Dismantling Imperialist Nostalgia on the Pacific Rim: San Francisco as Global/Local U.S. City-Visions and Prefigurations [work in progress]
by Rob Wilson

“California is a place unlike any other on the planet. Its culture of innovation, diversity, entrepreneurship, and the-sky’s-the-limit creativity are what drew me here, and countless other Californians have similar stories to tell.”
—Robert C. Dynes, President of the University of California system.1

“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, you print the legend.”
—boasts the semi-drunken journalist to the naïve lawyer (Jimmy Stewart) clearing a western frontier town of cattle rustlers, land monopolists, and bar thugs to make way for US statehood, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence [1962].

The crisis we face, locally and globally at home and abroad, is more than a crisis of poetry, cultural poetics, or representation as such: the US imperial presidency is in crisis (as well it should be), deforestation surges across the planet, off-shoring and middle-class proletarianization get taken as an everyday down-sizing practice; and the war-machine of the Pax Americana has turned from its initial ‘shock and awe’ effects in the Iraq War into the techno-hubris reversals charted in the cautionary Third Worldist terms of Black Hawk Down. The simulation of democratic politics and presidential debate, globaloney discourse, and the vulgar Social Darwinism of US ‘reality TV’ has reached a mass-mediated level of postmodern cynicism and meanness-of-spirit that defeats any mere Situationist call (as it were) to “Bring the Tropes Home!2 As the Bay Area Situationist collective much more grimly warned in their demo-based rejoinder to the global power of the Spectacle as neo-instrument of capitalist accumulation and mass domination, as well as its Terrorist counter-appropriations by forces of civilizational annihilation and some kind of mass-mediated degree zero of castration, decapitation, and death, “it remains to be seen what new mutation of the military-industrial-entertainment complex emerges from the shambles” after Ground Zero and the wars against Iraq and residual forms of populist representation and civil critique.3

It is a time of global crisis and leftist demoralization when, as Walter Benjamin put it theorizing poetry between the two prior world wars: “[even] the dream [of surrealism] has grown gray.”4 Against huge social odds and the reign of a US-led Empire of the war-machine cum spectacle when global hegemony scarcely “takes a breathing spell,” I want to hold out for a place-based yet media-supple poetics of transpacific vision and forms of San Francisco-based regionality that is a strong and abidingly inter-textual one, with long standing palimpsestic ties to coalitions and authors on the coast and the dharma-bum versions of the Pacific Rim. It is a vision out of joint with these times of cynical reason cum professional melancholia, which is dedicated (as you shall see) to preserving the activist politics, left-leaning energies, and vision-opening forces of prophesy, coalition, hyperbole, spirituality, and critique. Regionality, so configured as an emergent topos (trope/place) for transnational community and mongrel multiplicity, becomes a site in which to register and articulate the shifty global/local dialectics of space-transformation and the situated transnational tactics of what I would call (deforming Heidegger to counter-liberal local uses) “world making.”5

This vision of California regionality and figurations of San Francisco as global mega-city of newness and promissory queerness will not only assume an openness to “transpacific” forces of Asia/Pacific becoming and Hispanic transculturation, it will also tap into some high-visionary sources from literature and popular culture (from Lenny Bruce and Maxine Hong Kingston to Jack Spicer, Bob Kaufman, Gloria Anzaldua, and Margaret Cho) and a demanding configuration of cultural vocation and an expansive urban “contado.” These are oppositional forces of will and imagination that Blake (as in Kenzaburo’s Oe’s eccentrically prophetic postwar-Japan novel on this High Romantic vision called Rouse Up Oh Young Men of the New Age! which influences my invocation of revolutionary Blakean poetics) troped as “Jesus-the-Imagination.” This is a force of counter-mechanistic vision Blake relentlessly and at great peril opposed to the reactionary hegemony of world capital and a kind of dead empircism of mere matter-turned-commodity as “the fallen world of illusion”.6 Against market odds, I will be holding out then for the vocation in extremis of the poet/culture maker in coastal and Pacific-leaning California, as a figure of theory-making and situated will plugged into worlding-energies on the left-coast of experimental poetics and geopolitics. This is what I will begin to sketch in as his/her poetic calling to high contrarian vision in William Everson’s sense outlined in his “Santa Cruz Meditations,” a vocation aiming to “throw off this malaise, this evasion, this attitudinizing and sickliness of urbanity” and, instead, “Shamanize! Shaminize! The American destiny is in your hands.”7

