For many of the Beat writers, publication in these little magazines marked their first appearance in print. At North Carolina's Black Mountain College, poet Robert Creeley was editing the Black Mountain Review (3), whose final issue in the fall of 1957 featured work by Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, as well as an extract from William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch. This was the first publication of Naked Lunch in any form, and according to Burroughs's biographer, this appearance in print marked a turning point (Morgan 1988):
Burroughs, due to the obscene nature of his material, couldn't get published through the front door the way that Kerouac had. He couldn't even get published through the back door, for Ferlinghetti at City Lights turned down Naked Lunch, saying it was disgusting. Allen [Ginsberg] had no better luck when he sent a section to Stephen Spender at Encounter magazine. Spender replied that he had no interest in "wading through yards and yards of entrails." So that for Burroughs, publication in the Black Mountain Review was a crucial break in the pattern of rejection.Often run on a shoestring budget, and lacking the reputation of the more established literary magazines, the underground magazines were labours of love for the people who published them. In many cases they represented the only outlets for poets just starting out, those yet to acquire a name for themselves. Due to their specialized nature, their readership was small, but according to Gilbert Sorrentino, publisher of Neon magazine, an audience of 200 readers sufficed, because in the late fifties in New York the community of poets and writers was so tight (Sorrentino 1978).
Many of the magazines were published by people who were writers themselves: the peers of those who appeared within their pages. The magazines of interest to us were thus both "causes" of Beat writing as well as being among of its "effects." Writers frustrated by the lack of interest shown by the larger publishing outlets responded by creating their own outlets: a way of getting their work and the work of their friends out into the world, and as another, indirect way of expressing themselves. LeRoi Jones describes why his magazine Yugen focussed on the Beat writers (Ossman 1978):
For a long time Dr. [William Carlos] Williams couldn't get into Hudson Review, and several other mature, older poets like Kenneth Patchen were never admitted there, or in magazines like Partisan Review or Sewanee. If those editors had a literary point of view in excluding their work, then I feel I have as much right, certainly, to base my choice on my literary taste.By providing an outlet, these magazines helped make the new beat writing visible, gradually generating a wider interest, and in a sense helping to create what would later be dubbed the Beat Generation. That these magazines and newsletters were able to survive at all is evidence of a readership for them. The editors' direct involvement (as writers) in the literary scene shows that the underground magazines were inevitable "effects" of the changes taking place in literature. Each magazine was its editor's voice, and these numerous, varied voices were used for the exchange of ideas throughout the underground.
Gilbert Sorrentino describes the ambience that existed in New York during the late fifties (Sorrentino 1978):
I suppose what is fondly called by literary historians a "ferment" was occurring in the arts at this time [...] A number of very diverse things all happened at the same time, all of them linked together, however tenuously, and all of them serving to create what I might call, with some misgivings, an avant-garde community in New York that had cultural and artistic ties to other communities in other parts of the country. [...] It was an incredible stew out of which was to come an American literature that by 1960 could no longer, even by the most benighted, be called "fanatic," "ignorant," "vapid," or "puerile." By the most curiously unintentional means, as I have said, the scattered elements of this movement became unified.Gilbert Sorrentino and LeRoi Jones became fast friends, and Jones was later to become an important focus in the New York literary underground. In addition to Yugen, he joined with poet Diane di Prima to publish the Floating Bear newsletter between 1961 and 1969. Much of what appeared in Floating Bear came from material submitted to Yugen, and the newsletter was distributed free to anyone who requested it, a marketing technique which has never caught on with "above ground" publications! (di Prima 1973):
Anybody who asked for the Bear got put on the list. There was no charge until the last year or two, that is, the last four or five issues, when I started asking people for an initial contribution for postage. After the first couple of issues we always broke even. People would send us money, or stamps, or give us things.Interest in the writing of the Beats was growing rapidly, as show by the increase in the size of Floating Bear's mailing list (di Prima 1973):
We mailed [the first issue] to 117 people; [...] by the end of the first year we were up to 500 copies, and by the time of the last few issues we were printing 1500 and mailing out 1250: about 250 abroad and 1000 all over the United StatesEqual participants in the literary "ferment" were the small presses, many of which were linked to underground magazines. The presses concentrated on works too long for magazine publication, and collections of shorter pieces which had previously appeared in the magazines. Several of these small presses are worth mentioning here. LeRoi Jones's Totem Press was an offshoot of his Yugen magazine. On its own and through a co-publishing arrangement with another small press named Corinth Books, Totem Press accumulated what is, in retrospect, quite an impressive stable of authors: a 1959 issue of Yugen magazine advertises Totem's Fall publication list, which features titles by Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima, Gregory Corso, and Jack Kerouac.
Corinth Books was founded in 1959 by Ted Wilentz and his brother Eli. According to Ted, he and his brother founded the press in order to publish "a great range of social thought, mostly implicit, ranging from the philosophical anarchism of the Beats to what seems Art for Art's sake ... the wide variety of the books Corinth did indicates that our editorial policies did not stem from a statement of principles. I like to think that the overall list [...] reflects our personal tastes and beliefs" (Wilentz 1990).
In addition to their co-publishing arrangement with Totem Press (an arrangement which had LeRoi Jones working directly with the poets and submitting manuscripts to Corinth for publication), Corinth also co-published with Jargon Press, another small New York press, run by writer Jonathan Williams. In their first fourteen years, Corinth published or co-published a number of important works, including several collections of Beat writings, Diane di Prima's Dinner and Nightmares, Anne Waldman's Giant Night (4), Charles Olson's The Maximus Poems, Jack Kerouac's The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, and Allen Ginsberg's Empty Mirror.