Sorrentino on Signal Magazine

Gilbert Sorrentino was one of the foremost critics of the Mimeo Revolution, who knew what he was talking about because he was immersed in it.  He edited Neon and was on the Kulchur board.  His critical work in Kulchur, Yugen, Floating Bear and elsewhere was widely read amongst the inner circle and much discussed in bars and cold-water flats.  Here he is writing about Signal magazine in the pages of Floating Bear.  If you want the benefits of hindsight, here is Stephanie Anderson writing on some overlooked mags of the New York scene from the mid-60s, including Signal.

Signal:  A New Magazine
I don’t know why I was asked to review one issue (the first) of a new magazine, but maybe it’s because there are so few magazines around nowadays; a new one that is also regular (one hopes) is something of an event.  O.K.  This is a promising enterprise, with some of the old “standby” names on the contents page, plus some new names.  The material varies in value and interest, but there is a kind of vitality in the issue which presages good things . . . there is a “direction,” as it is said, which is another thing hard to find, not only now, but anytime, in a magazine, viz., there is such a thing as editing, an ability far removed from a collecting of “good” pieces, the collection then being printed and distributed.  Signal has a feel to it, a kind of unity of intention(s).

To take the prose first.  Fee Dawson has a strong and well-done piece from what I understand is a long work, Thread.  It’s the best thing of Fee’s I’ve seen in a long time, everyone knows that his prose is unique in our time, his rapture in his own command of language is here controlled so that we don’t get the “felicitous phrase” because, well, it’s there, why not use it.  I like the dryness here, a thin bitter dryness.  David Kleinbard’s prose loses me, it’s from a novel, but I don’t know who’s who, or what’s going on.  He writes well, meticulous, somewhat affected, if I remember right, the early Sansom stories that appeared in Partisan Review about ’48 or ’49 had this texture, and weave.  I honestly  don’t see how a “novel” written in this manner could hold me though, too much dessert.  Bob Basara, well, he’s in Bill Burroughs’ bag, I can’t make it.  Jimmy Waring writes like all amateurs write, dancers, actors, painters, you name it.  His heart is in the right place, but what the hell?  He says things like “tragedy has no sense of humor.”  O.K.  I’ll buy that.  Sort of like Jacques Plante facing Koufax.  Frank O’Hara’s spoof is  lovely one, he’s got the officialese down beautifully.  Mike Rumaker’s poem has to be included in with the prose, it’s a nice little piece, but it ain’t a poem.

What about the poems?  Some very strong stuff here.  LeRoi Jones has two handsome poems, one is extremely interesting, Three Modes of History and Culture, the structure of the first section uses a terse second  “line” which slows the movement of the poem and gives the third line (of each stanza) a rushing, headlong movement, slams it into the first line of the next stanza, then the process repeats itself.  Jones is becoming a truly excellent poet, the other poem too, is fine.  Joel Oppenheimer has to old poems in here, I saw them in MS about five years ago, they’re what you know you’ll get from him, he’s a pro.  I like Diane Di Prima’s Moth because I like how she handles a short line, and I don’t feel any great attraction toward her long-lined poems, they get heavy, and self-consciously somber.  This one is clean, terse and exact in its vocabulary.  Frank O’Hara’s got one of his “walking around” poems, like very witty gossip, fine by me, that’s what Frank does.  Frank Lima prints two incredibly strong poems, a very, very interesting young guy, the best of the “newer” voices around.  Bill Merwin and John Wieners have two good poems, John particularly, his special gentle tone.  I don’t know what’s happened to Dave Meltzer, I really thought he was going to come on but I haven’t seen one thing by him that isn’t just so-so, in three years.  Must be California air.  I’ve read the other poems with varying degrees of attention, some of them threw me, they’re poems, some of them, I just couldn’t make it past the fifth or sixth line, but they’re not really bad, they’re all saying something that I don’t care about, I guess, or they not saying anything, tho Clive Matson has one good line, “even the roaches here don’t eat what I leave them/theyre so feeble” (two lines), then I lose him.  But I try them again, they are somewhere else, and not only haven’t I been there, but they make where they’ve been a mystery.  Levy and Irwin present poems which look like the things that a college literary review with a hip editor would print, like, the hell with the Phi Delta Xi!  Last Year At Marienbad in words, ho-hum.  Hart Crane’s poem is interesting because it’s history, the lines and measure are awkward as hell, but the vocabulary, imagery, and syntax prefigure the mature Crane, in fact, his (at sixteen!) sense of image and metaphor are mature already; it remained for him to say something he knew, deeply, and not invented, and to pick up on that might line of Marlowe’s.  But the presentation of the poem is an excellent service.

All in all, as I said, a strong first issue.  The one thing I really don’t like is the shortness of the prose pieces.  It’s not good for a long piece to get chopped up this way, particularly in a quarterly, but, till somebody comes along who’s willing to lose a specific amount of money (say, 10 grand) on a weekly, Signal is, along with the few other indigent publications, cooking.




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