John Gimblett: Selected Archive of Frames Magazine
In the early 1980s I edited and published a small press literary magazine here in Wales, called Frames. Here are some postcards, letters, and MSS from actual or would-be contributors, published for the first time. To put the entire archive online would be a larger job than I want to do at the moment, though that isn't to say it won't happen some time in the future, particularly if anyone expresses interest in seeing such a collection.
My approach to soliciting contributions to the magazine was simply to think of writers whose work I liked, and write to them asking for a poem or other scrap of writing; It didn't matter how famous they were.
The surprise to me was how many writers actually wrote back, even if many of them didn't include work for the magazine. When they didn't send a poem, it was usually because their entire output was copyrighted to their publishers. This was the case with Alain Robbe-Grillet, Pope John Paul II (who was, I'd heard, a poet of some experience), and a few others. Some writers were heroes of mine, but couldn't contribute simply because they had (so they said) nothing to give. I include a treasured postcard from Samuel Beckett to this effect. By the way, the Pope was under copyright, though he did bestow upon me, via the Bishop of Cardiff, God's abundant blessings. Unfortunately, one can't publish such things. So I printed the letter instead.
Some writers and artists couldn't send work because they were gravely ill. This was the case with Derek Jarman; I sent him some unusual peony-headed poppy seeds, which in his reply to me he said he'd scattered outside his cottage door. Even in photographs of his garden now, you can see, every summer, the flowers that have grown from them.
For some writers I liked, who didn't send work for publication, I published their letter to me instead. This was usually when it was something worth seeing, as, for example, Ivor Cutler's letter. This was so interesting that I printed the envelope as well.
For the Surrealist issue (Issue 6) I'd written to the foremost original surrealist poet in Britain, Sir Roland Penrose, asking for a poem. What I didn't know at the time as that he had a while before. His family read my letter whilst going through his papers, found a couple of fairly recent poems which were unpublished in magazine or book form, and kindly sent them to me asking if I'd like them. I believe that Frames published the last works by our greatest surrealist writer.
An even greater surprise to me even now is how often the work sent to me for publication in Frames was so good. I expected famous writers if they sent anything at all to send the scraps from their wastepaper baskets. This wasn't the case at all. The poem R. S. Thomas sent, for example (Citizen), I believe to be one of his strongest. I was proud also to include poems by the late great John Tripp. In fact, the magazine had support from almost every writer of worth working in Wales at that time: Dannie Abse; Duncan Bush; the criminally underrated Alan Halsey; Graham Hartill; John Freeman; Chris Torrance; Bill Wyatt; the ever-interesting Barry Edgar Pilcher; Alison Bielski; Nigel Jenkins; Phil Maillard; where to stop?
There were 6 issues in all, the 6th being a Surrealist special. I was particularly pleased with this issue, although by that time the pressure of funding and distribution had taken over from the excitement of publishing, and I lost interest. I also lost lots of money - Issue 6 sold very few, and I still have boxes of pristine copies in my attic. There are a few copies of the other issues alongside them, though Issue 1 sold out a very long time ago, sometimes changing hands for several times the cover price.
I can honestly say I never encountered any aloofness, or arrogance of any kind from any writer of whatever professional stature in my time publishing Frames. Except maybe one poet whose work I rejected and who subsequently had a major prissy fit not only to me but to the small press community. I chuckled to see his Collected Poems given a full page, lead review in a recent Observer, knowing what a prat he'd been. But then, judge the work, not the man. Except his work reflected his nature. Compare that to, for example, Peter Finch, who was a pillar of support throughout the magazine's entire history, contributing superb work, offering advice, and buying copies for Oriel when few other shops would do so. Thankyou, Peter.
At the time Frames finished, I simply couldn't afford to continue with it. I was unemployed, and really only needed about £200 to enable the magazine to continue. The Arts Council of Wales threw a few pennies my way for one or two issues, but this didn't go very far. While I was trying desperately to persuade them to cover the £200 annual loss on what was essentially the only small press literary magazine in Wales at that time, they were giving something like a few million pounds a year to the Welsh National Opera. I despair.
Still, the legacy of Frames is that for six issues over a few years, amateur as well as up-and-coming writers in Wales had the opportunity to publish work, on merit terms, alongside such greats as R. S. Thomas. And that writers such as Alan Halsey got to be read more widely.
Postcard from Samuel Beckett, 1984
Postcard from R. S. Thomas, 1984
Letter from Dannie Abse, 1984
Letter from Alain Robbe-Grillet, 1984
Letter from Neil Kinnock's Press Sec., 1986
And lastly, I once drove down the M4 in a Mini with Jack Kerouac's biographer. Doesn't everyone? Gerald Nicosia (for it was he) told me many stories, including that of his meeting with Kerouac's mother. He talked rather a lot about his own mother too, making me wonder if he and Jack were of a similar character. (Yes, I realise this is a rather sweeping generalization - we all love our mums, don't we? - but I'm aiming for effect here.)
Gerald sent me some poems for Frames which I never used due to the magazine ending. He's very kindly agreed to let me use one of the original typescripts he sent me, here:
To everyone who supported Frames by whatever means, I'll take this opportunity to thank you again. And if you want to buy a copy of Issues 2-6, contact me! If you want to buy a copy of Issue 1, then still contact me, but arrange a new mortgage first...