Page 26


BOOKS & THE CULTURE On Extended Wings Three Collections Sustain a Publishing Tradition BY ROBERT BONAZZI HOOK & BLOODLINE. By Chip Dameron. 80 pages. $14.00. MAMA YETTA And Other Poems. By Hermine Pinson. 52 pages. $12.00. BURNT WATER SUITE. By Darrell Bourque. 90 pages. $14.00. All from Wings Press, San Antonio. Wr ings Press was founded in Houston in 1975 by the poet Joanie Whitebird and the late Joseph F. Lomax, descendant of the famous family of folklorists and blues discographers. Although the press began as “an informal association of artists and cultural mythologists dedicated to the preservation of literature in the nation of Texas,” Wings published Townes Van Zandt, Vassar Miller, Judson Crews, and Naomi Shihab Nye, whose voices soared beyond the borders of that quaint notion of Texas as a nation. More significantly, the press’s survivalist instinct for preserving literary works parallel to the Lomaxes’ preservation of music strikes one now, a quartercentury later, as less naive than visionary. When Bryce Milligan assumed the Wings perch in 1995, the literary community knew him to be, like J. Whitebird, a serious poet, a publisher with a good eye for book design, and an experienced editor \(including his tenure as publisher of Pax: A committed to developing the levels of literary insight and craft achieved by the anthologies of Latina writing he edited for Penguin Putnam. Wings Press \(now based in San dom, to represent genuine cultural diversity, and to battle against the insidious domination of the publishing cartels simply by making handsome books with challenging content, rather than manufacturing product-units that mask a wordy A Chip Dameron void with flashy covers. Unlike Manhattanbased corporate mills, alternative publishers like Wings provide a vital antidote to the poisonous, bottomline mentality of International . In the tradition of the small press revolution of the Sixties and Seventies, Wings helps create a wider world for readers. What it lacks in promo-clout and gross quantities, Wings delivers in literary daring and aesthetic quality, remaining open to the new. Witness new collections by three poets who \(despite the fact that they all teach in not being academic in their poetry. All three exhibit sophisticated poetic intuition and a refined sense of craft, but none sounds like the verbal clones produced by the institutionalized university writing programs, or the coy egocentrism that slicks the magazine pages of a dying establishment. Hook & Bloodline, Chip Dameron’s third book of poems, evokes the resonance of a changing world from the vantage of mid-life. His perspec tive evolves through a precise diction that uncovers deeper levels of experience, and the poems never fossilize into object lessons. Instead, they reveal a lively and thoughtful dialogue with the mortal realities of middle age neither indulging in cheap nostalgia, nor courting this culture’s denial of death. Dameron often contrasts the past with the present, but without vain or sentimental nostalgia. Even when the creative process becomes a poem’s subtext, it feels natural rather than manipulative. Consider “The Journey”: When his heart was hollow, the ringing phone could fill it with her redolent gifts, but someone else’s voice would empty out his ear and he would once again wonder where to find his second skin, the one that stretched around the landscape of his life, tattooed with the glyphs of another’s headlong living. And yet to find the voice he had to first absorb the morning birds and talk at work, he had to find a satisfaction with the tone of his own voice, feel in its timbre a fullness that he could live on. He had to turn his inner landscape out and outer in, and hike across them both, leaving the plain tracks of being. This self-portrait is representative of Dameron’s introspective mode, but there are many more portraits of family and fellow inhabitants along the poet’s South Texas coast. Further south, we encounter Tahiti, in a lush sequence of paradisiacal poems, including “Gauguin in Eden: Koke at Mataiea.” The last lines are prompted by the painter smelling the dark lushness of the jungles that are rooted in the humus of his mind, finding those totems that bring back a red and orange world that has no factual existence, but comes as quickly as shadows do, as shadows APRIL 28, 2000 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 25