Gingko Tree Review Mon, 18 Jul 2016 17:11:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Thank you, Missouri Arts Council! Mon, 18 Jul 2016 17:11:06 +0000 macnoshadow

Gingko Tree Review and Drury University thank the State of Missouri and its Missouri Arts Council for funding the 2015-16 issue and the forthcoming 2016-17 issue and related events.

Submit: The Body Issue Wed, 18 Mar 2015 15:33:51 +0000 There is much to be said about the body -- whether it is a husk to hold the spirit or, as Whitman maintains, it is the spirit. Everything about the body is worthy of consideration -- from its mechanics to its uses and its eventual decay. The editors of the 2015 edition of the annual literary journal Gingko Tree Review invite your submission of poems, stories, essays, and literary works that defy category for the Body Issue. Regular (non-body) submissions are also happily considered for this issue. To submit, please send work now through May 1 via our e-mail address, (Submissions sent after May 1 will be responded to next spring.) We invite submissions of up to six poems/short prose pieces or a single longer work of up to 6,000 words. Work must be unpublished (including blog or other online publications) and original to the author. Simultaneous submissions are encouraged, but please withdraw any piece immediately when it is no longer available (and replacement submissions are welcome). ]]> C.E. Poverman reads his work Mon, 02 Sep 2013 19:37:29 +0000 Hear fiction writer C.E. Poverman read from his novel, Love By Drowning. Poverman reads an excerpt titled “Ashore: The State of New York.” 




Click here to read an additional excerpt from Poverman’s novel.

“In Search of the Great Community” by Allen Dunn Sun, 14 Apr 2013 04:30:24 +0000 Reprinted from the Ocean Issue:


In Search of the Great Community:

John Dewey, Barack Obama, and the

Possibility of a Pragmatist Politics



At the conclusion of The Public and Its Problems, John Dewey looks forward to the transformation of American democracy. In the future, he claims, democratic deliberation should take the form of “a free experimental social inquiry” in which all political preconceptions are abandoned in favor of testable hypotheses. When deliberation takes the form of an experimental method, “those concepts, general principles, theories and dialectical developments that are indispensable to any systematic knowledge [will] be shaped and tested as tools of inquiry,” and “policies and proposals for social action [will] be treated as working hypothesis, not as programs to rigidly adhered to and executed” (202-3). This new pragmatic approach to democratic deliberation will replace the dogmatic politics of the past, a politics based on fixed and eternal principles. Dewey cites an example of dogmatic absolutism the “person who holds the doctrine of ‘individualism’ or ‘collectivism’” and thus “has his program determined for him in advance” (202). Once policies are viewed as testable hypotheses, such divisively dogmatic political opinions will no longer exist; they will have been replaced by debates about provisional strategies for achieving collectively agreed upon goals.

The audacity of Dewey’s ideas is, if anything, even more palpable today than it was in 1927, when the book was first published. In the section of the book mentioned above, he defers any final judgments on the programs of either Lenin or Mussolini in favor of a program of education that will in the course of a couple of generations accustom people to this new way of doing politics. Then and only then will democracy be able to shed its malaise and engage its most pressing problems. With only minor modifications, Dewey’s experimental method can be read as a précis of the ideas that have shaped Barack Obama’s much-discussed pragmatism. Obama entered office promising that he would overcome political partisanship by first identifying the self-evident problems faced by his electorate and then proposing practical, testable solutions to those problems. The measure of any political program would not be an abstract set of political principles but its practical efficacy and, even beyond that, the possibility of measuring that efficacy.

This much of Obama’s pragmatism is familiar and has done much to shape his image in the press. For his critics, this experimentalism masks either a technocrat’s willingness to defer to the rule of experts or, worse, a lack of values altogether, a value relativism that is designed to accommodate the shifting demands of political expediency. What these criticisms overlook, however, is that Obama’s pragmatism has a second dimension, one that it also shares with Dewey. Like his pragmatist predecessor, he believes that political experimentalism can work only when it is thoroughly incorporated in public dialogue, when it is an integral part of the process of public deliberation itself. In order for this to happen, Dewey and Obama agree, a new kind of public must emerge, a public that is both knowledgeable about the issues of public policy and inspired by their understanding that self-interest and the interests of the community are inextricably entwined. Dewey calls this new kind of public “the Great Community” and waxes rhapsodic about its potential to change American democracy. For him, it is both a moral ideal and a practical goal that can only be reached through a careful and thorough program of education. Obama describes this new public in terms that are reminiscent of Dewey’s Great Community, but he is less clear about the relationship between the ideal of the Great Community as a moral abstraction and the politics of the present, the politics with which he must contend. Dewey laments the fact that the Great Community does not exist and argues that its creation will take arduous public planning, while Obama, out of political necessity, speaks as if it somehow already exists in a kind of inchoate form that might at any moment be transformed into a viable political force.

The terms in which Dewey and Obama describe the new public that can enact their experimentalist program are so common in contemporary political discourse as to be nearly ubiquitous. What politician hasn’t at one time or another spoken of the need to overcome partisan differences in order to achieve a common good? What politician hasn’t at least paid lip service to the notion that the electorate must be well-educated, informed, and motivated to engage in even the most recondite policy decisions? Because such ideals are so commonly invoked and so infrequently put into practice, it is not surprising that this part of Obama’s program is systematically ignored or summarily dismissed as mere rhetoric. Yet, unless we credit Obama at least with the aspiration to create a Great Community in which his experimentalism might thrive, his pragmatist program can at best amount to little more than the kind of technocratic rule that his critics denounce. In what follows, I will use Dewey’s discussion of the Great Community to bring to light those parts of Obama’s program that are frequently overlooked. When these overlooked dimensions of Obama’s program are acknowledged, I think that it is clear that his true vulnerability as a politician may not be his endorsement of a soulless technocracy as some of his critics charge, but, rather, his commitment to a Deweyean ideal (if not idealism) that many would consider overly optimistic if not completely improbable. I will then conclude by discussing the obstacles, both practical and theoretical, that stand in the way of the kind of Great Community that Obama hopes to bring into being.




