Maps are inherently contextual. This is not new information.
Which is only to say with the backs of my legs stuck to the forest green vinyl in the drowsy heat of the backseat of our family’s Ford LTD, I would prop the unwieldy Thomas Brothers Guide on my lap for hours as the world whizzed along the long car trips of my childhood.
I really, really tried to make sense of the map stacked there, tracing the lines, across and through. Attempting to follow the order of the non-sequential arrangement of images that would jump around and look for clues to mysteries I couldn’t entirely name. I mean, it felt like there was something more that what I was seeing, but I couldn’t ever find it. So I would try to find the place where we were, the place we were going. To remind myself of the places we’d been.
But thing is: although I can almost always find the direction to point towards the Pacific Ocean, I’ve never really been very good at reading maps. That thing that you’re supposed to have where you can transform a two-dimensional reality into a three-dimensional one? I can’t really do it. The translation always flummoxes me.
So sure, I, like just about almost everybody, have always been fascinated by maps. I’m not claiming some unique obsession here. We all have a little windmill chasing in us. But there’s that magic to maps. Their codes and arrogant certainty. They come preloaded with their own unique composite of electricity.
Also: I just like the way that maps want to equally locate and disorient you. How you can turn them sideways or upside down and still somehow find your way. Just about everybody likes this, right?
Anyway, when I first started going to readings in the Bay Area, started reading the books and being friends of Bay Area writers, taking up space in whatever constituted the “Bay Area Writing Scene” and going to its afterparties, it mostly felt like I’d stumbled into a three-dimensional map of utopia. I’m both proud and embarrassed to admit this now.
It is displaying a kind of naivete that perhaps one should not display in a curatorial launch masthead to say “oh man, what a utopia that was” but maybe I’m trying to say there was something magic and unchartable to me at the time. The navigability in the constellations of friendship and thought and community were dizzying and somewhat difficult to diagram. But this was a good thing: lost and inside of something at the same time.
If a utopia is meant in some sense to describe a non-existent society that is considerably better than the larger contemporary society in which one normally participates, then for me at least the Bay Area poetry community in the mid 2000s felt like it had utopia on lock. I’m copping to a myopic innocence here maybe. There were a lot of things I didn’t chart during those heady days I was busy enjoying my new relationship energy with the Bay Area Writing Scene as it applied to my specific attraction to aesthetic experimentation. A lot of questions I didn’t ask.
What even was that scene? Who was making it? Who was un-making it? Did the politics and privacies of its members influence the writing we were doing? What did I actually know about the politics and privacies of the people in my newfound community? How was our writing and reading and after-partying together making something wholly itself both inside and outside of the confines of our collective geography? Was it even doing this at all? If there was a map for what we were making, could I even read it?
I’m not sure you can actually map a writing community of a particular place. I’m not even totally sure what it would mean to try to do that. The contexts are overlapping, moving targets, largely (and possibly purposefully) inscrutable. The affinities of writing in a particular place are inherently unstable, prone to migrate, infused with gossip and conjecture and secrets. It’s easy to mark the space right outside your car window as El Paso, TX or Needles, CA. It’s a bit harder to delineate the cartography of something built on aesthetic and relational affinity. Maybe.
But that’s what this new iteration of Traffic Report is going to try to do. To make something readable about whatever it is that constitutes the “Bay Area Writing Scene” that somewhat constellates around the Small Press Traffic and to trace the lines of where we’ve been. Where we’re going. Where we are. We’re going to try to make a map.
I hope you’ll help us. By which I mean: please help us. Send us reviews and thoughts and maps and scene reports and remembrances and tributes. Let’s chart this territory together.