In the digital age, it is rare to see a new print journal, especially one like Four by Two, launched in 2014 as a quarterly under the combined editorship of klipschutz and Jeremy Gaulke. Roughly five by five inches when closed between covers, Four by Two folds out to eleven by seventeen inches, divided into folded panels. Beyond that, it is hard to describe, especially since no two issues are folded and laid out alike, thanks to Gaulke’s ingenuity and design chops. Each issue’s 300 copies are hand-folded and -glued, hand-assembled, and -numbered. To date, five issues have appeared, featuring klipschutz as “house poet,” along with one (occasionally two) invited “guest poets.”
[Note: In the interests of full disclosure, I was the first guest poet in issue number one.]
JC: Let’s begin with “Arrhythmias,” the fourth issue. I’m particularly interested in the background of two of your poems. Is “Incomplete Translation from the Archaic” meant to recall Modernism’s fascination with the fragment, the incomplete verse that suggests much but reveals little? Is Pound lurking behind your impulse? Rexroth? It’s a mysterious poem, both lyric and satiric, even philosophical (“Time is neither [or] nor either/or”).
KLIP: In retrospect, “Incomplete Translation...” feels like something Borges might have done, if he had approached poetry like he approached his fiction. Sappho’s poems, after all, have been mostly reconstructed from lacunae, like a dinosaur from a handful of bones, so why not build a creature—or a poem—from imaginary bones? I cribbed the names Seguin and Valensa, Blancalflor and Floris, from old troubadour poems, located the bracket function on my keyboard, and about a hundred drafts later, declared a truce with the poem.
JC: Before I proceed on to “Free Translation of Du Fu from Memory,” can you give us your thoughts on his poetry? Is he your favorite Chinese poet? I think it’s fair to say he’s less well known in English speaking countries than either Basho or Issa.
KLIP: I’ve read my share of Chinese poetry, mostly by way of Pound and Rexroth, but also earlier on, Arthur Waley, and to tell you the truth, I still get confused about who’s who. On a good day, I know Basho from Issa, but Li Po and Du Fu could fool me in a line-up. Weren’t they contemporaries? I’m probably more familiar with Li Po (Pound’s Rihaku). It doesn’t get much better than “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter.” If that’s all Pound ever did, translating that poem, it would have been plenty.
JC: Was “Free Translation of Du Fu from Memory” meant to accurately suggest the poems attributed to him as they exist in English translation.? Or was some subtler purpose operating here. Perhaps a poem conceived more as homage than imitation?
KLIP: Whenever I have a subtle purpose, the blunt instrument that passes for my aesthetic intervenes. Du Fu’s name was spelled Tu Fu when I was growing up, back before Peking became Beijing. (“I’ll have the Beijing Duck.”) Then he morphed to Du Fu, then Pluto got de-listed as a planet, and now I’ll never catch up. The title came after the poem, maybe in an attempt to harass a few poets I know, to scare them into thinking that I know Chinese. (Speaking of names, I just looked up Li Po, and see that his name in English has been changed to Li Bai. Now I’m really sunk.)
JC: “Night Piece” is brilliant, by the way. And one couplet struck me as coming directly from your songwriting self. These lines: “Damn they’re quiet/Christ we’re loud.” I know you’ve written many songs with Chuck Prophet. Do you find that song lyrics influence your more purposeful poetic mode? Or is it simply a case of influence influencing influence influencing influence?
KLIP: One of my great fears is that I’m too much of a poet as a songwriter, and too much of a songwriter as a poet. Influences are essential, and everywhere. I’ve been influenced by Alan Dugan, whose work you introduced me to. Thanks for that. The biggest difference between songwriting and poetry is that I get checks for songwriting, and write checks to others for my poems. That’s my advice to young poets, by the way: Rule in bribery.
JC: Some great poems by Sandra Beasley in “Arrhythmias.” Can you speak a little about her particular approach to poetry, why you selected her? (I especially like “The Hotel Devotion” and “Parable.”)
