Tuesday, July 04, 2006

WAY WAY OFF THE ROAD ($18) (Ibbetson St. Press 25 School St. Somerville, Mass. 02143)
also order from lulu.com
By Hugh Fox
Reviewed by Lo Galluccio http://www.logalluccio.com

There’s something genuinely and lovingly kooky about Hugh Fox’s world….a little Antonioni mixed up with the Adams Family on TV. And he is a rare –as my good friend Doug Holder put it—"collector of people" as well as being a damn good abstract thinker, concrete poet, zen metaphysician and reviewer himself. You understand his soul accepts the gray zones, the inevitable march to death that we all face, but there’s so much color, and I mean color to burn, in his vivacious portraits of his fellow travelers that it’s a well, kooky contradiction sometimes. He has strange eyes that see the full tilt-a-whirl of sexuality, style, spirit in one felt swoop. This memoir is littered with portraits of his encounters with his contemporary writer-lover friends and COSMEP organizers. But there are also beauteous nuggets of poetry and reflection amidst the rather comical despair and debris of broken lives….lives captured by sex and religion and corporate jobs and disease. Fox holds nothing back in his portrayals. A story’s a story and that’s where most of his heart lies. Oh, he’s by no means a Leonard Cohen type lyricist and closer to Henry Miller in his broad American (especially Chicago and New York tastes), but rather than contemplate what it all could mean, he tells it like it is.

In some ways the book pivots on Bukowski…opens with Hugh discovering Charles’ work after being an academic and already writing a book on Henry James and his dissertation on COSMOLOGY IN POE’S EUREKA. Then in the Kazoo, a bookstore in North Hollywood he finds a copy of Bukowski’s "Crucifix in Deathhand" and arranges to meet him. He tells CB that he’s the first writer he’s found who uses words like they used to in Chicago days, meaning I guess like sort of tough lyrical conversation, and Bukowski agrees to give him his manuscripts so Hugh can write a book on him. The book gets published but an advance or comp copy never gets into Bukowski’s hands through the shenanigans of the small press world. It’s a good warm up story for all the mishaps and mine-traps of the world he’s in….determined to do what he wants, follow his instincts and not worry about the dough too much. And maybe those were the times. But they were certainly Hugh Fox.

Now I’m a child of 1964, and my father was a labor lawyer and politician of sorts….he and my mother even attended the Kennedy inauguration for their honeymoon. I’m not from a freewheeling artist family at all. My mom liked to keep her house neat and orderly and we rarely had adult guests over, just one nut case I can think of who was the youngest of the Grace brothers with whom my father went to Harvard. He said it was a Communist school. Anyway, what astounds me is the sheer people power of Hugh Fox, while he’s dressing up as Connie Fox in black latex and doing archeological digs in Peru and checking in on his friend Harry Smith and dropping in all over the place to visit wacky artist friends. It’s astounding to me….I feel like a f_____g puritan compared with this tribe of people.

As he puts in on page 21, "I had this wanderlust, vagabond, hobo thing in me that wanted to just rush to meet LIFE, EXPERIENCE, WHATEVER WAS NEW, ORIGINAL, CHALLENGING AND GRASP IT TO ME."
There’s a longish section in the book about Harry Smith, a COSMEP cohort who becomes its Chairman of the Board, who is married to a woman named Marion who deteriorates from brain cancer. It starts with her feeling, "goofy" and progresses to the point where the tumor has to be operated on, but has spread. She winds up in a nursing home and Harry takes up with a kind of ball-busting nymphomaniac bohemian woman who is rather disliked. Hughes writes,
"Back in the Fall of 1986 OTHER VOICES (Chicago) published a short story that really isn’t a short story at all but the condensed novel that in turn is condensed LIFE. The decline and fall of Marion Smith. " But see, there’s one sentence devoted to the work, and pages and pages describing the actual people relationships, Harry’s reaction, the almost soap-opera drama of it all. Stuck in this section is a poem called "Deciphering the Brooklyn Hieroglyphic:

"The faces talking
The poverty for the pain,
Koreans in the delis,
Hindus in charge of the porn,
Ghosts of Yorubas, los
Caribes, this is where
I belong… p45

Hugh’s revelation that he’s Jewish and not Czech Catholic as he was raised to be, is another turning point in the book. And when Marion Smith is dying, his Jewish friend Menke comes into her room and they both pray over a long meditation involving Archangels and birds and God and Gabriel….an extensive prayer to prolong her life.
Hugh also gets involved in a three-way marriage down in Brazil with his wife Nona and Bernadette.


