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SUBSIDIZED REVOLUTION... Diane di Prima: Beat bourgeois-bohemian grandma makes Pacific Rim Review of

Only in Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada

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Jan 3, 2008, 8:36pm Top


In my rant the other day about the pretensions of the cultural bureaucrats and the would-be pseudo-sophisticated cosmopolitan 'progressive' bourgeois-bohemians in 'Wiccatoria,' (as the poet David Jure calls Victoria), I forgot to mention the Pacific Rim Review of Books.

However, I must admit that I hadn't seen a copy of this odd paper, put out three times a year, since spring of 2007 or so...so I guess I had assumed that it had gone the way of all flesh...

But just the other day two copies of said journal came through the mail slot here at our Rockland aerie, one for the summer, and the other the fall/winter number with Beat poetess and legendary earth grandma of hippy revolution Diane de Prima gracing the cover in a photo taken at the strangely successful City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.

The Pacific Rim Review of Books (PRRB) is an unusual sort of bourgeois-bohemian soi-disant 'independent' book review that is put out by Carol Ann Sokoloff and her husband Richard Olafson. While there is no indication on the masthead of the publication that they receive Canada Council funds for the PRRB, it is well known in the Victoria literary community that they have enjoyed the largesse of the Canadian taxpayer for many years, through federal grant dollars received from that federal funding agency's publications programme for the generally elitist urban poets in the Beat tradition, almost completely unknown international poets in translation or completely obscure local poets of very limited interest that they publish under the Ekstasis and Canada Books Ltd. imprints .

I write the following with some trepidation, as I have known and remained friendly with Carol and Richard since the early eighties, when I ran a second-hand book store in Victoria called Baba Fine Art Books. They were regular visitors to the openings I had there, and we discussed a joint publishing venture. It never happened, but they did go on to become quite well-known in the small world of 'bohemian' or 'underground' poetry publishing in Victoria.

Along with the recent numbers of the PRRB came a begging letter. Before deciding what to do, I noted that the publication is getting bigger and running more advertisements all the time, but that the visual design is stale and that the staple of writers and books under review is somewhat predictable and formulaic already and the PRRB isn't that old. I will renew my subscription, but with reservations.

Carol Ann Sokoloff writes a long editorial in the summer number lamenting the current bottom line mentality of the present Conservative goverment in Ottawa. When applying to the Canada Council, she resents that perceived profitability is now deemed to be the paramount value determining a grant application's success by meddlesome philistine bureaucrats, as opposed to a supposedly more hands-off approach under Liberal governments where a jury of one's peers was supposed to make the decisions and write the cheques. What all this has to do with Diane de Prima's Revolutionary Letters, reviewed in the current number, is anyone's guess.

I think that it is time that the good folks at the Pacific Rim Review of Books got off cultural welfare, and recognized that, whether or not they like these philistine Conservatives (and I certainly don't and did not vote for them either), they are the goverment of the day, and as such, are perfectly entitled to draft cultural policy as they see fit. While I also lament the habit of the Conservatives to worship the Market as a false idol, I do see a need for more fiscal responsibility at the small publishing houses in Canada, such as Ekstasis, Canada Books Ltd., and the Pacific Rim Review of Books, all entreprises of this undoutedly industrious couple.

They might have to reduce their swollen annual publications list, and become more discerning in choosing writers of more obvious quality talent and wider demographic appeal to justify the risk of printing and distribution costs. Certainly, the fallacy that is evident in Sokoloff's essay, that small publishers always tend to produce nonpopular 'artistic' work that must be subsidized at public expense is a questionable proposition that could stand some public debate, not only in Victoria, but right across the country.

For some years, Brian Fawcett and the folks at the Literary Review of Canada (LRC) have been editorializing against the kind of public subsidization of so-called 'independent' book publishers like Ekstasis. I admit that my thinking has been slowly but surely influenced by this history of fiscally and culturally conservative policy analytical writing found at the LRC.

One wonders what the LRC folks will think of seeing the revolutionary poetess di Prima on the front of the PRRB. What does this high priestess of hip's latest book of Revolutionary Letters published by Last Gasp Editions have to do with Canadian culture, and why should the Canadian taxpayer subsidize seeing her face on the cover of the PRRB, if that is indeed what has happened here?

If we are indeed paying for this subsidization of the importation of just another kind of Gringo imperialitic cultural product into our country (albeit supposedly bohemian or cosmopolitan), as a Canadian taxpayer and as an artist, I am completely opposed to it, no matter how 'revolutionary' the nature of di Prima's letters or poetry or her heavy hippy Dharma mama mythos might be.

Gregory Hartnell
(alias: 'Goyo de la Rosa')


Jan 4, 2008, 3:34am Top



I confess that in my haste to post the above critique, I am guilty of the same sort of editorial sloppiness that I often find at the PRRB itself. I apologize to my readers, and to Diane di Prima for having mispelled her name more than once above. It should be emphasized that I really don't mind the poetry by di Prima that is quoted in the Trevor Carolan review entitled 'Avanti! The Dharma Poetics of Diane de Prima' on page 14 of the current number of the PRRB.

My arguments above for reform of Canada Council grant adjudication processes for small press publishing programmes such as those at Ekstasis pertain more to issues of Canadian nationalism, fiscal accountability and social responsibility than to the relative aesthetic merits of di Prima's self-consciously revolutionary poetry or to the accident of her birth to Italian immigrant parents in the states. I mentioned the issue of a photo of di Prima being used on the cover of the PRRB because Last Gasp Editions is not a Canadian imprint, and the Canada Council is set up to help Canadian artists and writers primarily, and is not in the business of providing grant money to foreign artists such as di Prima, as far as I know.

I must also emphasize that I do not know whether the Pacific Rim Review of Books received any public funding in the last fiscal year from the Canada Council.

It is not my intention to malign or otherwise defame Carol Ann Sokoloff or Richard Olafson...on the contrary. I hope that in responding to Carol's invitation to comment on her complaint against the Canada Council's current philistine philosophy under the Conservative mandate, that she and her husband will find a way to ween themselves off this addictive subsidization by the federal government...not to mention that I hope we can still be friends!

Ultimately, I think that a little dose of the reality of the book market without government patronage can't help but make the Pacific Rim Review of Books, Ekstasis, Inconnu Dramabooks and Canada Books Ltd. stronger and the Canadian anglophone literary scene in Pacifica will be better for it.



Jan 4, 2008, 5:25pm Top


...it's 'di Prima' not 'de Prima'

The 'i' makes it Italian...

Sorry, Diane di Prima...

We'll fix the typos if we run this in Island Catholic News!

-'Goyo de la Rosa'
(alias of Gregory Hartnell)


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