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Leddy, Michael—World Literature Today
Leddy, Michael. "Review of A Secret Location on the Lower East Side." World Literature Today (Winter 2000): 169.

In the mid-1960s, the Lower East Side of Manhattan became home to a lively young poetry community with its own means of production: the mimeograph machine, which enabled poets to publish books and magazines cheaply and independently. The result was the now-classic American mimeo publication: 8 1/2 x 11 pages printed on one side, side-stapled, with a black-and-white cover. Based on a 1998 New York Public Library exhibition curated by the authors, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980 chronicles the activity of eighty-odd little magazines and small presses, some mimeo and some more elegant in production. A supplemental checklist provides information on three hundred more magazines and presses.

The "secret location" of the title is both literal and figurative: while emphasis falls on work from New York, the geographic range extends from Mexico City (Margaret Randall's El Corno Emplumado) to San Francisco (Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books) to Kyoto (Cid Corman's Origin) to Paris (John Ashbery's Art and Literature). Both the exhibition and the book loosely follow the groupings of Donald Allen's 1960 anthology The New American Poetry, 1945-1960: the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beats, Black Mountain, and New York, with "language writing" added as a development of the 1970s. Each magazine or press is the subject of a short descriptive essay, supplemented by bibliographic information, photographs, and, often, the recollections of editors and poets.

The excitement of the Secret Location exhibition was largely in seeing the fabled publications themselves—for instance, the 1964 "C" Press edition of Ted Berrigan's Sonnets. While Clay and Phillips have produced a book with much visual interest, its primary value is as a sourcebook for further investigation. Its vast and patient accumulation of information makes it an indispensable resource for the study of the New American Poetry, and its focus on the institutions of the little magazine and the small press offers a useful model for literary historians. The volume provides details that in many cases would be difficult if not impossible to find elsewhere: the origins of such magazine titles as The Floating Bear (edited by Diane di Prima and LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka]), for instance, or the story of the literary networking that led Harper & Row to publish several young avant-garde poets in 1970. One also finds materials that clarify the beginnings of language writing: though academic critics have since characterized language writing as a reaction against the workshop poem, its early practitioners saw their work as a reaction against the "personism" of Beat and New York School writing.

As the authors acknowledge, A Secret Location is not definitive, nor could it be. If the book has a genuine shortcoming, it is an over reliance upon formulaic phrasing: "groups", "emerge," "movements" are "consolidated," and, too often, poets are "galvanized" by events. But local flaws do little to detract from the value of Clay and Phillips's work. Together with anthologies of postmodern American poetry from Sun & Moon and W. W. Norton, and the recent reissue of The New American Poetry by the University of California Press, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side is compelling evidence that the definition of the 'mainstream' in American poetry is changing in decisive ways.





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