hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Family Jewels (Central Intelligence Agency)

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 8, 2022

"Family Jewels." First 6 pages. "Approved For Release June 2007" [2nd Frame]. The CIA's official admission to illegal activities over a 25-year period.

“Family Jewels.” 1st 6 pages. “Approved For Release June 2007” [2nd Frame]. The CIA’s official admission to illegal activities over a 25-year period.

This. The infamous series of reports officially admitting to & describing secret illegal activities conducted by the CIA between 1959 and 1973. Most of these were declassified & released in 2007 due to FIFAs filed by the National Security Archive. These are copies of the original photocopied “secret” level memos & reports compiled at the behest of former CIA director Schlesinger as a result of enormous Watergate backlash (& initially “broken” as a NY Times front page feature in 1974) & this heavily redacted 700-page “book” was delivered to William Colby when he replaced Schlesinger. It is preceded by a short summary literally stating that the “Central Intelligence Agency violated its charter for 25 years until revelations of illegal wiretapping, domestic surveillance, assassination plots, and human experimentation led to official investigations and reforms in the 1970s.” This was delivered to Congress members many years before being declassified.

The contents are controversial for many reasons & many are obvious. The CIA officially admitted to 18 “issues,” some of which were fairly well known yet officially unconfirmed in some sectors (well above the rumor level). (I forget the reason, but these 18 issues were then reduced to only 8 in the attachments to the memo introducing this book–these documents.) Some then-suspected & later publicly infamous examples included the Nosenko defection, Project MOCKINGBIRD, assassination plots/attempts against Castro (shock!) and possibly as well as African & South American leaders, and moving on, illegal domestic surveillance of specific targets & more. Among traditional “conspiracy theories” addressed, these documents validate the numerous accusations of the Mafia’s direct involvement with/in CIA attempts to assassinate Castro — rumors long denied. Such admissions led to later further “embarrassing” revelations about the COINTELPRO program, the Church Committee, lesser known programs, various black ops activities (allegedly influencing American culture as seen in films like Apocalypse Now) & an untold number of potential human rights violations — particularly in South America — that included everything from (potentially lethal) torture (the infamous “Psychological Operations In Guerrilla Warfare,” modified several known times [yet rumored by some to have been modified several more times] provides a formal example of various strategies that, IMO, mirror Ho’s numerous effective tactics such as emphasizing the importance of the political component along with the military while engaging in unconventional warfare. Some of the changes made in revisions included replacing the term “removing” selected targets to instead “neutralize” them, how to frame the narrative to the local peasants after shooting a specific individual, & while discussing the illegality of certain actions, providing helpful suggestions such as “… professional criminals will be hired to carry out specific selective ‘jobs” — a section deleted in later versions of the manual, as well as selecting a person (presumably unknowing) to possibly die during a demonstration & thus create a martyr & “a situation which should be taken advantage of immediately against the regime so as to create greater conflicts.” [This section was also modified in later versions of this manual, which was written specifically for “freedom commandos” in a very well known country which was literally identified on the first page of the Preface itself.] to psyops to working with liaisons from friendly agencies to finding reliable interpreters & much more.

The memo refers to only 8 issues (and one would think a couple seem benign, which naturally is shocking…) yet within the 700+ pages, one finds documented mention of other known and unknown spurious and/or illicit programs such as Operation Phoenix. (The claims made by Director Colby in a Memo to Lloyd Shearer, Editor of Parade Magazine on January 10, 1972 would seem to literally contradict the reality of what has become known about that program in South Vietnam. The director states emphatically that the CIA “does not and has not used political assassination as a weapon.” Which can be interpreted in many ways and I’m confident the director consulted with lawyers about that wording to ensure what was literally said in that statement would hold up as accurate in court. My personal theory. However, one might surmise from mountains of plausible evidence over a much larger period of time than was studied for this report — and note the director does not put a timeframe around that assertion, so he must be 100% accurate throughout the entirety of the CIA’s existence, technically. Which seems to be quite doubtful to me, but I have no personal knowledge, so again, merely a theory. The second of three sections involves plausible denial as the director attempts to shift responsibility for “running” Operation Phoenix from the CIA to the Government of Vietnam. In this, that’s almost certainly an accurate statement, but many would argue only technically and not functionally in any feasible way. It’s common for many military advisors (and associated advisors) of many nations, including the US, to set programs up for training purposes to get local/sovereign governments, militaries, agencies, contractors, rebels, etc., to do the work themselves for this very reason — to be able to legally deny responsibility for any potentially illegal activity that could result in negativities, whether human rights abuse charges or an outright act of war (the US was not supposed to be allowed to enter Cambodia, for instance, as well as  Laos — at least until 1965 in Laos. Officially. “Officially.” But just because the US couldn’t legally go certain places didn’t mean locals trained by the US couldn’t, etc. Yet then there’s the little thorny issue that “official” sometimes doesn’t translate to “literal,” for whatever that tidbit’s worth. You can look it up. Last, Colby’s 3rd point is a strong assertion that Operation Phoenix was not a “program of assassination,” and admitted VC members died but typically resisting police arrest and relatively few at that. Well, this is not universally agreed upon, but there has been enough evidence, eye witness accounts from both CIA and US military involved, not to say Vietnamese as well, that it’s hard to put a completely accurate number to things, but first — yes, I would agree with Director Colby’s statement that “Operation Phoenix is not a program of assassination.” Director Colby is exhibiting skills he no doubt learned while attending Columbia Law School, and which most law school students regardless of the institution learn — everything depends on the words you use and the way they are arranged. It’s how you “frame the narrative.” Yes, I went to law school as well and I spent 12 years working in the legal field. I’m not the sharpest person out there, and not nearly as much as Mr. Colby was, but I can usually argue any topic I want or am faced with using the most bizarre, unlikely, fantastical arguments or assertions and yet make my case over and over because of how I frame my words, how I present my case. You don’t gain admission to a postgraduate level leading scientific “academy” that REQUIRES either an MD or PhD in one very narrow medical/scientific field, as well as some 20 years of experience — part clinical, part research — when you have earned degrees, including a terminal degree, and when you have over 30 years of professional experience — but NONE that have anything to do with that specific scientific field unless you can do your due diligence, build a case and frame your argument in a convincing enough fashion to be basically the lone person ever admitted without any required credentials. Because I DO/DID meet the standards in terms of multiple degrees, including a terminal degree, and while my 30 years of work experience weren’t all in that one narrow specialty, I can make a case I’ve often made which is basically simply because I lacked the official job TITLE of “X” didn’t/doesn’t mean I didn’t do that job. In point of fact, there were times when I did little BUT that job for any number of roles and companies while often wearing many hats, without the specific title (and often the salary to go with it). Moreover, I was able to show over 100 medical/scientific postgrad-level books I’ve read and researched over the years to the point where I have literally taught small lessons and classes to scientists and surgeons in that field, and I HAVE worked in other medical/science fields and published at the peer review level, and much more, and I provided evidence over a period of weeks, provided a detailed personal research proposal, which I literally had been working on just on my own — cause I’m weird like that — and it worked! And that’s worked dozens of times and I’ve never lied and it’s always been legitimate. One other example. How do you gain admission to a narrow, highly focused professional organization with tight high-level admission criteria when you lack any degree in that one field and the org requires multiple degrees in it, as well as the required 20+ years of verifiable work experience at a very senior level — again, verifiable — when you never had that job title, nor those official responsibilities? Same method. I have more degrees than they require, but in other fields of study. I never had that job title, but I did in related fields and have been a professional member of a major professional organization of that related high-tech field for decades, and I was able to prove that while not having that title, I nonetheless fulfilled such a role in nearly every company for which I worked for over two decades. Case closed.

