Has St. Louis Literary Magazine River Styx Reached the End?

Funding cuts and staff shortages have put the future of the magazine in peril

click to enlarge Jan Garden Gastro gives a music and spoken word performance of La Prose du Transsiberien, a 1913 book by Blaise Cendrars. - PAUL NEUENKIRK, VIA JAN GARDEN CASTRO
PAUL NEUENKIRK, VIA JAN GARDEN CASTRO
Jan Garden Gastro gives a music and spoken word performance of La Prose du Transsiberien, a 1913 book by Blaise Cendrars.

In the late 1960s, a group of young poets formed a new literary community in St. Louis.

Poet Dan Spell had just returned to St. Louis in 1969 after spending four years in the Navy.

In search of fellow poets, Spell made fliers and put them on trees around his apartment and tacked them onto Washington University bulletin boards. "Poetry reading at 6010 Pershing — second floor," they read.

What followed would send a community of writers down a path that would transform St. Louis' literary scene.

A group of young poets — Spell, Michael Castro, Jan Garden Castro, Howard Schwartz and more — crammed into Spell's Central West End apartment at 6010 Pershing Avenue for poetry jam sessions.

Fueled by "the countercultural spirit in the air" and "by fast food and circulating six-packs, by jugs and joints," they'd go round and round, reading poems into late night or early morning, according to a 1987 essay by the late Michael Castro. Castro became St. Louis' first poet laureate in 2015.

The poets didn't assemble in Spell's apartment to dissect the poetry line by line, nor did they wish to critique it. They were there to "sound the poetry," Castro wrote, to "breathe it, to become energized by it."

The informal gatherings at Spell's apartment evolved into a radio show called River Styx Poets on KDNA-FM. The founders named the show after an infernal river in Greek mythology that serves as a barrier between the realm of the living and the underworld. According to Castro's account, they wanted the name to suggest the poets' underground status in "the poetic pecking order" and their close location to the Mississippi River. In 1975, they started River Styx magazine, now one of the oldest literary magazines in Missouri.

Jan Garden Castro, an art historian and poet now based in New York City, tells the RFT that the founders sought to create something lively, multicultural and interdisciplinary. Garden Castro served as the main editor of the magazine from 1976 to 1986. She and Castro were married from 1972 to 1979.

She says they sought to create something with an essence. What essence were they looking for?

"There are as many answers to that as there are great poems," Garden Castro says.

Whatever essence River Styx found, it resonated.

River Styx published some of the nation's biggest writers, sometimes before their names were well known. Its contributors included U.S. poet laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners and Nobel laureates. River Styx also became known for its multiple reading series that drew world-renowned writers to St. Louis.

However, after more than 100 issues and 47 years, the River Styx seems to have lost its flow.

About The Author

Monica Obradovic

Monica Obradovic is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times.
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