Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Small Press History: Michael Hathaway/Chiron Review 1980s-Present


BE: It is my recollection that I was in Germany and I had already produced at least one perfect bound issue of Gypsy, some chapbooks and cassette collections of original poetry and music from many countries when I received a letter from you asking advice about starting a new magazine. Is that in your recollection too and what are a few other small mags you were following at the time and what did you like about them?

MH: I do remember writing you a fanboy letter and asking for advice after seeing Gypsy for the first time! I fell in love with it. Gypsy was among the publications that introduced me to the “small press,” when anyone asks about my favorite literary magazines, Gypsy is always on the list, you’re a publisher and poet I’ve always respected and looked up to.

I remember asking you once for Bukowski’s address, as he had poems in Gypsy, and I wanted to invite him to send some poems, which he did several times. I do believe publishing him put us on “the radar,” so I have you to thank for that!

I also remember a compilation issue that Gypsy did, which I thought was just brilliant and gorgeous. (When it’s my turn to host Poetry Rendezvous, that’s how we do our anthologies.)

To name a handful, other mags that I enjoyed back then were Calliope’s Corner, Fire!, Waterways: Poetry in the Mainstream, Poetry Motel, Raw Bone, Wyoming: Hub of the Wheel, Forum for Universal Spokesmen, Raw Dog Press, Yellow Butterfly, Newsletter Inago, Mockersatz, The Devil’s Millhopper, Bogg, Impetus, Abbey, Gargoyle, Psychopoetica, Tears in the Fence, Atom Mind.

I liked them because they were all so individual, so different from each other in style, tone, subject matter, life experience, and voice. They didn’t censor, didn’t hold back. They were a refreshing antidote to mainstream literature. Some were intense, some profound, some irreverent, some funny AF (Mockersatz). The artwork was always interesting, all the different mediums of presentation fascinated me. And they came from all over the place! To a country bumpkin stuck in rural Kansas, all the return addresses on the envelopes were exotic places.

BE: What were some of the deciding factors to begin Chiron?

MH: I’ve told the story before, but history doesn’t change. My cousin Connie showed me a sheaf of poems she’d written. I thought they were wonderful, and tried getting publishers interested. Of course, being 19, I had no idea how such things worked and encountered one slammed door after another. (Two of Connie’s poems appear in the forthcoming All the Colors of Life: An Anthology coming very soon from Ruth Moon Kempher’s Kings Estate Press.)

A year after graduating high school, I took a job working as a typesetter at a nearby daily paper. After a year of working there, I realized I could publish Connie’s poems myself. And anything else I wanted! I wrote to a few friends and pen pals and asked for poems, stories, art and photographs, and that’s how the first issue was born. My supervisor, Jim, let me use the composing room to put the issue together, the guys in the press room printed it. I paid for the printing.

At one point, my supervisor told me I could use the photocopier and any of the machines in the composing room as much as I wanted at night, if I would stay as a typesetter until he retired. I typed 126 wpm, and he said I typed the cleanest copy he’d ever seen since he started in the newspaper business (1961). Whether that was true or not, I don’t know, but the praise did wonders for me at that young age. (And believe me, I took Jim at his word and gave that photocopier a workout!)

But I was extremely restless (still am). I quit work there and returned four times in 13 years. Even though I was immature and could be a pain in the ass, I think my work actually was good enough that he wanted to keep me on anyway. He (and his successor) would always hire me back. I did enjoy and take pride in the work, and had great respect for the role a free press plays in society.

My longest stint was three years. The last one saw me promoted from the composing room to society editor. That lasted six months. Chiron was actually the reason for that job ending permanently, but that’s another tempest in a teacup for another day …

BE: When did you first publish Chiron and how was it received? I remember most of us reviewed or mentioned other small mags in our publications. 

It was first published Feb. 19, 1982. I was oblivious to the small press world then. The first issue went to friends and family. It got mixed reactions. My great-aunt Goldia, was scandalized as was my elderly piano teacher, Mrs. Budge, and her sister. But a lot of people had positive reactions. Many readers liked Connie’s poems as much as I did; and there was experimental fiction and poetry that was fascinating and fun. I especially loved the work by my friend (now Rev.) Maggie Duval, who also created the beautiful unicorn that graced the cover of the first six issues. Robert O’Hara’s photography page was perfect and beautiful.

Then browsing at the Great Bend [KS] Public Library, I found a copy of Len Fulton’s International Directory of Small Presses and Little Magazines. That opened up the world to me and the magazine. I sent copies to them, got listed in that directory (“the Bible of the business”) and Small Press Directory. And ordered a few “sample copies” of the other mags, and sent copies of my magazine to them. I had no clue that was the beginning of the most amazing, far-flung, life-long network of writers, editors, publishers, and friends that I could have ever dreamed up.

I was totally enamored of other alternative/underground/small press publications, all of them. From the traditional to the experimental, to the hand-made stapled booklets with rubber stamp art, and collages, to the high-end glossy journals. I exchanged with other publishers frequently, was honored to promote them in Kindred Spirit/Chiron Review. We helped each other with “exchange subscriptions” and “exchange ads”. I wrote a column titled, “News, Etc.,” in which I tried to mention and quote from every single publication that crossed my desk. I didn’t live up to that, but tried.

One publisher told me back in the 90s, that a mention in my column would bring “$60-$100 in sales” (for publications that were 50 cents-$5 each back then). That made me happy. We ran lots of book and magazine reviews, I had a nice staff of writers who would review books I sent them, or books they obtained other ways. And we accepted unsolicited reviews. Being part of, and helping to foster the small press community was a marvelous joy. (I didn’t realize that’s what we were doing back then, I was just making friends, “participating in the dialogue,” having fun.)

BE: What were some of the high points in your publishing history, both Chiron and personally?

MH: High points were publishing great poets such as Bukowski, Wanda Coleman, William Stafford, Lorri Jackson, Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, Marge Piercy, Lyn Lifshin, Gerald Locklin, Robert Peters, Felice Picano, Charles Plymell … Lorri Jackson’s poem, “A Prima Donna Poet Replies” was selected by Robert Peters for Morty Sklar’s Editor’s Choice III anthology, back in the 1990s. That was the highest “award” we ever received. But we had lots of good reviews in various places, including Library Journal, and one by Merritt Clifton in the final issue of Samisdat. I was on Cloud 9 for weeks after that. Judson Jerome named us one of the “Top 100 Poetry Markets” in the USA in Writer’s Digest.

Other high points include making such amazing friends, and the poetry gatherings and parties, such as our Poetry Rendezvous, which started in 1988. It brings in poets from many other states, and since 1998, sometimes happens in other states. I’ve likened Rendezvous to seeing the pages of Chiron Review “come alive.” If you look on a map and see where St. John, Kansas is, you’ll see how isolated we are from civilization. Where they were a nightly, weekly or monthly occasion in the big cities, poetry readings here were nonexistent. These gatherings meant the world to Mom and me. She’s one of the reasons I kept doing them, to bring all these wonderful folks to central Kansas so we could meet them, hear them read, and enjoy their company.

And there were the cross-country travel centered around poetry readings/parties, meeting such wonderful poets, artists, musicians, and publishers all over the USA. 

BE: I remember how every small mag editor/publisher sent a contributor’s copy to each contributor as a matter of honor and respect and it was quite expensive. In the new era of POD the expense is now on the contributor to buy a copy and the editor/publisher makes a little money from the contributors by charging a couple more bucks over the print price. Many book and mag “mills” have popped up. While POD gives everybody a chance to publish whatever and EVERYBODY (who wants to) has books and POD is here to stay, I don’t see how they would ever be collectible and the vanity stench still lingers a little, to me. Any musings on the subject?

MH: I don’t think I can add anything new to that, you said it all, rather perfectly. But have a few thoughts on it. I only began noticing what you’ve described as “book and mag mills” in the last couple of years, the glut of publications due to Internet and POD. This won’t be a very popular opinion, but it somehow does make being published seem less special.

I recently saw a Facebook thread that discussed “contributor copies.” A poet was upset because he didn’t get a free contributor’s copy. The publisher was insulted and explosively hostile about the concept, which shocked me.

Like you say, contributor’s copies were always a matter of honor and respect. It was simply the custom, the unwritten rule. Since I couldn’t pay writers with cash, I figured the very least I could do is give a contributor’s copy. It was a matter of integrity, the mark of a credible publisher.

It is expensive to send contributor copies. But I never published Chiron for the money. With Chiron, it always balanced out. Writers frequently bought extra copies and subscribed when they could. I’ve always sent free or discounted copies to readers/writers who can’t afford it. Patrons who can give more support, do. If you let it, it will balance out. (And just for the record, I’ve never been rich. I work for our local history museum for $10.64 an hour.)

My thought is that if one can’t afford contributor’s copies, one maybe shouldn’t be publishing? It seems exploitive to give a poet nothing in return for use of their work, to make them pay to see their work in print. As you said, there’s a “stench of vanity press” to it.

But then again, things are changing, and I’m just an old dinosaur who will soon lumber off into the sunset, so what do I know?! haha


  1. Great to hear your point of view, Michael! It gave me the feel of that era in our lives in such a good and chaotic way. Glad to hear you're still around remembering all us old dinosaurs!

  2. Michael, nice to see this history in one chunk and nice to imagine those early years. Thanks for your contributions to deep reading / poetry / literature and thanks for the support you've given me through the years!

  3. It's interesting reading back through these small press history interviews. Back in the 80s, when I was a baby poet, I had no idea all these magazines were only getting by because the editor/publishers were spending all their money. I wanted to subscribe but I could barely afford postage to out my poems. I know I got rejected by Chiron a few times.