Yes, I went on too long, but to prove a point. Director Colby is accurate in stating “Operation Phoenix” is not a program of assassination.” But look at the words used, the word choice. This wasn’t under questioning where one has to think on their feet. This was a letter sent to an editor in which Mr. Colby, and even colleagues — such as agency lawyers — would have had ample time to prepare to a legal, technically accurate way of responding to each of these issues while skirting admission to what may otherwise amount to the same. Because while it was not a “program of assassination,” there is little doubt that it WAS a program of A) intelligence gathering (typically under incredibly inhumane torture methods that left few survivors — but they weren’t “assassinated” and B) an official VC “Neutralization” program in which South Vietnamese PRUs went to villages in search of individuals on lists given to them daily labeling certain persons as VC they needed to find and “neutralize.” And am I making this up or writing in a subjectively critical fashion. No, I don’t believe so. Not only have I studied this program using articles, books, documents, etc., written and published by former CIA and US military professionals involved with the program, but I’ve read explicit accounts of aspects of it as reported by various South Vietnamese witnesses and survivors. And indeed, even straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak as one of the program’s major proponents who was so very publicly and who was one of the US provincial leaders (and yes, it wasn’t “run” by the CIA, but it WAS created and funded by the CIA, if not administered as well, which is merely splitting hairs with Colby’s choice of words in “run by”) — Col. Andrew R. Finlayson (Ret.), USMC who joined the program in a leadership role in the summer of 1969 under the umbrella of the CIA. He wrote an infamous piece called “ A Retrospective on Counterinsurgency Operations: The Tay Ninh Provincial Reconnaissance Unit and Its Role in the Phoenix Program, 1969-70″ that was published in a journal called Studies in Intelligence Vol. 51 No. 2, 2007. It’s not a household name journal because it has a very niche audience. But guess who reads Studies in Intelligence? You’re right — me! As I write, I’m looking at the cover of an issue titled “CIA and the Wars in Southeast Asia 1947-75” from the August 2016 issue. Fascinating. And beside it I have Col. Finlayson’s own article in its entirety, which I had already read and just read again. And despite claims of NON-government attribution in the journal as the material is “created by individuals other than US government employees,” the publisher of this journal is the Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency, Washington D.C. 20505. 🙂 Get that? I guess the only way the CIA can back that assertion up is by having Retired individuals “create” the material published in the journal because otherwise it’s nothing BUT US government and CIA-focused! That’s awesome. I like playing word games like that. The point is though that the colonel talks a good game and is a good PR manager for the program — for HIS territory, but can’t speak on behalf of the others. But it was very effective in his territory. I’d wager many would say it was extremely effective in its goals by any standard, so he has little to brag about. When your goals are detain (or shoot on sight), torture and torture to death in many cases, and “neutralize” “suspected” VC adversaries — and the word “neutralize” can take on so many meanings — you can afford to claim you’re not assassinating people and you can afford to even possibly claim those killed were largely “resisting police arrest” and then basically end your argument by saying that besides, the CIA’s “abuses” couldn’t possibly compare to “the Viet Cong’s conscious campaign of terrorism…” Beautiful. Lawyer-speak. Of course your opponent is much more vile than you, so you can admit to being vile — just not as bad as the other guy. You can say no assassinations, but admit to people getting “killed in the course of military operations” or “resisting police arrest” when you know — but the civilians don’t — that those two phrases merely mean having PRU squads headed by US CIA and military leaders go from village to village with a list of people to obtain and “neutralize,” resulting in a large majority being gunned down in the villages before ever making it back to get interrogated. Moreover, as has always been the case in such warfare,  but as Americans only started learning then and didn’t really “get it” until decades later in the desert, various forms of unconventional warfare can complicate things because when you have to capture and detain specifically named persons in areas where there are no street addresses or phone numbers and worse, NO Uniforms so one can tell the difference between combatant and civilian, well as most people know by now, when you can’t tell ‘m apart, you just start shooting. (You never know who’s going to be the suicide bomber…) And with even the operators in this classified program getting daily body kill count quotas like the regular army units, there was pressure and temptation to just start producing bodies and label them whatever the adverserial label was for that day — Viet Cong, VCI, whatever. So the colonel is right in arguing Phoenix’s effectiveness. Between Tet and Phoenix, the VC were basically wiped out. But Colby plays a nice legal trick on the editor by his choice of words and his intentionally downplaying Methods of death (indiscriminate murder but not assassination could be one way of looking at it) so that they would be viewed as both understandable (in a war zone, not a prison) and even desirable (resisting arrest? They probably deserved it, especially since they were commie terrorists) and the icing on the cake was Colby’s assurances that there really weren’t that many “abuses” and besides the VC were SoMuchWorse!

Just for the record, since it’s impossible to know how many deaths to attribute to Operation Phoenix, that doesn’t mean that haven’t been many attempts to do so on behalf of many different groups and the generally agreed upon minimal is about 25,000 killed and the Facts And Details site refers to Wikipedia in stating that between 1965 and 1972, “Phoenix operatives had ‘neutralized’ 81,740 suspected NLF operatives, informants and supporters, of whom 26,369 were killed.” I happen to know that Wiki got that info from MACV itself, ie., the US military/government. So as with all of the body count numbers there, how reliable are those? Col. Finlayson tries to justify the program’s effectiveness AND the raw deal it’d gotten in the press as a human rights criminal program by stating “only 14% of the VCI (their prey) killed under Phoenix were killed by PRUs” … while most of “the rest died in skirmished and raids involving South Vietnamese soldiers and police and the US military.”

