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Literary review keeps public informed

By Adam David Miller Daily Planet correspondent
Friday August 10, 2001

Even a brief resume of Joyce Jenkins reads like a who’s who of poetry for the West Coast. Name the place, she’s been there. Name the activity, she’s done that. The award, she’s been granted it.  

But the activity of which she is most proud, to which she has devoted more than two decades of her life, an activity she has defined and one which in a sense defines her, is Poetry Flash. 

Poetry Flash, a comprehensive literary calendar and poetry review for the west, embodies Jenkins’ vision of art in service to the community. In this instance, a community of poets and lovers of poetry.  

“The calendar is an essential part of the Flash,” she told me in a recent conversation. Her vision is that the calendar will serve the entire literary community. Anyone with a literary event, reading, lecture or slam can receive public notice. The calendar would be a place for everyone in the literary community to be connected. 

And the poetry review section? “I wanted reviews of the highest quality possible.” There would be discussions of poets and poetry, ideas and trends, a communications forum where poetry could be explained, argued, celebrated. Poetry is the lens through which the other arts would be viewed. 

Minimalists, language poets, formalists, no point of view would be forbidden.. All are given equal voice.  

None favored, none excluded. This open door neutrality is a policy Jenkins and Associate Editor Richard Silberg have striven to maintain at the Flash. 

Jenkins came to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1978, looking for something she had not found enough of in her native Wayne, Michigan, her years at Wayne State University, or Grand Valley State University’s Thomas Jefferson College, an experimental school that reached its Golden Age, she says, during the ’70s. 

Poetry came to Jenkins early, literally. “My high school English and dramatics teacher gave me two poetry books. ‘I think these belong to you,’ she said.” The poets were Anne Sexton and Gregory Corso. At Wayne State she was an art student. “It was at Thomas Jefferson College I learned how to be a poet.” 

Thomas Jefferson College, set in clusters on the UC Santa Cruz model, encouraged students to open their minds to the world around them, its politics, its sociology.  

Jenkins thrived in this atmosphere. This rough and tumble world of hard work, clash of ideas (“I learned to hustle” she said), prepared her for the life she would find at Berkeley. ‘It succeeded so well they abolished it,” she added wryly. 

“When I came out here in 1975 I was ready, eager to get going.” And “get going,” she did. She landed at Cody’s Books, working there as bookkeeper (“by hand”) and poetry section buyer. She took every opportunity she could to be involved with poets and poetry. 

Within a few years, she had been twice the director of the San Francisco International Poetry Festival, Palace of Fine Arts, a voting and nominating member of the Bay Area Book Reviewers Association, co-coordinator (with Richard Silberg) of Poetry Flash @ Cody’s Series, and editor-in-chief and Publisher of Poetry Flash. 

Recognition for her continued unswerving service came in a 1994 American Book Award for editor, and the National Poetry Association’s 1995 Award for Distinguished Service to Poets & Poetry. 

She is proud of acquiring no nonprofit status in 1988 for the Flash, after a long convoluted struggle with the IRS. “They were concerned that the ads in the calendar might compete unfairly with commercial newspapers.”  

What about the poet she learned how to be at Thomas Jefferson, I asked? Joyce Jenkins the poet, published Portal, a Pennywhistle Chapbook (Santa Fe, 1993). 

Portal reveals a sensitive, keenly observant, complex artist. One who can go deep, or soar. Of many moods. From “The future is a white tiled/ hall, no color….We are all blind.” (Anthem, p9), to “The griefman has gone.” (The New Start, p32) She reflects, “We think we learn and mature--/but this is only an illusion,/ maya, veil dropped/ across our senses.”(Portal, p28) The poet of Portal has seen the dark and bright sides of this life, has lived in them, as this work testifies. 

Will she publish more? “I have other poems. When I’ve had time to process the transition of the last five years, maybe then. I like what I do. I take great pleasure in the success of something I’ve planned, a workshop, a panel, a festival. It makes me happy when it works.”  

What would you most like to do now, I asked, as we closed our conversation. “I would like to make a community poetry center, that could be a new home for the Flash “