Kulchur on C: A Journal of Poetry

 


I wonder if a collection of contemporary reviews of mimeo mags would be worth gathering.  I suspect it would.  Looking through old rare book catalogs, like the Ed Sanders/Peace Eye Books ones from the 1960s, it is interesting that Floating Bear, Fuck You and C were all collectible the minute they left the mimeo machine.  In some respects it seems to me that they were more collectible in their time than in the mid-1990s, say.  For example, Floating Bears could command $15 to $20 in the 1960s and those prices held tight until maybe even 2000.  I remember buying up Floating Bears for $15 for years.  Same with C and Fuck You, the prices held rather steady for decades and then popped skywards about three years ago.  I wonder if these magazines were considered classics in their own time.  Is there a John Galsworthy of little mags, a mag that was idolized in its time and then fell from grace?  Contemporary reviews would shed some light all on this.

It would be an interesting project and Kulchur would be a good place to start since in the 1960s it was THE critical journal of the mimeo revolution.  It was conceived by LeRoi Jones and Marc Schleifer to be just that.  What follows below is poet Allan Kaplan’s review of the first eight issues of C:  A Journal of Poetry.  Today, it is hard to find a mimeo mag as revered as C.  In form and content it is considered a standout in 60s mimeo.  Kaplan’s review far from canonizes the magazine.  No doubt it is a positive review but there are some definite reservations and questions concerning the quality of the contents.  Not surprising since unevenness is the mimeo way.

I found the most interesting section of Kaplan’s review the last section.  I was shocked that there was mention of Joe Brainard’s covers but not a peep about the Warhol cover in Issue 4, particularly in that the review mentions Tom Veitch’s Literary Days in terms of Pop Art.  It also made me chuckle to have Kaplan piss all over Charles Olson.  I have written on Kulchur several times and I always come back to the fact that Kulchur as a magazine consistently denies its origins throughout the Lita Hornick years.  Read her memoir on Kulchur in The Little Magazine in America and it is not hard to understand why:  she hates and disrespects Marc Schleifer.  There seems to be a concerted effort to scrub him and his editorship from the record. 

The bad-mouthing of Olson by Kaplan is yet another example of this procedure.  Kulchur began as the critical arm of Yugen and LeRoi Jones idolized Olson and basically agreed to publish anything Olson produced.  Kulchur to some extent was created to give Olson a place to publish his unique brand of criticism.  Olson was a contributing editor to Kulchur from the start.  Olson oversaw the direction of the magazine and as I have argued on RealityStudio the eyes on the cover of Kulchur #1 are a reference to those of Olson as well as the idea of “the polis is eyes,” among other things like the critical eye and a jest that the mag will hear, speak and see no evil.  The first issue of Kulchur ends with an Olson punchline as masthead.  He is the mouthpiece of the magazine and breathes its purpose into being with this brief statement:  “(this is from Olson)  ‘reviews of the intellectual odor of our time.”  Funny then that Kaplan pooh-poohs all magazines that reek of the Big Man.

Kaplan’s review of C definitely erases Kulchur’s past.  It also looks into C’s future as a pivotal magazine for the next generation of poets, namely the Language Poets.  Kaplan’s review with all its talk of creating a new language could have come from a number of Bay Area mags from the 1970s.  There are any number of places a review like the one below can take you.  Like the magazines they analyze, such reviews are time machines:  They can take you back or thrust you forward.   After finishing reading Kaplan’s piece, where will you end up?

C, A Journal of Poetry:  No. 1-8, published monthly:  editors Ted Berrigan and others.

 

C is different from other avant-garde poetry magazines because its editors couldn’t care less about the development of the line as a poet’s natural breath, as the inviolable unit of his natural speech – in short, the popular legacy of Williams, Creeley, Olson, et. al. to a new generation of poets.

The following lines by a young poet who appears often in these 8 issues should give us a glimpse of what C is all about:

 

                                                                O scarcely

                                                verge o strings    Where is a new

                                                                beg of morning matin?

                                                                                “yes” of the hand?

 

                                                delve sky against     Nude

                                                mandarin d’√©toile

                                                A tour of slept Sleptl:  the pacific

                                                     the vine of orange of

                                                                           sommeil

 

                                                made of dawn!        Rape of you you. . . .

                                                o the autumn sand

 

We can call the voice of Joseph Cerevolo that of a lyric poet even though there is no identifiable emotion as the subject of this poem, there is no believed (or despised) party to whom the poet addresses himself; nor is there a recognizable personality as narrator.  Stripped, as much as possible, of usual meanings, words evoke lyric feelings and suggest new meanings by appearing in original juxtapositions and contexts.   These few lines reflect some of the ideals for which many poems in C strive:  surprise, abstraction, purity, lyric joy, and complete uniqueness of expression.

                In a magazine with the bent of a robust distrust of logical thought to convey poetic truth is natural, a distrust which, of course, opens the mind to surrealism.  Here again the magazine rejects popular surrealist influences, Neruda, and Lorca.  What we find in C is a more elegant, post-Breton French variety.  (I am using the term surreal more as a loose description than as a rigid classification.)  Generally, familiar distinctions reminiscent of quiet prose or casual, civilized conversation are used to surprise the reader, often humorously, and to communicate a feeling which I can only describe simply as “oddly mysterious”  because it covers so many poets.  The following illustrations are by Tony Towle and Ron Padgett, respectively:

 

                                                Exactly one, at a time of morning

                                                In which the edge of the hill

                                                Is going down, and I was close

                                                To loving you for it.

 

                                                This is a tale then.     Good.

                                                The forest is important,

                                                The Boar hunt, and the close

                                                Of the legend.

 

                                                When by turns the leaves would arrive

                                                With the next nice October,

                                                And the king was away from our throats.

 

*        *      *

                                From point A a wind is blowing to  point B

                                Which is here, where the pebble is only a mountain.

                                If truly heaven and earth are out there

                                Why is that man waving his arms around,

                                Gesturing to the word “lightening” written on the clouds

                                That surround and disguise his feet?

 

                                If you say the right word in New York City

                                Nothing will happen in New York City:

                                But out in the fabulous dry horror of the west

                                A beautiful girl name Sibyl will burst

                                In by the open window breathless

                                And settle for an imaginary glass of something.

                                But now her name is no longer Sibyl – it’s Herman,

                                Yearning for point B.

 

                                Dispatch this note to our hero at once.

 

The clich√©, and other forms of commonplace speech, also is used to couch the poet’s “odd mysteriousness” and to satirize the American scene.  Used without restraint these commonplaces can become metaphorized into a fey poetic diction.  For example, the novel Literary Days, long sections of which have been anthologized in C, is written in a compendium of all the familiar styles of bad prose, from the comics to the ubiquitous imitators of Hemingway.  Tom Veitch has written a novel that might be categorized as Pop Art. 

                This magazine eschews the profound poem, and it is important that we understand why.  As an example of profound, one might point to a Levertov poem profoundly lyricizing man-woman love or, say, sections of an Olson poem profoundly advising a young poet how to manage his affairs.  The C  sensibility would consider it truthful for Shelley to distinguish the profound from the lighter aspects of his life; but, considering man’s present comic relationship to society that grows absurder by the hour, is it real nowadays to separate the profound from the campy?  Are they separable?  To the editors of C many profound poems written today seem pretentious or derivative.  For C a more honest way to be profound in the 20th century is the poet’s expression of his “odd mysteriousness,”  which is the tapping of his own consciousness.

                Many poems in C succeed in what they attempt.  Certain voices will strike the reader as intriguing and worthy of attention.  However, many poems left me with a feeling of emptiness, seeming more like language calisthenics than poems or irritatingly arbitrary when they communicated no strangeness or surprise.  Their campiness, sometimes, just isn’t funny.  But this lack of consistency, inevitable, I suppose, when contributors sharing similar aesthetic ideas have varied talents or are of different stages of development, poses no real threat to the magazine’s goal of valuable originality, provided, of course, it continues to publish enough good material.  However, a threat lies elsewhere.

                I imagine much of the non-academic poetry which has sprung up as a reaction to the dull imitations of Eliot and Auden strikes the editors of C  as being in turn either second-class Pound, Williams, or Ginsberg.  But is it possible that some of C’s Young Turks will in turn be trapped in the same way as some of the poets who realized that Williams was one of America’s great poets?  C  is unique in that it is the only young-poet, non-academic journal inspired by the ideas and work of John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara, the leaders of the New York School, as Don Allen has grouped them.  (Incidentially, there are a number of excellent contributions by these poets in C.)  While reading C, it was my feeling that a number of poems slip past the line of being inspired by the original and, to varying degrees, are close to being adaptations of, say, Ashbery’s style.  Granted that these poems may be interesting in themselves and that the talent of the poet may be such that it is sometimes impossible to distinguish between master and disciple, nevertheless, this path in the long run leads to the shadow of Ashbery and not his substance.

                A happy impression one gets in reading through any issue is that it is fairly successful as a fountain of youth.  There is a willingness to play with words to discover what they might do – i.e. represent simultaneous thoughts, to make absolutely wacky, unproducable plays, etc.  Even the occasional appearances of poets such as LeRoi Jones and Ed Sanders, who write in a different manner, is accounted for, I think, by what the editors consider original in their use of language.  In fact C is a laboratory of language experiments that can be a source of ideas not only for the contributors but for the readers (assuming that many of them are other poets).  Even while in the process one becomes involved with a particular problem of what language can or can not do.  One might say that here language is “the thing itself” – rather than stance, line, natural objects, nature, one’s spouse, muses, the Bomb, America.  Indeed, the search for a new language becomes the search for one’s individuality.

                Mimeographed on 8 ½ X 14 paper, C has a tenement spun appearance and is too big to be put alongside your other “littles.”  If this dissuades you from bringing it home, let me add that C has two features (other than those I mentioned in this review) that will make it unique than most of the avant-garde poetry journals in your library.  They are:

1)      covers by artist Joe Brainard that are funny, sublime and beautiful.  (The covers merit a review by itself)

2)      no love letters to Charles Olson.

 

Allan Kaplan

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