In Which Our Current
Post Coyote Poetry
Gets Tracked to the 1970s
A N D R E W S C H E L L I N G
There is an unnamed school in contemporary North American poetry-a school that is not a school-which I'd like to give some definition to, by detailing a few of its characteristics. This range of poets does not factor much in discussions of the current "post-avant" poetry scene, which I consider a loss because it shares recognizable roots with the experimentalists in what I regard as the great consolidations of the 1970s. Tongue partly in cheek-and because these days nearly everything gets called "post"-something-I call these poets Post Coyote. This is partly in reference to a fine enterprise, Coyote's Journal, which began publication in 1964 and continues up to the present. But behind the journal hovers the stature of coyote as a North American culture hero, and of course there's the critter's notable success as a scavenger from the West Coast manzanita scrub to the woodlands of Vermont. 
For those who live in non-urban American settings, the coyote's ululation is our cultural and emotional equivalent to the Japanese cherry tree. Didn't Phil Whalen once write from Kyoto, "an entire civilization built on an inarticulate response to cherry blossoms"?
Well, Coyote's Journal did little publishing in the 1970s. Its main impact occurred in the mid to late sixties, but the poetics it stood for came into sharpest focus through the seventies. Post Coyote poets, bringing the lineage forward into the 21st century, share a number of touchstone interests and social or spiritual reference points. In particular these poets lean towards a land ethic (Aldo Leopold's term) & a decentralized approach to community. Their general commitment to bioregion, rather than nation-state or Internationale, as well as their avoidance of academic life, may account for the group's partial invisibility. I'm going to speak to a few Post Coyote qualities, or streams of influence, by tracking them into some important publications. Here I'll begin with a bit of personal history.
The first and only time I took a poetry course in college was spring semester, 1974. I'd arrived at U.C. Santa Cruz in January, and signed up for Norman O. Brown's class. Brown at the outset of his career had been a Classics professor. He wrote a forward-looking Marxist analysis of Greek mythology, Hermes the Thief, then a book that set Freud the task of filling in what Marx had missed, Life Against Death. During the sixties Brown turned to an aphoristic form of writing-a form "so perishable that it cannot be hoarded by any elite or stored in any institution." Much of his writing he collaged from Freud, Blake, the Western Gnostic traditions, Vedanta, & Taoism, and he produced his defining book, 1966's Love's Body. His literary influences seemed to be Ezra Pound, and more ambiguously Robert Duncan, who appeared to baffle him. Brown was a contributor to Clayton Eshleman's journal Caterpillar, was a close friend & thorny critic of John Cage, a correspondent and briefly the lover of M.C. Richards, and knew Duncan well. 
Brown's course: We met once a week, three hours, in a small meadow fringed by redwoods, near historic nineteenth century lime kilns on the Santa Cruz campus. Brown assigned us two books-Jerome Rothenberg's Technicians of the Sacred, and the North American anthology Rothenberg had co-edited with George Quasha, American A Prophecy, published the year before.
Brown was a bit of a coyote himself, an armature of contradictory impulses-warmhearted, then coldly aloof; deadly literal and deadly with puns; engaging, then prophetically far off; gentle with undergraduates, impatient and frequently hostile towards graduate students; a book-obsessed scholar, a man who loathed bookishness. We mostly read poetry aloud, concentrating on the physical qualities of syllables, phonemes, words, lines. We memorized poems-versions from the Gabon Pygmy, Tamil, Hopi, or Chippewa, as well as poems by North American contemporaries. Mostly we lingered over poems that revealed "the law of metamorphosis." Brown held this to be the root of poetry.
The fish does . . . HIP
The bird does . . . VISS
The marmot does . . . GNAN
I throw myself to the left,
I throw myself to the right,
I act the fish
Among the poems that have stayed with me thirty years, and become part of my toolkit, is this song by the Ojibwa singer Mary English, collected & translated by Frances Densmore-
I thought it was
but it was
Another from Densmore's Ojibwa fieldwork, this a dream song by Ajidegijig, which has the flavor of Japanese haiku-
as my eyes
I feel the summer in the spring
What I want to emphasize is that an entry to poetry through Rothenberg's anthologies-the only formal training I received in college-from a scholar-poet whose work was appearing in the singular journal Caterpillar-was one where Frances Densmore's versions of Teton Sioux songs (a single word of Sioux entered as a sharply pronounced line in English) got placed alongside the abrupt stops & starts of Robert Creeley's lines. Ishmael Reed appeared against an Aztec codex; Gertrude Stein abutted a Papago Indian naming ceremony. My first Levertov poem was an Aztec translation.
