tENTATIVELY, cONVENIENCE's Reviews > Bombay Gin 36:2

Bombay Gin 36 by Andrew Schelling
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bookshelves: art, literary-criticism, literature, poetry

Ok, this is the 5th issue of Bombay Gin that I've read & reviewed. Jump cut ahead from 2000 (the time of the last issue I wrote about) to 2010: the most recent issue as of this writing. This is the "Twenty Years of Eco-Lit" issue.

I've been feeling this tension between being a critic of BG & a champion of it (&, by extension both the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics & the Naropa Institute that houses it). I've had a long-standing respect for Naropa & its Disembodied Poetics.. &, yet, I've found the literary journal a bit lacking in innovative thinking. Then it struck me: what's also lacking is a sense of humor. Having sd that, I'll be happily contradicting it later in this review.

The 'last straw' was reading this in the "Editor's Note":

"In 1989, back before most international universities or North American colleges had figured out anything like a recycling program, Jack Collom taught his first Eco-Lit course at Naropa [..:]".

This immediately roused my suspicions of its being somewhat unscrupulous posing. Given that I was born in 1953 & was therefore in my mid 30s in 1989, I'm well aware that '89 was hardly a time when doing ANYTHING ecologically-midful cd be considered precocious! By 1980, eg, the 1st issue of "Energy Comics" was out &, by December 22, 1987, Vol. III, No. II of Earth First!'s substantial newspaper was out. Consider this entry re 19 yrs before 1989 from an online "History of Recycling" {]:

1970

* The enactment of the Clean Air Act leads to the closing of many incinerators.
* The first Earth Day focuses attention on environmental concerns. Recycling’s chasing arrows logo is introduced on that day.
* The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is created.
* Congress passes the Resource Recovery Act. It shifts the emphasis of federal involvement from disposal to recycling, resource recovery, and waste-to-energy.
* There are an estimated 15,000 authorized land disposal sites, but as many as 10 times that number of unauthorized dumps. A study in the mid-1970s states that 94 percent of the landfills surveyed did not meet the minimum requirement for a sanitary landfill.

SO the claim for Naropa's being somehow a leading force here via Collom seems a little strained. Furthermore, on the subject of Universities & recycling programs, consider this:

"In 1971, Western Washington University became one of the first universities in the United States to have a campus recycling program. The A.S. Recycle Center continues to be unique among its kind: it's student - run!"

[]

In other words, I was getting irritated by what seemed like shameless, & inaccurate, self-promotion for Naropa & Collom IN ADDITION to a lack of innovation & humor in Bombay Gin. THEN I read the interview w/ Jack Collom &, Lo & Behold!, not only was I impressed by his erudtion, his sense of fair-play & history, but also by his SENSE OF HUMOR &, later - while reading some of his texts - somewhat by his innovativeness. What a fucking relief!

Collom saved my positive perception of Bombay Gin AND Naropa for me not only in his interview but also in his "Address to the Boulder City Council" re reducing pollution in a local reservoir, & in his "1989 Preface to the First Installment of Jack Collom's Eco-Lit Course".

But here comes the rub, again: For me, eco-activism centers around a concern for counteracting the degradation of a complex ecosystem by simple-minded & insensitive humanocentric greed & exploitation - to put it, perhaps, too simply. As such, the type of eco-lit that I find most useful is the type that I expect to be most effective toward that goal - exposés of abuses, practical plans for non-polluting biodiversity, detailed observations of environments increasingly ignored by the eco-alienated. So where does poetry fit in? For me, for eco-activism, NOWHERE.

The works of Collom that I like the most are all practical & direct. The interview informs, the letter addresses those in political power, the preface spells out history & intentions. Then we get to the eco-poetry: I enjoyed Bataan Faigao's "DEM BONES" poem re harmful man-made things that get into the bones, eg - but I wd've preferred just straight-forward info about these things to the poetic playing w/ reference to them. & then some of the poems, while they made reference to nature, hardly seem THAT distinguished in an ecological way to be designated as eco-lit. But back to this matter later.

I like the way the newer issues of BG are divided into "NEW WRITING: PROSE", & ending w/ a transcription from the Naropa Audio Archives followed by bk reviews followed by CONTRIBUTOR bios.

The prose? I'm starting to get familiar w/ Bobbie Louise Hawkins' work thru BG. In this issue, I started to absolutely dislike it. In "The Virtues of Gossip"? Hawkins claims that:

"Gossip straightens the social fabric. It bypasses the modified speech we've learned by being "social."