For Dewey, the social solidarity embodied in the Great Community has priority over both democratic norms and democratic procedures. Such solidarity is “necessarily precedent,” Dewey claims, “to any fundamental change in the machinery [of democracy]” (146), and without it, democratic principles, notions such as freedom and equality, amount to no more than empty slogans. This means that if the body politic is fractured, Dewey feels that institutional reforms such as voting rights and well-regulated election will not suffice to create a functional democracy, as important as these reforms might be. Nor will espousing the correct political doctrine. Prefatory to such things, Dewey insists, there must be a moment of communal self-recognition in which a democratic society experiences itself as a community with shared interests and responsibilities. This self-recognition is the inception of the Great Community. In Dewey’s words, in the Great Community an otherwise “scattered, mobile, and manifold public” is able to “so recognize itself as to define and express its interests” (146).

Fundamental to this moment of collective self-recognition is the reconciliation of the self-interest of individuals with the collective interests of the community as a whole. When a community is able truly to recognize itself and to act upon this recognition, Dewey optimistically insists, the conflict between self-interest and collective interest vanishes. From the standpoint of the individual in the Great Community, the democratic idea “consists in having a responsible share according to capacity in forming and directing the activities of the groups to which one belongs. From the standpoint of the groups, it demands liberation of the potentialities of the members of a group in harmony with the interests and goods which are common” (147). In this fusion of self-interest with the interests of the community, Dewey imagines the reconciliation of individualism and collectivism and the opposing right and left wing political doctrines that they inspire. True democracy is thus saved from Communism’s supposed indifference to the individual and capitalism’s selfish individualism. Furthermore, the solidarity of the Great Community eliminates the need for rigidly held political or ethical principles. Rather, such principles can be transformed into the flexibly held “tools of inquiry” mentioned above. Because the members of the Great Community are “naturally” committed to a common good, they respond spontaneously to society’s collective needs. In seeking the greater good of the community, they don’t need to follow rules or act from a sense of duty any more than they depend upon rules or principles when seeking their own individual self-interest. However, despite or perhaps because of the utopian flourish with which Dewey invokes the political satisfactions of the Great Community, he is careful to insist that this community is inaccessible in his contemporary world. Because it will take generations to create such an electorate, he expects the ideal of the Great Community to serve as a kind of beacon guiding us to our ultimate goal but at the same time reminding us of what is necessarily flawed about our political deliberations.

Obama, of course, cannot afford the luxury of placing his hopes in a utopian future. The Great Community that he requires must be developed on a much more modest time scale. In The Audacity of Hope, Obama uses both Dewey’s language and his argument to condemn the dogmatic “absolutism” of partisan politics and to invoke a new spirit of national solidarity that will allow us to rise above our political differences and our own narrow self-interests, but he writes as if the community that he needs in order to bring his plans to fruition already exists or will soon come into being. In his account of recent history, Republicans have thrived by formulating an absolutist ideology, an “absolutism of the free market, an ideology of no taxes, no regulation, no safety net” (37), and the Democrats have responded in kind by relying on wedge issues of their own. The result has been a polarized electorate that is incapable of moving beyond a self-promoting partisanship. It is the “scattered, mobile, and manifold public” that Dewey hopes his political program can transform. Obama’s solution to this polarization is a reprise of Dewey’s: “What’s needed is a broad majority of Americans—Democrats and Republicans, and independents of good will—who are reengaged in the project of national renewal, and who see their own self-interests as inextricably linked to the interests of others” (40). Obama identifies this community of like-minded citizens as a kind of silent majority: “They don’t always understand the arguments between right and left, conservative and liberal, but they recognize the difference between dogma and common sense, responsibility and irresponsibility, between those things that last and those that are fleeting,” and they are “waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them” (42).

It is precisely upon this kind of community that the success of Obama’s policies depends, a community possessed of a common sense and a good will that places it above the partisan squabbles of Republicans and Democrats. As Obama emphasizes, the members of this community are able to “see their own self-interests as inextricably linked to the interests of others,” and as I have already mentioned, this kind of appeal to bipartisanship is a staple in American politics, and, on the face of it, there is no reason that the public should pay more attention to it here than to any of its other numerous manifestations. Yet, a pragmatist politics depends upon making good on this rhetoric in a way that other political doctrines do not. To put it somewhat schematically, the more a pragmatist like Obama plays down the ideological doctrines that motivate partisanship, the more he must play up the ideal qualities of democratic deliberation itself. Indeed, unless he idealizes democracy, unless he takes the need for a Great Community seriously, he has no way of distinguishing himself from the soulless technocrat with whom he is frequently confused and no way of distinguishing his flexible approach to problem solving from an opportunistic relativism. Dewey is unambiguous about insisting that the value of the democratic process far exceeds the value of any of the results of its deliberations. To the extent that Obama follows this same line of thought, he must demonstrate—and not just assert—the power and importance of the process that might allow us to rise above dogma and partisanship.

In Obama’s early days in office, he seemed to understand this, as was apparent from his attempts to promote bipartisan dialogue in a number of venues from White House policy deliberations to the town hall meetings that accompanied debates on the Healthcare Bill. The announced purpose of such public dialogues was to forge an agreement on the various provisions of the Bill itself, but it was of equal importance for the Obama administration to demonstrate the existence, or at least the possibility of the kind of nonpartisan Great Community that he had invoked during his campaign. It quickly became apparent, however, that Republicans, both in and out of office, saw no political advantage to participation in those dialogues, and rather than becoming showcases for a new civility, many of these public discussions became exhibitions of an extraordinary partisan rancor. So intense was the partisan rhetoric, especially on the Right, that one could not help suspecting that it was not the Healthcare Bill as much as the ideal of bipartisanship itself that was being judged and summarily rejected as a dangerous erosion of political principles. Indeed, some of the protesters even said as much.

It was, to put it mildly, ironic that the attempt to promote a dialogue that could rise above political ideologies should so dramatically demonstrate the deep divides between political camps, but, as might be expected, the collapse of this dialogue seemed to confirm people’s worst suspicions about Obama’s pragmatism itself. In the absence of any edifying public discussion, pragmatist governance was perceived to be little more than a kind of technocracy in which panels of experts deliberate on matters of public policy while remaining aloof from the political fray and, their critics say, out of touch with political opinion. This is reflected most dramatically in the continuing uproar over Obama’s appointment of policy “czars.” Although he reportedly has fewer such czars than the previous administration, he is often represented in the popular press as someone dedicated to replacing democratic deliberation with the rule of experts.

