glimpses at poets and pubs dubbed underground
Saturday, March 28, 2009
THE EVERYMAN MAVERICK Hugh Fox whatafox
THE EVERYMAN MAVERICK: A FEW MINITS WITH THE
MATCHLESS HUGH B. FOX
(i have to say, the man doesn't waste a chance at flattering his interviewer! this conversation took place March 28, 2009, in long-D fashion. Hugh Fox is considered a Godfather of the Underground Press. he Is a warm person who extends himself gladly. I am jealous and spurred on by his genius.)
BREE: WHAT KIND OF KID WERE YOU IN PRIMARY SCHOOL? GOODIE-GOODIE? A JOCK?
HUGH B. FOX:Well, I had polio when I was about four, got cured, wheelchair for a while, all kinds of Sister Kenny treatment hot massages, etc., and then when I could walk again my mother got me into dance class and mom and dad got me into starting violin lessons about age five or six. With composer-conductor P. Marinus Paulson, a guy who ought to be really known, but he’s not. All his manuscripts in libraries in Chicago.
So I’d practice the violin every day, and Paulson started me playing around with the piano keyboard, “Let’s try some C-Major chords, and then C-minor, try a little bass, hit those e- and b-flats for a while....” I should explain that my father was a frustrated, former violinist who had been put through med school by my secretary mother. So I was kind of fulfilling the dream he had to leave behind.
Was raised by Irish Catholic nuns at Saint Francis de Paulo. More piano lessons there. Mass every morning. Latin. Altar boy. Then my mother heard about Zerlina Muhlman Metzger and the All Childrens’ Grand opera and I started going to opera classes twice a week on the north side of Chicago. A long “L” ride. We’d sing songs in French, German, even English, “Ich liebe dich wie du liebst mich....” Mrs. Metzger (or “Madame Metzger,” as she called herself), was from Vienna. Her mother , Anna Muhlman, sang the lead role at the first performance of Das Lied Von der Der Erde in Vienna, with the composer, Gustave Mahler, leading the orchestra. I met her once.
The Metropolitan Opera didn’t bring kids with them when they put on opera performances in Chicago at the Civic Opera House, so we would do the children’s chorus in, say, Carmen. Sir Thomas Beecham on the podium, Gladys Swarthout as Carmen. Then we’d get involved with the choruses in operas like Boris Godunov, and I became pals with Mr. Nichols, the back-door guy/entrance manager, and he told me “Anything you want to see from back stage, come down and I’ll let you in.”
So I’d go to all the ballets and operas and whatever else was going on there, fell in love with Ruth Page’s and Maria Tallchief’s legs, saw all the major ballets ever performed....when my voice changed, our group put on Mozart’s The Magic Flute and I sang the role of Sarastro.
I remember going down to the Chicago Public Library downtown and getting the score of,say, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and putting on a record and reading the score, pretending I was the conductor.
I began to write my own music too. Even now, put me down in front of a piano anywhere (the bigger the better, preferably a huge concert grand in a huge auditorium) and off I’ll go.....improvise, improvise, improvise.....
My grandmother spoke Czech and I was always singing French and German and Italian, and in college I had Professor Le Blanc (from the Sorbonne) for French and Prof. Schwarzenberg (from Prague...the upper class Czechs spoke German, not Czech) for German, made my first trip to Europe at age twenty....
Never one football game, basketball, anything to do with sports...full time in the arts.
My parents even gave me a Life Membership at the Art Institute in Chicago and I’d hang around there a lot, studied art there...and in grammar school....
B: SO, WHAT WAS YR FIRST TASTE OF POETRY?
HBF: I was always encouraged to read, and while I was at Leo High School (the Christian Brothers of Ireland...again more Irish) I was immersed in poetry, but my first real fascination with poetry was when I got fascinated with T.S. Eliot.
I remember buying his complete works, then started reading Ezra Pound. And I’d always be reading writing by the saints and theological writers, like St. Augustine’s The Confessions.
When I was a senior in high school one of the brothers took me aside and said “Fox, we need a new editor for the high school newspaper, and I think you’re the only person I know who can handle the job.” So there I was, editor of The Leo News. Editorials and all.
The crazy thing was that when it was time for college I was thrust into pre-med at Loyola University in Chicago and Comparative Anatomy, Microbiology, Biochemistry and the like began.
I even went to one year of medical school and then dropped out, went back into undergraduate and got my B.A. in English and M.A. in English, courses like The History of English Literature, The History of American Literature....The English Novel....endless, encyclopedic reading. And on the side I’d always be reading Aldous Huxley’s novels, keeping notebooks of the words I didn’t know, trying to build up my vocabulary.
