This month I released Charles Edward Payne’s chapbook under the Retirement Plan banner. There was a well attended Zoom launch. And the copies are selling! This is the fifth print-based item I’ve worked to bring into the world. It feels good to make things.
When I moved out of South Bend I put the Retirement Plan series to bed. I made a WordPress site for the back issues. While I was proud that I was able to create a DIY print zine, I was secretly content to be done with it. I printed and stapled every issue by hand and distributed them around town. It’s a ton of monotonous work.Everyone seems to have their own WordPress-based lit zine nowadays, and while that’s created innumerable opportunities for writers and artists to share their work (and isn’t democratization what the internet was supposed to be all about?), it’s also signaled the death of the local DIY zine.
I was inspired to start Retirement Plan after reading this Guardian article from 2010 about the death of the music scene. Not the death of music, mind you, which is alive and well, but the death of the local scene. Hardcore in DC in the 80s. Madchester and the Second Summer of Love. Grunge in Seattle. A couple of bands start playing, they attract and inspire a few other bands, and a scene starts that explores a particular sound. Eventually word spreads and people start to seek the scene out, and very soon after that it becomes diluted and “dies.”
Now, with the internet, everyone can access all of the music in the world instantaneously. It doesn’t matter if you live in Brooklyn or Tishomingo, Oklahoma. There’s no seeking out that needs to be done. No geographic pilgrimages. It’s the same with poetry. The New York School of poetry or the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beat Generation of poets, the Lost Generation, nothing like that will happen again. Everyone works together online to produce journals and everyone finds journals to publish in via \submittable. I’m a reader for the After Happy Hour Review and will likely never meet any of the people involved in the journal, at least not in person.
That said, I became a reader after participating in a virtual reading after publishing a piece there. I might not have found this wonderful Pittsburgh magazine if not for Submittable. Might not have ever published in it if not for the Submittable. Certainly wouldn’t have been able to do a quarantine reading if not for the internet. So don’t think I’m being a Luddite and succumbing to nostalgia. Ok I am a little tiny bit. Because what we’ve lost, along with scenes, are the unique voices that become attributable to those scenes. Not the individual poets but the feeling of the scene as a whole. The San Francisco Renaissance and the New York School were both poetry scenes in the 60s but, separated by such distance, developed their own unique voices. That sort of scene-based distillation can’t really happen any more.
And, coming back around to the zine, I’m sad I missed out on the opportunity. I’ve always tried, everywhere I’ve moved, to become part of the local scene, such as it existed in each place. Macomb, Bloomington, South Bend. And I’ve never had much luck. I’m just not good enough at socializing to do it. Introverts have a hard time getting into a the local scene. Maybe I would have had more if I played an instrument. That always seems to be an in. I came closest in South Bend through poetry. For a moment, a few years back, it seemed as if there was *almost* a poetry scene tipping point about to happen in South Bend. It never quite took, though. I couldn’t get anyone but the same dozen or so people to show up at my events, another organizer of events started doing stuff at Notre Dame instead, Langlab stopped hosting poetry events. Pam is still there, awesome and dynamic as ever, doing her thing.
I like to imagine that, had I been born earlier, had I happened to be in the right place, I could have been a member of an actual, honest-to-goodness scene. Doing the Retirement Plan zine felt like tangible evidence of that fantasy. In the 90s I used to go Quimby’s bookstore in Chicago and buy up a bag full of the weird, DIY Xeroxed zines they’d stock on the shelves. Such a fascinating array of creations by all of the young, bohemian artist kids of Wicker Park, which it was still edgy, before it became a shopping center. Haphazardly put together, often taped, scribbled upon, one-offs or zines that ran for only a few issues, this seemed a thing of scenes to teenage me. Something to read on the Amtrak back to Macomb, watching the soybean fields roll by and fantasizing about bohemian futures some city where I’d certainly find my people. These zines, these furious little expressions of whoever was around, other there in that city, living.
For what it’s worth, people still make zines in Chicago. Quimby’s still stocks them. The last time I was through there didn’t seem to be as many as I remembered in the 90s. This may all in fact be nostalgic misremembering, I know. But I do also remember local zines in tiny little Macomb. Or one my friend Lee gave me that he put out called Hunger. If it is true that there are fewer zines being put out now than in the 90s, it must be because of the internet. If it’s not true, than I’m just a Boomer-in-training waiting to complain about kids today.
I think when I started putting out the Retirement Plan issues that I hoped it would become something. Establish myself as a maker of things in the South Bend poetry scene. It didn’t. I printed up a couple hundred copies per issue and left them around town with contact information in the interior. No one ever contacted me. I don’t even remember the password for the email. Still, it felt nice, to hold the copies that I’d stapled at home. Feel the paper. Even lacking whatever qualities need to join a scene, if there are still scenes to join, I could imagine while driving around that I was later to join the other poets for coffee and cigarettes and meaning to make out of life.