Yellow Silk: Celebrating the Erotic

Cover by Tony Speirs

Years ago I quit writing short fiction to concentrate on writing novels. Full-time teaching was draining my energy and leaving only limited time for my own work, so I had to make a hard choice. My stories had done okay for themselves. All of them were published in respectable journals, and a couple won grants from the Illinois Arts Council. But the publication of which I’m proudest is “Yubi,” which appeared in Yellow Silk: Journal of the Erotic Arts.

Conceived and edited by Lily Pond, Yellow Silk is a top-tier journal published quarterly from 1981 to 1996. According to the Phil Stephensen-Payne’s indexing site Gallactic Central, Yellow Silk has showcased the work of a long list of notable writers and artists: Sigmund Abeles, Kim Addonizio, Angela Ball, Robert Bly, Angela Carter, Marilyn Chin, Wanda Coleman, Judy Dater, Margaret Drabble, Lee Durkee, Louise Erdrich, Susan Griffin, Marilyn Hacker, Jane Hirshfield, Ha Jin, Galway Kinnell, William Kotzwinkle, Dorianne Laux, Mary Mackey, Carole Maso, W.S. Merwin, Bharati Mukherjee, D. Nurkse, Mayumi Oda, Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, Octavio Paz, Marge Piercy, Andrew Schelling, Ntozake Shange, Robert Silverberg, Terry Tempest Williams, Robert Wrigley, and many more….”

The “many more” covers me. “Yubi” appears in the same issue as a story by Angela Carter and an interview with Mary Mackey. Imagine my elation. The theme for that issue is Animal Lust. In “Yubi” a woman falls in love with her parakeet. (Yes! They have sex! You’ll have to read the story to find out how.)

At the heart of Yellow Silk is the wisdom that erotic energy is the wellspring of not only sexual desire but love of any kind. It’s a primal and spiritual force connecting us to one another and to nature. Joining sex and violence is a corruption of that force. The poems, stories and art in Yellow Silk abound with sensuality and frank depictions of sex, but they’re never brutal or pornographic.

Mary Mackey seems to express the journal’s philosophy in her interview with Lily Pond:

There are, after all, only three forces that keep the world together: forces that create, forces that preserve, and forces that destroy. When you cut Eros off from all the other forces that create, you end up with a small, damaged thing. It’s as if you picked the eye from a bird and called it the whole bird or the wing from a butterfly and called it whole.

Illustration by Tony Speirs

After the quarterly journal ended, Yellow Silk issued a couple of anthologies and then ceased publication altogether. I’m guessing its problems were the same as those facing literary journals today: high costs, not enough subscribers. In the case of Yellow Silk, the cost factor would have been magnified by the journal’s production values: quality paper, beautiful art printed in color. That stuff costs big money. And Yellow Silk paid its contributors. I received payment for “Yubi,” not a huge amount but very generous for a literary journal.

Back issues of Yellow Silk can be ordered online, most for amazingly reasonable prices, with intriguing themes like The Mysteries of the Orgasm, Memories, Hair, Stoned, True Heart, The ‘Other’, Passion, and Womb with a View. You might want to email before ordering to ensure an issue is still available.

Thank you to Lily Pond for permission to use these illustrations from Issue 46. They are copyrighted.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. lotusgreen says:

    Mary — thank you! What a touching surprise.

    May I clarify a couple of points? There have actually been, to the best of my recall, 5 post-mag books. One can find them here, alongside books that do not exist, and some which can be had for $.07. I feel so proud.

    Very kind words about the production values, but honestly, they didn’t cost more; for the last couple of years YS was printed in Hong Kong (which was still Hong Kong). Further, we had a *lot* of subscribers, but, over the years, a number of other publications set themselves up as direct “competition,” many announcing that fact in their first issue, That had quite a number of what might be surprising results, the sum of which meant that if I wanted to continue, I’d have to notch the business up a bit.

    And there’s the rub. What I wouldn’t know for a couple of years was that that notch-up seemed so unreachable at that moment because I was ill. I’m “fixed-up” now, but it was amazing the change in energy that came with that fix-up.

    And while I’m in “admitting-mode,” I will confess that I do still get orders for back issues but frequently seem to forget, somehow, to fill them, (I do not cash the checks!) They’ve finally been moved to the basement (it’s been 17 years!) where they share space with some new mousey neighbors (different parts of the basement). I never go to the post office any more, and if anyone ever tried to order through that page I have no idea what would happen, nor do I remember anything about changing those pages.

    But I genuinely want to thank you, Mary. For the sweet sweet trip through memories now overgrown with jasmine and nasturtium, For the kind words. For the tears.

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    1. Dreambeast7 says:

      Thanks for the clarifications, Lily. I should have run this by you first, but strange thing about memories. They can stay alive beneath the overgrowth. I started out wanting to list a publication on my blog and touched something that moved me to the quick.

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  2. Cherie Reich says:

    Such a neat journal/anthology! It’s a shame the price of everything caused it to close. Short stories are such a great medium, but I know what you mean about the lack of time and having to choose between novels or the shorter forms.

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    1. Dreambeast7 says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Cherie. Above is a clarification from Lily. My supposition about cost was mistaken. If I’d been more methodical, I would have asked for her comments before posting, but I was in a nostalgic and impetuous mood.

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