THE New Babylon Times, whose first issue recently sneaked onto the newsstands, is put out mostly by people who've left New York City for the country, where they think they might be able to survive The Fall. A haphazard collection of stories, essays, and poems gathered over the past year, it's Editor John Wilton's way of participating while staying in the woods to observe. Be it or eat it?
"Take your enemies and your allies alike one by one," says Ray Mungo in the collection's best essay. "Absolutely Exclusive to Asylum." That's a big change for Mungo, who once took on the whole administration of B. U. as editor of the B. U. News. who founded and then tried to bust up Liberation News Service, who for a long time was the ideal Radical Voice for your TV show or street corner rally. He's still a newsman, but the news has changed: "Strong personal generators can be had for under $35... there is free music in the spheres, not to mention the public libraries." He's still moralizing, but the pitch is individualistic. "What you think is... of no bearing to another other than yourself.... What we all do, severally and independently of each other, will change the world." He's gotten a little more spaced out in the country. He's not keeping his categories straight. A person is a country, new, underdeveloped, in need of foreign and domestic policies, but sovereign and in dependent. "But don't forget diplomacy."
Like Dylan, whose lyrics and ethos are scattered through the magazine, Mungo abandons the city of the mind, the building blocks, the ideologies, and goes down home. He tells stories of himself, his mother, and father, Aunt Assie and Uncle John, a kid who got the clap at B. U., Auntie Irene, and these are nicer. "Luckies cost a quarter of a pack at Meister's, where you had to explain it was for your auntie Irene." He tells us he's "smiling a whole bunch" these days.
"Museum Trips" from a forthcoming book by Carl Nagin is a short, funny story about a visit to the Fogg. In the Modern Art Room Rocko and the Narrator meet an employee who "wouldn't givya a nickel" for the $70,000 Brancusi wood sculpture Caryatid, which he calls Mrs. Murphy's Bedpost. He calls a Jackson Pollack "that horror over there" and says it was hung on its side last month, but he likes Olitski's Ariosto's Kiss because the "painting seems to move." They visit the Persian Rug Room twice, but the rugs are on the wall, roped off. They get to the Oriental Room, where a grad student with a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead under his arm is looking strained. Out on the street the narrator tried to remember when he had had such an intense religious experience before, and thinks of the time he "was introduced to the Viennese School of Fantastic Realism. I was with a Capricorn-Aries in his meditation room. I asked him if he had any... examples of this school of art." The shrink points to a bare wall and says yes, "It is called the Door to nowhere."
There are two poems, "Letter from a Foreign City," by Verandah Porche and "Idlewild Airport" by Steve Lerner. Verandah Porche's poem is like a house. A woman lies in her man's bed writing a former lover for "some fatherly advice." She is "gentle in the lap of love," has redeemed her days, "Have peeled your life from mine/like a tangerine."
my nights are twisted
with the image of you
riding swift as a thief,
riding west with my sanity
captured in a great sack,
my heart kicking and pounding
like a ravished waif.
She remembers "when we curled together/innocent and happy as a pair of socks/fresh from the washer," but this was only a respite from "venom and boredom." Actually. "You ruined me." The poem works because the images bring the woman to life. When she gets to the metaphysical climax-"To love is crazy"-the empty words are suddenly meaningful.
Lerner's poem is more abstract, impressionistic, a disjointed account of an apocalyptic evening in a bar in New York, which "has been Idle Wild/since you've been gone...." The poet tries to get to, tries to explain "a world that's really wordless" but everything is fractured:
it's a being
it's a root and
a being at
the side with
an eyeball hanging off
He goes back to the bar "even with all the warnings that I should stay away/... that I'd have my own crisis." He has it, it's a crash, a nervous wreck, but nothing is explained, perhaps because "Buddha giggles/whenever I sit down/to play the typewriter.../his cackling disturbs/my meditations."
The other pieces are the sort of wandering, derivative personal statements that fill up most underground newspapers, Brian Keating's "Cancer City" is about why he can't leave New York. One can only conclude the editor included it and put it in its prominent page six position to suggest that there is not even a Correct Line on your attitude to New York City. Jon Maslow's "Dylan Piece," a reprint from Avatar, tells us how great Dylan is, partly in Dylan's own words. Maslow also contributes "The Tower," an allegorical story about a tower which the people build and then destroy.
Most of these writers have a way to go before they really escape the city, before they start making their own things instead of reacting to the cultural and political surroundings. They have to separate themselves from the past, not just the city.