Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Overlooked Imprint

(Part 3)

[Read Part 1 and Part 2]

(Hawk & Whippoorwill: Poems of Man and Nature) is a new little magazine devoted to the subjects suggested in its subtitle. It will be published irregularly, which is to say whenever the editor feels that enough good material has been accepted to fill an issue … the editor will read all work submitted, short or long, and he hopes in time to have a sufficiently large subscription list to enable him to pay for poems.

August Derleth

1

A short essay in Oak Leaves, “The Writer and the ‘Little’ Magazine,” was the first indication August Derleth would edit and publish Hawk & Whippoorwill.

Derleth treasured a large fund he had saved of similar magazines, stating, “I find myself dipping into these slender issues from time to time very much in the same way that I refresh myself by looking into Frost and Thoreau and Emerson” in “The Editor’s Post” (Hawk & Whippoorwill, Spring 1960)—to which he would add a title of his own. The announcement at the top, excerpted from a 1960 broadside printed on separate stock, likely shared the same mailing envelope with Oak Leaves.

Derleth would produce Hawk & Whippoorwill for three years. But then he stopped abruptly, admitting later that “the overwhelming mass of poetry submitted was so very bad that editing the magazine soon became a depressing chore, and I was not unhappy to suspend it finally” (“My Life in Poetry”).

At his core Derleth was a businessman, and it was actually the economics that doomed the magazine. Hawk & Whippoorwill failed to attain a semi-pro status, yet Derleth would “pay” contributors two or three copies based on submission length and never required they become subscribers, as was common practice.

I had not, in any event, visualized extended publication, and the economic facts really permitted of no other solution. True, I had 170 sets bound and priced them at $10 the copy—of these perhaps half sold; the other half remain to be sold. The entire venture, exclusive of book publication, lost me a total of $1,706.50, or roughly $170 an issue. (“My Life in Poetry”)

In fact, Derleth’s venture had been beset with economic—not poetic—woes from the get-go:

Of poetry there was no dearth—there never is. The cost of production, however,  proved to be another matter entirely. It is always so with publishing, and particularly when the product makes its appeal to a relatively small if informed audience. It was obvious to me, through my work at Arkham House, that union printing for such a magazine was absolutely out of the question if I meant to hold to a per copy cost of [$]500. But I found that even a non-union printer asked a dollar an issue for a 500-copy magazine. Manifestly, this too, was impossible. So I went to England and paid $200 for the first issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill. Since the first year of the magazine, a twice-yearly publication, had a subscription list of 200, it must be apparent that I lost money from the beginning. Moreover, that loss was compounded by the fact that I seldom found it possible, after the first four issues to hold the magazine to 20 pages. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth indeed “went to England” (though never in person), contracting with Villiers Publications, Ltd., of London. Villiers printed all ten issues of the magazine during its three-year run—the final double-sized—as well as several books under a Hawk & Whippoorwill imprint.

2

Which raises the question that has troubled this scholar for years: Why didn’t Derleth include the Hawk & Whippoorwill books in Thirty Years of Arkham House, the bibliography compiled in 1969, purportedly to list every title issued under all of his name-plates? In addition to Arkham House (AH), this did include Mycroft & Moran (M&M) and Stanton & Lee (S&L).

Derleth prepared the bibliography to help mark his “Thirtieth Anniversary!” as publisher, offering it for sale in the 1969 Stock List of Books from Arkham House / Mycroft & Moran. He promoted it as “a comprehensive bibliography of the publications of Arkham House and its subsidiary imprints throughout the 30 years of its existence, together with a brief history.”

Arkham House and Mycroft & Moran are both genre-imprints, but Derleth routinely included Stanton & Lee with both in combined catalogs and bulletins. That’s how he launched the imprint in 1945: “Stanton & Lee will be publishers of general books … books of comic panels, strips … will on occasion reprint books” (Books /Arkham House / Mycroft & Moran / Stanton & Lee / Books). These “reprints” would be comprised of out-of-print Sac Prairie and Wisconsin Saga books, a subtle indicator of Derleth’s high hopes at the time.

Initial success was short-lived, however. Sales for even the best titles were moderate, and Derleth allowed Stanton & Lee to grow especially moribund between 1960 and 1965, the same period he was publishing using the H&W imprint.

Is there a connection? S&L is in the bibliography, H&W is not.

Derleth’s introduction to Thirty Years is no help; catering to his largest category of clients, Derleth speaks mainly of Arkham House, writes little about Mycroft & Moran, inserts two lines about Stanton & Lee—and says not a peep about Hawk & Whippoorwill.