The artist: disciple, abundant, multiple, restless.
The true artist: capable, practicing, skillful;
maintains dialogue with his heart, meets things with his mind.
The epigram that held everything in place was Ezra Pound's-
It is dawn at Jerusalem while midnight hovers above the Pillars of
Hercules. All ages are contemporaneous in the mind.
These were signature moments, opening a poetry neither nationalist in outlook, restricted to one language, nor up-to-date. It was raw, physical, cross-cultural. By the time I found Don Allen's The New American Poetry some years later-a justly praised book I knew had formed the world I was entering-it seemed very square, very limited in scope, restricted in geography. That book would never raise the excitement of Rothenberg's project-spurred by translation, ethnographic fieldwork, a sense of the world's watersheds, linguistics, and a far-flung geographic imagination. "The power of a live tradition to 'make new' whatever in the past can grow in the present," is how Rothenberg put it: "lines of recovery & discovery."
These lines of recovery and discovery don't just mean poetry either. Rothenberg cites archaeologists, linguists, anthropologists, historians, translators, as part of the project. I would add geographers, botanists, and ecologists. The move towards bioregionalism, a key stance of Post-Coyote-ism, was already in motion, though not yet named. Dale Pendell, a good poet, a heroic ethnobotanist, & a trickster historian, took his journal Kyoi in 1974 & renamed it Kuksu. 1978's issue #4 opens with an editor's note-
Kuksu (formerly Kyoi) works with regional emphases. While we concentrate on rural Northern California, we try to include representatives of associated areas across the continent and around the world. Glancing back over past issues, perhaps what we mean by "representatives of associated areas" are individuals who by evidence of their writing would feel themselves to be, if not at home, at least comfortable guests in the Northern California backcountry. We feel that the geographical space delineated by the occurrence of "Kuksu cults" in the early twentieth century and before, forms, still, a resonant cultural aggregate sharing rivers, climate, flora and fauna, patterns-of-speech, pioneering history, ecological problems, contemporary social and political "initiations," and aboriginal mythology. It is from the latter category that comes the unifying culture-bearer 'Kuksu,' our namesake. 
Change a few words and you could apply Pendell's editorial stance to classical Tamil poetry, the Chinese Shih Ching, Hopi oral narrative, Haida myth-telling. Northern California's (Kuksu's) position on the Pacific Rim-which meant large numbers of Chinese and Japanese immigrants who'd been there longer than most of the whites, and eventually Hmong, Vietnamese, and Cambodian refugees-make the coast a site for extensive translation. It is geographically and imaginatively proximate to Asia. Salmon in the creeks, bear in the mountains, ten thousand years of shared technology and oral poetry. In the wake of Pound, Witter Bynner, Kenneth Rexroth, and post-War II poets Cid Corman and Gary Snyder, dozens of American poets settled in to learn an Asian language, or relocated to Taipei or Beijing to study the Classics.  Many poets with extensive East Asian experience later settled on the West Coast of America, the Olympic Peninsula just one notable enclave.  A few years ago I wrote a sentence I still stand by: "If I open a magazine of contemporary poetry I rarely hear John Dryden, but almost always Li Bo."
California was not the only place a backcountry stance got taken in the seventies. I want to mention Bob & Susan Arnold's Longhouse, a publishing venture that has taken place in back-woods Vermont for nearly four decades. In an early editor's note Arnold says, "Longhouse has published poetry from the Green River since 1973-we are also interested in publishing travel journals and prose concentrating on back country life and attitude." Longhouse publishes a huge range of writers, but Bob and Susan test the legitimacy of poems against their lives in the back woods, and the numerous translations of East Asian and South Asian poetry they've issued can't be ignored.
