by Greg Baysans

. . .

Based in Minneapolis, MN, The James White Review was a quarterly that published poetry, short stories, photographs, art work and book reviews by gay men. With Phil Willkie and Paul Emond, I was a co-founder of the Review in 1983 and was chief designer/typographer, as well as an editor, from 1983-1988 or so. I continued as editor until 1991. The Review was published in a tabloid (newspaper-like) format at that time.

In 1990, The Crossing Press published The Gay Nineties, an anthology of the "best of" the short stories that had appeared in the pages of the Review up to that time. There was brief talk of doing a "best of" poetry collection also, but it was brief and went nowhere ("Poetry doesn't sell," is the excuse I recall being given). The book is catalogued with the Library of Congress as ISBN 0-89594-473-1 (cloth, only a very few were cloth-bound) and ISBN 0-89594-472-3 (pbk). Phil and I are listed as editors and wrote the introduction but we had some welcome help in re-reading and selecting from over six years of material we'd all read and chosen before!

In the mid-90s Phil handed production over to Patrick Merla and Jim Marks of the Lambda Literary Association and production moved to Washington, D.C., under the aegis of the Lambda Literary Foundation. The format changed from a tabloid to a more conventional staplebound publication. The focus also changed from the broad mix of "first time" and recognized writers (which was a very explicit goal when we first started) to a much more "polished" publication.

Writers and others that appeared in the Review after 2000 include Dennis Cooper, James Purdy, Don Bachardy, Alfred Corn, Tom of Finland, Ned Rorem, Allen Ginsberg, John Wieners, and Samuel R. Delany, to name only a few of the most obvious well-recognized names. The last issues were somewhat sporadic and appeared irregularly; the last one I received was Vol. 19, No. 4, Fall 2002. I don't recall that there was a real end to it; it just sort of "faded away."

Sometime in 1997 or '98 Phil invited me to San Francisco for a reading. If I remember right, a separate reading, one of several, featured only writers associated with The James White Review. I do remember a group of five of us, Phil and myself included, each read a verse of James White's "Poems of Submission." I was so choked up I barely was able to finish the verse when it was my turn. Someone was recording the event. I remember little else about the short trip, but I think Phil again made mention of doing a "best of" the Review's poetry as a book, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in participating. I didn't hear anything more. But the idea had long been in my mind and within a couple weeks, I had made the selections presented here. Newly having access to the internet, I realized I could and would post there my own "best of" the JWR poetry.

I call my selection "The Early Years" because I wanted to focus only on poetry from the years I was with the Review. Though I'm not averse to "establishment" or "academic" poetry, I do think that the Review became more a domain for the "in crowd" once it was turned over to the crew at Lambda Literary Assoc. I'm not saying that was wrong; it was, in fact, a natural evolution.

When the Review began, our original goal was to provide a forum for both established and totally unknown writers. I think we did a good job of that for the eight years I was a part of the editorial "staff." Especially in the first few years, I sometimes felt that I was the only one championing the "in crowd".

All of us in those early years, Phil, Paul, David Lindahl, Tom Young, Bill Melton, Michael Haldeman, Clif Mayhood, Laurence Roberts, Brent Derowitsch, production and design help from my "real-life" co-worker David Brose who also joined us for an issue or two as a reader and editor -- each volunteering uncountable hours and hours for reading and then meeting to decide what from hundreds and hundreds of poems and dozens of short stories submitted for each issue, four times a year -- as a group we did what few had done before or since, all as a labor of love and with a belief in what we were doing. Despite some criticism that too much "amateur" writing made its way onto our pages in those early years, we attracted a vast spectrum of both contributors and readers.

This being cyberspace, for inclusion's sake I could have included several other poets' works, and I'm sorry that the works of others such as Michael Lassell, Christopher Hewitt, Claude Peck, Assotto Saint, Antler, Scott O'Hara, Gavin Dillard, etc., etc., etc. have not been included. Another concern was that this be a manageable and intimate presentation rather than an overwhelming or intimidating barrage. This already too long "introduction" would double in length if I were to include all those poems or poets I fondly recall. I've likely forgotten to mention by name several who should have come immediately to mind -- both those who've been lost to us here and those producing great work to this day.

For each poet presented here, I include a brief biography along with some personal memories and anecdotes from those rewarding days and weeks and months and years as a part of The James White Review.

I hope you'll enjoy my choices of "the best of The James White Review."

- Greg Baysans 4-27-1999, updated 9-22-2011