"Hambone, Hambone, where you been? / Around the world and I'm goin' again." —Juba dance song

In twenty-first-century culture, what's virtual is what's real. A literary magazine or publisher that lacks a website runs the danger of becoming invisible to readers, most of whom have forsaken print for digital media. Readers of poetry are no exception. That's why you need to know about Hambone—the most important magazine of innovative poetry in the country to operate without a Web presence (apart from an undeveloped Wikipedia entry and a listing of issues for sale at Small Press Distribution).

Noted poet, fiction writer, and essayist Nathaniel Mackey has been editing Hambone for over thirty years. Appearing at irregular intervals, the issues have, rather remarkably, maintained the same look (same trim size, same typeface) over the years; likewise, their contents reflect not so much the trends of the moment but the steadfastness of Mackey's editorial vision.

In a short statement on "Editing Hambone" that appeared when the magazine was half its present age, Mackey said that he wished to present "cross-cultural work with an emphasis on the centrifugal." In a another statement, "Destination Out," Mackey declared that "Centrifugal work begins with goodbye, wants to bid all givens goodbye." (Both statements were published in the special issue of Callaloo dedicated to Mackey that appeared in spring 2000.)

Because he regards editing as an extension of his writing practice, many of the sources of Mackey's own work come up frequently also in Hambone's contents. Beginning with the second issue (the first under Mackey's sole editorship), which featured texts by Sun Ra and Robert Duncan, the magazine has put forth a centrifugal, "artistico-cultural" spiral encompassing African-American modernism and postmodernism, jazz, Caribbean writing, New World surrealism, Black Mountain poetics, Language and post-Language poetries.

Mackey released a blockbuster twentieth issue last fall—its 300 pages practically constitute a new anthology of postmodern American poetry. The issue opens with a fiercely apocalyptic poem by Amiri Baraka, "Fashion this, from the Irony / Of the world":

I speak with the rage of Angels

Them that be with Marx. I speak with the clarity and inferno of the necessary

Like my man John on Patmos watching skyvision and

Digging it was all commercials.

(Baraka ends up equating "John the knower" with "John, / The Blower" Coltrane.)

The issue also features, for the first time in the magazine's history, a color plate section of paintings and drawings by Brian Lucas. Another highlight is a selection of never-before-published work by the late surrealist poet Philip Lamantia, including a poem entitled "Panty Hose Stamped with the Head of the Medusa."

As the second edition of Paul Hoover's Postmodern American Poetry makes clear, the notion of mainstream vs. margin no longer applies to the situation of American poetry: an "avant-garde" mainstream now exists with its own marginal eddies and sidestreams. One such sidestream may be represented by the "Destination Out" poetics of Hambone, maintaining an imaginal fire missing from much of the avant-garde's mainstream.

Here is a complete of contributors to Hambone's landmark issue no. 20: Amiri Baraka, Elizabeth Willis, Kenneth Irby, Barbara Jane Reyes, Paul Nelson, G. C. Waldrep, Robert Fernandez, Matthew Gagnon, Susan Gevirtz, Andrew Zawacki, Patrick Pritchett, Ed Roberson, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Peter O'Leary, Will Alexander, Jeanne Heuving, Ben Lerner, Laura Moriarty, Noah Eli Gordon, Laura Carter, George Kalamaras, Philip Lamantia, Nathaniel Tarn, Peter Cole, Scott Rudd, Joseph Donahue, Clayton Eshleman, Steve Dickison, Joseph Noble, Brian Lucas, Andrew Joron, Eric Baus, David Lloyd, William Corbett, David Need, Louis Chude-Sokei, Fred Moten, Lisa Samuels, Ray Ragosta, Mark McMorris, Kamau Brathwaite.

Originally Published: April 17th, 2013

Born in San Antonio, poet Andrew Joron was raised in Germany, Massachusetts, and Montana. He earned a BA in the philosophy of science at the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied with anarchist philosopher Paul Feyerabend. Addressing the trajectory of his work in a 2010 interview with poetry blogger...