But in 1971, in the “My Life in Poetry” lecture, Derleth does refer to the H&W books, doing so with obvious pride:

Moreover, the magazine won rather speedy recognition. Some of the poems from its pages—by James Weil, William D. Barney, Dodi Schultz, Leah Bodine Drake, and Company—appeared in anthologies and textbooks—and I may add, some of the most excitingly different textbooks of poetry to have been offered to schools in the past decade, like Some Haystacks Don’t Have Needles, and A Gift of Watermelon Pickles & Other Poems, both of which have had wide circulation in hard and paperback. Many more appeared in collections—among them five under my own Stanton & Lee imprint—Jane Stuart’s Eyes of the Mole, Joseph Payne Brennan’s The Wind of Time, Mary Weeden Stiver’s Brief Argument, Grant Code’s This Undying Quest, and Frances May’s Night Letters. (“My Life in Poetry”)

However, by referring to The Wind of Time as a Stanton & Lee title, Derleth conflates the history of the imprints. And yet, what appears to be confusion may actually be warranted for what it reveals about the S&L-H&W relationship—the fact that a definite relationship does exist. Looking at other “cross-over” connections, among all of Derleth’s name-plates, helps uncover this bigger picture.

The first relevant cross-over—Hawk & Whippoorwill with Arkham House—appears in the Autumn 1961 issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill:

Our readers may like to know that Arkham House is publishing in November Fire and Sleet and Candlelight: New Poems of the Macabre ($4.00).

Among the contributors were these H&W poets: Jesse Stuart, Raymond Roseliep, Joseph Payne Brennan, Grant Code, Leah Bodine Drake, Francis Angevine Gray, Joseph Joel Keith, Anne Marx, Edna Meudt, Jocelyn Macy Sloan, and James Weil.

(Francis May, a poet with a poem in the Autumn issue, apparently entered the scene too late to be included in Fire and Sleet and Candlelight, but she would have a short story published in Dark Things, the 1971 anthology of weird tales Derleth edited for Arkham House.)

3

Also in the Autumn issue, this pertinent announcement:

We are inaugurating this year, in November, a book publishing program. Our first book will be The Wind of Time, by Joseph Payne Brennan. It will be priced at $3.50 … we will publish one collection each year until we decide to end our publishing venture.

4

This title was not the first Brennan book Derleth published. As recently as 1958, Arkham House issued Nine Horrors and a Dream, a collection of Brennan’s weird tales. The Wind of Time, however, would garner the distinction of being the first book Villiers printed and bound for Derleth—all previous Arkham House, Mycroft & Moran, and Stanton & Lee titles having been made in the United States by George Banta Company, Inc., of Menasha, Wisconsin.  

When Derleth retired Hawk & Whippoorwill magazine, he had the second H&W book already in progress. “Though this is the final number of Hawk & Whippoorwill, the imprint of the H&W Press will appear sometime within the next year on one other book—Brief Argument, by Mary Weeden Stiver.” Brief Argument duly appeared in 1964, printed by Villiers.

In 1966, Derleth resurrected the Stanton & Lee imprint, going local again with Banta, for Wisconsin Harvest, a book of short stories he agreed to edit for the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association, the first of what he hoped might become a series of Wisconsin authored books. Not only did S&L’s history with Wisconsin themes make sense of this, but “Stanton & Lee” must’ve sounded more appropriate to Derleth for this series than poetry-light “Hawk & Whippoorwill.”

However, the next Stanton & Lee offering would be another H&W-styled poetry book: Eyes of the Mole, a 1967 collection of verse by Jane Stuart, the daughter of Derleth’s close friend and fellow writer Jesse Stuart. It became the first S&L book Derleth used Villiers to print and bind.

Derleth turned to Banta again for the next S&L, New Poetry Out of Wisconsin, a 1969 follow-up to Poetry Out of Wisconsin, the anthology Derleth co-edited in 1937 for a different publisher. Of course, this was a collection of Wisconsin writers, not H&W poets.

But then came Le Sueur’s Corn Village: A Selection in 1970 (Villiers), Code’s This Undying Quest in 1971 (Banta), and May’s Night Letters in 1971 (Villiers).

Which all conspire to deepen our little mystery. Not only are three H&W books missing from Derleth’s bibliography, so are the Villiers-printed S&L’s. Fortunately, we now are able to reconstruct—with educated guesswork—much of what happened.

In 1960, Derleth deemed the name Stanton & Lee inappropriate for a Little Review filled with poems about man and nature. Moreover, he banked on Hawk & Whippoorwill quickly becoming self-funded—all the more reason to keep separate the new imprint from the old.

Three years later Derleth retired the magazine, but not the imprint—not the idea of abetting a line of books. As late as 1968, a couple of years after using S&L for Wisconsin Harvest, H&W (according to a Prairie Press blurb) was still in the mix:

[Derleth] lives in his home, Place of Hawks … where he also conducts the affairs of Arkham House: Publishers, with its associated imprints—Mycroft & Moran, Stanton & Lee, and the Hawk & Whippoorwill Press.” (Walden Pond: Homage to Thoreau)

Only then, during the next year, did something change. Perhaps Derleth simply deduced he would no longer need four imprints, but sometime before finalizing Thirty Years of Arkham House, in which he states unequivocally, “All Arkham House books—together with those under the Mycroft & Moran and Stanton & Lee imprints—have been printed by the George Banta Company, with the exception of The Arkham Sampler….”

The simple explanation for this statement would have Derleth unwittingly reusing the original passage on which it is based, which appears word-for-word in the Thirty Years of Arkham House predecessor, Arkham House: The First Twenty Years.