I'm going to step outside poetry for a moment, & make a historical observation about what set up some of the "lines of discovery" that appear in Rothenberg's anthologies, Coyote's Journal, and so forth. Some of them feed directly into "back country life & attitude": modern game management techniques; the Boasian project of language and culture salvage; scientific forestry; the emergent field of ecology; the electric guitar (earliest documented use, 1932, Wichita, Kansas); Carbon 14 dating techniques (1949). These are all Modernist gestures that emerge along the same timeline as poetry. All congeal around poetry in the 1970s. They reaffirm on new foundations the old beliefs in animal magic, plant lore, erotic love as a gateway to knowledge, and the power of the human voice.
If there's a magazine that to my thinking could capture the Seventies bioregional ethos, it has to be Coyote's Journal. Edward van Aelstyn, William Wroth, and James Koller founded it in 1964, from the ashes of a suppressed issue of the Northwest Journal. The Modernist discoveries I spoke of a moment ago give scope to Coyote's Journal, and you can see it without even breaking the covers open. The earliest issue I own is 1966's #5-6. Its front cover reproduces a 1905 photograph (black & white) by naturalist Herman T. Bohlman: a coyote (Canis latrans) in close-up, peering through high stem prairie grasses in Oregon. The extraordinary cool intelligence in the coyote's face is what makes the photo irresistible. The issue itself includes Projectivist poems by Snyder, Whalen, Kyger, some early Clark Coolidge, and a chapter of Robert Duncan's H.D. Book. From its first issue, Coyote's Journal regularly placed a handwritten or block print poem on its rear cover-I'd say to emphasize the period's belief in poetry as a physical act. Similarly the journal's interest in concrete poetry, as well as "sound poetry" or verse built on non-lexical voicing, fore fronted the physicality of poetry.
Let me mention another cover photo. Coyote's Journal issue #8 (1967): "Chariot Burial, Anyang, Hunan Province." It's credited to the Chinese People's Association for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries. It shows an excavated burial, two horse skeletons back to back, a human skeleton laid crosswise about a horse's length behind. The human's breast-bone is nestled into the sod, head turned carefully over its left shoulder. Coins, harnesses, yokes, weapons, and other necessary items for the ride to the next world lie among the skeletal remains. In a clear rhyme with the cover, a Charles Olson poem opens the issue with five sharp breaths, each built on phonemes of the previous line-
Dogs of Tartarus
Guards of Tartarus
Finks of the Bosses, War Makers 
Twenty years later, issue #11 of CJ (1987)-we've leapfrogged the seventies now-put on its cover a photograph by Owen Lattimore taken in Chinese Mongolia, 1935: "The 'coffin' of Chinghis Khan being loaded on a ceremonial cart." The issue opens with forty pages of Chinese and Mongolian poems in translation, by Gary Snyder, Burton Watson, Sam Hamill, and German compadre Stefan Hyner, then poems by Japanese World War II veteran Nanao Sakaki. Eighty pages later the issue closes with 35 pages of "New Works from Europe" (concrete poems, collages, photos, holograph scores, incantations) edited by Franco Beltrametti. The two sections bookend us North Americans: We are the West. Asia and Europe cradle us.
It is worth noting the number of Native American poets who show up in Coyote's Journal: Simon Ortiz, Peter Blue Cloud, Harold Littlebird, Wendy Rose, Joy Harjo, Nettie Reuben, and others. The ancestral regard shown Asia and Europe is balanced with a personal regard shown indigenous America.
I want to mention one last defining journal of the period. Alcheringa appeared from 1970-1980, exactly spanning the seventies. It was co-edited by a poet who had done ethnographic fieldwork, Jerry Rothenberg, and an anthropologist, Dennis Tedlock, who was building on Charles Olson's attention to the breath in poetry to make unprecedented translations of oral narrative. In his 1978 Preface to Finding the Center: Narrative Poetry of the Zuni Indians, Tedlock writes-
The reopening of possibilities in our own language goes hand in hand, or voice in voice, with a new openness to the spoken words of other traditions, especially those that spring from the same continent where we are now learning, however slowly, how to become natives. [My italics]
Alcheringa, like Coyote's Journal, published contemporary Native American poets, and like Kuksu used illustrative elements from ancient petroglyphs. Rothenberg & Tedlock were both working, in Alcheringa's pages, towards what they termed "total translation." That is to say, an effort to translate "words, sounds & (to some extent) 'melody' into a visual field," (Rothenberg); as well as to incorporate performative elements: dance, song, word-tone, and audience participation, brought onto the visual page. "Under the best circumstances," Rothenberg writes, "translation-for-meaning is no more than partial translation."
