Kulchur is unreadable yet it begs to be read. To be read is to be assaulted. Just look at how Kulchur is dressed; it is asking for it. I am talking about its binding. Perfect, like the manhattans or martinis one drinks at Laure’s with Barbara and Frank while discussing Kulchur’s pages. Or Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy dress (such as Issues 2 and 3, before Kulchur went black on white), which in Kulchur’s case is rather ill-fitting and thus rips at the seams.Yet sometimes it is more important to look good rather than be comfortable. The perfect binding implies class. I should know. Kyle and I wanted Mimeo Mimeo 4 perfect bound in order to announce our move into the next tax bracket. In terms of intellectual capital that is. The first issue of Kulchur is blue collar. Modeled I would guess on the Totem, Cornith and Yugen chapbook formats. Makes sense as Leroi Jones was involved with the start-up of Kulchur. Lita Hornick, art patron, collector of artists, financed the magazine from the beginning but remained distant until Marc Schleifer left after Issue 3. Those issues are working class. The little black dresses of Issue 2 and 3 are more accurately black leather jackets. They are truly Wild Ones. I wonder if Hornick suggested the perfect binding in Issue 2. Maybe, maybe not, but Kulchur obtained its classic look with Issue 4 and Hornick’s taking of the editorial reins.
In my opinion, perfect binding is a disaster. Many printers have not perfected that binding process at all. The sense of space on the page is cramped; long lines get lost within the spine and lose their backbone. They suffer from scoliosis. The magazine remains shut; it refuses to speak openly. The perfect binding is stand offish, reserved. A stiff upper lip of a binding rather than a barbaric yelp, or a hearty laugh. Kulchur’s first issue opens its arms; it reaches outward. Not a hug, but a firm handshake among comrades. As reflected in the perfect binding, the later issues report on closed in worlds of velvet ropes and VIP parties. Poetry of the open field becomes an exclusive club. The handshake is now secret and coded. You have to shift the magazine from hand to hand, manipulating pages with your fingers to gently open the pages for reading. Despite Hornick’s efforts to make Kulchur a high class production, the perfect binding always reminds readers of the presence of the gutter. Kulchur would always be shadowed by its origins as a magazine concerned with the proletariat, not the art market. It is to some extent Schleifer’s politics lurking in that gutter. The ghost in the machine.
What is so frustrating with Kulchur for a collector who also likes to read and use his collection for research, is that Kulchur is so damn readable. The collector in me, who prizes the condition of my set of Kulchur, hesitates (and I largely have restrained myself unfortunately) to read the magazines and inevitably destroy the binding. But the contents (that I have read) are absolutely terrific. Kulchur was envisioned as a critical journal on the various New American scenes: poetry, film, theatre, music, dance. It was a guide to New American Kulchur. I can think of few publications of its era that so completely provides senses (sights, sounds, flavors, smells, materiality) of the scene. The critical writing is in the moment and immediate. The impressions are written quickly and with passion. With 20 issues that is a ton of impressions.
I just pulled Issue 12 of the shelf. Published in Winter 1963, the magazine went to press during the Kennedy Assassination. The table of content has a tipped in notice from the editors: “The editors wish to express their grief and indignation which all thinking men must feel at the spectacle of barbarous brutality and inconceivable madness.” At this point the editors included Hornick, Leroi Jones (music), Frank O’Hara (art) and Joseph LeSueur (theater) with Charles Olson, Gilbert Sorrentino, A.B Spellman, and Bill Berkson as contributing editors. I would suspect O’Hara’s Art Chronicles and Jones’ music criticism are collected somewhere or other, but it is really exciting to see O’Hara review John Rechy’s City of Night followed by Jones’ reviewing Allen Ginsberg’s Reality Sandwiches. In the middle of the Reality Sandwiches review, Jones’ Exaugural Address (for Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, who has had to eat too much shit) written on November 26, 1963, has been pasted in. There is also a review of City Lights Journal #1, several music reviews by Jones and Spellman, and a review of Clayton Eshelman’s translation of Pablo Neruda’s Residences on Earth. This is just the review section of Kulchur, comprising the last 20 pages or so. Each and every issue has their own treasures to excavate. I was just flipping through Issue 18 and there is Ted Berrigan’s review of William Burroughs’ Nova Express. Scanning is impossible, but binding be damned, I will type out the entire review for RealityStudio.
What we really need is a reprint of Kulchur, maybe not even the entire run, but just the review sections. It would be a fascinating documentation of New York City from 1960 to 1965. Until then you will have to buy the issues yourself. In my opinion Kulchur is one of the bargains of the Mimeo Revolution market. You can pick one up for $15-20. This makes sense given that up to 1000 copies per issue were printed, but that said, the perfect binding makes fine copies rather scarce. Another option is to get a complete run. These are also scarce. Certain issues are quite simply tough to come by. Mast Books just posted on Abebooks a complete run for $1500. That is just about right. In my opinion it is worth it, as Kulchur is truly the epitome of the little magazine as archive. Archives are expensive to build but the money put in will pay dividends in intellectual capital for years to come. And that is more than you can say for the stock market.