Pages from a Dissertation - Yugen





The Complete Yugen has been on RealityStudio for a few weeks and in introducing that archive I suggested some points of entry through which to get inside this iconic little magazine.  The pages above could provide ammunition for a dissertation chapter.

One of the early myths of the New American Poetry Anthology (and the Evergreen Review San Francisco Scene) is that these poets were a unified front against the Establishment.  This could not be further from the truth.  For example, books such as Poets Be Like God make clear that almost nobody in the New American Poetry club got along.  Just because Donald Allen (or Allen Ginsberg or Robert Creeley or Robert Duncan, as the case may be) grouped some poets together does not mean there was anything close to a stable community or even that those communities make literary or social sense.

The pages above from Yugen Four and Five highlight just one of the divisions that reveal the lie of the unity within Allen's Anthology.  Yugen Four presented a different cover design from the previous three issues.  It announces Yugen Four as a Black Mountain issue as it was designed by Fielding Dawson.  This issue also includes work by Dawson, Charles Olson, Max Finstein, Edward Marshall, Joel Oppenheimer and Robert Creeley.  It could be argued that before Issue 4, Yugen was something of a Beat outlet.  Gregory Corso definitely felt so, as evidenced by his poem that closed Issue 4.  I love the "THIS IS A PAID ADVERTISEMENT" above Corso's side eye to Black Mountain.  Funny stuff, but Corso was not laughing as Yugen threatened to became in his eyes a shill for the poets from the North Carolina backwoods.  This highlights that even though Black Mountain Review 7 was something of a Beat issue, and Creeley, Ginsberg, and Kerouac hung out and were strung out in San Francisco, the bonds that held these and other literary groups together were strained and threatened to snap.  Tensions were high as all these poets stepped into the public eye.

In Yugen Five, Gilbert Sorrentino responds to Corso's advertisement to himself.  Sorrentino makes clear that the New American Poets did not politely share the same room in terms of poetics, let alone rub shoulders in the Cedar without coming to blows.  All these arguments and conflicts are playing out before the New American Poetry Anthology is even published.  Yugen, like Evergreen Review and Black Mountain Revew, was the laboratory in which the New American Anthology experiment was conducted.  Sometimes these experiments blew up.  Yugen is a great reminder that little magazines and anthologies are not domesticated spaces housing a big, happy family of poets; they are also boxing rings in which poets and writers duke it out for various belts, both public and canonical.

JB

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