THE CAPRA Chapbook Anthology reprints 11 of the 41 chapbooks published by Noel Young for Capra Press since 1972.(Unfortunately, the method of reprinting is photo-reproduction, sometimes resulting in type that looks broken or blurred.) Inspired by the 19th century's "small pamphlets of popular tales, ballads, tracts, and scandal," Young sought to peddle a comparable range of casual essays, poems and portraits byboth new and established writers, aiming, he says, for "diversity and surprise." This present gathering is, however, no mere culling of the best from the series: there is instead a subtle, perhaps unintended rhythm to the book, one essay complementing, echoing or refuting another, all of themtesserae in a mosaic depicting the writer's life.
For instance, in the first essay, "On Turning Eighty," Henry Miller claims to be still "always merry and bright," though to my mind he comes across as pale and sentimental, especially in his Polonian advice to the young. By contrast, in "Hemingway: The Last Days of the Lion," William F. Nolan vividly details the long agony of a once even more adulated writer, who died broken in body, spirit and reputation. The two pieces make a necessary, if inadvertent pair, a diptych of the American writer facing old age and the loss of talent.
The spirit of Miller's grandfatherly advice about independence and individuality is given life by Ray Bradbury in "Zen and the Art of Writing." Alternately homey and zealous, Bradbury emphasizes the writer's need to be in touch with his true self, to reject the blandishments of the fashionable and concentrate instead on achieving a dialogue of self and soul. This ideal of the spiritual craftsman subsequently receives a face in Lawrence Durrell's portrait of a Provencal herb dealer in "The Plant Magic Man."
Bradbury is to one kind of science fantasy what Ross Macdonald is to one kind of detective novel. Macdonald's two essays included in "On Crime Writing" explore the roots of his art both in his hardboiled predecessors Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and in his ambivalent feelings about his father, feelings transmuted into the plot of a breakthrough novel, The Galton Case. That burden of fathers and sons is shouldered again in the achingly moving "Three Songs for My Father," James Houston's prose poems about his awkward and unspoken love for a tough, laconic father.
These two strands -- the nature of writing and of literary affiliation -- intertwine in Colin Wilson's study of J. R. R. Tolkien's debt to G. K. Chesterton, Jeffrey Farnol and others for some of the magical qualities of The Lord of the Rings. Man's imaginative need for a higher reality, be it in books or life, also provides a focus for Victor Perera's winning account of a rather down-home visit with "The Loch Ness Monster Watchers." a
Besides these prose pieces The Capra Chapbook Anthology includes poetry by Faye Kicknowsway, Ursula Le Guin (she of science fiction fame) and Mark Vinz. Vinz's "Letters to the Poetry Editor" appropriately concludes this fine athological unfolding of the writer's life: his funny, bitter poems take the form of cover letters from aspiring writers, each hoping desperately to be published in one small magazine or another.