Moberg on Mother in Miscellany

Recently, I purchased a copy of The Carleton Miscellany from the Spring of 1966.  Seemingly not very Mimeo Revolution of me, but this issue contained a symposium on The Little Magazine that featured over 20 different editors.  I am a sucker for this type of stuff:  contemporary accounts, analysis and assessments relating to little magazine culture.  For the most part the Carleton Symposium featured small/little magazine editors but not editors associated with the Mimeo Revolution.  There is a difference.  Little magazine culture includes the likes of C, Fuck You and Floating Bear, but also killjoys like Modern Fiction Studies, Kenyon Review, December, and, well, The Carleton Miscellany.  So this symposium was a precursor to Paper Dreams, which came out this summer, and not surprisingly much of the commentary on the little magazine today (beside the digital implications) has not changed in over four decades.  Still I love this stuff.  You have to know your enemies in order to better understand your friends, and in some cases, you get surprised by having one of your friends show up.  In the Carleton Symposium, that friend was David Moberg, editor of the under-appreciated Mother.  As I have mentioned before, Mother was not featured in Secret Location, probably in large part because it was a New York School mag that was not centered in New York City.  It was started in Northfield, Minnesota at Carleton College, which has to be the only possible reason Moberg was asked to participate.  Robert Bly of The Sixties does not fit either but again his is from Minnesota.
Moberg’s contribution to the symposium responds indirectly to the Carleton questionnaire by focusing on Mother and why it existed.  It is interesting reading on a pretty darn good little mag that was touched on in Secret Location, but lacked the zip code for a fuller treatment.

David Moberg
One-time editor, MOTHER

When Locus Solus (a beautiful, fat magazine edited by John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Harry Mathews and James Schuyler) stopped in 1962, Ted Berrigan (Tulsan émigré poet in New York) decided to continue, to some extent, publication of the same young poets and writers, giving special attention at first to the band of Tulsans-in-New-York.  Peter Schjeldahl saw Berrigan’s legal-sized, mimeographed C magazine when he was in New York in 1963 and carried back the idea of the magazine to Carleton, where in the spring of 1964 he and Jeff Giles published two issues of MOTHER.

At the time their offset-printed magazine (of 50 pages or less) printed almost exclusively the work of or translations by Carleton people, Peter decided to go to Paris.  The next year Jeff and I edited the magazine.

I was interested in making the magazine national, in contributions and distribution, and larger, if possible, and started working to collect material in the summer of 1964, with generous initial help from Berrigan.  However, we continued the emphasis of our own band of MOTHER people:  Schjeldahl, Giles, Louie Nasper, Larry Swingle and me.  I played a large role in editing numbers 3 through 5.  Now with No. 6 the magazine is back in the hands of Schjeldahl.

The reasons the editors of the several magazines mentioned above got involved with a “little magazine” vary widely.  It’s safe to rule out financial motivation.  Obviously all shared one goal:  they wanted to see published the (type of) material they published.  Also, I imagine most of them shared to some extent the feeling of concrete accomplishment in actually pulling together a magazine.  Whether the accomplishment was great is relatively unimportant; the editor usually feels good, even if he is disgusted with the result and determined to do better with the next issue.  I found also that the experience of selecting what material I liked for the magazine was very influential in the development of my own interests in writing.  By number 5 my idea of what I liked to write was reflected in (and partially molded by) a greater clarity of editorial purpose.  And that was a big reason, for me, for the existence of MOTHER.

There were three other reasons for MOTHER’s existence:  (1) we wanted to give little-published writers and poets a place to be see, (2) both Jeff and I were interested in dredging out of the U.S. west of the Hudson poets and writers in the vein we liked, since most of the writers outside our Carleton group were from New York; and (3) I was particularly interested in providing a magazine which would not only be a place for poets-writers-etc. to publish but would also entice the curious non-writer to read.  Spread the gospel, you know.

But, as I said before, the primary reason for the magazine’s existence was the desire to publish new and “experimental” works of poetry, prose, art and what’s left.  At its best, MOTHER had a dada irreverence, but perhaps a sneakier, more insidious and more subtle sort of literary obnoxiousness than did the 1920’s Dada.

Most of the poets and writers in MOTHER considered themselves in rebellion against the poetry and prose produced or glorified in academic circles.  Their arsenal of literary devices included (among others) irony, parody, plagiarism, cut-up, fold-in, time-jumble, “il”logic, nuttiness, abstraction, distortion, outrageousness, humor, pornography, lying, scatology, hallucination, frivolity, gibberish, and confusion.

It was all – almost all, anyway – very “literary.”  This was good (bad).  Most of the techniques mentioned above are concerned with writing itself, rather than, say, the problem of the social conscience of the writer, the depiction of normal reality, or the truth of what was written.  I’m sure those and other issues are relevant to much of what was in MOTHER but the main interest we had in editing it (and one of the main interests of most of the writers) was what can be done with words and arrangement of words.  This paralleled to some extent one of the concerns of many modern painters in asking what can be done, given brush, paint and canvas and working with those limitations.  You might call this a formalistic interest.

Most of the writing MOTHER smiled upon was concerned with subject matter in an indirect way (as implicit) and did not serve as a symbolic or didactic adjunct to psychology, philosophy or political science.  There may have been something to be learned from the writings in MOTHER (as if anyone cared about learning) but it would have been like learning from the world, for the works were (at their best) immediate and concrete, not discursive and universialized.  Giles always thought that was what a poet did:  created a world, a new world.

It is perhaps in this sense that MOTHER-writings shared some of the effects of surrealism.  They were not surrealistic – like back in the days of manifestoes – but some influence had filtered through.  Partly it was in those “formal” matters, but it was also in the idea that the reality of interest to artists, poets and writers did not necessarily correspond to the everyday world.  The everyday world was a utilitarian construction (which in the west divided the world into me and it, subjectivity and objectivity, mind and matter) from an immediate perceptual world which was “really” quite different.  The immediate perceptual world – either actually seen in any of the waking, sleeping or distorted states or created-seen by the artist – was frequently found in the writings of MOTHER.
Many of the writings published by MOTHER and similar magazines have a fresh innocence of wonder about them.  Child-like slight oddities of syntax and apparently completely honest presentation are really quite artful, artless techniques.  This innocence gives the object of the poem or the prose passage a new look.  In this new world, some of the old feelings can be shown concretely and vividly without the self-conscious limitation of the old abstractions.
This is no exhaustive description of what MOTHER was intended to present, nor is it a definition of the interests of some new “school” of writers.  It is an account of my interests, and helps explain why one little magazine called MOTHER existed for the year I worked on it.  In a way many of these attitudes are shared by others (since most have been stolen from other people).  In the end, though, they belong to MOTHER.



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