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abel debritto | ole and other “mimeos”: charles bukowski as a spiritual leader

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Ole and other “mimeos”: Charles Bukowski as a Spiritual Leader

The mimeograph revolution is usually considered the peak of the literary explosion of the 60s. Nevertheless, as is the case when defining little magazines or small press, “mimeo revolution” is a misleading term. On the one hand, as Clay explains, “the ‘rnimeo revolution,1 as a term, is a bit of a misnomer in the sense that well over half the materials produced were not strictly produced on the mimeograph machine” (15). As a matter of fact, there were more offset “littles” than mimeographed ones. As Fulton illustrates with a series of tables and graphs, there was a substantial increase of offset-produced “littles” in the 60s (26). On the other hand, though it is usually said that the “mimeo revolution” took place circa 1965, many editors had been publishing mimeographed magazines for a long time. For instance, the first “mimeo,” Gyroscope, dates back to 1929 (Clay 16). A milestone “little” from the 40s, The Ark (1947), was also mimeographed. J (1959) and Beatitude (1959) were equally mimeographed. Some of the early Bukowski periodical publications-Mer/m’s Magic, Anagogic & Paideumic Review, Simbolica, to name a few—were mimeographed as well.

The mimeographed “littles,” or “mimeos,” were relatively easy to produce and extremely inexpensive. As Ed Sanders, editor of Fuck You, one of the most representative magazines of the “mimeo revolution,” recalled, “printing was affordable, very, very affordable. For like $10 you could publish a poetry magazine and give it out or sell it at your poetry readings” (L. Smith 119). According to other editors, such as Douglas Blazek, the cost could be anywhere between 75 and 125 dollars. At any rate, the production cost of the “mimeos” was not excessive to most poets and editors: hence, financial concerns did not prevent poets from becoming editors.

Another feature of the “mimeos,” and one that especially delighted Bukowski, was its sense of immediacy: “Perhaps the single greatest advantage borne by the mimeo machine is speed … As bothe typesetter and printer, the editor had full control over the timing and general quality of his publication” (Fulton 31). Though quality was not always taken into account, it is true that speed played an important role in producing “mimeos.” Since no special training was required to operate the mimeographs, “if you had a decent and well-maintained machine, you could produce a flyer or a broadside in as little time as an hour, and a chapbook in a day” (Young 159). Bukowski was usually harsh on most editors, but he did praise those who were quick to print his work, such as Evelyn Thorne and Will Tullos (Epos) or Roy Miller and George Hitchcock (San Francisco Review). For this reason, he was pleased with the “mimeo” editors, as he would be with John Bryan and his underground newspaper, Open City. “I like ACTION. I mean, you know how some of the mags move, something very deadening about it … that’s one reason I have been writing a column a week for Open City -so far. ACTION. It jumps from the typewriter onto the page. I hand it to Bryan, ZAP, it EXPLODES” (Poems Written Before 38), Bukowski explained to Charles Potts in 1968.

Though biographer Neeli Cherkovski -somewhat romantically- argues that “the poor paper stocks the editors used and the careless printing jobs were statements of their disdain for established journals” (158), it was quite possible that the mimeograph editors simply put the immediate, affordable nature of the “mimeos” before any other factor. The fact that “mimeos” were poorly produced did not mean that their editors were criticizing the so-called “slick” journals. The “disdain” that Cherkovski mentions could be taken as a consequence of the means involved in producing a mimeographed magazine, but hardly as a raison d’etre. As Bukowski suggests: “The “Mimeo1 Revolution is sometimes more revolting than revolutionary -printing hasty faded careless and misspelled poems and stories. Yet I do suppose that the very lack of pressure and expense does create a freedom from which arises some good hotbed literature” (“Who’s Big” 9). Despite the poor quality of the final product, perhaps the main motivation of the “mimeo” editors was creating -and distributing- literature.

