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.
Looking for fellow poets, Spell made flyers and placed them on trees around his apartment and nailed them to bulletin boards at the University of Washington. “Poetry reading at 6010 Pershing – second floor,” they read.
What followed would send a community of writers down a path that would transform the St. Louis literary scene.
A group of young poets – Spell, Michael Castro, Jan Garden Castro, Howard Schwartz and many more – crammed into Spell’s Central West End apartment at 6010 Pershing Avenue for poetry jam sessions.
Fueled by “the counter-cultural spirit in the air” and “by fast food and the circulation of six-packs, by jugs and joints”, they circled around, reading poems late into the night or early in the morning, according to a 1987 essay by the late Michel Castro. Castro became St. Louis’ first Poet Laureate in 2015.
The poets did not gather in Spell’s apartment to dissect the poetry line by line, nor did they wish to criticize it. They were there to “make the poetry resonate”, writes Castro, to “breathe it, to be energized by it”.
The informal gatherings at Spell’s apartment turned into a radio show called Styx River Poets on KDNA-FM. The founders named the show after a hellish river from Greek mythology that serves as a barrier between the realm of the living and the underworld. According to Castro’s account, they intended the name to suggest the poets’ underground status in the “poetic pecking order” and their location near the Mississippi River. In 1975 they started River Styx magazine, now one of Missouri’s oldest literary magazines.
Jan Garden Castro, an art historian and poet now based in New York, recounts the RFT that the founders sought to create something lively, multicultural and interdisciplinary. Garden Castro served as the magazine’s senior editor 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 this as there are great poems,” says Garden Castro.
Whatever the essence River Styx found, it rang.
River Styx published some of the country’s greatest writers, sometimes before their names were well known. Its contributors included American poet laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, National Book Award winners, and Nobel laureates. River Styx also became known for its multi-reading series that brought world-renowned writers to St. Louis.
However, after more than 100 issues and 47 years, the River Styx seems to have lost its flow.