Evan Karp


Foley, 71, describes both himself and the book, Visions and Affiliations, which he has spent over a decade composing, with the same statement: “In story, our lives tend to take on a coherence and purpose which they may well have lacked in actuality. As circumstances arise we discover/invent selves to deal with them. And the circumstances change in response to those selves.”

In the house in the Maxwell Park neighborhood that he has occupied with his wife, Adelle, since 1974, Foley laughs, “That means I’m crazy, right?”

“The problem with unity,” he continues, “is that in order to achieve it, you leave all these things out that might glitter around it and contradict it. So you don't want unity, because it simplifies. What you want is to have something like the feeling of the complexity of life as it is.”

He refers to Michel Foucault’s statement in The Order of Things: “I mean the disorder in which a large number of possible orders glitter separately.” To sustain this, Foley composed Visions and Affiliations in bulleted items organized by year, with representative quotations preceding each decade. People, ideas and stories appear, disappear and reappear as poetry is debated, renounced, renewed, asserted as divine and criticized as pornographic—all within the ever-shifting cultural context of the turbulent second half of the 20th century.

“That's the problem with multiplicity: How do you find a form that will express it, but which is not totally chaotic. The right kind of chaos rather than the wrong kind.”

By resisting the temptation to follow a single narrative to its arbitrary conclusion, Foley has achieved an invaluable, almost inconceivable combination of passion and scholarship that enables readers to experience the events as they happen and to make their own connections.

Foley has been trying on new forms since dropping out of graduate school in ’74. That’s when he decided he wanted to be more like the poet Charles Olson than the critics who did not seem to understand him. In a fit of desperation at the state of his own writing, Foley appropriated some of Olson’s phrases and added his own, creating a conversation between the two voices within the same poem. “My depression vanished,” he said in his 1996 mini-autobiography. “The poem suddenly came alive.”

The result is what he calls “choral poems,” written primarily for two voices to be delivered in varying degrees of simultaneity. Like the threads in Visions and Affiliations, contexts replace one another in rapid succession until “finally we are listening to nothing but the sound of the speakers, the ‘articulation of sound’ which is going on precisely at this moment.” The effect is intoxicating; listeners are seduced into a willing participation in chaos.

  —Evan Karp (2011)
[Note: the phrase “seduced into a willing participation in chaos” comes from Jake Berry]