d.a. levy did disdain the established journals, though, and he made it abundantly clear in his work. All studies cite levy as the central figure of the “mimeo revolution,” as “one of the truly unique and authentic spirits” of the movement (Clay 48). Besides his several publishing ventures -where Bukowski’s work was featured- d.a. levy’s main contribution to the mimeograph revolution was his unshakeable effort to establish a well-connected network of editors willing to publish, as always, the “best new literature available” (Montag 282). As Lipman explains, “levy published work without institutional or corporate support; his independence necessitated collaboration with other individuals similarly committed to independent publishing” (170). levy, who defined himself as a “poeteditorpublisher” soon established an efficient editorial network with Morris Edelson (Quixote), Douglas Blazek (Ole), and D.R. Wagner (Runcible Spoon, Moonstones). Those magazines, * as well as others linked to this network of independent editors, were mimeographed. It is worth mentioning that all these editors published Bukowski in their “mimeos.” Some of them, such as D.R. Wagner or Morris Edelson, published him more than once in different magazines; in Blazek’s case, he published Bukowski in all Ole issues. Taking into account that “Blazek emerged as the editor of the ‘mimeo revulution’ …{And} Ole attained legendary proportions” (Mangelsdorff 36), the fact that Bukowski’s work became more and more popular makes perfect sense. >

Blazek, levy, Wagner and Edelson were not the only “mimeo” editors to publish Bukowski. The Mcorahwannah Quarterly, Ole, Runcible Spoon, Kauri, Intrepid, Magazine, Poetry Newsletter, ‘4 Grande Ronde Review, Litmus, Blitz, Salted Feathers, Wild Dog, Aspects, Floating Bear, Poetry Review and Fuck You: A Magazine for the Arts are usually listed as the most representative magazines from the “mimeo revolution.” All of them, save the four last “mimeos,” featured Bukowski’s work in their pages. ^ Though scholars (J. Smith 42) claim that Bukowski was published in Ed Sanders’ Fuck You, it seems that Bukowski did not even send his poetry to that magazine: “I have never submitted anything to Ed Sanders. I wonder where they get that stuff?” (Living 74). However, he fruitlessly tried to get published in Diane di Prima’s Floating Bear in 1966. In any case, it is evident that the “mimeo” editors appreciated Bukowski’s work, and their magazines contributed to turn him into a popular figure in the alternative literary scene. As Brewer put it, “aided by, and instrumental in, the so-called mimeograph revolution … the author’s stature as an underground poet, perhaps the underground poet, flourished” (3).

Despite the exposure received in the literary magazines that proliferated during the 50s and exploded into the “revolution” of the 60s, and despite the fact that his work was generously distributed via the network of “mimeo” editors, Bukowski professed no allegiance to any of these movements or any other schools. Bukowski was a literary outsider who took Ezra Pound’s “do your work” principle literally; the “littles,” newspapers, “mimeos,” and small presses were outlets for his prolific output, and he indiscriminately submitted bis work to all of them. It is wrong to assume that he felt closer to leftist or counter-culture ventures because he also submitted to right-wing or conservative publications and academic journals. Not surprisingly, his work was accepted and extensively published by representatives of all schools, groups, and ideologies.

Bukowski’s criticism of the “littles” could be scathing and unnecessarily categorical; needless to say, the hastily produced “mimeos” that would zealously publish him were not spared. In a 1960 letter to J.B. May, he complained that “the littles are an irresponsible bunch guided by young men .. starting with
fiery ideals and large ideas … and finally putting out a tacked-together, hacked-together poor selection of typographically botched poems before getting married and disappearing from the scene with some comment like ‘lack of support’” (Fullerton, 2 Jan. 1960). A decade later, in a lengthy autobiographical essay published in a “skin” magazine, Bukowski would claim that the “littles” from the 50s were “a much finer stomping ground” than the current literary magazines because they had “materialized into a bunch of operators with cheap mimeo setups that have become a dumping ground of very poor literature and poetry” (“Dirty Old Man Confesses” 76).