Wow. I don’t know about you, but wow. If that’s not a prime example of “changing the narrative,” I don’t know what is. PRUs were “Provincial Reconnaissance Units” designed solely for the Phoenix program, described by Finlayson himself as “the most controversial element of Phoenix.” Paramilitary forces known as “Counter-Terror Teams.” Over 4,000 of them operated throughout South Vietnam and were originally under the individual command of US military officers until the end of 1969 when they were handed back to the CIA. The 18-men teams were heavily armed in addition to having state of the art med kits, radios, motorcycles and 4×4 Toyota trucks. The colonel’s original assessment was that they “lacked fire discipline,” which he doesn’t adequently define leaving readers to guess if that implies they were basically cowboys who started shooting at first sight until they ran out of ammo, thus accounting for a good portion of the 14% the colonel claims the PRUs were responsible for killing. Recall, the US government itself claimed over 81,000 people died under Phoenix, so if the PRUs “only” killed 14%, that would come close to 12,000 people. And that’s a number to be proud of, according to the colonel, since others did “most” of the rest of the killing. In other words, those other 70,000 dead people weren’t his fault so lay off him. Yes, it’s that damn simple. And yes, Colby did what any good lawyer would do and misrepresented facts by framing them in vague terms with zero specifics and comparing the assurance of a small (undefined) number of “abuses” and killed to the horror that the enemy doled out, allowing the American public to feel some relief from any war guilt they may have been feeling. And since this letter was written in 1972, a shitload of Americans were feeling shitty about a whole lot of things. So it was good to not feel shitty about one of those things, right?

Okay, I apologize for getting way off track, but I sometimes enjoy getting carried away. Retirement does that to you. You feel the need to babble incessantly at times, a fault my wife kindly reminds me I’m guilty of at times.

So going back to the original top of Family Jewels, I started to try and attach it as a “family member,” so to speak, of one of the infamous “CIA torture manuals,” in this case the “Psychological Operations In Guerrilla Warfare” manual, which I’ve had and studied for years. And I have the other torture manuals. But I have to be candid in stating I know those much better than Family Jewels for many reasons, but one is simply that I rarely have the time these days to read a 700-page tome with everything else I do so I’ve read bits and pieces of it and I’ve read a lot About most of it, which is where I got the info to spit out something about the CIA finding 18 “issues,” though only 8 are outlined in the memo. One issue that often is associated with all of these documents and manuals is training. Specifically the training the CIA does (and the military and now also private contractors, formerly referred to as mercenaries) for tens of thousands of international militaries and police units. And unfortunately with a number of those trained later being accused of human rights violations. Some have called it a “Culture.”

One aspect of this culture that seems to have been there from the beginning through the present is the military & police training of a rumored number of students numbering in the hundreds of thousands, largely through the School of Americas (SOA), now renamed, which trained military & police leaders from hundreds of countries since its creation in 1946 with a special emphasis on Latin American students & with a focus on counterinsurgency used to allegedly fight communism during the Cold War but since the dismantling of the Cold War, a new focus on illegal drug lords & gangs, who were allegedly rebranded “terrorists” after 9/11, but which resulted in autocratic countries led by so-called dictators, most accused by various organizations of being guilty of US-backed atrocities & human rights violations as it was alleged that many labeled whomever they wished (political opponents, unruly peasants, etc.) as “terrorists” to eliminate via infamous, feared “death squads.” Examples of such who were alleged graduates of SOA, newly American trained, include Argentine General Viola, Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Guatemalan Colonel Alpirez (allegedly killed US citizens, among others), Honduran General Discua, Salvadoran Colonel Monterrosa, Guatemalan Colonel Osorio (convicted of murdering anthropologist Myrna Mack) & virtually all of the officers working for the most notorious of them all, Chilean General Pinochet, such a brazen “terrorist” that in 1976, two Chilean diplomats were assassinated on the streets of Washington, DC itself, stunning both the world & the US federal government. The fact that the Letelier political assassination was carried out by Chilean secret police in the US (through the South American Operation Condor project) has led some to question whether the CIA would have been aware of such activities, though I’m unaware of anything considered definitive on the part of anyone.

My point in belaboring that last mentioned aspect of the Family Jewels documents is that a major “issue” the CIA possibly found itself “guilty” of during a 25-year period could conceivably be representative of the agency’s entire history of its training international professionals, possibly through the present. That is purely speculative, but cannot be ruled out.

Ultimately while both scholars & critics (as well as victims) have been happy to have so much documented information released, a number of people have asserted that it’s difficult to believe that over a 25-year period, “only” 18 “issues” (let alone 8!) were found & self-reported by the CIA when skeptics assert there surely must be much more than “only” that many. I personally have no knowledge or theories regarding that as I am merely a student of history & remain absorbed in reading, research & analysis with documented histories of any number of subjects, as my weakness is that I’m interested in too much & thus spread myself too thin.

I could go on endlessly, but I’ve already devoted too much time & energy to this post. But both for anyone interested as well as to publicly emphasize that ALL of documents & information described & discussed herein is “open source,” declassified & identified as such, readily available to any interested parties at multiple sources & one only needs a search engine & several minutes to find, access & obtain this & additional documents at will. As I stated, I am a student of history & take such seriously. As a result, I view it as necessary, essential & intellectually honest to (re)learn the standard fare we all receive but to be honest & objective enough to find & learn about the warts & possible ugliness regarding not only world history but nationalistic history & thus to eventually gloss over the perennially regurgitated & THINK, because we aren’t used to doing that & it’s actually often discouraged in some areas. Thus I’ve pondered things my entire life & found myself wondering how Hawaii became a US state, because no one ever learns about that, or why did Puerto Rico become a US territory before 1900 yet while many residents have pressed for official statehood status, it hasn’t happened & yet Alaska & Hawaii flew by them many years later. Why? History indicates the participants in World War I were so exhausted & everything had become so futile that it was rumored that they were in the process of brokering a peace when US President Wilson entered the fray at the last minute (to some), resulting in an alleged unnecessary extension of the war with an alleged million additional deaths & if remotely true, why? For that matter, we don’t learn about additional Wilson-led adventures following the war, ones that might surprise some people were they too read of this history. And moving beyond the US, we rarely learn much of anything other than Western European history. That is fascinating but there’s more to the history of the world than just that. What about good Mr. Rhodes? Why the India/Pakistan partition when Britain released its former colony? Why do we not learn about the one tiny, backwards third world country to effectively defeat three of the greatest powers in the world, all within roughly a 3-4 decade period & initially lacking weapons, financing, infrastructure, technology, etc.? Why have we forgotten Gary F Powers? And on and on. There are so many questions and so many mysteries and so much fascinating information to be gleaned from history that I could have devoted my entire life to learning and only have gotten a fraction of the way there by this point. And now I’m going to cut it off early because despite being able to write more, I’ve been up all night doing this and it’s now morning and it’s time to start the coffee. I hope this post was informative and interesting for some and oddly, I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. I was pinning a document on a Pinterest board when a popup appeared urging me to write something, and without my realizing what that would lead to, I did. And I’ll know better next time, but it was fun and gonna go now. Have a good day.

