THE RELEVANCE OF LITERARY MAGAZINES
William Claire is the founding editor and publisher of “Voyages”, a national literary magazine, of which Anaïs Nin has been a contributor and ad visor. His poems have appeared in “The Antioch Review”, “Nation”, “American Scholar”, “New Republic”, “New York Quarterly”, and elsewhere. He appears contained and proper in a dark blue suit. His voice is deep and friendly.
Anaïs introduces him:
I first met Bill Claire through “Voyages”. The title appealed to me very much and I was pleased to be put on the advisory board. The magazine always had beautiful photographs and articles about the poets. Bill Claire, himself, would send you poems occasionally on yellow paper while he was attending interminable meetings, as a lobbyist for peace. He was a poet too and very modest about it. (To Claire) I don’t think you published your own things in your magazine?
WILLIAM CLAIRE: Nothing.
ANAÏS: That’s being over-modest.
WILLIAM CLAIRE: I’m delighted to be here but Miss Steloff is a very tough act to follow. I hope everybody has been to The Gotham. I’ve been a book nut all of my life and have been in every used book store in the United States and some abroad, and consider The Gotham Book Mart certainly the best in the country – and for literary magazine people, it’s everything.
Frances: I’ve seen you there.
WILLIAM: “Voyages” for six years has always sold out at The Gotham Book Mart, which is not true in any other store so it’s wonderful to share the morning with you.
Anaïs was of great value to my magazine as an advisory editor from the beginning. She was not at all like another famous man whom I wrote to of my dreams for starting a magazine and his being an advisory editor. I said there had never been anything like this in Washington where I live. He wrote back and said he’d be delighted to be an advisory editor if I took his advice. I wrote back and said sure, “What’s your advice?”
He said, “Don’t start a literary magazine.” But he did become an advisory editor and a very good one. But the importance of Anaïs was that through her I was put in touch with several writers whom I published: Marguerite Young – on whom I hope to do a special issue some day, because she is one of the most compelling writers of our time; – Daisy Aldan, E.M. Esker on the West Coast, poet Natalie Robbins from New York, Wayne McEvilly in Mexico, and several others who have given a certain flavor to the magazine.
(To Anaïs) I’m deeply grateful to you for that. You kept me in touch with writers all over the world. Some I haven’t published. I never had the feeling that if you sent me a piece there was any compulsion to publish it and so some were sent back. But unlike any other advisory editor you have contributed to the flavor of the magazine, for which I am deeply grateful.
Now about the possible importance of literary magazines in our society in early days I published in much the same way Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, described in connection with some drawings that he published in magazines:
In a world cluttered and programmed with an infinity of practical signs and consequential digits referring to business, law, government, and war, one who makes such non-descript marks as these is conscious of a special vocation to be inconsequent, to be outside the sequence, and to remain firmly alien to the program. In effect these writings are decidedly hopeful in their own way insofar as they stand outside all processes of production, marketing, consumption and destruction, which does not mean however that they cannot be bought. Nevertheless it is clear that these are not legal marks nor are they illegal marks since as far as law is concerned they are perfectly inconsequent. And to be perfectly inconsequent in terms of the supposed consequential matters is to me the essence of a literary magazine. This presumes that the more advanced a technological society becomes, the more important individual endeavors are, in a practical sense. Not only for the purpose of one’s sanity but also because it is the only way civilization, if it deserves to advance at all, might proceed.
At another level, Primus St. John, a black poet friend of mine from the inner-city, once wrote me, ‘WHEN THE WORLD GETS YOU DOWN, FOOL IT WITH A POEM.’ The same point of view applies to all your endeavors from pottery to painting.
Unfortunately, little magazines have to deal with outside influences like distributors, post offices, whose increasing rates threaten to drive many of them out of business, and others who would like to exploit the magazine for one purpose or another. Even in a private endeavor with a total sense of independence, you have to deal with those who would want in some way to subvert it or to have you sell out. And there is nothing that disturbs the Establishment more than something they cannot understand and there’s no conceivable way for them to understand a little magazine.