Criticism notwithstanding, the “mimeos” constituted a crucial stepping-stone to success in Bukowski’s early literary career. One of the editors who unquestionably contributed to his increasing popularity was Douglas Blazek, who would tirelessly champion Bukowski’s work, publishing him in all Ole issues and assembling a special Bukowski retrospective titled A Bukowski Sampler, discovered Bukowski in The Outsider -similarly, Blazek’s Ole was the mimeograph magazine where most emerging editors from the period first read Bukowski’s poetry and prose. The first Ole issue came out in 1964, and the eighth issue, the last one, was published in 1967. Blazek was such an ardent follower of Bukowski’s production, as shown by their correspondence from the period, that he printed his poems, short-stories, drawings, letters, and essays, as well as reviews about his work. As noted by several critics, Blazek considered Bukowski the “leader” of the ongoing “mimeo revolution” (Sounes 73; Fox 57). Ole was an “irreverant rag published in slapdash fashion with a mimeograph machine” (Baughan 42); Blazek’s motto, reproduced in the inaugural issue, read thus: “we prefer crude vigour to polished banality,” and he would define the magazine as “a homegrown rogue variant of Evergreen Review” (107). Indeed, the poorly produced nature of Ole stood in stark contrast to the sleek appearance of Evergreen Review. Bukowski, who defined the “mimeo” as a “powerhouse” (Screams 174), was so delighted by the “irreverent … slapdash” mimeographed venture and by its “crude vigour” that not only did he submit his work to Blazek in large quantities, but he also suggested other poets, such as Al Purdy, to do the same. Blazek and d.a. levy were, undoubtedly, the main driving force behind the mimeograph revolution, and Bukowski would underscore their relevance in the early 80s: “In those days most of the littles were fairly structured and snobbish. When Blazek and d.a. came along with their mimeos it gave a few of us some working room” (Reach 33). Therefore, it could be argued that d.a. levy’s The Marrahwannah Quarterly and Blazek’s Ole were the epitome of the “mimeos.”

Apart from publishing Bukowski’s work in all Ole issues, Blazek was also instrumental in persuading Bukowski to produce fiction in larger quantities. While critics such as Baughan asserted that “Blazek was also responsible for getting Bukowski to write prose again” (43), or J. Smith maintained that “one great thing that Blazek did for Bukowski was to encourage him back to writing prose” (60), and Cherkovski similarly stated that “Bukowski’s involvement with Ole helped propel him back to prose, an event of no small significance in his life” (160), it should be noted that such claims are not entirely accurate because Bukowski had published prose pieces in the early 60s, albeit not many. Nomad printed his prose “manifesto” in 1960; Simbolica two of his prose “dialogues” in 1960-61; the Anagogic & Paideumic Review a prose poetry “monologue” in 1960; Canto a short-story in 1961; Mainstream an editorially censored contribution to a symposium devoted to the little magazines in 1963; Literary Times a “commentary” titled “Examining My Peers” in 1964, and Notes from Underground the short-story “Murder” in 1964 as well, though the story had been first submitted to Mica and Evergreen Review in 1962. All those prose pieces predated “A Rambling Essay on Poetics and the Bleeding Life Written While Drinking a Six-Pack (Tall),” which would be the first time his prose was published by Blazek in Ole in 1965, although the essay had been penned in December 1964. However, it seems true that Blazek’s insistence on prodding Bukowski into writing longer and more accomplished prose pieces turned out to be a fruitful experience. The “A Rambling Essay…” manifesto, a “ranter” according to Bukowski (Reach 33), was enthusiastically received by the Ole readership: “the response among readers was tremendous, generating a flood of fan mail” (Baughan 43); Bukowski expressed a similar view in 1965, stressing Blazek’s spiritedness for running such an unusual piece: “it was kind of a loose thing, but have gotten more comment on that than on anything I have written, and I doubt that any other mag slick slim or snobbish would have run it” (Screams 174). Encouraged by the positive reception of that “ranter,” Bukowski proceeded to write a lengthy short-story or novella titled “Confessions of a Man Insane Enough to Live with Beasts,” which would be published as a chapbook by Blazek under his Mimeo Press imprint in August 1965. “Confessions…” featured the first appearance in print of Bukowski’s fictional alter ego, “Henry Chinaski;” interestingly, in a short-story titled “The Reason Behind Reason,” published in Matrix in 1946, the main character was named “Chelaski.” Like “A Rambling Essay…,” “Confessions…” was well received; the story made such an impression on longtime editor John Martin that, in January 1966, he was convinced that Bukowski could “write a novel that would stop the earth’s rotation” (Davidson, 16 Jan, 1966), propelling Bukowski to write yet another short-story with an arresting title, “All the Assholes in the World and Mine” in early 1966, which Blazek would publish as a chapbook via his Open Skull Press in September 1966. A lost short-story, “Beer, Wine, Vodka, Whiskey; Wine, Wine, Wine, ” rejected by Accent in 1954, apparently dealt with a simlar subject matter. In a 1955 letter to Story editor Whit Burnett, Bukowski quoted Charles Shattuck, one of the Accent editors, as claiming that the short-story was “quite a bloody spate. Perhaps, some day, public taste will catch up with you” (Princeton, 27 Feb. 1955).