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A Review of Marilyn Kallet’s How Our Bodies Learned

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 26, 2022

Marilyn Kallet: How Our Bodies Learned
Marilyn Kallet: How Our Bodies Learned

How Our Bodies Learned by Marilyn Kallet
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Superb. Everything Marilyn Kallet produces is consistently at the very highest levels of quality and craft, something one can say about few others. Indeed, if there is one certain area where you can count on inconsistency, I’d wager it would be writing, and possibly even more so, poetry. In fact — and I draw on my own career to illustrate — many/most writers can be so predictably inconsistent in the quality of their work (accusations seemingly thrown at virtually every poet who ever wrote) that it’s not only inevitable for a poet to be known for one or two of their works/books (if good and lucky) while simultaneously having some to most of the rest of their work ignored, spurned, criticized, etc. One thing that is especially frustrating, and I include myself as a party in this, is that there’s little worse in the field that an uneven book! A collection comprised of some gems, surrounded by duds dying on the vine (sorry for the mixed metaphor). One of my own books has several sections and in retrospect, it nearly pains me to look at it at times because one of those sections stands out — to me at least — as particularly weak when compared to the others, something no reviewer was ever brutal (or honest) enough to write. Marilyn? Hell, not only can’t I think of a single person, publication, review, etc., that has ever said or inferred anything remotely indicative of these literary challenges about Marilyn or any of her work, but I myself can’t think of a single book of hers that doesn’t meet the highest of standards — and yes, I do hold her to a higher standard than most others because I think she’s THAT good, and she always exceeds those standards. Not only am I a poet, writer, author, scholar, but critic as well. Having written hundreds of book reviews and having written and published a number of critical essays in various journals (peer reviewed), I read friends and colleagues’ works with a critical eye as well as those I don’t know. I don’t do this for an ulterior motive or with a negative intention — it’s just part of the job, so to speak. I’ve been lucky enough to know Marilyn Kallet personally for close to 40 years now (egads!!!), so I admit to bias. I view her as a dear personal friend, a valued friend in letters, a person to look up to for many reasons, and I read her work and I have gone to as many readings of her as possible — something hard to do when you’ve spent most of your life hundreds of miles away. But here’s the deal, and I’m sure Marilyn would agree with, vouch for, or otherwise concur — she and I write quite differently, and often on different topics using different poetic techniques and devices, likely have very different audiences and to be candid, despite having spent far too much time obtaining far too much education and teaching at several academic institutions, on the whole I’ve never been a fan of “the Academy” and I’ve much preferred to hang out in the slums of the small press, the zines, the cross-genres, the vast international media, the crazies — hell, anything but the stereotypical Iowa Writers Workshop alums! I’ve written poems about this and actually one or two became pretty well known, anthologized, and I actually saw fan mail published by editors because of some highly critical poems about the perceived typical mainstream/academic poet. One that proved pretty popular was titled “to all you goddamn nature sissies.” That should give you an idea of how I often view “mainstream” poetry.

By most accounts, going by her CV, her bio, her career — Marilyn should fit within those biased, ugly parameters I just described. But she doesn’t — never has, never will. Because even though she and I write about different things in different ways to different audiences, Marilyn is so much more than just a damn label! She comes from and resides in a world of rules, of “successful” and “accepted” poets and writers because they meet certain criteria, but quite often whose work so very bores me to tears — along with millions of others who WANT to like poetry! — who can’t possibly speak to or for me and Marilyn has spent years in this world, but to me and many others, she’s a real person with a real life and real life view who can flow into and out of different scenarios, emotions, contexts, periods, schools, genres, places, etc., and feel comfortable in all, act comfortable in all, be welcomed in all — because she allows herself to shine out through her poems and can’t help but impact a person, typically in the most positive of ways. She gives of herself and welcomes you — the reader — to join her, to appreciate her craft — because she IS a master of craft (damn all what they say about Donald Hall!) — and at this point, I’m babbling, but I do want to make one point that represents a thought I’ve long held about Marilyn and her poetry. Poets will try to convey, elicit, induce a variety of emotions, responses, etc. I want this to sound right: I’ve long viewed Marilyn as being so engaged in her craft, so engaged in her subject, in her reader, so enthralled with the word, the cut of the line, the nuance, that it’s like Marilyn and these poems are lovers — not in some sicko, kinky way, but as in she and her poems share moments most of us hope to attain yet never do. She has a near-sensual relationship with her poems; the intimacy is incredibly powerful and I view that as a sign of a truly gifted poet and writer, and it’s something that seems so natural for her that it’s a bit awe inspiring because I can name 5-10 writers off the top of my head right now who’ve tried to get that close, move us that much, convey things, feelings, thoughts, desire, admirations, emotions, appreciation and despite spending their entire careers — their lives — making such efforts, if they ever did accomplish such a thing, perhaps it may have been in just one of their collections. Marilyn seems to almost effortlessly accomplish this in every book of hers I’ve ever read, and while my own work has often been described as very impacting, it’s for radically different reasons. I think I know how difficult it is or must be for any poet or writer to achieve what I just (poorly) attempted to describe, and therefore I know and I believe that Marilyn must work so very hard and yet you never get that idea when reading her words. It’s just so natural. So Marilyn Kallet. So damn good.

So do I recommend this book? Hell, if you must be fed info on that, you didn’t read the damn review! Get this book. Read this book. But remember, she’s got quite a few others out there and they’re all worth reading, so please consider and recall that you don’t have to be a poetry fan or lover to appreciate the words and poems inside these pages because I think they transcend the limitations we place on them via labels at a bare minimum. Most strongly recommended.

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Have Some Caffeine!

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 2, 2022

I’ve been crazy busy the past five weeks and haven’t had a chance to get online very often, but one thing I’ve been able to make a little time for is finally unpacking some boxes that have been in storage for the past few (okay, many) years while trying to find old contributor copies of magazines and journals that published me, of copies of my OWN books, as well as anthologies and textbooks and more. The “More” has turned out to be a whopper, but I don’t have time for that at the moment and frankly I don’t have much time at all right now, but I’ve wanted to post something so I am. I’ve been running across items in these boxes that have been surprising in that some I don’t recall ever seeing before, writing, editing, collaborating, and on to finding opened and unopened letters from all types for all sorts of reasons, contracts, uncashed checks from universities and libraries for my books, pleas for me to help finance some arthouse films, screenplays with requests for comments and criticisms, art-postcards I literally don’t recall seeing and more! Fun and a little crazy.

I decided I’m going to post a few pics of things I find along the way, some of which I haven’t seen in decades, literally, and some I’ve never seen, or at least that’s what my imperfect mind tells me. Sadly, I don’t even have time for an appropriate explanation, so you’ll just have to take what you see in front of you and maybe a few words of mine too. Caffeine was one of the best, most hip/professional lit zines I’ve ever seen and it was dearly missed when the editor, Rob Cohen, decided it was time to move on. As you’ll see, he wrote that for a good part of the 1990s, it was the biggest damn poetry magazine in the country, and that’s not referring to its dimensions. It came out regularly and it came out it what would be massive press runs for a free lit zine — along the lines of 20,000 copies per issue or so. Compared to 250 – 500 copies for many university literary reviews, more for commercial ones.

