Sunday, June 20, 2004

Interview With Small Press Legend Hugh Fox with Doug Holder

For the last forty years or so, poet, scholar, and critic Hugh Fox, has played an integral role in the small press. Like Lifshin, Winans, and Len Fulton, Fox's name is an ubiquitous presence in the national small literary magazines scene. Fox was the first to write critical studies of Charles Bukowski and the prolific poet-queen Lyn Lifshin. He was a founding member of COSMEP, the seminal small press organization founded in the 1970's. He served on the board of directors for over twenty years.
Fox was also the publisher of his own little magazine "Ghost Dancer" that ran for twenty years and is now archived at Harvard University, Brown University and other institutions. Fox has reviewed countless books, chapbooks and magazines, and has published eighty of his own works. I had the pleasure to talk with him ( along with my friend and poet Harris Gardner), at the bustling Au Bon Pain cafe in the heart of Harvard Square.

Doug Holder: How did you meet Charles Bukowski?

Hugh Fox: Here I was out in L.A., and I go into this bookstore, "Pickwick Bookstore" I found a copy of a Bukowski book. Up until this time I read T.S. Eliot. I was all T.S. Eliot, and all this kind of stuff. I got Bukowski's book " Crucifixation and the Deadman" This was in 1967. When I read it I said: " Holy shit, this is a whole different way of approaching the language isn't, it?
I really enjoyed it, and I started writing like that. So I got all of his books. I read everything he wrote. I wrote to his publisher in New Orleans. I asked them if I could get Bukowski's phone number. They told me to look in the L.A. phone book. So I looked him up, and there he was. I said " Hello, Charles Bukowski, this is Hugh Fox, I'd like to meet you."
He said: " OK Fox, here's my address." I went over to his place. I said: "I want to do a book about you. I'm really impressed by your stuff."
He said" OK. I am going to give you everything I ever wrote in my life. " He goes into all of his bookcases, and all of his closets and everything else, and takes copies of everything. He said: "If you find any doubles, you keep it." He was living in a Hollywood motel. He was working at the post office at the time. So I had all of his stuff, and then he tried to make out with my wife, the Peruvian. He told me "How about you leave her with me tonight. You got all the books, at least you could leave me your wife for the night." She said "I don't think SO!' He wasn't joking. He would of done it--she was very attractive. I saw Bukowski quite a few times since then. I did a book on him, and it was the first critical book about him. That got reviewed every place.

Doug Holder: What was your opinion of his poetry?

Hugh Fox: Oh, I think he was great. A lot of people misunderstood him. They think he was a drunken bum that wrote scary stuff. He was very subtle. He was very literary--you'd be surprised. Some of his stuff is blah, but a lot isn't. The documentary that just came out, made A.D. Winans pissed- off! He wrote a book on Bukowski " The Holy Grail' ( Dustbooks). The movie didn't even mention me or him. They could of mentioned us, not a word--as if we didn't exist!

Doug Holder: Can you talk about your role with COSMEP, the seminal small press organization?

Hugh Fox: I got invited to the last big roundup of poets from the 60's. I was in L.A., and every poet that existed was there. It was exciting. I never read in public. I was all nervous, but they started clapping, and the whole place went crazy. It was the best experience I had in my life. Afterwards they put me on a panel. That panel became the first board of directors at COSMEP. So all of a sudden I found myself on the board of directors of a new organization. Isn't that crazy though?

Doug Holder: What was the mission of COSMEP?

Hugh Fox: It was to get small press and literary poets out everywhere, We use to have annual meetings; sometimes on the West Coast, Minnesota, NY. We made it accessible for everybody. I was on the board for twenty years. Richard Morris became the director of COSMEP.

Doug Holder: It fell apart eventually?

Hugh Fox; I don't remember the people. There was some asshole on the board of directors that decided he was going to bomb the whole thing out. There is always somebody. He started checking all the books, and it fell apart.

Doug Holder: How many book have you published?

Hugh Fox: About eighty. I put out a magazine "Ghost Dancer". I put it out for twenty years. It's at Harvard, The Library of Congress, Brown, everything. Everyone was in it.

Doug Holder: Can you talk about your literary relationship with poet Lyn Lifshin?

Hugh Fox: I did the first critical book about Lifshin. She was kind of like a female Bukowski. She told it like it was. She took the most everyday banal events and turned them into high poetry.

Doug Holder: How did you become such a prolific book reviewer?

Hugh Fox: I got to be good friends with Len Fulton of the "Small Press Review" I used to visit him at his home in Paradise, California. He just turned seventy.

Doug Holder