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Rob Sieczkiewicz
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Anita Lai
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Between the Fog and the Desert: What the Gargoyle Sees Isn’t Pretty

To mark the Libraries' current exhibition, Inventing the Page: Student Literary Magazines at Drexel, the Archives' blog is featuring a series of essays about past literary magazines by Drexel alumna and Archives volunteer, Martha Cornog. The exhibition runs until June 11, 2012, on the first floor of W.W. Hagerty Library.

Between the Fog and the Desert: What the Gargoyle Sees Isn’t Pretty

By Martha Cornog

By the 1960s, love and war had faded as dominant literary themes, and instead loomed the disaffection and confusion of a generation reeling from the Beat writers but not yet washed by the fragrant waves of '60s hedonism. Drexel’s third literary magazine, Gargoyle, ran from 1961 to 1966. Perhaps the title was inspired by Lawrence Durrell's The Black Book, for an unattributed quotation from that novel appears on the verso of Gargoyle's volume 5 title page, including the line:

The isolation of a gargoyle hung over a sleeping city.

With war and love, one can keep score. One win or one loses, and one is happy or sad. But Gargoyle peered into darknesses that had few winnings or losings or even any game at all. Rare in these magazines is a sunny outcome or neat resolution. Connections of any kind rarely lead to happy endings or even happy beginnings or middles, and humor has faded. This was Drexel 's "Howl" as per Allen Ginsberg, but without the graphic language or any of the raucous satire of such musical groups as the Fugs, which came later.

The first year's selections ranged over a fable about a leprechaun outwitting a gold-seeker, an angst-laden meditation around "The Hunger and the Dream" to travel to the moon, and a philosophical justification for the outcast who pursues his convictions: "Man must joyfully accept the struggle and give his utmost from his own viewpoint in order to create any lasting, human good" ("Human Dignity"). A thoughtful essay lays out the case against censorship, though material dubbed "disturbing" may seem to offer obstacles:

We are in the position of the little boy who was leading his sister up a mountain path. "Why," she complained, "…it’s all rocky and bumpy."

"Yes," replied the little boy, "The bumps are what you climb on." ("Petrified Truth")

 

Gargoyle cover

 

In the second yearly anthology, "Township of the Dead" unpacks a graveyard rather as if T.S. Eliot were writing his own version of Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology. In fact, the opening line, "Let us go then…You and I" evokes Eliot’s classic of anomie, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Another Gargoyle poet considers himself without character, feeling himself swept away by group-think and social pressure ("Introspection"). In a homier example, a story tells of a youngster working persistently to get a ballplayer's autograph, but he loses his prize when his hero neglects to return the child’s autograph book ("The Autograph").

By year three, the editor reported, perhaps testily, perhaps in frustration, that "Many students feel that the material appearing in our magazine is far above their heads." Perhaps the bulk of Drexel students had more upbeat and less nuanced views about life. But Gargoyle's content continued to track existential despair, as from a poet facing a trip by sea with uncertain outcomes, between thick fog, collapsing wharf, and a stormy ocean: "The dock is crumbling… O God! Where shall I go?" ("Decision").

Another poet sees herself tossed between two empty worlds, one fog and one desert, seeking "The Whisper and the Gleam" of Something Else (vol. 5). More concretely, a third poet mourns:

The search for beauty

in a sad world

Where neon, napalm, hunger

and the broken glass of humanity

Shout savage chips and splinters at each other

Then go home and cry

Lonely in the pillow ("Cause and Effect 1965," vol. 6)

 

Yet a tempered optimism does shine forth at times, as in "My America Poem" (vol. 4), ending:

 

…so

I thanked God for America

Who is becoming more and more realistic

Who is rejecting Moloch

Who is still inhaling cancer

Who is giving of itself

Who is still sometimes bigoted and dishonest

Who is still to learn many things

Who is also the land of freedom

Who is yet a land of prejudice

Who is still young

And who has time…

 

And a positively Austen-esque love poem concludes with puckish resignation:

 

And yet you smile. Oh how can you foresee,

The trap I meant for you has captured me. ("Cajoled," vol . 5)

 

Gargoyle back cover

 

Through its six issues, Gargoyle lived up to its name. But when Gargoyle ceased publication, Maya had already begun, still continuing today after more than thirty years' worth of issues. With time, successive generations of students, and a more publicly diverse U.S. cultural scene, we would perhaps expect Maya’s content to be more diverse as even its polysemic name might imply.

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