I wrote my M.A. Dissertation, "The Art Theory of Sir Joshua Reynolds". Then I went down to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and got a Ph.D. in American Literature and wrote my dissertation on The Cosmological STRUCTURE in Poe’s EUREKA and before I knew it I was a professor of American Literature at Loyola University in Los Angeles where I suddenly got thrust into the film-world, had pals like William Peter Blatty, the guy who wrote The Exorcist, and lots of students like the actor Brian Avery...always going to film festivals at UCLA and there was one theater that showed nothing but old, old films...went to about one Japanese film a week.. started writing plays...and when Loyola University built a Communication Arts Center they inaugurated the opening of the building one night with a production of my play The Incast.
Always going to Hollywood parties. Like one day I was sitting next to this ancient lady and I introduced myself, “Hi, I’m Hugh Fox,” “I’m Anita Loos,” “Wait a second, that name rings a bell....,” “I wrote Gentleman Prefer Blondes.”
One day I was out at the Pickwick Book Store in Hollywood and I picked up a beautiful copy of Bukowski’s A Crucifix in a Deathhand, took it home and read it and loved it, wrote to the publishers, Loujon Press, and said I wanted to meet Bukowski and they told me to look him up in the L.A. /Hollywood phonebook, I did, called him, went to see him, told him I wanted to write a book about him and he gave me copies of everything he’d ever written...suitcases of books...and I wrote a critical study about it. I’d just written my first post-doc book on Henry James and all of a sudden here I was Bukowskiing it...a HUGE influence on my own work, out of academe into The Real World.
B: DID YOU TAKE TO RELIGION?
HBF: Well...although I was raised as a Catholic, my grandmother was Jewish and she had a tremendous influence on me, and my mother made a deathbed confession that her mother was Jewish, and I had already worked my way/read my way out of Catholicism (too many Fathers of the Church, seeing the church itself as a human rather than divine creation), so I went over to my local synagogue in Michigan (where I was teaching after I left Loyola--MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY) and didn’t have to “become” a Jew because with a Jewish grandmother I already was a Jew.
But I did a Bar Mitzvah, and 30+ years later I still go every Friday night. In fact this week a poem of mine called “Shtehl” came out in Poetica and last night the Cantor at the synagogue read it after the sermon and everyone loved it so much that I couldn’t even sleep last night thinking about the mass, personal reaction:
Every Friday night he goes to Shabbt services
maniacally, seventy-four going on what feels
like a hundred and ten, Baruch Ata Adonai,
Blessed Art Thou, God, blessing the wine,
remembering the dead, praising the Power
that controls it all, and then the Oneg/Partytime/
Coffeehour, retired Colonel Saper (90), Mrs.
Stock-Market Whiz, Gussy (85), Dr. Wolf (Vet,
59) and Al, her car-parts whiz husband, Jack
Rackman, Mr. Stint, just dropped fifty pounds
(“ ‘ Or else!,’ as my cardiologist put it.”), a whole
peace-corps more of beloved faces, a little cheesecake,
grapes, cake, decaf coffee and the holocaust
never happened, no terrorists in any wings,
it’s all just career-memories, army-time in India,
stock-markets and the latest radiations, surgeries,
salves, pills, kids, grandkids, only an hour at most,
but it’s like the week never passed, it’s all one
B: SO, WHEN DID YOU GET INTO ARCHAEOLOGY?
HBF: Well, I married the Peruvian poet, Lucia Ungaro, when I was at the University of Illinois, and then got totally involved with Spanish (which I had studied in high school), started getting Fulbright teaching jobs in Mexico (U. of Hermosillo), two years in Caracas (Instituto Pedagogico and the Universidad Católica), I spent a year studying at the University of Buenos Aires and I started visiting all the pre-Columbian ruins in North and South America and began to see things that no one had ever seen before -- like ancient Lebanese writing on the ruins and pottery of the Mochica Indians in Peru, writing from ancient Sumeria on the ruins at Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and slowly evolved a vision that Tiawanaku, Bolivia was the center of all ancient religious belief in the ancient world, the real Garden of Eden.....and discovered that the language of the Incas was a variation of Arabic....a whole stack of books published on the topic, and another one (Rediscovering America) out from World Audience in New York soon.
B: WANNA TALK ABOUT LIPSTICK?
HBF:Well, for a while, I was also Connie Fox. Hugh Fox, Connie Fox. My mother always wanting a girl and having me, all my immersion in ballet and the other arts....I discovered my Connie Self while in L.A. and started watching films about transsexuals like Cochinelle (who , sadly, died last year)....now, though, after an orchiectomy related to prostate cancer, I am Mr. Totally Sexless.
B: BESIDES LITERARY ONES, ANY HEROES?
HBF: Well, my biggest hero in the last few years has been Debussy. For the total multiple-originality of his work. And my wife, Dr. Maria-Bernadete, M.D. and great artist. And my daughters, Margaret (ex Harvard professor, now teaching kindergarden) and Alexandra (psychologist, artist, photographer)....my son Chris, Mr. Film. And you, Bree!