It is in just such terms that Obama is described by Jacob Bronsther in an editorial in The Christian Science Monitor, for instance. Bronsther distinguishes between two types of Pragmatists. The first he characterizes as a type of “expert rule.” Under this type of pragmatism, “the ethical questions of politics” become “scientific questions” to be decided upon by panels of scientific experts. Bronsther contrasts this expert rule pragmatism with a second type, the pragmatism of the bipartisanship which is forged by reasonable compromise. He thinks that Obama has mistakenly assumed that the first type of pragmatism will lead to the second, that expert testimony will lead to a bipartisan national consensus. This is wrong, Bronsther concludes, because the partisan divide that prevents the emergence of consensus is the product of moral and philosophical differences and, thus, can only be bridged with moral arguments, arguments that appeal to principles. If Obama and the Democrats are to succeed, he argues, “they need to unite their pragmatism rhetoric with real moral argument about the meaning of rights, freedom, and equality.” Interestingly, this kind of criticism is increasingly common even among those generally sympathetic to Obama’s cause. In a New York Times editorial entitled “Obama’s Trust Problem,” Paul Krugman complains that Obama “comes across, far too often, as a dry technocrat who talks of ‘bending the curve’ but has only recently begun to make a moral case for reform.” Furthermore, Krugman feels that the Democrats’ pursuit of bipartisanship has left them vulnerable to manipulation by Republicans and that Obama’s perceived weakness has cost him the support of his Democratic base.

As should be apparent, both Bronsther and Krugman underestimate the importance of the democratic idealism in Obama’s Pragmatist vision. As the inheritor of Dewey’s vision of a Great Community, Obama views consensus not just as a means of getting legislation passed but as an occasion for community to recognize itself, to see itself as greater than any of its particular accomplishments. Such collective moments of self-recognition provide the moral center of Obama’s political vision, the ethical substance that his critics look for in more conventional forms of ethical language. While Bronsther and Krugman see talk of bipartisanship as an evasion of ethical commitment, the Deweyean pragmatist might see it as ethics’ most authentic form. To recognize this as the heart of Obama’s ethical vision, however, is not to pass judgment on either its coherence or its viability, and not all of the difficulties that Obama faces can be attributed to his critics’ misunderstandings. These difficulties include both practical and theoretical challenges to Obama’s pragmatist position, challenges that must be overcome if he is to succeed.

One of the most serious practical obstacles that Obama faces is the gap between the idealized nonpartisan public that he invokes in his speeches and the more fractious public with which he must contend in reality. Even if he manages to cultivate the goodwill that he claims is latent in the majority of the electorate, he is faced with the difficulty of orchestrating a dialogue on some very complex issues. Indeed, the issues raised by public policy have only grown more recondite since the time that Dewey reckoned that it would take generations of education to produce a public fit for the task.

Various forms of expert rule are coming to seem more and more inevitable in a world beset by so many convolutions of crises, and the stupefying complexity of the crises in the economy, healthcare, international relations seems to place real limits on the role that public deliberation can play in their solution and perhaps even more severe limits on the motivation of the public to engage with the details of such policy decisions. In the absence of such detailed discussions of policy substance, it is not surprising that the public deliberations about these policy matters should rely so heavily on ideological generalities. Of course, all American politicians must confront the dilemma posed by our increasing reliance on expert rule, and this has been true for some time, but, ironically, this dilemma is more acute for the pragmatist Obama because it undermines the type of drama of public deliberation that he depends upon. The administration’s heavy reliance on technological expertise is not really Obama’s policy choice as much as it is a fact of life in contemporary government, but for this very reason he needs to be more aggressive in educating his electorate and modeling the kind of conversation that he hopes to promote. At moments in the healthcare debate, the public seemed to be confused not just about the details of the plan, but also about the more general shape of the issues under debate. Obama must play a leading role in shaping public discussion, even at the risk of being charged with the absolutism that he deplores. The more seriously that one takes Dewey’s claims about the Great Community, the more seriously one is compelled to take the elaborate educational program that he thinks might make it possible.

Another type of difficulty that Obama faces is both practical and theoretical. It has to do with understanding the roles that moral and political principles can and should play in orchestrating social interaction and organizing political activity. The very fact that both Obama’s supporters and his critics complain so vociferously about his lack of principles indicates that he has a practical, if not a theoretical, problem in articulating and promoting his pragmatist vision. By definition, our membership in the Great Community requires that we somehow think differently about our commitments to at least some forms of value, that we hold at least some of these commitments more loosely than would otherwise be the case, that we advocate them less dogmatically, and that we transform our advocacy for these specific values to a more general commitment to community itself. Yet, democratic political discourse as we know it is mostly about advocacy, and commitment to principles plays a central role in motivating this process. As Krugman and others have complained, any literal attempt to embrace a nonpartisan view for its own sake (or for the sake of an abstract notion of community), any attempt to rise above the political fray, risks the impotence of a kind of political quietism. In the present political world, at least, we seem to need principles to rally the troops and get things done.

A related theoretical concern questions the cogency of Dewey’s fundamental distinction between the process of deliberation and its ideational contents and, thus, between ideals that a community propounds and the ideals by which it understands itself. Stated most simply, the theoretical problem is that it is difficult to make an argument for the Great Community without appealing to the very value commitments that the pragmatist would claim need not be the prerequisites for joining the community in the first place. As their critics on the Right are aware, both Dewey’s and Obama’s versions of the Great Community presuppose many of the liberal or progressive values that underwrite the progressive partisan politics that they are supposedly rising above. In a recent article, John Holbo explores this paradoxical feature in Dewey’s political legacy and notes a further paradox: The dialogue that embodies the essence of democratic process is usually a quest for the kind of truth or certainty that the pragmatist would also put into question. In his example, Socratic dialogue provides a model of open-minded inquiry of the sort that pragmatists might prize, but it is, nonetheless, a quest for Platonic certainty (108). More fundamentally, it is difficult to imagine a Great Community that is formed only for the purpose of recognizing and celebrating itself as the Great Community. As Holbo points out, such cooperative communities are characteristically the byproducts of other types of endeavors (120). It is difficult to pursue them as direct goals.