In a time of war upon war and civilization/race othered against civilization/race, as Juliana Spahr has warned in “Poetry in a Time of Crisis,” it is not enough for US poetry (or related modes of cultural production like film, comedy, or theater) merely to sooth, relieve, twitter, or console the soul with the sound of iambic bromides and the banalities of faux-universalism befitting the Fireside Poets of long ago.8 Given this time of political crisis if not global stalemate, we might turn to the imagination-endorsing power—and wry figural politics—of the Italian film-maker and troper against any fascism of the social-real, Frederico Fellini, to proclaim wildly: “The visionary is the only true realism.”9 As for my evoking poetic-mentor figures who would variously preserve the negational and counter-constructionist power of poetics/aesthetics in counter-revolutionary times like these, these vision-makers working in the politics and poetics of place and across the borders of language-community and bad empiricism, would help conjure forth resources of hope via the tactics of poetry and cultural world-production cum “planetarity.”10 Unlike in Plato’s grim Republic of the cave, my vision of the US “invisible republic” of minor-becoming and mongrel polity needs large and unsettling doses of poesis and what Evelyn Nien-Ming Ch’ien calls “weird English.”11

For the larger social context of poetry I am outlining is an oddly enabling one in the United States of Bush 2, perhaps the least poetic president since Herbert Hoover.12 I know this sounds weirdly paradoxical, but the dialectical situation of poetry in a late-capitalist society of sublimated Empire like our own—whereby poetry is constructed as the site of a de-instrumentalized irrelevance, lyric quietude, and social indifference13 —has so severely aggravated the working contradictions and historical malaise into a social condition in which the need for the projection and preservation of vision that poetry offers and the ties to sites, languages, experiments, and places of mongrel contestation that is cultural poetics (in the broadest sense) has never been stronger or more urgent. “We do not live by bread alone,” Middle Eastern prophets remind us, and Terry Eagleton would add to this calculus the rather nastier Marxian disclaimer that “men and women do not live by culture alone,” nor (as he later warned in The Idea of Culture) by cultural studies alone, however theory-drenched, coalitional, or vigilant its discursive tactics.14

Still, from my angle of theory and pedagogy working in Hawai`i and in California on and across the Pacific Rim, poetry (as genre of social discourse) remains a crucial soul-making and counter-worlding project that helps to prefigure, open a space for, and regenerate “the invisible republic” of dust-bowl poets and makers of refunctioned polity, place, and language-community from Woody Guthrie and Sister Gertrude Morgan to Bob Kaufman. Pamela Lu, Sesshu Foster, Zack Linmark, and Kathy Dee Banggo to name only a mongrel few.15 For we do live in an era of material opacity, spectral alienation, and the wholesale contraction of visionary forces away from any future-making capacity or collective will: “Therefore Los [Blake’s name for the vision-keeping poet] stands in London [the global city] building Golgonooza/Compelling his Specter to labours mighty.”16 Golgonooza (Blake’s term for industrializing London as a “global city” troped into some new-born Albion/Jerusalem of redemptive political vision and blasted futurity linked to the revolutionary prophecies of “America”) stands for the fully particularized city-of-art as such.

Again and again, we do ‘make a start out of particulars,’ meaning the grimy contexts of historical locality and the situatedness of social utterance; we have learned that much as American cultural poesis from the “filthy Passaic” of Doc Williams and the more projective global-locality of Charles Olson’s seafaring Gloucester. San Francisco, in my reading of this post-Beat “contado” surging its urban borders and energy-exchanges from the High Sierras, Cal and Stanford and UCSC, and Silicon Valley to the coastal reaches, timbers, and faux castles of Big Sur and San Simeon, here will stand exactly for such a “city of art” and nexus of mongrel leftist emergences on the Pacific Rim.17 The Beat deconstructivist poet Jack Spicer memorably captured this “image of the city” of the Bay Area urban nexus and mongrelizing cosmopolis in the warped and fully disjunctive stanzas of Heads of the Town Up to the Ether (especially in A Textbook of Poetry sections) of 1960-1961, when he urged, speaking of his specific locality of San Francisco as emanating from the local poetry-wars, language deformations, and willed marginality of standup poetry scenes in little North Beach bars like Gino Carlos and The Place,

Every city that is formed collects its slums and the ghost of it. Every city that is formed collects its ghosts.

