Jennifer Dunbar Dorn
from Cento Magazine
ROLLING STOCK: A Chronicle of the Eighties
had come to Boulder from San Francisco in the fall of 1977, not planning to stay. Ed had signed a one-year contract as visiting poet at the University of Colorado, another in a series of jobs that had made us academic nomads, taking us from Lawrence, Kansas to Chicago, from Kent State to Riverside and La Jolla, and back a couple of times to Essex, England. When the University asked Ed to teach again the next year, we still thought it was temporary. Nevertheless, after returning to our North Beach apartment (which we'd lent to friends) for a last summer in what seemed to be a dying utopia, we packed all our belongings into a U-Haul and left San Francisco for good.
It wasn't until the following year, at the beginning of the 80's, that Ed was offered a tenure track position, I got a job teaching in Film Studies, and we set about looking for a place to rent that didn't require us to move out every summer. It never occurred to us to buy a house: we thought owning property was oh, so bourgeois; in California we hadn't even had car insurance. The house at 1035 Mapleton was half of a duplex-one floor with high ceilings and wood floors that led to an expansive kitchen and in the back a sagging, covered in porch. Because of the steep slope, it seemed to hang in the boughs of trees outside the windows, and it became our bedroom. Later, with the help of friends, Ed turned the old coal shed out back into a writing cabin. The only rental on a street full of mansions, the house sat on top of a hill and was equidistant between the foothills and the downtown Pearl Street Mall. Kidd (10) and Maya (8) only had to walk a block to get to school.
Our landlord, who lived across the street in a mansion that had more tiers and columns than a wedding cake (amazingly, it had been ordered from a Sears catalogue; every room had built-in furniture made of different exotic wood), said it was a great house for parties. He was right. We called it the slave's quarters or the shack, but maybe because we were renters or because of its central location-as Ron Sukenick said, we had the worst house on the best street in Boulder-we would become the hosts of a continual party for the next 13 years. Ed could retreat to his cabin when he wanted to work, although it also became a spare bedroom for overnight guests, a sacrifice he made only for friends he held in high regard. It was the talking, punctuated by loud raucous laughter, more than the music that had the kids begging us to turn the volume down in the wee hours of the morning. It was at one of these sessions around the kitchen table that ROLLING STOCK was born.
Ed had always loved print in all its forms. Growing up in Villa Grove, Illinois, he set type at the local paper. At Black Mountain he ran the printing press. In Pocatello, Idaho, he started Wild Dog with his student Drew Wagnon. In San Francisco we lived above the Zephyrus Image print shop belonging to Holbrook Teter and Michael Myers, masters of the linotype and linocut respectively, whom Ed fired up and conspired with in various subversive projects, the most ambitious being Bean News, a one-off, very fine and utterly insane newspaper (said to be the one Gunslinger read).
Now in Boulder, Ed wanted to have a "real" newspaper--one that came out regularly and had real news in it--in the form of letters and essays, and an occasional poem. We'd been talking about such a project with Peter Michelson and Sidney Goldfarb, friends from the University of Colorado Creative Writing Program. We envisioned the publication as a literary newspaper, a modern day version of the 18th Century Rambler, Spectator, Tatler and Idler. We agreed we wanted content. There were plenty of little poetry magazines in circulation. We would have our contributors report on what was going on in their territory--physical or intellectual--rather than send us yet another solipsistic poem. The paper would have a regional motif, but our correspondents would cover the world. To be real, the local had to be global. We ran through the iconography of the West in search of an appropriate title: cowboys and indians, the Gold Rush, miners and unions, the railroad.
Sidney came up with the name, which we instantly recognized as a stroke of genius. ROLLING STOCK literally means anything that gets transported along the railroad, but it also had these other associations. It played on Rolling Stone, which turned out to be a great bonus when we got press cards, as people assumed we were from the Big-Time. It could refer to paper stock rolling through the massive web press the journal was printed on. "Stock" could be taken as stocks and bonds or as cattle. A lot of people never did know exactly what the railroad term meant, but even that added to the mystique, and the train logo gave it a motif. When Ed hit on the motto "If It Moves Print It," we knew we were off and running.
From the beginning ROLLING STOCK was a collaborative project. We each put some money in and various graduate students offered their services: Joe Safdie and Jason Potter typeset the copy, and Normandie Ellis taught us how to lay it out on the blue line sheets. The first issue came out in June 1981. Although we had all agreed to write something for it, only Peter Michelson, a skilled practitioner of the essay, met the deadline. His piece, "The Blinding Lights of Contrariety: A Dialogue Concerning Ginsburg, Buddhism and Reality" took up 10 wide columns. Other long articles included "Crisis in The Mexican Countryside" by William Taylor, "Hit Me," an interview with Charlie Di Julio about gambling in Las Vegas, an essay on film by Stan Brakhage and a story by Jane Brakhage recounting a murder trial in Leadville. This was her first published story--Ed made a point of encouraging writers who'd never published before by commissioning and printing their work.
Some of the copy came from Ed's personal correspondence. There was a dispatch from Duncan McNaughton in Damascus on Mid-East politics; a letter from Lisa Raworth in Brixton about the riots there and another from our Guatemalan correspon dent Steve Stewart (who wrote anonymously, in fear for his life); a piece by Terry Jacobus about the poetry fights in Chicago, a fable about "The Little Economy and How it Grew" by Ed Nell, a report about the Moonies in Gloucester (also anonymous) by Fred Buck; a kind of Fear and Loathing piece from Jim Inskeep in Taos; Tom Clark's first So. Cal report, and an update on the ice shelf containing Captain Scott's body from Tom Raworth.
The local papers featured us in articles and we were reviewed favorably in the literary press. We sent out about 200 copies (of a print run of 500) and started a mailing list on file cards. Resistant to the idea of being beholden to government grants, we managed to pool enough resources to print issue number 2. We acquired an art director, Jim Howard, who designed a new banner. Artist, bass player and tennis pro Trixie Merkin illustrated many of the pages with her collages. And Sidney Goldfarb made his other famous contribution to ROLLING STOCK: a letter to Menachim Begin with the headline "Kike to Kike." In it he railed against Begin for massacring the Palestinians, and in mock due respect, conceded that he himself had not suffered personally through the Holocaust-his uncle had not been turned into a lampshade, for example. For a time we feared for our jobs. When a professor reported us to the Anti-Defamation League and threatened a lawsuit, we sat low for a while. Then the furor died down, Sidney wrote a play set in southern Colorado, became a playwright, and never wrote another article for the paper.
With #2 (Feb. '82) we established several themes and started a number of regular columns by our correspondents. Dick Dillof wrote a story about Laotians eating dogs in Missoula; Lucia Berlin contributed a story about telephone operators at an Oakland hospital; we interviewed John Echo-Hawk, director of the Native American Rights fund (Roger Echo-Hawk would become our correspondent for Native American affairs); Terry Jacobus interviewed Al Simmons on the Chicago Poetry Punch-ups; we continued our Latin American coverage with a journal from Bogotá I taped Stan Brakhage talking about the Telluride film festival and transcribed and edited it into the first of a regular series; Jane Brakhage wrote the first of her Lump Gulch Tales.
Issue #3 (June '82) added China to the mix. Peter Michelson and Marilyn Krysl had gone to teach there for 6 months and sent us articles, poems and a long interview with Feng Jicai. We published a piece by Osvaldo Sabino on Argentina, and a report on the excavation of the temple in Mexico City by David Carrasco. Nick Sedgwick sent us the first of his golfing columns, which would run in every issue. We ran our first obit-on Max Finstein, with a poem by Robert Creeley and a remembrance by Lucía Berlin. #4 (Feb. '83) continued the Chinese coverage with a long article about Misty Poetry and poems in translation. We devoted a page in memory of Michael Myers, the genius linocut artist we'd lived and worked with in California. We also did an interview with Gerry Casales of Devo, a band Ed had encouraged when they were his students at Kent State. By this time we had started to apply for and receive annual grants from local and state arts organizations. Although we never had enough funds t o pay ourselves, Ed insisted we offer small stipends to our contributors-to encourage and reward good writing. After all, we claimed to be a real newspaper.
In #5 (June '83) we ran an interview with a Boulder woman Ruth Schrock, whose professor husband disappeared one weekend in Mexico. We were the first to cover her nightmare story, and although we spelled her name wrong-not the first or last front page typo-we got it out there. We also introduced a medical column by Dr. Daves, who advised readers to stay away from doctors unless they needed their blood pressure checked. We printed microstories by and an interview with Chinese minimalist Wang Meng. And we got into trouble once more by publishing Tom Clark's "Lemon/Aids awards for Poetry in recognition of the current Epidemic of Idiocy on the poetry scene." Ed could never resist an opportunity to expose fuzzy thinking and undermine the status quo, but in this case one could argue that his editorial judgment bordered on bad taste. #6 (Oct. '83) featured excerpts and cartoons from the socialist newspaper of the 20's, Appeal to Reason, from a book by John Graham, an interview with spiritual leader Wallace Black Elk, and Stan Brakhage's account of his disastrous attempt to show his films to Andrei Tarkovsky in a Telluride hotel room.
Despite our relative success with getting grants locally, we only got one NEA. After that they told us we "were not literary enough." What they meant is that we were too political. About the only long poem we published was "The Hurt" by Jim Gustafson. Correspondents included Woody Haut on Labor, John Daley on Law, Roger Echo-Hawk on Native American Affairs, Nick Sedgwick on Golf, Stan Brakhage on Film, Jane Brakhage on Lump Gulch, Dick Dillof in Montana, Lucía Berlin in California, Tom Raworth, London & Cambridge, Fielding Dawson, New York; Jeremy Prynne, English Letters, Marilyn Krysl in China, James Inskeep, So. Col, Tom Clark, So Cal., and Robert Lewis, Akron & Abroad. Graphics were regularly supplied by Tom Clark, John Dunbar and Ann Mikolowski among many others. We had a section called Libros for book reviews, and Ed recommended his own reading in a column called Salients. He also wrote most of the editorials. We encouraged letters from critical or outraged readers, and occasionally made up our own to liven things up.
Starting with #7 the paper got trimmed and stapled and we had 4-color covers featuring a theme or story. The cover story in #7 (May '84) was a series of interviews with Scarlot Harlot, Margot St. James and other working girls by Simone Okamura. #8 (Oct. '84) focused on Nicaragua, with Margaret Randall interviewing poets and Harriet Edelstein on the Sandinista Defense Committees. #9 (March '85) featured memorials to Richard Brautigan by Robert Creeley, Brad Donovan, Greg Keeler and Anne Waldman. #10 (Oct. '85) was the Fugs issue, with lyrics and graphics by Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupderberg. #11 (March '86), with paintings by Chuck Forsman, ranged the West, from Omer Stewart on peyote and Patty Limerick on frontier Chinese, to Echo-Hawk on disappeared Native American writers and Ekon-es-kaka on the Kickapoo; we also printed my interview with Colorado born singer Dean Reed, cold war cowboy and superstar of the Soviet Bloc. Three months later his body was found in a lake outside his home in East Berlin, and #12 ('86) featured him on the cover, with my article investigating his mysterious death. (The story of this "famous unknown American" so intrigued me I went on to write a full-scale biography, but so far publishers have deemed it not commercial enough). This issue also had Allen Ginsberg arguing with Sandinista poets about their politics.
#13 (May '97) carried Ed's coverage of the Elko Cowboy Festival and various opposing views on the Hopi/Navajo dispute. In #14 (Oct '87) Ward Churchill and Jim Vanderwall described the FBI's role on Pine Ridge reservation, and Tom Pickard explained how Thatcher closed down the shipbuilding industry in the north of England. The last issues were double-with 48 pages. There's so much in every issue and so many names I haven't mentioned, I won't list any more contents, but just identify them. #15/16 (Jan '89) Russia; #17/18 (April ‘90) Latin America; #19/20 (May '91) Far North.
ROLLING STOCK was a collaborative effort involving our correspondents, artists, writers, art director, student interns, volunteers--too many to mention by name--but it remained a cottage industry endeavor with me at its shaky helm. By now we had about 1000 subscribers, several distributors, and another list of independent bookstores. Peter helped push the engine along from issue to issue-a constant and necessary driving force. As we worked through the night Ed provided heads and subheads, brought food, drink, and anything else we needed to get the thing done. The final marathon was the mailing party, to which we invited friends of the magazine to help sort, label and rubber stamp. By the end of the decade we'd had enough. Production, promotion, distribution, grant writing-never enough funds to pay ourselves-and meanwhile, with teaching responsibilities, little time to write.
During the decade we brought out ROLLING STOCK, Ed was writing Abhorrences: A Chronicle of the 80's. ROLLING STOCK and Abhorrences were two sides of the same coin--one expansive and collaborative, the other incisive and singular. The poems are short essays on the state of the world--pithy, direct distillations. Abhorrences was published in1990 by Black Sparrow Press and printed by Graham Macintosh, whom he considered, as he wrote in pencil on the dedication page of the copy he gave me, "not just one of the great printers of the world but also a great optical manager of the language." For Ed, publishing was much more than selling books or seeing his own work in print.
ROLLING STOCK rolled to a stop in 1991, but it never really died, just like people don't suddenly stop existing. They're not around in person anymore but they're still with us. Something of ROLLING STOCK lived on in the m agazine I published during the 90's, Sniper Logic, funded by the Creative Writing Program and edited by graduate students. Its 8" x 7" format still allowed for columns and graphics on a small scale. Ed took a great interest in it, helped solicit work and sent copies out to his own mailing list. By now we were living in Denver-only after our kids left home did we finally understand that buying a house made more sense than renting one. We looked into buying 1035 Mapleton, but it was way beyond us. Anyway, it was time to move out, and as Ed liked to say as we commuted home from the job, it was always a pleasure to see Boulder disappear in the rear view mirror. The 90's were a new era.
Sniper Logic crashed after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade towers, but just this spring I inaugurated a new publication, Square One, which carries on the tradition. There is a John Lennon "acid drawing" on the cover and John Dunbar graphics inside; a Lucía Berlin story, poems by Tom Clark, Alice Notley, J.H. Prynne, Tom Pickard, Amiri Baraka-plus his response to the request he resign as poet laureate of New Jersey. There are essays by Peter Michelson (in Finland), Peter Garland (Mexico), Paul Dresman (American wealth), and much more. Nick Sedgwick even wrote us another golfing column.
Issues of ROLLING STOCK can be ordered via e-mail (email@example.com) or the following address. Cheques should be made payable to Jennifer Dorn.
$10 each unless issue is in short supply. Prices will vary according to availability. Index of contributors (with issue and page cited) available for $5.
To order Square One (Spring 2003) send $10 payable to Square One/Creative Writing Program, Campus Box 226 (as above).