Sunday, August 2, 2009

Golden Anniversary Time Travelin' . . .

A Trip Back
. . .
Fifty Years Ago

. . .
Four “Little” Poetry Magazines
San Francisco


Fifty years ago I was about to turn three. So this here golden anniversary celebration of four “little” poetry magazines from 1959 San Francisco is not a trip down memory lane. It’s an attempt to time-travel, to re-animate a few moments from back then, and salute a few do-it-yourself poetry ‘zines from the late ‘50s Frisco. Okay? Seat belts buckled? Let’s go!


issue number 4
(November, 1959)
8.5 by 11 inches
editor: Jack Spicer

Little poetry magazines, mimeographed ones at least, are rarely as striking – gorgeous, I say – as this: J (yes, just the letter “J”), issue number 4 . The “secret” of the beauty here, I submit, is the hand-colored cover. The rich greens and blues make it sing, and sing sweet.

And there’s text on that cover too, almost hidden, cleverly disguised as part of the illustration, with key information about the magazine hidden further still within the repeated and sometimes swerving lines and clusters of “J”s (the cover image above can be enlarged by clicking on it).

Here’s a close up of the hidden information, taken from the right side of the cover:

Do you see, or at least see that even when magnified as here it’s still hard to see, how the information (the magazine’s name, issue number, and submission directions) is displayed? Here’s the text of the cover excerpt above, with the pertinent data highlighted:

Now that’s an occult presentation!

As nicely told by Lewis Ellingham and Kevin Killian (at pages 164 et seq. of Poet Be Like God), the magazine J was a major project for Jack Spicer in 1959. The issue pictured above, J-4, is generally dated November, 1959, so it is actually the latest of the four depicted and discussed in this post.

There’s much great poetry in the issue, including by Robert Duncan, a poem by Spicer himself, an excerpt from George Stanley’s prose poem “Tete Rouge,” and others. My favorites, when I look through the issue as I write this up, are three short poems by Richard Brautigan, printed on a single page.

The first of these Brautigan poems is classic Brautigan, which means I never seem to tire of it. There’s concision and whimsy, dead-pan fantastica, a scene surreal yet matter-of-fact. The poem reads as a simple Objectivist-style report and a most impossible tale. Careful, and outlandish.

All of which, of course, makes it mighty funny. Funny and unforgettable.

Here it is, as it looks on the page in J-4, with yellow paper and black mimeographed typography (click to enlarge, if you please, though I hope it’s entirely legible as is):

Oh yes oh yes oh yes oh yes: it must be Halloween in the sea!


The Anagogic & Paideumic Review
issue number one
(September, 1959)
8.5 by 11 inches
editor: Sheri Martinelli

Sheri Martinelli, particularly in the late 1950s, was a friend and supporter of the Saint Elizabeth-ed Ezra Pound (that’s a drawing of him on the mimeo-ed cover above). She also had connections stretching to the late ‘40s and early ‘50s Greenwich Village and the likes of Anais Nin, film-maker Maya Deren, Charlie Parker, Marlon Brando, all the Beats (particularly Allen Ginsberg, Diane di Prima, and Philip Lamantia), and Bukowski. She also wrote (poetry and prose) and painted.

Here are two photos of Martinelli: the first is a composite, taken in 1946 by a member of Anais Nin’s circle; the second dates from the mid-1950s (all per Martinelli biographer Stephen Moore):

Sheri Martinelli (1946)

Sheri Martinelli (mid-1950s)

The Anagogic & Paideumic Review – which ultimately ran a total of six issues – states it was edited out of 15 Lynch Street in San Francisco. That’s a small street, running parallel to the Broadway Tunnel, just up a hill from North Beach.

The half-dozen or so poems in this Issue One of The Anagogic & Paideumic Review are decidedly “non-beat,” and don’t seem particularly memorable today. The exception is Sheri Martinelli’s own “Trees ‘n Seas.” It’s a fifteen line poem (with most lines containing only a couple of words) printed down the left side of a full page, within an illustration of a wave (all initialed “SM”), which is then followed at page-bottom by a reported colloquy between Martinelli and Pound concerning how the poem came about and what Ez said about it once it was done (click to enlarge in a separate window):

The poem’s final four lines:
Sea mists.

Wood burns.

Once kissed

ever yearns.
are in part discussed in the end-of-the-page colloquy. Martinelli reports (in a line barely visible on the magazine page, due to faint printing) that when shown the poem Pound stated, “The last two lines . . . (silence) . . . poetry.” On this point, I can’t argue with ol’ Ez.

The magazine also includes a few essays, of interest because they reflect certain key interests or concerns among some San Francisco poets of the time: economic exploitation by the powerful, the corrosive power of the state, and the influence of Asian traditions.

Specifically, there’s a review of Brooks Adams’ The Law of Civilization and Decay (1895), a bracing theory of history and critique of capitalism that had been re-published just a few years before. The reviewer – one “Lady Lee” – points out that in Adams’ book, “every historical episode given makes it all the more clear how economic influence operates and drives out the imaginative mind.” As Lee puts it, “General Electric and the Ford Motor Company still exist today but there is no trace of the spirit of Edison or Ford in them.”