Of huge significance in these publications was the effort to return poetry to its old communal and ceremonial role. This meant to restore it to a wider context, its ecology. I'm put in mind of the title of a Gary Snyder poem, "All the Animal Powers Return to Their Dancing Place." The work of that period pressed us all to acknowledge something: North American poetry is nothing without a full ecology of languages. It presumes a reckoning with the span of world verse, much of it oral, most of it non-Western, far from Indo-European language habits.
Now: there are poets who do not translate. There are poets who translate occasionally, with a sense that it keeps their hand in, or is a dignified aspect of "letters." In America most of these poet-translators venture to familiar European tongues & remain comfortably within the range of the last 200 years. But there persists an alternate lineage in North American poetry, which with no apology places translation, and an ecological sense of the planet's poetry, at the center of writing. Much of the translation for these poets (here is the ecology) is not from European languages: Chinese, Sanskrit, Mongolian, Mayan. And the many hundreds of tongues, especially American Indian, that existing perfectly well without writing systems did not bother to develop a written literature. Interest in this range of literatures, which spans at least three millennia), runs counter to the isolationist tendency of much American poetry.
Pound had growled late in The Cantos, "It can't all be done in one language."
If a single figure hovers over the project I'm describing-as a totem or tutelary spirit-it is Jaime de Angulo, "the old coyote of Big Sur." De Angulo was a Paris-born Spaniard who came to North America's West Coast early in the twentieth century, a fine linguist, a determined anarchist, an army-trained psychologist. He developed a reputation as quite a wild man. He lived and worked with the Indians of California for decades, often funded by Franz Boas and The Committee on Research in Native American Languages to heatedly pursue in the "salvage ethnography" of the twenties and thirties. De Angulo's many monographs, poems, stories, creation tales, and so forth revolve around his work with the Achomawi, Sierra Miwok, Pomo, Karok, Shasta, and other California peoples. 
Though de Angulo died in 1950-the year he recorded his legendary eighty-eight-session magnum opus "Old Time Stories" (more regularly referred to by the 1953 book title Indian Tales) for KPFA radio-he reentered North American poetry in the Seventies. His writings appear in each of the publications I've mentioned so far. I met him first in the pages of America A Prophecy ("Shaman Songs"), then in Coyote's Journal, Kuksu, and Alcheringa. Alcheringa even inserted a vinyl disc of his KPFA storytelling.
But it was Turtle Island Foundation's publication of the seven volume Jaime de Angulo Library in the early to mid-seventies, followed by 1978's The Jaime de Angulo Reader, that got his work out to people who couldn't tune in Pacifica Radio's yearly rebroadcasts of the old "Indian Tales" tapes.
The Turtle Island books are gorgeous: pocket-size hard-bound editions, designed by either Clifford Burke or Graham MacIntosh, two of the era's fine hand-printers and influential book designers. Their print-runs were 1000 to 1500 copies a volume, but their impact can't be calculated in numbers. While many became treasures on a poet's bookshelf, others circulated on back country trips, and went readily hand to hand among friends.
If you don't live in Northern California, from Big Sur to Berkeley, or out to the Sierra Nevada, or north to Arcata on the coast, it might be hard to imagine the grip de Angulo has on the imagination of poets and ordinary people. I was in Arcata a few summers ago and stopped into the local used bookstore, which has a fine section on Native American studies. I was looking for books that might help with a project on de Angulo. I picked off the shelf a book I hadn't seen before, an anthology of California Indian literature,  which turned out to have William Ralganal Benson's "Pomo Creation Myth" in Jaime's translation. Behind me a soft voice said, "That's a fine book."
A man in plaid shirt, gray ponytail, long gray beard, stood thoughtfully looking at me through wire rim glasses. "Do you teach with it?" I thought he would be a professor at Humboldt State University, just up the hill, which holds a renowned Native studies department. "No, I just read the material." That could have been the end of the conversation, but I tried a hunch. "I was looking for something on Jaime de Angulo." He searched my eyes, then gravely replied, "I married my wife because she was reading Jaime de Angulo."
Tradition lies buried in the land, and geography, like poetry, is an essential mode of attention.
