BullHead reviewed by Robert Bové

          "Once world was run according to entrails of bird.  
          Extispicy.  Now it is run according to number, and 
          probability is placed ahead of learning and knowledge. 
          Computers and those who serve them, humanplayer, 
          statisticians and psephologists, the stochastic community 
          who are in charge, reducing world and problems to 
          collection of weighted maybes, delivering not what is 
          needed so much as what computers able to do."

                -- The "character" Ishmael in Philip Kerr's The Grid

          "We make the buildings then the buildings make us."

                -- Francis Duffy (also cited in The Grid)

The thing, though, about learning and knowledge--and about poetry, the poetic in human consciousness--is that its expression is anything but expedient, utilitarian, practical. The thing about modern popular discourse is that it is a product of marketin g and, so, grimly practical, as any poet will tell you when asked to explain poetry's place in the current scheme of things, the current pattern. The computer, the networked computer in particular, not only exacerbates the trend, it intensifies it, re duces it to its essentials, expedites what is already expedient, speeds it up, and crams it down people's divine gizzards so fast it can't be digested. We become electronic funnels--and that's no fun, is it? Computers--people glued to their computer s creens--are the last excrescence of the visual age we have lived in since the introduction of the printing press. It is not our brains that atrophy but the four senses that used to be integrated with sight. Virtual reality, especi! ally as it gets more refined, is mere symbol of the great loss.

Focus on the televised political arena and despair will be your constant companion. Surf the web for hope, chat up folks on the net--any of these activities only mean that you are spending life learning to use the computer, no matter the content or its usefulness. For this thing, this computational device, the form/function debate is meaningless. As you contemplate any philosophical questions, your fingers are tapping on keys, moving the mouse, fulfilling what this civilization defines as the human function.

Unlike, say, getting your hands on a copy of Joe Napora's BullHead, the brightest, most hopeful periodical produced anywhere in the last two years. It is also the most enigmatic and often the most vexatious since its stated purpose is to evolve over time. Pick up an isolated issue (there are now six) and very little will make sense. Read all of them in order and you find yourself in the middle of something quite important--nothing less than a re-orienting of consciousness back to the senses superseded in a visual society.

Another unusual aspect of BullHead is its intensely collaborative nature. Very little within its pages stands out extant on its own. The contributors have taken to heart the call to enter into BullHead after having digested all the issue s that have been thus far produced. There's a flow here, a combination of egos, a possible entity emerging. Very exciting, indeed. Says Napora, "Since BullHead exists as a work-in-process, changing as readers/writers respond to it, it is unlikely tha t someone who is not an active reader of BullHead will have work included in it." This calls for a kind of attention on the part of both contributor and reader not required in the vast majority of spoon-fed pap out there on the magazine racks. You'll get to know you body better as you slowly absorb it.

Kenneth Warren, editor and publisher of House Organ (1250 Belle Avenue, Lakewood, OH 44107), had this to say early on in BullHead:

          "A is a bull's head, says Charles Olson...  This 
          proposition brings together two conditions for
          consciousness, namely animal victimage and the  
          sign... there is a vital relationship between graphic 
          sign and spoken word traceable from a bull's head 
          to the singing head of Orpheus.  Today, these heads
          signify the terrible obligations poetry must assume 
          for the cosmic order of its veracious mechanisms."

Napora quotes Roberto Calasso's seminal The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony:

          "Dionysus is the river we hear flowing by in the 
          distance, an incessant booming from far away; then 
          one day it rises and floods everything, as if the normal 
          above-water state of things, the sober dilimination of 
          our existence, were but a brief paraenthesis overwhelmed 
          in an instant."

Among the swimmers in that river contained within the covers of BullHead are Clayton Eshleman, Sharon Doubiago, Antler, Vincent Ferrini, Robert Peters, Karl Young, Barbara Mor, and on and on--the list of contributors bending themselves to the tas k is as impressive as found anywhere right now. It is not slick and knowing, though this group could easily pull that off. No, these are folks who have taken these lines of H.D. to heart: "do not be beguiled / by geometry of perfection." To get a copy (start with #1), send $5 to BullHead, 2205 Moore St., Ashland, KY 41101.

© 1997 by Robert Bové
Original Room Temperature publication

Room Temperature. January 1997.
editor: Robert Bové