Friday, August 22, 2014


Storyville IV by Mayumi Oda
 In Issue One, these images were black & white. On newsprint. Self-cover. Yellow. That was it, yellow and black. Though I remember the thrill at seeing the first printed copy, I now kinda cringe when I look at it.

I remember arguing with the typesetters. Though they'd never heard of such a thing (and rightly so), I had carefully gone through, poem by poem, story by story, and picked the typeface I could most feel went with the piece. That meant a minimum of fifteen different typefaces!

Added to Mayumi's lovely pieces, many of the pages were festooned with what today we call "clipart," but in those days we had Dover books with copyright-free drawings on many subjects and from many sources. I had carefully gone through my stack of dover books for the most perfect image for every item, seashells, medieval bacchanal, and even, I see now, inexplicably, two Roman women standing alongside a mausoleum!

Sunset by Mayumi Oda
Many of the writers in Issue One became regulars in the magazine: Mary Mackey (the "unpublished erotic poetry" thereof), Arlene Stone ("Nocturne" starring "Svengahli Mendlessohn, son of a great composer of Labia chords").

Susan Griffin lent an excerpt from her newly released Pornography and Silence entitled, "Eros, the Meaning of Desire"; her sister Johanna, who owned the women's bar where I had seen Ntozake's performance, had a selection from her poem suite "Dancing." At a reading, standing on a stage in front of a darkened room, she complained that the type size I had used for her page was too small to read. Now, with eyes 33 years older, it's clear she was right.

(Learn more about Mayumi Oda's series of images from Storyville here.)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Riding the Crane

Kuan Yin  by Mayumi Oda
 While I was working at the fresh-squeezed orange juice stand, I used to park my car in the Berkeley Garage, then walk through, under the building, to campus. In the winding hallway there was an art gallery, and I was thrilled to see the work of someone entirely new to me named Mayumi Oda. So when I had this bright idea about the magazine, I knew her work in the first issue would be perfect.

Through another winding path of contacts, she called me and was interested in the idea. I drove to her house out by the sea in Marin County, by the Zen Green Gulch Farm, to look at her work.

Treasure Ship by Mayumi Oda
It was a magical  place to visit; Mayumi had inlayed a mosaic mermaid into her bathroom's entire floor. The house was surrounded by garden, and she had etched leaves and flowers into the white plaster of the fireplace surround.

She let me go through the work she had on hand and pick images for Issue One. (The ones in this post were ones I saw in the gallery; these were never in the magazine.)

Green Tara by Mayumi Oda
 And the writing, the poems and stories for the first issue? According to a letter to the readers I wrote in the first issue, I "sent out notices to every form of writer's and artist's newsletter, magazine, and school department,...called every talented person we could think of and wrote even more." To think that I ever had that kind of energy is next to impossible to believe. Then I had to learn something about speccing type, doing paste-up, finding distributors, getting advertisers, but in the end, a bit worse for inexperience, Issue One came out, 33 years ago this month. It just occurs to me that I was then age 33.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Et Volupté

Even before I had the wrong job, even before the horses and the peacocks, I worked at Fruity Rudy's, a teeny little stand at Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley, making smoothies and fresh-squeezed orange juice for students and tourists alike. While there, a frequent customer who worked in the bookstore across the street, recommended a book to me. I've never known what made the prescient connection for him, but it worked.

I always thought that The Life of an Amorous Woman, written in 1686 by Ihara Saikaku, was woven not of ink and paper, but of yellow silk. When I had begun to think about the magazine, I realized I wanted it to feel the way that book felt: luxe, calme, et volupté-- with an occasional orgasm and a nipple or two thrown in.

I remember running into a friend, the guy who ran the bookstore at Berkeley's University Art Museum and told him about the magazine I was thinking of starting. "What do you think of the name Yellow Silk?" He liked it, as did I.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


The writers I was mad for at that moment were (mostly) women who had begun doing political, feminist, and Glorious poetry around here in the Berkeley area -- Ntozake Shange gave a very early reading of for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf at a local women's bar. Jessica Hagedorn gave a reading/performance in the Art Museum's basement -- from inside a boxing ring!

This work was succulent, angry, and they not only expressed, for the first time, my life, in poetry, but they were also what I wanted my own writing to be like. And when I'd go to the bookstores to find more of that kind of writing, in the journals I found, death was in the first paragraph of every story, and there was little, if any, passion, music, or even eros, in any of the poems.

I thought there should be. A place for my own stories, true, but a place to gather all the writing I adored into one place -- the world needed this! The next day, as my brain had begun to endlessly percolate around this new magazine, I had an idea; whenever people viewed my photographs or read my stories they'd say, "That's pretty erotic, isn't it?" Obviously what I experienced as normal, juicy, exhilarating, other people experienced as erotic. If I called my magazine erotic, it would really separate it from all the other magazines out there, and it would be the perfect home for the work I loved. Little did I know that that one little word, erotic, would forever color the perceptions many people had of the magazine. This was the early 80s; it was different then.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Issue One - Mayumi Oda - Fall 1981
It was 1981, and I had the wrong job, one I had spent at least a year trying to get. I quit, then lay on my couch for months having no idea what to do with myself.

Over the past year or so, I had self-published three photographic calendars, and was writing a lot of short stories, and sending them out to be rejected.

One day I just decided to go out and follow whatever seemed to be followable; I drove past fields of Pampas Grass and found myself at a horseback riding stable with lots of peacocks. After a nice long ride and a luxuriation in the peacocks, I ended up at Howard Johnson's for clams, and then came home. I was ready, but I didn't know yet what I was ready for.