Poetry comes long after the city is collected. It recognizes them as a metaphor. An unavoidable metaphor. Almost the opposite.

…But the city that we create in our bartalk or in our fuss and fury about each other is in an utterly mixed and mirrored way an image of the city. A return from exile…

Michael Davidson illuminates the trenchant situation and long duree of these over-reaching lines and providential city-vision when he writes in The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-century that “Spicer’s model here is Dante, who, exiled from Florence, creates a divine comedy out of historical contingency and in the process turns his local city into a system of belief.”18

If San Francisco is to prefigure this vision-driven and art-respecting civitas dei, then it demands a very left leaning, bohemian, queer, mongrel, porous site of experimental energies and juxtapositions open to the future and to the free-play of the off-beat and new. As the one Spicer poem Robert Hass embedded in the grungy poetry walkway on Addison Street in Berkeley near the BART station would remind us, “Hold to the future. With firm hands. The future of each afterlife, of each ghost, of each word that is about to be mentioned.// Don’t put beauty in here for the past, on account of the past. On account of the past nothing has happened.// Stick to the new. With glue, paste it there continually what God and man has created. Your fingers catch at the edge of what you are pasteing.” (Heads of the Town, p. 179). Spicer’s tie to this caustic localism of place in post-Beat San Francisco and a coastal California of queer emergence went along uneasily with the more deconstructive recognition as well embraced by the ironist Spicer—as opposed to the incarnational Gloucester as propagated in Charles Olson personifying himself as an updated version of Melville’s “Pacific Man”—that “Where we are is in a sentence.”19 Spicer’s poem on the poetics of emergence, captures what Berkeley and the Bay Area stands for to me: energies coming out of the future, open to free speech poetics, that kind of mode that made myself and others cross the country to get near or into it…something unfinished blessing the ground too.

In excessive, exploratory, and meandering postmodern terms of discursive over-reach and mythopoetic vision, Maxine Hong Kingston has finely captured the post-Beat and thickly archival San Francisco poetic culture and leftist politics of place through her 60s-drenched refigurations of Frank Chin as Asian American street-theater activist in Tripmaster Monkey: His Fake Book (1989). This remains for me one of the greatest postwar literary works San Francisco’s mongrel and transpacific-becoming culture has yet produced, as place and self collage and collapse into one mongrel and inter-textual mix by the suicide-haunted Golden Gate Bridge where the “fake book” opens its psychedelic documentary: “San Francisco, city of clammy humors and foghorns that warn and warn—omen, o-o-men, or dolorous omen, o dolors of omen” and home of five-generation native sinner and son, the grandly named Wittman Ah Sing out-troping Bret Harte, Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Norris, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Peter Orlovksy, Ishmael Reed, David Henderson, and his namesake bard Walt Whitman in a space-trumping claim to speak the dramaturgy of urban polity and the poetics of self-fashioning and Chinatown as place, myth, and nation-language.20

Working within the US trajectory of revolutionary transformation on the bliss-ridden edge of the North Beach becoming Haight Ashbury and its counter-cultural contado spreading into poetry readings, Be-ins, rock concerts and the streets, Kenneth Rexroth could boast after the long march of the US fantasmatic 1960s, “The San Francisco scene dominates world culture” in a nexus of post-beatnik transformation leading from California to Prague and Paris. “Today we are all a part of the world literature, and we have a profound effect on world literature” Rexroth added, urging that “the young people coming up” in San Francisco or elsewhere in the ever-provincial US, “need to be reconnected with the avant-garde tradition of the world.”21 This local literary and cultural production as such could not be separated from large-scale transformations of the social and the geopolitical that were coming to be fused into a huge poetics of global ecology.

