Creeley on Contact

In the first issue of Black Mountain Review, Robert Creeley surveyed the Canadian poetry scene and in doing so, he opened by discussing Contact, Raymond Souster’s pivotal mimeo, which served as a bridge from the Modernist mags before World War II and the mimeo explosion after the San Francisco Renaissance.  Here is Creeley on Contact:

Contact (An International Magazine of Poetry) 4-8, edited by Raymond Souster, $1 a year; Cerberus, by Louis Dudek, Irving Layton, Raymond Souster, $1; Twenty-four Poems, by Louis Dudek, $1; The Black Huntsmen, by Irving Layton, $1; Love The Conqueror Worm, by Irving Layton, $1; Canadian Poems, 1850-1952, $1.50 – Contact Press, Toronto, 1953.

A round-up of Canadian poetry, AD 1954, would probably bring in little but the above.  The American reader is, or may well be, familiar enough with the work of A.M. Klein, P.K. Page and perhaps one or two others – but I think that Irving Layton, for one example, may well have escaped him, despite the fact that he is a better poet than either of the two noted.  Why is this so, like they say, is of course simple enough to guess.  Local conditions, and a prevailing provincialism, have kept the Canadians wedged between England on the one hand, and the US on the other, and it takes a somewhat trusting soul to stick his nose out.

Contact Press, however, has broken out of this usual dilemma by way of both books and a magazine, and if a reader wants to see where the actual conditions for a healthy literature can be found, he may well look here.  For example, Contact (the magazine) is nothing very much to look at, nor does it have many of those great names well-calculated to keep the reader buying.  But it is, in spite of itself, international – insofar as its tone is open, its critical stance almost sufficient, and because it prints in each issue four or five good poems, demonstrably good poems, by men writing all the way from Freiburg to Mexico City.  Not to mention Montreal.

That, in itself, is something – and with the canons of good taste, and good business, so well-set in the States, one can do worse than subscribe to such a magazine – of only for the fine sense of air, and openness, it does have.

To maintain such a thing is not of course simple, either for the men writing, or the editors thereof.  It is a considerable scramble to get together enough material and enough money for a decent issue of any magazine, of any length, coming out four times a year.  And the Canadians, in spite of ingenuousness and an almost sticky good-will toward Literature, are by no means apt to run out and buy something by people who are not quite acceptable.  Raymond Souster, in Cerberus, is eloquent enough:

Turning the crank of a mimeograph
In a basement cellar to produce the typical
“Little magazine” perhaps fifty will read
Twenty remember (and with luck) five will learn from.

The delights of the literary salon etc., are by no means what these men know:

Engaged through the week at Usura,
Loaning the rich the poor man’s money,
And kidding yourself it does not leave
The marks of its uselessness upon you.

So that to say something, anything, in protest, has been of necessity their payment.

Robert Creeley



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