Indeed, by the mid 60s, after the success of the short-stories published by Blazek and the exposure received through the mimeographed magazines, it seemed that the “public taste” was beginning to seriously acknowledge Bukowski’s literary efforts. As Cherkovski noted, the increasing acceptance of his prose outbursts would “lead him to eventually be able to support himself as an artist and to gain a truly international audience” (160). Bukowski had unequivocally become “a spiritual leader” (Fox 57) and “a cult figure” (Miles 174) in American letters.

Works Cited

  • Baughan, Michael Gray. Charles Bukowski. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.
  • Blazek, Douglas. “Ole.” Green Isle in the Sea. An Informal History of the Alternative Press, 1960-85. Ed. Diane Kruchkow and Curt Johnson. Highland Park, DV. December Press, 1986. 104-23.
  • Brewer, Gaylord. Charles Bukowski. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997.
  • Bukowski, Charles. “Dirty Old Man Confesses.” Adam Oct. 1971: 11,71-81.
  • Living on Luck: Selected Letters 1960s-1970s. Ed. Seamus Cooney. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1995.
  • Poems Written Before Jumping Out of an 8 Story Window. Ed. Charles Potts, and Darrell Kerr. Glendale, CA: Poetry X/Change, 1968.
  • Reach for the Sun. Selected Letters 1978-1994. Ed. Seamus Cooney. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1999.
  • Screams from the Balcony: Selected Letters 1960-1970. Ed. Seamus Cooney. Santa Rosa, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1993.
  • “Whos1 Big in the “Littles.” Literary Times Winter 1966: 9.
  • Cherkovski, Neeli. Hank. The Life of Charles Bukowski. New York: Random House, 1991.
  • Clay, Steven, and Rodney Phillips. A Secret Location on the Lower East Side. Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980. New York: The New York Public Library and Granary Books, 1998.
  • Davidson: Charles Bukowski Papers. Mss 12. Department of Special Collections, Davidson
  • Library, University of California, Santa Barbara.
  • Fox, Hugh. “The Living Underground: Charles Bukowski.” The North American Review 254 (Fall 1969): 57-58.
  • Fullerton: James Boyer May/Amsberry Poetry Collection, University Archives & Special Collections, Pollak Library, CSU, Fullerton.
  • Fulton, Len. “Anima Rising: Little Magazines in the Sixties.” American Libraries 2.1 (Jan. 1971): 25-47.
  • Lipman, Joel. “d.a. levy & the Book Art: Remarks prepared for the d.a.levyfest symposium, Cleveland, October 29, 2005.” Smith and Swanberg 169-74.
  • Mangelsdorf, Richard. “I Still Think About Ole Magazine.” Margins 13 (1974): 36-37, 74.
  • Miles, Barry. Charles Bukowski. London: Virgin Books Ltd., 2005.
  • Montag, Tom. :Stalking the Little Magazine.” Serials Librarian 1.3 (Spring 1977): 281-303.
  • Princeton: Archives of Story Magazine and Story Press (Box 19, Folder 13; Box 47, Folder 5, and Box 53, Folder 39); Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library, Princeton, New Jersey.
  • Smith, Jules. Art, Survival and So Forth. The Poetry of Charles Bukowski. East Yorkshire: Wrecking Ball Press, 2000.
  • Smith, Larry, and Ingrid Swanberg, eds. da. levy & the mimeograph revolution. Huron, OH: Bottom Dog Press, 2007.
  • “Remembering levy: Ed Sanders Interview, September 13, 2003.” Smith and Swanberg, 119-26
  • Sounes, Howard. Bukowski in Pictures. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2000.
  • Young, Karl. “At the Corner of Euclid Ave. and Blvd. St. Germain: d.a. levy’s Parables of Local Necessity and Universal Decentralism.” Smith and Swanberg 155-68.

