I met Brian Breger and Chuck Wachtel on a Friday sometime back in 1973 or ’74. I know it was a Friday afternoon, because I was tending bar at the Tin Palace (three days each weekend starting on Friday). They walked in: Brian, tall and lanky, and Chuck, small and wiry. They introduced themselves as young writers and students/friends of Joel Oppenheimer, whom they studied writing (and life…) with up at City College. Joel had told them to go and find me and “hang out.” We’ve been hanging out (one way or another) since then.
# [unnumbered] (April 1978). Cover by Basil King.
After a year, of hanging at the bar most afternoons, and talking poetry and life, we came up with the idea that we should publish a magazine. (I had just finished as one of the founders and editors of Mulch
magazine and press.) We all knew and really liked Noose
, edited and published by Joe Early and Sam Abrams. (Noose
worked as a free mailed magazine and each issue had work by writers who had received two mimeograph stencils to do what they wanted with and send back to be in the next issue. It was wonderful and always surprising and fun as well and often just plain great to read.) The three of us really liked that idea but also wanted to do something that was a little more fixed and edited and produced. We came up with the idea of doing one issue a month, of about sixteen pages, and then doing a cheap offset printing with a cover and mailing it to as many writers and anyone else that was interested as possible. It was great fun and very free after years of careful and very demanding editing of Mulch
(which was a very finely and clearly organized and edited operation, with my cofounder Basil King and our younger partner David Glotzer). #
was a liberation for me and a chance to network; and I think it was the same for Brian and Chuck—but for them it was a chance to learn and develop as writers (which in the end was what we realized Joel meant when he told them to find me and “hang out”).
After a few years we started doing chapbooks and finally got a New York State Arts grant to keep publishing. By that time we had enough work for about another year, but we had each gone off in other directions and we just decided it was time to end it. We decided to do one last big # and then retire the project. But it has had a life of its own and still comes up in many different accounts of that time back then, back there—it has become HISTORY.
ONE LAST THING: the name of the mag is #, not number. The name was given to us by Ted Greenwald who simply said, one day, when we were all trying to come up with a name, “Here, this is it: #. Not the word, the sign—get it?” And we did.
Some More on #
When I look back at all that we did (History and Memory now) it seems hard to imagine that we did that much and it seemed—just what we did and just part of our lives …
I look at the list of contributors and each brings back a moment. That’s the great thing about doing a magazine that is so personal and a regular part of your routine.
We published almost everyone we were connected to as writers: Basil King (both as artist and writer: who he is), Martha King, Susan Sherman, Michael Stephens, Steve Vincent, Paul Metcalf, Toby Olson, Rochelle Owens, George Economou, Robert Kelly, Michael Lally, Richard Ellman, Ted Greenwald, Joel Oppenheimer, Hubert Selby, Joe Johnson, Hettie Jones, Maureen Owen, Oliver Lake (almost nobody knew he was a great poet as well as a world-class composer/musician—I had the great pleasure of performing with him and he was surprised when we wanted to publish him!), Allan Kaplan, Jack Marshall; and then we decided to do some chapbooks and they were really special and still hold up—particularly Paul Blackburn’s By Ear (the third time I was able to publish a book by the central figure in my own coming-of-age as a writer and translator). There were also translations: my Mayakovsky, George Economou’s Cavafy, Phileodemos, Armand Schwerner’s Max Jacob, and others.
AND Robin Tewes’s art and art direction and a wide range of artists who became part of the whole experience.
We decided to end things and were about to publish the last full collection of short stories by Hubert Selby Jr. when a major publisher decided to bring it out. The pleasure was in knowing that it was Chuck Wachtel and I that had edited and gotten the whole thing rolling; and finally that was what it was all about: getting the whole thing, that we were part of, rolling.
— Harry Lewis, New York, March 2017