New York

“Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal Issue #10”

White Columns

Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore founded Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal in 2001. An offshoot of his label, Ecstatic Peace Records + Tapes, it was envisaged as a means of gathering downtown writers with affinities to art and music. Celebrating its tenth issue (coedited with Byron Coley and Eva Prinz), this show positioned the journal—proudly black-and-white and stapled—as faith keeper for the mimeo revolution of the 1960s and ’70s, when little magazines mushroomed in the East Village, North Beach, and points between. Arcing back to Charles Henri Ford’s 1940 volume of poems, ABC’s (with a cover drawing by Joseph Cornell), and forward to zines such as Teenage Wasteland Gazette (with a cover photo featuring nonairbrushed cunnilingus), the exhibition linked Surrealists to Beats to New York Schoolers to transdisciplinary post- or chamber-punks. Culling from his personal collection and organizing a parallel series of performances and readings, Moore positioned his project in an outrider lineage of chapbooks, magazines, and record albums. Implicit was an enduring, holy-goof devotion to—qua indulgence of—poetry as a visceral community affair. To honor these intergenre utopias and knit together generations who create them is worthwhile. As visual display it looks like crap, but that, needless to say, works the mystique.

Vitrines housed magazines and ephemera. There was a wall of record covers, a wall displaying covers for Ecstatic Peace’s run to date, and miscellaneous pages enlarged as digital prints. Orange flared here and there, as did purple highlights and blue tints. Otherwise, in part because Ecstatic Peace often publishes vintage images, a grainy gray reigned. To beguile the eye, this left typography—and breasts, butts, bushes, beards, and long hair center-parted and falling over wistful eyes. Some nude muses were, at this remove, anonymous, though a poster designed by Les Levine for Wave Hill Poetry Events 1969 stars the comely trio of poets Anne Waldman and John Giorno and poet-critic John Perreault. Clothed notables included Charles Olson on the cover of Niagara Frontier Review, 1964, lecturing at a blackboard where a chalked spiral spins out the words embodiment and enharmonic, and an album called Dial-a-Poem Poets: Totally Corrupt, 1972, whose cover places Waldman, Giorno, Allen Ginsberg, and Robert Creeley around a boardroom table with William S. Burroughs as chairman.

There were few whole poems to be seen. The journal #10 itself could be perused or purchased at the reception desk, as could the concurrently released #9—a theme issue nostalgically devoted to pot. A sweet, mediocre lyric (ca. 1950) in a broadside by Richard Brautigan was on view in a vitrine—“Oh, Marcia, / I want your long blond beauty / to be taught in high school . . .”—and a blowup of Diane di Prima’s Floating Bear newsletter announced events such as the publication of Helen Adam’s San Francisco’s Burning, 1963, illustrated by Jess, alongside a note from Ray Johnson: “Today is my birthday. Please take me off you [sic] mailing list for personal reasons.” Beyond these tidbits, for reading matter one scanned names from the scene then—Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, Lou Reed—and now: Anselm Berrigan, Kim Gordon, Jutta Koether, Chan Marshall, Gary Panter. Titles of journals themselves offered perhaps the most absorbing language elements in the visual field. Some of these are legendary among cognoscenti—such as 0–9, edited between 1967 and 1969 by Bernadette Mayer and Vito Acconci, or Ed Sanders’s Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, 1962–69; others more forgettable still added to the merry litany: Outburst, Copkiller, Yowl, Bastard Angel, Reindeer Cum, The Dick. As a signal phrase, “Ecstatic Peace” certainly strikes a different note.

But Moore’s affection for his materials is not backward-looking. Nonvirtual location and personal contacts shape this old-school connectivity; hence journal contributors such as Waldman, Eileen Myles, and Gerard Malanga close the gap between archival and current publications, while by its very choice of venue the show nodded to 112 Greene Street, the post-Minimalist/post-Conceptualist workshop that evolved into White Columns. The gallery’s own Bulletin Board pinup zone parlayed the mood via a separate but related exhibition of snapshots—salvaged from a flea market—that captured more SoHo-ers hobnobbing in the later ’70s. This added to the overall impression of cool-kid earnestness, an intrinsic part of a living history whose avantcliquishness is a (mostly) positive value.

Frances Richard