Clutch (Collection for 2023), edited by Robert M. Zoschke

Review by Mack Hassler

I am a great believer in serendipity and feel lucky that during the past year, my name has gotten linked to the work of Zoschke as well as to Zoschke on Splake (see several reviews of mine over recent months) because now I am given a new collection with the familiar title dated for this new year.  It is a rich collection, with the usual abundance of Splake haiku and Splake photographs; but there is so much more included that seems particularly representative and instructive about UP literature even though the imprint is from Door County just below the UP and the work includes writing from across the United States and beyond.  Our literature here may be developing a distinct brand of its own.  Let me explain and then I will attempt a fine sampling. This collection is pretty important as we struggle to describe what is going on with UP writing. Even though I deeply believe in the power of ambivalence that comes down to us from the classic Tory satirists who wrestle well with the universe and belief, notably Swift, events and theories from the last two centuries force us to appreciate “beatness” and the pathos from the “Howl” of Ginsburg and Kerouac and the abundance of “misfit” writers.  I think many of them belong here above the bridge, in spirit at least; and those are whom Zoschke collects.  He is familiar with a wide set of fairly unknown writers in this tradition of “beatness.”  The key issue is how to reconcile the real world that presents itself to us—the cold, empty space strangely filling up momentarily with vitality by means of predatory and harsh struggle (evolution) over against our fantasy dreams of a more permanent and lasting connection.  This issue ranges from Thoreau and Emerson to Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, even C.S. Lewis and the Inklings to Hemingway.  But the Beats and the cold fierceness of the Upper Peninsula image it well.  Hemingway was deeply affected in his later work by memories of the Seney region.

In this new collection, the most accomplished “Beat” or radical writer whom Zoschke collects is Marge Piercy (see a major essay on her work in the book edited by my friend Clyde Wilcox and me titled Political Science Fiction (South Carolina, 2011 pbk).   But Zoschke knows and collects many other fine and lesser-known Beats.  Some are singers and graphic artists who capture the lonely pathos of the cold world well with just a hint of further connection.  All of the following, I think, would be worth pursuing further:  Sam Pickering, Walt McLaughlin, Joanna McClire, Ed Markowski, Sarah Elizabeth Burkey, Alan Catlin, and, especially, a Texan who ought to have been a “Yooper” Albert Huffstickler, who died in 2002.  I am even learning to enjoy Splake’s barrenness set in this company.  I think his cold and grim photos go better with his haiku here than in his last solo collection that I reviewed.  In that review, I sadly opined that his work may be on “hospice care.”  But clearly, for Zoschke, our own Calumet bard has more life left in him though he is no Kerouac nor Hemingway.  I recommend that we keep following the work of Zoschke.  Apparently, he has the energy to bring out a Clutch once a year.

Clutch (Collection for 2023),
edited by Robert M. Zoschke
Street Corner Press: Sister Bay, Wisconsin 2023),
221 pages pbk, n.p.


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