Posted by Ken Edwards on Friday, February 20, 2015 Under: Reality Street
It's an astonishing thought: the full run of REALITY STUDIOS, the magazine I founded in 1978 and ran for ten years, is now online. All of it - all 10 volumes, every one of the more than 1,000 pages. The early ones were typed onto mimeograph stencils on a manual typewriter. And now those words I typed have been magically transformed into downloadable, searchable and copy-and-pasteable text.
This miracle I owe to the University of Pennsylvania/Kelly Writers House/Jacket2 (never sure about the relationship between them all), and in particular Danny Snelson. It's been a long time coming - I think getting on for a couple of years since we first talked about it and I carefully and with great trepidation packed copies of the full run (some items literally the only copies I had, and many in fragile condition) and airmailed them to be scanned.
The published editions have long been out of print. Now you can download the lot as pdfs, free of charge.
I remember the first issue very well. I had been collaborating on Alembic magazine, liviing in a semi-derelict farmhouse near Orpington, Kent (this era soon to be documented in a book of reminiscences of the London area poetry scene in the 1970s/80s, to be edited by Robert Hampson). I'd become frustrated by the length of time it took for each issue of Alembic to be published. I wanted something more immediate. In fact, what I wanted was a blog, or a webzine, or something like that - but that was impossible, because nobody had heard of such things in 1978, and the internet had not even been invented. I'd been impressed by Charles Bernstein's and Bruce Andrews' L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine (now also fully downloadable!)
So I started a monthly magazine, to be sent to anyone interested. I cranked out the first issue on my trusty Roneo duplicator. Ten A4 pages, poem/prose sequences by James Sherry and Opal Nations. No sooner off the machine than collated, corner-stapled, folded and stuffed into envelopes, and posted to about 40 people.
The name came from William Burroughs via the Situationists, who had adopted as a slogan something like "Storm the reality studios and re-take the universe." Actually, I've looked it up in the opening pages of Burroughs' Nova Express, and what Inspector J Lee actually says is "With your help we can occupy The Reality Studio and retake their universe of Fear Death and Monopoly". So like many famous quotations, it's got distorted over time. Anyway, that was my grandiose plan: an assault on "reality" and its manufacturers using the weapons of avant-garde poetry, conceptual art and philosophy.
I kept this up for a year. Around ten pages a month. Really heterogenous stuff. An essay about Frank Samperi and Cid Corman by David Miller. Notes from our shipping correspondent (Peter Barry). Book reviews. Conceptual poetry by E E Vonna-Michell (father of Tris Vonna-MIchell, shortlisted for the Turner Prize last year, by the way). Poems by Charles Bernstein, Peter Philpott, Jeremy Hilton, and the "two Paul Greens" issue (few people noticed they were two different poets, Paul A Green, now a neighbour of mine in Hastings, and Paul Green the bookseller and editor of Spectacular Diseases in Peterborough).
I couldn't quite sustain the freqency in the second year, so Volumes 2 and 3 were issued quarterly. By this time I had moved back into central London, to a housing co-op in Balfour Street, near Elephant & Castle, which was the magazine's home for the rest of its life. Photocopying gradually replaced mimeo as the method of production. Volume 3 also appeared as a limited-edition collected annual volume, and from then on the frequency became annual. Volumes 4 and 5 were side-stapled A4 with wraparound litho-printed covers. Then from Volume 6 on I made the decision to move to A5 perfect-bound - I farmed out the printing and binding to a Polish printer in north London who could do it astonishingly cheaply (I began to suspect he did this by paying his staff derisory wages, by the way - once, he spoke scornfully to me about how much a rival printer was paying to get collating done: "Collating is nothing - I can get a vooman to do it!").
The readership grew from the original 40, but not by much - I don't think I ever printed more than 300 copies of each volume. The contributors were chiefly a loose grouping of British and American poets and writers, the former mainly associated with what has sometimes been called the "British Poetry Revival" (which included the "Cambridge poets" as a sub-set) and the latter mainly with the "Language Writing" group. But it wasn't that cut and dried. Looking back at the contents, I wince occasionally at some of my decisions, especially in regard to presentation, but I am proud of the fact that REALITY STUDIOS never became the vehicle for a smug coterie of poets. There are weird ideas and failed experiments, there are outsiders, mavericks, people who were in there because they sent me stuff out of the blue, poets who have never been heard of again as well as those who went on to make reputations in the wider world. I feel distanced from a lot of it now, but, essentially, my editorial philosophy has not changed much since those days. I want to shake things up, which means failing often. I don't want to be part of a cool club.
So I don't regret any of it, but I remember I was disappointed by how difficult it was to get people to articulate poetics, to review new books, or to argue about aesthetics and politics without falling out. (One sharp political disagreement in the early pages led to temporary disruption of a friendship.) I think we were still living in buttoned-up Britain - the magazine wasn't anything like L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, with its lively exchanges, in that respect. The internet has probably done something since to loosen up British literary culture.
I was also disappointed by the way, even then, the avant-garde poetry community stuck to what it knew. Volume 7 was guest-edited by Glenda George, then associated with Paul Buck, who introduced a range of new writers, mostly but not all women - it was probably the least popular volume. Volume 9, the prose issue, featured out-there fiction by Kathy Acker, Carlyle Reedy, Johan de Wit and others, but much of the poetry readership did not want to follow me there (a phenomenon that continues with Reality Street's Narrative Series).
With Volume 10, I completed a decade, moved to Peckham in south London, and decided the project was over. There were a handful of one-off books published under the Reality Studios imprint before, in 1993, the name got subsumed as Reality Street with the amalgamation with Wendy Mulford's Cambridge press Street Editions.
So ... it's all there now, available to the world. And at last I feel I can say goodbye to it - it doesn't belong to me any more.
In : Reality Street
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