Mainstreaming

Article excerpt

Turner Cassity became a frequent contributor to Chicago Review during the 1980s and early 1990s. His poems were featured in special sections on "Poetry and Politics" and "Poetry and Mass Culture," and an essay on Martial appeared in the issue devoted to "Neglected Poets." In the Summer 1983 issue, Donald Davie published an appreciative essay on Cassity in which he suggests the poet's motive is "to always astonish, outsmart, upstage any conceivable reader," chiefly through his masterful, witty use of traditional verse forms, which Davie associates with the aesthetics of camp. "Mainstreaming" appeared in this issue. "Lazy Afternoon" appeared in the Fall 1987 issue; it was included in Cassity's Between the Chains (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991). CASSITY has offered these remarks on the two poems:

The events with which "Mainstreaming" deals are, appallingly, factual. I was in Basic Training in South Carolina in the Fall of 1952, although I was posted to Puerto Rico before the horror story played itself out. I had the end second and third hand. As anyone who has been in the military knows, Napoleon was only partially right: an army may march on its stomach, but it exists on gossip. As it happens, I was staying in San Francisco (Russian Hill, not Nob Hill) in 1995 when the Commission on Base Closings finally phased out the Presidio. I heard the last salute fired there. I might mention that grip refers to a cable car operator, not a suitcase.

"Lazy Afternoon" is also factual. In Atlanta's Midtown in the high 70s there were several bars of notable squalor. More squalor than I have put into the poem: the yellow dog asleep on the pool table, as became apparent when he jumped off, was a three-legged yellow dog. My art, great as it is, is simply not equal to that degree of grunge.

Fort Jackson in the twilight and the coal smoke Oddly looks like San Francisco, Tank Hill Being Nob Hill and the mess hall steps I sit on any hill that overlooks. Un-Californian in the extreme, E Company goes smartly by, then G. Night training in the field, presumably, And odds are it's their final. In two weeks The training cycle ends. I have a scale Of orders cut that goes from one to ten: Korea's minus eight; Presidio Is ten. "And here the Moron Legion comes." Above me and behind, Mess Sergeant Fay; And who refers - his slur is literal - To Able Company, whose Draft Boards have, In manic zeal to put down Minus Eight, Inducted borderline retardees. Not To mince words, Able drools a lot. "Nine weeks Of Basic," says the Sergeant, "and they still Can't mitre sheets." A bit self satisfied, In broken step they march the asphalt streets As if they crossed a frail suspension bridge. I have no way of knowing, but I see A Turk Street of the future: vile fatigues, And leather strapped on in the strangest spots. A look that later age will know as stoned. It is their cadre whom I notice most; As if they each one had a shoeshine boy, A valet, a private barber. …