When I received the email from Nikki Blaisdell-Ivey and Larry Goodell about their proposed Living Batch book, I had just been indulging in a Living Batch moment. I was reading my used paperback copy of The Good Soldier Schweik, remembering how I’d bought it—ostensibly at the one dollar used cost, but forty percent discounted because I was a Living Batch employee way back there in the 70s. Funny, I’d read the book soon after I purchased it, and now, almost forty years later, I am reading it again and the past comes rushing in on me like a pack of unfed dogs. I’d been thinking often lately of the Batch, how it had been an important part of my life for a large amount of time—two tours as an employee (eight years in the 70s, and then after a two-year hiatus of hiding out in Arkansas, a six-year stint in the 80s after returning to Albuquerque). But turning the pages of my copy of Schweik, with Carl Christenson’s clearly recognizable pencil-scribbled cost of one dollar on the right-hand top of the cover page, I find I am flooded with Batch memories. And they are generally good ones.
Carl Christenson got me on the first time, sometime, I think, in late 1972. He’d been working there for about a year, while at the same time, like me, being a graduate student in the American Studies program and a teaching assistant in English at the University of New Mexico. Carl, in turn, had been introduced to me by my old friend from Arizona State University, Ralph Flores, Ralph himself being the main reason I chose to come to the University of New Mexico for my doctorate while he was already there working on his. Carl and Ralph had so much in common, and for all who know me or know or knew Carl and Ralph, it’s easy to see why and how I looked up to them both. And still do. .
Then there were the Batch people: Larry Goodell, like Carl and me a clerk in the store in the early years, but already a well-established poet and publisher of poets, which to me then was as awesome as all-get-out. Mike and Pancho Elliston, owners of the store when I started; other clerks from time to time, like Jeff Bryan and Tom Burke and Siggi Fox and Pat Nelson and later on teenager Seth Fiedler. And of course, there was Gus Blaisdell, first a quasi-clerk, then owner of the store, and his family, wife Sally, who really ran the business portion of the business, and their beautiful and remarkable children, Shawn, Nikki, Luc, and Casey.
At the same time I was working a part-time weekend shift in the Batch, I was getting involved with the American Studies program and my fellow students and teachers there–Carl, Ralph, Geri Rhodes, Roger Scott, Bob Wood, Joel Jones, Charlie Biebel, Helen Bannan, Marta Field, Sharon Barba, Barbara Strelke, and Ron Querry. And in English: Tony Marquez, Gene Frumkin, Robert Gish, Pat Smith, Bill Weldon, David Johnson in the 70s, and later on, in the 80s, Lee and Mary Bartlett, Louis Owens, Kris Lackey, and Dennis Kane. The scholars/professors that I met and sometimes studied with and talked with on occasion and held in awe, now just as of then: George Arms, Leon Howard, Hamlin Hill, Ferenc Szasz, David Remley, Harvena Richter, T. M. Pearce, and Richard Ellis.
Native American Studies, too, was getting under way at the time. I started teaching there in 1973, in company with the staff, students, teachers and writers-to-be such as Junella Haynes, Leslie Marmon Silko, Simon Ortiz, Joy Harjo, Luci Tapahonso, Laura Tohe, Paula Gunn Allen, Ted Jojola, Alfonso Ortiz, Joe Sando, Bill Oandasan, Joseph Concha, and through Helen Bannan, I met a longtime hero, D’Arcy McNickle, and knew him all too briefly in the last year of his life. All of these were in and out of the Batch, just as we were all in and out of the university. And the visiting Indian writers who came by both NAS and the Batch: Maurice Kenny, Barney Bush, Carroll Arnett/Gogisgi, Linda Hogan, Beverly and Adolf Hungry Wolf, Tony Shearer, Lance Henson, and Ralph Salisbury—some of whom I helped arrange readings and book signings at both places.
