Clayton Eshleman started his first magazine, Caterpillar, in New York City in the fall of 1967 — the very same moment I moved from Europe to the US. It wasn’t until some time in late 1968 that the magazine was brought to my attention, either by Robert Kelly, with whom I was working on Paul Celan translations at Bard College, or by Thomas Meyer, a student like me at Bard. Caterpillar very quickly became the essential and most useful magazine for me in the process of absorbing American poetry and tentatively taking steps toward formulating a poetics of my own. (Not that I didn’t enjoy the New York school mags, but so much of that poetry had its roots in European, specifically French modern poetry —something I had left Europe to get away from as at least in it place of origin it had become stale by then). The “Caterpillar poets” — or what I came to call the “original Deep Image” poets — on the contrary were developing a process-based poetics with deep roots in American modernism, the Pound / Stein line that led to Olson, Duncan, Zukofsky via the then nearly disappeared Objectivists. If I had come over enamored of the Beats — it was certainly on the energy of their magic carpet that I had ridden over from Europe, though I had bought the Cantos shortly before embarking for America — it was in the poets I now discovered in Caterpillar that I found the depth of concerns and then formal experimentation I realized was necessary for a poetics that tried to be fully aware of both the internal mental/spirituals and the external political / cultural travails of that period. By the time Caterpillar ended in 1973, I was living in London, and I felt its demise like a serious blow.
Eshleman returned with a vengeance, creating SULFUR, seven years later, in 1980/1981. (Not necessarily lean years, as much else was happening magazine & publication-wise in the mid to late seventies, if I may mention my own SIXPACK in London , as well as Allen Fisher’s various SPANNER incarnations or Eric Mottram’s short-lived but powerful editorship of the POETRY REVIEW, or, in the US, the emergence of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E & associated publications, or Jed Rasula & Don Byrd’s WCH WAY — to name only these, here, quickly as this isn’t the moment for a historical overview of magazines…). But for my money (mind would be a better word) SULFUR became the essential magazine I went to over those years wherever I was living, whatever I was doing, i.e. writing or translating from the poetries of various cultures. I can’t think of any English-language magazine (nor, come to think of it, of any French, German or Spanish-language magazine) that, while continuing the investigation of US poetries began in CATERPILLAR, presented a wider, fuller, richer array of international poetries and poetry-related work. And I don’t mean “international” in that vague sense in which various magazines would publish whatever foreign-looking language object came across their desks if translated into basic free-verse fully comprehensible English after removal of any trace of kulchural strangeness & furriness that could have irritated the all-‘merican reader. There was an energy, a freshness and a seriousness to Eshleman’s project that said to the reader: this is not a matter of entertainment, of art-as-aesthetics, this is a matter of life and of how poetry (and art) can teach us, in Blake’s words, to cleanse the doors of perception & thus widen our knowledge of the real — the “inside real and the outsidereal,” to use Ed Dorn’s formulation. The anthology of that incredible adventure, as edited by Clayton Eshleman and published by Wesleyan, is a superb 650-page walk through the 46 issues of SULFUR. A treasure trove. For the names of the included, see below. For full disclosure I should say that I published poems & translations in Sulfur & also have work in the anthology.
From the publisher’s release notes (where a click will also get you to the full table of Contents):
A vital compendium of poetic vision
From 1981 to 2000, Sulfur magazine presented an American and international overview of innovative writing across forty-six issues, totaling some 11,000 pages and featuring over eight hundred writers and artists, including Norman O. Brown, Jorie Graham, James Hillman, Mina Loy, Ron Padgett, Octavio Paz, Ezra Pound, Adrienne Rich, Rainer Maria Rilke, and William Carlos Williams. Each issue featured a diverse offering of poetry, translations, previously unpublished archival material, visual art, essays, and reviews. Sulfur was a hotbed for critical thinking and commentary, and also provided a home for the work of unknown and younger poets. In the course of its twenty year run, Sulfur maintained a reputation as the premier publication of alternative and experimental writing. This was due in no small measure to its impressive masthead of contributing editors and correspondents: Marjorie Perloff, James Clifford, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Keith Tuma, Allen Weiss, Jed Rasula, Charles Bernstein, Michael Palmer, Clark Coolidge, Jayne Cortez, Marjorie Welish, Jerome Rothenberg, Eliot Weinberger, managing editor Caryl Eshleman, and founding editor Clayton Eshleman.
