January 29, 2003
In his magazine Shuffle Boil, which debuted last spring, Steve Dickison wants to create encounters between music and the spoken word.
Three times a year, Dickison, executive director of the Poetry Center and American Poetry Archives at SFSU, and his co-editor David Meltzer, a Beat era poet and Dickison's former teacher, fill Shuffle Boil with intense and eclectic articles on music, mostly on jazz, many written by poets and musicians. Though the bulk of it is prose -- Dickison is intent on getting poets to write prose here -- the black-and-white newsprint is peppered with poems, photos, asides and occasional bars of music.
"It's amazing when you get into it how many musicians are devotees of poetry, and painters as well," says Dickison, a long-time jazz enthusiast. "They really use it in their work and respond to it."
That response is at the heart of Dickison's enchantment with poetry, the idea of words coming together to make song. He distinguishes this process from setting poems to music or from having poetry imitate established songs and styles, which is done often enough in the genre of jazz poems. For Dickison, the key lies in "the invention of song out of using word and bringing it into music."
The magazine's offbeat name, taken from a lesser-known work of jazz icon Thelonius Monk, suggests a fast rhythm turning frenetic.
Dickison's pace may not be frenetic, but at times it may be close. Commuting to the Poetry Center from Berkeley four days a week, Dickison says he's able to get some reading and writing done on the BART train. But between his writing, which includes several pieces in each issue of Shuffle Boil, various public readings and teaching a poetry workshop class at SFSU, Dickison is often short on time. He's also beginning to pull together a book of poems. "I don't get enough sleep," he laughs.
As he prepares to release the third issue, Dickison is satisfied with the magazine's reception. Because it isn't a commercial effort and doesn't take advertising, the magazine relies on word-of-mouth referrals to build its subscriber roster. So far it has attracted about 100 subscribers, and hundreds more who receive complimentary copies.
While Dickison would like to see the numbers continue to climb, he doesn't care to build it into a mass operation. "We don't want to get too buried in the dismal side" of the work, he says.
Independent distribution isn't new to Dickison. Before coming to SFSU in 1999, he worked for Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, a wholesaler of independent literary works, where he recruited small publishers and pitched their wares to booksellers, libraries and individual buyers.
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