Monday, September 5, 2011

Hugh Fox, RIP

We were saddened to learn from Richard Kostelanetz that another of our old friends from the early small press days, a legend and a great writer, Hugh Fox, died yesterday at a hospice near his home in East Lansing, Michigan.

When we started publishing in little mags in the mid-1970s and reading them before that, one name we kept seeing over and over again was Hugh Fox. Everything he wrote -- and he was both a master of multiple genres and someone who gave a young kid like us encouragement and hope as well as a role model in the small press ("indie press," in today's parlance) world -- seemed fresh and exciting. Hugh's own litmag Ghost Dance was required reading. We also remember fondly his female alter ego, writer Connie Fox.

Hugh Fox was personable, warm, quirky and funny. And he knew everything and everyone, it seemed to us. We used to think he might be a collective writing under one name, except he had such a distinctive personality. We'll never forget his work, nor his kindness and generosity.

Here's a little from his Wikipedia entry:
Hugh Fox, born in Chicago in 1932, is a writer, novelist, poet and anthropologist and one of the founders (with Ralph Ellison, Anais Nin, Paul Bowles, Joyce Carol Oates, Buckminster Fuller and others) of the Pushcart Prize for literature. He has been published in numerous literary magazines and was the first writer to publish a critical study of Charles Bukowski.

Fox was raised in Chicago as a devout Catholic, but converted to Judaism in later life. He has a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and was a professor at Michigan State University in the Department of American Thought and Language from 1968 until his retirement in 1999.

Fox is the author of over sixty-two books, including six books on anthropology, he wrote over fifty-four books on poetry and many volumes on short fiction, and published many novels. He also wrote a number of books on pre-Columbian American cultures, catastrophism, which would fit into the pseudoarchaeological category, such as his book Gods of the Cataclysm: A Revolutionary Investigation of Man and his Gods Before and After the Great Cataclysm (1976). Some of his books with these themes in have been compared to the work of Ignatius Donnelly.

His book Gods of the Cataclysm received a number of positive reviews, Curt Johnson an editor praised the book claiming “Hugh Fox’s Gods of the Cataclysm...ought to be required reading for cultural historians of all disciplines.”

The Ibbetson Street Press of Somerville, Mass. published Way, Way Off the Road: The Memoirs of an Invisible Man by Hugh Fox with an introduction by Doug Holder in 2006. This book recounts Fox's life and the people he knew in the small press over the years such as Charles Bukowski, A.D. Winans, Sam Cornish, Len Fulton, etc.

Here's a piece done for Literary Kicks (LitKicks) by Doug Holder, the founder of Ibbetson Press and the publisher of Way, Way Off The Road ... by Hugh Fox, edited by S.R. Glines:
When you whisper "small press" in the ears of many 60's era poets and publishers, one of the first responses you will get is "Hugh Fox." Fox was a founding board member of the Pushcart Prize, a publisher of a well-regarded avant-garde literary magazine Ghost Dance founder of the seminal organization for little magazines and small presses COSMEP, a reviewer of thousand of chapbooks, magazines and books, and the author of the first critical study of Charles Bukowski. In his memoir of the small press movement, Way, Way off the Road, Fox quotes Charles Plymell, a City Lights-published jazz poet and the first printer of ZAP Comics:

"... the generation that came after the Beats, was overpowered by the Beats themselves. All that media hype. My god, the media fell in love with them. They were practically rock stars. And the post-Beats, the Hippie-Yippies, whatever you want to call them, were lost in the Beat's shadow. They were and still are invisible!"

Plymell defined the group of poets Fox feels he was part of. Fox was solidly in his 30's, a nerdy academic, equipped with a Ph.D and a foundation grant, when he picked up a copy of Crucifix in a Death Hand by the "dirty old man" of poetry Charles Bukowski. Fox was thrilled by the Buk's use of language and felt a new door was opened for him outside the stagnant air of the academy. Fox wound up doing a critical study of the man. Here is an account of his first meeting with Bukowski:

"So I'd gone over and found him in this motel-hotel place in Hollywood. You know, the usual tattered, potted palms out in front, everything kind of run down."

Fox told Bukowski that he wanted to do a critical study of his work. Fox was sick of Eliot and Pound, and wanted a taste of the wild side. Here is Bukowski's response according to Fox:

"... Nothing wrong with Eliot and Pound, they're some of my best friends, he answered, got up and started emptying the wall of bookcases that contained all of his printed work, all the books, all the magazines. Went into a closet and started taking out suitcases and throwing the books and mags inside."

