The Beginning of the End for the "Perfectly Poor" Mag City

It has become an accepted fact in the history of the Mimeo Revolution that the election of Ronald Reagan marked the end of the era.  One of the big factors was the sudden decline in governmental funding of the arts.  In some respects, the publishers created this problem themselves.  Jerome Rothenberg writes in Secret Location:  “Increasingly too there had developed a dependence on support from institutional & governmental sources – the National Endowment for the Arts, say, as the major case in point.  The result was to impose both a gloss of professionalism on the alternative publications & to make obsolete the rough & ready book works of the previous two decades.  But the greatest danger of patronage was that the denial of that patronage, once threatened, became an issue that would override all others.”

I wrote about Mag City in this context awhile back and I come to Mag City again as I have been reading the magazine in the last couple of weeks.  Take issue 12 published in 1981.  Allen Ginsberg’s “Capitol Air” captures the fact that, as Masters wrote in 1995, “we were weathering a decade of Republican leadership that was contemptuous of free expression, individual peculiarities, social justice, and fun.”  The magazine also comments on end of an era in governmental assistance.  In David Herz’s short story “Remedial”, the main character works in a bureaucratic setting screening “the perfectly poor” for government assistance.  Such people were part of the Mag City circle:  “Most of the poets worked part-time jobs or worked a few months and took off a few months.  We wanted to be ready for the poem.  We lived for poetry and were grateful to have discovered there were others out there whose priorities were complementary.”  Mag City materialized out of various NYC institutions, like The Poetry Project, that sustained starving poets like Master, Lenhart and Scholnick.  But I suspect Mag City relied heavily on institutional funding.  The magazine was made possible by a grant from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, itself funded by the NEA.  I have always felt Mag City was one of those mags that felt the denial of patronage acutely.  It limped along after the inauguration of Reagan in January 1981 but it seems to me that the poets and editors sunderstood that its days were numbered.  Or as Bernadette Mayer writes in “Dentist Fiction”, “I saw [the dentist] every day, because he knew and I knew that in two weeks the Medicaid Program for people my age was ending.”  



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