Thank you, Richard Jarrette, for the fine article on Gunpowder Press in the November 27, 2015 issue of CASA Magazine. We’re honored to reprint it here (with permission)
THEY ASK THE ETERNAL QUESTIONS
Gunpowder Press, Santa Barbara: David Starkey & Chryss Yost
A LETTER TO SU TUNG-P’O
Almost a thousand years later
I am asking the same questions
you did the ones you kept finding
yourself returning to as though
nothing had changed except the tone
of their echo growing deeper
David Starkey encountered the liminal David Allen Case in their Ph.D English program at UCLA. Case recited poetry with fervor: Stevens, Bishop, Lowell, James Wright. He awakened Starkey: I doubt I would have become a poet if not for his influence. Well then Starkey wrote seven poetry collections, a classic best-selling creative writing text, teaches writing, became our Laureate Poet. I think he found himself freed to ask the eternal questions, memorialized in his Like A Soprano (Serving House Books, 2014)—his homage to “The Sopranos” and James Gandolfini: Who am I? you ask, as a helicopter hovers over you in the Omni parking / lot, its searchlight bright as a surgeon’s headlamp. Where am I going?’ Job asked, Lord, why me? Sappho voiced Aphrodite’s questions with word and lyre: Whom should I persuade to lead you back into her love?
The alliance endured until Case’s untimely death. Starkey was designated literary executor for hundreds of unpublished poems in boxes, scattered on-line, made a noble and startling book, The Tarnation of Faust (2014), and founded Gunpowder Press to gift the world: Who was Daniel, the man Elton John / called ‘my brother’ and waved goodbye? . . .Have you ever tried to live with your father? . . . Happen to us? Like C.P. Cavafy (haunting kinship) and Rainer Maria Rilke, Case holds our heart’s gaze upon an ideal of healing love, often juicy, divine intimacy—so near, so impossibly far. Chryss Yost’s Mouth & Fruit (2014) was deliciously ripe and so he published that too: Should I wait for hooofbeats and a kiss? / Would it wreck the mood if I were here / all restlessness and heat and wide awake? Starkey recruited Yost as co-editor, gives her all credit for the elegant design of their books. A sister Laureate Poet, an editor of significance previously, she graces dark-wildness territory with poets like Marsha de la O unfettered.
Gunpowder next brought Barry Spacks’ posthumous Shaping Water (2015), simply a
treasure, previously reviewed here: What if instead of Ego we called it / ‘YOU’? / Will you be pacified? / I love you, boiling Self. Now, / will you sleep? And I asked Starkey how on earth he got Jim Peterson’s Original Face (2015): He’s widely and well published, but I still feel he’s underappreciated, considering how gifted he is. Indeed! He woos with Wendell Berry-like sobriety then suddenly goes all Homeric:
RAIN OF BULLS
They plunge through space spread-
eagled, eyes stretched so open wide
the lids may split, tails askew, horns
ripping the air like knife blades in a sheet.
What cloud coalesced to create them?
What earth awaits their seed?
The poems and chapters feel perfectly sequenced—The structure has been decided by the poets, Starkey set the standard with Case’s book. There is a distinct Gunpowder voice—plain-spoken clarities from the eye of life’s hurricane, getting it right, no matter the risk. Swept into the hurricane, the poet is the moving eye in the storm, and voice; brave poets, honest, wonderful oddities, surrealism hiding in plain sight—I see Magritte’s painting: late evening on the street, bright day above. They ask the eternal questions, answers circle, textures of the Great Enigma reveal. Gunpowder Press (Saint Barbara is patron of gunpowder) earns national significance. In delivery: the “Barry Spacks Prize” winner, Catherine Abbey Hodges’ Instead of Sadness, chosen by our renowned Dan Gerber.
Starkey/Yost midwive Gunpowder’s Shoreline Voices Project and hope to publish at least one collection per year. Two installations at Lotusland curated by Nancy Gifford engendered two books for local voices: BUZZ, Poets Respond to ‘SWARM: A Collaboration with Bees (2014), co-edited by Gifford, and Rare Feathers: Poems on Birds & Art, (2015), co-edited by Gifford and George Yatchisin, of FLOCK: Birds on the Brink. These books are democratic, inclusive—our ancientness of poets:
Perie Longo John Ridland Kurt Brown Glenna Luschei Chryss Yost Gudrun Bortman Ron Alexander Gabriella Klein Wendy Wilder Larsen Barbara Bates Laure-Anne Bosselaar Michael Wilds George Yatchisin Christine Penko Richard Jarrette Barry Spacks Enid Osborn Zachary Liebhaber Tessa Flanagan Mary Brown Marsha de la O
David Peacock Lucille Janssen Linda Saccoccio Peg Quinn Diane August Paul Willis Suzanne Frost Paul Fericano RBS John Elliot Frances Davis Pamela Davis Susan Chiavelli Michell Detorie Carol DeCanio Domenica Bianca Sojourner Kincaid Rolle Garth Craven Friday Gretchen Melinda Palacio Lois Klein Kathee Miller Jacqueline Craven Emma Trelles George Singer Fernando Salinas Kimbrough Ernest Mark Whitehurst.
Who knows where poems reach and to what end? As a poet, I hold the most archaic values on earth, said Gary Snyder. Starkey gathered the choir, each voice uplifts a solo, together with Case, Yost, Spacks, and Peterson they lift a cathedral into the air.
Richard Jarrette, author of Beso the Donkey (MSU Press, 2010), and A Hundred Million Years of Nectar Dances (Green Writers Press, 2015), lives on the Central Coast.