Editor’s Note #92

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Dear Readers, Welcome to the new ZYZZYVA. After 26 years we’ve given the journal a new look, even a new heft. Over the past months we’ve worked on a redesign with Three Steps Ahead, the same California firm behind our new website. ZYZZYVA’s original print design, created with care by Thomas Ingalls & Associates in 1985, was elegant and restrained. We kept in mind the clarity and the spare beauty of their vision as we sought to add other elements speaking to the pleasures of print, to the craft of bookmaking, and to the stimulating quietude of reading. We considered […]

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Gin

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With news that Philip Levine is the new Poet Laureate of the United States, we bring to you this poem that ran in the Spring 1991 issue of ZYZZYVA. (At the time, Levine was a professor of English at California State University, Fresno. He now divides his time between Fresno and Brooklyn.)

Focused on a bunch of boys experimenting with booze, as common a rite of adolescence as can be, “Gin” is funny and tender, as it shows the kids puzzling over the merits of drinking. But the poem unsheathes a sharp line at the end. “Any wonder we were trying gin,” Levine writes, after detailing all the travails — personal and political — life will hold for the underage drinkers.

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The Green Tunnel

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David Rains Wallace is the author of seventeen books, including Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of California’s Desert (click here for our review),  Neptune’s Ark: From Ichthyosaurs to Orcas; Beasts of Eden: Walking Whales, Dawn Horses, and Other Enigmas of Mammal Evolution, and The Klamath Knot: Explorations of Myth and Evolution. His work has earned him two California Book Awards, as well a John Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing.

In its Winter 1985 issue ZYZZYVA published an excerpt from Wallace’s work-in-progress — his examination of the unique ecosystem of a state park just north of Daytona, Florida, called Bulow Hammock. The book, Bulow Hammock, eventually would be published by Sierra Club Books. In this piece, Wallace thinks back to when he was a nine-year-old boy and first visited these woods, which are so different from those he knew in New England. “The hammock was … seductive,” he writes. “It smelled sweet, a perfumy sweetness that reminded me of the hotel lobbies and cocktail lounges I’d occasionally been in with my parents.”

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Chico

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In its Spring 1986 issue, ZYZZYVA published a short story by Moroccan artist and writer Mohammed Mrabet, which was translated by the late Paul Bowles, who was living in Tangier at the time. “Chico” was taken from the story collection Marriage with Papers, which was published by Bolinas, California, publisher Tombouctou Books that May.

A spare story of a man seemingly bent toward violence, “Chico” is also an ironic tale of a generous idler turned ingrate toward a hospitable friend. There’s no real moral to “Chico,” only observations of people’s contradictions. We can speculate as to why Chico acts so belligerently (life in prison? being spoiled as a child?), whether,  as the narrator says, nobody could save Chico from himself. These open questions make “Chico” something of a small tragedy.

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Complicity

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Dodie Bellamy is a San Francisco writer and teacher. Her books include Academonia, Pink Steam, and The Letters of Mina Harker. Her book Cunt-Ups won the 2002 Firecracker Alternative Book Award for poetry. In its Fall 1985 issue, ZYZZYVA published her story “Complicity.”

A snapshot of an arguably lost San Francisco — one before the Loma Prieta earthquake, long before the dot-com boom and bust — Bellamy’s piece is experimental without being indulgent. It meditates on sex, art, identity, and friendship, confronting the inherent messiness those themes invite. Living off of bad checks and shoplifted goods, the men and women in “Complicity” may be marginalized by society at large, but there’s nothing shrinking about them. As the narrator says, “We knew we were perverts so we wallowed in it.”

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A New Ocean

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In its Winter 1985 issue, ZYZZYVA published this essay by Blair Fuller. Fuller, who lives in Tomales, California, is the author of the novels A Far Place and Zebina’s Mountain, is an editor emeritus at the Paris Review, and with the late Oakley Hall, co-founded the Squaw Valley Community of Writers.

