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Jack Foley (poet)

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Jack Foley (poet)

Jack Foley is an American poet living in Oakland, California.


Jack Foley is a widely published San Francisco poet and critic. Born in Neptune, New Jersey (1940), raised in Port Chester, New York, and educated at Cornell University, Foley moved to California in 1963 to attend U. C. Berkeley. By 1974, deeply influenced by Charles Olson's Maximus Poems, he had dropped out of graduate school to pursue a career as a poet and writer.

Foley is well known throughout the Bay Area and elsewhere for his spoken-word performances—performances which often involve "choruses" (multi-voiced pieces) presented jointly with his wife, poet Adelle Foley. Pamela Grieman wrote of Foley's book, 'Gershwin':

"Foley's poetry teems with multifarious voices, none of which take precedence. The poet doesn't privilege one particular voice or so much as hint at one specific meaning. There are multiple possibilities of meaning...The jumble of voices that inhabit "Chorus: Gershwin" speaks of night, sleep, frost, death, fire, sexual desire, and the creation of poetry, among other things...The possibilities and resonances are endless..."

Foley's poetry has been described by Heaven Bone magazine as "evolving from the linguistic musical tradition of the original S.F. 'Beat' poet/performers and extending that eye, ear and voice of penetrating clarity into a modern mythology." Dana Gioia called Foley's poetry "that rare commodity -- genuinely avant-garde poetry...experimental poetry with depth and intelligence as well as intensity" and Michael McClure referred to Foley as "our firebrand experimentalist." Recently, Foley has worked with traditional forms, though his work there always maintains some sort of experimental edge—as when he writes "between the lines" of other poets' poems—and an emphasis on performance. This is his poem, "Bukowski," a response to a poem by Charles Bukowski. The words in the first, third, fifth, etc. lines are Bukowski's poem; the words in italics are by Foley. When Foley performs the poem, he speaks the Bukowski portion in his "normal" voice; he speaks the italicized words in a whisper.

the mockingbird had been following the cat
there was this cat
all summer
and I only saw him
mocking mocking mocking
teasing and cocksure;
when he gave a
the cat crawled under rockers on porches
tail flashing
and burped
and said something angry to the mockingbird
at the audience
which I didn't understand.

yesterday the cat walked calmly up the driveway
and he read this poem
with the mockingbird alive in its mouth,
about a cat
wings fanned, beautiful wings fanned and flopping,
and a bird
feathers parted like a woman's legs,
and he was both
and the bird was no longer mocking,
the cat and
it was asking, it was praying
the bird
but the cat
and he was devouring
striding down through centuries
would not listen.
through the poem.

I saw it crawl under a yellow car
And I listened
with the bird
letting him die
to bargain it to another place.

summer was over.

Since 1988, Foley has hosted a show of interviews and poetry presentations on Berkeley radio station KPFA. For a number of years, "Foley's Books," a review column, appeared weekly in the Gazebo section of the online magazine, The Alsop Review. Foley is also a contributing editor of the Berkeley journal, Poetry Flash. His poetry books, all of which feature accompanying CDs or cassette tapes, include Letters/Lights -- Words for Adelle, Gershwin, Adrift (nominated for a Northern California Book Reviewers Association award), Exiles, and (with Ivan Argüelles) New Poetry from California: Dead/Requiem. His Greatest Hits: 1974-2003 appeared from Pudding House Press—a by-invitation-only series.

Two companion volumes of Foley's essays and interviews appeared from Pantograph Press: O Powerful Western Star and Foley's Books: California Rebels, Beats, and Radicals. O Powerful Western Star, which has the distinction of being the only book of critical essays to include a CD on which the author performs some of the work in the book, received the Artists Embassy Literary/Cultural Award 1998-2000. Foley's most recent collection of essays, The Dancer and the Dance: A Book of Distinctions, appeared from Red Hen Press in 2008. "The self of this book," Foley writes, "is not a unity but a multiplicity...Clarification is required as to how the concept of the self as multiplicity affects literary criticism, how it affects our actual reading of poems. It may be that the self we postulate as we read a poem contradicts the self we experience in the world; it is also possible that familiar poems may be experienced anew by being read in the light of multiplicity."

Foley is also the editor of ALL: A James Broughton Reader (White Crane Books, Wisdom Series, 2006), voted number one gay book of the year by[1] Another book Foley edited, The "Fallen Western Star" Wars (Scarlet Tanager, 2001), is a compilation of responses to Dana Gioia's controversial essay, "Fallen Western Star." Foley's translations from the French include poems by Mallarme and Baudelaire as well as a selection of songs by the French songwriter, Georges Brassens. Foley's play, The Boy, the Girl, and the Piece of Chocolate, was made into a film by Alabama filmmaker Wayne Sides in 2006. . Foley’s recent, monumental Visions & Affiliations: A California Literary Time Line 1940-2005 has received international attention with reviews in both England (TLS, Beat Scene) and the USA. On June 5, 2010, Foley received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Berkeley Poetry Festival, and June 5, 2010 was proclaimed “Jack Foley Day” in Berkeley.


  • Letters/Lights -- Words for Adelle (Mother's Hen, 1987,ISBN 0-914370-55-3);
  • Gershwin - Poems (Norton Coker Press, 1991, ISBN 1-879457-10-5);
  • Adrift (Pantograph Press,1993,ISBN 1-880766-05-1);
  • Exiles (Pantograph Press, 1996, ISBN 1-880766-12-4);
  • Dead/Requiem,with Ivan Arguelles (Pantograph Press,1998,ISBN 1-880766-16-7) ;
  • Saint James: An Homage to James Joyce, with Ivan Arguelles (Pantograph Press,1998, ISBN 1-880766-17-5);
  • Foley's Books -- California Rebels, Beats & Radicals (Pantograph Press,2000, ISBN 1-880766-26-4);
  • O Powerful Western Star -- Poetry & Art in California (Pantograph Press, 2000,ISBN 1-880766-25-6);
  • Some Songs by Georges Brassens (Goldfish Press, 2001, ISBN 0-9711601-0-4);
  • Greatest Hits 1974-2003 (Pudding House Press, 2004,ISBN 1-58998-274-6);
  • Fennel in the Rain, with Adelle Foley (Small Change Series, WordTemple Press, 2007);
  • The Dancer & the Dance: A Book of Distinctions, foreword by Al Young(Red Hen Press, 2008, ISBN 978-1-59709-094-0);
  • Visions & Affiliations: A California Literary Time Line, Poets & Poetry,2 volumes (Pantograph Press, 2011, Part I ISBN 978-1-61364-067-8, Part II ISBN 978-1-61364-068-5).


  1. ^ The Year in Gay Books: Mouse Soars, J.K. scores and more! by Jesse Monteagudo on December 12, 2007

External links

  • Alsop Review Columns
  • Alsop Review Foley's Books
  • O Powerful Western StarDana Gioia Essay,
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