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D O N A L D A. B A R C L A Y New Mexico State University TheLaughingHorse:ALiteraryMagazine oftheAmericanWest As it roamed from Berkeley to Guadalajara to Santa Fe to Taos, where it finally settled in 1927, The Laughing Horse carried with it all the hallmarks of a literary hobo. Always selling for “two-bits” a copy and invariably printed on a shoe-string budget, this magazine of western literature and art came out in small editions printed on the cheapest of paper. One issue was printed in Mexico by Spanish-speaking printers, while another was printed in Ossining, New York by a former inmate of Sing Sing (Johnson 166). Often the typesetting and presswork were done by Willard “Spud”Johnson, the magazine’s bohemian principal editor as well as a contributor of poetry, prose, and artwork. Like a good hobo, TheLaughingHorseappeared at unpredictable intervals, its twentyone issues spreading out unevenly between 1921 and 1939. And like most hobos of sixty years ago, The Laughing Horseis today almost forgot­ ten, cast into the dust heap of little magazine ephemera while its more famous contemporaries such as The Dial and The Midland are remem­ bered as great contributions to twentieth-century literature. Some might argue that Spud Johnson’s ephemeral publication deserves to be forgotten. It began, after all, as an undistinguished-ifupstart magazine of undergraduate literature and humor, publishing poetry and criticism and making predictable liberal jabs at athletics, military training, and the University of California administration. Typi­ cally, the editors wrote a great deal about themselves and played selfindulgent collegiate games with pen names: Johnson appeared in the Berkeley issues both as “Bill Murphy . . . a direct descendent of a convicted criminal transported to South Carolina before the revolution” and as ‘Jane Cavendish . . . a Boston intellectual who came West in search of her soul” (LHno.l)'. In 1922 the editors had a predictable run- 'Most issues of The Laughing Horsedo not have numbered pages. For this reason, all citations to The Laughing Horsewill be to the issue number only. in with the censorious authorities of Berkeley: for the crime of publish­ ing an expurgated D. H. Lawrence review of Ben Hecht’snovel Fantazius Mallare, one editor was tried for obscenity, acquitted, and expelled from the university anyway (Johnson 164). From its birth as an unremarkable college magazine The Laughing Horse eventually made its way to New Mexico, following the wanderings of Spud Johnson as he eked out a living on the fringes of the literature industry; among many other jobs, Johnson held positions as a staff writer for The New Yorker, a bookstore manager, and a secretary to Mabel Dodge Luhan (Nehls 500-502). The Laughing Horse was never Johnson’s sole means of support, and in the harshest analysisJohnson can be seen as no more than a literary dilet­ tante who made his little magazine into a toy stage for his own work and for the work of those friends, acquaintances, and patrons who com­ prised a veritable Mafia of Santa Fe and Taos artists and writers. Indeed, Johnson’s magazine stands accused of many of the faults listed by Taos poet Phillip Kloss in a 1941 article: What we need first and foremost is sincerity. The pretense and pose that prevails among the majority of the so-called intellectuals of Santa Fe and Taos obviates a renascence before it begins. The silly Bohemianism, the false fronts and false faces . . . these are the flaw of character that makes Santa Fe and Taos ridiculous. . . . (67) Given its history and faults, why should anyone today be interested in TheLaughingHorse?And why, in particular, should critics and histori­ ans of western literature be interested in it? The reasons are two-fold. First, The Laughing Horsedeserves to be remembered for the simple fact that it published the work of many important western writers; second, it deserves to be remembered because it evolved into a literary magazine with a distinctly western focus, championing western lands, peoples, arts, and ideals, and doing so with a large measure of sincerity. That Johnson used his magazine to publish important western writers is inarguable. Some of the more instantly recognizable contribu­ tors include Mary Austin, Paul...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 47-55
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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