Bukowski said: "Ok I can trust you. I'm gonna give you the whole schmear. And if you find any duplicates, keep them."

Fox wound up writing the first critical study of the man, as well as studies of A. D. Winans and Lyn Lifshin, and began his life as a wandering-Jewish scribe, recording the comings, goings, happenings and personalities in the small press for the last 40 years.

Fox recounts his years at COSMEP, a seminal press organization, that he was a founding board member of, and his years of publishing the avant-garde lit mag Ghost Dance. Fox, who admits he has a very manic side, has written literally thousands of reviews of poetry books, chaps, and small press publications, as well has edited the groundbreaking anthology The Living Underground.

Way, Way Off The Road ... is not a straight narrative. It reads the way Fox talks. It is written in a rapid fire stream of consciousness style, so that often the reader has to catch his or her breath. His description of fellow writers is often inspired. Here is a portrait of a down-at-the-heels Richard Nason, a movie critic for TIME magazine:

"And when he'd come into the office out of the Captain Midnight dark, you always smelled the booze on him. Pickled full time. Fedora. Sports jacket. Topcoat. Remnants of former glory. Only when he pulled his topcoat off there would be five pens in the front pockets of his sports coat, all of them uncapped, leaking into the coat itself, another uncapped pen in his shirt pocket also leaking, so it looked like he had been harpooned and was bleeding blue blood.'"

Fox has an inquisitive, fascinating, and hungry mind, and he covers a wide range of subjects from drug-induced writing, ancient Indian cultures, men's sexual prowess and perversions, you name it. In the books there are countless anecdotes about personages from the world of the small press like Harry Smith, Len Fulton, Richard Kostelantz, Allen Ginsberg, "The Boston Underground," Bill Costley, Sam Cornish , Bill Blatty and Donald Hall. Fox has an original take on them all.

In ways Fox's literary history reminds me of Howard Zinn's writing. He gives you a view of the outsider, and how the outsider views things. This is a history you won't find in the classrooms, although it should be there. Fox makes darkness visible, with this iconoclastic, zany and compelling memoir.

Here's a beautiful article Ellaraine Lockie published about Hugh Fox in Centrifugal Eve:
I didn't know which gender would arrive at the train station. He could have come as either: Hugh Fox, small press legend and renowned anthropologist for over thirty years, or Connie Fox, his alter ego and author in her own right who often appeared in the flesh. Slightly nervous, hoping a year's worth of e-mails would enable me to recognize the inner Fox either way, I arrived an hour early. As I waited by the passenger entrance door, I found myself getting more and more curious about Connie and hoping it was she who would walk off the train. I also reflected on the week ahead when Fox would be collecting information for his book, Portraits, in which I'm one of four female West Coast poets he studies.

My slight disappointment at not meeting the corseted, red-lipsticked, stilettoed, big-haired beautiful woman I'd seen in a photo gave way immediately to concern when the tweed-coated and hatted mountain man before me mumbled (as he enfolded me in a bear hug), "Bad news, Pal . . . mouth's half paralyzed." Visions of a mad drive to an emergency ward and of a stroke or Bell's Palsy blinded me momentarily to the man who resembled a mischievous Santa Claus with no beard but with grey/white flowing hair, rosy cheeks, skin that would make a young woman jealous and a little-boy "foxy" twinkle in his eyes. His laugh was a sound that would resonate through my world for the next week, as would his well-acted charades.

Driving to my home in Sunnyvale, California, Foxy told me about how his mother enrolled him in endless acting, piano and singing lessons as a boy, and how he performed roles in Chicago's All Children's Grand Opera Company – once with the Metropolitan Opera. His young life was filled with ballet, concerts, the study of violin and composition and art lessons at the Chicago Art Institute.

At bedtime that first night, Foxy emerged from the guest bedroom wearing a bright red undershirt and red checkered pajamas. He said, "How about we go for a walk?" Off we went, him glowing like a fire hydrant and with a tendency to veer to the center of the streets, me black as the night in the sweats I sleep in and preferring to skirt the sidewalks. This became a nightly ritual, neighbors be damned.

The next morning, Foxy sat down at the breakfast table in his tweed hat and blazer, pen and notebook in hand ready to get right to work. When I told him hats weren't required for breakfast, he responded, "My Irish grandfather said, ‘Always wear a tweed hat, me boy,' and I do." He was incredulous about the healthy breakfast I fed him (one I have every morning), and I later heard him tell one of his wives on the phone that I'd forced three pounds of oatmeal down him. It was my first live experience with Foxy's zany ability to exaggerate, although I'd had many an e-mail bursting with this trait.

