|Rita Dove and Richard Peabody
RP: First issue appeared in August 1976. I hitchhiked cross-country that bicentennial Spring/Summer and by chance landed in Madison,WI during the annual Mifflin Street Festival. Went to a reading by Jon Tuschen and Warren Woessner. The first poets my age I’d ever heard. Back home I discovered one of the guys I vaguely knew in grad school had started a litmag called Window. He worked at Bialek’s, a bookshop a block away from the Brentanos in Friendship Heights where two of my friends (Russell Cox and Paul Pasquarella) worked. And the mag was born.
BE: How did you land on the name Gargoyle?
RP: We were going to call it Pan. Rusty was on the verge of launching as a freelance photographer, so along with Paul, we went to the National Cathedral where there was a statue of Pan in front of an Herb Cottage. We tried everything to get a decent shot and nothing worked. While we messed around with screens and angles Rusty took pix of the gargoyles adorning the cathedral.
When we saw the proof sheet the gargoyle pix stood out and we chose one for the front cover and took the name.
BE: How were you able to afford such gorgeous, large, perfect bound mags before the POD days? Were you able to get grants or was this all from your own wallet? How large was your subscriber base?
RP: We can’t afford it but we just keep going.
We were never a nonprofit in an official sense, so no grants. We did win a few editorial awards from CCLM, the earlier version of CLMP. The looks on the faces of NEA staffers when I told them was amazing. I mean of course we’re nonprofit, every issue hemorrhages money. But being a nonprofit also means you are a charity (of sorts) according to the paperwork and you can’t sell your archive you have to gift it. After years in the rare book trade that was the only way I believed I’d ever break even. I did manage to sell the Gargoyle 1976-1991 archive (manuscripts and correspondence) to George Washington University’s Gelman Library. But libraries can no longer afford to buy, transport, or even pay employees to catalog collections. And they don’t want email correspondence now unless they’re with very big names.
After Lucinda died in 2017, her best friend Ann and I couldn’t find a buyer for Lucinda’s expansive collection (11,000 books) despite awesome first editions and signed copies. (A Virginia Woolf! Everything by Jeanette Winterson!) In the end we donated the collection to the University of West Virginia, though we still had to pay transport costs. And since Lucinda
spent her last decade in central WV (she bought the town of Shirley online via Ebay for less than her home near Howard University’s asking price) they’ve claimed her as their own.
The only thing selling now are ultra-rare books or Association copies. You know, F. Scott signed to Hemingway, etc. That type of thing. Cool factoid. Hollywood actors--John Larroquette, Johnny Depp, Steve Martin, and Curtis Armstrong—are noted book collectors.
I don’t believe we ever had more than 100 subscribers and half those were libraries. Back before they changed. By the time I resurrected the mag in 1997 with Lucinda Ebersole (after shutting it down in 1990) library subscriptions had pretty much dried up. I think maybe 10 have stood by us. In the end we’ve always depended on credit card roulette, art rates, and individual mail order sales.
Oh, and the kindness of strangers.
BE: Tell us some of the micro press writers you introduced into the larger small press world? Seems like I heard Ron Androla was one.
From the get-go we wanted to print work by DC area poets and writers, poets coming of age in the late 70s, and lost or forgotten names. One thing led to another in those pre-internet days. We began in the offset days just as mimeo and letterpress were fading. Before DIY mags took off.
I’d grown up on Evergreen Review, Paris Review, and New American Review. That’s what I wanted to do on a much smaller scale. Though for a few years we mimicked other mags in terms of design and layout. We began as a folded newsprint monthly paper, switched to a poetry chapbook size, then an 8 ½ by 10 size. But we’ve played around ever since. #15/16 riffed on the Brit mag Bananas, #24 was Antaeus, #32/33 was Paris Review.
Plunging into the small press world back then was akin to plunging into the online lit world today. David Greisman’s Abbey (a Xeroxed mag out of Columbia, MD) connected me to the larger lit world. I can’t remember whether Larry Eigner sent Androla to us or vice versa. I can’t remember who published Ron first in DC—Greisman, John Elsberg’s Bogg, or Kevin Urick’s The Mill. But it was via those guys that we all grew and reached out to folks.
