Clayton Eshleman started his first magazine, Caterpillar, in New York City in the fall of 1967 — the very same moment I moved from Europe to the US. It wasn’t until some time in late 1968 that the magazine was brought to my attention, either by Robert Kelly, with whom I was working on Paul Celan translations at Bard College, or by Thomas Meyer, a student like me at Bard. Caterpillar very quickly became the essential and most useful magazine for me in the process of absorbing American poetry and tentatively taking steps toward formulating a poetics of my own. (Not that I didn’t enjoy the New York school mags, but so much of that poetry had its roots in European, specifically French modern poetry —something I had left Europe to get away from as at least in it place of origin it had become stale by then). The “Caterpillar poets” — or what I came to call the “original Deep Image” poets — on the contrary were developing a process-based poetics with deep roots in American modernism, the Pound / Stein line that led to Olson, Duncan, Zukofsky via the then nearly disappeared Objectivists. If I had come over enamored of the Beats — it was certainly on the energy of their magic carpet that I had ridden over from Europe, though I had bought the Cantos shortly before embarking for America — it was in the poets I now discovered in Caterpillar that I found the depth of concerns and then formal experimentation I realized was necessary for a poetics that tried to be fully aware of both the internal mental/spirituals and the external political / cultural travails of that period. By the time Caterpillar ended in 1973, I was living in London, and I felt its demise like a serious blow.
Eshleman returned with a vengeance, creating SULFUR, seven years later, in 1980/1981. (Not necessarily lean years, as much else was happening magazine & publication-wise in the mid to late seventies, if I may mention my own SIXPACK in London , as well as Allen Fisher’s various SPANNER incarnations or Eric Mottram’s short-lived but powerful editorship of the POETRY REVIEW, or, in the US, the emergence of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E & associated publications, or Jed Rasula & Don Byrd’s WCH WAY — to name only these, here, quickly as this isn’t the moment for a historical overview of magazines…). But for my money (mind would be a better word) SULFUR became the essential magazine I went to over those years wherever I was living, whatever I was doing, i.e. writing or translating from the poetries of various cultures. I can’t think of any English-language magazine (nor, come to think of it, of any French, German or Spanish-language magazine) that, while continuing the investigation of US poetries began in CATERPILLAR, presented a wider, fuller, richer array of international poetries and poetry-related work. And I don’t mean “international” in that vague sense in which various magazines would publish whatever foreign-looking language object came across their desks if translated into basic free-verse fully comprehensible English after removal of any trace of kulchural strangeness & furriness that could have irritated the all-‘merican reader. There was an energy, a freshness and a seriousness to Eshleman’s project that said to the reader: this is not a matter of entertainment, of art-as-aesthetics, this is a matter of life and of how poetry (and art) can teach us, in Blake’s words, to cleanse the doors of perception & thus widen our knowledge of the real — the “inside real and the outsidereal,” to use Ed Dorn’s formulation. The anthology of that incredible adventure, as edited by Clayton Eshleman and published by Wesleyan, is a superb 650-page walk through the 46 issues of SULFUR. A treasure trove. For the names of the included, see below. For full disclosure I should say that I published poems & translations in Sulfur & also have work in the anthology.
From the publisher’s release notes (where a click will also get you to the full table of Contents):