Time now to bring forward a profile of poets who continue to work within the areas I've sketched out. As I said at the opening of this talk, I consider them a school that is not a school. I could name a lot of poets, and could place many more in the alleys or along the fences, but will simply note that the Pacific coast is a stronghold. So is the Southwest. So is New England. All three areas have a strong vernacular culture, and just as important, large undeveloped territories (wilderness), and a heritage of aboriginal lore. I have no idea how interested any of the poets are in being thought of as a school or a defined movement. I'm going to list some of the notable tendencies though.
-Live largely in non-urban locations 
-Prefer low impact, low consumption lifestyle, use of local resources: firewood, gardens, hunting, fishing
- Attentive to their own (& other's) watersheds
-Possess authentic wilderness skills & outdoor capabilities
-An ethos of work with manual tools
-An ethos & poetics that takes into account the land; hence nature literate: plant lore; animal lore; star lore
-Often learned in fields other than poetry; botany, ecology, anthropology, linguistics, &c; though few make their living at academic work
-More attuned to Asian poetics than European, a sizable number actually knowing one or more Asian languages and translating the poetry
-For politics: loyal to bioregional concerns; decentralized decision-making; representational democracy; a strong dose of anarchist thought; a sometime redneck anti-authoritarian skepticism
And the poetry-
-Concrete elements & sound poetry, hence a fronting of the material base of language,
hence "hand-made," often "occasional"
-Ethnopoetics & aboriginal lore
A network of cottage industry (small press) publishing has emerged, and forms loose Post Coyote links.  Bob and Susan Arnold's Longhouse has been issuing hand-made items since 1971. This might be the exemplary model, one that could stand for all the others. Bob's stonework, hauling, carpentry, and woodcutting, Susan's secretary work & computer skills, create the economic base. Their preferred item is what I call a "chaplet," a little fold-out of a few poems, tucked into stiff wrappers-"Origami for your pocket" (JB Bryan). One of their press statements captures the spirit: "Longhouse takes on no grants, funding or subscription. Rather has been self-supported through the good heart of the poets and readers of the journal."
Similar outfits include La Alameda Press, Empty Bowl, Tangram, Exiled-in-America, White Pine, Tooth of Time, and to some extent Jack Shoemaker's Counterpoint Press, which has survived several deaths and rebirths, changing its name each time. Besides publishing Gary Snyder, Counterpoint has made translations from Asia one of its cornerstones. Links to urban-based, experimental poets come through journals such as Hoa Nguyen and Dale Smith's Skanky Possum, Jonathan Skinner's exemplary Ecopoetics, & the late Sylvester Pollet's aptly named backwoods broadsides.
If you want to go a bit deeper, it's worth calling up the website for Coyote's Journal. Take a look at their covers, and the list of books they've published over the years. You can still find copies of the out-of-print America A Prophecy in the stacks of our remaining independent used bookshops. And there is Bob Arnold's on-line annotated bibliography of Longhouse titles, stretching from 1971 to the present, which maintains close links to European concrete poets as well as to contemporary Asian American poets and a world-wide range of translation.
I'll close again on a personal note. I want to cite Bob Arnold's remarks on one Longhouse title, a chaplet he published of a poem of mine. The poem is called "Out There," written on the death of Bill Everson, one of the original San Francisco Renaissance figures. I'd known Bill in Santa Cruz in the late seventies when I worked on a letterpress book with him. Due to Bill's ecology studies, letterpress printing, and anarcho-pacifist stance, Everson might be seen as a Post Coyote culture hero. In homage to the "mountain man" culture of the intermountain and far Western states (and in a deeper homage to the animal powers), Bill always wore a buckskin vest, a bearclaw necklace, and a rattlesnake hatband. But it's Bob Arnold's tone I want to emphasize. It feels personable, hand-made, done "through the good heart of the poets," & unafraid to express the quirkiest details-
"Andrew probably appeared after Cid Corman mentioned my name and press. He's a very curious devil, regardless. Has had his hand in a long span of poetry, reaching back to Sanskrit translations (some of his finest work), running awhile with small press editing and publishing, yeoman bookshop work in California, sterling personal essays, and many years staffed at the Naropa Institute with the children of Albion. He's a maker and a doer. Andrew's walked many times into our yard from a long distance off bringing parts of his family with him for a visit. The spiritual father William Everson was but one of his friends."