So for me, in all the years of my Albuquerque life, it was a four-cornered journey—or way of existence—from NAS to English to AmStuds to the Batch, and all the time witnessing the ever-changing backdrop of learning, writing, teaching, book-buying and selling, meeting poets/writers/editors, trying to learn my own version of the writing craft (and I am still trying)—our own small version of 20s Paris or 50s San Francisco Bay area activities.
Some will remember an off-the-campus bar named Okie’s. Almost all of the afore-mentioned bookstore clerks/poets/customers/readers eventually made an appearance in Okie’s at one time or another. For all of us of near and remote Oklahoma Indian heritage it was a metaphorical Oklahoma (where all of the Indians were supposed to have been sent in the 19th Century, and would have been, if old Chicken Snake Andrew Jackson had had his way.) Thus, some of us went to Okie’s not because we wanted to, but because we had to. An Okie’s anthology? For several years, Joy Harjo has talked to me about how somebody ought to do one, and has even suggested the likelihood of me doing it. My thoughts these days? No. I wouldn’t care to edit an Okie’s anthology. I think I’ve edited my quota of anthologies and I’ve already written my quota of short stories with Okie’s for a backdrop. But a Batch anthology? Now a Batch one, yes; that interests me much more. Not to edit, but to be a contributor. And I kinda hope this blogging and what-not might turn into one. Maybe it’s getting done, even as I type.
Other visiting poets and writers, at least the ones I was privileged to meet in the Batch: Allen Ginsberg, Bill Pearlman, Edward Abbey, Howard McCord, Robert Creeley, Janet Lewis, A.E. (Tony) Mares, Leroy Quintana, Floyce Alexander, Margarita Dalton, etc. Larry Goodell and Jeff Bryan and Pat Nelson can cover this much better than I can. And the Mags: New Mexico Humanities Review (John Rothfork); Cottonwood Review (Denise Low) out of Kansas; visiting Texas poets and small press folks— Jim Cody of Place of Herons Press and his journal, Wood Ibis, Paul Foreman and Thorp Springs Press. And then the local heavies: Duende Press, San Marcos Review, New America, A Press, Red Earth Press, and all that they published and introduced. All these folks found their way to the Batch, and I mention them in particular because they happen to come to the store on days that I was there. I realize my input here is exceedingly small, compared to what Larry and Jeff and Pat have to say about it all.
About Gus Blaisdell. There can never be too much written about Gus Blaisdell. How in his 20s he edited the New Mexico Quarterly. Got UNM Press to accept N. Scott Momaday’s The Way to Rainy Mountain—a year before Harper and Row accepted and published HMD before UNM Press issued The Way. His attentiveness and help to Simon, Leslie and Joy has already been written about. Let me add one more writer in the Native American writers’ community that Gus aided and abetted—me. I’d published The Remembered Earth in early 1979 and after doing well for the first year, by 1981 the press that issued it (Red Earth Press) was floundering and I was having personal difficulties with Red Earth and I just wanted the damned book to go out of print so I could be shet of the whole shebang. Then Gus suggested that I allow him to mention it to the University of New Mexico Press—and then the rest is history: in print with UNM Press for more than 30 years and through seven editions. I still get royalty checks from them. Gus was one of the few real geniuses that I have been fortunate to meet. I used to sit in the Batch, behind the checkout counter, and listen to him talk about poetry, fiction writing, history, films, math, the military, political affairs, publishing—you name it—and his mind, revealed and displayed in his absolutely individualized style of discourse, leaping from idea to idea, example to example, book title to film scene to historical event to personal commentary on all matters thus mentioned, and it was always, to me, a most heady experience, and one that I eagerly looked forward to on the weekends I worked there. Leslie Silko, I used to think, and still do, exhibited somewhat the same high-powdered mind-leaping and expanding expressiveness. Well, that’s what geniuses are like, isn’t it?