The magazine also re-prints Pound’s “Bureaucracy: The Flail of Jehova,” first published in 1928 (and re-published since, including in New Directions’ Selected Prose). Although Pound gets (no surprise) crack-potty, the essay has some great lines, including the simple declarative ain’t no-doubt-where-he’s-coming-from opening sentence, “Bureaucrats are a pox.”

There’s also a two-page essay on Confucius, by one “Lee Lady” (yes the reverse of the name of the reviewer mentioned above, suggesting it’s perhaps a pseudonym (for Martinelli herself?)). The essay details certain Confucian principles, including emphasizing the importance of a person’s “individual nature, which is never exactly the same for any two” people.

The essay on Confucius also discusses three of the English translations then available, notably calling the one by Pound “the most precise” but sometimes “confusing and obscure.” The following wise advice is given, advice I think equally applicable when reading poetry rendered into English from a different language: “[I]n the case of any difficult text which one must study in translation, one should have the benefit of several translations to compare.” I endorse that approach, but also suggest having at hand the original text and an appropriate dual-language dictionary, to translate a bit yourself.


issue number 4
8 x 9.5 inches
Editor: Wallace Berman

There’s enough on the web – click here or here, for example, such that I don’t need to say much about the great artist Wallace Berman or his art-mail / poetry magazine Semina and its wondrous run of nine issues over ten years (1955-1964).

Issue four (pictured above), as with many of other issues of Semina, features a set of hand-printed inserts on pieces of paper or cards of various sizes, all tucked loose-leaf into a pocket glued to the inside of the folded cardboard covers. The poems, per the information printed on the front of the pocket, were hand-set (by Berman) in San Francisco, 1959 “on [gotta love this next adjective] beat 5 x 8 Excelsior handpress.” That little handpress would have looked something like this:

That’s almost a poem, a poem-object, onto itself, yes?

The front of the inside pocket on this Semina also states that Berman took the photo on the cover, titled “Wife.” It also has printed on it Berman’s guiding principle, in italics, such that it looks very similar to this:
Art is Love is God
That is an inspiring slogan: O Creative Imagination Made Real = ARDOR / RAPTURE = Holy Absolute Infinite!

Of the approximately two dozen poems in this Semina, the familiar names include Blake and Yeats, and (contemporaries of Berman) Stuart Perkoff, Allen Ginsberg, Ray Bremser, John Weiners, William Burroughs, Michael McClure, Philip Lamantia, Ron Loewinsohn, and David Meltzer. Throw in a bunch of other poems, and a small brochure with black-and-white stills from a Berman film, and it’s a very solid issue.

My favorite poem in the issue is an untitled one by Philip Lamantia, with the first line, “Ah Blessed Virgin Mary”(it also appeared in Lamantia’s book Ekstasis, published in 1959 too). Here’s an image of the poem, scanned from the small sheet insert in Semina 4, followed by the text:

Ah Blessed Virgin Mary
pray for me I live in you
to sleep in God
and die in God
to praise His Holy Name

O Blessed Virgin Mary
ask Jesus to embed in me
a sword of sorrow
to kill my sin
my sin that wounds His Wounds

Tell him I have eyes only for Heaven
as I look to you
         Queen    mirror
of the heavenly court
This poem, as I remember from talking to Philip in 1999 or 2000, has a harrowing mid-1950s incident in Mexico as one of its back stories or starting points. Lamantia was stung by a scorpion, and had a severe reaction.

For several hours a high fever raged, and off and on a semi-coma settled over him. Lamantia levitated off the bed on which he lay, actually or via his blistered imagination (hey, I wasn’t there). When he would awake, a cry from within would arise, though from precisely where he could not tell, and he would call, repeatedly, “Madonna.” He had never called “Madonna” before, and in fact had been entirely anti-Catholic since rebelling against the tradition years before, as a young boy.

Of course, none of this story is told in the poem, which simply and directly invokes the Virgin Mary. However, the poem burns with the intensity of la picadura del escorpión. Nowhere is this intensity more dramatic than the first line of the last stanza, in which Lamantia asks Mary to:
Tell him I have eyes only for Heaven
which is a most memorable statement of resolute religious verve. And via the equivalencies of Berman’s guiding principle, it might be read too as reflecting a determined passion for love and creativity too.

In this regard, several years ago the UC Berkeley Art Museum exhibited work by Jay DeFeo, a great artist from San Francisco and the Bay Area who first received public notice in the late 1950s. One of those wall-mounted information cards at the museum explained that DeFeo had the above-displayed Lamantia poem (a manuscript or fair copy version, presumably) at her side in the late ‘50s while she worked on her huge (four feet tall by eight feet long) graphite on paper drawing titled, “The Eyes.” Although this drawing did not appear in Berman’s Semina (though DeFeo and he were close friends), I can’t resist sharing here an image of the work, at the close of my discussion of Berman’s magazine, given that its intensity matches almost precisely that of Lamantia’s poem, and of Berman’s precept that Art is Love is God:

Jay DeFeo
The Eyes


issue number nine
(September 18, 1959)
8.5 x 11 inches
Editors: Bob Kaufman & Bill Margolis

How’s that for a funky cover drawing, even if it does depict – as it states at the bottom – the Coffee Gallery, a popular North Beach spot at the time?

