This boxed facsimile reissue of the ten staple-bound pamphlets published as YEAH (1961–65), a zine put together by the New York poet and musician who would go on to form The Fugs, is an antic compendium of its editor’s interests and preoccupations at this inflection point in American history and culture. Subtitled ‘a satyric excursion, a sardonic review, a sarcastic epitome, a chronicle of the last days’, YEAH comprises a mix of literary matter and newspaper clippings. Poems, facetious contracts, film reviews by bureaucrats and short stories by men and women (mostly) of the underground address social mores, racism, military blunders, the pursuit of sex and love, pomposity, toilet habits, nuclear annihilation and much else besides.
The tone, overwhelmingly satirical with a pinch of beatnik, is aimed at highlighting the absurdities of modern life, and, implicitly, carving out an alternative space in a conservative society (Kupferberg’s Birth Press, founded with wife Sylvia Topp, also published ‘1001 Ways to Live Without Working’, 1961, 25¢). In one poem we meet the familiar ‘Lord High Curator in Charge of Castrations and Paper Clips’; in ‘A YEAH Extra’ titled Kill Magazine, we are treated to an appreciation for Adolf Eichmann on the occasion of his execution (‘Eichmann was a small clerk in the German government…’), and a political ad foreshadowing another: the drawing of a noose over the line ‘Impeach the Traitor John F. Kennedy’. And then an entreaty: ‘Come lover / Carpe penem’.
The balance of the material consists of unlikely headlines, small-town perspectives and, most enthusiastically, advertisements – want ads, ads for police dogs or the latest circumcision tool, fur-lined potties, a suspiciously vibratorlike ‘clipper’ advertised with ‘special low price for nuns’. Over the lifespan of YEAH, these excerpts from other media, arranged by Kupferberg in dense collages, crowded out and then entirely replaced the literary material, a sign of confidence, perhaps, that the absurdity spoke for itself. I prefer to think that his interests and energies had passed to The Fugs, founded with fellow poet Ed Sanders between issues 9 and 10, and sounding, in its mordant, bawdy celebration of an unshackled political life, like nothing so much as an arrangement in guitar, drums, keyboard and raspy voices of these typewritten, mimeographed pages.
YEAH, edited by Tuli Kupferberg | Primary Information, $40 (boxset)
From the March 2018 issue of ArtReview