But there are so many angles, happenings, people to cover in reviewing this book, I will try to stick to some essential things. We learn that Hugh –aside from wanting to know a "soul of decadence through cross-dressing and living with two women at once – is not himself a whore to the establishment. He is the quintessential outsider, contrary to that as a writer. He writes that in 1970-71 he tried to publish a LIVINIG UNDERGROUND anthology that later served as his pilot-idea for THE LIVING UNDERGROUND: A CRITICAL OVERVIEW,THE LIVING UNDERGROUND: THE POETRY ANTHOLOGLY AND THE LIVNG UNDERGROUND: THE PROSE ANTHOLOGY. And he’s still writing on mimeo paper and old Olivetti typewriters which is fairly incredible looking back. He is attacking the kind of east coast snobbery poetry in favor of a broader renaissance in other parts of the U.S….the real poetic center being San Francisco rather than Boston-New York.

And Hugh includes poems by some of his favorite "underground" poets; most of him were friends:
Cornish’s poem about Malcolm X is particularly striking:


I remember exactly
What I was doing
The day
The prince died
He was somebody
Else’s royalty
But I dug his
And looked
At the streets
Of poor whites
Behind windows
Drugs and wine
Saw all the trash
The pick-up men
Knew as there and never
Took away
And went to work
In my neighborhood
Trying to organize the poor" p 89

Or his relationship to poet Lyn Lifshin who he says feels "very close to." He describes her obsession with ballet dancing, her perception to others as a somewhat aloof and anorexic blonde, always stylish, but it is her poetry that Fox admires and winds up also doing a study of… With his huge appetite for words and people’s visions, he takes in her whole opus describing at one point her book, OLD HOUSE POEMS, about colonial American or filled with a sense of "The Dead Brought Back to Life"

:women in silk
placing shells
under glass with
the pressed
flowers hardly
hearing the sea
the rumors more like
something gone
before be
longing to another
time some
thing written on
snow with snow. P 104

He acknowledges that most people only know her for her "Barby Poems" and that when she decides to write about the Holocaust, it is for some, like Harry Smith, "too much." Fox notes that it was easier via sexism to keep her in the "Dumb-Numb Blonde’ box.

Triteness is to Fox the worse sin of poetry, the only true sin a poem can commit. For this reason he sides with the poetry existential awareness, of being on the outside, even to go so far as to say "schizophrenia, drugs, birth defects, everything that jars the writer out of The Trite, is refreshing." P. 110. It may be refreshing but there is a huge human cost to these ailments, as Fox well knows that poetry can’t touch and can’t cure. It is really an objectification of the fragile and mercurial states of mind these situations bring about.

Incidentally the book’s title comes from a poem by Eigner, who Fox compares with Ashbery without the studied stance of Ashbery’s poems…

"Way Way Off the Road
shadows dispelled
a leaning house
Grass pressed in the wind
Across the room the big pots
No track
The light falls."

I barely have the stamina to contend with Hugh Fox’s prolific energy, his desire to be close to people he loves, to get inside their "warts and all" (not to be trite, forgive me.) There are some rare nuggets of transcendence and wisdom in this book which makes it worth reading. It is not a carefully edited book and there’s some repetition, passages you might want to graze over, but when you find the heart of Hugh Fox it is astonishing what he has done in his lifetime, which is thankfully not over yet. Beginning with his study of Bukowski, Fox ends with the melancholy beauty of Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose style could not be further from Fox’s own, but whose sprit and elegy to self Fox knows well…

"Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
It is the blight man was born for
It is Margaret you mourn for."

Well, it is something Fox and I have in common then, a respect and love for Hopkins. For that is one of the first poems I remember hearing in high school and truly understanding after my father’s death.

LO GALLUCCIO is the poetry editor of the "The Alewife" in Cambridge, Mass. Her work has appeared in Lungful, Ibbetson Street, The Somerville News, Out of the Blue Writers Unite, Heat City Review and others. She holds a B.A. from Harvard University.

Way, Way Off the Road, The Memoirs of the Invisible Man by Hugh Fox is available through the Ibbetson Street Press http://www.ibbetsonpress.com and http://www.lulu.com/content/303269

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