Book Review
Sunday, September 8, 2013
'The Haze of Wine by Candlelight Brings New Understanding'

"Catching Light" by Joanna McClure (North Atlantic Books)

One of the loveliest books in the whole Beat canon has just been published and hailed by founding City Lights poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti as "a life fully expressed," by sister Beat poet Joanne "Kyger as "charmed authenticity" and by Beat movie star and Digger Peter Coyote as "a revelation of deep feelings in a life played for keeps."

The following words are from a foreword in the book by the poet's first husband, legendary beat poet and playwright Michael McClure:

"In the swirl of her life, the friends and stars in Joanna McClure's constellation included Robert Duncan and Jess Collins who presented the idea of a household of art and life.

"Not far below Joanna on the slopes of the Downey Street Hill in the Hight-Ashbury, the whole counterculture lifestyle was being pulled together. Her hilltop windows looked out on waves crashing against the cliffs of Marin County. The parade of wild-eyed and soft-eyed young geniuses of glass art, oil paint and collage swirled through San Francisco to the Be-In and on to Big Sur or Mexico. Katherine Jane, a beautiful blonde daughter was born. All this in the midst of one of the richest substrates to be imagined -- and it was all in its early days.

"People were beginning to relate to living on the Pacific Rim facing Asia. A romantic poetry was being born with old cars trudging to the top of Mount Tamalpais, in the elegance of thrift shops and conversations as good as Drambuie by the fireplace. One time, Diane di Prima stayed a while at this large, farmhouse-like flat. A few times Charles Olson's big boots left scuffs on the wooden floors. And it was all new.

"Sight, sound, taste, touch and smell were its qualia [individual instances of subjective, conscious experience], part of a deep, passionate heart where Beat meets Black Mountain by way of San Francisco."

Then this, from a late essay by Joanna, written when married to her present husband, filmmaker Lawrence Jordan:

"There were raging fights, there was infidelity, there was a search for new visions in drugs, there was my depression and there was the anchor of a very strong, lively child.

"At its lowest ebb, at the new large flat on Filmore Street, Kenneth Rexroth helped carry up a cast-iron wood stove while Michael helped Larry Jordan paint the walls and I carried up and down three flights our 'things.' The miscarriage that followed was followed in turn by bad flu so that the family was left hanging by a thread. It was then that Robert and Jess literally took us in."

Joanna McClure's "Catching Light," which is dedicated "to my daughter Jane -- You are forever amazing, an unexpected delight in my life and a gift to the world," is itself amazing, delightful and deeply bright.

Warmly recommended.

-- Reviewed

by Mark Howell

"Josephine: A Memoir 1917-1959" by Margaret Thomas Buchholz (Down the Shore Publishing)

The full title of this fascinating social history -- really a researched biography, part journal, part family memory and commentary, part academic exercise -- continues "From Washington Working Girl to Fisherman's Wife."

The story of Josephine Lehman Thomas, as presented by her daughter, was prompted by the discovery of a journal and writings dated 1917-20.

Buchholz would later find "manuscript fragments" plus carbon copies of letters 1920-1938, besides letters to a beloved younger sister 1838-57. These would change "for good or ill, my view of my mother, who died in 1959."

The woman Buchholz discovers, unlike the serious, necessarily frugal wife/mother on the Jersey Shore, was tall and attractive, very bright, flirty, fun-loving, patriotic, practical and blessed. Having decided at 13 that she would grow up to "serve her country, write and travel," she did just that. And she did it in style.

As a barely 19-year-old newspaper reporter in Ionia, Michigan, the courageous and independent Jo (she was one of a dozen children, the first girl after seven brothers) answered the 1917 call for secretarial staff in Washington, D.C., and was assigned to the War Department. Her life, as described in her journal and letters, is one of independence, courage and immense, mostly innocent fun and, as of May 1919, one of celebrity employment and international travel and the part that Buchholz remembered: the trials of marriage to a fisherman and motherhood at the end of the Great Depression.

Josephine is worth every word.

-- Reviewed

by C. S. Gilbert