Beatitude began in 1959 and in its original incarnation ran 16 issues until 1960 when it went out (until it returned in a new version) in relatively grand style: a perfect-bound anthology published by City Lights. A preface to that anthology explains, “[t]he original Beatitude magazine was conceived by Allen Ginsberg, Bob Kaufman and John Kelly or someone at Cassandra’s coffee house in May 1959.” That preface also states the ‘zine was a:
weekly miscellany of poetry and jazz designed to extol the beauty and promote the beatific life among the various mendicants, neo-existentialists, christs, poets, painters, musicians and other inhabitants and observers of North Beach, San Francisco, California, United States of America . . . .
Issue 9 also includes a report or preface by the editors, and it’s so . . .well, it seems so much of its time, I just have to paste it up right here (please click to enlarge on a new page, if you can’t fully make it out to red here):

There are many great poems in the issue, including Philip Whalen’s “Sourdough Mountain Lookout,” an important and substantial poem that gloriously fills four full-sized pages and incorporates, among other things, quotations from Heraclitus, Empedocles, Buddha, the poet’s father and grandmother, a sign seen on a street, and an unnamed child apparently overheard in a train car. The other poets in the issue who probably would be recognized by most today include Ginsberg, Brautigan, Lamantia, Meltzer, Ron Padgett, Peter Orlovsky, Glen Coffield, and Bob Kaufman.

The poem by Kaufman is especially noteworthy. First, I don’t believe it has been re-published, ever. These sorts of “almost lost” poems (one of the Lamantia poems in the issue similarly has not yet been re-published) fascinate me; it’s like finding a dusty box in the back of a drawer: it might hold a treasure, or at least something really neat.

The Kaufman poem is also shaped, the only one in the issue and not that common in general (though Lamantia had published some in Ekstasis in 1959). The configuration of Kaufman’s poem, I think, is particularly significant, as it reflects again the religious instincts, or the use of religious iconography, that seems to have been common among San Francisco poets at the time.

The title of Kaufman’s poem is the single word, “Five.” It presumably comes from the number of sections within the poem. It’s plain and humble, deflecting almost all attention to the words of the actual poem. And the words? Well, they seem . . . well, you know what, I’m just going to put it out there, and let you see (click on image of the poem to enlarge on a new page, if you please):

You know what reading this poem makes me feel like? It makes me feel just about like this:

Mount Davidson
(at 925 feet, the highest point in San Francisco)
(with 103-foot cross at its peak)


Dear readers, our little time-traveling trip has come to an end, at least for now. I hope you’ve enjoyed the visits with J, The Anagogic & Paideumic Review, Semina, and Beatitude, vintage 1959. Thanks much for coming along, and here’s wishing you a great do-it-yourself time!


Golden Gate Bridge ------------Thelonius Monk (circa 1959) on a cable car------------Golden Gate Bridge


Conrad DiDiodato said...


this blog article was a trip! Thanx.

Always learning here.

Ed Baker said...


you did a terrific job with this post

this year going (if I can get a date)(with someone still alive) to my 50 th high school reunion..

drop by I'll show you my little stash of mimeo-graphed "stuff"


Don Share said...

This is terrific stuff! Thank you!!

Martinelli's is a fabulous story. She deserves a whole big bio to herself. Harvard has an incredible portrait she made of Pound whilst involved with him; it jumps off the paper... was hid in a closet for many years!

Anyhow, bravo.

Steven Fama said...

Thanks much Conrad, Ed, and Don for stopping in and for the kind words.

Don -- I've a tiny (literally) booklet of Martinelli paintings with a preface by Ez -- I'm away on business for a few days but when I get back I'll check it as I can't remember if it includes any portrait of Pound (it was published in the late 50s, as I recall, and is uncommon). If it doesn't have it, will have to put a trip to Harvard on the list of things to do some day....(though even getting over or up to the Bancroft at Berkeley seems to be a challenge to me these days, sad to say).

Steven Fama said...

(And Ed, when I get to Harvard, I'll swing by your place too (hey, it's all "back East" to me!) -- but really Ed, thanks much for the offer, and I hope to get there someday!

jpc said...

Thanks very much for this, especially the Kaufman poem!

Jason said...

Any chance that you have extra copies of J available for sale?

Steven Fama said...

Sorry Jason, no, but best wish in your seeking and finding!

leebrass said...

Hi Steven,
writing to you from Paris, working on a project about Dylan;
The Song Green Rocky Road that Dave Van Ronk covered in '63 was co-written
by Len Chandler & Bob Kaufman. Kaufman, in the Beatitude anthology, said the magazine
was conceived by him, Ginsberg and John Kelly..."or someone at Cassandra's coffee house in May 1959"
any idea what this place is? Co-Existence Bagel Shop ? Coffee Gallery ? other?
thanks for you time,
Ps: great job