LOST & FOUND: Selections from EL CORNO EMPLUMADO / THE PLUMED HORN 1962-1964 The Center for the Humanities - The Graduate Center, The City University of New York

, by Margaret Randall

LOST AND FOUND: Pages from EL CORNO EMPLUMADO / THE PLUMED HORN (English, first three years: 1962-1964, selection and commentary by Margaret Randall)

EL CORNO EMPLUMADO / THE PLUMED HORN was a bilingual quarterly of poetry, short story, essay, visual art, letters and various combinations of these, published out of Mexico City from 1962 to 1969. Mexico had long been rich in artistic tradition and the sixties was a decade in which young artists in many parts of the world pushed the limits of conceptual and stylistic possibility. The journal’s name combined the jazz horn of the north and the bright feathers of Mesoamerica’s Quatzalcoatl, signifying a mix of cultures from two hemispheres, although during its life El Corno—as it came to be known—also published work from Finland, India, Spain, and many other parts of the world.
Mexican poet Sergio Mondragón and I met in the fall of 1961 at the home of U.S. Beat poet Philip Lamantia. Philip and Lucille, the woman who was then his wife, had an apartment in Mexico City’s exuberant Zona Rosa, an area near the city center where artists and writers congregated at people’s homes and in small cafes. I remember especially the deli café owned by Georgian poet Jacobo Glantz, The old man sat at a table in the back, pounding away at his Hebrew typewriter, its carriage moving in the opposite direction from those on which most of us wrote. He was generous with the younger writers and often fed us without charge. This was a time of typewriters, carbon paper, and snail mail service, when even a long distance telephone call was beyond the reach of most young poets.
Lamantia’s apartment became a meeting place for artists and writers from several countries: Mexico’s Juan Martínez and Carlos Cofeen Serpas were often there. Ernesto Cardenal arrived from Nicaragua; this was long before he took his priest’s vows. Raquel Jodorowsky visited from Peru. Among the U.S. Americans I remember Harvey Wolin and Howard Frankl. Through seemingly endless nights we read to one another, often barely understanding the other’s language and almost always missing hidden historical and cultural references. It soon became clear that we needed a forum where we could read new work in the original and in translation, a forum free of the strictures so often imposed by the academies or schools then in vogue.
Sergio and I fell in love, married, and founded the journal, which quickly became a vibrant part of the renaissance of independent cultural endeavors characterizing the 1960s and ‘70s (Harvey Wolin was part of the endeavor until its first issue appeared. Mondragón left during its last year, when U.S. poet Robert Cohen assumed co-editorship). We prided ourselves in showcasing work by communist guerrillas, Catholic priests, indigenous poets, consecrated masters and those publishing for the first time, irrespective of whatever style or group was fashionable. Quality was our criteria. We adjusted the page to the requirements of the word rather than the other way around. We printed as much translation as possible, making such poets as Allen Ginsberg available for the first time in Spanish and Ernesto Cardenal in English. Each year’s final issue was a book by a single author, in completely bi-lingual facing-page format. We also featured important anthologies from a single country or, occasionally, a single poetic movement. El Corno also eventually added a series of chapbooks to its imprint.
It wasn’t easy to launch such a publication. At first we faced the incredulity and lethargy of the poets as well as the disbelief of potential advertisers and sponsors. When our first issue appeared in January, 1962, people began taking us more seriously. Mexico had a history of governmental support for the arts, and we soon had patronage from Bellas Artes, the Ministry of Education, even the Office of the Presidency. Important cultural figures, like publisher Arnaldo Orfila, poet and Secretary of State José Goroztisa, and respected intellectuals Carlos Pellicer, Rosario Castellanos, Mathias Goeritz and Leonora Carrington offered their support. We wanted to maintain our independent criteria, and relied as well on worldwide subscriptions and bookstore distribution supplemented with benefit arts sales and poetry readings when times got rough. (Mexican governmental agencies supported us only as long as we refrained from criticizing national policy.)
For a real sense of what the journal offered and what it meant in the world of letters of its time, one would need an anthology many times the size of this sampler. Each of our 31 issues averaged 200 pages, roughly half in Spanish half in English. So, to begin with, the Spanish contents would have to be featured as well. For reasons of space I have chosen to reference only the English here. Secondly, I would have included some of the editors’ notes, which give a sense of where we found ourselves at each stage of our journey. I will try to illustrate this with brief descriptions of each issue. And I would have wanted to include prose: one of Laurette Séjourné’s insightful essays on pre-Columbian Mexico, a fragment of Henry Miller’s “Nexus,” Dan Georgakas’ collage interview with James Baldwin, or an essay by Edmundo Desnoes. Because of page limitations, I made the decision to reproduce only poetry and letters originally published in English, and only work from the journal’s first three years.
El Corno is out of print, complete runs are extremely rare (although a number of libraries hold them). Perhaps at some later date someone will take it upon her- or himself to anthologize “the best” of the journal’s eight-year production. I hope they do, because such an anthology would not only provide a look at a journal that utterly defied national and continental boundaries during a time of great cultural richness; but also bring to light many early texts by writers who went on to gain international recognition, revisiting ideas as relevant today as they were then. The following excerpts are, indeed, lost and found.