I have a couple of confessions to make about my Batch time. One is this: I used to sometimes have very good conversations with many folks who came into the Batch, and as a bachelor I have to admit that I sometimes started conversations with ladies who I perceived were most likely quite intelligent (otherwise, why would they come to the Batch, right?), as well as highly attractive. Well, one who I engaged in conversation took it to the max, I guess it could be said: I met my wife Barbara there, in January of 1974 (on the 13th of the month, to be specific), and to this day we count that our anniversary date since we have been together ever since. I sometimes tease her about being a Batch groupie.
Another time I was working alone on a Saturday afternoon. The store had been very busy that day and I had been the only clerk there for about three hours or so before I began locking the door at 5:00. Just as I was putting the key in the lock, a fellow I’d seen before but didn’t know well at all, though I did know his name, tried to come in the door. He was Phil Mayne and he had his family with him. When I told him that we were closed, and said, perhaps a bit too testy and bad-mannerly, “We’re closed—come back tomorrow.” I didn’t know of his place in Batch history and legacy. I not only wanted to close up and go home, I also needed to use the john. Well, after a couple of attempts on his part to get me to change his mind so that he and Susan and the kids could come in and browse the bookshelves, they went away and I too turned to what I needed to do. Phil, if you and yours are reading this, show the big hearts I know you have and forgive my bad manners and ignorance of a big portion of early Batch history.
Do I miss the Living Batch? Does a long distance runner, now elderly with a game leg and perhaps wheelchair-bound, miss a cross-country trek? Does a bald man miss his once-flowing locks? Does a coon trapper miss the early morning run of the traps down on the bayou? I’m sorry, Amazon.com, you just don’t cut like the Batch or any independent bookstore does/did. And, so far, for me, the blogs and web pages and online surveys don’t deliver for me in the same way. Maybe later on they all will, but until such-like happens, I’ll keep my bookstore memories fresh and vital.
I miss the small presses, the little mags, the reviewing of friends’ books—and occasionally, those of a non-friend. The readings and book-signings. The discoveries made while working one’s way along the used book shelves or scanning the latest new small press offerings straight from Idabel, Oklahoma or Mesa, Arizona or Lindborg, Kansas.
I’m sure—in fact, I know so—other cities than Albuquerque has/had their sterling bookstores in which writers/small and university press people/interested readers/listeners congregated. In Los Angeles, San Francisco, Austin, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle—but it is Albuquerque that I know and of which I hold great memories. Where it was all happening, at exactly the time it needed to happen.
Hats off to Geary for sending this vital Batch article, his personal & integral take on this rather amazing store . . . it certainly lived a life that many participated in and were refreshed by and he was there as I recall on weekends mostly, a diverse fulcrum to so much that was going on then in the literary and crazy cultural world around us . . .
Note/ from the University of Oklahoma . . . “Professor Hobson is the editor of The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature (University of New Mexico Press, 1979) and The People Who Stayed: Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal (2010), author of Deer Hunting and Other Poems (Point Riders Press, 1990), The Last of the Ofos (University of Arizona Press, 2000), a novel, and Plain of Jars and Other Stories (2011). A book of essays, The Rise of the White Shaman: Essays and Reviews, 1970-2000, is currently in press. He has published poems, short stories, critical articles, book reviews, and historical essays in The Greenfield Review, Arizona Quarterly,Contact/II, Western American Literature, World Literature Today,Y’Bird and other journals. Recently, his work has appeared in such anthologies as American Indian Literature (1991), Growing Up Native American (1993), Returning the Gift (1994), and Aniyunwiya/Real Human Beings: An Anthology of Contemporary Cherokee Prose(1995). Among his current projects are The Literature of Indian Country, a critical and historical study of Native American writing and publishing from 1968 to 1992; a second novel; a second book of poems; a second collection of essays and other nonfiction writing. Professor Hobson teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Native American and American literature. He believes that students learn more about literature when they consider the written works as products totally of the social and cultural milieu of which the works are a part.”