Book Feature: Mouth of the Dragon Poetry Journal
Mouth of the Dragon, “a poetry journal of male love,” was founded in 1974 by Andrew Bifrost. This journal published the work of such important poets as Frank O’Hara, Ian Young, and Perry Brass–among many others. The final issue was published in 1980. Originally, the journal was a simple folded and stapled booklet (issue 1, pictured above, had 44 pages). By at least issue 7, the journal was bound in a more professional manner, and it eventually expanded to about 75 pages per issue.
At first, subscriptions were not available; one could only find the journal at select bookstores (primarily in New York). By issue 3, distribution had already expanded to include bookstores in Alabama, California, Minnesota, Canada, England, and a handful of other locations. Mouth of the Dragon was exhibited at the First New York Book Fair, in July 1974; and the journal was distributed free in prisons by The Prison Project (Greenfield Center, New York).
By issue 7, subscriptions were available (for $10/year). However, even as late as issues 11/12 (in 1977), contributors were still not paid for their poetry; their remuneration was two copies of the issue in which their poetry appeared. The editor stated in that issue, “Application is being made to the federal arts agency to support cash payments to authors; amount will be set when grants are made.”
Some scholars and students of literature (especially those who study LGBTQ literature) stress the importance of this early gay journal: it served many poets as their first exposure to the broader world, and it also exposed many readers to a world of poetry which otherwise would remain uncovered (and broader perspectives, perhaps, than they encountered in their day-to-day lives).
However, despite the respect and esteem which many hold for this journal, there is virtually no information available about it. It receives the odd mention in discussions of gay poetry and on various websites; but no one has published a thorough (or even cursory) study of the journal, its history, and its impact on the world of LGBTQ literature.
In the book Ganymede Unfinished, Perry Brass published the essay “A Distant Memory: Andrew Bifrost and The Mouth of the Dragon.” Apparently, this essay is quite critical of Andrew Bifrost; but the paperback Ganymede Unfinished is only now available through a print-on-demand website.
Is there less value placed on poetry than on other genres of gay literature? Is the field of LGBTQ studies–even, specifically, gay literature studies–so young that it’s unreasonable to already expect a thorough examination of every publication, however important everyone believes it to be?
In my efforts to find information for specific books, magazines, authors, etc. (for this blog and to satisfy my own curiosity about vintage items that I list for sale), I’m frequently surprised by the wealth of information available on some authors/publications and, similarly, on the dearth of information available for others. I’m learning that, unless an author is still alive or still has some loyal fans, there’s simply not much information available; and much of the study of LGBTQ literature is still completely wide open. There is much work to be done!
I’ll leave you with a couple of poems from the March/June 1977 issue of Mouth of the Dragon (a double-issue).
“The Sodom and Gomorrah Bit” by James S. Holmes
All this concern
about Lot’s wife:
(the body caught
half woman, half
pillar of salt),
whole plays about
her, and nobody
nobody ever instead
trying to paint the angels,
beings so beautiful
I too could not have helped
wanting to love them, their
great fluttering wings
enfolding the two of us while we
“Beach Day” by Salvatore Farinella
Dripping from the water
his long leg hair those golden wires
sweep away softness
and the heat patting my skin
and the sun beating those wires.
There was that slight breeze
and those hairs—see the butter cups
in wind bend above the wild green grasses
o this beach day layering sand
the length of my legs.
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To purchase copies of Mouth of the Dragon, visit the Somewhere Books online store.