In the soundtrack to the film Masked and Anonymous (2003), we are welcomed to some mongrel-new-world disorder as envisioned by Bob Dylan and sardonic co-author Larry David, everyday American city-life as translated into a mongrel-becoming fusion mix of Spanglish and Mexican American pidgin, Italian rap, and Japanese folk rock. Even more so than the worlding forms of this movie which make a post-apocalyptic US look like a huge impoverished NATA-zone of universalized poverty or some banal pan-optican out of Blade Runner, Yankee Power, and Mad Max, the soundtrack to "Masked and Anonymous" is all the more linguistically mongrel, thematically weird, and fully wondrous in its blasted-allegory deformations of liberal sensibility and common sense of US political reality or the feasibility of reformist politics which the movie is radically skeptical about. This movie, badly reviewed and seemingly discarded by the Bush 2 market forces, enacts a hugely ugly and trash-laden process of worlding forth this post-Dylanesque music new world order where songs, modes, values contaminate one another from Mexico City and Sardenia to Tokyo, San Jose, and LA.

All these emergent mongrel Japanese/Spanglish/Italian and Turkish translations of the Bob Dylan folk-rock canon are done over and sampled in innovative anti-lyrical ways throughout Masked and Anonymous, plus there is remaindered (as spectral text haunting this fallen global city of LA where the movie was set and made) an Afro-American gospel song retro-fitted to Dylan’s semi-gnostic lyrics by the Dixie Hummingbirds that is maybe one of the best sacred do-wop songs ever written or sung. As I hear this song and read this overall grim narrative of the US “empire burlesqued” into a surrealist-crazed borderless city-zone of sign-flow, identity simulation of Robert Zimmerman/Bob Dylan into ex-prisoner and disgruntled rock-star lackey Jack Fate preaching anti-politics on buses going nowhere through post-prosperous city streets turned mental hospital, junkyard, and slum, and capitalist aggression transgressing pious representation, it’s a version of Saint Augustine’s City of God being shown, but fallen, broken, lyric, sad, nihilistic, and pithy. There is (by turns) much worldly sustenance for the post-ironic pilgrim soul in us, even as we are fallen into the toxic Babylon (this city-space nation looks like some huge post-NAFTA-zone of Mexico City-fusing-into-Los Angeles, everyday space and selves gone ever-more lawless, immiserated, filthy, and wild).22

San Francisco has long served as a “contado” of vast urban periphery (“hinterlands” of the countryside) providing material resources (water, timber, stone, agriculture, shipping and so on) as well as huge labor needs and inputs to build up the wealth and splendor of the “imperial city” a la Rome or Constantinople.23 Reflecting a coalitional, experimental, and trans-poetics vision linked to the “worlding” dynamics of Santa Cruz and the global contado of San Francisco as Northern California nexus linked to Asia Pacific and the Americas to the south and north, I would aim to articulate a situated poetics of transpacific capaciousness and California regionality. This is an extreme, ongoing. and abiding poetics of place and numinous reach, with long standing palimpestic ties to sites and authors here, and one which is dedicated to preserving (if only in a visionary-affirmative mode of social prefiguration) the activist politics energies and visionary reach of what Blake called “Jesus-the-Imagination” and William Everson brashly incarnated in his vision-keeping works to shape and abiding ontological geopolitical poetics of place, Archetype West: The Pacific Coast as a Literary Region (1976) and its companion work in the pedagogy of vocation and regional/national/cosmological vision, Birth of the Poet (1982).

