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June 8, 2010 / johnoliversimon

Where I’m Coming From 2

This is excerpted from a longer piece originally published in the Berkeley Daze section of Big Bridge, about starting to publish Aldebaran Review.

This link ought to get you there: http://www.bigbridge.org/BD-JOS.HTM

By my second year in grad school (1966) I was only staying in school for the student deferment, which I lost anyway after taking the Berkeley program’s vestigial M.A., because my draft board, back in a town where I had never lived in upstate New York, rightly concluded that if they were sending their dear high school boys to the meat grinder of Vietnam one graduate degree was enough for any man, so I had to go down to the induction center in Oakland and impress the shrink with my dysfunctional attitude. Deferred, I saved up money from driving Yellow Cab in Oakland and flew off to backpack around Europe and the Middle East, twenty countries in seven months, coming up with enough work, plus my California mountain poems, to fill up what would be my first book, Roads to Dawn Lake, published by Oyez in June, 1968.

Returning to Berkeley I hooked up with a young divorcee out of a bad marriage in suburban San Lorenzo named Alta Bosserman, who already had a three-year-old, Lorelei. Our daughter Kia would be born in July 1969. I was casting about almost randomly, reassured by instant family, but Alta, who shortly dropped all male-oriented last names, knew exactly what she wanted: as a certified poet, I could provide an entry into a literary world where she would have a chance to grow. The post office hired me and I began to look for somewhere to publish. In the fall of 1967, Robert Parker (married at the time to a young African-American poet named Pat Parker, later known as a lesbian poet before her early death from cancer) included me in a beautifully spare mimeo mag he called Centering, along with Doug Palmer, Sister Mary Norbert Körte, Luis García and Sam Thomas.

In the fall of 1967 I decided to start a magazine of my own, and I asked Bob Parker and Murray Schwartz, a brilliant psychoanalytically oriented English grad student at Cal, to be my co-editors. Alta, whom we all would have taken a lot more seriously if she had been a guy, elbowed her way onto the masthead. When Alta got up the courage to submit her poems for the first time to the mag, she did so anonymously. “These are pretty good,” said Pat Parker, who had by then replaced her erstwhile hubby on the editorial board. “Who wrote them?” I did, Alta asserted in a small voice. “Oh, you did not!” scoffed Pat, the future lesbian feminist separatist.

I named our venture for the the bright orange star in the Hyades, the eye of Taurus, and printed the first two issues typing directly onto paper masters which I ran off on an AB Dick offset press in the attic of Holmes Bookstore in Oakland under the tutelage of Graham Mackintosh and with the kind sponsorship of Robert Hawley, publisher of Oyez. Physically, the first number was 8 1/2 x 11 upright with a purple construction paper cover and three staples. Print run was 500 copies, a ream per page minus copious wastage, collated and stapled by hand by friends over a gallon of rotgut red wine in the upstairs apartment where Alta, Lorelei and I lived near Grove and Ashby in South Berkeley.

For three months I debated,
acorn, walnut,
butter brickle.

When I discovered it was my mother’s nip
I was already in the womb.

—Michael Attie, Aldebaran Review 1

When my grandfather Oliver Kehrlein died, I came into a small inheritance which today would last about a month, but which I used to quit the post office, buy an ex-Sears International Harvester panel truck which people’s carpenter Dick Coulter kindly fitted out with a floor and storage so we could live in it, and I went in on the purchase of a used AB Dick 360 press with young Berkeley poet Richard Krech, editor of Avalanche. Krech and I went into business as job printers to the revolution, operating as a union shop affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, in the Boneyard, a liberated industrial zone at Fifth and Delaware in West Berkeley, now replaced by tasteful boutiques. Eventually, our press passed into the custody of Alta, to become the eponymous Shameless Hussy Press.

sick child
lemon in my tea
I squashed another cockroach

—Alta, Aldebaran Review 2

The first issue of AR included Larry Eigner and Sister Mary Norbert, as well as Doug Palmer, Krech, Gene Fowler and the charismatic Charles Potts, who had recently blown into town. Bob Parker resigned as co-editor after I unilaterally included Potts after hearing him read at Shakespeare & Co. on Telegraph. Charlie had studied with Ed Dorn at Idaho State and began to publish his magazine Litmus in Seattle. That first time through he was on the way from the Northwest to Oaxaca. By early 1968 Potts had settled in Berkeley and the local poetry scene, reflecting the overheated culture as a whole, began to take on a distinctly messianic fervor.

The Spirit of Rebellion! Old maps
chart the boundaries,
the finger tracings
of a blind man.
Wisdom attained
in the accumulation
of trivia.

—Richard Krech, Aldebaran Review 1

The second issue of AR reflects how the Berkeley poetry scene began to revolve around the weekly Sunday night poetry readings at Shakespeare & Co. at Dwight and Telegraph. I was blown away by the oratorical legerdemain of an exquisite rant entitled “I Smile with My Teeth but Not with My Purty Eyes” by Peter Koch, later to become a legendary fine printer in Missoula, Monrtana, and the poem promptly popped up in the mag. Krech and Fowler were back, plus Alta, seeing print for the first time. Also David Meltzer, along with Yale Younger Poet James Tate, D.r. Wagner who later became a well-known visual artist in Sacramento, John (Poet) Thomson and small-press legend Judson Crews. I met Al Young in my day job as a postman, knocking on his door with the mail to ask, “are you Al Young the poet?”

All beginnings atart right here.
the suns & moons of our spirits
keep touching.
I look out the windows of rain
& listen casually to latest developments
of the apocalypse
over the radio

—Al Young, Aldebaran Review

2

John Oliver Simon, Rich Mangelsdorff, Richard Krech, June, 1968

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