The extent to which Obama is vulnerable to such theoretical objections to his pragmatist stance is not entirely clear, since, despite his determination to rise above partisan politics, he is careful to avoid committing himself to anything like value relativism. While he argues that we can take a pragmatist view of those values that produce partisan disagreements, that we can, as it were, hold them lightly, there are other values that he seems to regard as universal, values that he expects to be shared by any member of the community as a threshold of decency. In The Audacity of Hope, for instance, he affirms his commitment to several sets of moral principles such as “honesty, fairness, humility, and compassion,” principles that he sees as shared by the community at large and thus not likely to produce partisan strife (55). Furthermore, his Christian faith gives him access to values which presumably are not to be held lightly or subject to negotiation. In true minimalist fashion, however, Obama often describes these universal values in such a general way that their actual content will depend heavily on the context in which they are deployed. Fairness may be a universal value, but what constitutes fairness at any particular historical moment may be very much up for grabs. In this way, he is similar to those pragmatists who claim to find a middle way between moral universalism and moral contextualism.

In light of these criticisms, however, I think that Obama should recognize that his vision of a community that is able to rise above partisan politics is one type of moral ideal among others and must be defended as such. That is, paradoxically, he must make arguments, principled arguments, for what many see as his aversion to principle. Only by risking the utopian grandeur of Dewey’s language can he begin to defend himself from the charges that his willingness to “let the process work,” his willingness to wait for consensus, is only a political ploy or the sign of his mandarin indifference. At the same time, acknowledging the moral core of his commitment to community can free him to make other kinds of ethical arguments as well, even though those arguments are based on commitments that are “held lightly” in anticipation of the Great Community that is to come.
















Works Cited


Bronsthen, Jacob. “The Emptiness of Obama’s Pragmatism.” The Christian Science Monitor. May 26, 2009. p 3.


Dewey, John. The Public and Its Problems. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1954.


Holbo, John. “Dewey’s Difficult Recovery, Analytic Philosophy’s Attempted Turn.” Democracy as Culture: Deweyan Pragmatism in a Globalizing World. Eds. Sor-hoon Tan and John Whalen-Bridge. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.


Krugman, Paul. “Obama’s Trust Problem.” The New York Times. August 20, 2009. p 2.


Obama, Barack. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream. New York: Random House, 2006.

“Inland from the Edge” by Eleanor Berry Sun, 14 Apr 2013 03:29:11 +0000 1


Ever since I followed

the Oregon Trail west

a decade ago, I’ve thought I lived

at the edge where the continent

ends in ocean.

But ninety miles inland

is not the edge.


The plants are different there

or grow differently

in sea-damp air.

Not tapering tops of firs

but thick, shelving limbs

of shore pines

rear against the sky,

lean permanently eastward

beneath the prevailing

wind off the sea.


In oceanside gardens,

misted by morning fog,

fuchsias reach the size

of rhododendrons inland,

roses and dahlias sport blossoms

wide as my hand spans,

leaves the circumference of saucers

set off superabundant

gold and orange nasturtiums—

as if the land

uttered itself fully

only in the face

of ocean.




A friend tells me how, years

before we met, when he was young

and bent on making art,

he emptied his savings

to rent a cottage on the coast

for three months. There,

working twelve hours

and eating one meal

a day, he completed almost a hundred

big still lifes, colored pencil

and cut paper, a single

huge series, mostly of flowers—


as if his carefully balanced

compositions of blooms in vases

in front of a half-closed blind,

his intricate cut-outs

of sheets of paper, spaced by heavy

sheets of glass, could hold back

the ocean. But the waves

broke in his head as they break

in a rock cave

at the edge of the land.




We could all

have been swept away

young, but that artist friend

now grows an inland garden,

and messages reach me

from my high school circle of rivals,

AP classmates I lost touch with

four decades ago.


From time to time, over

those years, I’d see their names—

in roundups of recent

advances in particle theory,

on the faculty roster for a top

medical school, in the music


production credits for films

that won at Sundance. Now I learn

the physicist has a son and daughter,

both in college; the research physician

worries for her mother, ninety-five,

a month in intensive care; the musician

has had AIDS for years, lost a lover,

dozens of friends, has been close

to death himself.


Now the one whose vita

I never found on the Web

sends Williams’ “This Is Just to Say”

as apology for not requiting

my story of my life

these past forty years

with a like tale of his own.


We could all have been

swept away young. I ask

about the one whose name

none of the others has spoken—

our group’s irrepressible

brilliant mathematician. The answer

comes slow: He

killed himself in college.




The rest of those old classmates

get together at least

a few times a year.

They all live now

around where we grew up.

Since then I’ve put that place

three thousand miles

behind me. Strange to think

they stayed there, or went back,

inland from the opposite edge

of the continent between us.


Eleanor Berry’s collection Green November (Eugene, Oregon: Traprock Books), a book of poems about her relocation to western Oregon from landlocked Wisconsin, was published in 2007. Her poetry and essays on poetry have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies.

GTR’s art and design Sun, 14 Apr 2013 03:17:39 +0000 Drury University alumna Aarin Wilson contributed both the cover art and the design to the Ocean Issue of Gingko Tree Review, and she also provided the design of GTR‘s sister publication, Currents, a magazine for Drury undergraduates.

Wilson graduated summa cum laude from DU in 2011, having pursued a dual major in English and design arts. She is a freelance designer who lives and works in Springfield, Missouri.

“Ashore: The State of New York” by C.E. Poverman Sun, 14 Apr 2013 01:44:22 +0000 The following is an excerpt from Poverman’s novel, Love by Drowning, forthcoming from from El León Books in Berkeley, California.

Click here to hear Poverman read an additional excerpt from his novel.


