Three DC Editors
Richard Peabody

In 1981, Richard Peabody edited an amazing book, D.C. Magazines: A Literary Retrospective (Paycock Press) that provides a wealth of information on Washington’s small press publishing history. The book, now out of print, includes biographical information about prominent editors, reprints writing and visual art that appeared in three formative magazines, and lists journals in DC from the founding of Georgetown in 1784 through 1981. What follows are excerpts from the book, reprinted by permission of the editor.

The book focuses on the magazines
Portfolio (1945 -1948), Voyages (1967-1973), and Dryad (1968-1978), all of which published during a time of limited literary activity in the city. It’s clear that Peabody sees these journals as models and forebears to DC’s current, very active publishing scene, which includes his own fine journal, Gargoyle, which he has been publishing since 1976. .—Ed.



Portfolio printed 6 issues (2 in 1945 and 1946, and one each in 1947 and 1948). The offices were located at 2008 Q St. NW. The editor was Caresse Crosby. Peabody (who notes “Caresse’s first husband and I, while not at all related, share identical names”) writes:

“Caresse Crosby was born Mary Phelps Jacob on April 20, 1892, in New York City. She married Richard Rogers Peabody in January 1915, and had two children. Known as ‘Polly,’ she met Harry Crosby on July 4th, 1920, in Boston. After a six month separation she divorced Richard Peabody in February 1922, and married Crosby in September of that year. In December of 1924 they changed her name to Caresse. And then in December 1929 Harry shot another man’s bride of six weeks and himself. Caresse later remarried to Selbert Young, a man 19 years her junior. It was after her divorce from Young that she came to Washington, opened a gallery, and started Portfolio magazine.

The magazine was always international in conception…Issues 1, 3, and 5 were printed in the US, but issue 2 was published in Paris in December 1945 and featured primarily French writers and artists; 4 was published in Rome and did the same thing for Italian writers and artists; issue 6 was a Greek issue…

Every issue of the magazine consisted of a mix of different size sheets of paper printed by various printers on every colored stock imaginable, and stuffed into a large folder. The folder were 11 1⁄2 in. by 14 in. 1,000 copies of every issue were printed with 100 or so deluxe editions featuring original artwork by Matisse, Romare Bearden, or others.”

Peabody includes a fascinating Cumulative Index to each of the three journals. From the index, we find that Portfolio published, among others: Louis Aragon, Kay Boyle, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling A. Brown, Charles Bukowski, Albert Camus, Rene Char, Paul Eluard, Jean Genet, Natalia Ginzburg, Victor Hugo, Weldon Kees, Robert Lowell, Henry Miller, Eugenio Montale, Anais Nin, Charles Olson, Francis Ponge, Kenneth Rexroth, Arthur Rimbaud, Yannis Ritsos, Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Shapiro, Stephen Spender, Leo Tolstoy, and Giuseppe Ungaretti.




Voyages published 9 issues from the Fall of 1967 through Winter 1973. Because of what Peabody calls a “complicated numbering system” with several combined issues, the index actually numbers issues 1 through 15. The editor was William F. Claire. Peabody notes: “Voyages was published in a uniform edition of 6 inch by 9 inch books which averaged from 100-150 pages in length.”

The following quotes from William F. Claire are part of an interview conducted by Richard Peabody, Eric Baizer, and John Elsberg for Garfield Street on WPFW. Claire states:

“I can’t remember what the germinal idea behind a magazine was—I wanted to fill a need in Washington at the time: it was somewhat analogous here to T.S. Eliot’s first segment of The Wasteland; the war was going on, there wasn’t any kind of literary intelligence or sense of community that I was able to discern, other than the Library of Congress. There was a very elitist group who met for readings…something called the Institute of Contemporary Art, which brought major figures like Eliot and Dylan Thomas to Washington, but I don’t think the events were publicized, and very few people knew about them; and I had been involved, in a way, with writers, and others, and I thought that it would be the time to do it…Why do you do something like this? It’s a mixture of idealism and insanity; you don’t know the problems you’ll run into. I just launched it, and I was very lucky to attract fine writers (it was never intended to be specifically a Washington publication). I had new translations of Pablo Neruda in my first issue; Thomas Merton sent me some letters from his monastery in Kentucky; I had an extraordinary combination of luck and some excellent people who were interested in the magazine, and then—some people like Frances Smyth who were involved in design and photography also seemed to coalesce at that time. Eliot Porter sent me a spectacular photograph for my first issue, and somehow—we were flying, and when the magazine came out it surprised everybody in being quite as nice as it was, and with such an array of important writers. And by naming those great names I didn’t mean to preclude others who were unknown, of course, that I also published. I published Edward de Grazia, who was then the attorney for Grove Press, living in Washington (and was also William S. Burroughs’ lawyer, and Allen Ginsberg’s, and Mailer’s—and others in very important censorship cases.) But he was also a playwright, and I published his first play, I believe, in my first issue. And so on—there were always Washington writers in each issue, but I never intended it to be just a Washington magazine; I wanted it to be in some sense national and international.”

