Joglars and post-New American Poetry

Joglars 1 & 2 (1964)Scholars frequently cite the importance of the little magazines for literary production but, with some noteworthy exceptions--Steve Evans, Alan Golding, Daniel Kane, Libbie Rifkin, Linda Russo, Susan Vanderborg--rarely spend time much considering them in-depth. The correspondence between Clark Coolidge and Michael Palmer, who co-edited Joglars (1964-1966), offers a unique glimpse into the activity of two young poet-publishers sizing up the literary field as they find it. Their letters (housed at the SUNY-Buffalo Poetry Collection) are filled with discussions of whom to solicit work from as well as favorable reactions to the magazine from poets and artists spanning several generations and affiliations. And though it ran for only three issues in two years, Joglars telescopes into that short space a long view of post-New American poetries, occasionally looking back to Modernist precursors of the Allen anthology but most often looking ahead to where the work was going.

            When Coolidge met George Palmer (who then went by his first rather than middle name) at the so-called Vancouver Poetry Conference in 1963, they hit it off immediately. As Palmer recalls in an interview with Peter Gizzi,

we took to each other instantly and started immediately talking about, well, jazz of course, John Cage, and composing aleatory works on the typewriter as people had conversations, and that sort of thing. The musical connection--both jazz and new music--was an immediate opening for both of us because we were both very much involved in that world. (Exact Change Yearbook #1 [1995], 172)

Charles Olson encouraged Coolidge, Palmer and Fred Wah (a poet and editor who had been involved wth the TISH group in Vancouver) to start their own magazine, largely, Coolidge recalls, to publish Olson and his contemporaries. But the physical distance between countries and coasts (Coolidge and Palmer both living in New England at the time), along with other logistical difficulties, quickly proved insurmountable, and Wah had to bow out of the project.

            By November 1963, Coolidge writes Palmer with insistent encouragement from another of the elder poets they met in Vancouver: “Already Creeley writes me: ‘I thought you people were going to start something--not to bug you, but do keep moving--otherwise things begin to clog, and one is left stuck etc.’” Here is one of the cardinal tenets of projective verse, “to keep moving,” in a most practical application.

            A few weeks later, Coolidge writes Palmer  with news of solicitations that begin to give a sense of the editorial sensibilities that will shape Joglars: “Have also letters out to [Ron] Loewinsohn, Phil W[halen], Jonathan [Williams], etc.” One of the more exciting prospects is a submission from the under-acknowleged modernist master Zukofsky: “Louis Z. says all new work is presently committed elsewhere but he wants in, very much.” Four days later, Coolidge elaborates:

Can’t remember if I wrote you of Louis’ reply (?) anyhoo he says: “I’ve no new work that’s not committed, but we’ll talk about it in time. Go on, if you will, with your newsletter for the others, meanwhile, get settled, prosper, etc. . . . . love, etc.” He also says -- come see him when in NYC, talk, etc. Knowing Louis, it sounds promising, sympathetic, etc.

In this same letter Coolidge responds favorably to what is apparently a suggestion from Palmer to solicit another under-acknowledged modernist master: “Lorine Niedecker!!! -- yes! sure, why didn’t I think of her? She’s a friend of Louis’ -- maybe thru him. . . . (or reprint some poems from old ‘New Goose’ (?)),” and then continuing that he is “still awaiting word from Whalen (Allen & McClure), Loewinsohn, Olson, Jonathan. Any other idees?”

            At this point we can begin to get a sense of the view that Coolidge and Palmer were taking of the poetic field and the picture of it they were trying to capture and create in their magazine. The names that Coolidge mentions in these letters point to three distinct areas of the New American poetic landscape. First, there is Black Mountain poetics as represented by Olson, Creeley, and Jonathan Williams. Second are poets from the Bay area and with Beat affiliations (even if Donald Allen did not place them all in the Beat section of his anthology), namely Philip Whalen, Ron Loewinsohn, Allen Ginsberg and Michael McClure. Third, and already alluded to earlier, are the modernists Zukofsky and Niedecker, very much fellow travelers in the Objectivist poetics that the former first outlined in the celebrated February 1931 special issue of Poetry magazine that Zukofsky edited. After roughly two decade in which a number of the original Objectivist poets either toiled in almost complete obscurity (Zukofsky and Niedecker) or stopped writing poetry altogether (George Oppen, Carl Rakosi), something of an Objectivist renaissance began in the early 1960s.

            As Ron Silliman writes, somewhat hyperbolically, “Objectivism’s third or renaissance period was marked by the resurrection of the works of Zukofsky, Oppen, Basil Bunting, Carl Rakosi, Charles Reznikoff and Lorine Niedecker to public attention virtually overnight in the early 1960s” (New Sentence 136). In fact, this renaissance might be seen taking place less “virtually overnight in the early 1960s” than over the course of said decade, with Oppen’s winning the 1969 Pulitzer Prize as a culminating achievement. In any case, what should be noted here is that by targeting Zukofsky and Niedecker for submissions to their magazine in late 1963, Coolidge and Palmer are staking out a position in the literary field that attempts to reassert the value of Zukofsky and Niedecker and thus make a decisive contribution to the Objectivist renaissance.