If Jack Foley were a book, he’d be a 1,300-page chrono-encyclopedia of Bay Area poets and poetry that spans 65 years and is written in the present tense. But that’s just the latest chapter in the rich and ongoing story of the Oakland poet and critic.
Foley, 71, describes both himself and the book, “Visions and Affiliations” (Pantograph Press), which he has spent over a decade composing, with the same statement: “In story, our lives tend to take on a coherence and purpose which they may well have lacked in actuality. As circumstances arise we discover/invent selves to deal with them. And the circumstances change in response to those selves.”
In the house in the Maxwell Park neighborhood that he has occupied with his wife, Adelle, since 1974, Foley laughs, “That means I’m crazy, right?”
“The problem with unity,” he continues, “is that in order to achieve it, you leave all these things out that might glitter around it and contradict it. So you don’t want unity, because it simplifies. What you want is to have something like the feeling of the complexity of life as it is.”
He refers to Michel Foucault’s statement in “The Order of Things”: “I mean the disorder in which a large number of possible orders glitter separately.” To sustain this, Foley composed “Visions and Affiliations” in bulleted items organized by year, with representative quotations preceding each decade. People, ideas and stories appear, disappear and reappear as poetry is debated, renounced, renewed, asserted as divine and criticized as pornographic – all within the ever-shifting cultural context of the turbulent second half of the 20th century.
Jack mentions in an email that there was however one error in the piece, & his wife Adele wrote this letter to the editor:
I’m writing to make a correction to “A Lifetime in Poetry,” Evan Karp’s otherwise excellent story about my husband Jack Foley’s book, “Visions and Affiliations” (Datebook, August 20, 2011). The story states that Jack’s book is about Bay Area poetry. In fact, though Bay Area poetry is covered extensively, the book is about California poetry and features, among many others, such Angelean luminaries as “Tommy the Commie” (Thomas McGrath), Philomene Long, William Pillen, Amy Gerstler, and David St. John.