I’ve been going through cardboard boxes at my father’s house and have found a lot of old magazines and letters from friends I forgot that I had. Some have not survived the mice. Fresh Paint’s been nibbled on but has lived to tell the tale while The Sex Life of Andy Warhol (which is probably worth something) has been pretty much devoured….boy the mice loved Andy.
I also found some Little Caesar magazines, spared any gnawing, including the 1977 second issue with Adolphe Menjou on the cover, which I bought at Giovanni’s Room, a gay bookstore on Spruce Street in Philadelphia that would later move across Broad Street to Pine. I knew who Adolphe Menjou was (he gave Hayley Mills the prisms in Pollyanna) and perhaps that jaunty smile and dapper tip of his hat with the cane drew me to him. This Little Caesar had poems by Tom Clark and Ron Padgett, poets I’d never heard of. It also had Barbara Holland whom I’d just seen at Middle Earth Books. She had me mesmerized when she performed her poems from memory instead of reading them. She twirled around at one point like a dervish, a mad oracle, the center of the universe, and I saw at once that this was the thing to do, perform. I heard people remark that Barbara’s words were beautiful without any substance, but I liked her a lot and so apparently did Little Caesar.
I’d been out of the country traveling in South America, and after a bout of hepatitis living for awhile on my parents’ property in the South Mountain, I moved to Philly to go back to Temple (where I’d flunked out in 1969 and they were kind enough to let me back in) to study Latin, Spanish and French. There was a real poetry scene going on in Philly with many good poets, places to read, and hometown magazines like Hot Water, Paper Air, and the Painted Bride Quarterly. Little Caesar only added to the comfortable excited feeling of being where I belonged. Dennis Cooper, one of the two editors, not much more than a kid himself, did an amazing job networking with and publishing poets from all over, including eventually even me, reassuring for a young poet who often felt unnoticed and left out of things.
At my father’s house, the cardboard boxes are under the bed in the bedroom that was mine as a child, and the bed by the way is the bed my father was conceived and born in. I wanted to look for a book by Marty Watt, got on my knees and pulled the boxes out from under uncovering in the dust among the gnawed paper and dead lady bugs this edition of Little Caesar. I picked it up happily remembering and opened it to read the introduction by Dennis Cooper, which is charming and optimistic (Let’s use the meat that’s in the freezer, you know?), a manifesto worthy of doing what it did: bring a country, a world of earnest poets like me together, not outside looking in.
Here is the first paragraph of Cooper’s introduction:
Welcome back to Little Caesar. So far so good, I guess. We hope you didn’t expect miracles from our first issue. We did but quickly learned our lessons. Now we’re just out to do the best we can (yawn). So many poetry fans lean forward wearily and say there’s no Baudelaire around nowadays. Maybe they’re right. Maybe we all ought to batten down under the nearest copy of PARIS SPLEEN and wait for the new Beatles. I say let’s use the meat that’s in the freezer, you know? We’re surrounded by good writers and if we’re doomed to die from cancer anyway, let’s get ecstatic while we can. The best way I know is with poetry, fiction, the arts. So, we’re at your service. Jim and I aren’t convinced L.C. or poetry in general has to remain ensconced in the small press bookstore of our choice. We want to be big as Time Magazine, and type towards that.