 … And Val was still drifting, Michael’s small hand in his as they walked toward the swings, Val kneeling to peer into his face. Michael was so young. How old was he? Six? How could he be only six? Was it now or then, and if it was now, when or what was now? He heard Kazz laugh once in her sleep, and when he looked again, she was holding Michael, who was a baby, but big enough to balance astraddle on her hip as she came toward him, and Val felt a keen yearning for his wife, for their son, and he could feel time gone, its absence palpable …

And when he looked for Kazz again—where was she?—he saw that a man had come into the room. What room? He remembered. He was in a hospital. Val sat up in bed. The man was Val’s age, maybe a couple of years older, a bit of a gut, burly. Yet with pale white skin, blond hair going gray, a receded hairline and light blue eyes, he seemed delicate, almost translucent. He was carrying a folder and a shopping bag. Val knew he wasn’t a doctor. Without having to think about it, Val recognized him as a cop. He introduced himself, Bill Dickerson, showed his identification, a sheriff’s department detective, added a comment about Val’s amazing ordeal and how lucky he was to be picked up—a chance in a million. In fact, if one of the crew hadn’t just happened to look up from his work and see a flash—it was the sun hitting the stainless steel prop of the overturned Robalo—then … Dickerson shrugged and didn’t finish the sentence. How grateful Val must feel to the fishermen, which, of course was true, though Val had not met or had a chance to thank them. Dickerson said, “I’m a sports fisherman, myself. Stripers and blues. You just never know. Things can go wrong out there fast.” Dickerson paused. He was still standing.


He indicated a chair beside Val as if to say, “May I?” And Val nodded, wary of the formality. He set the shopping bag on the floor beside him. As he sat down, his jacket slid back and Val saw his gun. Dickerson said simply, “I’ll get to the point.”

He reached into a folder and placed a stack of glossy, eight-by-ten, black-and-white photos on the table beside Val. Val picked them up. They seemed to be of a fishing boat. A trawler. The one that had rescued him. The deck. Mountains of netting. He looked more closely. He saw a boat. The Robalo. On the deck. Line trailing from the boat. Val lifted the picture and held it up close. Something in the line. Several more pictures. A huge snarl, some of it slashed, but the rest drawn tight into an enormous knot, and within that tangle, a body. Close-ups. Val could see the teeth marks, the missing chunks of flesh, and the cinderblocks cinched tightly around the flesh of the ankles. Val suddenly remembered the violent yanking tremors going through the hull, felt himself go cold and breathless. He heard the crewman’s voice before he passed out in the cabin. “We just brought your boat up on deck … ” The look on his face as he peered down into Val. Surprise. Horror.

Val glanced up to see the detective looking at him.

“Is there anything you want to tell me?”

Val pushed the pictures away and made an enormous effort to bring himself back. He realized the pictures were an attempt to shock him into a sudden explanation, a confession, or at least to get him to say enough to trip him up, confuse him, start the process of later trying to reverse himself … He remembered when he’d been a defense attorney how crucial it was to keep pictures like these out of evidence when possible. Once a jury saw them, the case was all but lost. He was surprised to hear the marked coolness in his voice. “Are you arresting me?”

The cop said, “That maybe depends on what you tell me. You’re picked up in a boat. There’s a body weighted with cinder blocks still attached. It looks like murder, doesn’t it? Do you have something you want to tell me that can help you?”

Val drifted again and then came back from a long way off and repeated himself. “Are you arresting me?”

The cop shrugged. “I’m willing to listen.”

Val recognized the moment. The start of a game. An old game he’d once come to know well, but hadn’t played in a long time. One he’d finally been relieved to stop. Now he thought Dickerson was pretty good. Willing to listen. Empathetic. Low key. He knew that Dickerson would already have a warrant for his arrest. That Dickerson probably knew little or nothing about him yet. From police reports, he would know that something had gone wrong in Lee Anne’s house several nights ago—how many was it now? It seemed like years ago. He probably also had Lee Anne’s statement. Val didn’t know what Lee Anne had said, but he suspected she had come out of her trance, pulled herself together—how many times had he seen her face go from vacancy to hard defiance—and said whatever she’d had to say to save herself. In fact, Lee Anne had saved his life the other night by killing Brent. He still wasn’t sure why she had chosen to do that, but he did know now that it was going to be her or him, that he was up against a fearsome brilliance in Lee Anne. He glanced at Dickerson, who was watching him. Back in an old game. Val realized he was behind in the game. Way behind.

He surprised himself, “If you’re arresting me, then why would you interview me before you Mirandize me?” Val felt something change in the room between them. They’d had their two minutes. Val felt Dickerson hold his affable mask. Val said, “I mean, you might get a confession but without the Miranda it’s coerced, it’d be thrown out. Of course, it’s your word against mine, and mine, under these circumstances, should be easy to discredit. You go for the conviction first. If you get it, I’m the one who’s got maybe five to ten years of appeals, always an uphill battle, and then it’s still my tough luck … ”

“You seem familiar with the law.”

“And you were counting on my not knowing it. I’ve been in the water fifteen hours, and as you said, I’m lucky to be alive, but I’m still not an idiot.”

The cop pushed the pictures back toward him on the table. “I didn’t say you were an idiot. I only asked you if you wanted to talk to me about these pictures.”

“And I asked, ‘Are you arresting me?’”

As if to say, have it your way, Dickerson shrugged. “Yes, I’m arresting you.” He arrested him for first-degree murder and Mirandized him, and Val came back from a long way off when the detective said, “You have the right to remain silent.”

Val said, “May I make my phone call?”

“Make the call and then I’m taking you in.” He pulled the warrant out of his jacket, placed it on the table beside the pictures. “Your doctors say you’re well enough to leave the hospital. I’m booking you into the county jail.” He indicated the shopping bag beside the chair. “I brought you some clothes, courtesy the State of New York.”


“Figured you for large, extra-large, Pants: thirty-six, thirty-four.”

“That’s about right, but you’re going to turn out to be wrong about everything else.”

“We’ll get to see, won’t we?”

Val said, “I’d like to make the call in private, please. If you don’t mind.” Val looked around. “Promise I’m not going out the window.”

“You can try, but we’re on the fifth floor.”

“Could you give me the name and phone number of the jail? It’s for my attorney.”

Dickerson wrote it on the back of his card, slid it across the table. “I’ll be right outside the door.” Dickerson placed the shopping bag on the bed. “Make your call and then get dressed.”

After he’d gone out, Val placed a collect call to Stan Miller and reached him at his office.

When Stan picked up, Val gave his name and Stan accepted the charges.

“Val. God, where’d you disappear to?”