"Like everything, gossip has degrees of talent. A talented gossiper leaves us "informed" [..:]"

& then later:

"What's good about gossip is exactly what's bad about it, it's where the walls fade, where propriety means less, and its where truths get told [..:]"

Oh, really? I take issue w/ this. I think gossip is often where the envious back-stab the envied in completely unscrupulous ways. 'Truth', as is so often the case, is mixed w/ fiction & rumor & viciousness to create a hateful & ridiculing atmosphere the origin of wch is hidden from public view - so that the offended party is ill-equipped to fight a fair battle against it.

Aside from this, I find Hawkins' prose to be competently lacklustre & uninspired. Her complaining about her ex-husband just seems petty - if he was such a shit, why'd you marry him?

FORTUNATELY, Bhanu Kapil's excerpts from a forthcoming bk entitled Schizophrene are a completely different ball'o'wax. From her "PASSIVE NOTES": "the high incidence of schizophrenia in diasporic Indian and Pakistani communities" is something that I'd like to read more about. It INTERESTS me & Kapil's claim that ""Reverse migration...." Is psychotic" interests me. I look forward to reading more.

But then the prose veers back to a weird whining misery slumming: Dominique Aurilla Vargas' "Woman's Work" where we get unredeemed wallowing. Might I suggest reading Cormac McCarthy's GREAT "Suttree" instead? I don't know McCarthy's personal history but "Suttree" seems to describe poverty from an insider's perspective & HE HAS A SENSE OF HUMOR that radiates: ALL IS NOT LOST even when death & despair seem to prevail. Vargas's "Woman's Work" seems written by someone who tries to create a realistic look at human decay but only degrades it thru fictional stereotypes DISGUISED as 'realism' instead. But maybe I'm being too harsh.

Hoa Nguyen's eco-lit strikes me as another example of poetry that's not likely to do anything but (not-exactly-)'preach' to the converted. Take this beginning of "PRAIRIE NOTES":

"Post Oak Savannah
Endangered Blackland
Prairie---4th most
threatened region
Tall grass continuum
Past tense sentences"

Ok, we have a minimal statement re a threatened environment that only a poet cd love. What possible advantage to THE ENVIRONMENT ITSELF cd such a poem be?! Another poet, or a non-poet reader of poetry, reads this & thinks, what? - something like: "the savannah, the blackland, the prairie is endangered, is threatened w/ becoming something only referred to in past-tense sentences." So what? Does the reader then DO something about the problem b/c they're so moved by the poem?! I doubt it. Either the reader of the poetry is already aware of the situation & already inclined to do something about it or they'll most likely just find the minimalism (or conciseness or elegance) of the poem pleasing.. - &, then, go back to whatever they're doing. In other words: I find such poetry completely ineffectual as a device for catalyzing change. Sorry. I know I'm not making any friends here.

Regardless of my criticisms, such eco-lit is STILL better than anything I'm doing ecologically b/c I do close to nothing other than recycle & what-not.

Then we come to Eleni Sikelianos' "A talk from CONTEMPLATIVE POETHICS: Endangered Species and Imagination" from the Naropa Audio Archives. 1st, a plug: these archives consist of thousands of hrs of audio recordings of people talking & reading at Naropa. THESE ARCHIVES ARE IMPORTANT & ARE NOT BEING SAVED QUICKLY ENUF. At least some of them are on the Internet Archive: Thank the holy ceiling light (or fireflies) for that!

In Sikelianos' highly erudite talk [rendered here in a suspiciously non-transcriptive literary manner:] she asks the very interesting question:

"What is my poem's carbon footprint?"

& makes the somewhat poetically traditional but still articulate & facinating claim that:

"In the economy of the poem, a cardinal is a flying tulip."

She says that:

"According to Canadian anthropologist Hugh Brody, most hunter-gatherer languages don't have categorical words, like fish or tree; they have specific words, like trout, salmon, perch, elm, maple, aspen"

I find this, & most of Sikelianos' talk, to be extremely thought-provoking - & it's this sort of thing plus Jack Collom & Bhanu Kapil & the bk reviews, etc, that MAKE BOMBAY GIN so worth reading! BUT, as always, I find BG a mixed bag of a weird 'conservatism' that seems to actually conserve little other than narrow-mindedness COUPLED W/ an extreme alertness of mind & sensitivity. Speaking of the bk reviews: those reviewed seem so damn amazing that I WANT TO READ THEM - thusly indicating that BG gets work for review that I might not run across otherwise - such as Laird Hunt's Ray of the Star, Brenda Hillman's Practical Water, Cesar Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter, & Mark Nowak's Coal Mountain Elementary.



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