1. I believe the first reports of coyote on the East Coast came in the mid to late 1970s.
Clayton Eshleman writes: “I last visited the (N.O.) Brown’s in 1990. We had dinner at their house. That evening at least, Brown was obsessed with the 1960s. He told me that his discovery of the poetry of Robert Duncan had made the writing of Love’s Body possible. I said I thought it was William Blake that led to the breakdown of rational procedure in that book. No, it was Duncan, he insisted, then saying: And I couldn’t figure out how to get more of him into the book.” Archaic Design, p. 204. [back to text]
2. See also Dale Pendell, Walking with Nobby: Conversations with Norman O. Brownfor Brown’s relationship with M.C. Richards [back to text]
3. Kuksu: Journal of Backcountry Writing, no. 4, “Work.” Pendell says (personal correspondence, 2008): “Original name of Kuksu was Kyoi, a Sinkyone creator figure from Humboldt County, where the first two issues came out. I changed it to Kuksu when I moved to the Sierrasas a culture figure known to both the Coast Range and the Sierra.” [back to text]
4. Henry Kissinger’s “secret visit” to mainland China occurred July 8-11, 1971. In February, 1972, President Richard Nixon visited China, & met with Mao Zedong. With “the Shanghai Communiqué” of February 28 he reestablished formal ties between the U.S.A. and China. Friends I had in college at the time received the benefit of money suddenly pouring into East Asian studiesfrom the State Department, business interests, and so forth. Several friends were approached by the CIA and offered positions. For many years, Western students in China were heavily restricted as to where they could go, and Taiwan remained a more genial option for poets. But it was the reawakened sense of China’s importance, and the influx of funding, that gave a practical base to American poets hoping to learn the language.[back to text]
5. The town of Port Townsend has three prolific Chinese translators, Sam Hamill, Mike O’Connor, and Red Pine. Its local press, Copper Canyon, has published Asian translations from Caroline Kizer, Arthur Sze, W.S. Merwin, Kenneth Rexroth, and dozens of others. See in particular Copper Canyon’s title, edited by Frank Stewart, The Poem Behind the Poem: Translating Asian Poetry. [back to text]
6. Tartarus in Greek myth lies lower than Hades. It is reserved for those who make war on the gods. If an anvil takes nine days to fall from Heaven to Earth, it takes another nine days to reach the realm of Tartarus (Hesiod). The word is cognate to tortoise, (Portugese: tartaruga). In some Native American & many Asian cosmologies, when you get all the way down it is a turtle that upholds the earth: “Turtle Island, “the old-new name for this continent” (Gary Snyder). Snyder’s collection of poetry Turtle Island, his effort to bring the revolution to the back country, received the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. [back to text]
7. The scholarly accounts of de Angulo say he did field work, and then “wrote up” the grammars of twenty-six Amerindian and native Mexican languages. His book Indian Tales, and the KPFA radio broadcasts of 1950, include translations from quite a few languages of Northern Californialanguages often as different as Chinese is from Sanskrit. See his bibliography in Jaime in Taos (City Lights), compiled by Wendy Leeds-Hurvitz. [back to text]
8. Surviving through the Days: A California Indian Reader, edited by Herbert Luthin. [back to text]
9. Jennifer Moxley asks whether rural economics, and the manual labor required in back woods child rearing (such as washing diapers by hand) might make this “school” masculinist, or male dominated. That is something worth exploring, though I can think of many women poets I would cluster in or near the Post Coyote camp. I also wonder if the shifting fortunes of work such as midwifery, herb-craft, and other healing artsdue to state laws, insurance company policies, &chave had a depressing effect on the economic lives of scholarly rural women. [back to text]
10. “The law of metamorphosis”: Coyote’s Journal emerges out of a suppressed issue of the Northwest Review. Kyoi shifts locale and adopts another culture hero, Kuksu. Alcheringa condenses into New Wilderness Newsletter. Longhouse &Origin start to publish hand-in-hand & regularly exchange authors. The handmade ethos & modest dimension of many publicationsletterpress, or small “chaplet” constructed at home, covers sometimes silk-screened or inventively hand-coloredforefront the material base of publication. [back to text]