Val said, “It’ll take too long to tell you now, but I’m in a hospital. I’m OK. As soon as I hang up, I’m being checked out of here and I’m on my way to the county jail.” Val gave him the location and said, “There’s too much to explain, but it’s for murder. I didn’t do it. I think I got led into something, but I’m not sure how or why. Revenge, maybe, but that doesn’t seem right. Or maybe that’s not all of it. Or enough. It’s something else. I’m just babbling, but the main thing is I didn’t do it, Stan, which probably won’t matter. I panicked and ran, and that made it worse. Probably hopeless. Could you find me a good criminal lawyer? One who can deal with the State of New York.”

“I know someone.”

“And could you call Kazz and my mother and tell them … I guess tell them what I told you, that I’m getting taken in for murder. And that it looks like I did it. But that no matter what, I didn’t kill anyone. I just don’t know if I’ll be able to make anyone believe me.”

“I’ll come over there.”

“I’ll tell you everything when you get here.”

Val hung up. He looked in the bag of clothes Dickerson had brought, pulled out the pants. Dickerson had sized him right. As he eased himself out of bed and stood to dress, his legs shaky, he suddenly knew that Kazz and Michael were lost to him.


C.E. Poverman’s first book of stories, The Black Velvet Girl, won the Iowa School of Letters Award for Short Fiction. His second, Skin, was nominated for the L.A. Times Book Award. His stories have appeared in the O’Henry, Pushcart, and other anthologies. His novels are Susan, Solomon’s Daughter, My Father in Dreams, and On The Edge. He has just finished a screenplay, Baby R, and a new novel, Grace Within Her Mother’s SilenceLove by Drowning, from which this story is excerpted, will be published in August 2013.

]]> GTR interview: “The Custodian” (an interview with Steve Pezman) Sun, 14 Apr 2013 01:41:09 +0000 Ocean Issue editor Patrick Moser interviews surf publisher Steve Pezman.


The Custodian


Yes, I can write about a lot of things

Besides the summer that I turned sixteen.

But that’s my ground swell, I must start

Where things began to happen and I knew it.

Mark Jarman, from “Ground Swell”


I’m sitting in Steve Pezman’s office in San Clemente, California. Pezman, along with his wife Debbee, has published The Surfer’s Journal for the past twenty years, arguably the subculture’s most admired magazine. For twenty years before that he edited and published Surfer magazine, often called “The Bible of the Sport.” Considering how many words and images have passed through his hands on their way to public consumption, I can’t think of anyone who has had more of an influence on surfing in the past four decades than the man sitting across the desk from me. I had many questions for him, mostly about what it means to be a surfer in the twenty-first century. He should know. He’s taken care of our collective identity for the past forty years. He still surfs from time to time, but as it turns out, he doesn’t call himself a surfer anymore.

If “surfer” meant someone who stands on a surfboard and rides waves (the meaning when the word was coined circa 1908), then things would be easy for me. But there’s lots of guys who no longer surf yet consider themselves surfers. And there’s guys like Pezman, or our most respected chronicler, Matt Warshaw (author of The Encyclopedia of Surfing and The History of Surfing), who surf but don’t like to call themselves surfers. Why not? What does it mean when the custodians of our sport hang up their colors? Is the surfer identity in crisis?

Don’t laugh. It wouldn’t be the first time.

The first crisis hit in the early sixties. This is when the surfer identity became activated (to borrow one of Pezman’s environmental terms). That is to say, by this time “surfer” wasn’t what you did, it was who you were, which is a more serious matter. You can tell because surfers get upset and write editorials. Here’s Pezman’s predecessor, John Severson (founder of Surfer), blowing a gasket in his own magazine, summer of ‘61:

The surfer has become the UGLY SURFER, and while a surfboard sticking out of your car once labeled you as something unique—a real sportsman—or possibly just “one of those crazy guys that rides waves,” it now seems to carry the label of “bum!” The real surfers are disgusted and have reached the end of their patience. It’s the start of a new era in surfing—or it’s the end of surfing!

Coastal communities in southern California had cracked down on the juvenile delinquent element in the sport (the “ugly surfers”). They set up a curfew, restricting the hours waves could be ridden. Severson and others in the surf business community feared the worst: surfing might be banned altogether. The end of surfing!

So they circled the wagons. They founded the United States Surfing Association “to protect and preserve the sport of surfing.” Surfer took the lead in presenting a scrubbed-up version of surfing to the world: ads with young men on the beach in suits and ties, columns introducing the sport’s “personalities,” articles tracing the sport’s rich history, glossaries detailing the subculture’s special vocabulary. What Severson and the others did, in fact, was codify what it meant to be “a real surfer”: how they spoke, what they wore, their idols and traditions. It was a new era in surfing, in Severson’s words, and by explaining themselves to others, surfers suddenly defined an identity for themselves.

“There are those who set examples,” reads another editorial, “but bad ones. Loud, thoughtless, trashy, non-aesthetic. This publication wants to inspire those people to realize their higher selves by celebrating the artful surfers who are setting good examples for us all.” This is not John Severson in Surfer, but Steve Pezman thirty years later in the premier issue of The Surfer’s Journal. Surfing still needed a custodian in the early nineties, one to help protect the sport against a new enemy that also closed beaches and threatened surfers’ lifestyle: pollution. The “ugly surfers” this time around were those who, if not the main sewer rats, at least contributed to the stench. “I believe surfers have a role on Earth,” Pezman writes in the same editorial, “to be the protectors of the wave zone.”

Twenty years after that editorial, I look across Pezman’s broad desk and ask the man who helped color surfers green to tell me when he’s been most disappointed in them as protectors of the wave zone.

“If you look at where surfers are dropped off to walk into Trestles from the highway,” he says, referring to one of southern California’s most iconic surf spots, “it’s a shit pile. Cigarette butts. Crap all over the place. I go there with a trash picker-upper once a week and clean it up. Surfers are pigs, just like the rest.” And he laughs. His tone is quintessentially southern Californian, a region (my birthplace) where people speak slowly and draw out their vowels. The cadence is easy on the ears, the vocal equivalent of year-round temperate weather, a marvelous lilt of the stoked and the stoned. Pezman is nearly seventy now, a large man. “Beatific” is how Matt Warshaw describes him in the Encyclopedia of Surfing, and I can see that. There’s a bit of the Happy Buddha about him as he reclines in his chair. A philosophical waxer, a goodwill listener with patience to spare.

