Revs of the Morrow by Ed Sanders (Libellum, 2008)
Vanitas 5 (2010)

Review by Paul Falardeau

Ed Sanders certainly has a decent reputation to look back on: present in the fabled Greenwich Village scene, he was arrested for his involvement in protests against nuclear proliferation in 1961. A year later he founded Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts. A graduate of NYU, he is also the founding member of the radical (even for the sixties) band, The Fugs, whose wild lyrics and relentless protest have garnered them acclaim as one of the founders of punk rock. With his new collection of poems, he now elucidates further his peace of mind, past and present.
            The title alone brings many thought to mind. “Revs” could mean the gunning of an engine, anticipating a flashy peel-out, it could foretell revelations with the forthcoming verse, or it could mean that each of the poems dedicates itself to a reverend—a preacher—of sorts. In this, the people that populate Sanders’ work are each a sort of holy (wo)man of the future, the “morrow.” Red Grooms’s comic cover perhaps relates the idea that here, within these pages, Sanders collects these figures and lets their combined story begin to take shape as a chaotic hodgepodge that defines our modern world.
            The title is cleared up somewhat in the first poem where Sanders explains that the “Revs” are in fact his readers. The message is clear, the revolutionaries of the pass will falter; thus, Sanders’ work takes on new importance. Its task is to pass on the lessons of his generation for its successors. The visionaries he alludes to include environmental guru, Rachel Carson, whose Silent Spring heraleded the unofficial start of environmentalism, or at least one of its most lasting and important reads. In the poem, “Ode to Rachel Carson,” which chronicles and even beatifies her life, Sanders says of the landmark publication, “it was a monument for America.”
            Other poems focus on anarchist Emma Goldman, on critiques of American leaders, and include a new translation of Sappho, including the original Greek. Still other poems laud Lawrence Ferlinghetti or reminisce about Timothy Leary. At least two poems address the life of Allen Ginsberg, and “Poseidon’s Mane” remembers poem/theorist Charles Olson. A longer piece, “Rothchild’s Fiddle” adapts a work by Anton Chekov.
            Perhaps the best summation of the sentiment of Sanders’s book comes from one of the poems:

            The most valuable lesson from [Gary] Snyder
            I think
                        is the emphasis on mindfulness
            Know what you’re doing
            & know what Doing is doing

The message is clear and Ed Sanders’s Revs of the Morrow is inspiring and informative; poetic and historic; exciting and engaging.
            Insistence that the west coast of North America—as part of the larger Pacific Rim—is an entity that has achieved its own sense of individuality, particularly in respect to its different from the Eastern communities of the continent, is a notion that has gained considerable credibility over the past half-century. Yet, even as we in the West forge ahead in new directions from our neighbors, we still inevitably turn our heads back to the literary power centers of the East. The most prominent of these places remains New York City. It is of use to inhabitants of the Western reaches of North America to keep in touch with the goings-on of artists and writers from the New York Nexus. This is achieved in few better ways than in following publications like Vanitas, which chronicles contemporary work in poetry, film, visual art and critical writing.
            Vanitas 5 takes on the subject of film and all the meanings that work might impart. Editor Vincent Katz ruminates on this in an editor’s note serendipitously places in the final pages of the edition, avoiding giving readers preconceived notions about what they are about to read and making for a useful summarizing article to bind the preceding pages to their common theme.
            The content is wide-ranging—inspiring photographs by Hannes Schupbach, longer critical essays and features, and a wealth of poetry incorporating numerous modern styles. For instance, John Yau supplies an interesting inner-narrative prose poem, whereas Anselm Hollo’s effort is more succinct, if equally insightful:

            Rainy Night:

            missing and losing

            more ancient than loving
            animal time

                                    so short


            ah, let it come down

            Still others create operettas (Nada Gordon), riff on Mimmo Rotella (Gerard Malanga). Elaine Equi writes poems in response to single movie frames and Yuko Otomo digs into religion with excellent lines like “The earth circles, / Drawing a circle. // Anyone who was born on it, / Has no way but to believe / In gravity.”
            Towards the end of the publication are longer prose essays including an excellent piece by Anne Waldman titled “Infra-Consciousness: The Movies of Ed Bowes.” Of these, Jim Feast’s cognitive essay, “Iovis, America, Disobedience: The U.S. Discursive Epic,” stands out for its attention to the poetics of Eliot, Pound, Olson, Ginsberg and others as he draws parallels between contemporary writers Anne Waldman, Ed Sanders and Alice Notley.
            Throughout this volume are different gems for different readers. But the real achievement of Katz and associates is the conversation that Vanitas promotes amongst its international community of readers, and the opportunity it gives to those willing to join in that discussion.

Paul Falardeau writes regularly for PRRB. His essay on Robert Bringhurst is featured in Making Waves: Reading BC and Pacific Northwest Literature (Anvil Press).