Monday, May 14, 2007

 

Tottel’s is now online. At least partly. Craig Dworkin’s Eclipse archive, which, in its own words, is dedicated to “digital facsimiles of the most radical small-press writing from the last quarter century” is in the process of making my 1970s ‘zine its 100th collection. JPEG photo files of every page of all 18 issues are now available. “Reading copies” of each issue in PDF format will follow shortly. This feels particularly amazing to me since no issue of Tottel’s had more than 150 copies and some of the early ones may have had as few as 50. Two libraries – NYPL and SUNY Buffalo – took out subscriptions early on, but their collections may be the only other complete (or near complete) sets in the world.

I got the idea of trying a magazine in the fall of 1968 while I was a student in the creative writing program at San Francisco State. My linguistics professor, Ed van Aelstyn, one of the founding editor’s of Coyote’s Journal, argued that if I was a poet, I should have a magazine – it would give me a chance to contact all of the poets whose work I admired, sharpen my own critical thinking about poetry, and even give me the chance to print my own work. The late d alexander helped immeasurably when he heard from mutual friend Clayton Eshleman that I had embarked on this venture & showed up one day at my door with his address book in hand. d – his full first name – had been editing Odda Talla for a few years at that point & knew the whereabouts of just about every living New American or otherwise post-avant poet in the U.S. And Canada, as it so happened – the subsequent appearance of Daphne Marlatt in Tottel’s was certainly his doing. d hosted Marlatt at his home in the hills behind Stanford & persuaded me to screw up the courage to ask Ken Irby to let me ride along with him & David Bromige – in those years, Irby was the only one of us who even knew how to drive. On our way there, we stopped at a liquor store near d’s to pick up a six pack only to find ourselves standing in line behind Tennessee Ernie Ford.

Ted Enslin, John Thorpe & Chuck Stein were other names that emerged from d’s address book, as were some folks who don’t appear in Tottel’s, most notably Armand Schwerner. I accepted some of Schwerner’s Tablets for my embryonic journal, which I was calling Alpha Sort, but by the time the initial issue of Tottel’s showed up, Armand’s work was already widely available in his first Black Sparrow collection of those poems.

As the hand-scripted logo from the first issue above may attest, one thing I clearly didn’t have a clue about was the production of any publication. I was also living on little more than $100 per month in those days, which didn’t leave me much in the way of resources to pay for printing, let alone typesetting & design. So I found myself for about two years with a stack of work that just sat there as I felt more & more guilty & confused about what to do. Even now, some three dozen years later, when somebody asks me for work for a something that never emerges – where is Leslie Davis’s anthology, Poetry and the Year 2000? – I always keep in mind that I’ve been there too and know precisely what that’s like.

What finally go me going was an unsolicited submission from David Gitin that I felt was just too good not to publish – the work’s neo-Objectivist impulses totally persuaded me – but that brought me face-to-face with the nasty reality that soliciting work & just sitting on it wasn’t “publishing,” but quite the opposite – I was keeping what I felt was significant work from getting out. So I finally went for an option that at the time I thought was inventing on the spot – I trundled down to the local Krishna Copy shop in Berkeley and had the first five-page issue photocopied. I chose a different title, that of the first anthology of poetry in English, both to connect what I thought I was doing to the larger stream of literature and to separate it out from what I thought of as the debacle of Alpha Sort. Gitin’s poems actually turn up in the second issue.

I was very much interested in defining this project as new. I didn’t even know enough to date the first issue, but it was probably December 1970 or January of 1971. I had separated from my first wife, Rochelle Nameroff, in late October 1970 after a five-year marriage & was living in a backyard cottage in North Oakland. At some level, finally getting off the dime on a publication helped to mark the difference between my former life & the one towards which I was optimistically plunging ahead.

Tottel’s has sometimes been referred to as the first language poetry journal &, in the narrow sense that it beat This magazine to print by a few months, this may be true. In 1969, David Melnick & I had co-edited a selection of “Fifteen Young Poets the San Francisco Bay Area” for the Chicago Review – it appeared in the summer 1970 issue, not long before I took the first Tottel’s to the copy shop. We had had the opportunity at the time to include the writing of Rae Armantrout & Robert Grenier in that selection, but for different reasons failed to do so. In Rae’s case, I think we just lacked self-confidence that one of our fellow students at Berkeley was “ready” to publish. In Grenier’s case, I think we worried that Chicago Review would reject the entire project if we tried to include something like