“A New Ocean” is the story of how, in 1963, Fuller submitted to an experimental LSD treatment in the Bay Area. The descriptions of his altered mental state on the drug are poetic, and could even be called moving. And the coincidence of his treatment happening the day before John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas lends a sadness to the piece — a sadness extending beyond the violent death of the president. As one of the female doctors from that early treatment tells him many years later, it seemed as if a great many things changed with that day, including the “feeling of the possible”

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Heroin

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In its Fall 1985 issue, ZYZZYVA published a piece by Jessica Hagedorn, taken from her novel-in-progress at the time. According to her bio in that issue, Hagedorn, who was born and raised in the Philippines, had lived in San Francisco for 14 years “before banishing herself to New York City.” (She’s now the Parsons Family University Professor of Creative Writing at Long Island University in Brooklyn, and her latest novel, Toxicology, was published in April.)

The story, about a DJ and prostitute named Joey Sands who works in a Manila disco, is a frank look at a predatory world, one revealing the tangled relationship between the Philippines and the United States. The novel-in-progress would be published five years later as Dogeaters, which would received critical praise from the likes of Robert Stone and would go on to become a finalist for the National Book Award in 1990.

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Piropo

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Leticia del Toro is a writer living in El Cerrito. Her short story “Piropo,” which was published in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2011 issue, marks her first time in print. (Not counting the liner notes she’s written for Tex-Mex CDs from Arhoolie Records.) The story’s narrator, Carolina, is a woman asserting herself in a man’s world of manual labor. (She disguises her sex to get work). Meanwhile, she contends with Joaquin, the feckless father of her little boy back in Mexico, and navigates the unpredictable world of well-meaning Anglos. The following is an excerpt from “Piropo.”

On June 4, Leticia del Toro will be reading with D.A. Powell, Michael Jaime-Becerra, Peter Mountford and others as part of Babylon Salon in San Francisco.

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Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging

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Carl Adamshick, who lives in Portland, Ore., is the 2010 recipient of the Walt Whitman Award. His first poetry collection, Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State University Press), was just published in April. “Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging” is one of his two poems in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA.

The poem evokes the giddy moment when we realize how much we love our somewhat average existence, when we grasp how remarkable and vibrant our seemingly unremarkable lives really are.  “I need no resolution/just the constant turmoil of living,” says the speaker, who notes in the poem’s first line: “I have more love than ever.”

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Son of the General

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Pamela Rivas was born in San Francisco and grew up on the Peninsula. She is a bilingual educator for Santa Cruz County. “Son of the General,” which appears in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA, is her first work of fiction in print. Her tight, concise story was inspired by her family’s first trip to Central America. Something like a prose poem, Rivas’s fiction here delineates a legacy of societal brutality, a legacy that dovetails with the well-deep, universal anxiety of parenthood — how to protect one’s children.

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On Entering 2nd Grade

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Kate Martin Rowe is a writing instructor at Glendale Community College and Los Angeles City College. She’s also a published poet. Her poem “On Entering 2nd Grade” appears in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA. A benediction of sorts for a child who can’t possibly see coming what the poem clearly can — the rest of her life — “On Entering 2nd Grade” is both lovely and hopeful, if tinged with an understandable anxiety.

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In a Car, Far Away From Here

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Paula Priamos teaches English and creative writing at California State University, San Bernardino. Her published work includes pieces for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her memoir, The Shyster’s Daughter, will be coming out next spring from Etruscan Press.

An excerpt from The Shyster’s Daughter — titled “In a Car, Far Away From Here” — appears in the Spring 2011 issue of  ZYZZYVA. It’s an unsentimental, perhaps even hard-boiled story about a family on the verge of drastic change, seemingly drifting toward danger. Told against the background of Kevin Cooper’s  1983 prison escape, it deftly evokes adolescence dread in Southern California. (The following is a portion of that excerpt.) Paula will be reading with Vanessa Hua at 5 p.m. on May 14 at the ZYZZYVA Spring Celebration at Skylight Books in Los Angeles.

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