A Timeline for Mulch Magazine and Press
Basil King and I began talking about collaborating on a magazine around summer of 1968. I had in mind something that would be a cross between Kultur and Yugen. Basil was very clear that he wanted something different and not “following in” the wake of … We both wanted large sections of poetry and prose, and we wanted to be able to publish anything that interested us. And it certainly had to have an open and full visual feel with plenty of room for artwork and reviews; but early on Basil insisted it needed science and culture to be a regular part of the mix. I was particularly involved with anthropology at that time, and had close relationships with a number of younger anthropologists, who, it would turn out, became active in the gathering we set in motion.
Basil and I both wanted a third partner because it would make for a better balance, and I pointed out to Basil that we really needed someone who knew production. As it turned out I was working with a young guy who had dropped out of Columbia named David Glotzer. I was editing limited editions of small press books and magazines for a press that specialized in library sales. David was the head of production there, and he wanted desperately to be part of the literary scene that was still alive at that time. He wanted to join us as soon as he met Basil (and Martha).
Mulch vol. 1, no. 2 (October 1971). Cover by Jerry Shore.
By 1970 we had the basics together and had what looked like a strong first issue. BUT we still didn’t have a name. One late afternoon, on a weekend, I got a call from Basil and the only word he said was “mulch.” I laughed and knew we had it. He and Martha had been out at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and there was an exhibit on mulch and Basil knew immediately that was the name. David’s girlfriend at the time came up with the slogan for our venture—she said, “Mulch before the first hard freeze.” We all loved it and we were set.
We paid for the first issue with David’s credit card and in April 1971 the first issue appeared with Basil’s wonderful drawing of infant Carlos Blackburn’s face on the cover. The issue had poetry by Ted Enslin, Nicolas Gullen (translated by Paul Blackburn), Paul Pines, Toby Olson, and Paul Blackburn’s own work. There was a film script by Milton Moses Ginsberg (who made Coming Apart and later The Werewolf of Washington) and book reviews and photographs by Basil (most people are unaware of how good a photographer he was/is and that he was already connected to pigeons and was writing back then. He wrote the opening preface for the first issue, titled “Columbia Livia Domestica, the ordinary street pigeon … ”). We were on our way.
We did nine issues in all, closing the magazine with issue #9/10 in the summer of 1976. We published poetry by Martha King, Brian Breger, David Glotzer, George Economou, Susan Sherman, Harry Lewis, Toby Olson; fiction by Joan Silber, Merce Rodoreda; criticism and comment by Hayden Herrerra and Gene Swenson; documents by Hans Hoffman and John Graham; many reviews; art by Basil King, John Graham, Fritz Bultman, and others; and essays on anthropology by Marjorie Shostak and Melvin Conner. [Margie wound up developing what I edited with her, on the lives of !Kunk Bushwomen, into a wonderful and important book entitled Nisa: The Life of a !Kunk Bushwoman, and Mel wrote many books dealing with hunting and gathering cultures and lives and on human behavior and evolution. It was amazing that they both started in Mulch.] Every issue had a preface and one of Basil’s called “Spam” (in the last issue) stays with me to this day, as a point of cultural reference.
Mulch vol. 2, no. 1 (Spring 1972). Cover by Jerry Shore.
In 1972 we published our first book, Onion by Paul Pines, with drawings by Basil King. A strong and solid first book for Paul with drawings that were powerful and very memorable. We agreed that drawings for our books would not be illustrations or decorations but rather part of the whole. This had always been Basil’s intention about any art he did for books or magazines. In fact, integrating art became a defining part of Mulch magazine and the press, which we named Haystack Books. Books became more and more our primary focus; we finished the magazine in 1976 and by then had built a strong list of books by Paul Blackburn, Joel Oppenheimer, Allen Ginsberg, Susan Sherman, Harry Lewis, Paul Pines, and Michael Stephens.
Around 1975 we agreed to let David Glotzer take over the business, with Basil
remaining as art director and me as executive editorial consultant. David had hoped to make the press self-sustaining. It was not to be. Within two years he would decide to close the whole operation and move to San Francisco.
For me Mulch was my most intense period of education as a writer and thinker. I think it shaped all of us. The relationship, and what I learned from Basil, was defining and became a deep part of me, in more ways than can be covered here.
— Harry Lewis, New York, March 2017