I put the first stencil on the cylinder. The Gestetner made a great roaring sound - chachunch! The first piece of paper came out with a poem on it. I was completely astounded. The concept of the poem to stencil to the page was such a weird journey. Mimeo is so cool - the ink is so wet and sits up on the paper . . . I love mimeo because you can change anything up to the last minute. You're completely in control. So radical, you can do it yourself, you can collate, get it out a day later - so on the street, so immediate. I love the machine and the ink.
Because I had the kids, I would work really late at night after they had gone to bed. I would be all alone. People would come and go, and then there would be silence. That church is so spooky late at night. After you've run off 30 stencils, you start to get spacey. Barbara [Holland] claimed the church was haunted by Peter Stuyvesant [1592–1672, Dutch colonial administrator in the Americas, including New York]. She claimed she had seen him on the balcony and heard his wooden leg walking. I would pause between stencils waiting for the sound of that wooden leg . . .
You get everything all done and then you just call people. Everyone would help collate. People would staple their thumbs and there would be blood . . . The blood of the poets. It's all so in-process. You don't have to feel your poem is finished - it's not like a finished thing. The purpose of a good little magazine is not the printed completion of a work. It's a kind of ongoing thing. Here's what people are doing. What do you think? Much more of a community thing . . . It's alive in a way that a perfect-bound book isn't. Mimeo let's you just do it, instead of trying to get your work accepted by some magazine, some group (often of guys). It's a wonderful kind of freedom - OK, I'll just do it myself, take control. It changes your attitude toward the way you work. Writing is not just getting it down, but getting it out.
Among the various writers and poets that Telephone published, so many of the women were incredible originals. Rebecca Wright, one of my absolute favorite poets ever. Janine Pommy Vega, so much energy - I couldn't read her work sitting down. I would have to pace the house between poems when typing them. Rebecca Brown had drawers full of poems. She was incredibly reticent. She had been rejected already. Telephone published her. She just didn't feel like she was getting anywhere. Later she went down south and started writing sci-fi.
Women were still a little disconnected. Just as women were beginning to see that they could do something themselves, they were kind of left out. Token women in anthologies done by experimental writers who should have been more receptive to that issue. There was a kind of a dip. In earlier years, after World War II, something happened where the beats came in and the writers who were kind of riding up against the academy. Maybe it was because it was a small pie, they didn't feel there was enough to go around. The Beats may have had a lot to do with it - a lot of misogyny. A lot [of them] didn't like women. Burroughs, Corso - he loved women, but did he really like them?
All of a sudden they [women] were just elbowed out. In the 1950s, huge dip, early '60s. Slowly some began to come forward. A lot of times they were lovers or wives or they were with somebody, doing a magazine with their partner. OK, it was a start. Gradually they came back into a feeling that they could be a community of their own, a force of their own.
But there was support if you sought it out. In Telephone, there was equal representation of gender with regard to work in the magazine and to those that came and collated and stapled. [There was] a lot of support, it just needed - you needed to take your own initiative.
Women were put into some little niche, the beatnik chick, an appendage, not a real person. Feminism kind of rose. Women sensed there was a wider community. There were lots of women like themselves, ripe to get something done, had written all this work, and now they realized they didn't have to wait for someone else.[What was] lacking in that earlier period was women didn't have a sense of supporting each other then they got that back. They could see across geographies, from the east to the west coast, more of an expanded, complete community developed.
The [Poetry] Project was really important because Anne was there, that was important. Not that she was a raging feminist. She was a strong woman and that made it a little easier to feel you belonged, a little more relaxed for women writers. She was certainly generous and open to letting people use the mimeo and the space. It was such a rich ground of people doing things, so supportive. People really went out of their way to make the space available. For someone like me, where else would I have gotten a Gestetner? Who would have let me into the building? It was really vital, amazing.
I just love to publish. If you teach writing, it's like you're only teaching half of it. You have to show people how to get their work out. I recommend sending work to any little magazine, any outlet. People get discouraged if their work is not accepted. If it's an editor I know, I say use my name. You know, your work isn't always rejected because those at the magazine don't like your work, it's a matter of numbers. Little magazines fill up with submissions, they project a few issues ahead and have to start turning work away; it has nothing to do with the quality of work. If you get rejected a few times, then start your own magazine.
I enjoy making books and magazines. I try to be playful about it, do a few wild political things or use some of the media around. There's so much you can pull into a publication. I love to do end papers by cutting up magazine ads (or the New York Times magazine section!), a cheap way to use colors - use cut up ads. There's so much junk around you can use. You can make your magazine or book much more beautiful and it's free.
The cool thing is that you can just make a magazine or a book. Kitchen-table kinds of things. Very hands-on. You just decide to do it. Take matters into your own hands. It's a women's thing in the sense that if you don't have money or anything, you just do with what you have there. All these things available, just use them. A "What could we put in this that would make it more interesting" approach.
I held a workshop at St. Mark's on Saturdays and we used the New York Times Saturday paper to write our poems each week. Every Saturday that fall was Clinton and Monica. We were really impressed with how long it went on because we met once a week and a whole week would pass and it was still going on. But we cut up the pages of the Times and everyone worked with the material in their own way. Sometimes painting on them or blocking text out or cutting it out. [Owen taught a workshop at the Poetry Project during the impeachment trials and her workshop produced Times 2, a literary magazine based on the articles in the New York Times].
I used to bring the kids to readings a lot. They would come to the collating too - they were very helpful. In the earlier days there were certain bookshops that were really nice like the Eighth Street Bookshop. Telephone was 8 1/2 by 14, an odd size, it would look like a telephone booth. Why I thought of the name Telephone: I had been living on the West Coast and in Minnesota. You just got up and dropped in on people. Very casual and wide-open. In New York, people call first. I would drop in on Ron and Patty (Padgett) at 10 in the morning and they would have just gotten to bed. Oh my god, everybody calls first. I became aware of the telephone in a way I never had before. Of how it might function as an avenue of communication to facilitate communication. And then there was the idea to equal Ma Bell [the Bell telephone company] to make Telephone a magazine as big as a telephone book.
The diversity of gender definitely has grown; there's a lot of women out there doing things. The [Poetry] Project has its ups and downs. The church itself, the Project, Dancespace, there's a very matriarchal sense of that whole building. It allows things to happen. It gives a space so people can try things out. It's so open in that way, so allowing, so unusual. Other reading series that go on are more defined in what they support. The church, the experimental stuff that has gone on and continues to go on - phenomenal!
This interview was first published in the St Mark's-in-the-Bowery Poetry Project Internet site. It is reprinted here with permission, and with thanks.
Maureen Owen has served as the Program Coordinator and Acting Director of the Poetry Project at St Mark's-in-the-Bowery, New York City, where she has also taught workshops in writing and magazine production. She began editing and publishing Telephone Magazine and Telephone Books in 1969, and is presently reviving the press with a book just out by Janet Hamill, Lost Ceilings, and a forthcoming book by Elio Schneeman, A Found Life. Her own books include American Rush: Selected Poems, AE [Amelia Earhart], Hearts in Space, Imaginary Income and Zombie Notes.
Marcella Durand (left) is the Program Coordinator and Web-site Editor for the Poetry Project at St Mark's-in-the-Bowery, New York City. She is the author of Lapsus Linguae and City of Ports (Situations Press) and the poetry editor of Erato Press. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming in 6ix, Outlet, Chain, The Germ, The World, The Transcendental Friend, Talisman, XCP: Streetnotes, and other journals. You can read three poems by Marcella Durand in this issue of Jacket.