Polkinhorn, Harry 1945-
POLKINHORN, Harry 1945-
PERSONAL: Born March 3, 1945, in Calexico, CA; son of William (a customhouse broker) and Virginia (a homemaker; maiden name, Griswold) Polkinhorn; married Christa Umiker (a translator), 1972 (divorced); married Armida Romero (a teacher), March 1, 1986 (divorced, 1991); children: Cecilia. Education: University of California—Berkeley, B.A., 1967; San Diego University, M.A. (English), 1970, M.A. (art), 1982; New York University, Ph.D., 1975.
CAREER: Poet, artist, teacher, editor, translator, and critic. Worked as teacher of English as a second language in Vermont; language teacher in New York, NY; English teacher in Zurich, Switzerland, for five years; printer and operator of a letter-press, beginning 1982; Atticus Review, San Diego, CA, copublisher, 1982-92; San Diego State University Press, San Diego, editor and publisher. Resident at Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, 1992, 1996; workshop presenter. Exhibitions: Photographer and producer of collages and visual poetry, with work exhibited in Ecuador; at Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT; Milan Art Center, Milan, Italy; Museum of Contemporary American Art, São Paulo, Brazil; and Centro Touqueño de Escritores, Toluca, Mexico.
Excisions, privately published (Zurich, Switzerland), 1976.
Volvox, Atticus Press (San Diego, CA), 1981.
Radix Zero, Atticus Press (San Diego, CA), 1981.
Anaesthesia, Textile Bridge Press (New York, NY), 1985.
Bridges of Skin Money (visual poetry), Xeroxial Editions (Madison, WI), 1986.
Summary Dissolution (visual poetry), Runaway Spoon Press (Port Charlotte, FL), 1988.
Begging for Remission, Score Publications (Oakland, CA), 1989.
Teraphim (visual poetry), Runaway Spoon Press (Port Charlotte, FL), 1995.
Mount Soledad, Left Hand Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Throat Shadow, 3300 Press (San Francisco, CA), 1997.
Blueshift, 3300 Press (San Francisco, CA), 1998.
Contributor to periodicals.
Border Literature/Literatura fronteriza: A Binational Conference ("Border Studies" series), Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias (San Diego, CA), 1987.
(With others) Literatura frontera Mexico-Estados Unidos/Mexican-American Border Writing: Proceedings of the First Conference of Writers from the Californias, Dirección de Asuntos Culturales (Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico), 1987.
(With others) Mexican/American Border Literature: Short Stories, Binational Press (Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico), 1987.
(With others) The Line: Essays on Mexican/American Border Literature: Short Stories, Binational Press (Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico), 1988.
(And author of introduction) Post-Art: International Exhibition of Visual/Experimental Poetry, San Diego State University (San Diego, CA), 1988.
(With others) Border Literature: Proceedings of the Border Literature Conference (Tijuana, June-July, 1988), Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias (San Diego, CA), 1989.
(With others) Border Literature: Towards an Integrated Perspective, Institute for Regional Studies of the Californias (San Diego, CA), 1990.
(With others) Visual Arts on the U.S./Mexican Border, Binational Press (Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico), 1991.
(With others) The Flight of the Eagle: Poetry on the U.S.-Mexico Border, Binational Press (Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico), 1993.
(With others, and translator) Bodies beyond Borders: Dance on the U.S.-Mexico Border, San Diego State University Press (San Diego, CA), 1993.
(With others) Open Signs: Language and Society on the U.S.-Mexico Border, Binational Press (Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico), 1993.
(With others, and translator) Visual Poetry: An International Anthology, Visible Language (Providence, RI), 1994.
Raymond Starr, San Diego State University: A History in Word and Image, San Diego State University Press (San Diego, CA), 1995.
(With Gabriel Trujillo Munoz and Rogelio Reyes) Border Lives: Personal Essay on the U.S.-Mexico Border, Binational Press (Calexico, Baja California, Mexico), 1995.
(With Mark Weiss) Across the Line/Al otro lado: The Poetry of Baja California, Junction Press (San Diego, CA), 2002.
Cesar Espinosa, editor, Corrosive Signs (essays on experimental poetry), Maisonneuve Press (Washington, DC), 1990.
José Manuel Di Bella, Nailed to the Wound (short fiction), San Diego State University Press (San Diego, CA), 1993.
Sergio Gomez Montero, The Border: The Future of Postmodernity (critical essays), San Diego State University Press (San Diego, CA), 1994.
Philadelpho Menezes, Poetics and Visuality: A Trajectory of Contemporary Brazilian Poetry (theoretical text), San Diego State University Press (San Diego, CA), 1995.
Clevente Padin, Art for Life: Latin American Art in Our Time (e-book), www.grist.light&dust, 1997.
Travelling with Women (experimental fiction), Atticus Press (San Diego, CA), 1983.
(With Alfredo Velasco and Malcolm Lambert) El Libro de Calo: Pachuco Slang Dictionary, Atticus Press (San Diego, CA), 1983, revised edition published as El Libro de Calo: Chicano Slang Dictionary, Floricanto Press (Oakland, CA), 1986.
Jerome Rothenberg: A Descriptive Bibliography, Mc-Farland and Co. (Jefferson, NC), 1988.
Lorenia La Rosa: A Travelogue (experimental fiction), Institute of Culture (Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico), 1989.
The Illusion of Reality: An Interview with Dick Higgins, Score Publications (Oakland, CA), 1990.
