Contact: An American Quarterly Review (1932)
Date of Publication:
Dec. 1920 (no. 1) – July 1923 (no. 5)
Feb. 1932 (1:1) – Oct.1932 (1:3)
Place(s) of Publication:
New York, NY
Frequency of Publication:
Irregular (1920 – 1923)
200 initial readers
Robert McAlmon and William Carlos Williams: 1920 – 1923
Moss and Kamin Bookstore, New York: 1932
1920 – 1923: First two issues were mimeographed on standard letter paper. Last three issues were printed on standard letter paper.
1932: Bound, white paper. 23 cm. in length.
Robert McAlmon (1920 – 1923)
William Carlos Williams (1920 – 1923; 1932)
Robert McAlmon (1932)
Nathanael West (1932)
Libraries with Complete Original Issues:
Harvard University; Princeton University; Columbia University; Ohio State University
New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1967.
William Carlos Williams and Robert McAlmon believed that in order for a distinctly American art form to take shape, they needed to initiate a break from European literary traditions and encourage artists to draw from personal experiences. Contact represented their attempt to do just that, as the title itself reflected McAlmon’s experience as a pilot: “Contact! was the command word used by pilots to denote the start of the engine and subsequent flight” (Tashjian 75). Williams hoped the magazine would expose promising American experimental writers both to the public and to one another, though the initial issue did encourage foreign contributions as well.
Between 1921 and 1923 five issues circulated. Though the initial readership of Contact included contributors to Broom and Others, it failed to reach a larger audience and the circulation only amounted to about two hundred. As Williams and McAlmon were privately funding the magazine (some speculate through McAlmon’s efforts posing nude and sleeping on a barge in New York City harbor), their failure to sell copies forced the magazine to fold in 1923, by which point McAlmon had moved to Paris. Williams restarted Contact in 1932 with Nathanael West joining the masthead and McAlmon remaining on as an associate editor from abroad. Under Williams’ editorship, the three 1932 issues placed a heavier emphasis on poetry and included a “Bibliography of Little Magazines,” which was one of the first attempts to catalogue contemporary Little Magazines.
Contact‘s manifesto appeared on the first page of the first issue of the magazine in 1921:
|“Issued in the conviction that art which attains is indigenous of experience and relations and that the artist works to express perceptions rather than to attain standards of achievement: however much information and past art may serve to clarify his perceptions and sophisticate his comprehensions, they will be no standard they will be no standard by which his work is adjudged. For if there are standards in reality and in existence and if there are values and relations which are absolute, they will apply to art. Otherwise any standard of criticism is a mere mental exercise, and past art signifies nothing.|
|“We are here because of our faith in the existence of native artists who are capable of having, comprehending and recording extraordinary experiences; we possess intellect sufficient to carry over the force of their emotional vigour; who do not weaken their work with humanitarianism; who deal with our situations, realizing that it is the degree of understanding about, and not situations themselves, which is of prime importance; and who receive meagre recognition.|
|“Attainment is meaningless unless there be some basis of measurement. Wishing to be open-minded toward all experiment–ourselves feeling that many literary forms, the novel, short story, metrical verse, are mannered, copied, and pretensious technique, — we still do not intend becoming spokesmen for any movement, group, or theory, and as thoroughly dislike a modern traditionalism as any manner of perceiving the arts. That artists are sophisticated beings who utilize their own contacts in art creation, and erudition incidentally as it has been assimilated, is an assumption of ours. They will be scientific insofar as medium is concerned, but their substance is no more scientific than is that of existence.|
|“We will be American, because we are of America; racial or international as the contractual realizations of those whose work we publish have been these. Particularly we will adopt no aggressive or inferior attitude toward “imported thought” or art.|
|“Our only instructions are upon standards which reality as the artists senses it creates, in contradistinction to standards of social, moral or scholastic value -hangovers from past generations no better equipped to ascertain value than are we. Assuming sufficient insight and intellect to convey feeling valuably, we are interested in the writings of such individuals as are capable of putting a sense of contact, and of definite personal realization into their work.”|
Contact. 1:1 (Dec. 1920): 1.
William Carlos Williams (Sept. 17, 1883 – Mar. 4, 1963)
Co-Editor: 1920 – 1923; Editor: 1932
William Carlos Williams contributed to many little magazines, yet readers found him to have an unclassifiable style; conformity never suited his poetry. He experimented with Imagism, but never fully embraced one school of thought, and expressed frustration with T. S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” In Williams’ Kora in Hell (1920) he attacked Eliot’s intellectual approach to poetry and insisted that poetry must put an emphasis on precision of language and description. He continued publishing into the 1960s, and many consider his poetry a large influence for the Beat movement. Williams’ personal life hardly resembles his bold artistic declarations: receiving his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1906, Williams practiced medicine in Rutherford, NJ throughout the duration of his writing career.
Robert McAlmon (Mar. 9, 1896 – Feb. 2, 1956)
Co-Editor: 1920 – 1923; Associate Editor: 1932
Robert McAlmon supposedly funded the first year of Contact by earning wages as a nude model while living on a barge in New York harbor (Tashjian 24). The writer’s fortune altered significantly when he married Bryher. The marriage was one of convenience: Bryher was in an open relationship with H. D., but needed a husband in order to receive her portion of a significant family wealth. Her father, wealthy British publisher Sir John Ellerman, funded Contact from 1921 – 1923. McAlmon moved to Paris in 1921 and lived there throughout the expatriate pilgrimage of the 1920s. He befriended James Joyce and established a publishing company, Contact Editions, to publish the works of American artists living abroad. The company released the first two novels of Hemingway, and works by Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Despite his influence on and importance to expatriate writers, McAlmon remained a little-known writer, and is most remembered for his editorial and publishing efforts.
e. e. cummings
“[‘let’s start a magazine]”
“Chanticle for October”
“Return of the Native”
“Summer Night in a Florentine Slum”
“The Blue Mandrill,” “Superwoman”
“In the Days of Prismatic Color”
“Those Various Scalpels”
“Bibliography of the ‘Little Magazine’”
“Invective Against Swans,” “Infanta Maria”
Excerpts from Miss Lonelyhearts
William Carlos Williams
“St. Francis Einstein of the Daffodils”
“Portrait of the Author”
“The Canada Lily”
“Sonnet to the Moon”
Chielens, Edward E., ed. American Literary Magazines: The Twentieth Century. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992.
Contact. 1920 – 1923. New York: Kraus Reprint Corporation, 1932.
McAlmon, Robert. Being Geniuses Together. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1968.
Tashjian, Dickran. William Carlos Williams and the American Scene, 1920-1940. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1978.
Tranter, Jon. “The United States Poet Laureate – Some Background Information.”Jacket Magazine. Feb. 2003. 21 Oct. 2004.
Williams, William Carlos. Autobiography. New York: Random House, 1951.
Williams, William Carlos et al. “Robert McAlmon’s Prose.” Transatlantic Review 1.5 (1924): 361-364.
“Contact” compiled by Theodore Emerson (Class of ’06, Davidson College)