No, he's not a polygamist; he just stays emotionally close to his two ex-wives, as well as to the one to whom he's been married for eighteen years and together with for twenty-seven. Ex-wife Two lives in his second house three blocks from him in East Lansing, Michigan, and Number One comes to visit often from Kansas City. I could never tell by the adoring tone of voice (that always concluded with a bit of baby talk, like what I say to my cat) just which wife or which of his six kids were on the other end of the line.

After breakfast that first morning, we engaged in one of my rituals – one or two hours of writing at the local Starbucks. Here is where I learned that Foxy talks to EVERYBODY – people in coffee shops and restaurants, shoppers, streetwalkers... He'd try out all the many languages he speaks on each person, and if there was no response, he'd revert to English and say something different each time like: "How old do you think I am?" or "As your priest, I want you to get down on your knees and thank God for this beautiful woman you're with."

People reacted in vastly diverse ways: some picked up immediately that he was just having fun and would reciprocate. Others were polite but firm, like the woman who told him that her husband, who was in the bathroom, was very jealous so no, Foxy shouldn't pretend that he was an old boyfriend. Still others looked around for a fast escape route.

His favorite audiences were people of ethnicities different than his, and he'd always try to guess their nationalities. One extremely thin, dark-skinned woman (Foxy was sure she was Ethiopian) ran out of Trader Joe's after he said she should follow him around and buy what he did if she wanted to be skinny. He was so bothered by her reaction that he talked to the store manager about her, imparting his suspicion that she ran away because, maybe, she was an illegal immigrant or a shoplifter. She was still on his mind the next morning and, with almost childlike befuddlement, he considered her behavior strange.

He saved his best antics, though, for my friends and acquaintances when I introduced him. He would become suddenly both blind and mute, staring straight ahead and putting his limp hand out for my help, much like a puppy's paw-shake. Or he'd have some other less-definable-but-serious ailment. It was always a surprise.

Lunch on that first day was at a deli en route to the Hakoni Gardens in Saratoga where we were going to write haiku. Foxy said to the waitress, "This is my daughter. We have to eat out because I'm afraid she'll poison me to get my money." When she looked over at me sternly, I rolled my eyes. Still, by the end of lunch the girl felt so sorry for him that she'd pat him on the back every time she walked by.

Later in the Gardens' Zen-like gift shop, two women employees were loudly and brashly discussing inventory. Foxy turned to me and asked if he should tell them they'd just ruined the whole peaceful experience of the Gardens, and I said no. He told them anyway. No joking this time.

He was also serious over dinner that night when he emerged as Professor Hugo Fox, Ph.D. in American Literature, and discussed the eighty-plus books he's published (including the first book written about Charles Bukowski and Lyn Lifshin) and detailed his numerous archeological discoveries. The Professor stayed around for the evening, sharing his life story in immaculate detail: a mother who at times dressed him in girls' clothes and immersed him in the arts before demanding later that he become a physician like his father.

The teen-aged Hugh wore nothing but English and Harris tweeds that his mother had tailor-made: pants, suit coat and cap (all scratchy). He always carried a leather briefcase and later smoked a pipe. A regular Sherlock Holmes. This elicited taunting from the other boys at school. He developed a stutter at fifteen that lasted for years, which is now hard to believe he ever had, given his extremely extroverted personality.

He purposely flunked out of medical school to pursue what would eventually be a professorship at Loyola University and University of Michigan, with interspersed Fulbright Fellowships taking him to Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil. He received grants to study in Argentina and Chile. He lived in Spain, made yearly trips to Peru and visited ruins in every South American country.

He was the first person to recognize Phoenician writing on pots in Peru and statues in Bolivia, Sumerian writing on other Bolivian statues and pictures of Lebanese goddesses on pots from tribes in Mexico. Then he correlated all these discoveries into one theory that rocked the world of archeology. While here with me, he found twenty-some of his books at Stanford University Library.

He also talked freely about his late conversion to Judaism and about Connie: Connie didn't survive the castration surgery that Hugh chose to have in an extreme effort to combat prostate cancer. Her clothing and personal effects lay boxed in Hugh's garage, and she is, for all practical purposes, dead. But her stories live on through Hugh and her books, one of which was released in 2005 by Presa Press. I believe Connie's story should be written by him, rather than me. I'm sorry I missed out on this her part of him; I would have liked her.