Bogg was based in England (though John lived in Arlington, VA). And via John I published work by Pete Brown, George Cairncross, Andy Darlington, Tina Fulker, Paul House, Graham Sykes, and Dave Ward. Greisman had published Elizabeth Tallent back when she was living in Santa Fe, and she was a highlight of our first fiction issue 12/13. Eric Baizer’s MOTA (the Museum of Temporary Art magazine) brought in Michael Horovitz and Charles Plymell and even Allen Ginsberg. By then the group of us (Baizer, Elsberg, Urick, and me) had a radio show on WPFW and interviewed people coming through town.
So, it grew organically. Every summer I took road trips around the US. New England one year, the South another, the Northwest, the Southwest. There were readings, bookshops, stops with folks like Rosmarie Waldrop and Tom Ahern in Providence, George Myers Jr. in Harrisburg, Steven Ford Brown in Birmingham, Ed Hogan in Carrboro, David Spicer in Memphis, Hugh Fox in East Lansing, Todd Grimson and Joel Weinstein in Portland, Shannon Ravenel in Carrboro, Susan Hankla in Chapel Hill, Will Inman and Laurel Speer in Arizona. All of those trips inspired by bookseller Len Fulton’s American Odyssey.
Each of our visits generated anecdotes, poems, publications, sales, and making the lit experience tribal.
Trips to Europe in 1979 and 1981 to meet Ken Timmerman, Fulker, Sneyd and Darlington, Jay and Fran Landesman, attend a poetry reading at Ronnie Scotts with the Horovitzes, where
we saw Roger McGough, Frances Horovitz, Fran Landesman, Margaret Drabble, and Heathcote Williams read. (Williams heckled Drabble throughout.)
BE: What do you feel was Gargoyle’s biggest accomplishments and who were some of the well known writers you published?
I believe the fiction issues-- #12/13 and subsequent trilogy Fiction/82, Fiction/84 and Fiction/86—took the mag to a new level. #35 with the Bukowski feature, and interviews with Carl Weissner and Charles Johnson pretty much sold out.
But since the return in 1997 everything is more professional. Our bestselling issue of all time is #51 and I believe that’s because of Patricia Storm’s dynamite cover art. Unfortunately, as indie life goes, our distributor Bernhard DeBoer folded, and we didn’t see a dime.
We’ve been fortunate to publish work by--
Kathy Acker, Kim Addonizio, Elizabeth Alexander, Kwame Alexander, Sherman Alexie, Lucia Berlin, Nicole Blackman, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Kate Braverman, Chandler Brossard, Pete Brown, Charles Bukowski, Alison Bundy, Mary Caponegro, Tom Carson, Nick Cave, Kelly Cherry, Maxine Clair, John Cooper Clarke, Susann Cokal, Wanda Coleman, Rita Dove, Rikki Ducornet, John Dufresne, Cornelius Eady, Russell Edson, Larry Eigner, Elaine Equi, Eurydice, Lauren Fairbanks, Ed Falco, Roy Fisher, Thaisa Frank, Abby Frucht, Molly Gaudry, Roxane Gay, Amy Gerstler, Salena Godden, Jaimy Gordon, James Grady, Elizabeth Hand, Lola Haskins, Allison Hedge-Coke, Richard Hell, Essex Hemphill, Michael Horovitz, Dave Housley, Herbert E. Huncke, Lida Husik, Ted Joans, Joolz, George Kalamaras, Wayne Karlin, Pagan Kennedy, Bill Knott, Tuli Kupferberg, Fran Landesman, Louise Wareham Leonard, Elise Levine, William Levy, Susan Lewis, M.L. Liebler,
Trish MacEnulty, Mary Mackey, Nick Mamatas, Aoife Mannix, Sally Wen Mao, Ben Marcus, Michael Martone,
Carole Maso, Heather McHugh, Rick Moody, Thylias Moss, Daniel Mueller, Laura Mullen, Eileen Myles, Antonya Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Lance Olson, Toby Olson, Leslie Pietrzyk, Deborah Pintonelli, Charles Plymell, Dorothy Porter, Nani Power, Holly Prado, Minnie Bruce Pratt, Kate Pullinger, Joseph M. Queenan, Margaret Randall, Jeremy Reed, Kit Reed, Doug Rice, Lou Robinson, Miriam Sagan, Leslie Scalapino, Lynda Schor, Gregg Shapiro, Aurelie Sheehan, Lewis Shiner, Julia Slavin, Amber Sparks, Marilyn Stablein, Emma Straub, Terese Svodboda, Gladys Swan, Elizabeth Tallent, Eleanor Ross Taylor, Alexander Theroux, Venus Thrash, An Tran, Lee Upton, Janine Pommy Vega, Rosmarie Waldrop, Afaa M. Weaver, Tim Wendel, ruth weiss, Paul West, Michael Wilding, Diane Williams, Lidia Yuknavitch, Mary Kay Zuravleff, and tons more.
The growth of the mag was interesting. We went from local DC poets (new and old), to gathering poets and writers from our summer trips, to magazines and books we traded,
and people we met at festivals, to international, and both audience and contributors grew by accretion like a coral reef. Now you can do that online with a few clicks. My time teaching let me embrace my student’s work.
Though in terms of Paycock Press, publishing 7 anthologies of fiction by DC area women writers might be the happiest I’ve been. Overall 3,000pp by close to 300 local women.
We published chapbooks early on but now have short story collections by Ramola D and Carmen Delzell due out by the end of 2021.
I also wanted to mention your feature on Carlo Parcelli. He’s a denizen of DC area used book shops like I am. We both worked in that biz for eons. We were actually in a class together in 1971 or so at the University of Maryland. He had a few books out by the time we actually met and Gretchen Johnsen and I interviewed him in Gargoyle 27 and later released a chapbook of his work entitled Fernparallelismus. He is an absolutely unique personality and voice.
BE: Any musings about the state of publishing today?
RP: We all need an in-house IT.
I’m not a techie by any stretch of the imagination. I learned layout and design and became an expert hot waxer. When the first computer systems appeared they gave me one continuous line of print, that had to be cut and pasted. Almost impossible to imagine now, when you can take a file into a shop and have the OPUS print on demand machine spit a book out the other end.
That said, I’m very happy that the indie world is embracing letter press once again. Though it saddens me that the reason the equipment is available is because other publishers are retiring ad selling it off. I miss the days when Coffeehouse was Toothpaste Press, when McPherson and Co. was Treacle Press. Different world.
I rode Amtrak to Chicago for AWP in 2004. Lucinda and I (we co-owned Atticus Books & Music in DC from 1995-2000) both had Want Lists a mile long. Amazon appeared and books I’d been trying to find for a decade or more were a click away. That changed the entire business. I ate dinner on the train and wound up in a bizarre conversation with a bunch of
suits, all of whom ran a business of some sort. Not my cuppa. I told them the impact that was coming and what it would do to the book biz and they asked me a ton of questions. Probably
venture capitalists all. But damn, who could have predicted that it would wipe out so many bookshops.
I used to say that the poetry world was divided into three layers—Slam/Spoken Word, Print, and online. Not a lot of crossover 20 years ago. Much more now. Been online Zooming for a year and a half. Never saw that one coming, either.
My oldest daughter is studying for a business degree. She tells me it’s all about how you present now. Your Brand, Platforms, Targeting, Tik Tok videos, Tweets, getting likes on Good Reads, Amazon reviews. I never signed on to be an actor or do commercials. I just want to write. Changes come more and more rapidly. Even blogs seem old fashioned now.
Relics like CDs.
So, I’m a dinosaur. Unsure whether I’ll take the mag online only or bag it entirely. I have two complete print issues in the can for publication later this year. I have 3-4 Paycock Press books in various stages of publication.
Climate Change, COVID, and GOP idiocy, aren’t making this any easier. Part of me just wants to slide on out writing my own stuff. Happy Trails, ya know?