A brief history





The following piece, modified slightly, was written by Marvin Malone in the mid 1980s.

Buk at typer. 1963This editor tries to avoid literary criticism and speculations about the private lives of the poets published in Wormwood. However, a bit of history might be interesting to those who follow the little magazine scene. Since the very first, Wormwood has had a policy of not publishing the writings of the editor's intimate friends. On the other hand, manuscripts are not secured in a purely random manner via the U. S. mail. The arrival of Charles Bukowski in our pages was the product of a sequence of interrelated discoveries, associations, and affiliations.

In 1948 I discovered the New Directions annuals, which led me to read all of the authors sponsored by James Laughlin--including Henry Miller and Céline. About the same time, I came across The Little Magazine: A History and a Bibliography as written by Hoffman, Allen, and Ulrich (Princeton University Press, 1946). The book launched a personal enthusiasm for the little magazine as a publishing institution that has not yet dimmed.

At that time, the only publishers unafraid of the "unpublishable" Henry Miller were James Laughlin, Bern Porter, and Judson Crews. In the process of collecting and reading Henry Miller, in collecting and reading little mags, and in moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico, I would eventually meet Judson Crews in Taos, New Mexico.

A poet and a one-man publisher of astonishing books and little mags (Motive and Este Es presses), Crews had just published Bukowski's "Layover" in his current mag titled Naked Ear. Even though Naked Ear was very modest in size and format, it is now regarded as a little magazine classic. Crews has always had a good ear for the authentic and was then picking up and publishing many new poets who were (like Henry Miller) considered too far out for the established literary quarterlies of that day. Bukowski's debut was in issue 9 (1957), and he shared the pages with people as diverse as Mike McClure and Larry Eigner (new poets) and Norman Macleod (an establishment outsider). Crews, generous and proselytizing, gave me copies of Existaria #7 (published by Carl Larsen in Hermosa Beach, California) and Hearse #2 (published by E. V. Griffith in Eureka, California). Existaria contained three good Bukowski poems and Hearse (subtitled A Vehicle Used to Convey the Dead) contained one. Crews terminated Naked Ear at about that time, indicating to me that Hearse was its "spiritual successor." I placed subscriptions for both Existaria and Hearse and began a limited correspondence with Larsen and Griffith. Griffith launched a series of chapbooks with number one being Carl Larsen's Arrows of Longing and number five being Bukowski's first book, Flower, Fist and Bestial Wail (1960).

Moving to Connecticut in 1960, I became involved with the Wormwood Review--defunct after two issues. Resuscitation seemed possible. At about the same time, Larsen moved to New York City to seek the big-time literary scene. Being a literary neighbor of sorts, he was approached for manuscripts to relaunch Wormwood. Larsen was then producing a mag called rongWrong (one of the first mags of the so-called mimeograph revolution), and Bukowski was scheduled for the second issue. At that time, Larsen and Bukowski were friendly rivals and frequent correspondents, so it was easy for me to get Bukowski's address and send him complimentary copies of Wormwood (probably issues 5 and 6) without comment. Poems were received for consideration-also without comment. In issue 7 (October 20, 1962), Bukowski made his debut with "Thank God for Alleys." Appropriately, that issue (printed offset from paper plates) also featured Carl Larsen and Judson Crews.

Many other editors have written me for Bukowski's address and have received it--notably d.a. levy and Douglas Blazek, who went on to publish some of Bukowski's most sought after books. This rather casual process (based on literary enthusiasms) is typical of the best of the little mag scene and keeps literature alive and current. I should point out that I have never met Bukowski. I met Crews once, Griffith once, Bern Porter once, and Larsen twice. Our associations have been primarily through our publications and secondarily through correspondence. Certainly there is some mutual respect there, but it would be very difficult to say that we constitute a group of personal friends. One common denominator is that we all operate independent of the present literary establishment, and this seems important to us. I do not believe a magazine filled with one's personal friends can be taken seriously as literature, and I do not believe a magazine filled with establishment figures can be contemporary in a meaningful way.

Bukowski, 1963Wormwood was given the right of first refusal on the poems not used for the two Bukowski books produced in 1963 and 1965 by Loujon Press, owned by Lou and Jon Webb, who started out by publishing the famous little mag The Outsider. Since that time, Wormwood has always had a thick sheaf of unpublished Bukowski poems. Virtually every issue (chapbook issues excepted) contains two to four Bukowski poems that seem to fit the general mood of the issue. Wormwood has published four special sections (chapbooks within the magazine) featuring Bukowski: Grip the Walls (issue 16, 1964), Night's Work (issue 24, 1966), 55 Beds in the Same Direction (issue 53, 1974), and Good-Bye to Hollywood (issue 81-82, 1981). In addition, issue 71 was wholly devoted to Bukowski's Legs, Hips and Behind (1978) and issue 95 to Horses Don't Bet on People and Neither Do I (1984). Twenty-four copies of issues 16 and 24 were numbered and signed by Bukowski and are probably the most elusive items for collectors. Issue 24 also printed the first bibliography of his work (assembled by this editor). Forty copies of issue 53, sixty copies of issue 71, and 50 copies of issue 81-82 were numbered and signed. In 1969 Bukowski was awarded the Wormwood Award for "the most overlooked book of worth in a calendar year" for his first book of prose, Notes of a Dirty Old Man, which was published by Essex House, a "dirty book" publisher. Four years later, it would be republished by City Lights Books.

The above is history of a sort. The 1963 Bukowski poem appended here was used for several years on a Wormwood mailer to solicit subscriptions. Therefore, it must carry this editor's ultimate endorsement and must say something about what the Bukowski-Wormwood relationship is all about:

Same Old Thing, Shakespeare Through Mailer

into all instants before we like
woodchoppers die I would like to
think that what we've said will
not necessarily follow us into
that dark hole that is not love
or sex or anything we know now,
and when the troops marched into
Turkey they ran through the first
village raping the young girls
and some of the old ones too,
and Anderson and I found a café
and sat there drinking listening
to the air-arm overhead sinking
in its fangs and I said it's the
same old thing Shakespeare through
Mailer sticking his wife with the
same thing but the wrong thing,
and I thought if we could die here
now in a minute like a camera
snapped it would be much best
all the mules and drunken ladies
gone the bad novels march
stuck in the mud it is best
to die when you are ready
like razorblades and beersongs
to an ancient Irish tune
and then some Turk took a shot
from the staircase and split my
sleeve like a tight ass bending
and I fired back like people in
a play and I kept thinking
Maria Maria I wonder if I'll
ever see Maria again and
immortality did not seem
important at all.

Malone clearly valued Bukowski's continuing contributions to Wormwood. In fact, Bukowski was the most frequent contributor to Wormwood overall, appearing in 97 issues. When Malone died in 1996, he still had a substantial backlog of unpublished Bukowski poems that were to appear in future issues of the review (all subsequently returned to Bukowski's widow). The following quotes taken from letters written by Bukowski to Malone over their long association show Bukowski's reciprocal respect for the Wormwood publisher:

"Crazy guys like you keep crazy guys like me going. . . . I know that the bad poems will come back and that you are man enough to know them." (1965)

"Wormwood appears to be consistently and eternally #1 of the literary mags, and it's going to be a sad day for all of us when you hang up the gloves." (1968)

"I have never had any magazine treat me like dear old Wormie. . . . I'm lucky. And I'm lucky that Wormie has been around. I sometimes think of you. Then I think, it's lucky we have never met. It's lucky we have a professional distance. It's lucky you do what you do and I do what I do and we do it without politics and personal relationships. It's lucky, Malone, lucky, we have been a splendid pair. I salute your guts and your way." (1978)

"You are the quiet worker of magic. . . . I believe your comments on some of the rejects are right there. . . . After the stuff comes back from you, I go through it again, agree that most of it isn't so good but usually find a few to send elsewhere." (1982)

"You are one of the quietest most invisible editor-publishers about. You do your fucking work without self-fanfare. And as I've said before, the day you lay it down, that day is going to be a sad sad bad bad horrible, sad and horrible bad day and time and year for many including this Chinaski. . . . You have scored a wonderful fight. Indeed." (1985)

PHOTOGRAPHS: CHARLES BUKOWSKI CIRCA 1963, PHOTOGRAPHER UNKNOWN