Except perhaps for the loud, the thoughtless, the trashy, the non-aesthetic. “They just throw their crap everywhere,” he says. “It’s ridiculous. Especially I hate the beach being used as an ashtray. I get really pissed off. I really ….” He looks toward the window, his mind searching for the right words to express his feelings. After a moment he shakes his head. He either can’t find the right words or doesn’t want to get into it. “It just really bothers me.”

“Because surfers should be different from other people?”

“They should be.”


“Because, it’s like they’re shitting in their own drinking water when they do that.” His smile, never very far, returns. “Don’t mean to be gross.”

“If you call yourself a surfer,” I say, “you should clean up after yourself. You should have a different aesthetic.”

“Yeah, that’s right. We put all kinds of labels on surfing, but it’s sensitized us to the interface between ocean and land. So our role in the total picture is to share our sensitivity with the general populace.” He tells me about a campaign he started, “Pick Up Ten.” Every time surfers check the waves, they bag ten pieces of trash. No preaching, no posing, just environmentalism by example. All of a sudden it’d become a movement, he says, and you’d undo the thoughtless act of ten people, and pretty soon the beaches would be scoured. He laughs again. “I tried to kick that off with editorials in the Journal, but it didn’t work. Or maybe I wasn’t persistent enough—I thought it was catchy: pick up ten, pick up ten, pick up ten.” He recites the words like an old jingle, then shrugs. “Because I do that. And it really makes me feel good.”

But he doesn’t like to call himself a surfer. And it’s not because of the trashy dudes messing up beaches. Or not directly. “Surfing was a lot cooler when there were five thousand of us instead of five million. It felt a lot more special. You were in on a secret deal. We thought of ourselves as surfers to differentiate ourselves from the herd. And now that surfing is a herd, I don’t like to think of myself … you know, people would ask me, what are you? I’d say, I’m a surfer. What do you do? Oh, I’m a surfer. So I identified strongly with that. And that’s what made it a herd.” He laughs, then grumbles about the information surfers now find on the Internet. “I used to walk out on Huntington Pier in the evening and say, ‘It’s going to be good at Rincon tomorrow morning.’ And now everyone knows what I used to be unique in knowing. So that kinda bums me out. There’s nothing you can do about it.” He tells me he doesn’t wear surf-branded clothing because it’s passé.

I glance at his T-shirt, the Nike swoosh around the pocket. Nike acquired Hurley back in ’02 and currently sponsors Carissa Moore, the hottest up-and-coming woman on the World Tour. Pezman knows all that. But surfing’s so big now, the connection between surfers and their sport so watered down (excuse the pun), what is and isn’t surf-branded clothing hardly registers. I think of Severson’s editorial in ’61: A surfboard sticking out of your car once labeled you as something unique—a real sportsman—or possibly just “one of those crazy guys that rides waves.” I understand where Severson and Pezman are coming from. The real surfers are disgusted and have reached the end of their patience.

What’s it mean to be a surfer in the twenty-first century? It means you don’t call yourself a surfer anymore. But identity, like a snug-fitting T-shirt, doesn’t shed so easily.


And if the years before and after sixteen

Are colorless as salt and taste like sand—

Return to those remembered chilly mornings,

The light spreading like a great skin on the water,

And the blue water scalloped with wind-ridges

And—what was it exactly?—that slow waiting …


In 1971 Pezman started a column in Surfer, “Our Mother Ocean.” Being environmental (as opposed to just mental) is such a core part of surfers’ identity these days, I wanted to know where it came from, when it started. I ask Pezman what compelled him to write about the environment at a time when most surfers didn’t vote green (if they voted at all), they smoked it.

“Oh, it comes with the job. It’s like being elected to a high office. I might be an asshole before you get there, but all of a sudden sitting behind the desk makes you change a little bit and grow into the responsibility … you know, you were lucky you got a position and you have to respect it. And not be arrogant. When you’re the editor of a magazine, you wield a lot of power through having a voice, a pulpit, and so you have to not think that you’re a big deal, it’s the pulpit. And you have to be generous, you have to be kind, you have to be thoughtful. You can’t abuse people with that.”

I guide him back to the question: “So this responsibility for the environment …”

He nods, provides historical context. The population of Huntington Beach skyrocketed in the sixties. From eleven thousand to 116,000 in ten years. Such crowding throughout southern California meant more infrastructure, more coastal development, more conflict. As a newly hired editor, Pezman felt a responsibility to think out loud for the surf community. “In the sixties,” he says, “when Ron Drummond was fighting to save Dana Point from the harbor, it didn’t catch my attention.” He crosses his arms. “I wasn’t interested. I didn’t participate. There he was, one of just a scant handful of people fighting. I drove by there to go to Trestles from Huntington and you know”—he makes a buzzer sound, derisive—“Look at that funny guy out in a canoe!” His gaze wanders, and he leans back in his chair. “He used to canoe surf Dana Point and was really a great character, really fabulous. He published a book in 1931 on body surfing, just a seminal guy.” Pezman looks at me now, for emphasis: “At low tide he piled a bunch of rocks on the mud flat out at Doheny and saw that it would make waves when at high tide they were covered. Made a reef.” He smiles as if to say, Who the hell makes his own reef? “He was like really a cool guy.”

He pauses, tilts his head toward the ceiling. “How old was I in sixty-five? I was in my early-mid-twenties, old enough but not activated at all in that way, enough to do anything or say anything. But in five years, at twenty-nine, I became the editor of a magazine. And all of a sudden I had a conscience.” He laughs. “So I think that’s an interesting thing. ‘Cause there was no groundswell of support for Ron Drummond.”

“Because the harbor went through.”

“Yeah. Wasn’t like there was millions of surfers. They built a cofferdam around that whole area and pumped the ocean out and all the lobster and fish were just flopping around, and it was really ugly. They bulldozed the bottom, and they made a harbor out of it. It was really gnarly. That would never happen today.”

It wouldn’t happen today because there are millions of surfers. Pezman’s proudest memory of surfers as protectors of the wave zone came recently, in 2008, when some of those millions got together and stomped a big sewer rat: a sixteen-mile toll road proposal that would have cut through San Onofre State Beach and dead-ended at Trestles, the break Pezman visits once a week to pick up trash. “When we finally won the toll road fight,” he says, “which we didn’t think we would—when the Federal government, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, decided on the side of environmentalism instead of on the side of money, which is a rare day in hell—that just blew us away. And we were so proud of the effort that we’d sustained.”

