Poems from RALPH and The Fessenden Review

Edited by Lolita Lark

For almost five years, The Fessenden Review --- known as "The Noisiest Book Review in the Known World" --- served as America's Literary Grouch.

It not only entertained its subscribers and those of us who put it together but --- apparently --- other media people as well. It was the subject of articles by writers at The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Library Journal, and in interview on National Public Radio, among others.

During its short, pithy life, TFR received thousands of books for review. We tried to take note of as many as possible, giving equal time to the famous and the not-so-famous, the great, the good, and the totally grim. We wanted to give all the kindness of being noticed --- even if it meant frying their asses. That applied in spades to the books of verse that came our way.

In one edition, the editors wrote:

    We get anywhere between ten and twenty poetry books a week. We find that most of the writers have been perverted by the doggerel that appears in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and the "little magazines" like The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and their ilk.

Ours, however, was not merely a seek-and-destroy mission. Along with our terse criticisms, we felt it our duty to publish worthwhile poetry. During the lifetime of the magazine, we printed or reprinted over 300 poems --- many of them drawn from books sent to us, or individual submissions that came in the mail. These poems are the ostensible subject of A Cricket in the Telephone (at Sunset).

Those of us who grew up on Yeats or Eliot or e. e. cummings or Emily Dickinson feel that repetition, finely-honed rhythms, and a gentle turning of English can transform words, create a sweet magic, build joy out of what is, after all, nothing:

    The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
    The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
    Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
    And after many a summer dies the swan.

It would be hard to find any more noble statement of simple life and simple death, the death of all of us (bird, beast, man alike); ideas set in majestic iambs, with a gracious symbolism, and the surprise of a final line that certainly must have been inspired by the gods.

This is what poets and crickets --- I mean critics --- are saying about Cricket:

--- "Forty years ago I decided never to write comments for publicity. If you have seen me on the back of a book, it is something quoted from a publication. I am sorry to let you down, but I cannot change my policy now."

--- Donald Hall

---"Sorry, I don't do blurbs though I love the book."

---Bob Hass

--- "This quirky volume claims to reprint poems from The Fessenden Review, a short-lived but unrepentantly forthright magazine. In its five year existence its aim was to publish reviews of any and every book it received, however awful, and its reviews were honest, if not devastating. Strangely everyone wanted to be mentioned in it, however unfalteringly.

"The poems were equally odd and many were written by the editors themselves under assumed names. In fact one of the problems of reading the poems in this edition is being uncertain of who actually wrote them.

"Does it matter who the poets really were? Not in any important sense. Even the biographies at the end sound suspicious --- but what does it matter? The poems themselves whether by the fictitious PJ Weise and Anwak Fayoumi or the genuine Roy Fuller are peculiar and intriguing and ultimately fascinating. Who can resist lines like this from a translation of Manuel del Cabral's "Song to Onan's Complaining Hand:

    Multitudes of angels fill my fingers,
    fill me with untouchable passion.
    I'm the silence of heroes.
    My work is not mere flesh...
    It goes beyond the digit of my craft.

"Or perhaps these lines by J. W. Torg

    they say Hitler has yet to divine the purpose of the divine,
    And his particular place in the order of divine things.

"The poems are not afraid to work with subjects that many people would avoid but in doing so use language with a freedom and reassurance that turns the most unpromising subject into art. The editors have truly succeeded in their aim to free American verse form the steely grip of the establishment poets.

"This book is good to look at, pleasant to hold and fun to read. buy it, enjoy it and be inspired."

--- Polly Bird
New Hope
International Review


Orders for A Cricket in the Telephone (at Sunset)
may be placed with Mho & Mho Works.
There is a 10% Discount for RALPH readers.


Mho & Mho Works
Box 16719
San Diego, California 92176

ISBN 0-917320-14-X. (Hardcover) --- $100
ISBN 0-917320-13-1 (Paperback) --- $10

NOTE: The deluxe, hardback edition of Cricket
will be packaged in a sandalwood box,
with appropriate, noisy cricket.