Contributor of graphics and articles to periodicals, including American Book Review, Afterimage, Poetics Journal, Photostatic, Moody Street Irregulars, Smile, El Oficio, Uno Mas Uno, Score, Tempus Fugit, La Poire d'Angoisse, Sink, and Kaldron.
SIDELIGHTS: Harry Polkinhorn attributes growing up less than one hundred yards from Mexico, in Calexico, California, as having great influence on his work as a poet, artist, and educator. He has produced numerous works embracing the culture of this area. In an autobiographical essay for Contemporary Authors Autobiographical Series (CAAS), Polkinhorn said that his first fifteen years of adulthood, beginning in the 1960s, were "lock, stock, and barrel under the influence of the likes of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and company, it became incumbent upon me to reject social convention, 'experiment' with drugs, sleep on the floor, dress like a bum, and ride the rails." Somehow he managed to complete his education during these riotous years, while also attempting to obtain a deferment from military service in Vietnam by training for the Peace Corps. Polkinhorn never made it into the Peace Corps, he explained; he was stopped as he was boarding the plane heading to India to begin his tour, even though he had completed his training and mastered Tamil, the language spoken by millions of the Indian people. Polkinhorn found out later that a member of his hometown draft board was indignant that Mexican-Americans were being drafted more than "gringos," and was trying to make amends.
When Polkinhorn was found unfit (psychologically, he professes) for the military, he started teaching English in Vermont to foreign students, including Christa Umiker, with whom he fell in love. In 1972, they married and moved to Manhattan where Polkinhorn taught language to students from Harlem. Moving once again, Polkinhorn taught English in Zurich, in his wife's home country of Switzerland for five years before returning to the United States. During these years, he mastered a number of languages, continued to write, and developed his art.
In 1982, while obtaining a second master's degree, in printmaking, Polkinhorn bought a letterpress and began to teach himself printing. He credits his Aunt Dorothy, "a major influence in my life," with helping to publish his first book, a long poem titled Volvox. She helped him hand-set and distribute the type to print the work. Polkinhorn's interest was intense in researching the history of printing in the Western culture, bookbinding, graphic design, typography, and the culmination, publishing. "It had a liberating effect on me as an artist. I quickly came to realize that I could do whatever I wanted, I was not beholden to anonymous publishers or editors to validate my work," he said in his autobiographical essay. From 1982 to 1992, in San Diego, California, Polkinhorn and business partner Ralph Cook published Atticus Review, a literary magazine, and eventually books and broadsides with silk-screen or block-print illustrations. They were in the research process of writing the book Jerome Rothenberg: A Descriptive Bibliography together when Cook ended the partnership and left the work for Polkinhorn to complete. Shortly thereafter he and Umiker separated and eventually divorced.
Polkinhorn had been fascinated with the people and culture of United States-Mexican border—known as "the line"—since he was a boy. This fascination continued to lead him back to Calexico where he made contact with other writers and artists in Mexico, cosponsoring a series of conferences, workshops, and cultural activities connected to exploring what it meant to live on the border and to produce culture there. In addition to writing, Polkinhorn began a series of translations from Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian. His own work began to be translated abroad as well.
In 1986, though skittish about a second marriage, he and Armida Romero wed. Her attention wandered, however, and shortly after the birth of their daughter she asked for a divorce. After one failed marriage and for the sake of their daughter, Polkinhorn was driven towards reconciling and endured years of the calamitous relationship, he stated, before finally divorcing. Eventually, he returned to San Diego, taking over San Diego State University Press and editing numerous books relating to the United States/Mexican border. In 1983 he cowrote El Libro de Calo: Pachuco Slang Dictionary. A Choice reviewer reported that the dictionary is not only valuable for its English translations of the slang of young Mexican-Americans in Southern California, but also for "the broader function of documenting the culture of this same group of people." In 1986 Polkinhorn cowrote a revised edition, El Libro de Calo: Chicano Slang Dictionary.
While much of Polkinhorn's work focuses on narrow regions and topics that are primarily of interest to border area residents, he has occasionally broadened his scope. One example of this is The Flight of the Eagle: Poetry on the U.S.-Mexico Border, which he coedited. This bilingual anthology examines the border experience through the work of eight Mexican writers. In a review of the volume for Library Journal, Lawrence Olszewski stated: "The poems express the quest for identity and acceptance in two conflicting, equally unattractive worlds and successfully persuade readers of the dilemma."
Besides editing, translating, and writing poetry, Polkinhorn also produces visual poetry and photography. In the 1970s he began to turn his camera lens on the problems he saw around him. One of his series portrayed the living conditions of undocumented farm workers in San Diego's North County. After the photographs were viewed by members of the Select Commission on Immigration Reform in Washington, DC, Polkinhorn was invited to exhibit the work in the city museum in Quito, Ecuador. This exposure led to his being invited to serve residencies at the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo, Brazil, in 1992 and 1996, working with doctoral candidates in semiotics and communications as well as doing sound-poetry performances and introducing the Contemporary Brazilian Theory series.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 25, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1996.
American Book Review, November-December, 2002,
Margaret Randall, review of Across the Line/Al otro lado: The Poetry of Baja California, p. 3.
Choice, May, 1984, review of El Libro de Calo: Pachuco Slang Dictionary, p. 1280; February, 1988, p. 882; October, 1989, p. 307.
Library Journal, May 15, 1994, Lawrence Olszewski, review of The Flight of the Eagle: Poetry on the U.S.-Mexico Border, p. 76.*