STEAM

inside

in our manuscript. I’m not persuaded even now that the latter fear wasn’t reasonable, but I was determined not to make the same mistake twice and included five poems from Grenier’s Sentences in the first issue – possibly the first appearance anywhere of that seminal work. The third issue was devoted entirely to Armantrout’s poetry, and the fifth to Grenier’s. Two of the poems in the Armantrout number have survived all the way to her selected poems, Veil. So much for her not having been ready. Other single-author issues included David Gitin (#7), Thomas Meyer (9), Clark Coolidge (11), Ray DiPalma (12), David Melnick (13), Bruce Andrews (14), Larry Eigner (15) and Steve Benson (18). That’s a pretty good line-up after all these years.

One non-contributor whose presence in Tottel’s I also enjoyed was Phil Whalen, who can be seen climbing atop & then jumping from a large rock at the San Francisco Zen Center on the cover of issue 17. I forget how exactly I came by that selection. Somebody gave me the photos as a lark at some point & I recall writing away for permission to use them & waiting anxiously until I got a note back that said, basically, “Sure.”

A more ominous cover ran on the 16th issue, which made use of the execution record form from San Quentin, at the time the only document used by the California Department of Corrections that actually called a prisoner a prisoner rather than a resident or a client. This was something that I picked up on the job during the years I worked in the prisoner rights’ movement.

The sixty real contributors to Tottel’s included each of the following:

Keith Abbott

Tom Ahern

d alexander

Bruce Andrews

Rae Armantrout

Barbara Baracks

Steve Benson

Charles Bernstein

Ted Berrigan

Harvey Bialy

David Bromige

Robert David Cohen

Clark Coolidge

Alan Davies

Lee De Jasu

Raymond DiPalma

Mike Doyle

Lynne Dreyer

Larry Eigner

Theodore Enslin

Seymour Faust

Curtis Faville

David Gitin

John Gorham

Bob Grenier

Lyn Hejinian

Joyce Holland

William B. Hunt

Ken Irby

Robert Kelly

Michael Lally

Iven Lourie

Jackson Mac Low

Lewis MacAdams

Paul Mariah

Daphne Marlatt

David McAleavey

Brian McInerney

David Melnick

Thomas Meyer

Rochelle Nameroff

Opal L. Nations

Bob Perelman

David Perry

Jim Preston

Margaret Randall

Jerome Rothenberg

Dennis Schmitz

Ron Silliman

Charles Stein

Richard Tagett

John Taggart

John Thorpe

Michael Torlen

Keith Waldrop

Rosmarie Waldrop

Barrett Watten

Hannah Weiner

Michael Wiater

Karl Young

Not a perfect list – I’m appalled to think I never printed Kit Robinson, Carla Harryman, Tom Mandel, Ted Pearson, Alan Bernheimer, Beverly Dahlen, Leslie Scalapino, Steve Ratcliffe, Erica Hunt, Aaron Shurin, Bob Glück, Norman Fischer, Kathy Acker, Steve Vincent etc. etc. etc., all of whom I knew in the 1970s – but a decent one overall.

Eclipse, the host institution, so to speak, is becoming one of the major archival sites for poetry of the last half century. Tottel’s is my third item in the Eclipse archive, as my issue of Stations dedicated to the work of Clark Coolidge and Legend, the booklength collaborative poem I wrote with Charles Bernstein, Ray DiPalma, Steve McCaffery & Bruce Andrews are already there. But I’m also in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, whose complete archives are here, and the index to This magazine. The archive also has some 15 books by Clark Coolidge, the complete books of David Melnick, Rae Armantrout’s first book, nine books by Bruce Andrews, five books by Lyn Hejinian, four by Robert Grenier (not including, alas, Cambridge M’ass, the giant poster of a book), all of the important early works by Bernadette Mayer, and all manner of really rare items, including books by N.H. Pritchard, the African-American avant-gardist, Peter Seaton’s great Agreement or Alden Van Buskirk’s Lami, one of the lost works of the Beat generation. I keep hoping that Dworkin eventually will add all of the early volumes of Coyote’s Journal, or Caterpillar, or Yugen or C. But like such sister sites as UBU, EPC & PENNsound, I’ll wager that Dworkin is doing this on a shoestring, sweat equity all the way beyond, perhaps, storage on a university server somewhere. It’s ironic that the Poetry Foundation, with its endowment of $100-plus million, or even the Academy of American Poetry, have done so much less with so many more resources.

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