Loomings: Waldport and Berkeley

Although the earliest mimeographed literary item we have been able to identify is Yvor Winters’s Gyroscope (published for his classes at Stanford in 1929 and early 1930), we’ll start our story in 1943 in the conscientious objectors’ camp at Waldport, Oregon. There, William Everson published poems in an unofficial newsletter, The Untide, and helped run the mimeograph machine to produce his own X War Elegies, among other small volumes. The last book produced at the Untide Press in Waldport was Kenneth Patchen’s An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air, which Everson printed via letterpress in 1945 as the war was ending. Everson was soon to move down to Berkeley and purchase a Washington hand press to continue his printing. His poems from this period, including those originally written in Waldport, were collected by James Laughlin and published by New Directions in 1948, as The Residual Years.

In 1947, the first issue of The Ark, strongly committed to literary and political writings influenced by anarchist and pacifist principles, appeared in San Francisco. Contributors included Kenneth Rexroth, Richard Eberhardt, Paul Goodman, and William Everson. Another contributor was Robert Duncan, whose essay “The Homosexual in Society,” published in Dwight Macdonald’s Politics in August 1944, had occasioned John Crowe Ransom to renege on publishing Duncan’s previously accepted “African Elegy” in The Kenyon Review. Despite his feeling that the article was courageous, Ransom felt the poem was a “homosexual advertisement.” On a sojourn to the East Coast, Duncan had coedited, with Sanders Russell, The Experimental Review—a formal beginning to his long experience with small presses and little magazines. In California, he produced two issues of Berkeley Miscellany (in 1948 and 1949), as well as his own Poems 1948–1949 under the imprint of Berkeley Miscellany Editions. In the two issues of the magazine, Duncan published his own work as well as that of Mary Fabilli, Jack Spicer, and Gerald Ackerman.

Berkeley Miscellany 2 (1949).

Berkeley Miscellany 2 (1949), edited by Robert Duncan.

Spicer, like Duncan and Robin Blaser, was then a student at the University of California at Berkeley. These three were the center of the “Berkeley Renaissance,” a group heavily influenced by the study of medieval and Renaissance culture. The Duncan-Spicer-Blaser circle created “a spiritual and artistic brotherhood out of shared homosexual experience, occultism, and the reading of modern literature.” [3] The Berkeley group held regular meetings for discussions and readings influenced in part by Kenneth Rexroth’s evenings in San Francisco. Spicer went on to produce his own magazine, J, in 1959, and was influential on Stan Persky’s beginning Open Space in 1964. Both of these magazines were produced via mimeograph in San Francisco. In 1957, Spicer conducted the Poetry as Magic workshop attended by, among others, John Wieners, then in the middle of producing his own little magazine, Measure. The Berkeley group consolidated important shared tendencies and were to exert a considerable force as they moved to San Francisco in the early 1950s.

Kenneth Patchen, An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air (Waldport, Oregon: Untide Press, [1945]).

Kenneth Patchen, An Astonished Eye Looks Out of the Air (Waldport, Oregon: Untide Press, [1945]).

3. Michael Davidson, The San Francisco Renaissance: Poetics and Community at Mid-century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 40.