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About Take-Offs and Failures
Thoughts offered in place of an editorial

When we talk of planes, their passengers and crews, failed take-offs may end in disaster. A failed take-off of a poetry journal is quite a different affair; hardly anybody will miss the briefly flowering journal and life usually goes on for those who adventured into the “business” of editing which for them often is just another aspect of what Pavese called this “business of life.”  Something - you know of course - which is quite an antithesis of things commercial.

The first journal I briefly put my hopes in and convinced John Sawkins of was started by a group of students and staff members at the Dept. of English of Bochum University in 1966. It proved disappointing in its willingness to cater to the tastes of those students who looked for jokes and distractions, rather than poetry. But at least, I got a poem published which I still like, a poem without a heading, a title, that started “When my dream finally awoke.” It included it all -  the hope, the dream, the despair, the doubt that communication was possible and the ardent desire to communicate nonetheless. I left the dream-child or child of hope that they had childishly (not child-like) baptized The Q (subtitled The Querenburger) because, as one member of the staff put it, the Q suggested a cunt penetrated by a cock, in order to found another journal, in 1967. Not on my own, but joined by Steven Diamant who wrote fine poems himself and helped obtain contributions by friends, notably Massimo Bacigalupo, Ken Kelman, Bob Lamberton, P. Adams Sitney, and George Stanley. (We were also looking forward, at the time, to a contribution by Robert Kelly whose work was admired by Steven.) 

Massimo Bacigalupo then helped bring about an issue dedicated in part to the Cinema Indipendente Italiano, with contributions by Antonio deBernardi, Pia Eprimian, Alfredo Leonardi, Guido Lombardi, Massimo and myself. And Friderun Barrow, who had come to know Pete Brown,  Frances and Mike Horovitz, Libby Houston and other young poets when they read their poetry in Friderun’s and Cyril’s kitchen, invited Mike Horovitz to Bochum where I had my first public reading with Mike before we both went to Dusseldorf where Mike was supposed to have a poetry reading at the ‘Creamcheese’ (they flatly denied that commitment when he arrived at their doorsteps) and then went to see Robert Filliou at his and Robin’s flat – and I fell in “love,” I thought, with Claudine. As it turned out, keeping the journal alive, even for a short time, proved difficult. I paid for it by using part of my meagre scholarship (which amounted to about 300 DeutschMarks per month), living frugally and eating free of charge at my parent’s place during the long summer vacation. But book stores who received copies of the journal for sale on commission never returned unsold copies and never paid a cent for sold ones. Copies mailed to friends and others interested in the mag were given away free. It was done pretty much in the spirit of sisterly and brotherly sharing, a spirit that implied contempt for money and commercialization. Thus, “refinancing” was impossible. When, after completing a thesis on the New American Writing (novels by Robert Creeley, Michael Rumaker, Douglas Woolf and others) in late 1971,   the scholarship became a thing of the past, continuation of the journal became impossible. Only a handful of xeroxed copies of the last issue (with poems by John Wieners, Barbara Guest, and others) were done. It wasn’t possible to print another 200 or 350 copies, as in the case of earlier issues. This small mag, tellingly called Touch, is probably forgotten by now. It is not clear who noticed it at the time. Jürgen Theobaldy and Rolf-Eckart John, of course – but who else among German poets? And abroad? I don’t  know. Only a section of the fourth issue that was dedicated to the Cinema Indipendente Italiano  was republished, a year later, by  the London Film Festival people, for free distribution during the festival.

In 1978, after protracted attempts to find a legal means to do a journal in Taiwan under martial law despite all the obstacles put in the way by the Taiwanese G.I.O. or Government Information Office (the equivalent of Goebbel’s propaganda department and the Vatican’s censorship office), another attempt to accomplish a take-off of a literary magazine could be noticed in Tamsui (Taipei district). I had thought of calling it ‘Backyard’ because in a way Taiwan where I was then teaching seemed to be kind of another ‘backyard’ of the U.S.A.  A friend and colleague, Liang Ching-feng, suggested a better title, Jie-tou [literally, Street “head,” that is to say,  “Street Crossing” or  “Street Corner”]. Students at the university helped form a “Culture Studies Group” which was to function as the collective editor (as no foreigners could be editors). A student suggested that his elder brother, a publisher of school books, get a G.I.O. license for the journal and assume the role of publisher and distributor. As it happened, the price asked by the printing company which this publisher, Welly Chen, favored, proved exorbitant. Members of the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre took the mother copies of the first issue to another printer who did a fine job at a fair price. 

This first issue  sketchily introduced Yang K’uei [Yang Kwei], a Taiwanese short story writer and novelist and an early dissident who was imprisoned several times by the Japanese colonialists and the Taiwan government. Encouraged to read writers of the officially rejected shantu wenxue literary movement, students of my essay writing course wrote fine articles on Wu Zhuoliu [Wu Tso-liu], Huang Ch’un-ming, Chen Yingzhen [Ch’en Ying-chen] and others which were to appear in one of the next issues of Jie-tou. I translated poems by Bai Qiu [Pai Ch’iu] into English, albeit based on Liang Ching-feng’s German version. (Some of the poems by Bai Qiu that I included in the first issue were  translated by John McLellan, however. I never managed at the time to ask him for permission and apologize sincerely.) 

Bai Qiu was also one of the black-listed poets, just like Bo Yang who spent so many years in the concentration camp established by the  K.M.T. rulers of Taiwan on Lü Dao or ‘Green Island.’ 

The first issue of Jiet-tou also included articles on the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre and a review of a sarcastic play by Yao Yi-wei that was staged by Huang Mei-shu 
and that highlighted, formally inspired by Beckett but with socially aware and realistic precision, the existential despair of working class people on the Ilha Formosa, the beautiful island. 

It was Huang Yu-shan who established the most fruitful contacts to artists and writers concerned with the arts and film-making in Taiwan. Thanks to her, I met Lin Hwai-min when he returned from the States, as well as Ivan Wang, the founder of the Taipei Film Library and editor of Yinxiang Zazhi (Influence magazine, a film journal). Lee Daw-ming proved a good friend who helped get access to the Taipei International Film Festival and meet (as well as interview) Wim Umboh. Thanks to Wang Li-der, himself a composer working at the time at the Sony Video and Audio Library in Taipei, I briefly met Michael Ranta but more importantly, almost all the interesting composers then at work in Taipei. A good number of interesting issues of Jie-tou seemed possible.

However, Taiwan being Taiwan in 1978, it was not to happen. The army officers stationed on campus in order to receive and evaluate reports by informers started to spread the news that I was dealing with “subversive literature” in my courses. The members of the Culture Study Group saw the group dissolved and probably had to face serious queries. None of them was punished but they were careful now. The younger brother of my publisher turned out to be an informer of the G.I.O.; thus there had be a serious base to his jokes that he was “agent 007.” But the most unexpected thing was that I found myself unable to pay for another issue. When I got the finished copies of the first issue, Willy Chen soon appeared with his sedan and took most of them home. I don’t know whether many copies arrived at newsstands. Though I had paid the printer, I never saw a penny let alone a yuan (New Taiwan Dollar, as they called it, in English) from eventual sales to bookstores and newsstands. Thus, my hope that I would be able to pay for the next issue of Jie-tou by relying in part on the proceeds from the sale of the first issue proved unrealistic. Was it due to Willy’s business acumen, or part of a concerted effort of the G.I.O.? I still don’t know. They had refrained from openly braking me or outlawing what I was doing. But the overall effect was that a foreigner couldn’t realistically hope to do a critical dual language literary and art magazine in Taiwan in 1978-79. And this despite a ridiculously low circulation of a few hundred copies.

So, as you see, Street Voice is preceeded by failures. Don’t hope for too much. The name of the journal is no accident; I’ve been inspired both by the old journal’s name which, as Liang Chingfeng put it, alluded to crowds taking to the street and debating the issues of the day, their needs and problems, in public. Liang Chingfeng was not alone in harboring such hopes which finally lead to the dismantling the old K.M.T. dictatorship, an undemocratic regime propped up by transnational corporations like Philips (Einhoven), Ford-Philco (the television producing subsidiary of the Ford Motor Co.), or Pfizer – as well as the Sixth U.S. Fleet and friendly governments like the West German one whose military secret service, the BND, closely collaborated with proto-fascist Taiwanese colleagues, just like they collaborated with the Apartheid torturers who killed Steve Biko. Yes, Jietou [Street] was a name, a title, that had symbolic significance for us. But I have also been inspired by a British poetry mag, Streetword, edited Mike Dobbie whom I once contacted thanks to Mike Horovitz.

The more recent project that is expressed by the choice of a fairly similar name, Street Voice, is an open, free, unorthodox one. As always, I open its platform to poets and authors of short prose texts regardless of whether they share my views and aspirations. But I hope of course for critical, sarcastic, revealing, enlightening poems and articles. (No lengthy prose, no novels – sorry. It seems to need different outlets). More specifically – I hope, as an editor, to receive poems that mirror and address the imagination. And I also hope to receive poems by committed, truly engagé poets, those whose poetry  reveals the absurdities, the atrocities and the injustice of the world. The world, that is, “my” society – and “your’s”… 

Perhaps what I hope for most of all is the (next to) impossible: that the imaginative and the critical merge and are joined together and intermingle and reenforce each other. Buñuel did that, as a filmmaker, in some of his best films – films like Viridiana (1961) and Nazarín (1959). Perhaps Pablo Neruda achieved this marriage of heaven and hell. And didn’t Blake before him? And contemporaries of Neruda and Buñuel, say, César Vallejo, Miguel Hernandez, Ernesto Cardenal?

Street Voice has experienced already two take-off attempts. The difficulties of life, job-connected tasks, worries related to the illness of close relatives, money problems all have intervened already and so the first take-off attempts ended in a fiasco. Perhaps what was the greatest flaw and the foremost obstacle was that immediate feed-back (as they now call the urge to relate to others, and to join in) remained minimal. Without friends and acquaintances and “mouth-to-mouth propaganda” spreading the word that a worthwhile poetry mag may be in the making, a lively poetry mag will perhaps not begin to blossom in this website.

Academic journals are prone to issue calls for papers. Can I call this rambling narration of failing take-offs an appropriate INVITATION TO SUBMIT POEMS?  As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never been eager to be submissive. And to politely, cleverly or submissively submit poems to a honorable editor (or a team of editors) has never been my cup of tea. So I wouldn’t really want any one else to “submit” poems. Just send them along – if you feel like it. And don’t expect a clever literary expert to “judge” them. Of course I have, again and again, not simply the feeling that I like or don’t particularly like a poem. Of course it is possible that I try to say why a poem, as I see it, is “good.” Or else appears to me as not really what I think is a good poem. But I know full well that too many thoughts and emotions influence such “judgements” – and I prefer to refrain from being a judge. I prefer to be a lover. And of course, if I don’t fall in love with your poem, this does not mean more than the fact that there are many kind and nice and intelligent persons, but you and I will hardly fall in love with all of them.

So, send along poems. There is a fair chance that they will be published in Street Voice. And yes, I say it again: Despite the desire to produce a poetry (etc.) magazine that is somehow “situated on the left,” close to the (so-called) common people and their needs, Street Voice will be open to many different views and approaches. And this aesthetically and otherwise. Amen.

                                            Andreas Weiland


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