by Thomas B. Whitbread
The first time I met Vondy on her home grounds, a fifth-story walk-up in University Heights, The Bronx, she was receptive, but showed only the book-lined small front sitting-room of the apartment. Roy Lindberg and I, in the period of our conjoint activities, had decided to try to find her in, and to learn about, her lair.
Edna Hyde McDonald was then in her electrically mellow prime as a superb amateur journalist. Though by the ‘50s her publishing of Bellette was almost entirely behind her, Vondy feared no peer as writer, correspondent or convention enjoyee. Born Edna von der Heide, she had written many fine poems, most of them later collected in a book titled From Under a Bushel, before World War I Jekyllized her into Hyde. Her husband, Philip McDonald, a literate earth engineer and NYU professor, had been a member of the National Amateur Press Association for a short portion of the ‘20s. It was he who answered Roy’s and my knock. Chain-bolt in place, he asked us what we wished.
“I’m Roy Lindberg,” Roy said. “I’m Tom Whitbread,” I said. “We’re both members of the NAPA, and we’d like to see and talk with Von—er, Mrs. McDonald,” I think we both said.
Mr. McDonald’s eyes showed weariness beyond repair. Then he called over his shoulder: “Vondy! Amateur journalists!” Then he vanished.
After a minute, Vondy appeared, invited us in, warmly talked with us, served drinks, crackers and cheese, and entertained us for over an hour. She brought up as subject matter books of the day, along with contemporaneities and past goings-on of our hobby. She assumed we were equals, as she always did, despite an age difference of four decades. The only people, she seemed to reveal, she would thoroughly put down would be those who hasten to give burial to the spacious “bad” while pushing the narrowly “good.” Her very own gift for verbal savagery, she had channeled into wit. Her fervent favor of excellence had always been capacious.
What Vondy was against was meretricity. But how to tell the meretricious from the all right? Difficult! This Vondy realized, being eloquent on the relativity of valuation, the difficulty of establishing firm standards. Yet she knew almost unerringly what was fine, what wasn’t. It was a lifetime’s act of hearing, an active listening.
She could hear, with her keen ear, the falsed imitative non-eloquence of most writers in our group. She could hear the brilliant exceptions thereto. She always knew what she was talking about. The tone and rhythm of the speaking voice, whether in a poem, or in a person – the dramatic honesty of personae – was crucial for Vondy.
As it should be.
Too often in this world (including the NAPA) we are insensitive to the intonations of the words of our brothers and sisters. If Vondy were alive today, I feel sure she would give every movement toward bringing people, even the most mutually estranged, together her full support.
I say this less on the basis of Roy’s and my brief happy visit than on that of the only time I have been with Vondy alone. At the time, mainly because of the recent attempt at suicide of a close friend of mine, I was very much against death, and often spoke against it. I found Vondy, herself, alone, without Roy with me, without Philip there (he had died). I visited, I spent the night. We talked for hours in the ample interior living-dining room into which Mr. McDonald had previously (and often, I gathered) vanished. She spoke of her having rationally minimized her doctor’s fear of her having another heart attack, if it had been one. She knew what poems she liked, and why. She told many anecdotes of amateur journalists’ sayings and characters, convention hilarities, personalia. She told me just what to do should I suffer the pain she had had.
I did not speak against death to Vondy.
That night, in the small apartmental sideroom that the make-bucks builders of what I have come to consider an abomination on the face of the earth, a polluted multiplied Erector set predicative of the downfall of man – that is, New York City – have created, I slept poorly, having found in the tiny bathroom of that fifth-story walk-up that the water with which to wash my hands was slim. The low blood pressure of the water made me fear for Vondy. So did the chinaed cast-iron tub. So did my knowledge of her intransigent go-it-aloneness. Before going to sleep, I imagined. On awakening, hearing her voice as she breakfasted, I joyed.
When I left Vondy’s apartment, it was after she had gone out. She had business downtown earlier than I needed or wanted to get up; she had left materials for a British-size breakfast, including eggs and bacon, sausage, juice, milk, rolls and toast. I had grapefruit, coffee and dry cereal. I felt happy, almost blest.
Vondy’s corpse was found soon after in her kitchen.
She had said to me heart disease was not for her, she wasn’t about to stop going strong, she had many writings and, for that happy matter, poems, she wanted to finish, and would finish. Her doctor had said the five stairs of walk-up might possibly help do her in, but she doubted him. Even though he had heard what might perhaps be (but surely not!) a mortal murmur insidious in her heart. She knew she could continue to make do.
To revere Vondy aright, one has to write intelligently, imaginatively, personally, and with an unfearing fortitude of heart, of what one wittily feels or seriously fools with. These lines by Yeats are apt:
And call those works extravagance of breath
That are not suited to such men as come
Proud, open-eyed, and laughing to the tomb.
