By Helena Bento

Rhinozeros Issue 2 (via Reality Studio)

In 1960, Allen Ginsberg was travelling South America with fellow poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti, but after Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, he decided to go it alone. In the back of a truck full of natives, Ginsberg arrived in Peru, where he visited Cusco, then Machu Picchu. He stayed there at the forest guardhouse, in a room whose walls were covered in newspaper. Letters were written there which described the cliffs and cordilleras of the Andes.

A few weeks later, Ginsberg continued to Lima on the invitation on Sebastian Salazar Bondy, a writer he had met in Chile. One afternoon in Lima, Ginsberg saw the Peruvian poet Martin Adan, who was living in the same hotel. They sat together and talked a while. “Why do you write bullshit?” Adan asked Ginsberg, to which the latter answered, “At least I shower every day. And my feet don’t smell like dead spiders.”

Jean Cocteau’s drawing, Rhinozeros Issue 2 (via Reality Studio)

Following their meeting, Ginsberg wrote a poem about Adan: “To an Old Poet in Peru.” It was included in his book of poetry Reality Sandwiches, published by Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Publishers in 1963 — but it first appeared in Rhinozeros, a German magazine of poetry, in 1960. In that same issue, there’s a poem by Samuel Beckett, “Saint-Lo,” written about his experience in the titular French town after the Battle of Normandy in World War II. There’s also a reproduction of a Jean Cocteau drawing along with a greeting.

There’s not much information online about Rhinozeros, which ran from 1960 to 1965. It was published by the Dienst brothers: Rolf-Gunther and Klaus-Peter, who did the calligraphy for each issue. The magazine of concrete poetry remains a “typographic marvel,” in the words of Jed Birmingham of Reality Studio (a website dedicated to William S. Burroughs, from which I accessed Rhinozeros issues). Most of Rhinozeros is in German, but there are a few exceptions:

Let’s wait for night.
The day has been a lonely one.
Letters I didn’t send lie on the table,
Waiting, loveless, as unread.
I hoped you’d come here, but you didn’t.
The hills were beautiful as always,
though I couldn’t see them clearly,
looking at other things,
trying to fill up time
writing these letters.
Soon, I’ll take them down and mail them.
[They’ll go out tonight]
Then I’ll close the door and wait for you
in large, dark shadows.

That was written by Theodore Enslin, one of the most musical poets of American avant-garde. It’s called “P.S.” and was published in the “Beat Issue” of Rhinozeros, which included Ed Dorn, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, Michael Horovitz, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, Jack Kerouac and Piero Heliczer.

The Dienst brothers were interested in the Beat Generation, concrete poetry and the cut-up technique. They produced 10 issues of Rhinozeros in five years. Their contributors were outstanding: Ezra Pound, Jean Cocteau, Henry Miller. Burroughs was one of the most prolific. To Rhinozeros, he contributed “Wind Hand Caught in the Door,” “Novia Express,” “Be Cheerful, Sir Our Revels Touching Circumstance” and “Text.”

A few months ago, I showed Rhinozeros to a friend. He asked me — likely already knowing the answer — if the magazine was to be viewed more than read. I can’t remember what I told him. I must have said something about the contents, about the list of contributors, undoubtedly impressive. Then, as I couldn’t find the words, I quoted Jed Birmingham (this time from Mimeo Mimeo): “For bibliophiles, this is the artists’ magazine equivalent of the finest of high class porn.”

Helena Bento lives in Lisbon, Portugal, where she works as a researcher at the Centre for Lusophone and European Literatures and Cultures, University of Lisbon. She is the editor-in-chief of Orgia Literária, a literary blog, and she contributes regularly to Enfermaria 6. She’s also currently working on a project related to the Portuguese press in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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