I got to know Rob before he started this up. He was a pretty good guy. UCSB grad, big ambitions. We met for lunch in Long Beach one day and he told me he was lining up some heavyweights and wanted to go just as cool and edgy on the graphics as on the poetry, which was great to hear because he obviously knew that so many lit pubs out there may as well have been church bulletins or med textbooks in their eye appeal. And we were both big Bukowski fans. I can’t remember if he met him or not. I’d “known” Bukowski for several years by then, been over to his place in San Pedro a few times, had some books he’d been cool enough to autograph for me and one damn t-shirt which I haven’t been able to find for years. HTH to you lose an autographed Bukowski t-shirt? I thought Rob’s project was great and I asked if he was going to go out of SoCal and he did intend to so I asked him about writers — were they going to be SoCal largely or from a wider base? He did things big. I was able to help out a bit, I like to think. I knew a ton of poets and writers around the world, so he let me have a bunch of fliers and upcoming debut issues and I mailed them around the country, gratified to see Caffeine apparently appealed to a whole lot of people as I saw name after name appear of people who never might have seen, let alone been published, in it if not for landing on some doorsteps of people who then sent some on to more like-minded poets and lit fans. Rob was cool enough to publish me from the first issue on. That would be with Ginsberg and Bukowski, among many others, though admittedly I had been and would be published alongside them elsewhere during my career. Still, not only an honor, but a damn fun, kickass mag overall! I don’t recall if I ever had all of the issues, but it’s irrelevant because it’s been probably around 25 years since I’ve seen any anyway, so they’d all look new to me anyhow. So here are three collages I just made of items of mostly recent findings. I’ll let them speak for themselves. Except I didn’t know which poem of mind the person writing the editor in the Issue 9 collage was referring to. I was curious so I had to start digging. And then I found it! Not the issue, but at least the title of the poem. And then it all made sense. The “goddamn poem” she thought “was so true” was titled “to all you goddamn nature sissies.” Heh.


Caffeine Magazine was THE poetry magazine of the 1990s!
Caffeine Magazine was THE poetry magazine of the 1990s!


Caffeine Magazine Issue 4
Cover of Caffeine Magazine, Issue 4. A photo of Bukowski graces the cover with a list of some contributors headed by Scott Holstad


Caffeine Magazine Issue 9 with fan mail for Scott C. Holstad
Caffeine Magazine Issue 9 with fan mail for Scott C. Holstad

Next time I post here I may try to write about or possibly post pics of some of the letters, postcards, invites, etc., from the stuff I’ve been running across lately. Might be some fun stories behind them. Like when I was oddly named one of Knoxville’s 10 Most Eligible Bachelors back in 1987. I actually found the letter from the MDA thanking me for agreeing to be a part of the bachelor auction, formally called the Great Date Bachelor Auction. (I had no choice?) Terrifying then, funny now. I guess the word “flattering” should have appeared somewhere. It didn’t. Or invites to some swank Beverly Hills and Hollywood gigs. You couldn’t tell by the invites, but trust me, when you’re wandering around in someone’s backyard behind the Beverly Hilton (where they have the Golden Globes ceremony) with Oscar winners and household names, it’s a combo of surreal and Oh Shit and they make for some funny poems and stories. Just don’t be stupid enough to agree to autograph your new book that comes out a year later with a piece taking some funny jabs and potshots a few Hollywood stereotypes at an unnamed but very obvious such party for the owner of the mansion you’re describing before he’s read it. Or any time. You find yourself in that position, you sign, say thanks and run like hell. Hahaha! We’ll see.

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An Announcement Regarding Some Of My Books

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 23, 2022

This is one of what I expect will be several announcements of some cool or groovy or awesome or for some maybe a ho hum (hopefully not too many of the latter!) piece of news/info regarding my writing career, my authorship, the status of some of my old, out of print books, and some other things I’ve been busy as hell working on since last summer. I hope someone will appreciate some of the info I’ll be putting out.

If you look at most any of my profiles that have to do with writing, whether it be info on this site, or perhaps my Poets & Writers Directory listing or my Authors Guild profile or even my Goodreads Author profile among many you could find, you’d find a couple of things that might stand out. 1) This actually is no surprising, but it’s been disappointing. Virtually every books I’ve written that was published has been out of print for awhile, some far, far too long despite some going into three and four press runs. Because of this, what little supply various retailers or booksellers had slowly dwindled to nothing and since then some books have been relatively easy to find used but most have been very difficult and some literally totally impossible. All but one of my books were $10 or less (Cells was $20 or $25, but it was a huge book). So I’ve kept my eyes open for the past decade just looking occasionally at what was out there, what the list prices were, what was in demand, etc. Those of you who have visited this site may have noticed a tab for a page I have at the top of the homepage titled “My Books — Crazy Prices” and some of them WERE crazy! I think that was back in 2011 and you can look at some screenshots for yourself but one example was two new copies of Cells, being sold by third party vendors on Amazon for $100 and $170 respectively! Nuts. One place was offering to rent students a copy of The Napalmed Soul for $65 per semester. (I’m updating that webpage with new, current screenshots of what’s out there now.) I’ve moved a lot over the course of my life, close to 35 times. During all of those moves, I had to get rid of stuff, dump stuff, I lost stuff and some movers were nice enough to lose or trash a ton of my stuff, the last group from two years ago succeeding in losing over half of the magazines, newspapers, etc., that I was ever published in — I’m talking tons of boxes with hundreds or more of contributor copies. To top it off, they lost EVERY damn copy of all but one of my own books! And not only were they out of print, but some of the early, distant publishers were very small presses and were long gone themselves, and as I mentioned, over half of my books were/are literally impossible to find on the market anywhere, any time, so I’ve been screwed out of any copies of my own books with one exception. Which has really ticked me off. I wanted a copy or two of each for my own library, and frankly I wouldn’t have minded a few more to get back into the stores or on the marketplace somehow since several have remained in demand for so unbelievably long. And I’ve gone years without seeing any.