Authors published in Voyages include: Jacques Barzun, Marvin Bell, Wendell Berry, John Berryman, Robert Bly, Jorge Luis Borges, Ann Darr, Babette Deutsch, Martin Galvin, Isabella Gardner, Allen Ginsberg, Josephine Jacobsen, Rod Jellema, Shirley Kaufman, Carolyn Kizer, Michael Lally, Merrill Leffler, Denise Levertov, John Logan, Archibald MacLeish, Josephine Miles, Howard Nemerov, Joyce Carol Oates, John Pauker, Elisavietta Ritchie, Thoedore Roethke, Henry Roth, Myra Sklarew, Allen Tate, Cesar Vallejo, Mark Van Doren, David Wagoner, Reed Whittemore, and James Wright.



Of the editors highlighted, the only one still living in the DC area and still publishing is Merrill Leffler, who began Dryad with co-editor Neil Lehrman in Winter 1968; they published the magazine through 1978, after which time, Leffler gave up the journal, and his focus shifted instead to publishing books under the Dryad Press imprint, a tradition he continues.

In an interview conducted by Peabody and Eric Baizer, they quote the following from Leffler:

“I’m not sure that the way we got started is typical…A friend of mine, Neil Lehrman (at the time, Neil was a Securities and Excahnge Commission financial analyst, and I was an engineer doing analysis on the reliability of sonar submarines) and I—I think we both felt very bereft; what I mean is that we didn’t really have any friends who were poets; we were writing poetry ourselves but didn’t know anybody, we weren’t involved in any kind of English studies, weren’t in the university, and most of our friends were either—engineers, or people from where Neil worked. And I think we started the magazine as a way of making some connection; I remember just saying, ‘Why don’t we do a magazine?’ and knowing absolutely nothing. There were no organizations, really, at the time, nothing like what exists right now, with the Committee of Small Magazine Editors and Publishers (COSMEP); the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines was just getting started. We didn’t even know how to get manuscripts; we didn’t know any poets, so we advertised—honestly. And we decided we certainly weren’t going to publish ourselves till we were published, so we weren’t starting it for our own self-aggrandizement—a twenty dollar word. So we advertised in the New Republic and New York Review of Books, in their classified ads, trying to get manuscripts…And once we got that first issue out, that’s all it took…

“At Maryland, in 1967, Rod Jellema, who was the head of the creative writing program there, started a yearly series he called Poetry and the National Conscience. And these were wide open; he had four relatively well-known poets come each year. The first year James Wright was there, and Louis Simpson, and Reed Whittemore, and Daniel Hoffman—and there was one more poet. What I remember about that was the big arguments that were going on about poetry and politics going together. Robert Bly was publishing The Sixties at the time, and this was the beginning of poets really getting involved in anti-Viet Nam demonstrations, and very overt political poetry…

“There’s also a certain kind of pleasure in ‘making the magazine,’ what I found, myself, in corresponding with poets, in trying to articulate my responses to poems that would come in. From the beginning, I knew nothing at all about printing and design; I think I had a certain kind of naïve and raw instinct about what is good and what is not good. I’m not patting myself on the back—I mean that I had an idea that poems should have space on the page, that there should be cleanliness, that there should be a certain kind of touch to the publication. And there’s something about that that kept me in. But it was also the pleasure of putting this magazine out, and doing some good work, I think…

As far as the way Washington has changed, when we started publishing in 1967 there were only two literary magazines in town; there was ours and Bill Claire’s Voyages, which was a very handsome and fine magazine. We were two very different magazines. Claire was publishing a lot of very well-known poets, or featuring well-known poets, and then publishing, at the same time, new people; and his magazine was larger than ours and—when I say slick I don’t mean that in a negative way, but—very professional. Ours was tweed whereas his was a pinstripe suit.”

Contributors to Dryad included: Carl Bode, Michael Dennis Browne, Siv Cedering, Philip Dacey, Stuart Dischell, Gabrielle Edgcomb, Roland Flint, T. R. Hummer, David Ignatow, Philip K. Jason, Ted Kooser, Richard Lattimore, Saundra Rose Maley, William Matthews, William Meredith, Linda Pastan, Primus St. John, William Stafford, Henry Taylor, and Peter Wild.


Richard Peabody is the founder and co-editor of Gargoyle Magazine and editor (or co-editor) of thirteen anthologies including Alice Redux (Paycock Press, 2006), Conversations with Gore Vidal (Univ. of Mississippi Press, 2005), Grace and Gravity: Fiction by Washington Area Women (Paycock Press, 2004), A Different Beat: Writings by Women of the Beat Generation (Serpent's Tail/High Risk, 1997), and Mondo Barbie (St. Martin's Press, 1993). He is the author of the novella Sugar Mountain (Argonne Hotel Press, 2000), two short story collections, and six poetry collections including Last of the Red Hot Magnetos (Paycock Press, 2004) and I'm in Love with the Morton Salt Girl (Paycock Press, 1979). He has taught at the University of Virginia, Georgetown University, The Writer's Center, and at Johns Hopkins University, where he was presented the Faculty Award for Distinguished Professional Achievement.


Published in Volume 7, Number 4, Fall 2006.


To read more by this author:
Richard Peabody
Richard Peabody: DC Places Issue
Richard Peabody: Audio Issue

Copies of DC Magazines: A Retrospective, can be found in the collections of area libraries.