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The Little Magazine Movement in AMERICA

From print to electronics to print
An essay by Grace Cavalieri

Americans generally consider POETRY Magazine (1912) the first poetry periodical of note. It may be the one we know the most about but that it was first is not true on several counts. Washington DC's POET LORE preceded by several years. In fact Walt Whitman took out an ad for his work in its pages, near the close of the 19th century. Reed Whittemore's pamphlet Little Magazines, c1963, published by University of Minnesota's series on American writers, is the definitive work on the movement of the literary journal in the first half of the 20th century. Reed himself was editor of FURIOS0, along with John Pauker, from their college years at Yale (1939.) Reed went on to create others in his career, notably the Carleton Miscelleny from Carlton College where he later taught in Minnesota. From magazines of the 1930's, Whittemore cites that The Partisan Review, was originally begun (but not ended) as a communist organ, along with other southern magazines with political leanings: the Fugitive, the Southern Review, the Kenyon Review, the Sewanee Review. In all, there were forty prominent Little Magazines started before 1950.

Where are we now?

The bridge to the present was substantially during the 1960's when the " cultural revolution " broke all literary norms and introduced freedom, chaos, new poetic forms and new voices to the country. Prior to the "CR" the primary poets who were published were white, male, and the dominant discourse in the country was, of course, from that sensibility. Then along came the fissure in the earth, and in the decade of the 60's, more female voices, black, gay and others disenfranchised, emerged. The utterance was from rant to howl to high lyricism. It was the birth of contemporary American poetry, as we now know it. I was teaching in Antioch College after that time and the major classroom anthology held 400 pages, with but 4 women. The women we knew, our only role models, were Kumin, Sexton, Wakoski, Clifton for contemporaries. Of course Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Edna St Vincent Millay, for historical presence, peppered the literature. The point to be made here is that new voices erupted, and there had to be some place to put them. With a newfound sense of entitlement, poets created their own spaces, their own small press. The small press movement, for poetry collections, is of course time-honored, Every great poet we can name started in small press, many self-published (Frost, Stevens, Pound, Williams, etc.) but now there were little journals cropping up from people's basements. The 60's and the 70's saw an explosion of mimeo, stapling, and High Holiday. The printer on the corner who, to this time specialized in wedding announcements, became a literary buff.

Everyone wanted to be invited to the party. So everyone threw the party. In the mid 70's, in DC, we started the WASHINGTON WRITER'S PUBLISHING HOUSE, (still thriving.) Our book distribution method consisted of running into a bookstore and placing poetry on the shelf. And back into the car double-parked in the street "The drop and split method of small press distribution" worked. Lots of books were sold. We just didn't get the money. My personal love,

The Bunny and the Crocodile Press whose hutch I, and my daughter, keep up after 30 years of issuing poetry, is testament to the brash "I will do it myself, thank you. These poets need to be heard in books." We did not need conglomerates to choose who should be published. Anarchism, maybe, guerrilla tactics, surely, but advancing the art and distributing poets to the people, absolutely.

There are many such distinctive presses such as WORD WORKS and GARGOYLE in DC -- 30 years growing, and going strong. They are still issuing poets, anthologies, books of commercial and literary excellence. What does this say? Only that these presses are the outgrowth of the Little Magazine phenomenon.

Fast forward to ezines. At this moment in history the conversation is about the materiality of the text and what will become of print, now that on line magazines are predominant and websites shift contemporary memory to an electronic future. (Unless someone pulls the plug.)

Beltway Poetry Quarterly, a dot com in DC is a magnificent literary journal: There are legions doing good work. I like Beltway, the Cortland Review, poetrymagazine.com, The Montserrat Review, Innisfreepoetry.com, Italy's fieralingue, and I will talk specifically about MiPoesias. Most of these journals flourished within the past 5 years.

Poet Amy King looks at her poetry in a book with a 1000 volume run and sees poems vanishing into the crowd. Yet poems from 10 years ago are available on line any day of the week. This is significant. I am not here to talk about the quality of on line poetry. It varies, as does the quality of literary print magazines. I am talking about the staying power of the word on line.

