Jacket 15 included a many-part "Tribute to Kenneth Koch." Hilton Obenzinger's short memoir was among the parts:
“Did You Write Any Poems?”
In April 1968 students occupied six buildings of Columbia [University, New York] to protest the university administration’s complicity in the Vietnam War and their insistence on building a new gym in Morningside Park despite the objections of Harlem, the city government, faculty, students. With other writers from the Columbia Review I spent nearly a week in President Kirk’s office in Low Library before getting beaten up by the cops in the final bust. The days in Low Commune were deliciously utopian — with approximately 125 students making decisions through participatory democracy, changing the world by example — and dangerous, despite our stance of non-violence. The right-wing students charged the building several times, setting up a blockade to prevent the anti-war students from sending in supplies. Fists began to fly, and the scene around the building roiled with constant near riots.
The faculty decided to set up their own line in an attempt to prevent the situation from getting even more out of hand. Professors took turns standing on the lawn outside the building beneath the second-story windows to keep the right-wing students from charging Low Library and, attempting some parity, to keep the left-wing students from bringing supplies to the communards. It was not an easy time to be a professor at Columbia. To be arbiters, intermediaries between the students and the administration, was an impossible task during such polarization. After the “bust” bloodied over a thousand students, the faculty realized that the administration held them in almost as much contempt as they regarded the students, and most of them ended up joining the strike that followed the beatings and mass arrests.
To say that Rachel Blau DuPlessis has built her entire poetic project on the logic of the provisional and the contingent is no exaggeration. And reader, make no mistake — she has married us to this process. In the School of DuPlessian Midrash every seam and suture is exposed as a subject of instigation cum investigation. Investigation, in Drafts, is not simply a prod to the ethical; it’s heuristic: in teaching us how to read Drafts, Drafts teaches us how to read. … Had she done nothing else but write such groundbreaking studies as Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers; H.D.: The Career of That Struggle; Genders, Races, and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry, 1908–1934; and the trilogy of genre-bending works The Pink Guitar: Writing as Feminist Practice, Blue Studios: Poetry and Its Cultural Work, and the forthcoming Purple Passages: Pound, Eliot, Zukofsky, Olson, Creeley, and the Ends of Patriarchal Poetry, she would have secured her reputation as a major voice in modernist and contemporary literary studies. But of course, there are the poems.
How shall I articulate with what I hear? Not indulge an emotional reaction prompted in me nor assert the conceptual “grasp” which actually is a standing-back and leads to adopting a position, a self-testing consciousness which demeans its occasion. One way to engage is interlock through metaphor, but this too preens into consistency.
I shall resist the bad faith of consistency, or so I mused in closing down my applications, bestowing a good-weekend smile on my secretary, checking travelcard present and leaving an unprecedented twelve minutes before habitual time of departure. Yes, to resist consistency, but refrain too from flattering reality by granting it the variety it claims so flagrantly. I am open! I receive all tendencies! Set aside your received ideas! This is the CCCP embrace; but I who idled six years on the Cam's banks permit myself a weary smile. Nothing over-pronounced.
For the heterogeneity itself represents a reassuring consistency — the consistency of CCCP. But the middle-aged are sensitive to change in old haunts, and this year change was discernible. Had the animadversions of Messrs Evans and Moxley in their admirable Dictionary of Received Ideas drawn a little blood? There were signs of organisation — frustrated gestures perhaps; but starting with a little brochure of considered design and for Cambridge improvident with information.
Noel King: What role do you think the small press plays in relation to the overall culture of book publishing?
Russell Chatham: My view of things, and it’s promoted by being physically distant from any publishing centres, derives from the fact that I was discouraged by experiences I had with larger publishers. As time has passed it seems they have taken less and less interest in what you might call serious books, or literary books, and look primarily toward large-profit items. And I suppose you can’t blame them: this is the world they live in and that seems to be what’s happening. That’s a discouraging situation for a lot of writers. When I started Clark City Press, it was always going to be a very small press; we could only think of publishing five to eight books a year. This was a lot for us but not much relative to the possibilities out there. And one of the things that was an eye-opener for me was how many manuscripts came unsolicited to us; hundreds, if not thousands, many of which were eminently publishable. What that showed me was how many serious writers had nowhere to turn, they were scratching at every possible opportunity to get their work published. And then you realise that the larger, traditional publishing houses aren’t picking up on these works. According to the sources I have, those companies no longer even have readers. Twenty years ago a person could say, “send a manuscript in to Doubleday” and somebody would sit down and read it and if it was good, they might even consider publishing it. That doesn’t exist any more. So, particularly for younger people or people just starting out, it’s a very discouraging landscape to view.