Tag Archives: little reviews

Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Little Review

(Part 2)

[Read Part 1 here.]


Perhaps it was natural that I should eventually gravitate to editing a little review of poetry. I had been reading such little reviews from the 1920’s onward, and I wanted to learn for myself what editing and publishing such a little review entailed. I began
Hawk & Whippoorwill in 1960 and ended it in 1963 after 10 issues. At the outset I hoped to publish a little magazine, limited to verse—“of man and nature,” as I announced it—along similar lines to Fred Lape’s Trails, one of the best such magazines of the 1930’s.

(1971: Lecture, “My Life in Poetry”)

The first hint that publishing a review was on August Derleth’s mind appeared in the January-February 1960 issue of Oak Leaves: A Magazine of Poetry. In the short essay “The Writer and the ‘Little’ Magazine,” Derleth reminded readers that the “principal function of the little magazine for the writer is to afford him an audience—very often his first audience.”

Portentously he adds: “not to be overlooked” are the publishers, “who are usually the editors,” and are “as much in the service of literature as the writer, and often at considerably more cost.”

Derleth was himself an editor and publisher, with three imprints of his own: Arkham House: Publisher, Mycroft & Moran, and Stanton & Lee. Personal experience had taught him that small publishers fill an important role by offering “encouragement or advice” to aspiring writers. He also knew the “mortality rate” among small publishers to be “very high.”

I had previously been associated with a rather costly little review, The Midwestern, published by a university student who had money enough to support it for two or three issues, really rather more a dilettante venture than a bona fide little magazine. And I had edited and published The Arkham Sampler, a trade quarterly specifically for the patrons of Arkham House, with the circulation of which I had no particular problem. Hawk & Whippoorwill, however, had no waiting audience, and, in contrast to the Sampler, which had no competition whatsoever, Hawk & Whippoorwill was but one of many such little reviews in the field. I planned a magazine of 20 pages, chiefly poems, with a modicum of reviews, and for the first issue I had poems from poets like Fred Lape, Jesse Stuart, Raymond Roseliep, Edna Meudt, Joseph Payne Brennan, Joseph Joel Keith and others—all bylines familiar to readers of contemporary poetry. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth produced The Arkham Sampler only two years, 1948 and 1949, but for many years he edited the Arkham House advertising bulletins as if they themselves were Little Reviews, including prose, poems, appraisals and publishing news of interest to his customers. In an unpublished essay, “American Regional Poetry,” Derleth makes this observation: “Regional poets in the first forty years of this century had many outlets in scores of regional little reviews and in the national literary quarterlies. Today there are very few regional little magazines left.”

Cover of Hawk & Whippoorwill, Volume 1, Issue 1

Derleth decided to set an example.

That the contents of Hawk & Whippoorwill were on the whole appreciably superior to those of most of its contemporaries was not, of course, an accident. Most of the best poems were solicited from poets who had been friends for years. Jesse Stuart was a friend of almost 25 years’ standing; I had been the judge in the Kaleidograph book publication contest in the year that Edsel Ford’s initial book placed first; I had published Joseph Payne Brennan under my Arkham House imprint; I had shared programs with Helga Sandburg; some of the poets had contributed to Poetry Out of Wisconsin a quarter of a century before; and so on. Occasional excellent poems came in unsolicited, and in two cases my admiration for their work overcame a natural reluctance to approach poets I did not personally know and ask for work—and these were Gene Baro and William Stafford. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth’s high standards extended behind the scenes:

I did have offers of funding; those same generous patrons whose names had appeared on the roster of patrons for many another little review offered support. I felt I could not accept such support; I wanted the magazine to make its own way or to cease publication. I intended to keep up a relatively high average in its contents, and to that end subsequent issues featured poems by, in addition to the poets already mentioned, Wendell Anderson, Felix Pollak, William D. Barney, Gene Baro, John Beecher, Lorna Beers, Grant Code, Carleton Drewry, John Engels, James T. Farrell, Edsel Ford, James Hearst, John Judson, Raymond E. F. Larsson, David Lytle, Barriss Mills, Sydney King Russell, Arthur Sampley, Helga Sandburg, Daniel Smythe, William Stafford, Felix Stefanile, Jane Stuart, James L. Weil, Norma Farber—whose long Frostian takeoff, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” was, I think, the most memorable poem to appear in the magazine—and by many other poets, whose names would be almost as well known to this audience, as these.

