Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
The one-shot little magazine has always been an interest of mine. The average run of a mag is as short as the career of an NFL running back. Lack of time, lack of interest, lack of material but most of all lack of money curtailed the passion and drive of many an editor. With Interpol, Burroughs did not even get beyond the planning stages so getting even a single issue before the reading public is a real accomplishment. Burroughs appeared in several one-shots over his career. Gnaoua sticks out in my mind. Printed in 1964 in Belgium, Gnaoua, edited by Ira Cohen, documented the literary community in Tangier in the mid 1960s right before the city was overrun in the summers of love by hippie tourists and thrill seekers. Burroughs, Paul Bowles, and the mysterious Alfred Chester were major figures involved in some way with the magazine and its controversies, but Jack Smith, Irving Rosenthal and Michael McClure also graced its pages. Gnaoua with its purple covers is famous to collectors for its tendency to fade at the edges but reading it today the aura of a psychedelic and magical Tangier shines as brightly as ever. Hopefully, I will be able to interview Ira Cohen in the near future on Gnaoua, Burroughs, and Tangier.
This leads me to another one-shot and an interview that I have been lucky enough to conduct. In an earlier piece on Insect Trust Gazette, I wondered what was the deal behind Brown Paper, a beautifully produced magazine printed in Philadelphia in 1965. How did this wonder of printing with its incredible list of contributors — William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Ed Sanders, Denise Levertov to name a few — come to be? Searching on the internet there is next to nothing about this magazine available. Copies appear on Abebooks, like the subtitle of Brown Paper mentions, occasionally. I snapped up a copy years ago. The oversize magazine stands out on my bookshelf, and I have thumbed through it several times over the years. I must admit that I never read the Burroughs / Ginsberg / McClure material because that was tipped in and tied to the magazine in a back flap folder. I hesitated to destroy the integrity of the magazine. So I learned no more about the enigma that was Brown Paper for years.
Happily after the posting of the interview section of the Bunker, I received a few emails from editors of magazines from the glory days of DIY publishing willing to tell their tales. One of these men was Daniel Lauffer, the wizard behind the curtain of Brown Paper. I was thrilled, and even more so, once he began sharing his knowledge of the literary community out of which Brown Paper materialized. Lauffer encouraged me to cut open my copy and enjoy. Thank goodness I did. The Burroughs piece is a prime example of his cut-up obsession and presents an interesting back story involving Lauffer and Brown Paper. Emails between Lauffer and I followed and what resulted was a wonderfully informative interview on Brown Paper and related subjects. The story of this magazine is available for the first time as far as I can tell and it is quite a tale. The Burroughs angle alone will be fascinating for the readers of RealityStudio. The tangents to Le Metro Café, Allen Ginsberg, and elsewhere are also well worth a few minutes reading.
There are more interviews in the works, but please if any readers out there have any information to impart about Burroughs, the little magazine, post-WWII literary communities, and the like please drop me a line. I and the readers of RealityStudio would love to hear from you.
Interview with Daniel Lauffer
Give some details on your personal background and interests that led you to consider publishing a little magazine?
As a pre-baby boomer I had grown up in the later part of the Eisenhower era. I suspect that it will become recognized as this country’s Victorian era. It was a period of prosperity and of repression. The first acceptable form of rebellion was MAD magazine. I have written about how it meshed with the adolescent awareness of how the adult culture is filled with lies. A more serious assault on the culture came with Howl. I followed Allen Ginsberg’s work which led to Burroughs and Mike McClure. It is almost impossible for today’s readers to understand how each of their major works was a threat to the status quo, and persecuted as such by that same status quo. You had to work to obtain them. Publishers had to fight to issue them. They are now in the libraries and the mega-bookstores everywhere. I collected these writers, and corresponded with them. I corresponded with Beckett, Burroughs and Michael McClure. I asked them to sign books and periodicals. Some of the content of Brown Paper came from these interactions. McClure’s contribution was a greeting added into a little mag that he signed for me.
Otherwise, I attended New York’s City College. I contributed poems to the City College literary magazine Promethean and a more renegade Andruil. They included my interests in the personal, and what would now be considered pop culture and transgressive issues. I had gravitated to the Village where I was a folk musician. I played in Washington Square Park and was in the Even Dozen Jug Band with Joshua Rifikin, John Sebastian, Maria Muldaur and David Grisman. I was also collecting books with an interest in Beckett and the Beats. The Village had the shops which had the best books as they were coming out. I later became involved in Fluxus doing a “flux game” and contributing to performances. A final influence was MAD with my friendship with the art director, John Putnam
Describe the collecting scene that developed around the Beats. They were collectible early on.
Collecting was more informal. You looked over the shelves at 8th Street, then stopped in to see what Bob Wilson had for you. I think he got me a few Beckett items which his Joyce collectors might have wanted. Things were either just coming out or going on remainder. The last Yugens were at 8th street, Floating Bears showed up at the New Yorker bookstore over the theater. The real great stuff involved assembling a collection and then approaching the author. Allen kindly signed a slew of periodicals and added bibliographic notes eg, “next section published in FY”. One of my favorites is a slightly roughened Evergreen Review 2 which published Howl in the expurgated City Lights version for which he wrote in the missing words. Similar attention from Michael McClure who drew and embellished his signature frequently.
What was the creative community out of which Brown Paper grew? Was the center of activity New York City or Philadelphia as both cities are mentioned in the magazine?
The content was based in the post-beat scene in New York. As I mentioned, I had been involved in the literary magazines in college. I worked in bookstores while attending night classes for a while. The counterculture movement that I was aware of was in New York with bulletins coming in from San Fransisco, London and Paris. The mimeo revolution brought the latest from the beat and Black Mountain writers. Shops, especially Bob Wilson’s Phoenix and the Eighth Street Book Store were a source for collectors and poets manqué. I also attended readings at Le Metro. Eventually, I also read there.
The form of the magazine also came from my associations in New York. It was designed by Tony Lane, a friend and neighbor from a middle class enclave in the then unfashionable Long Island City. Tony was away as an art student in Philadelphia.
How did the title come about? Given the content of some of the poems, is there a reference to the brown paper wrapper in which porn titles were mailed?
It came from the unlikely source of a British radio comedy show, The Goon Show. The goons were basically written by comic Spike Milligan. Because it was radio, dozens of different characters could be in a script without having to provide costumes. Milligan did several voices and Peter Sellers did many others. In one episode, a character named Bluebottle (voiced by Sellers) announces that he is “Ace Bluebottle, reporter for Brown Paper what is the voice of the Finchley Beat Generation”. This was sort of like talking about “the Scarsdale Beat Generation”. I think Milligan’s reference was brown wrapping paper from a butcher shop, which is called kraft paper here. The aura of the transgressive was a bonus.
As a visual object, Brown Paper is one of the forgotten classics of little magazines. It is really beautiful. Can you give details on the printing of the magazine, the design (particularly the idea of the manuscript and notes section), and the layout? It is unusual like a mixture of little mag and fine press.
It was a deliberate mix. I was impressed with the content of the mimeo mags. I also was concerned with the fragility of the mimeo format. I had discussed this with Tony who came up with the letterpress format and supplied the expertise in printing matters. Tony Lane was a student at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, now the University of the Arts. He was a photographer who was also interested in graphic design and production. There was a particularly strong program in printing under Jim McWilliams and a fully stocked print shop with a Vandercook flatbed proofing press. Another student, Curtis Zahn was busy putting together an underground newspaper, Yarrowstalks, which was one of the earliest publishers of Robert Crumb’s work. There was also a connection with the Falcon Press in Philadelphia. (It has been a printer’s town since Ben Franklin’s day.)
Tony got Jim’s OK to do a project after school hours. Tony set up purchasing paper. We got a Fabriano 60 lb cover stock in cinnamon color. He trained me in the intricacies of the California Job Case. I worked in the city and then took the train to Philadelphia on weekends. We made decisions and set type into the night. The evenings of pulling and setting type and making the physical impression of the type on the paper are a very pleasant memory for me.
The decision to do part in offset was necessitated by Allen’s poem. Given the size of the type, it would have added a half dozen pages to the magazine. A smaller font would have worked poorly with the other pages which were essentially mini-broadsides. We also wanted to show Burroughs’ decorations and the arrows guiding you through his three column cut-up. Then I got John Keys’ moebius poem. It would have added a second volume if done in the original font.
The magazine contains a strange mix of famous and unknowns. We all know Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Paul Blackburn, Denise Levertov and some others, but can you give some background on the unknowns in the magazine. Are you particularly proud of publishing any of this less known work?
It was a mix of the famous, the interesting talented and friends. It holds up pretty well in having beats and women represented. I consider Diane Wakoski to be one of the “known” poets who has produced a substantial body of work. Denise Levertov taught poetry at City College when I was there, as had Paul Blackburn. I had met Nancy Ellison at the Metro readings. There were some lines in her poem that really spoke to me. I am not sure where she went with her talents. “Friar Jacopo, SJ” was Richard Jaccoma. As an artist he illustrated the underground comic “Greaser” with text by George DiCaprio. He has written novels and done art direction for Screw. He is now a photographer in the Philadelphia area. Jack Tinkel’s poems also spoke to me. Caveat, he is my cousin. He is a retired engineer. Ken Haferman was a fellow folkie who came from the Minneapolis “Dinkytown ” scene. He is still a musician. I have thought that John Keys would have made more of a reputation. I really liked his work. He was productive and in the middle of the scene of the day. He had a fund of lit gossip and was trying to get Olson and Amiri Baraka (then Leroi Jones) to send contributions. I have since seen a collection of his work from England, but he remains essentially an unknown.
Let’s get to the Burroughs appearance. There is an interesting story about his contribution to Brown Paper and your role in making it happen. Can you give the details? What was the reputation of Burroughs at the time? What was your familiarity with his work?
Burroughs was the wild writer who wrote the forbidden book. When my friend Joshua Rifkin was studying at Darmstadt, he got a copy of Naked Lunch back to me. The Exterminator was available from Auerhahn and I was able to order copies of Junkie from Ace. Amazingly, I sold them at cover price in the City College bookstore. (I wish I had taken a dozen home.) However, I steered fellow lit freaks to them.
At one point in 1962 there were rumors flying about Burroughs’ wild creativity — he was cutting up Shakespeare (false). He was cutting up Beckett (true). He mentioned doing Beckett cut-ups at the Edinburgh Festival. I wrote via Grove and asked about them. He responded with an example page. I then did a MAD-styled parody of The Exterminator which I titled “Exterminate the Exterminator”. I collaged a short pamphlet which I sent to Burroughs in Tangiers. I wrote that I had purchased this as an “unpublished manuscript” and asked him to authenticate it.
Burroughs “got the joke” and wrote back that it “seemed, in a sense, authentic.” He would sign it, and add to it before returning it. The cover referred to him as “William Olivetti” so he signed in that name and added “Lettera 22” (an Olivetti typewriter). He made a few other additions and then took part of the text and did a cut-up of it. He then wrote a three column cut-up and parodied my parody of Brion Gysin’s version of Arabic calligraphy. He also added the instruction to “place any picture here for Nov. 22nd 1962”. In later years I wondered if he meant November 22nd 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated. He is not available to comment. The cut-up is referenced by this title in the bibliography. While I didn’t suggest it, it was Burroughs’ decision to make the parody a collaboration. He later gave permission to publish it in Brown Paper, adding that I might consider submitting to My Own Mag.
Ironically, the excerpt in Brown Paper was listed in the bibliography for the UCLA exhibition of Burroughs and Ginsberg under the title “IF YOU CUT YUP BALONEY YOU STILL GET BALONEY. THIS IS GESTALT SPELLED BACKWARDS.” It’s just before Interzone. These were the first lines of my parody text, in upper case in imitation of the Auerhan Exterminator. Apparently, it was Burroughsian enough to fool the curators. Burroughs completists will have a tough time finding that item. Even more ironically, a literary scholar at Southeastern Missouri University reprinted the UCLA bibliography but did so a chronologically instead of alphabetically. “IF YOU CUT YUP BALONEY” is listed as a 1964 publication. Bill liked to say that “language is a virus that replicates itself.” In this case misinformation on the internet is a virus.
The Ginsberg poem is remarkable. I do not think it is in the Collected Poems 1947-1980. How did you get a hold of this poem? What are you thoughts on it and Ginsberg in full guru mode in the mid-1960s?
It was the second poem in the Planet News collection. It holds the same place in the Collected Poems. He didn’t choose it for his Selected Poems. Ginsberg would “hold court” after the readings at Le Metro. As he has said, if anyone asked, he would give a poem. He had a sheaf of poems ready for publication.
At that point, he was everywhere. He was able to find press coverage to promote those that he felt connected to his aesthetic. There is a photo by Larry Keenan sold by “1-800-Kerouac” that shows Allen, Mike McClure and Dylan which seems emblematic of the times. Later, he was more open about views which might have been too unpalatable earlier. I like to think that you can like and respect his poems without subscribing to all his views — be they political, radical, chemical or sexual.
Incidentally, the mss (which he requested to be returned) afforded me a (miniscule) publication in the Paris Review. I had not been aware of the Buddhist term of “atman”. When trying to set the poem in type, I made the editorly notation of a “?” and an arrow. He sent me a card explaining that it was roughly akin to the western concept of the soul. When he was interviewed for the Paris Review, he sent the first page as an “unpublished” mss page. My marks remained and were published. The earlier publication of the poem was noted by Dowden in the City Lights bibliography.
What do you think was the biggest accomplishment of Brown Paper? What are you proudest of?
I still particularly like the actual physical object — the paper and the layout. I think the best quality of BP was getting good work into a permanent and well-designed format. I also enjoyed choosing work that I liked, by writers that I liked. I am also proud that a number of the contributions were considered good enough to be included in author’s later collections and the first American Literary Anthology. When the mag was being considered for Anthology, their editors decided not to include the mss items. I suspect that the Burroughs and Ginsberg items would have made it in. Denise Levertov and Ed Sanders were included and they received prizes. I’ve mentioned the publications of Allen’s poem. Ed Sanders’ is in the Peace Eye collection. Diane’s went into a Doubleday collection.
Why was Brown Paper a one-shot?
Once the pages were printed a number of events occurred making getting the magazine bound and into the stores difficult. Tony graduated from PMCA. He married Susan and they moved to New York with boxes of sheets. I would ride over from Long Island City and work on binding copies with them. Special thanks to Susan who was injured in the cause of art, while binding the magazine. I stopped seeing my girlfriend in Philadelphia who had been a friend of theirs. I started concentrating on psychology studies. I also was active in a folk group, The Even Dozen Jug Band and with Fluxus. During the following summer I took copies to Los Angeles and San Francisco, where I spent time with McClure. I also did some flux-errands for George Macunias at that time.
The handmade quality that makes Brown Paper unique was also the biggest problem in producing it. At one point the logistics of getting the time and energy to complete the project became overwhelming. About then I received a letter from Diane Wakowski saying that she thought it would be one of the most beautiful magazines and would she see it soon? That was enough to get me back onto the task. After the initial quantity of bound copies had been distributed, other responsibilities took over. A bit later Tony and Susan divorced. The unbound sheets at their apartment were lost. Instead of the 243 copies printed, there were probably less than 100 issued.
I had given thought to a second issue and was collecting manuscripts. There were some poems from Paul Blackburn that I liked. Eventually copies got back to the literary trust. I believe that there were also some more poems by Diane Wakowski. However, I had lost the level of interest needed to plough ahead on a new issue.
I got to ask do you still have the manuscripts printed in the magazine? If not what happened to them?
I believe that I have all the manuscripts except the Ginsberg.
You do have some other nice ephemera in your possession including some Café Le Metro handbills. Were you a regular at the Café? If so describe the scene there? Who did you see read?
As I had said, the Le Metro readings were central to my access to new works and to the writers. The best record of the robustness of the readers was Dan Saxon’s Poets at Le Metro. It was done by his giving Rexograph masters to anybody who read a poem that he liked. What mimeo is to letterpress, Rexograph is to mimeo. Most of us have seen rexo on those purple handouts used by teachers in prior years. It is essentially an obsolete technology. When I look at pages, I can see the grain of the table under the handwriting of many sheets. Others took the sheets home and typed their poems on them. Allen, Clayton Eshelmann, Gregory Corso and other names read. I asked Ed Sanders for his piece after hearing him read it. The readings provided a constant locus for the scene at that time.
Let’s talk about the unpublished little magazine Albatross and the resulting Icarus. This is a little known appearance by Burroughs with an interesting back story.
I had known Arnold Saland at City College. He took a year in Dublin, I believe at Trinity. When he returned he had a fund of stories about the pubs and people of Ireland. When I Googled him, I saw a reference in a political blog by Malcom Redfellow ex of Trinity. Neither of us had heard of Arnie in recent years. Arnie had also brought back a copy of Albatross, which he expected would be published, and inscribed his story. I filed it away until getting the Burroughs bibliography by Maynard and Miles. They referenced it, but didn’t assign a “C” number since it hadn’t been actually issued. Incidentally, the Burroughs mss that he sent me incorporating Beckett is part of that “Short Piece” in Albatross, and, I assume, Icarus.
Can you give some details on Iain Sinclair’s involvement?
As I mentioned, Arnie Saland was a friend from the City College literary scene. He was kind enough to bring and inscribe a copy of the “Pilot Issue” of Albatross which was going to publish a story of his. I noted and read the Burroughs piece at the time. Many years later I purchased a copy of the Maynard and Miles Bibliography. They listed Brown Paper and the collaboration in the “C” section. While looking for other mags that I might have I saw the history of “A Short Piece” on page 143. M. L. Lowes and Iain Sinclair had assembled Albatross and registered it for copyright. They may also have had to send copies to the British Museum as we send copies to the Library of Congress. They then became editors of Icarus at the University of Dublin. They used the material from the unissued Albatross. University regulations would not let the editors mention Albatross when the material was published in Icarus. It would seem unlikely that many copies of the “Pilot Issue” survived.
What are your thoughts about the future of the little magazine in the digital age? What are the major differences in your eyes from the time your edited a magazine?
I have usually thought about it in relation to George Macunias of Fluxus. Using a Comptometer which does just one font (trade gothic) in various sizes, and Letraset rub-on fonts, he produced a unique visual style for books and magazines. If he had a Mac, or even a Windows computer and a small laser printer, he might have conquered the world.
It is now incredibly easy to achieve visual effects with myriad fonts. Photocopying was once a chore for specialists. Most printers are now scanners too. Getting it done is so much easier. There are an infinite number of small offset and Xerox printing shops around the country. Prices for 500 sheets printed on both sides are minimal. What is currently unknown is how much good work is going to be sent out in print and how much in digital files only. How can you collect it? Make hard copies? What will constitute a “first edition?” Will the blog really be the medium for serious work?
Tell us a little about your pursuits after the time of Brown Paper?
I became involved with psychology. I worked in private agencies and public schools with autistic individuals. Eventually, I got a doctorate from Fordham. In the process I married Susan and moved from the Village to Rockland County. I stopped commuting and have basically worked for public and private agencies in the area. (Dr. Dan — successor to Dr. Benway) The only literary pursuit has been a short piece on Asperger’s traits in the characters in Blade Runner in an autism journal.
We had two daughters and a big Victorian house. This gave me room to store too many books and magazines. We recently sold and moved into a smaller house by the river. Packing gave me some opportunity to see what was in the shelves. I will send scans as things turn up.
1 thought on “Interview with Brown Paper’s Daniel Lauffer”
Jed, what a fascinating story. Connections everywhere. Only sad that it’s taken me thirteen years to read it. Intrigued especially, as in 2012 I was lucky enough to get permission from Iain Sinclair to publish his THE FACE ON THE FORK: A WILLIAM BURROUGHS TRIPTYCH which incorporates the Burroughs Albtatross text mentioned in this interview. Your remains as absorbing as ever.