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Along the Rim

(Introduction to Along The Rim:

The Best of the Pacific Rim Review of Books, Vol II)

The Pacific Rim Review of Books and its editors have taken on the seemingly gargantuan task of nation building in a post-national era. Contradictory? Perhaps, but this is a large vision and contains multitudes, as Walt Whitman would say.

In his book Archetype West, William Everson gives us some of the perspective required to better understand our situation as we enter the second decade of the third millennium. “(The Westerner) feels that his situation as term of the westward migration places him at the center, rather than on the periphery, of the American experience.”

What is contained in these pages  reinforces this notion for North Americans, and discourages the kind of thinking often forced on us by cultural and political centres back east, and the industry-generated culture they answer to, whether those centres be New York, Toronto, Washington D.C. or Ottawa. The action is here on the Pacific Rim and the editors know it.

The twenty-five essays in this book give you a sense of the breadth and depth of that action. This is not to say that all the material here comes from the Rim itself, but it is surely shaped by an emerging Pacific ethos. An ethos strengthened by Pacific Rim-based movements such as the San Francisco Renaissance, TISH, and the influence of Asian art and culture.

The book begins with an exclusive interview of Bob Dylan conducted by Vojo Syndolic, outlining the lineage of The Beats, to Dylan, to the Beatles and the counterculture(s) of the 1960’s.  Part of this culture was the movement away from monotheistic religions and toward Buddhism, Hinduism, yoga, meditation and other Eastern spiritual traditions that deepened the notion of humans actually being situated in the environment and responsible for its care and protection. Being inextricably linked with it; at one with it.

Later, we’re given another angle on one of the most remarkable and idiosyncratic poetry friendships of the last half of the last century, that between Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov in an essay by Susan McCaslin on The Engaged Poetics of Thomas Merton and Denise Levertov. Levertov’s poetics, shaped in great part by her friendship with Duncan, reinforces those Pacific themes again in the quote:

In her last years when she lived near Seattle, Levertov spoke of Northwestern poetry of wilderness that “gives rise to a more conscious attentiveness to the non-human and to a more or less conscious desire to immerse the self in that larger whole.”

The interconnectedness long recognized in the East (and by indigenous Americans) moves east while those in Asia deal with the materialism we’ve perfected and sent their way.

Gregory Dunne gives us a remarkable tribute to a man who personified the bridging of the cultures of East and West, Cid Corman. From the remarkable magazine he founded, Origin, publishing early works from the likes of Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and Gary Snyder, among others, to his own poetry and translations, Corman’s words ring out like the essence of the emerging Pacific ethos: “It happens when you are moved beyond yourself into the open.”

In this same essay the deeper ramifications of the event most responsible for shaping this century is given as a validation for the importance of translation:

At this time in history when writers such as Ms. Matsueda are speculating as to whether or not there is a shrinking in the worldview of the people of the United States as a direct result of the 9/11 terrorist attack, a time when understandably people might want to run and hide behind the supposed safety and security of their own cultural values and worldviews, we need literary translations more than ever.

One can go on mining the gold in this one book, a mere sampling of what the Pacific Rim Review of Books does over and over again, but now the book is in your hands and the nation-building is up to you. As Alfred North Whitehead once said, It is the business of the future to be dangerous. How we respond is up to us, but it’s not time to hide, or make small plans. Back to Bob Dylan for the last word:

You can make something lasting. I mean, in order to live forever you have to stop time. In order to stop time you have to exist in the moment, so strong as to stop time and prove your point. So that you have stopped time. And if you succeed in doing that, everyone who comes into contact with what you’ve done – whatever it might be, whether you’ve written a poem, carved a statue or painted a painting – will catch some of that. What’s funny is that they won’t realize it, but that’s what they’ll recognize.

Paul E Nelson
Doe Bay
Orcas Island, WA