From his little cabin and A-frame press in Swanton along the Pacific above Santa Cruz (where he taught for years at Kresge College at UCSC and forged his sacramental vision of place and embodied poetics), this Brother Antoninus turned Dharma-Bum Blakean prophet helped to forge and enlarge the legends and myths and hyperboles of vision that allow place (regionality as such) not just to exist as geo-material fact and fate, but as mytho-poetic longing and historical-existential project to become an ‘idea/archetype” in the sacramental worlding and tactical beatitudes of place. In Archetype West: The Pacific Coast as Literary Region (Berkeley: Oyez Press, 1976), Everson invokes and challenges with a whole life-time of place-based western work the East Coast platitudes of New York critical lion Edmund Wilson who had blasted the Big Sur poetry and California exceptionalism of Robinson Jeffers in 1941 in these smug, place-denying, and culture-emptying terms: “It is probably a good deal too easy [for Jeffers] to be a nihilist on the [Big Sur] coast at Carmel: your very negation is a negation of nothing” (p. 4). But Everson, to the contrary, living in Swanton near Santa Cruz and teaching his huge “Birth of the Poet” course in UCSC Kresge College from 1969 to the mid 80s in the wake of mentor-figures like Jeffers, Rexroth, Royce, and the Duncan-Spicer circle of Bay Area poets, argues for the abiding special force of west coast poetics and San Franciscan incarnations; he claims that Kerouac and Ginsberg “became the true voice of the western regional archetype,” as these Beats incarnated the primordial, sublime, and wild energies of the region as some kind of “apotheosis” (p. 113) even as the mass movement of west-coast Hippies later diffused this energy of place into the social body (p. 147) in sites like Haight Ashbury, North Beach, and Venice Beach.

While some versions of regional locality and California exceptionality can be bounded and drenched in nostalgia and sentimentality, I am not being retrospective or rearguard here: the California of leftist vision I am contending for here is emergent, mongrel, multiple, under construction, upon to myriad forces of transcultural and translational becoming. For in such a vision of western regionality, the Pacific Ocean is not an entropic end-point, smoldering “void” (Lawrence), or beautiful “Glass Wall” (Baudrillard, Lyotard) of blockage, entrapment, and closure where US white-settler frontier dynamism ends and suicide, death, sunset, miscegenation, acid trips, bardic flight, and narcissistic aimlessness and cultural folly begin. This misguided sense of a continental-forged California forever closed to Asia/Pacific and native becoming not to mention shut off from the phenomenal South/North transcultural/translational interconnections between Alta/Baja Americas, was most invidiously portrayed by Louis Simpson in a 1963 Pulitizer-prize winning poem called “Lines Written Near San Francisco” which claims utter world-weariness and second-rate wine-consumption as California telos:

Every night at the
end of America
We taste our wine,
Looking at the
How sad it is, the
end of America!

In “Fallen Western Star: The Decline of San Francisco as a Literary Region,” Dana Gioia invokes this self-blinded little-narrative poem by Simpson to substantiate his even more remarkably wrong-headed claim that San Francisco had altogether stopped being the center of US literary culture around the imperial-San Francisco heyday in 1898 and 1899 when literary figures like Frank Norris, Ambrose Bierce, Jack London, Bret Harte, Lincoln Steffans, and the amazingly banal proletarian poet of “The Man with the Hoe,” Edwin Markham, had a broad national if not world impact.24

Defending California regionality and the local basis of art, Gioia contends that present-day San Francisco has no “literary ecosystem” or “thriving literary culture” of presses, journals, critics, social theorists, or authors of cosmopolitan regionality or innovative vision to speak of, though he oddly remarks that “Pundits are never in short supply in Berkeley, which is probably why it produced—albeit twenty-five years ago—the last influential local literary trend, Language Poetry.” Such a failure of vision and denial of history are so out of keeping with contemporary San Francisco and is literary-experimental contado, only somebody in New York, Denver, or Washington DC could believe its retro-fitted and nostalgia-drunk claims to defend the mythos of California as writing locality.25

Vision of place and polity is challenged by material blockage and the will to perpetual negation and rootlessness: “Los [the poet] reads the Stars of Albion! The Specter [theory] reads the Voids/Between the Stars.” This nervous dialectic of image and concept, theory and dream, has been transported to transpacific sites out along the Pacific Rim where Kant (as in fits of sublime lassitude) walks and walks around Taipei.26 Building-up into the makings of a transnational vision “among these dark Satanic Mills” of Connecticut and the lesser lights and “Mental Fight” of malls and courts and Berkeley classroom clamor.27