Otherwise the Banta-assertion is troubling, not just in light of the H&W omissions or even the missing Villiers-S&L books, but for two Arkham House books Derleth does include: Nightmare Need, a new 1964 collection of Brennan’s supernatural verse, and Something Breathing, a 1965 collection of macabre verse by Stanley McNail.

What’s possible is that both of these books were originally conceived as H&W books.

What’s undeniably true is that both were printed by Villiers in London.

But, here again, the big picture manifests only after studying the cross-over aspects. Whereas Arkham House would seem the logical imprint for two supernatural poetry volumes (and that’s ultimately what happened), the connection to H&W (and therefore Villiers) was stronger. Despite Derleth’s earliest H&W objectives, it was only natural, given his abiding interest in macabre fiction and poetry, that as the little review began to fade he would gravitate especially to Brennan and McNail.

Besides writing verse, both poets were publishing “little reviews” of their own. Brennan had two, Essence and Macabre, and McNail had The Galley Sail Review. Derleth himself was a catalyst for rejuvenating interest in supernatural poetry, the result of editing (with the help of his friend Donald Wandrei) and publishing in 1947 the massive anthology Dark of the Moon. Thus, in “August Derleth: Friend of Fantasy Poetry” (August Harvest, Magico, 1994), Steve Eng writes:

 A mainstream poet and horror-story writer, Brennan edited the verse magazine Essence (1950-1977), and Macabre (1957-1973) which used poetry. Brennan’s own modern style mostly escapes the perils of free verse due to its severe brevity and the poet’s genuine ear. Pessimism of the blackest hue is omnipresent, with refreshingly little melodrama. Much lighter was Stanley McNail’s … terse poems merging humor and horror. Craftsmanship in the verses perhaps reflects McNail’s studies under Lawrence Hart, mentor of the “Activist” school of imagist poetry in San Francisco in the fifties. McNail also edited The Galley Sail Review (1958-1971) and the macabre poetry journal Night Shade (1966-1968).

5

Everything fits when we overlay Derleth’s abiding H&W rationale, which was to publish contemporary poetry written by poets he could appreciate, whatever the genre. Whereas deceased or long-moribund poets—H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei—would always be Arkham poets, it’s a safe bet the new Brennan and McNail collections were conceived as H&W books, and would’ve been had the imprint lasted. Rather than give these up, Derleth adhered to the tried-and-true (and less expensive) H&W formula, using Villiers to print the books but issuing them to his remaining (and much larger) base of clients as Arkham House books.

The theory pans out with a post-bibliography Arkham House verse collection published in 1970, L. Sprague de Camp’s Demons and Dinosaurs—though this fact is not found in the book itself, Arkham historian Sheldon Jaffery is on record (in Horrors and Unpleasantries) alleging Villiers did this one, too.

All minor points in the big picture—but nothing Derleth wished to call out.

Could there have been a simpler explanation?

I’ve never been convinced the meticulous Derleth would mistakenly or deliberately exclude titles that properly belonged in any of his bibliographies—not after studying once more the proper names of these imprints:

Arkham House: Publisher

Stanton & Lee: Publisher

Hawk & Whippoorwill Press

There in plain sight (my italics) is what I now believe to be the answer. The omissions hinge on how Derleth viewed his books. Those in the bibliography are the books he published—those he actively commissioned, edited, copyrighted, and promoted.

The Villiers titles, on the other hand, were merely passed to the London press for printing (some subsidized). In this regard, the non-Arkham Villiers books in his mind differed little, or not at all, from poetry collections of his own, those issued by Ritten House, James A. Decker, Prairie, or other small presses.

Everything now adds up, assuming Derleth did more with the Arkham-Villiers titles and, therefore, included them (though, as with the other Villiers books, they were not copyrighted).

Except for the curve Derleth threw in 1963: Arkham’s Autobiography: Some Notes on a Nonentity by H. P. Lovecraft was printed by Villiers. Certainly cost was a factor, but I continue to search, believing there’s more to be said. In 1963, Derleth was in the early stages of reissuing all of Lovecraft’s fiction. Perhaps he used Villiers because he originally meant to issue these unadorned booklets unofficially, at no cost, to promote Lovecraft…

And now there is the problem these titles present for imprint completists, for whom they reside irrevocably among the books they need to ferret out.

For their sake, here is the first complete list of the non-magazine titles printed in London by Villiers for each imprint:

 

Hawk & Whippoorwill Press

The Wind of Time, Joseph Payne Brennan (1961)

Hawk & Whippoorwill 1960-1963 (1963), bound, ten-issue run.

Brief Argument, Mary Stiver Welder (1964)

 

Arkham House: Publishers

Autobiography: Some Notes on a Nonentity, H. P. Lovecraft (1963)

Nightmare Need, Joseph Payne Brennan (1964)

Something Breathing, by Stanley McNail (1965)

Demons and Dinosaurs, by L. Sprague de Camp (1970)

 

Stanton & Lee: Publishers

Eyes of the Mole, Jane Stuart (1967)

Corn Village: A Selection, Meridel Le Sueur (1970)

Night Letters, Frances May (1971)

 

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© 2016. All rights reserved.

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