The Free Lance

“The Free Lance Poetry and Prose Workshop was begun in 1942 by Mrs. Helen Collins, a librarian whose outlook was decidedly advanced for that profession here in those days. In 1950, Russell Atkins, a charter member of the group, suggested starting a ‘little magazine’ and brought this project together. He edited and published the first issue through financial gifts. It was distributed mainly in Cleveland. The 1952 issue was the first issue circulated outside of Cleveland. We were in correspondence with Judson Crews’ Suck Egg Mule, E.V. Griffith’s way-out editing of the Minnesota Quarterly. Mrs. Collins presented the magazine at Breadloaf. Many suggestions, help, from Langston Hughes, Loring Williams, Arna Bontemps. With the start of Trace magazine, Free Lance began its correspondence with Villiers’ James Boyer May. Collectively, this constituted some of what was the avant garde of the early fifties.

“Free Lance did not advocate the Carlos Williams school that began later. It has never held any particular sympathy for that concern with ‘ordinary language’: a dead-end seemingly. However, it did publish emerging Robert Creeley along with others in the boldest of experimentation. Eventually, Free Lance set an entirely different pattern of thought which persists even now. After some surprises to Cleveland (viz., Irving Layton’s poem, ‘The Dwarf’ which used ‘fuck’ as early as 1955 in Cleveland, and a short salon play, ‘The Abortionist’, at a time when the word was unmentionable here) Free Lance published its ‘psychovisualism’ theory. Few ‘little magazines’ had launched as complete and as original a bid for a ‘scientific aesthetic’. Free Lance was established, indisputably, as Cleveland’s avant garde. The magazine picked up interest. Editor-in-Chief Casper L. Jordan, Adelaide Simon, Helen Collins began to bring influences to bear: Mr. Jordan through the library at Wilberforce University; Mrs. Simon stirred memories of Hart Crane (who, after all, was a neglected name in Cleveland); Mrs. Collins determined policies. Many poets who became the “Beats” of late 1957 passed through our early files.

“Free Lance is now Cleveland’s hard core for poetry. Recently it supplied the largest continuous support for other activities pertaining to poetry, viz., the Fenn College Poetry Center; radion station WCLV’s Poetry Seminar (Jau Billera); d.a. levy’s Renegade Press. To the extent of its means it brings to Clevelanders names such as Judson Crews, Tracy Thompson, David Cornel DeJong, Irving Layton, Robert Creeley, Barris Mills, Charles Bukowski, Robert Sward

“Recently, Adelaide Simon re-organized the Free Lance Workshop, developing it along the lines of a zany salon for pent-up poets, painters, musicians. Russell Salamon invents words while d.a. levy makes prints using a condom in some instances; Russell Atkins suddenly psychovisualizes at the piano while Jau Billera plays tapes of poets he has recorded; Mr. and Mrs. Kent Taylor, James R. Lowell and Alsbrooks Smith run the gamut from art to sociology and politics while Mrs. Simon brings out day-old cakes, beer and newly arrived ‘Little Mags’. Celeste Simon pounces on overbearing seriousness devastatingly; the Fergusons relax. Mr. Simon returning from a Cleveland Orchestra concert brings delighted sanity to the evening. Somebody reads a poem occasionally. There are visitors.”

– Russell Atkins [Input, Vol. 1, No. 4 (New York, December 1964)]