With the occasional whir of the espresso machine in the background, contributors to Maine’s literary scene gathered Saturday at the Maine Grind in Ellsworth to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Puckerbrush Review, one of the state’s most enduring “little” magazines and the periodical that gave many of them a start.
“A lot of us first got published in Puckerbrush,” said Sanford Phippen, the current editor of the Puckerbrush Review, who was presiding over the informal celebration and reading and handing out contributors’ copies of the 30th anniversary edition of the magazine.
Many of those attending the celebration were contributors and several of them read from their works that appear in the current edition of the magazine.
Providing a venue for new writers was a hallmark of Puckerbrush when it started, and it remains an important feature of the magazine. Its founder, Constance Hunting, chose the name of the magazine with that in mind, Phippen said.
“When the trees are cut down, puckerbrush is the new growth that comes up,” he said. “She liked that concept of launching new writers. We’re still doing that today.”
Hunting, a poet in her own right, founded the magazine in 1978 and was its editor until her death in 2006.
“She thought Maine should have a presence for real literature, with a capital L,” he said.
The first edition of the magazine was just 34 pages and featured all Maine writers. The magazine has grown since then and the recent issue, which has just been published, is almost 300 pages and includes works of writers from all over the world.
But “our focus is still Maine and we want it to stay that way,” Phippen said.
The magazine has attracted writers over the years, mainly because of Hunting’s reputation as an editor.
“She was the best editor I ever had,” Phippen said. “She could take one glance at a page and tell you what was wrong with it — in a good way. And she could tell you what you needed to do to fix it.”
Part of its attraction for writers, he said, is that it has been dependable — regularly publishing two editions per year.
“Writers can depend on it coming out two times a year,” he said.
The magazine has changed since he took over, Phippen admitted.
“Any magazine reflects the personality of the editor,” he said. “I’ve already gotten a letter from a readers saying, ‘Connie never would have published that.’ I guess I may tend toward the more earthy stuff, but Connie was pretty earthy herself. We just want it to be good writing.”
Phippen said he has included more photographs in an effort to highlight Maine photographers, as well as other artwork, and hopes to include a variety of writing, including more humor — even “belly laughs.”
Hunting had her own money, Phippen said, and did not have to concern herself with the costs of publishing the magazine. Although the University of Maine has supported the magazine by providing an office and staff, and the English Department faculty works with Phippen in reviewing submissions, Phippen said he has to be concerned with raising funds for Puckerbrush. A grant from the Maine Community Foundation has funded two editions of the magazine, and Phippen has pushed to expand readership and has tripled the circulation and added sales in stores.
He also has sold ads in the magazine, and that has increased revenues.
Although he now answers to a board, Phippen said he is hopeful he can keep the magazine free from external pressures and as independent as possible.
“And we want it to be fun, too,” he said.