In these times of crisis and defeat, poetry as such becomes a way of keeping the soul alive (as in Blake’s principle of Los pursuing Jesus-the-Imagination) in the late capitalist world, say, with its codes of de-sacralization, glamour, banality, plunder, loathing, and dust. Poetry becomes a way of searching for a mantra, miming ontological traces and minority-becomings along lines of dwelling and flight, “walking between the two deserts/ singing.” Poetry early served the forces that drove the flower from the brass fuse, works and days, transfigurations of the Rock the Brass Valleys of Connecticut into haunted tropes and vision-quest graffiti: “One World.” In mongrel and myriad small presses from Tinfish and subpress collective to New Pacific Press and Krupskaya, poetry emerges anew as language charged with meandering, in the strict sense of syntax, a way of becoming; maybe (at times) a tongue or stammer on fire.28 Selecting and finishing language in some modest act of will and emergent intelligence. At the far extremity of language-deformation and quest, said Bataille, “I write in order to abolish the play of subordinate operations in myself” By such visions of polity and place, to write beyond my self into another language and place of perpetual becoming where the language of dispossession seems act of grace, lost certitude, syntactical torquing, and sudden finding.


1 “California’s Competitiveness Starts with Research Universities,” San Francisco Chronicle, 16 April 2004: B9. In my view, poesis and the humanities help to empower Dynes’s vaunting claim to California creativity and will to regional cum national exceptionality, though he centers his corporatist-alligned claim to super-creativity in the techno-sciences, bio-genetic research, and business culture of Silicon Valley capitalism.

2 During the mass demonstrations and web-rallying that took place in Santa Cruz and San Francisco to prevent the blinded march to another US war in Iraq in spring 2003, I took heart from my colleague Christopher Leigh Connery’s discourse-and-ideology wary cry to the Bush 2 war-machine, “Bring the Tropes Home!” This wry Situationist slogan came down to our era from Vietnam War protests; in related interventions, see the surrealist protest poem by Rob Wilson, “Ending the War in Vietnam by Lyric Fiat” in The Red Wheelbarrow, UCSC, spring 2003, p. 46, as well as anti-war poems posted ad hoc on the populist Poets Against the War website.

3 “Afflicted Powers,” pamphlet prepared for San Francisco anti-war marches of February-March 2003, extracts printed in New Left Review 27, May/June 2004: http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR26101.shtml

4 Walter Benjamin, “Dream Kitsch: Gloss on Surrealism,” Selected Writings: Vol. 2, 1927-1934, trans. By Rodney Livingstone and others, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 3.

5 These tactics and critical strategies are more thickly described in trans-disciplinary terms in my preface and essay on “Gladiator and the Pax Americana” in Rob Wilson and David Watson, eds., Worldings: World Literature, Field Imaginaries, Future Practices—Doing Cultural Studies in the Era of Globalization (Santa Cruz: New Pacific Press, forthcoming).

6 Kenzaburo Oe, Rouse Up O Young Men of the New Age! Trans. John Nathan (New York: Grove Press, 2002 [1986]), who reconfigured his whole interventionist political and poetic vision of “the imagination” in postwar Japan based on a re-reading of Blake’s poetry, as in Oe’s evocation of this line from Milton: “”The Imagination is not a State: it is the Human Existence itself” (p. 128). Capital, as such, is “a fallen world of illusion,” p. 129. Oe, the father-novelist, preaches to Hikari the post-Hiroshima musician-son, that poets and artists are relentlessly urged to set their revolutionary vision of imagination and body “against the Hirelings in the Camp, the Court, and the University” who would prolong Corporeal War and murderously negate global peace and poetic vision (249).

7 William Everson, The Birth of A Poet: The Santa Cruz Meditations, ed. Lee Bartlett (Santa Barbara: Black Sparrow Press, 1982), p. 135. For Everson, Bob Dylan was exactly such a prophetic and shamanistic poet of vision in the US ecumene, extending the protest of Guthrie into the prophesy of Jeremiah and becoming thus “a figure of confrontation than of prescience” (p. 130).

8 Juliana Spahr, “Poetry in a Time of Crisis,” Poetry Project Newsletter 189 (2002): 6-8, originally written for a “Poetry in a Time of Crisis” panel at the 2001 MLA convention.

9 Fellini’s comment is used as the opening epigraph to the history-laden docudrama, The Magic of Fellini (2002).

10 Mentors like Blake, Oe, Fellini, Jack Spicer, Masao Miyoshi, Bob Dylan, Brother Antoninus or Meaghan Morris and Juliana Spahr for that matter. These for me are forces working within and against the monolingual reign of “Anglo global” terms and frames. See Gayatri Chakroavorty Spivak, Death of a Discipline (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), especially chapter 3, on “Planetarirty” as a challenge to US globalism from the internationalist-left which cannot be merely “anti-global” or local nativist in tactics and frames.