from BIG HAMMER No. 14

Welcome to Big Hammer #14

for whom who keeps a record:

Don Catena covers, 43, 90 Angela Mark 1, 14, 16, 18 Michael Shores 2, 106 Richard Kostelanetz 3, 68 Lyn Lifshin 5, 42 David S. Pointer 6 Ingrid Swanberg 7 Peter Money 8, 11 Janice Blue 9-10 Ed Galing 11,78-79 Dave Roskos 12, 65, 114 Robert Head 13, 15, 17, 18 Jim Cohn 19 Kell Robertson 20, 21 Ann Menebroker 21, 105 Tom Kryss 22, 23 Russell Salamon 24 Kit Knight 25, 26 Arthur Winfield Knight 27 Alan Catlin 28 John Bennett 28-31 David Elsey 31 Ken Greenley 32, 62/63 B. Z. Niditch 33, 41 Steve Dalachinsky 34, 98 Dennis Saleh 35-38 AlexB. aka Panther Moon 39 Tom Page 39 Chris Ide 40 Anthony George 41, 42, 113 Lew Black 42 Ray Brown 44 – 46 K. S. Hardy 46 Beth Bonus 47, 48 Candy Kaucher 47, 83/84 Melissa Fadul 49/50 Jen Dunford 51 Terry L. Persun 52 Boni Joi 53/54 Joe Weil 55/56 Tom Pulhamus 57/58 CarlAlessi 59-61 BradKohler 63, 77 TomObrzut 64/65 Steve Ausherman 66 Kevin Sweeney 67 M. Kettner 68 Todd Moore 69-71 John Lunar Richey 72 Kelley K. Vance 73/74 Guy R. Beining 75/76 Marc Olmsted 77 A.D. Winans 79 Ben Smith 80 Charles Rammelkamp 81 Nathan Whiting 81 Patrick Fealey 82/83 Gene Bloom 85 – 89 Normal 89Abel Debritto 91-96 William Wantling 96 Mark Weber 97 George Held 99 Lorinc Szabo translated by George Held & Katherine Mayer 100 Janos Lackfi translated by Paul Sohar 101 Donald Lev 102 Jeffrey Cyphers Wright 103 Tony Gruenewald 104John Berbrich 105 Justin Rogers 107-110 Lamont B. Steptoe 111/112

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1 Comment

  • Great write amigo, enjoyed the read. Reading this made me think of the two of us talking long hours about things that go Buk in the night armed with a bottle of scotch.

    Thanks for posting Monsieur K.

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