Mag City was a party in print. It was started to give a form to a literary scene that existed in the East Village and included a number of poets who were disenchanted with mainstream values. In the mid-1970s, this neighborhood was a confluence of young artists, poets, musicians. The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church was a base. The workshops there, led by Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley, were where the third generation of New York School poets began to develop. Everyone attended the Monday and Wednesday night readings at the Project and would then convene in various neighborhood bars afterward – Lys Mykta (the Sly Fox) in the Ukrainian National Home on 2nd Avenue one year, Grassroots on St. Mark’s Place, Orchidia (2nd Avenue), El Centro (St. Mark’s Place). In those years it was cheap to live in New York City. Most of the poets worked part-time jobs or worked a few months and took off a few months. We wanted to be unencumbered, ready for the poem. We lived for poetry and were grateful to have discovered there were others like us out there whose priorities were complementary. Actually, it was amazing.
Michael Scholnick, Gary Lenhart, and I lived in a tenement on East 12th Street between First Avenue and Avenue A. Other poets had preceded us there. The building had an elderly woman owner who was not a good manager. She was likely out of her mind. We had no heat or hot water for two very cold winters. We didn’t know to be outraged. We assumed that was part of our training for being poets. The three of us were together a lot. We went to the Poetry Project and to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in its early days on East 6th Street. Michael had had Miguel Algarin as a teacher at Rutgers, so we were welcomed there and encouraged to get up and read our poems. Mostly we listened. It was a place to hang out.
The tradition of small press publishing emboldened us to publish our poems ourselves. The Poetry Project had a mimeo machine, which had been in service to the poetry community for years. But by the time we got Mag City going in 1977, offset printing was cheap enough, and then the Xerox copier became available.
Michael came up with the name Mag City . We asked our comrades for their poems. There weren’t a lot of other venues that were available. From the beginning, our idea was to publish hefty chunks of work, as no other magazines were doing that. We wanted to read the stuff. At a typical meeting, we’d read each poem aloud and come to a consensus on what to include or exclude. There were never any arguments. If one of us believed strongly enough in a work, the others usually trusted enough to defer. We drew from the locals and sent off letters to others whose work we admired.
The work printed in the 14 issues of Mag City (spanning 1977-85) is too diverse to classify with an umbrella label. It’s mostly confessional and personal. The work is decidedly unacademic, meaning the poems’ emphasis is content, not form, leaving rough edges, all the more for impact. If the work wasn’t always politically engaged, it offered reactions and responses to the malaise in this country. We were weathering a decade of Republican leadership that was contemptuous of free expression, individual peculiarities, social justice, and fun. The poems were often chatty and attempted to be accessible and entertaining by discoursing in common speech. They celebrated the common, daily, and immediate.
We were honored to publish Allen Ginsberg, Edwin Denby, Rudy Burckhardt, Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley, Ed Sanders, James Schuyler, Ron Padgett, and Bonnie Bremser in our pages. Publishing precedents were Lewis Warsh and Anne Waldman’s Angel Hair press, Ted Berrigan’s C Press, Ed Sanders’ Fuck You! A Magazine of the Arts, Larry Fagin’s Adventures in Poetry books, and Lewis Warsh and Bernadette Mayer’s United Artists magazine and books. Among our local friends similar delights were on offer: Simon Schuchat’s 432 Review; Eileen Myles’ Dodgems and the one-shot Ladies Museum; Elinor Nauen, Maggie Dubris and Rachel Walling’s KOFF magazine; Jeff Wright’s Hard Press poetry postcard series; Tom Savage’s Ghandhabba; and Tom Weigel’s Tangerine magazine and anthologies. And, from Chicago, Out There, edited by Rose Lesniak, Barbara Barg and Joel Chassler.
– Greg Masters, from A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-80, edited by Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips, The New York Public Library and Granary Books, 1998.
For a toc of all 14 issues of Mag City click here.