A Sulfur Anthology offers readers an expanded view of artistic activity at the century’s end. It’s also a luminous document of international poetic vision. Many of the contributions have never been published outside ofSulfur, making this an indispensible collection of poetry in translation, and poetry in the world.
“Begun in 1980 and finished by 2000, Sulfur marked with self-conscious brilliance the culmination cycle for the postwar literary magazine wave that had commenced in 1950 with Cid Corman’s Origin. As an editor, Clayton Eshleman has continuously refined our understanding of poetry by means of intellectual engagement and real commitment to implicating the poet’s artistry in the crucially extensive context of community, cosmos, history, myth, politics, and psyche. Truly, his lifelong dedication to assembling forms of international modernism, statements from depth psychology, texts of innovative poetry, and translations of world poetry is unsurpassed. Hence A Sulfur Anthology is guaranteed to further the refinement process that Eshleman initiated in 1980. From Ezra Pound to Barbara Mor, from Aimé Césaire to Rae Armantrout, from Robert Duncan to Ron Silliman, from Antonin Artaud to Amiri Baraka, from Mina Loy to Linh Dihn, from René Char to Paul Celan, and much more—this anthology radiates a monumental pulse that recounts all the turning points needed for readers in the twenty-first century to understand that Sulfur persists as the most indispensable literary magazine authorized by the Imagination.” —Kenneth Warren, author of Captain Poetry’s Sucker Punch: A Guide to the Homeric Punkhole, 1980–2012
“A Sulfur Anthology presents an essential selection from the now legendary journal of the Whole Art, but it’s no mere greatest hits collection: experimental and unruly, it’s a kaleidoscopic assemblage of poetry and poetics, archival materials, translations, critical commentary and essays, shocking in range and diversity; an open site for an all too unique communal inquiry into poetry, from its sources in psychology and history to its furthest possibilities of expression, intimate and political. Sulfur was a touchstone for two generations of poets; reading A Sulfur Anthology reminds me what the fuss was all about. But more than that, A Sulfur Anthology is bursting with news that stays news: a retrospective volume with its sights on the far horizon.”
—Stuart Kendall, California College of the Arts
“Sulfur must certainly be the most important literary magazine that has explored and extended the boundaries of poetry. Clayton Eshleman has a nose for smelling out what is going to happen next in the ceaseless evolution of living art.”—James Laughlin
“In an era of literary conservatism and sectarianism, the broad commitment of Sulfur to both literary excellence and a broad interdisciplinary, unbought humanistic engagement with the art of poetry has been invaluable. Its critical articles have been the sharpest going over the last several years.”—Gary Snyder
From the Book:
From Sulfur #27, “Zero” by Milton Kessler: The Ch-ing Emperor’s troupe of buried horses The visor-blinded horses of the jousts The pompadoured bronze horses of the Renaissance The Elgin horses roped and dragged from Athens The Generalissimo’s mount in Freedom Square The noble cheval burst by English archers The cannon deaf cavalry of Bull Run The Imam’s Arabians writhing on the cross of Allah The dive-bombed horse with tongue of broken glass
Seigfried’s horror horse with Panzer lancer Horses were never interested in war War no longer interested in horses The investment stallions seeding twitched mares The ground horse catfood of the dispossessed The cast horses in the Mafia stables The shiver brained coursers wearing buttercups The cossack horses higher than whole villages The porcelain dancers of the Lippizaner The Indian ponies trained to die like savages The slipping horsefeet of Alexander Nevsky The heart-horned horses of the picadores The cigarette horses branded sex and death The pinup stallions of gold college girls The cowboy’s true horse on the lonely range The dawn is the head of a sacrificed horse
[…] Two anthologies need mentioning: James Thomas’s Grains of Gold: An Anthology of Occitan Literature, published in late 2015 by Francis Boutle Publishers in London, which reveals to an Anglophone public for the first time the whole wealth of Occitan literature beyond the 11/12 century troubadours translated by Pound & Paul Blackburn—newsflash! The latter’s Proensa has just been reissued by NYRB!—, a wealth colonialistically (if that word doesn’t exist, it should, & does now) suppressed by France imposing their northern dialect (French) on the whole southern half of the country. The other major anthology of the year is A Sulfur Anthology edited by Clayton Eshleman (Wesleyan University Press)—full disclosure: there is work of mine in it—and which I reviewed on my blog, Nomadics. […]
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