11 See the modes of Chinglish, migrant deformations, and pidgin production posited against the professionalized reign of postcolonial theory-speak in Weird English (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004).

12 I for one do not take Bush’s loose and mangled American English to be poetry or poetry-like.

13 As in New Yorker verse if not the scaled-down poems worthy of The Dunciad in the leftist journal of mass circulation, The Nation. The lyric is relegated to a condition of irrelevance to the US war-machine verging on what Santayana called in World War I contexts, “the genteel tradition”: this is what Ron Silliman blasts as the US School of Lyric Quietude on his blog site defending language and post-language poetics.

14 On the multi-sited rise of such left-leaning cultural studies work and internationalism after the war and the social dynamism of 1968, see Michael Denning, Culture in the Age of the Three Worlds (London: Verso, 2004), who invoked Eagleton, pp. 188-119.

15 Though I cannot substantiate this claim here as fleshed out by myriad examples, I would urge the reader to look at Rob Wilson, Pacific Postmodern: Writing the Pacific, from the Sublime to the Devious (Honolulu: Tinfish, 2000) as context for such claims. “Invisible Republic” would allude to the prophetic leftist America evoked by Greil Marcus around the popular culture work in music of protest poets like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, The Band, Joan Baez, Ma Rainey, and Robert Johnson et al.

16 “Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Great Albion,” William Blake: The Complete Poems, ed. Alicia Ostriker (London: Penguin, 1977), pp. 650-51.

17 On the material and visionary of San Francisco’s being “the hub of it” and nexus of “the new regionalism” of California-based vision, see Everson, The Birth of A Poet, pp. 162-163, who makes some caustic contrasts with the Fresno county of his birth and the Los Angeles of de-racinated mythlessness. My own geomaterial vision of San Francisco as a huge “contado” of center/periphery interactions and hinterlands as well as a counter-imperial poetics, depends upon formulations of space in Gray Brechin, Imperial San Francisco: Urban Power, Earthly Ruin (Berkeley: Universit of California Press, 1999) which does not turn to San Francisco literature or experimental poetics for a counter-vision of the Pacific and/Beat contado.

18 Michael Davidson makes the case that “the local” circulation pattern generated around Jack Spicer’s vision of San Francisco did not mean seeking Beat celebrity nor academic ratification, but performing crazed poetry in a bar like The Place in San Francisco: see The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 156-167.

19 The cultishness, phobias, and exclusionary tactics of Spicer’s poetry circle are outlined by Michael Davidson in Guys Like Us: Citing Masculinity in Cold War Poetics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), who nonetheless concludes once again that “Spicer is forging a link between Dante’s projection of Florence into the civitas dei of Divine Comedy by imagining a redeemed San Francisco formed out of the poet’s North Beach milieu,” a milieu of gender and genre experimention Davidson would now and again relate to the west-coast Language Poets his own poetry is affiliated to, pp. 41-42.

20 Maxine Hong Kingston, Tripmaster Monkey (New York: Vintage, 1990), p. 3 ff. In some ways the text forms a situated and Asian Americanized archive of every film and literary work done on San Francisco, with works like Vertigo and Dharma Bums fully embedded in the dream-life and reference system of Wittman Ah Sing, who at times also seems to embody the macho energy not just of Chin but of Earll Kingston, Maxine’s actor husband to whom this “fake book” and exploratory novel is dedicated.

21 Interview with Kenneth Rexroth, in David Meltzer, ed., The San Francisco Poets (New York: Ballentine, 1971), p. 34, pp. 36-37.