The point is I haven’t had ANY of my own books for many years and I’ve wanted some for god’s sake! So a couple of months ago when I couldn’t sleep one night I was puttering around in the basement and found a biggish box labeled Places, opened it up to discover quite a few copies of that book. Yay! However, for whatever reason, despite being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and some very good reviews and press, that book really hasn’t retained the value that some others have, so I was elated when a week later, I found a small white box behind some curtains against a basement wall that was labeled Shadows and I thought surely I’m not that lucky. But I was! Barely a fraction of the number of copies I’d found the week before, but still more than 20 and not only did a few major libraries’ Special Collections want a copy, but that book has been far more successful than I ever anticipated and is one of my most ripped off and pirated books (that is a different ticked off story) and its value has remained much higher than the original retail list price and at times has gone up to crazy figures. And I have screenshots, including ones of various pirate sites and IP thief sites, but I came across one a couple of weeks ago illegally selling a PDF copy for $100! For a $7 book! All of these criminals have been selling my stuff for years, but more and more the past few years, and I’ve not gotten a dime for it. In fact, I discovered last year they’re even selling my published scholarship for students to buy and use as their own and some of my papers do big business! Shocking. I never knew, I’m not very important, who’s heard of me, I never got a penny for those peer-reviewed publications and these assholes are making a killing because I’ve seen what some are charging. The worst of it is, academics don’t make a dime from publishing original research, at least not in the social sciences. You’re lucky if you get a contributor’s copy because I didn’t for at least a third of the journals that published my work. (Yes, I’m on Google Scholar, which isn’t remotely accurate about my work and citations. You can find me here if interested.) Anyway, what I found inspired me to start opening boxes I could both reach and maybe could physically handle — something embarrassing and difficult to admit as I was always strong but no longer am. So recently I found a small box within a larger box within an unopened wardrobe box and I was elated to find it had copies of all but a couple of my books! With some, there were just one or two copies, but with a few others, there were dozens! THUS, the point of all of this is those books of mine that I have sufficient surplus, after I donate 2-3 copies to some Special Collections libraries, will be the object of my focus as I attempt to find out how to get some out onto the marketplace, both ones that have been in massive demand and maybe some that never were listed for sale (predating Amazon — god!) in the first place, so I’m not sure if I can get them carried again by Amazon and other similar stores — I have an official Amazon Author page which has seen titles sadly decline from 9 to 7 to 5 to 3, etc. I approached Amazon about carrying some digital or tactile copies once more and they asserted they would only deal with the publisher when it came to that, and/or whomever holds the copyright rights. Which is me. And I had had no interaction or even knowledge of this one particular publisher in years, so I tried to look him up in New Orleans and found that he’d died a few years ago and there no longer was any company. Which got me worried. I started looking for the publishers and companies of most of the books I was interested in and found virtually none were either still alive or findable and most of the companies were long gone. I don’t know if Amazon will accept that and I intend to consult the Authors Guild legal department for advice, In the meantime, I see no reason why I can’t announce now my intended goal of making some available for sale here on this site, Yay! Of course I must figure out a way to accomplish that. I have a PayPal account and had a business account for some years for one or two businesses I owned before retiring. I also had a Stripe account. I suspect PayPal would be accommodating, but it’d be the logistics of simply setting it up here, provided they give me a go. Until then, I’ve figured out a possible way of making this feasible and workable until making it more obvious and official looking. I know how to do this from when I was a merchant previously, as well as a consumer. You can make a PayPal payment by sending it, provided you have a PayPal account, to the email address associated with the seller’s PayPal account (me) and unless things have changed over the past couple of years, it was that easy. There are other options too, but that’d be the first I’d explore. If anyone has any suggestions, recommendations, ideas, etc., I’d be grateful for any comments to help get this accomplished. I have no planned date or time for my next announcement, but it won’t be one involving sales. It should be pretty cool and I think many of you will dig it. Thanks and have a good one! — Scott

PS: some cover shots of some of the little books I may be trying to make available to the public…

My book Places (Sterling House Press, 1995), Nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.


Grungy Ass Swaying (1993). A collaboration with Paula Weinman that I regret enormously. Raunchy and naturally representing me in the Library of Congress!

Distant Visions, Again and Again (1994). Probably known as my only “tranquil” book, the reviewers generally liked it while noting I apparently was taking a break between raunchiness and violence. Hah!

Shadows Before the Maiming (Gothic Press, 1999). One of 5 books I had published in 1999, I didn’t have any major expectations for this one. I found myself surprised to be reviewed, labeled, listed, indexed, cataloged, etc., as a Horror writer and this evidently was a book of Horror poetry. So much so that it was listed in The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror for 2000 (Carol & Graf), as well as both the book and myself reviewed and listed in magazines, books, on websites, etc., and despite that appearing in 1999, it continues to this day and that book has remained in high demand and is viewed as a collector’s item that’s typically very hard to find.


How about some screenshots of pirate sites of groups ripping me off, making some of these books available illegally with me naturally not getting a dime, nor having even known of it until I started looking last summer. Nice gig if you can get it, I suppose…

For your amusement.


This tricky outfit looks virtually identical to the plausibly legit Open Library where one checks out a book at a time, as with a real library. This outfit is clearly trying to emulate the real thing while drawing people in to swindle them and the authors. I have an older screenshot with their insignia at the top looking identical, but it read “Digital” Library rather than the actual Open Library they’re now screwing. One of the many ways you can tell it’s a pirate site is — most do this and it’s clever — after listing title, author, ISBN, publication info, etc. — they, and most others, then try to confuse any bots or web crawlers that might spot them for what they actually are by filling the text of their webpages with garbage containing keywords — title — but in relation to what someone would literally expect, usually scientific or agricultural and as a result, they get passed over due to their “educational” content. It’s always a game of catch up with criminals.

A link for an illegal copy of my popular Never-Ending Cigarettes. Notice the textual gibberish.

Notice the identity of the seller in the cute little URL. I’ve spent MONTHS trying to access that site and it’s like it knows I’m the damn author or something because it’s blocked me every time no matter what browser, what device, what IP. Until finally … the next screenshot.

Note the standard pirate tactic, or one of them. Totally accurate book info, including even IDs from WorldCat, etc., and available in 5 different digital formats, but look at the content below and once again, biology — cells. Way to beat the good bots. This is an educational site, obviously. Many of them load the keyword, usually the title, into the gibberish 2-3 times per sentence which I would think should be a red flag to a properly coded bots, but I guess their AI isn’t as advanced as one would think…

And now for the amazing SHADOWS


This one really gets me. No physical copy of course because no one has any (except me now!). But a PDF version and for $100??? I never made that for the whole damn press run! ASSHOLE! THIEF! And just flat out brazen about it. Grrr…

The next and final one is hard for me to comprehend as a service because I can’t imagine them having any customers — for me. It’s a company called Dataresearchers and I guess they’re legit, maybe, and they don’t appear to be ripping me off at all. They not selling anything by me as far as I’ve seen. What they ARE selling are custom writing services to students for outrageous amounts of money and the two ads I’m about to show in a collage so it’s one graphic just blows my mind because I don’t have any idea at all who in the hell would pay anything for these services. I’m not that big or important or even known! Check it out…

Yes, you are not hallucinating. On the left, they’ll charge a handy fee to write a custom BOOK REVIEW (???) on my Shadows Before the Maiming? I actually AM being taught in some universities and am in some textbooks, but I can assure you it’s not for “horror poetry.” Rather, original literary criticism on authors like Yeats and Jane Smiley among others. A book review? As crazy as that is, even crazier is the service advertised on the right. They will write a “custom essay” INCLUDING a graduate thesis or freaking doctoral dissertation on me — Scott C. Holstad! For ungodly amounts of money. Frankly, it’s nearly a compliment, to be honest. But also to be honest, I think if I ever found out that anyone anywhere were actually doing their dissertation on me for any reason, I’d probably have a heart attack on the spot from the shock! There’s a greater chance of me flying to Mars on my own with no vehicle, oxygen, anything than someone getting their doctorate on me.