Now that he's in his seventies, Foxy said his preoccupation is with "death and how to get the maximum out of the little time we have above ground." I can attest that he lived this philosophy for the week we were together. Every following day resembled the first one in its serendipitous and often outrageous course.

At Starbucks Foxy wrote twenty poems and a long essay over the week, while I worked on one poem, looking for that killer ending (It's easy to see how he has thirty unpublished novels, short stories, plays and poem collections). He tired quickly of my healthy breakfasts and turned to oatmeal cookies, Starbucks' maple strudel muffins and Butterfingers from a near-by store.

New interests and talents radiated from this Renaissance Man. There was nothing he wasn't interested in learning, and more than a week with him would have been required to even skim what he already knows. One evening I demonstrated my Yamaha player piano with its renditions of Chopin. After one of the Preludes, Foxy said, "Turn it off," and he sat down to play a virtuoso Chopin-like piece that he had composed. There are dozens of tapes of his original piano pieces at home.

We saw and loved a matinee movie of The Queen. On the way home in the car on his cell phone, Foxy told one of his wives that I "ate popcorn like a horse eating hay." (I had to; he was stealing it.) He later declined an evening movie invitation from me . . . something about the popcorn. I went anyway (and ate popcorn).

We took day trips to Monterey/Carmel, where his joy at being alive took the form of impromptu hugs on sidewalks and the holding of my hand as we walked. We visited and were visited by his friends and relatives in the Bay area. His dear friend and poet of many years, Karla Andersdatter, came to spend a couple of days with us and to attend Foxy's featured poetry reading in Santa Cruz, hosted by Brian Morissey (Poesy Magazine) and Christopher Robin (Zen Baby). Foxy is the only poet I've ever heard who can get away with stopping in the middle of a poem to chat or talk about the poem, then finish it and still have his audience's rapt attention. A true entertainer.

We then drove to San Francisco to meet A. D. Winans, another small press icon and long-time friend of Foxy's. We arrived early, and while waiting, Foxy shimmied up to many a female bystander listening to street music and asked her to dance. The only one who would have accepted (me), he didn't ask. I was becoming a friend with whom he treated with no pretense, as he did also A. D. Their meeting was a pleasure to witness, like watching two bull elk from the same herd come to terms after locking horns (After a thirty-year friendship, the two had a recent falling-out over contents in Fox's most recent book). Foxy asked first thing, as we all sat down for coffee, "So do you forgive me?"

"I'm thinking about it," came from A. D.

It was clear to this observer that things are copasetic with the herd leaders once again. Honesty and, yes, affection that goes way back was unmistakable, albeit behind a mask of maleness. Besides, staying mad at Fox might just be impossible for anyone.

He and I had only one confrontation. It happened right before his formal interview of me, which he had wanted to film with his new camera to be on a DVD that would accompany Portraits. I had told him previously that I wouldn't allow the interview to be photographed. He reluctantly agreed but then changed his mind as the interview in my living room was beginning. There was a fierce display of willfulness on both our parts. Readers will have to wait for the book/DVD set to see how it was resolved.

Leaving for the airport on day eight held a sadness for both of us, lightened only slightly as we were going out the front door when Foxy said, "Wait, I forgot my cane."

"You don't have a cane, Foxy," I said.

In its tribute earlier today, the publishers Haggard & Halloo reprinted this poem, "Bringing," one of many wonderful poems written by Hugh Fox over decades:
Bringing them all back, the right Andean
chemicals, prayers to the Underground
spirits, Great-Great-Great-Grandmother
Adeline Fox coming out of the Red Cedar
River, Great-Great-Great Grandfather
Sean walking over the mountains toward
our stone cabin with a pitchfork in his
hands praising Jesus, “Not long now and
He’ll be back,” The Inquisition hovering
around in the clouds as the Great-Great-
Great-Greaters make their way north into
Celticism, the latest womb-escaper, Beatrice,
coming into my workroom, “I want colored
paper, violet, I’m making violets,” as the
Weather Devil drolls on “Tomorrow, tomorrow,
tomorrow you’ll see, see, see…..,” feeling
existentially ONE as the rest of the antiquities
slither through the cracks in the windows and
drop down the chimney into the flames that
can’t/won’t touch them.

Richard Kostelanetz once wrote, "Hugh B. Fox is the most distinguished man of alternative letters of our time." The world of literature will miss him. Along with countless others, we're really going to miss Hugh Fox.

No comments: