Way back in the mists of 1978, before the two co-editors of Home Planet News joined forces, there was Poets. Before Poets was Poets and Poetry both published by the mad genius of newsprint literary endeavors, Michael Devlin. (Before even these was the Home Planet Book Shop and Home Planet Publications, but more about that later.)
Poets and Poetry was a four page weekly tabloid put together underground style in spare time shaved from their jobs on lower Broadway by Mike and fellow typesetter Philippe Chaurize, who had his own small press history, along with Linda Tarleton, later to be joined by a few others including another typesetter, Josh Gosciak, and Maurice Kenny. In its ample pages could be found good work by downtown NY poets along with interesting graphics and outre ideas expressed by Devlin and company. I (Donald Lev) learned about this endeavor drinking with Mike at the Cedar Tavern, and I was invited to work on it, but at the time (1975) I was still involved with my own publication (HYN Anthology, and so demurred except to provide some poetry. The demise of Poets and Poetry resulted in Mike's setting up in an office at One Union Square West with cartons containing half the files of Poets and Poetry, the other half having become the property of Gosciak, Kenny and others to start the magazine Dodeca which later became Contact II. This time, when Mike asked me to join in a new publishing endeavor, I readily accepted. So I became editor of the newsprint publication which Mike and I decided to name Poets during one of our very smokefilled editorial conferences. (Philippe Chaurize also came along with the new publication as "consultant.") In the five monthly issues that appeared before Mike disappeared with the plates for aborted issue six under his arm, Poets published a lot of the poets and many of the reviewers who subsequently graced the pages of Home Planet News, such as Tuli Kupferberg, Harold Goldfinger, George Montgomery, Barbara Holland, Miguel Algarin, William Packard, D.H. Melhem, and Irving Stettner, and including a centerfold spread of poetry by future HPN co-editor Enid Dame. I (this is still Donald talking) suggested to Mike that to do a monthly litmag was a big order, which called for an additional person with good literary and organizational skills to help anchor things. My model was New York Quarterly managing editor Marj Finnell. I immediately thought of Enid Dame, a poet I knew from the New York Poets. Cooperative. I called her and she said (in spite of being in the midst of writing her doctoral dissertation) yes!
I—this is Enid talking—was surprised and pleased when Donald called. He enticed me to join the staff of Poets as associate editor by, among other things, pointing out that there was a typewriter in the Poets office, at which I could work on my dissertation. The typewriter turned out to be broken, but that didn't matter, as I soon became so engrossed in the life of the magazine, and the community I felt it both addressed and created, that my thesis on 10th Century industrial novelists paled in comparison.
When it became clear that Mike Devlin who was both financing and typesetting Poets was not going to continue, we were faced with several hard questions. Did we want to continue publishing Poets? (Was it even possible to do so, as Mike was not around to approve or disapprove?). Could we start a magazine of our own? Could it combine Poets' funky vision and mad energy with more settled political and communal commitment? A place where the new feminist poetry (this was 1978) could share space and dialogue with neo-Beat bardic effusions? A place for poets on paths other than the well worn tracks of the various establishments (including the "anti-establishment" one)?
We also felt responsible for the writers whose work we had already accepted for the future issues of Poets which, it became obvious, would never appear. Our decision seemed inevitable. Having already decided to move in together, we found a three room apartment on upper First Avenue (lower Manhattan rentals were already eluding our means) and set aside a room for our infant publication. We procured an electronic typewriter in a Bleecker Street shop, got as many of the files from the Union Square office as we could carry out before the landlord locked the door, and we were in business, publishing a galaxy of poets as diverse as Andrew Glaze and A. D. Winans; Nelly Wong and Daniela Gioseffi; Toi Derricotte and Carl Solomon; Cornelius Eady and Leo Connellan.
While still at Union Square we discussed titles for our new publication. We agreed to name the baby Home Planet News after a poem by Donald, which had been published in the first issue of Poets & Poetry in 1975, called "Fragment of a Letter to One's Home Planet." "Home Planet" had also been the name of Donald's East Ninth Street book store in 1971, and also his press, which published HYN Anthology (1969-75) and several books. In choosing this title, we also liked the overtones of Ezra Pound's famous advice to poets to "make it new" (along with the subsequent corollary "make it news") and William Carlos Williams' lines "it is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack/ of what is found there."
Our first issue, which we laid out on our round kitchen table on First Avenue, appeared in March of 1979. It was a 24 page stapled newsprint magazine like Poets, but without the latter's expert typography. On the cover was a photograph of the jazz poets Steve and Gloria Tropp, and the issue featured Steve's classic poem "The Curse of the Cat People." (Steve's reading of this and other of his poems with Gloria's skat accompaniments was long a high point of HPN events at the Cedar Tavern).
We inroduced Vol. 1 No. 1 of Home Planet News to the world in March 1979 at a poetry reading at the West End Bar on Upper Broadway. A week later we had a large party at our apartment on First Avenue. Most of the guests were contributors and their friends, including the Tropps, David and Phillis Gershator, Lehman Weichselbaum, Susan Kronenberg, RobertOh Faber, Alison Colbert, Jim Story (who lost his stetson hat), Richard Davidson (who contributed an article, "Hard Traveling—a new look at Radical Poets of the Thirties" to the issue), our then fiction editor Careufel de Lamiere, Nancy du Plessis, Eunice Wolfgram, who had a centerfold of poetry in the issue, Barbara Holland, Layle Silbert, Martin Mitchell, who remains the dean of our reviewing staff, and Irving Stettner.
We didn't know exactly where we were going with HPN at the time. We just wanted to present some lively and eclectic poetry and cover news of the poetry/small press scene. Which led us into some interesting byways.
The first controversy which erupted in our pages was the infamous "cronyism" scandal at the National Endowment for the Arts when both members of a number of live-in couples, all of whom were associated with the Poetry Project of St. Marks-in-the-Bouwerie, against all statistical odds, received NEA individual awards for poetry. The poetry community was split on the issue, many reluctant to take a stand and risk losing future awards. We felt we had no choice but to enter the fray, which we did in Issue 5, Jan. 80, in a pair of articles: "Cronyism at the NEA?" by Zack Rogow, and "Does the NEA Underrepresent Women Writers?" by Alison Colbert. When calling to invite Donald Lev to read at St. Marks, Bob Holman mischievously added "...because you're my crony."
Our critical coverage of events continued with a 2-part article by Richard Kostelanetz on funding chicanery, the first part of which was entitled "FUCK YOU JUST TRY TO SUE US" and the second, "A SQUAD OF RUBBER STAMPS". We covered the New York Book Fair appreciatively for years starting with our first issue; but only heard from that institution when we published a somewhat critical report in 1986. Our experience with the National Writers Union was similar. We covered it from its inception, starting with a series of supportive articles by Michael McGrinder in 1982 when it was still an organizing committee, but it was only when an article by Peter Weissman entitled "National Writers Union In Trouble" appeared in 1984, that we heard from representatives of the union. We published in consequence an article by Mary McAnally called "National Writers Union Answers Critic."
Although we usually do not select themes for issues of HPN (though often a theme does emerge out of the material) we do on occasion run "theme issues," which we feel have been quite successful. We did a "peace" issue in the spring of 1983, featuring a group of poems by Daniel Berrigan, one of which, "Consolation," was included in the Pushcart Prize Anthology for that year. Our "Progressive Arts" issue in Oct., '91, which used some red ink at the suggestion of Sid Bernard (who didn't live to see the issue he helped create), featured a special collage cover by Tuli Kupferberg, and also presented work by Denise Duhamel, Hal Sirowitz, Arthur Winfield Knight, Alicia Ostriker, Kate Ferguson Ellis, Will Inman, B.Z. Niditch, John Crawford, and Richard Davidson. Our "Nostalgia" issue in 1989 recalled The Beats, Gansevoort Pier, the Lower East Side,The Gaslight, Le Metro, The Cedar, Les Deux Megots, Dada, and Abstract Expressionism. In our "Upstate New York" issue, the editorial chores were shared by our "Catskill Correspondent" the late George Montgomery, poet, ex-wrestler, and candidate for Sheriff of Rosendale, New York. In that issue George prophetically wondered why "Lev and Enid are still on Broadway instead of being in an onion field..." It took us just four years to find ourselves in High Falls, NY where we raise zucchini and garlic and Home Planet still has its own room.
Our "Focus on AIDS" issue in 1995 was supported by a grant from the Puffin Foundation. We wanted to produce such an issue because the subject of AIDS was, as Frank Rich said in the New York Times, "the story of our times." We wanted to present artists' and writers' responses to the epidemic which has changed the way we connect with each other. Writers in this issue included Eugene Stein, Tsaurah Litzky, Prairie Miller, Marvin Solomon and Paul Genega. The issue also featured a touching obituary by Barbara Fisher of AIDS victim Jackie Eubanks, a much loved librarian who had been an integral part of the New York Book Fair for many years.
Other themes included focuses on Work, Brooklyn (featuring longtime Poet Laureate Norman Rosten), Fiction (with an interview with Mary Walsh Hemingway), and, in 1993 a reconsideration of Christopher Columbus. An issue devoted to Yiddish poetry in translation appeared in 1982, presenting the work of such eminent Yiddish poets as Menke Katz, Gabriel Preil, Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, Moishe Steingart, Jacob Glatstein, and the great Rajzel Zychlinsky. The translators were Mindy Rinkewich (mostly), Alexis Levitin, and Aaron Kramer.
Over the years HPN has developed some rather distinctive regular features such as "Bookstore Beat" in which the erudite Fred Bauman reviewed a different independent bookstore or group of stores each issue. Long-running (since 1980) is Edward C. Lynskey's "Magazine Rack" a stunningly concise, witty analysis of current litmags. Enid Dame reviewed poetry readings in early issues. Glenda Frank created a theater column which ran several years, Lehman Weichselbaum contributes irregular columns on off-beat theater and performance productions. We've conducted interviews with various writers, of which Roger Riggins' superb interviews with Hayden Carruth and Anne Waldman were striking examples. We cover art scenes in New York City, Woodstock, and internationally with some regularity, currently featuring Jenny Tango's cutting edge "Working Arts" column. Tuli Kupferberg's trenchant and anarchic cartoons have been appearing regularly in our pages since 1983.
Our front page editorial "Dear Reader" began in 1988 after a year-long sabbatical which we needed to refresh ourselves and compose an index of our first 24 issues. At that time we found it necessary to speak directly to the reader, and we haven't stopped. In these editorials we respond to the "march of time" and bring urgent issues both literary and political to the readers' attention. This, we feel, has provided opportunity for a dialogue with the readers, many of whom have responded over the ears with comments and letters.
Lastly. Home Planet News has presented special memorial,sections dedicated to recently departed poets, such as the "pull-out" sections of poems by Stephen Tropp and John Burnett Payne, the "festschrift" for Village surrealist Harold Goldfinger (suggested by Michael Devlin shortly before his own untimely death in 1990), tributes to the works of Bob Kaufman, Ree Dragonette, Norman Rosten, Jack Micheline, Aaron Kramer, Allen Ginsberg, Barbara Holland, Percy Johnston, Bob Tramonte, Menke Katz. Richard Davidson, and Meridel LeSueur.
As we slide, kicking and screaming (we are that "low tech") into the next millennium, we hear predictions that writing will be obsolete, that computers will compose all poetry, that no one will know how to read anything except e-mail, and one big conglomerate will dictate what we may or may not read. But we refuse to believe it. We continue to champion the small press book and magazine, the alternative culture, the independent book store, the poetry festival in the mountains, the open poetry reading, the slam, the poetry groups that thrive in small towns and unexpected places throughout the land, and the person getting up at three a. m. to write down the words to a poem scratching in his brain. We persist in all our commitments!
Enid Dame passed away Christmas morning, 2003. The last issue of Home Planet News she saw was #49, with its headline "POEMS ON PEACE WAR LOVE & HISTORY". There have been eight issues since that one. Two issues, numbers 50 and 53 contain tributes to Enid, and in number 53 is reprinted an important essay of hers, "Art as Midrash." An index of the first 50 issues of Home Planet News are included in numbers 51 and 52. In these and in all future issues of Home Planet News, we hope that we can say with confidence, "we persist in all our commitments!"