22 In the words of Larry Charles, the film director of Masked and Anonymous: “Well what I went for was a combination of things. First of all, I collected images photographs; journalistic photographs from third world countries for a couple of years. And I just saw similarities in them and at the same time I really spent a lot of time in downtown L.A. which is this juxtaposition of various culture, the sort of crossroads of numerous cultures, African, Spanish, Mexican, Central America, South America, Eastern European, American, poor, rich and then I would look at the these pictures of third world countries and they looked a lot like downtown Los Angeles and I started to sort of get this idea of the cacophony of this country, that if you look at one direction in Los Angeles you see Beverly hills and the beach, but if you look in the other direction it’s a third world country. This kind of weirdly cacophonous, multi-ethnic, third world country and so I loved that idea of exploring that a little bit more deeply, and then I started thinking about the cover songs in different languages and then Jeff Rosen was generous enough to just open the vaults to me and give me access to all those covers. There’s thousands and thousands of these foreign covers and I just started listening to them and some just drew you in so powerfully like the Japanese version of My Back Pages, yeah and "this is such a natural here". It also makes a statement in the movie that people don’t realize the impact Bob Dylan has had on their lives, he’s so pervasive its almost overwhelming.”

As he writes of the global cover versions of Dylan’s songs that connect his work to cultural political struggles from Italy and Turkey to the Pacific Rim, “Well I think the Japanese version of ‘My Back Pages’… I was looking for a song to open the movie with and that song somehow combined the energy and the force and the power and the confusion and lucidity, it just said everything all at once to me. It really was a very inspiring moment and I recognized that could be the first song. So I love that, I really like almost all the music, there’s so much that we couldn’t put in the movie and so much we couldn’t put on the soundtrack. And again it’s amazing when you think about it that Bob has such a gigantic Japanese following, yet the difficulty of translating him into Japanese is monumental apparently, and yet there is this incredible powerful cult around him in Japan.”

23 See Gray Brechin’s Imperial San Francisco as well as Gold Rush-era passages from Bayard Taylor, Eldorado: Adventures in the Path of Empire (1850): for example, on Santa Cruz and Oregon timber and mills (p. 166) fueling the growth of the Bay Area city; on San Francisco’s booming growth into a world-wide commercial center (p. 240 and 246). See also Amy Tan’s Chinese immigrant mother looking wryly at little Saint Mary’s Church in Chinatown fringes in The Joy Luck Club (1989), at the same time she sees the real American church of belief and power is in the skyscrapers, meaning the Bank of America and the San Francisco family dynasties who founded these finance, mining and real estate fortunes in the wake of the Gold Rush.

24 Markham’s poem appeared in Hearst’s rival San Francisco Examiner and supposedly was republished in 10,000 newspapers and magazines at home and abroad in 1899.

25 Gioia’s essay was first printed in the Denver Quarterly in Fall 1998 and became the basis for the essays collected by Jack Foley, ed., The ‘Fallen Western Star’ Wars: A Debate About Literary California (Scarlet Tanager Press, 2001). It appears online at: http://www.danagioia.net/essays/ewestern.htm

26 It was not long ago that post-romantic poets of trans-American subjecthood (like Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Jack Spicer say) seemed to offer up an expanded counter-cultural vision of region and a large-scale improvisational engagement with the un/American drives of history, place, nation, and subject. Add to that bio-poetics of place the scrupulously gnostic deconstructionism of poets like John Ashbery, Juliana Spahr, and Wallace Stevens, along with the will-to-visionary dimensionality of William Blake, Emerson, and Kenzaburo Oe which haunt all the global figurations and lyric quests here.

27 William Blake, “Milton,” Preface, p. 514.

28 On the long-cultivated poetics and will to oblivion of ‘going local’ in Honolulu, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz, see Rob Wilson, “In Praise of Doggedness,” The Red Wheelbarrow, spring 2003, pp. 60-65.


Rob Wilson is a Professor and Graduate Chair of Literature at the University of California at Santa Cruz. His works include Reimagining the American Pacific (Duke University Press, 2000), Waking In Seoul (Mineumsa Press, 1988) and American Sublime (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991) and the co-edited collections Global/Local (Duke UP, 1996) and Asia/Pacific as Space of Cultural Production (Duke UP, 1995). He is presently at work on a study of conversion and counter-conversion in the Pacific called Henry, Torn From the Stomach and a collection of cultural criticism called Worldings: Doing Cultural Studies in the Era of Globalization forthcoming this spring with New Pacific Press. Contact him at rwilson@uscs.edu