50TH ANNIVERSARY ISSUE Keeping the Flame Alive BY LORENZO THOMAS American poetry in the 1950s was an artistic pastime that appealedlike fishing or bowlingto participants more than to spectators. In the years after the war, the poetry scene was primarily a loose network of little magazines publishing a wide range of stylistic expressions and philosophical viewpoints. Texas was well represented by Lilith Lorraine’s Flame and, before that, Kaleidograph, published in Dallas by Vaida Stewart Montgomery and her husband Whitney Montgomery. Such magazines, usually with circulation figures in the hundreds, drew readers and contributors by mail. But the few thousands involved in this somewhat underground traffic were true believers. There was an entire family of poets living on a suburban street in Paterson, New Jersey. Louis Ginsberg was a teacher there at Central High and a frequent contributor and contest judge for Kaleidograph. His teenaged sons, later Allen scious poems in that magazine. Kaleidograph published poetry books as well and stayed in business from 1929 until Vaida Montgomery’s death in 1959. Another important figure was Corpus Chrisnative writer and tireless literary organizer. Her little magazine Flame, published in Alpine from 1954 to 1963, promoted avant-garde poetic experiments by talented beginners such as Richard Brautigan while constantly warning against global nuclear destruction. Against the tide of McCarthyism, she established an international poetry organization devoted to the pursuit of world peace. Lorraine’s own poetryoften in the form of elegant Petrarchan sonnetstransmitted amazingly futuristic ideas. In Houston, poet and gallery owner Vivian Ayers \(best known today as Debbie Allen’s lished a lively journal entitled Adept. Through the decades of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, many others would lend their efforts to keeping the poetic flame alive. But didn’t there have to be something just a little bit different about poetry in Texas? What was different about poetry in Texas became clear to me one afternoon at a reading and panel discussion in Austin. “Well, Lorenzo:” said James Cody. “I like what you said about the music of words and all that. Butin your workhow do you address la tierra?” I looked directly into his eyes and saw that this was a genuine, sincere question. Jim was serious. This was not literary chitchat, nor an attempt to amuse the audience. Nor could what he had in mind be summed up as “nature poetry.” Cody meant that poems should have a direct connection not only to heart and headbut also to the piece of earth where we are now, talking to ourselves or each other. I soon discovered that there was another tradition, too. It was linked to the idea that poetry is a way to make things 12/3/04 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 39
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