In reaction to this, however, some editors tend to become overly political. They become anarchists and act as if they are always marching against the Czar. And it’s very difficult to march against the Czar with a mimeograph machine. You just can’t win. So if I ever have another magazine and publish a manifesto I will probably have a blank page. I think it’s good to rant and rave against the established forces, but I’m increasingly inclined to think that it would be just better to fill the world with poems, with stories, with photographs and make that kind of presence without preaching and I dare say often without politics. Although a magazine needs to resist even the pressures to resist, the best ones seem to move beyond the reflections of an individual’s tastes and whatever limitations that might entail.
In the five or six years since I’ve had the good ship “Voyages” going, we’ve had many interesting trips. But I come here this weekend hoping to find from all of you possible new areas in which I may move, new areas that I would like to explore. Just as Wallace Stevens had a poem about “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”, so I have developed 10 commandments for a literary magazine: These are not the ‘shalt nots” of childhood repression, but 10 commandments for this gathering this weekend. Here they are:
1. Thou shalt try to discover new writers who are saying new things, or old things in new ways.
2. Thou shalt try to discover experienced writers who are saying old or new things in a way that is unique.
3. Thou shalt try to get experienced or old writers to say things that they didn’t know they were capable of saying.
4. Thou shalt keep the magazine open to experimentation and styles of writing that you might not necessarily agree with.
5. Thou shalt provide writers with space in which to move about. Poems are not fillers in a magazine and deserve a full page.
6. Make each issue a new event and have each issue evolve in the process of development … For my own protection I should mention that several years ago I did an issue devoted to women writers.
7. Thou shalt attempt to produce a magazine that has good paper, printing, and design, which hopefully people will want to keep, not throw away like “The New York Times” or “Atlantic Monthly”.
8. Thou shalt try to remain totally outside the commercial realm if possible and even the academic one, with all due apologies.
9. Also be wary of people with subsidies because my early experience was that the larger the subsidy, the more poems this person had to be published in a closet or drawer.
10. And, finally, thou shalt remember in the end that society will probably never admit that there is a price for this kind of magazine since it follows no prescribed rules, fits into no easy compartment, never, I hope, comes out on a regular basis; and the magazine to the best of its ability affirms continuing openness to new methods of expression and independence from any form of regimentation and generally tries to preserve its real virtue – humor – and the opportunity for hope that new writers can say whatever it is they have to say.
That is all I really want to say, but in connection with the question of treating the woman writer as woman rather than just as poet or artist, I’d like to add that recently I was talking with Gloria Steinem about her magazine, “Ms”, and told her that I thought that she was missing most of the good writing that was going on in America by women, if not all. I mentioned unfamiliar names to her and simply said, “try to find these.” I fear that possibly the women’s thing may become exploitable by people who have the profit motive. When I did the woman’s issue, I wrote the following note:
In a country as startlingly surrealistic as the United States, it is rarely a good idea to try to develop themes in anything at all. When that subject might happen to be woman, the whole notion of a unifying concept becomes absurd. This issue of “Voyages” started out to be a woman issue, but the notion was abandoned. No overview or underview of any kind is intended here although it will soon be obvious that most of the contributions happen to be by or about women. We are honored to call special attention to the American poet, Josephine Miles of California and Jane Cooper of New York City. Ms. Miles is the kind of well known poet about whom enough good things can never be said and Ms. Cooper is just on the verge of establishing herself through the publication of her first book due in 1969.
This is the real sense of satisfaction: we did a special feature on Jane Cooper and six months later she won the Lamont Poetry Prize for her first book. So that’s the real joy in literary magazines. It’s nice to have the established writers and the famous writers but to … now I did not discover her … give writers like her special treatment before her first book, is something I like to remember. Then I had a long piece by Carolyn Gordon and Harry Peebles on Twiggy, of all people to show how outdated this is, although this article isn’t dated. I was also extremely proud to publish the section by Anaïs on the relationship of her work to her famous Diaries. As I wrote:
If anybody could symbolize all of the finest qualities of the feminine gender, Anaïs Nin is that person. Her extraordinary role in literature is just beginning to be felt, although she has been in fact an international hero to writers and artists since the 1930’s. There are too many other fine writers in this issue to single out by name but we hope the careful reader will note the divergence of styles, the various geographical background, and both the strangeness and sometimes startling clarity of some of the material. If it all seems too diverse, too strange, and ultimately lacking in any theme, so often goes the journey of the mind.
This was my effort some five years ago of bringing together various women writers. I’m just trying to say I’m all for you.