Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wormwood, and Others

Marvin Malone, who was the editor of the Wormwood Review for almost its entire long run, sounds like he must have been an interesting person. A pharmacologist and educator with a long resumé of scholarly papers and professional accomplishments, he somehow found time to more or less single-handedly put out this little saddle-stitched avant-garde quarterly, which regularly featured such (now) well-known contributors as Charles Bukowski and Billy Collins as well as a host of other writers whose names would have been familiar mostly only to each other, if that.

The Wormwood Review got its start in 1959 in Mt. Hope, Connecticut and almost disappeared after its second number. Malone got involved with #3, eventually took it with him when he relocated to California, and kept at it until the final regular issue, number 144, which appeared posthumously in 1997. A bit of a writer and artist himself, he often used pseudonyms — A. Sypher, Ernest Stranger — to mask his own contributions. The cover art shown here, including the anamorphic design of issue #72, is probably all his work.

Some of the numbers were special issues devoted to the work of one poet, which is why #63 is Ronald Koertge's Cheap Thrills! on the cover and #59 is Lyn Lifshin's Paper Apples. For #70 he created a quasi-anagram from the title.

Each of the above issues was limited to 700 numbered copies, a few of which were signed. There's an excellent website devoted to the Wormwood Review, by the way, featuring a history, complete index, and tributes from some of Malone's regular contributors.

Perhaps due to geographic accident, there's no mention of Malone or of Wormwood Review in Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips's A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980, which documents many of the little magazines which were published around the same time, particularly in New York and San Francisco. Their book does, however, mention Dennis Cooper's Little Caesar, shown below, which featured some of the same contributors and ran from 1976-1980. Little Caesar included a few photographs and had a bit of a fanzine style but overall it had the same home-made, one-man shop feel as Wormwood Review.

Nausea, edited and published by one Leo Mailman out of Long Beach, California, was another small magazine of the time, in the same trim size and saddle-stitched format as the ones above. This number, from the Fall of 1975, includes Collins and Wormwood Review regular Gerald Locklin among its contributors. Nausea imitated Wormwood Review in devoting a page or so at the back to the addresses of similar publications.

Finally, not a journal but very much from the same publishing scene is this chapbook from 1975, Tarzan and Shane Meet the Toad which collects the work of three poets, all of whom would have been familiar to the readers of Wormwood Review. It was published by the Russ Haas Press, also in Long Beach.

How lastingly significant was any of this? (Keep in mind that there were dozens, probably scores of comparable magazines at the time, each reflecting the interests and talents of their editors and contributors.) I can't honestly say that most of the material here appeals to my particular literary taste, and some of it is frankly no better (and no less narcissistic) than what appears in the average college or even high school literary magazine, but at least it was lively, it was energetic, and now and then these little chapbooks may have rescued a few gems from oblivion. Everything shown above came from one library book sale I went to a number of years ago. If I hadn't happened to be there that day, if these copies had wound up unsold and pitched in a dumpster, would anyone have been better or worse off? I can't answer that question. The small magazine scene lives on, of course, and today it's often integrated with web-only publications, but I hope in its anarchic way it will continue to leave a paper trail here and there.

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