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Archive Three: Little Caesar

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.

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, I got on my knees and pulled the cardboard boxes out from under the bed 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.

I read the poems of Tom Clark, Greg Kuzma, Ron Padgett, Jean Genet, Jerene Cline, Gavin Dillard, Barbara A. Holland, and Lyn Lifshin from Little Caesar, issue 2, 1977.

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.

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