these are all my personal impressions.  I would love for someone to tell me what’s what.  It would be an interesting project to analyze the little mag/Mimeo Revolution/academic journal nexus of the New American Poetry era through the lens of SUNY Buffalo.  Here is a rough list of some relevant publications:

Niagara Frontier Review
Magazine of Further Studies
Earth’s Daughters
Moody Street Irregulars
Black Mountain Review II

For example a dissertation entitled “State Sponsored Location from the Upper West Side:  Little Magazines in and around SUNY Buffalo (1960-1981)”.  God knows the Poetry Collection has the archives to support it.  I wonder what the archives would have to say?  What do you?



shuffaloff said...

Although I lack information about dates, I do know that around 1966 Charles Olson asked Betty Cohen to take over Audit from Ralph Maud. She became Managing Editor. The result, with Olson's help, was the two issues of Audit dedicated to the work of Frank O'Hara and Robert Duncan. The distinction you make between Audit and Fubbalo is a little misleading because in those days the difference between the English Department and the city's literary community was far more porous and indistinct than it later became.

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