'A magazine of the leaf, a gathering of the tribes'
Begun in 1966 by Clayton Eshleman as a series of chapbooks by writers such as Jackson Mac Low, David Antin, and Louis Zukofsky, Caterpillar Books became Caterpillar: A Gathering of the Tribes (though the subtitle was quickly dropped) in October 1967 when Eshleman realized he “could cover more ground with a literary journal than with undistributable chapbooks.” In a 2008 dialogue in Jacket, Eshleman says that he “wanted to do a magazine based on Cid Corman's Origin, but one that was bigger and more burly, taking on more ‘fronts’ than Cid had engaged.” There was no other magazine around at the time, Eshleman felt, that “was going to let us gather and do our thing in one (hopefully) noisy space.” Each issue ran for over 100 pages, and was commercially produced. Throughout the run of its 20 issues, Caterpillar featured the work of a wide range of up-and-coming poets and artists, while also publishing those associated with the magazine's precursors, Black Mountain Review and Origin. In the January 1968 issue, for instance, you can find letters by Cid Corman, poems by Hugh Seidman, Robert Duncan, and Cesar Vallejo, film stills by Carolee Schneemann, and paintings and drawings by Nora Jaffe.
As noted in Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips' seminal catalog of little magazines from the 1960s and 70s, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, Caterpillar was as attentive to works in translation as it was to works of visual and performance art; it included “translation tests,” placing different translations of one poem side-by-side so readers could compare the versions. Poetry by Artaud, Rilke, Celan, Montale, Cavafy, Lorca, Vallejo, and others was featured in the magazine, especially in the earlier issues, as Eshleman “sensed that the emphasis on translation was less crucial...than it had been before, and that the bulk of attention should be given to what we were doing,” as he notes in a piece for Evening Will Come.
Theodore Grieder, the one-time Director of Fales Library, began purchasing the Caterpillar archive in the late 1960s, providing Eshleman with enough funding to continue printing the magazine for several years. Eshleman ended Caterpillar in the spring of 1973, when he and his wife Caryl were preparing to leave for France. He would start Sulfur in 1981, which had a much longer run of forty-six issues and nineteen years; Wesleyan printed A Sulfur Anthology just last year. There was also A Caterpillar Anthology, which collected the first twelve issues of the magazine, published by Doubleday in 1971, but it is now out of print.