Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Me here again. I trust you’re hanging on, (despite your pretty flipped last sortie). Confusing times, yes?

So, quarantined here in my house boat in Sausalito, I’m looking at the home page of Dispatches & wondering if the ass in the gas mask in the middle has a name? What do your genius bosses say to that? Just wondering….

Yours in solidarity, confusedly,

–Sophie Merman in her Houseboat Days


Dear Sophie Merman in her Houseboat Days,

The ass with the gasmask is named Spicer (the Wingèd Mule). And as a former contributor to Dispatches from the Poetry Wars, you surely know that Fric is on the left of the mule and Frac is on the right. They seem to be the ones in charge of Spicer, but in truth, Spicer is very much in charge of them. He is a stubborn and demanding ass. Fric and Frac spend a good measure of their poetic lives tending to him: Feeding him, watering him, brushing him, walking him, washing him, singing to him, shoveling his shit, adjusting his death mask.

It is oddly prescient, is it not, that Dispatches from the Poetry Wars would have such a banner photo for its masthead. Especially since Dispatches will self-pull the plug on its sputtering 1960s ventilator, only weeks from now, at the height of a global pandemic. The weird thing is, I know Fric and Frac planned their Spring 2020 expiration date two years before anyone had ever uttered the word “Coronavirus.” In fact, I know they picked the goodbye date shortly after putting up the present photograph at the site. How spooky, then, those clunky, poignant masks.

Yes, poets are radios. Their channeled signals are but dreams of the grass blowing east against the source of the sun. So let me tell you a strange little story that Frac told me yesterday, though you shall scarcely believe it. It all happened only two days ago, and it speaks to how the people connected with Dispatches seem to be consorting (much like numerous of its poetic heroes, from William Blake to the San Francisco Renaissance) in possibly Real realms of so-called magical thinking:

Dispatches has an “Executive Editors Board” (a title I have always hoped was meant to be sardonic). Its current members are Ammiel Alcalay (USA), Margie Cronin (Australia), Patrick James Dunagan (California), (Benjamin Hollander (Eternity), Andrew Levy (USA), Miriam Nichols (Canada), André Spears (USA), and Sharon Thesen (Canada). The group frequently interacts over email (though Hollander sends messages in subtler ways), sometimes in comradely disagreement; often in jocular, high spirits; most recently in sincere concern over how each person and their loved ones is managing. (I am allowed to lurk, but not post on the message board—par for the course.)

The day before yesterday, as Frac told me (and I have confirmed through the more reliable Fric that the account is accurate), Patrick Dunagan, who in the past few years has come to be widely seen as among the keenest, most passionate historians and critics of the Berkeley/San Francisco Renaissance (Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, Helen Adam, Joanne Kyger, and others), shared with his fellow Dispatches editors a long poem he had just finished, titled “Hugh’s Sandwich (or, the windows of Matisse).” It is a poem strongly in the early Pound vein, more tonally lyrical in its nostalgic proceedings, one could say, than the documentary, paratactic, often discordant language that dominates EP’s later work (nostalgic as that can also be!) in the Cantos. The “sound” of Dunagan’s poem puts one a bit in mind of two other long poems, Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” or, even more, Pound’s own “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley.”

Frac told me, in fact, that soon after he began to read Dunagan’s poem and to sense the Poundian echoes, he was certain, because of the presence of “Hugh,” that the title represented an allusion to Pound’s HSM. Indeed, according to Frac, he became absolutely convinced of the intended homage, when he noticed that the most logical acronym for Dunagan’s full title, including the parentheses, was, indeed, HS(M).

Not only that, continued, Frac, but Dunagan’s HS(M) clocked in at 32 pages, exactly the page count of the first-edition version of Pound’s HSM, published by Ovid Press. Clearly an intentional “structural” echo! And when was Pounds’ HSM first published? Why in March, 1920, exactly 100 years to the month before Dunagan finished his HS(M). Obvious proof to squelch any notion the correspondence between the two works was anything other than planned, and the clues carefully crafted… Though if that weren’t evidence enough, then what irrefutable correspondence do the years 1920 and 2020 have? Why an epic pandemic in each, 1920 being the final year of the horrifying Spanish Flu, while 2020 marks the opening year of our own pandemic, which may well prove to be equally catastrophic.

Frac reported to me that he wrote Dunagan and the rest of the “Executive Editors” group shortly after ascertaining these occluded lit-historical crossings, praising Dunagan for such subtle paratextual allusions. Dunagan responded almost immediately, to Frac and the group, stating in no uncertain terms that Pound’s “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” had absolutely nothing to do with it, that EP’s poem in fact never even crossed his mind before or after writing “Hugh’s Sandwich (or, the windows of Matisse).”

Frac–like the “Johnson” in “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley” who falls off a barstool and dies (did Frac notice this further link?), told me he coughed up a full-swallow of Oban and nearly fell face-forward out of his ergonomic chair.

Spicer (the Wingèd Mule) is surely smiling a mule-Muse’s big-toothed smile beneath his strange mask in the other world. Helen Adam spreads out her blue cape and soars soundlessly above the deserted city. Robert Duncan sips on a cup of dark tea and feels permission to begin a poem.

May the Theosophical spirits save us all.

–Emily Post-Avant