Book Review: Visions & Affiliations, A California Literary Time Line: Poets & Poetry 1940–2005

[Reviewed by Christopher Bernard]

The Very Rich Hours of Jack Foley

This massive, two-volume (the cover of each volume reproducing a Blakean fantasy painting by Mark Roland) magnum opus of modern literary history puts the California literary community of the last 70 years deeply in the debt of its remarkable author.

Jack Foley, one of our most innovative poets, a superlative critic and illuminating literary theorist, now appears as a brilliant (and astoundingly patient) historian as well in a work that demonstrates his gifts of intellectual dynamism, wide literary empathy, and a seemingly endless capacity for grace. Foley’s deep intelligence and epic sympathies now have an objective correlative fully suited to them in this sweeping (for once the epithet is entirely justified) narrative.

Once one begins to gourmandize on the delights of these rich volumes, one doesn’t want to stop: rarely has such a smorgasbord of intellect and language so succeeded in whetting the appetite with each renewed taste.

Told in a bracing present tense, the timeline follows the story of California’s literary events from 1940, when Kenneth Rexroth famously “invented the culture of the West Coast” – or, if not quite “invented,” surely christened it. (And he clearly didn’t mean Hollywood!) And we race, at a pace both rapid and light, through the following momentous decades, with nods to world events and concise descriptions of the unique literary world that this area, beneath many a cultural radar, has spawned.

Foley’s intellect has always been a dance of the mind. Readers are invited to partake, at his behest and through his furnishing, of a pleasure like few others: an ocean of epic sweep, sparkling with glints of intimacy―the year R.G. Davis, later of the San Francisco Mime Troupe, arrives in San Francisco, the year Joyce Jenkins joins Poetry Flash: surely one of the happiest moments for California’s poets.

But perhaps more importantly, readers―whether ready to brave the long march from the opening promise (“the twentieth century in all its confused and troubled eloquence”) to its peroration and evocation, hundreds of pages later, of the “Urgrund” that is the “constantly changing, endlessly conflictive fabric of time,” or just wanting to dip in it now and again, to sample from the surf, the glitter and swell of names, facts, explanations, verses―will learn that out of the apparent chaos of those decades of writing, a rare wisdom seems to have been born. And a strange joy in all this spinning world at any given moment half racing toward the night, half toward the sun.


Visions & Affiliations, A California Literary Time Line: Poets & Poetry 1940-2005
Pantograph Press
Click here to purchase

Christopher Bernard is a poet, writer, playwright, and essayist (and dabbler in photography and filmmaking), whose poetry and fiction have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. He is the author of the “anti-novel” A Spy in the Ruins, and the founder and co-editor of the literary and arts magazine and website Caveat Lector.