KLIP: Here’s my chance to thank Andy Fox of the Dust Congress blog, which for years functioned like a magazine, like the reprint section in Harper’s. Three or four days a week he pulled together excerpts from interviews, quotes, photographs, paintings, and poems, ignoring copyright. Invariably fascinating. That’s where I first encountered Sandra Beasley’s poems and fell hard for them. Her poems have a durability in form coupled with a sense of fragility in the content, if that makes sense. I rarely try to explain why I like particular poems or poets—for good reason, as you can see. From my outsider perspective, Sandra is a po-biz success story—published by Norton, in A-list magazines. It would be hard not to envy her if she didn’t have to teach, which I consider a dubious reward for success. When I contacted her, at first she was skeptical about our strange little zine. Then we sent her a copy, and she warmed up. She was an absolute pleasure to work with—our editorial process is intensive and interactive, over a short period. Right after we selected her poems, she won an NEA grant. Every once in a while, the NEA gets it right.
JC: The most recent Four by Two is the “Autodidact Issue.” Death seems present in almost all of the poems there, in fact. From your line “Button, button, autumn’s almost gone” to Hannon’s concise lyric poems where death is either explicit (“Fear of death, a kind of desire/and fear of desire, a kind of death”) or implicit in those poems where nature is given a kind of voice through such emissaries as the mole and the raccoon.
KLIP: Michael Hannon is in his mid-70s, so he has an excuse to dwell on such matters. But I get the sense he’s always had a fixation on the twin poles of Eros and mortality. Hannon’s poems are short and direct—by no means are all of them as brief as the ones we used, but he gets the job done, gets in and gets out. He wears his wisdom lightly, but it shines through. Humor lurking underneath.
JC: Can you tell us more about Michael Hannon? When did you first meet him, or how did you first discover his poetry? What is it about his poetry you find compelling?
KLIP: I’ve been reading Michael Hannon’s poems for over thirty years, and finally met someone who knows him. Four by Two gives me an excuse to bother people whose work I admire, and to offer them the modest gift of publication to a select audience. I got to know him on the phone during the editorial process. He doesn’t do email—which makes him my hero. I call myself a Luddite, and here I am looking at a screen. Compelling? The smooth surface of his lines and the depths they plumb, seemingly effortlessly so. I hope to meet Michael for the first time this summer, when he comes north to read at the San Francisco Public Library.
JC: The “Los Angeles Issue” of Four by Two features poems by John Tottenham, Paul Fericano, and a prose poem of yours. Tell us a little about what went into organizing this issue.
KLIP: Each issue is different. I find poems I fall in love with then try to match them with some of my own dismal efforts. Paul Fericano did a Hollywood series based on Catholic prayers, and I couldn’t resist the satire carried by those somber, magnificent rhythms, which then led us to break one of our only rules at Four by Two—two poets per issue—and enlist John Tottenham, a British émigré to these shores, known for his short, dark, and biting complaints about suffering through every aspect involved with being alive. He has a sort of Evelyn Waugh-like outsider’s view of Los Angeles, coupled with his own dashed ambitions. My contribution was an emotional (for me) prose poem about my dad that takes place in the Palm Springs Greyhound station, which no longer exists. Palm Springs simmers creepily in the long shadow of L.A. and its allure.
JC: There are two poems in that issue I’m very jealous I didn’t write myself: Tottenham’s “Happiness and Beauty” and Fericano’s “The Actor’s Creed.” Tottenham’s poem articulates a feeling that I’ve often had in the presence of truly happy people, and Fericano’s use of the 23rd Psalm is highly unusual yet strangely satisfying.
KLIP: Agreed. After you steal those two poems, I’ll steal them from you. Tottenham lets no one off the hook, starting with himself, and Paul’s lifelong obsession with show business collides with his Franciscan schooling by way of slapstick that bites back, a Tinkers to Evers to Chance combination very tough to pull off.
JC: Any other comments you’d care to add?
KLIP: I’d like to make double-sure readers know of Jeremy Gaulke’s immense contribution to the magazine. We both work hard at it, but he has mad skills and talents. Maybe some other younger poets can lay off the vinyl and delve into print. You can’t get much more old school than print. Also, and how to say this delicately, Four by Two is a shoestring operation, and the shoestring has seen thicker days. With an infusion of funds, we could buy another shoestring. Just because we don’t “mount” a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign (as if we’d know how) doesn’t mean we are BitCoin moguls. Money is a distraction, but our printer and the post office seem to take it seriously.
Oh, and we have a few copies left of “Sixty-Eight Statements About Poetry,” a limited edition broadside by Jon Cone. If anyone wants to experience a classic, exquisitely presented, before it gets discovered, drop us a line. We never close. And finally, our next issue, currently in production, is “Elsewheres,” which will feature poems from the German by Scott Thompson. I never knew I had a soft spot for Germans, but Scott Thompson’s translations convinced me.