Friday, May 04, 2012

Metcalf in Bezoar

(Logo by Thorpe Feidt)

Some several stray weeks back Robert Gibbons alerted me to a cyber-cache of copies of the Gloucester, Massachusetts literary magazine Bezoar (1975-1981), edited by Fred Buck, Paul Kahn and Thorpe Feidt. “Printed, folded, stapled and mailed to about 350 people.” In the premier issue, a definition, boxed:
be zoar (bē′ zôr, bē′ zōr). n. [Fr. bézoard; Sp. bezoar; Ar. bāzahr; Per. pādzahr; pād, expelling, & zahr, poison], a hard mass deposited around a foreign substance, found in the stomach or intestines of some animals and formerly thought to be a remedy for poisoning.

1658. Rowland. Mouffets Teat. Ins. 929
“A hornet is a bezoar stone for its own wound.”
Citing John Rowland’s translation of Thomas Muffet’s The Theater of Insects, in Edward Topsell’s 1658 History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents* (a work full of deft nuance and brash usage—see a “body yellow, bedropt with black from the neck to the tail” or the “creature with many feet, Asse-coloured” or—of the uttermost part of the wings” of a “Day Butterfly”—“as if it were four Adamants glistering in a beazil of Hyacinth.”) For bezoar, too, the OED suggests: “A counter-poison or antidote.” Excellent name for a magazine, particularly one so adamantly (rare for the “era”) trans-Atlantic. Some of the writers: Tim Reynolds, Dennis Tedlock, Amiri Baraka, Kenneth Irby, John Yau, Robert Gibbons, John Wieners, Paul Metcalf, Peter Riley, Peter Anastas, Vincent Ferrini, Gerrit Lansing, Barry MacSweeney, Daphne Marlatt, William Corbett, Jack Collom, Lee Harwood, Harry Hoogstraten, Bernadette Mayer, Charles Reznikoff, Edward Dorn, Philip Whalen, Robert Creeley, Larry Eigner, Homer Aridjis, Eliot Weinberger, Clayton Eshleman, Jerome Rothenberg, Allen Fisher, Franco Beltrametti, George Bowering, Lyn Hejinian, Dale Herd, Artie Gold, Charles Olson, Duncan McNaughton, Douglas Woolf, Joanne Kyger, Michael McClure, John James, Norman Fischer, Janet Rodney, Nathaniel Tarn. (Assembling such a list, one inevitably recalls Marianne Moore’s simple jab: “Omissions are not accidents.”)

I tracked all the pieces by Paul Metcalf. In Bezoar IV:2 and IV:3 (1976), a couple of large swatches of Waters of Potowmack. Out of Bezoar II:3 (1976), evidence of Metcalf’s propensity to collect place-names (pre-Zip Odes):

In Virginia, and into West Virginia:

warm springs
hot springs
healing springs

sweet chalybeate

sweet springs

Within easy range of Charleston, West Virginia:


mercer’s bottom
frazier’s bottom




From Missouri, into Illinois:

Out of Bezoar X:3 (1977), uncollected prose:
No Spikka da Anglish

      It occurs to me that much of what we call bad poetry suffers from the evils of translation.
      There is just plain bad poetry—where neither impulse nor execution shows merit. Trivial, posturing, hustling, small. The poet is just a small soul.
      But there is a great deal of what we dismiss as bad poetry where a genuine and worthy impulse lurks behind the terrible verbiage that appears on the page. And—as the saying goes—from impulse to execution something gets lost in the translation.
      It is only in the poet’s own language that the thing comes true—i.e., translate it, and the reader gets second best, at best.
      So the good poet who writes bad poetry is his own translator. He is putting his own best language into some sort of secondary jargon, that other people in another country will understand. It is a common transaction, normally handled by publishers, but in this case delivered by the entrepreneurial poet himself, before fingers arrive at typewriter.
      Such translation is often “difficult,” i.e., language and syntax are more complex and arcane then the impulse behind them. There may also be preoccupation with the idiosyncratic, in an effort to avoid being common—with the exact reverse effect: it is just common.
      Everyone else’s language seems to be better than one’s own. It is terribly difficult to write without translating. Even—translating into the language of one’s own image.
Hilarious: Metcalf’s statement is printed just subsequent to Charles Bernstein’s “St. McC.”—a skinny effort that begins—
few little
speed &
connexions . . .
and ends—willfully prodding itself into mere cummingsesque idiosyncrasy—
nOt sParTaN
:     polish(s) (ed)
am (visit, subdue, impulse)
h. . .l. . .r. . .ty
“Trivial, posturing, hustling, small” indeed.

Out of Bezoar XII:3.5 (1978), Metcalf clearly working up what’d become Zip Odes (1979)—names selected and arranged by state out of the U. S. Postal Service’s zip code directory, here proceeding with sonic glee (in revising, he’d push more for semantics and humor):

alligator     petal

midnight     bourbon     battlefield

                (bobo     soso     tippo     tehula)

                (scooba     toomsuba)

learned     kreole

darling     chunky     Choctaw

                (itta bena     eastabunchie     nitta yuma     noxapater)

denmark     egypt

                (bogue chitto     d’lo)

money!     rich!     value!

                            (panther burn . . .)

And, presumably a direct variant, a translation:

38720     39465

39115     38729     39204

                (38728     39480     38962     39169)

                (39358     39364)

39093     39563

38623     39323     39440

                (38941     39436     38763     39346)

38624     38842

                (39629     39062)

38945!     38662!     39178!

                            (38765 . . .)

Bezoar: “eighty-four issues . . . once a week or once a month . . .” “Most of the printing was done using an A.B. Dick mimeograph machine. The average issue was ten pages—five pieces of paper, a staple, an address label and a piece of tape—though some issues grew a little larger . . .”
* Complete title: The History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents: Describing at Large Their True and Lively Figure, Their Several Names, Conditions, Kinds, Virtues (both Natural and Medicinal) Countries of Their Breed, Their Love and Hatred to Mankind, and the Wonderful Work of God in Their Creation, Preservation, and Destruction. Interwoven with Curious Variety of Historical Narrations out of Scriptures, Fathers, Philosophers, Physicians, and Poets: Illustrated with Divers Hieroglyphicks and Emblems, &c. Both Pleasant and Profitable for Students in All Faculties and Professions. Collected out of the Writings of Conradus Gesner and Other Authors, by Edward Topsel. Whereunto is now Added, The Theater of Insects; or, Lesser Living Creatures: as Bees, Flies, Caterpillars, Spiders, Worms, &c. A Most Elaborate Work: by T. Muffet, Dr. of Physick. The Whole Revised, Corrected, and Inlarged with the Addition of Two Useful Physical Tables, by J. R. M.D.