The past few weeks have put some important publications into my hands. Important in the sense of personal importance; those books that you encounter (or re-encounter) and instantly feel connected to, that are so critical at that very moment that after you begin them you can’t imagine not having read them, of living your life without their articulations and revelations.

The first of those is the journal Mimeo Mimeo, edited by Kyle Schlesinger and Jed Birmingham. Here is their editorial statement, copied from the contents page:

Mimeo Mimeo is a forum for critical and cultural perspectives on artists’ books, fine press printing, and the mimeograph revolution. This periodical features essays, interviews, artifacts, and reflections on the graphic, material, and textual conditions of contemporary poetry and language arts.

Taking our cue from Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips’ ground-breaking sourcebook, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side, we see the mimeograph as one among many printing technologies (letterpress, offset, silkscreen, photocopiers, computers, etc.) that enabled poets, artists, and editors to become independent publishers. As editors, we have no allegiance to any particular medium or media. We understand the mimeo revolution as an attitude—a material and immaterial perspective on the politics of print.”

The second book is actually the one that they make reference to, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing 1960-1980, by Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips (New York: New York Public Library and Granary Books, 1998). (This is a book that I’ve owned for awhile, but it was in storage for years. I needed it again.) It’s a book about the “mimeo revolution”: the explosion of independent publishing (and of an American poetic avant-garde) around the country from 1960-1980.

Here are some excerpts (one from the beginning, one from the end) from the Pre-Face, written by the poet and scholar Jerome Rothenberg:

“Since everyone loves a paradox, let me start off with this now familiar one: the mainstream of American poetry, the part by which it has been & will be known, has long been in the margins, nurtured in the margins, carried forward, vibrant, in the margins. As mainstream and margin both, it represents our underground economy as poets, the gray market for our spiritual/corporeal exchanges. It is the creation as such of those poets who have seized or often have invented their own means of production and of distribution. The autonomy of the poets is of singular importance here—not something we’ve been stuck with faute de mieux but something we’ve demanded as a value that must (repeat: must) remain first & foremost under each poet’s own control. And this is because poetry as we know & want it is the language of those precisely at the margins—born there, or more often still, self-situated: a strategic position from which to struggle with the center of the culture & with a language that we no longer choose to bear.


And while the Reagan years might have brought about a new resistance (& sometimes did), they also brought a new defensiveness in what became increasingly a culture war directed against the avant-garde rather than by it. The secret locations of this book’s title were no longer secret but had come into a new & far less focused visibility & a fusion/confusion, often, with the commercial & cultural conglomerates of the American center. Increasingly too there had developed a dependence on support from institutional & governmental sources—the National Endowment for the Arts, say, as the major case in point. The result was to impose a gloss of professionalism on the alternative publications & to make obsolete the rough & ready book works of the previous two decades. But the greatest danger of patronage was that the denial of that patronage, once threatened, would become an issue that would override all others.
At the present time, then, the lesson of the works presented here is the reminder of what is possible where the makers of the works seek out the means to maintain & fortify their independence. […]”

So now I want to explain, briefly, why these two publications are so relevant (if it’s not already obvious from the stolen statements posted above). It’s actually pretty simple, one book connects the NewLights Press/me to my history, and the other book connects me to my contemporaries. These books begin to build a community with a historical trajectory, and they provide that community with examples of shared past practices that can be mined for the future. After a year of living (essentially) alone on the western edge of the continent, I feel deeply connected, and I want to start making my contribution, seriously. There is always so much work to be done. Hence:

I am setting a new NewLights Press goal for publication: three chap(ish)books per year, at least two of which will be with a writer/artist that I’ve never worked with before. Giving up the first part of this year to the new manifesto and the Codex Symposium, there will still be two to follow. Be warned.

No comments: