40 Years of Chiron Review
I started the magazine with no intention of spending my whole life at it. I intended to publish until age 30, then devote the rest of my life to some job working with and taking care of animals.
Well, 30 came and went, now 60 has come and gone, and here I still am. But since there has been a parade of stray cats through my life and every house I’ve ever lived in has unofficially been a home for abandoned cats, I guess in a way I’ve fulfilled that goal as well. At this writing I live with a house full of fuzzy varmints and take care of others who don’t live with me.
I was a month away from my 20th birthday when I began typesetting the first issue in August 1981. This was done on now-antique typesetting machines in the composing room where I worked as typesetter at the Great Bend [KS] Daily Tribune, 2012 Forest.
The issue was typeset on a machine that punched holes in one-inch paper tape. Each letter, digit and command had its own combination of holes, up to six in the line. This computer had no screen or mouse. The operators of these machines could not see what they had typed. In order to make corrections, the operator translated the series of holes, “erased” (reversing the tape and blacking out the errors with all six holes) and then re-typed the copy correctly.
This sounds scary in these days of giant monitors and “mice,” but I was good at it and my boss told me I typed the cleanest copy he’d ever seen since he started in 1961 (126 wpm, 99.4% accuracy).
The paper tape was run through a monstrous computer. Fonts were on two long, changeable filmstrips that were attached to a wheel inside the computer. The wheel spun very fast as it “read” the paper tape and shot appropriate characters onto paper film. The film was taken to the dark room and developed. Then it was trimmed, waxed and pasted up on the page. Further line corrections could be made and pasted up after the copy was on the page.
Typesetting was no problem. For some reason, it took five months to paste up the eight-page premier issue, featuring cousin Connie Edwards, double-cousin Karen Hathaway; best friend Richard Fisher; a classmate, several pen pals & mom. (I can’t for the life of me remember why it took so long to finish such a small issue. Now I whip out a 48-page issue, typos and all, in three to four weeks.)
I pasted up that first issue at a small round kitchen table in my trailer at 808 Maple, with curious cats lolling about on the pages, batting playful paws at my trusty X-acto knife, pica pole and indelible blue pen.
Titled The Kindred Spirit (a phrase from Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery), it was published Feb. 19, 1982. It was here I learned the act of creation packed a more powerful rush than any drug or drink. I was hooked for life.
The first three copies were sold literally hot off the press to newspaper co-workers for 50¢. I was astonished and delighted that anyone would give me money for it.
The first several issues weren’t much to brag about. In 1987, I met Jay Dougherty who began, through a flurry of patient, painstakingly detailed correspondence, guiding me step-by-step into improving the magazine’s content (and how, when and why to say no to submissions).
In 1989, Gerald Locklin agreed to become poetry editor and Ray Zepeda agreed to become fiction editor. The magazine changed from The Kindred Spirit to Chiron Review as of Issue 18, spring, 1989.
Thanks to their guidance, CR became, among other things, a small “outpost” of a refreshing movement in American literature. Charles Harper Webb calls it Stand-Up, Ed Ochester calls it Neo-Populist. Whatever it is, it’s an unpretentious literature that is accessible beyond the ivory towers of academia and outside the bounds of religious or politically correct restrictions. It celebrates honesty and humor. It also reclaims poetry as an art for the so-called “common” people. It seemed like something worthwhile to dedicate my life to.
In spite of this, CR has fought an on-going battle with hostility and attempted censorship – some silent, some blatant. (I use the term “censorship” here to mean any stifling of free speech and freedom of the press. Gerry Locklin gently pointed out that “censorship” in the truest definition of the word can only be committed by a government, not an individual or private business. I couldn’t find a word that means the same fascist crap being pulled by someone who isn’t a government, someone legally superimposing his own inalienable rights over someone else’s, so I took liberties.)
Nothing serious came of any attempts to stifle Chiron Review, though they seemed serious when they were happening. I’m well aware that many writers and publishers in the USA and in other parts of the world have sacrificed their freedom, wellbeing and too often their very lives for expressing themselves freely.
Regardless of the intensity of oppression, stifling of self-expression in any form in the USA is a slap in the face to human rights, to our forefathers and foremothers who sacrificed and died for the basic freedoms our country is based on.
There’s no challenge or soul-searching in cheering for people we agree with or championing free speech for people who are saying what we want to hear. Freedom becomes most meaningful, defined in its purest, most honest form when we defend freedom of speech and pursuit of life, liberty and happiness for someone we dislike, disapprove of or disagree with.
I’ve always maintained Chiron Review is not political, has no specific agenda. But that’s not entirely true. The act of creating Chiron Review is political. Stubbornly continuing to publish whatever I choose to publish has become an aggressive political act, nothing short of a holy war. The urge to fight, to preserve this right and freedom by continuing to do it without compromise is as political as it gets.
It will sound trite and simple-minded, but it’s all about freedom. What it boils down to is that I publish each issue with eternal optimism, with the neverending hope readers will not only be entertained, educated and enlightened by the literary offerings, but understand that to be truly free, we must allow others to be free, in their own way, on their own terms. There is no reason to make things any more complicated than that.
Every issue of CR features poems and stories which challenge readers to the very limit in the tolerance arena. Most readers celebrate this challenge but others cave in to their baser instincts to annihilate all who dare to offend or disagree with them or rattle the foundations of their belief systems.
CR writers won’t shy away from the controversial. They meet difficult and inflammatory subjects head-on, with style, grace and most of all, honesty – sometimes, brutal honesty. There is no word, no subject that is unspeakable; no word or subject so dangerous it can’t be uttered.
Writers who use language or subject matter simply for the sake of shock are boring. At the same time, I have great respect for a writer that doesn’t practice self-censorship for public approval (or any other reason); that doesn’t shy away from radical philosophy, politically explosive or sexually explicit subject matter or coarse language when the story requires one or all of those ingredients. These are legitimate aspects of the rich, colorful tapestry of our lives and I don’t believe in sweeping them under the carpet. I don’t believe in sanitizing truth for public consumption. I don’t believe in pussyfooting around the delicate sensibilities of squeamish, weak-minded people.
I’ve noticed those readers with delicate sensibilities and intolerant, overly-moralistic religious views tend to look for and comment on only what offends them. Ironically, much of the subject matter and writing in CR is quite tame, but I’m still waiting for some Christian or Republican to walk up to me on the street, pat me on the back and congratulate me for that.
I continue to assert the biggest challenge to sensitive readers is to keep reading, once they’ve started an issue, regardless of personal views. The biggest challenge is to find tolerance for what is different or foreign to his/her own mind-set, to find something to celebrate and love, not rage against what s/he hates. The challenge is to find the common thread that makes us all human.
Through my day-job as curator and librarian of our local historical museum, my passion for genealogy was rekindled. I learned my great-great-great-grandfather John Fitzgerald immigrated from England via Ireland to become an original settler of Stafford County, Kansas where I live. My great-great-grandfather John Henry (Jack) Hathaway and two of his sons participated in the Cherokee Strip Land Run. Great-grandfather Walter Smith Sr. participated in the Land Run and was an original settler of Cowley County, Kansas (where CR was once printed). Great-grandfather Charles Griffin and grandfather Ezra Smith Sr. homesteaded in Montana in the early 1900s. Mom’s ancestors on her father’s side go back to “original patriots” who came over on the Mayflower and sister ships.
I mention my forefathers not to assume honor by association or heredity or to rest on their laurels, but to suggest maybe their hearty, undaunted pioneer spirit is alive and well, still manifesting and celebrating itself on the plains of Kansas in the pages of Chiron Review.
That’s not to say some of the content of CR wouldn’t curl their hair were they alive today, that all my venerable forefathers wouldn’t be walking around with chronic curly perms … but I see Chiron writers as true pioneers – brave rebels and righteous outlaws. They break rules and do things frightened, uptight, rigid, little-minded people say can’t or shouldn’t be done in writing. They strive constantly for liberation.
Our writers continually break new ground. Not literally on the harsh, unforgiving Kansas prairie as my ancestors did, but on an always new and changing frontier: the landscape of the human heart, experience and self-expression; a landscape that can be just as rugged, unforgiving and fraught with one looming, dangerous obstacle after another.
Chiron Review #68 will mark, for better or worse, the accomplishment of the first 40 years of my life. I’m proud of this milestone, of the magazine; proud we have overcome many obstacles and are still alive and kicking literary ass, not much the worse for wear.
A high school teacher told one of my cousins she wishes I’d “gone to college and done something” with my life and talents. I had been blissfully oblivious that I hadn’t “done anything” with my life. I suppose I could have done more, but still can’t muster up any regret.
Regardless of my lack of education, of having never gone to college, I still managed to stumble headlong into something so utterly beatific, utterly real; something beyond academia, beyond intellectual, beyond spiritual – a calling and vocation so perfect they could not have been planned.
This life’s work I stumbled into is one I’ve been able to “learn by doing,” with guidance from accomplished poets and editors in the business. There might not be a better classroom in the world. I am grateful for this education and wouldn’t trade it for any college degree.
I’m honored and humbled to be the publisher of so many brilliant writers; to be the one who presents their beatific creations to the world (even though only a handful of people are listening). It remains the most sacred of tasks to publish a literary journal that brings such wild masterpieces to the light of day. It remains, after 40 years, the reason I get out of bed every day.