“It was well organized, as far as I could tell.”

“Organized and constant and relentless. There were a couple of pit bulls that we had, Bob Mignogna and others, that were just relentless and activated the sleeping dogs.”

“So you’re hopeful for surfers of the future?”

He considers my question. “I think there are changes to the surfing community. It’s becoming multigenerational so those values are instilled as family values, and from an early age. But there’s a whole segment of the surfing community that’s resentful about Billabong sponsoring surf schools. They call ‘em ‘kook incubators.’ Because no one that surfs wants there to be more surfers. So who is being served by surf schools? There’s commerce being served, but not existing surfers. Now Paul Strauch has a Hawaiian viewpoint. He says, ‘No, the world would be a better place if everyone surfed.’”

“That’s a nice attitude to have. In some ways.”

“So those are the two poles. The magic, the enjoyment, the plus-factor of riding a wave is pretty constant, pretty durable. So that’s going to continue to inspire future generations to do it. People want to put wave pools in Arizona or wherever. We kinda scoff at that, but would you rather have a static swimming pool to have fun in, or would you rather have a swimming pool that makes a wave you can ride a Boogie Board in? I mean, that’s cool. And it’s surfing. I think it bodes well for surfing and for surfing-related environmentalism. It’s an interesting thought that surfing will continue to exert an influence, and a positive one. The negative things about surfing are just attributable to human nature, not to surfing. All the evils, all the disgusting things about us, they’re just part of surfing, too.” He falls silent. “I need to join a meeting. We’re finishing a line-edit on an issue today and shipping it out. But I don’t mean to rush it, because I enjoy the conversation.”

I glance at my notes, every question checked off. I don’t feel confident that I got what I came for. “Maybe one last thing.” I look up, stalling. I have no idea what I’m going to say next.

He waits for my question. We’re in more or less a big warehouse, but the offices inside are comfortable, spacious. I don’t hear loud noises coming from the hallway, just individuals walking quietly about their business. The Surfer’s Journal is a bit of a Wonka factory in my mind, confecting surfer identity and shipping it around the world. I don’t want to be shown the door yet. I want to get in Pezman’s Wonkavator and visit every corner of the building, sample his secret ingredients, fly through the air on Fizzy Lifting Drinks, then bust through the glass roof and capture it all. I want to be the boy in the candy shop who asks the ridiculous question, How does he do it?

“You don’t think surfers should preach,” I begin. I don’t have the right words to tell him what I’m looking for, and I don’t want to sound ridiculous. Maybe that’s my mistake. I shake my head, close my notebook. “Doesn’t matter,” I say.

Pezman saves me. “The most powerful mode would be to set an example. ‘Cause if you say, ‘Hey, pick that up,’ it just offends people and makes them mad. But if they look at that guy and say, Why is he … ? What’s he doing? Then it’s a more pleasant way to spread the practice. And more powerful because it dawns on them instead of being, you know, bitch-slapped.”

“Like Hawaiians,” I say, following his lead. “That ethic. You know, you don’t tell people what to do, you learn by watching.”

“Well, they’ll bitch-slap you, too.” He laughs. “Yeah, but no, you’re right. You observe, and you honor them with that. I’ve heard a lot about that from Paul Strauch, and once you demonstrate that you’ve learned through observation, they respect you and invite you in and you have the privilege of certain things you didn’t have before. And they start taking care of you. And they take care of each other.”

“It would be wonderful to have surfers, or people who live on the coast, to be like that.”

“Yeah, it’s something to aspire to.”

“Coastal custodians.”

Pezman shifts in his chair. “A coastal custodian … that’d be, that’s an interesting ….” He sits up, intrigued. “You know, you could almost start an informal association of people that just practiced that way. Gave each other trash picker-uppers for Christmas, or tried to spread that ethic and make it something that was admired. Make it a league.” He nods. “Yeah, make it a league. You’d have to do a ritual to get in. Make it highly desirable.”

“You could get a little decal.”

We look at each other, say it together: “Coastal Custodian League.”

“That’s good,” he says. “Want to start it?”


I see myself so clearly then, and painfully—

Knees bleeding through my usher’s uniform

Behind the candy counter in the theater

After a morning’s surfing; paddling frantically

To top the brisk outsiders coming to wreck me,

Trundle me clumsily along the beach floor’s

Gravel and sand; my knees aching with salt.

Is that all that I have to write about?

You write about the life that’s vividest.

And if that is your own, that is your subject.


Patrick Moser is Professor of French at Drury University. He also holds an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Arizona and writes on the history and culture of surfing. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was awarded the Carol Houck Smith Contributor Scholarship at Bread Loaf in 2012. His essays have appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Sport LiterateKurungabaa, and The Surfer’s Journal. His essay “The Reports of Surfing’s Demise Have Been Greatly Exaggerated” was listed in the “Notable” section of Best American Sports Writing 2012.  His books include Pacific Passages: An Anthology of Surf Writing (University of Hawai’i Press, 2008) and Surfer’s Code: 12 Simple Lessons for Riding Through Life (Gibbs Smith, 2006), a collaboration with 1977 world surfing champion Shaun Tomson. A new book with Tomson, The Code, will appear in July, 2013.

Call for submissions Sat, 13 Apr 2013 22:17:29 +0000 Are you inspired by thoughts of home — or by how we construe space more generally? Your work may be right for our upcoming issue, which will offer textual explorations of the spaces around us.

Of course, thanks to the house, a great many of our memories are housed, and if the house is a bit elaborate, if it has a cellar and a garret, nooks and corridors, our memories have refuges that are all the more clearly delineated. All our lives we come back to them in our daydreams.—Gaston Bachelard

We are also considering regular submissions, and we seek highest-quality work on any theme to round out the issue.

Send submissions as Microsoft Word file, PDF, or .rtf file to Submissions must be received by June 1 to be considered for the issue, which will be published in the fall. The editor for this theme issue is Jo Van Arkel.

Welcome to Gingko Tree Review online Sat, 13 Apr 2013 18:06:06 +0000 The editors thank our Technical Editor, Jonathan Groves, for getting our site up and running.