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On Thomas Ligotti’s Book, Death Poems

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 7, 2022

Death PoemsDeath Poems by Thomas Ligotti
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m disappointed because I had been told I would love this book, I guess because I’ve had some “horror poetry” books published over the years. Mebbe so, but I’ve had far more books of poetry in other forms published. It’s simple, and I kind of feel this largely applies to this author’s entire canon — I like the themes, tone, morbid world view (much of which I tend to share), but that doesn’t make this guy a good writer and for god’s sake, I doubt anything could save this train wreck of so-called poems that don’t suck because they are formal or because they’re confessional or populist or postmodern or experimental or anything. He’s just a really bad poet! And honestly there’s no shame in that. It’s irritated the shit out of me to see and hear more and more people over the past couple of decades excitedly telling everyone they write poetry. At this point in time, EVERYONE thinks they’re a poet, and damn good at that. Trouble is that’s bullshit and always has been! Just because you throw together a few lines, maybe even self-publish a small volume of verse, doesn’t make you a fucking poet! I cringe every time I have to go to a wedding or funeral cause I know I’ll hear the worst kind of crap written by sincere, well meaning people. And they’ll get applause. From an audience that doesn’t realize the stuff they grew up reading and studying 50 years ago is so obsolete and a part of the distant past, they don’t realize they’re both showing themselves to be amateurs and a bit ignorant. Not that one has to be on the cutting edge. Many mainstream poets I can’t stand are still GOOD at their craft. Many populist poets, spurned by the Academy, like Bukowski, despite the image he fostered, knew how to write a poem and good ones. He knew the literary and poetic “rules” AND he knew how and when to bend or break them and pull it off effortlessly. Here’s a very famous American writer nearly everyone in the world has heard of and who has millions of fans (including me). Could tell a mean story, had real talent and influence. Most people can name more than one of his novels. But how many people know the titles of Jack Kerouac’s books of poetry? Right, no one. And I have them all. The fact is, no matter how famous or successful a writer he was, he was by god one of the absolute worst published poets of the past century! Wretched shit! Just cause you think you know poetry or you put lines down or a couple of people make flattering comments doesn’t mean you’re a real poet and certainly doesn’t mean you’re GOOD (using Kerouac as an example). People object and argue It’s subjective, and there is a bit of truth to that, but that’s not limited to poetry. That’s the argument made and the difference between the hard sciences and the soft or social sciences. You could make a legitimate argument that not only are poetry and literature subjective, but so are philosophy, religion, the arts, social studies, etc. But that’s why some general guidelines exist in each of these areas. That’s why you will study Hegel, Sartre, and Schopenhauer in philosophy but if you innocently (and ignorantly) ask virtually any philosopher or philosophy professor why we don’t study Ayn Rand, you typically get one of two reactions: side splitting laughter lasting uncomfortably too long or a hostile lecture about what a lightweight dittobrain brain she was, a “faux” intellectual whose “school” of philosophy she created is viewed as little different from how L Ron Hubbard is generally viewed. And they’re right about her. And just to prove I don’t have an anti-Rand bias, I was devastated when I found that one of my favorite writers and philosophers, a damn Nobel winner, ALSO typically isn’t included in Philosophy syllabi or viewed as a “real” philosopher — Camus! And I’ve long thought he was one of the three greatest existential philosophers in history, a view not shared by the “pros.” See, there are guidelines that can be employed that AREN’T necessarily in black and white, thus allowing a Donald Hall and Mark Strand to co-exist with Bukowski and Ferlinghetti as “legit” poets — even if that doesn’t always sit well with them. So Ligotti? I’ve gone on too long now and am tired, but it doesn’t matter if your language is formal, informal, experimental, etc. It still has to flow, to “sound” good on the page. If formal, what fits into the rules of rhyme, meter, stanzas, etc., must sound as natural as possible, must flow, not draw attention to itself and detract from the overall poem because it feels and seems forced. And while it’s harder to argue for rule adherence in free verse, just that one topic still applies. The language should actually seem and sound MORE natural, normal, flow comfortably, even in the case of surrealists or LANGUAGE poets. Because they know what they’re doing, what rules they’re intentionally breaking and why they MAY be successful at it. Ligotti’s poetry is made up of lines, words choices, a stilted dictation and lack of flow; it distracts from any point or message he may or may not be attempting to convey. It’s amateurish, buffoonish. It sounds like someone’s illiterate grandpa might. Fans may protest and argue “That’s the point, you dolt! He’s TRYING to make people uncomfortable with his poetry and his writing style, word choices, grammar usages, etc., are all part of that. How stupid are you?” (Meaning me.) Well, a rebuttal that’s I think many would agree with is been there, done that. It’s not remotely original but is definitely legitimate. I’ve done that myself with a number of poems and short stories when I was experimenting with postmodern metafiction. But while legit, just because someone may attempt to do that doesn’t mean they succeed or are any good. Which is the case here. I’ll end by throwing out a few names of authors who did exactly that, but SUCCESSFULLY, and are well known and loved by many (though still rarely in academia). One considered one of the best was William Burroughs, starting with his infamous Naked Lunch and most of his work thereafter. He and a partner are credited with popularizing and honing the “cut up method” to create almost meaningless text but still text one could get something out of. Ironically he was not the first, as Tristan Tzara and the Dadaist movement actually created and generated that technique. In the horror genre, there are fiction writers and the occasional poet who venture there (and also not “straight” horror, but more like dark surrealism that can incorporate horror elements). In no particular order, some who come to mind might include Anthony Burgess, who was SO linguistically experimental in his shock novel A Clockwork Orange that he had to spend an ungodly amount of time inventing a new damn language to fit the characters and the book (complete with glossary at back). Obviously Vonnegut, but some more current writers in the field who may occasionally succeed where Ligotti does not might include Boston, Crawford, Wayne AS, and most obvious of all, the late Harlan Ellison. I’m not saying this author has to be or become them. But he’d be well advised to do what most serious, professional writers do, and that’s study and analyze them to see where and how he/one can grow and improve, with your own voice intact ultimately. But until Ligotti shows evidence he’s done that, or from little I know of him, even gives a shit, I’ll continue to feel generous in giving 2 stars to this book and he’ll forever be relegated to the barely knowns, the wannabes, the amateurs who some think know what they are doing when such writers really don’t. Not recommended.