Though Derleth wrote verse prolifically throughout his career, only four of his poems appeared in the ten issues of Hawk & Whippoorwill—each issue 35 to 40 pages long, with the final issue twice that length. But he did contribute eight brief reviews of other writers’ books, prepare detailed notes for all ten installments of “The Editor’s Post,” and compile for the final issue a complete index of all ten.

In the Autumn 1963 issue, Derleth bid farewell to Hawk & Whippoorwill, in the short essay “On Publishing a Little Magazine,” which begins: “I undertook the publication of Hawk & Whippoorwill, determined to bring out at least ten issues….” He goes on to explain: “Four years of Hawk & Whippoorwill have persuaded me to conclude that there is very little room for such a magazine on a self-sustaining basis, for there is not a sufficiently large or interested public devoted.” To illustrate his point, he adds:

Subscribers to the first year of Hawk & Whippoorwill numbered approximately two hundred; subscribers to the last numbered less than half that number … It should be made clear at once, however, that no very great effort was ever expended to gain subscribers for the magazine; the press of my many obligations forbade it and left me no time in which to do more than assemble the magazine, proof it, and mail it to subscribers when it came from the printer….

But this scheduled, separate appearance of Hawk & Whippoorwill was not quite the end. After its mailing, Derleth calculated the number of complete sets of all issues that could be assembled from his file of unsold copies—and bound in cloth. Later that same year, he offered 170 of these in pale green.

Spine of the Hawk & Whippoorwill Anthology

Nor was that monument the end.

In 1973, two years after Derleth died, a new Little Review appeared, “edited, published and presented by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.” This first issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill Recalled was entirely “devoted to the memory of August Derleth” and the “high literary standards of the original magazine” it emulated.

Cover of "Hawk & Whippoorwill Recalled"

The cost of this project was “jointly supported by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C.”

[Read Part 3.]

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

Advertisements

Hawk & Whippoorwill: The Little Reviews

(Part 1)

In Writing Fiction (The Writer, 1946), August Derleth — Wisconsin’s famous writer, teacher, and bookman — described a pivotal experience in his career, contributing to the small press magazines known as “little reviews”:

Within the first year of my initial publication in such little reviews … I had letters of inquiry about book-length work from the editors of such well-known houses as Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin, Charles Scribner’s Sons, and Harper’s. Within the same period I had inquiries about short stories from magazines of national circulation which included Collier’s and McCall’s.

Cover of "Writing Fiction" by August Derleth

Britannica defines a “little review” as “any of various small periodicals devoted to serious literary writings, usually avant-garde and noncommercial.” They flourished after 1880 and throughout most of the 20th century, having much in common with contemporary journals distributed through amateur press associations and the burgeoning phenomenon of (especially science fiction-oriented) fanzines.

Today the bulk of this activity has moved to the Internet in the form of informal blogging and the posting of electronic reviews — for example, here at the Allied Authors website and at Amazon or Goodreads.

Derleth had shared his experiences years earlier in “A Salute to the Little Reviews,” appearing in the August 1941 edition of American Author. There he recalls that he once shocked a budding author with the advice that “he must expect to give a great deal of his work away.” He also emphasizes that avant-garde or other seemingly unsalable material “commercial outlets would not dare publish” is often “cheerfully printed by the little magazines.”

Derleth’s larger point is as follows: “Editors of all the best publishing houses watch the little reviews with care, and I do not think that there exists a first-rate beginner who has not received a letter from at least one publishing house after his appearance in a little magazine.”

He concludes with this prediction: “Contributions to the little reviews are like bread cast upon the waters; postulating only talent, and the ability to work and take criticism, they are certain to come back in loaves.”

IMG_20160819_0001

Many years later, in the lecture-essay “On Being an All-Round Bookman” (1971), Derleth validates all he had been saying with this recollection of his own earliest experiences as a professional editor:

Editing at Fawcett Publications involved considerably more than simply passing on manuscripts and conducting a column; it meant working with writers, revising manuscripts, writing something publishable when not enough material was at hand … I discovered that editing a little review — The Midwestern, published here in Madison in 1931, for all the difference between the professional and the amateur, involved pretty much the same kind of work, with the added task of improving circulation and helping to meet expenses.

Coming next: “Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Little Review” (Part 2)

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


%d bloggers like this: