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Most writers we knew were reading theory. Later, guided by Bruce, we started a left reading group at Small Press Traffic, attended by Steve Benson, Ron Silliman, Denise Kastan, Steve Abbott, Bruce, myself and others. The personal demolished the political, and after a few months we disbanded. From that era I recall Ron's epithet (which Bruce and I thought delicious) "The Small Press Traffic School of Dissimulation."

                                                            — Robert Glück 

      One of the great lost conversations of 1970s poetry occurred when Bruce Boone led the formation of a left study group at Small Press Traffic. He modeled the group partly after his experience with Fredric Jameson, Stanley Aronowitz, and Terry Eagleton at the summer institute for the Marxist Literary Group at St. Cloud, Minnesota (later memorialized in his novel Century of Clouds). At SPT, the group was comprised of activist writers from the local community, including Robert Glück, Steve Abbott, Denise Kastan, Ron Silliman, Steve Benson, and Kathleen Fraser. While these participants shared an interest in political and cultural theory, they disagreed about how best to carry forward the aspirations of the New Left. Weekly infighting ensued, and it did not take long for the group to dissolve. One trace of this outcome is signaled on the last page of Boone's My Walk with Bob (1979) when Glück calls to cancel their meeting because "no one was going to show up."

      Nothing concrete came from the group, like a collaborative text, a reading series, or a small press publication. Without the heuristic anchor of a print record, their conversations have consequentially gone unheard.  The writers are cleaved from one another and studied in separate schools or movements: Boone, Glück and Abbott with New Narrative, Benson and Silliman with Language Poetry, and Fraser with the editorial collective that founded HOW(ever). The historical accounts that reify such communities or factions end up framing the Bay Area in terms of divisive Poetry Wars or "the violence of expulsion," as Bob Perelman remarks in The Grand Piano.

      But the print record is not a complete loss, and my paper will focus upon a sequence of neglected poems, narrative pieces, and critical essays by the individual participants that—when situated together—reveals a broader network of reciprocity. Such a focus is important because it cuts across the group affiliations and other social divides that tend to organize literary history. The links in question include formal or compositional affinities, as well as content indicators, such as dedications, riffs, and put-downs. Some of these links demonstrate the divergence of political and aesthetic claims, such as Silliman's "Political Economy of Poetry" critiquing the conception of audience laid out in Glück's essay "Caricature." Others demonstrate warmth and affection that complicate the presumption of an exclusionary practice, such as Fraser's poem "Re: Echo" written in response to Benson's "Narcissus" (1979) and "Echo" (1979).

      One participant in the group who deserves special attention is Steve Benson. While his work is often grouped with Language Poetry, it can be better understood through his early engagement with the queer practices and politics of New Narrative. A close reading of Benson's work shows the presence of narrative techniques and erotic/affective materials that suggest a space between the precepts of each group.