B: WOULD YOU RATHER WORK AS A MAYORAL AIDE, OR AD EXEC? (DON'T TELL ME YOU'VE BEEN BOTH!)
B: WHAT MADE YOU PUT TOGETHER COSMEP? WHO WERE YOUR SUPPORTERS, AND WHO WERE YOUR DETRACTORS?
HBF: Well, the real force behind COSMEP at the beginning was Len Fulton (Small Press Review, Dustbooks). Big get-together out in Berkeley in 1968, everyone who was anyone there, and Fulton created COSMEP, put me on the first Board of Directors, and I stayed on as long as COSMEP existed. My best-buddy, Richard Morris (now -- sadly -- dead), actually did the running of the org for decades and we’d have annual get-togethers here , there and everywhere, conventions with all the small presses there, all the wild, off-the-wall poets there.....great, great, great.....
B: DID YOU EVER TASTE THE HOSTILITY BETWEEN CLEVELAND, MIDWESTERN POETS AND THE WEST-COAST CALIS?
HBF:Not really.In fact I was just invited to an anniversary celebration of the Berkeley Days (Berkeley Daze) last year....just did a book on four California poets, Angela Mankiewicz, Glenna Luschei, Karla Andersdatter and Ellaraine Lockie)...still have an old girlfriend of mine in Carlsbad, one of my ex-students at Loyola, now 81....to me it’s all the same thing. The same with Boston.
New York, though, I still see as a kind of local yokel bullshit regional CLUB instead of a real cultural heartland.
B: DO YOU THINK TODAY'S SMALL INDY PRESSES WOULD BENEFIT FROM A COSMEP?
HBF: Very much so. The small press is still very much alive. Writers like Bree, lots of great mags...but the publishing has gotten a lot rougher. Thousands of submissions to book publishers. Thousands of writing graduates, lots of publishers publishing just a few books a year. Imagine 5,000 submissions and five books. Money crisis, of course, and the computerification of everything. The whole sense of “underground wildness” has been turned into corporate get-aheadness.
B: WILL YOU PUBLISH MORE BOOKS BY NEW POETS?
HBF:I don’t do any more publishing now. My press, Ghost Dance, has been dead for years.
B: YOU STUDIED IN UNIVERSITY FOR A GOOD CHUNK OF YOUR LIFE. DID YOU FEEL AT HOME, OR LIKE AN INTERLOPER? IT IS HARD FOR THIS INTERVIEWER TO IMAGINE YOUR MEGAMALL SIZED PERSONALITY DIDN'T STAND OUT.
HBF:I always felt and still feel at home in the universities. There are still tons of older undergrounders around in English departments and libraries and the like. Genius types like Peter Berg at Michigan State University, who just set me up for a university library reading last month. Great time. People in the audience like pianist Ralph Votapek. Check him out. But the universities are cutting out TENURE and RETIREMENT, so the whole sense of the university as HOME-ZONE is disappearing.
An idiot-tendency. For centuries universities were home-ground for geniuses, why destroy that? I go to a recital almost every day over at the Michigan State University College of music, everyone getting DMA’s (Doctors in Musical Art) in iano, violin, flute, you name it. Students from China, Korea, Russia, Bulgaria...scores and scores of them...and what happens to them next as everything shrinks and vanishes?
B: I HATE USING THE WORD UNDERGROUND TO DESCRIBE MY GREEN PANDA PRESS. ALTHO, PRESSES LIKE THE ONES KRYSS, AND THE LEVITES, AND POTTS WERE RUNNING DID TAKE MUCH HEAT FROM THE MAN, I OPERATE IN THE WORLD OF 'ONLINE SECURITY'-- I FEEL I COULD PRINT ANYTHING, AND GO UNPENALIZED. IS THERE A BLANKET TERM YOU THINK COULD COVER POETRY BENEATH THE MAJOR CURRENT, AT THIS TIME?
HBF: Let’s call it REAL-WORLD poetry, OUTSIDE THE NEW YORK ENCLAVE POETRY.
B: WILL YOU SETTLE DOWN, AS IF IT COULD EVER HAPPEN! WILL YOU SETTLE HERE, OR IN BRAZIL, OR WHERE? IF YOU CAN CHOOSE?
HBF: My Brazilian wife buys lottery tickets every week. If we would win thirty million dollars, we’d keep our houses in East Lansing (a short drive from the U. of Michigan in Ann Arbor, 20 minutes by plane from Chicago) and buy an apartment in Florianópolis, Brazil on the island of Santa Catarina, where her family lives. The arts are still alive, alive, alive there.....
B: WILL YOU LEAVE ME WITH A LIMERICK?
HBF: Let’s see what I can do.
A Fox fleeing from/to he knows not what,
But always feeling big kicks in the butt.
The winds always whispering “Get off your ass.”
The Fox always answering, “Let’s not be crass.”
Doing whatever he can to not get in a rut.