There is no other or better way of, or justification for, partaking of the humane sacrament of amateur journalism, as Vondy so beautifully did, or for a valuable human life, such as hers was and is.
To write well, read well
by John S. Carroll
I was re-reading Critic Victor Moitoret’s Remy de Gourmont quote: “All who deserve to believe must serve an apprenticeship of doubt.” Now there is a good example of what Ernest Hemingway used to call a “double dicho” – a sentence which is just as true backward as forward, thus: “All who deserve to doubt must serve an apprenticeship of belief.” In fact, I like it better this way, because it sums up my whole point. Namely, that having served my apprenticeship of belief, I am now free to doubt – to doubt any and all of the eternal verities, so called, including the “rules” of English grammar.
Which leads me to some general comments. Namely that we have a sore lack of people who have done any serious reading, and I cannot see how anyone who does not read, can write. It is as if one were to become a cook without knowing the taste of good food. If I were to mention “double dicho” in Phlugg, I think I would get 100% blank looks, unless, maybe, one or two members of the National Amateur Press Association had read “Papa Hemingway” by A. E. Hotchner.
But just a few issues back, I introduced a new form of “poetry” – actually, just a fun form, but why shouldn’t poetry be fun? – and not a single amateur took a glimmer of interest in it. I have never seen a “double dicho” in any amateur paper. I have never seen a single piece of interesting experiment in amateur journalism, and here, of all places, is where one would expect to find a huge amount of experiment.
So – I am asked about “individuality” in amateur writing, amateur papers, etc. I don’t consider individuality per se to be any kind of virtue at all. I think for the moment of a neighbor whose sole claim to fame is his ability to start drinking beer at 7 a.m. and keep it up all day. I was told that he once finished 45 six-packs over a single weekend. He wanders up and down the street in a beery haze, making conversation with everyone, but you can’t figure out what he is trying to tell you. Individual? Hell, yes! I could make a whole story out of him. But is this kind of individuality worth anything?
There is a lot of individuality among amateur papers. Damned little of it worth anything, though, because it is mostly just personality stuff, like the old soak I mentioned above. What is the name of that guy who writes Thot Jots? His thoughts are no better than his spelling. Garbage, that’s all. Individual as hell, sure. Worth anybody’s time to read? No.
So, then. What do I think the amateur paper needs, if it is to be truly individual? One thing: individual ideas. Original ideas, but ideas which are worth reading. They needn’t be world-shaking. Joe Blow’s ideas on the United Nations are not likely to have much depth, nor will the dissemination of them in his paper, circulation 350, have much effect on the course of nations. But Joe’s ideas on whether or not his town really made much improvement substituting buses for streetcars, might be well worth listening to – even by the elders of that very town.
In short, you can be very individual and stick close to home at the same time – and you will note that even my diatribes against gun controls are pretty much written around the situation in the city of Miami… using others mainly as comparison.
The point is, when you know what you are talking about, writing about it (writing well, that is) is easy enough. Engineers are popularly supposed to be bad writers, yet the papers in the average engineering journal are gems of clarity, if you happen to know anything about the subject matter. They know what they are writing about, that’s all. They don’t have to be individual because their ideas are individual. That’s what counts. That, and the fact that they have something to say that is worth the reader’s time.
I ran across something in one of the papers about a late lamented poetess, who asked how much one had to do in the amateur press to get a little recognition. Poor dear, she worked so hard. But nothing she wrote was ever worth reading because she had nothing to say. The more she struggled for individuality, the more evident it was that here was a truly faceless individual – one who could never be an individual because she had nothing, knew nothing that millions of others did not know equally well.
by Harold Segal
We drove away from Columbus in a rainstorm. It has been a swift three-day convention that zoomed along with scant few hours allotted for sleep. Our spirits were exhilarated by four nights and three days of heady atmosphere… our bodies tired by the excesses of convention excitement. Another gathering of the National Amateur Press Association was history. We had looked forward to it for a long year, but it was over in a flash. The skies were gray and wet.
Approximately 110 members and guests signed the register (90 at the banquet), establishing a high mark for attendance. As so often proved, Ohio appears to be a most attractive focal point. There was one member from California, four from Colorado, three from Missouri – all others from east of the Mississippi River. There is an implied message in these figures that Denver (the 1970 convention city) might well ponder.
Accomplishments? The amendments went down to defeat. We used valuable time discussing new amendment proposals, some of which got enough nods to appear on next year’s ballot. One readjusts the laureate dates to allow for more time for processing and judging. Another will elect executive judges for staggered three-year terms, so we’d elect only one each year.
Amendments and constitution tinkering have too long occupied valuable time. We can exist – and exist well – with what we have as long as each officer does his job. A little common sense application of the constitution will take care of any exigency. It is useless to conceive new rules to cover certain crises which may never occur again, and which could probably be handled by an efficient president. A good administrator, aware and knowledgeable in association affairs, can handle any eventuality, usually with a classic maneuver. So, we would say, forget the amendments, concentrate on electing good officers and they will correct the annoyances at their conception, thus eliminating a crisis-inspired amendment.
The word press is once again meaningful in National Amateur Press Association. Five presses were alive and active at the convention. Perhaps as a token of thanks to the Kelsey Press Company, whose mailing of a publicity leaflet added sixty-odd new printers to our camp, three 5×8 Excelsiors were on hand to print keepsakes. A Pilot side-lever was used to print three issues of the convention daily, Columbus Discoverer. The fifth was an ingenious wood press designed and built by talented Joe Hillis, of Typomania renown, which was producing a three-color souvenir of wood blocks cut by new member Michael Vickey (a 16-year-old Kelsey recruit).
Secretary Bill Boys reported that the Kelsey recruiting campaign had thus far netted 66 new members – almost entirely printers. This is a drive of major magnitude, already exceeding the Popular Science effort of a few years ago. As a result the membership list approaches 350 and the publishing potential is terrific. The recruiting flyer was prepared by Bill Murtland. Joe Bradburn gathered and mailed all the materials. At convention time close to 200 had replied to the mailing, so our average is 34%. Further mailings will be made at the end of summer in an attempt to increase this percentage. Presidential citations were given to Bradburn, the Murtlands and this writer for their roles in this recruiting campaign.
Interest and activity should reach new heights this year. Heartening indeed was the appearance of many first-time attendees. These included Lewis Pryor, Ramon Meyer, Helen and Kenneth Monson, George Compton, Eric Boys, Blaine Lewis, Ronald Ruble and his daughter Christine, Floyd Summers, David Norton, Robert Hill, Ray Buckingham, June Margeson, Merritt Edson, Ethel Morris, Michael Vickey and William Yoakam, the last four brand new members via the Kelsey mailing. (There is a danger in these listings: if I missed anyone, forgive me, I kept no notes.)
The National Amateur Press Association, if it were to have a “State of the Union” message today, could sum it up in one word: healthy. Our net assets, including $2000 salted away in interest-bearing bank certificates, was in the $3500 range. Never in our 94-year history has our treasury been healthier. (Ten years ago our balance was $1500; in 1949, $300.) We have a big official organ and a free mailing bureau. Many of our papers have outgrown their swaddling clothes and now show signs of becoming quality journals. With the influx of new printers we expect many Volume 1, Number 1’s this year. For the first time in a decade we have members who want the responsibility of office, and who believe they can make a contribution to the hobby. There should be no need to recall older members to assume duties; we welcome newer members with fresh, young approaches. That is healthy. To keep it that way is up to you. Printing and publishing is fun, or else you wouldn’t be with us. Give it that little extra effort and you can get quality. You will profit from it and the reflection will glow on all of us.
Politics? Elaine Peck’s ticket made headway over pop gun bursts from Alan Harshaw’s volley and Vic Moitoret’s late salvo. The latter two neglected to confirm their selections, thus allowing Virginia Baker to coast in as official editor virtually unopposed, an action that worries some members. J. Ed. Newman’s selection as president was predicted after a fine term as editor. With John Gillick as vice-president and Jeanne Murtland recorder, Ohio dominates the official board as efficient Bill Boys continues into the second half of his two-year secretary’s term. Ralph Babcock, Laurence Redmon and Earl Bonnell are the new executive judges.
Most of the contentious parts of the convention were presented or argued in a light vein, which made great fun, but one report, if it could be called such, that of the mailing manager, was about the most vituperative in our convention experience. Virginia Baker got carried away by her own steam – her big fault as mailer was that she tried to obey everyone’s wishes, which is impossible. She also suffered the lack of a president who should have been on top of every situation – who should have made the decisions for her.
Vic Moitoret’s charge that the previous convention acted illegally in the election of certain officers was turned over to a mixed-up “select” committee, which eventually reported that although elections had not been according to the book, the technicalities were the results of unusual mishappenings which warranted expedient solutions. In conclusion, all was forgiven.
The banquet format was different. Gillick and Marion Snyder did a Huntley-Brinkley take-off, minimizing the speeches and terminated with a Tom Whitbread reading of Carr Liggett’s hilarious epic poem of a Columbus voyage, reminiscent of Burton Crane’s style some years back. Somewhere, somehow, that masterpiece has to find its way into type. It should not be lost with but one lone reading.
CAMPANE is published in the interest of organized amateur journalism and the National Amateur Press Association by co-editors Hazel and Harold Segal, Margo Gardens, Bristol, Pa. 19007. Hand set in Baskerville types and 450 copies printed on 60-lb. Offset stock by an 1890 7×11 Pearl treadle press.