Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Rochelle Ratner

I don’t know if there is such a word as intenuate, to increase, an opposite to extenuate, to lessen, but if there isn’t I’ll invent it anyway. My sadness of late has been further intenuated by a midnight email telling me that Rochelle Ratner has died from cancer. I had known she had been ill, passing references in emails—“I just wanted to be back in touch. I had a few health issues which prevented me...”—but I hadn’t known how seriously.

One of the things about starting a magazine is that it gives you a chance to work with people who you know of, but probably, in other circumstances, wouldn’t get to know. The ripples created by the first issue of Otoliths, contributed to mainly by people I had had previous correspondence with & who I reached out to, brought in a second round of writers & artists which then brought in a third & that it is how it has grown.

Rochelle, whose work I knew but whom I didn’t know, was part of that second round. She has graced the pages of three of the subsequent issues.

When I moved into the book publishing side of things, she asked if I’d be interested in seeing a manuscript, a collation, something that she later described as “Poem? Journal? Memoir? Found text?” Though I had no firm publishing mission statement—still don’t—one of my beliefs was that there would be books out there that, for one reason or another, mightn’t otherwise see the light of day, but which definitely deserved to.

Rochelle’s Leads was one such book.
"The germs of this book began in 1977, when I visited friends in London. As a child, I’d been told I had a speech impediment, but I vehemently refused voice lessons. Then, in a London pub, talking with a friend from the Lancashire/ Yorkshire border, it was almost as if I fitted in at last. Without realizing it, I’d probably inherited aspects of my grandmother’s accent. And I’d never missed her as much as I did at that moment. That was when I began planning a trip to Leeds, where my grandmother was born and spent her childhood. I knew I had to write about it, and began a series of poems as the journey took shape. Once there, I copied from books and records I’d found in the Leeds library. I began writing down what people said. What I hadn’t expected was that, as I later tried to shape the materials, I would find other peoples’ words more powerful than my own. Poem? Journal? Memoir? Found text? Think of Olson’s Maximus or Paul Metcalf’s writings."

We had fun putting it together, seeing it take shape, adding photos to the text assemblage, adding more photos, seeing it build into what it finally became, something we were both proud of.

She sent me some poems for Otoliths in early February which I quickly accepted. In the covering email she wrote:
“Did you see Anthony Rudolf's great review of Leads?
The London Magazine - August / September 2007
If not, I can scan in a copy. This book has gotten more attention than my last 3 books put together. I'm delighted.”

Unfortunately, that’s a scan I will never get to see.

In a post earlier on today to the Spidertangle list which has been forwarded on to me, Karl Young gives a beautiful summation of the sense of Rochelle that I got from our correspondence.
“During her last months, she was bald from chemotherapy. In our telephone conversations, she said that she didn't like people feeling sorry for her or acting like the funeral was already going on whenever she entered the room. One of her responses to this was to buy flamboyant hats when she went places other than the doctor, the hospital, etc. She said that her capacity for "attitude" had been diminished by the chemo, but that the right hat could reactivate it so she could face whatever situation she might find herself in.”


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