Recently I entered the world of MIPOesias Magazine published by DiDi Menendez (Managing Editor, Amy King). Admitting a personal interest in the magazine, I nevertheless want to use it as an exemplar. There are thousands of pages to this publication that go back to 2003. There could be more but for the extra costs involved. The various arms of this magazine include an audio component, MiPOradio, with podcasts, available for the past year (2006.) There are live poetry readings and interviews with writers presented in video and audio. There are monthly features, which include Michelle Buchanan's GOODNIGHT SHOW, and my own poetry commentary INNUENDOES. All of us publish, present, write, and work elsewhere. But we have been afforded a room in a very large house in which to function globally!

DiDi speaks of the "online community." I never thought of this cultural reference before. Remember I spring from a lifetime where TV was introduced in my house when I was in college. For MiPOesias the "online community" has changed from a forum, an ezboard, to a community blog, to a major publication. It is a whole world. Additionally MIPOesias sponsored the first poetry workshop at sea on a cruise ship out of Miami. "Poetry At Sea" had workshops conducted by University professors and published writers) i.e. David Lehman, Denise Duhamel, Annie Finch, Nick Carbo, Gabriel Gudding.

As for quality of material printed on line, it fluctuates, but represents a broad populist movement and a keen knowledge of popular culture in art and music. One poem was recognized by Best American Poetry (2006, editd by Billy Collins.) The featured poem was by Washington DC's Reb Livingston.

DiDi Menendez is a poet, visual artist, musicologist/aficionado, and more. She says she is "a Nerd" and I have evidence that she knows more about the Internet than Al Gore. Technical genius is a necessity to create a website radio station -- plus all other video streams, readings, concerts, commentaries simultaneously -- and make them work. Link, link, Link.

Well, this is not a puff piece. It is written from a sense of awe, from a mother of four, about another mother of four who can know so much about managing the cyber clouds, that she can commit them to poetry. The hardware drives the software. I learned that when I was at PBS. Nothing happens until there is a way to make it happen, technically.

 And now to the heart of the best part.

After the long parade from paper to magical bits that electronically evoke image and sound, MiPOesias has done a 180 degree move. It developed a print component, a magazine, OCHO, that you can hold in your hands and read in the bathtub. This is not a retreat. It is moving poetry again link by link, with every physical form that can be rendered. Of course the proof will be in the kinds of poets and poems featured. Every magazine lives and dies by this, eventually. And so far, so good. OCHO, print companion to MiPOesias has been available since June 2006. 8 copies are to be printed yearly. I've seen the first 7. Cover art is worth framing. DiDi Menendez edits and designs OCHO. DiDi has also designed and issued a calendar for 2007 that is a museum piece of graphic art. I thought Pay Pal meant Pen Pal and I fail miserably in ordering things on line. But it is available. Through < www.lulu.com/mipo >

If you hear the glitter in my voice about all this, it is because, truly - I have written, published, funded, produced, broadcast poets and poetry for 40 years but the on-line world (well I lost a whole opera in my computer once) still is the Land of Oz to me. MiPOesias may not be a "small press" anymore. It has had over the years more than a million visits/readers. There is a difference between hits and visits, Menendez tells me, "A hit is an access of a file. It could be a picture, a page, an audio file. A visit is an actual person stopping by the magazine and hopefully reading a poem or two."  This part I report phonetically without knowledge. I think the system is not made for my book keeping. But I am here to tell you that the Little Magazine movement in America has not slowed. And as with all literature, the cream rises to the top, and "little" becomes mainstream, and mainstream is made fresher and newer. The energetic life of a magazine is a spiritual force driven by some people with an impossible belief that they can make everything possible. Then they go ahead and do it.

The movement is gaining momentum. I just received word of a new venture called "an interesting hybrid of print and electronic publication," THE BROADKILL REVIEW, editor and publisher Jamie Brown. This will feature poets and writers form the mid-atlantic region, for starters, six issues a year. These are the people who put on the John Milton Festival in Delaware every year, and who run a poetry competition that results in chapbook publications. There are dozens of journals cropping up combining print and electronic deliveries. For someone like me who was raised with a radio in the living room with a little green light that we fiddled with to get better sound, I believe In miracles, and I have lived long enough to see to see them.


Grace Cavalieri is a poet and a playwright. She produces/hosts "The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress" via NPR for public radio.

 

 

 

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