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Reflections on Lyn Lifshin’s Cold Comfort: Selected Poems, 1970-1996

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 5, 2022

Cold Comfort: Selected Poems, 1970-1996Cold Comfort: Selected Poems, 1970-1996 by Lyn Lifshin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I’ve known Lyn personally going back to the 1980s and as “Queen of the Small Presses,” I saw her in every damn magazine I came across for decades. And I would buy, obtain or she’d send me copies of new books and chapbooks over the years so that while I only have a fraction of the roughly 150 books she published over the years, most are among my favorites and this is definitely one of them. This was Lifshin’s first book to be published by Black Sparrow Press, Bukowski’s publisher (and I think about the same time another old friend, Edward Field, started getting some of his books also published by Black Sparrow), and it was the biggest one of hers I had seen to date at close to 300 pages, or what I would call “average” for Black Sparrow book sizes. Lyn had a lot more complexity and talent than some people give her credit for, and I’m thinking of certain academics, none of whom will ever accomplish even 1% of what Lyn did, but all of whom with their big (small, actually) 2 damn books in hand have the temerity to look down on her as “inferior” because she wasn’t part of “the Academy” (despite spending time teaching a year here and there at many schools such as Syracuse). And yes, I actually had a good but mainstream academic writer friend use that description. I tried not to be pissed off. After all, most of the academics who are critics of Lifshin, Bukowski, the old Beats, the slam scene, confessional poetry, ME, etc., are quick to tout themselves and each other as descendants of Keats, Byron, Cummings, Thomas, etc., but few can match those old masters and more importantly, note the world “old.” These academics are stuck in ancient decades and centuries and either haven’t realized or cared that they’ve been killing any remaining interest in poetry from non-academics for decades, explaining their sad press runs of 250-750 books no matter how many awards they win (back when I was heavily publishing, people were often surprised to hear the average press run for most American poetry books was 750 copies. You don’t get rich off that. Which is why so many teach. Or if you’re lucky, live a life like Bukowski, be a drunk in the gutter screwing whores, gambling, playing with cats, pumping out 10 poems a night and became successful, popular and live off your writing because you don’t give a shit and you’re simply a) more talented and b) a harder worker) because while they may master craft, they have little concept of actual LIFE for you and me and most people outside the Ivory tower, so remembering back to a standard university lit review (and yes, I’ve been published in many, but rejected by more), I recall one of its average issues having poems with titles such as “Sunset at Deer Late,” “Robins at Sunrise,” “Mysteries of the Pond’s Ripples” and other bullshit like that, boring most people to tears until some are lucky enough to happen upon “less talented” (meaning “less formal”) populists who are writing not only confessional, but experimental (the LANGUAGE poets of some decades ago, the surrealists, etc.,), and who are writing about topics and things in life that are REAL to most people who don’t have the luxury of taking sabbaticals to go mentally masturbate and accomplish little while looking down your nose at everyone else. Most of the rest of us have to actually work! Ferlinghetti busted his ass to make his bookstore a success in the Italian North Beach section of SF while also making his new publishing company successful as he was being prosecuted for publishing Ginsberg. Also found time to write the best selling book of American poetry in history in A Coney Island of the Mind, a book that changed my life in changing my understanding of poetry, allowing me to learn the rules dictated to you in classes are constructs created by the untalented academic dictators and they exist to be smashed, which is what so many more interesting, popular, meaningful, influential poets of actual substance have been helping do to save poetry from the destruction that was being wrought on it by academia. Thank god! The irony about Lyn is the Academy was wrong just like my friend was (who was the director of the creative writing program at a big university). In this big book, rest assured all of these poems had been published in magazines before being collected to make up this book and most assuredly appeared in hundreds of the “small press magazines,” she and many others (I know and was one of) were known for but while she could have included those in the Acknowledgments, it’s almost funny to see the huge Acknowledgments page so full of largely only mainstream literary journals of high quality that very few academics so critical of her could barely match it! Revenge is sweet. (A small arbitrary sample: Chicago Review, Georgia Review, Carolina Quarterly, North American Review, Ploughshares, Long Shot, The Sun, New Delta Review, Chelsea, Christian Science Monitor, Caliban, Literary Review, Mudfish, Denver Review, Cream City Review, Wormwood Review, ACM, Grain, Puerto Del Sol, Hollins Critic, Free Lunch, Midwest Quarterly, Hiram Poetry Review, and on and on and you get the picture, right? Yeah, like usual, the academic snobs are wrong. Just because she mixed with the masses didn’t mean she couldn’t play in their yards too and she did so more and better while at it.)

Lyn was loved and appreciated by millions and I hope she’ll get her just due fully one day. I feel privileged that while I was serving as poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review for some years, I had worked to build the quality of submissions and works published to a very high degree, during which time our acceptance rate dropped from 40% to below 2% and we went from largely unknown, uncredited writers (nothing wrong with that — we were all there once and as long as the stuff was good, I published first timers alongside household names) to contributors whose credits typically included Poetry, NYQ, Partisan Review, Rattle, Paris Review, The Atlantic, the New Yorker, etc. Even had an 8-time Jeopardy winner. While I was publishing writers I like and respect who have credibility and credits like Simon Perchik, Alan Catlin, Dancing Bear, BZ Niditch, Marilyn Kallet, Clifton Snider, Lowell Jaeger, etc., Lyn naturally sent me some stuff and of course I liked it and accepted most of it, prompting her to immediately send me more — even though we were booked 2-3 issues ahead and she wouldn’t be published for 6-12 months. AND while one normally submits 3-5 poems, she would send me 75 pages on average each time. As a result, without ever intending or even really discussing it, I was able to publish some two full books of hers in serial format and I loved having her aboard as a publisher, rather than a competitor — I mean fellow contributor — in so many mags.

Thus, about a year ago when I got the news that she had just died, it hit me damn hard and I had to take a deep breath. Possibly shed a tear or two. I remember going to visit her at her condo in DC decades ago. She was still so very into ballet. I remember trying to compete with her, back when people were describing me as the male version of Lifshin because I was so prolific for a good while. But honestly, so many old friends, colleagues and even heroes and mentors in this community have been dying over the past few years that it’s gotten really hard for me. Ferlinghetti a couple of years ago. Dare I call him a friend? We spent time chatting, he gave me a million autographed books, he gave one of my books a back cover plug. About the same time, another Beat poet, old friend Diane di Prima, who I’d enjoyed a great relationship with died. She lived in the same pad as Amy Tan in SF, got together with me when she came down to LA. And joined by fellow Beat writer Michael McClure. Shit! And since then I’ve been finding more and more have died during the past 5-6 years that my health has forced me “underground,” so to speak, and no longer part of the scene, no longer up on the news. So I’ve learned far too late of the deaths of Will Inman, Walt Phillips, Todd Moore and hell, I was looking through the contents of an archive of an old friend in Stanford’s Special Collections (actually Ginsberg, to be honest) and I realized half the people were damn dead now but the worst was when Gerry Locklin died last January thanks to COVID, or how I choose to describe it, thanks to the white christian nationalist science denying alt right republicans. Bastards! Proof of no god right there. It’s gotten so that I’ve started trying to find old writer colleagues who are still alive because I fear I may be the last one standing and I always thought I’d be one of the first to go. Alphabeat Press’s Dave Christy just died a few months ago. Good old Ed Field is approaching 100 and I don’t want to jinx that. I know Cat Townsend and Belinda Subraman are still out there, and I think I’ve heard Dan Nielsen is still around, but Gerry? Lyn? Life is cruel.

Look, Lyn was famous for her Madonna poem series, for her mother/daughter anthologies, for the film they made about her, for laughingly (almost) knowing you’ll see her in any mag you get published in, no matter how small, how niche, what country or language, and she was known for a million other things too, but she was damn talented and interesting and always had this mystique about her and I think this is a great book to either get to know her or to relish reading her again. I can’t recommend this book more fervantly. Get it!

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