Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"...who is 1989, and what do they want with us..."
- Sean Bonney & Jeff Hilson ('r.i.p. his gripping hands', Maintenant: the Camarade project (The Red Ceilings Press, 2011)

Notes on old new little presses part eight
& parts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, nine
Image left: limited edition LOLLIPOP flyer (Bill Griffiths, 2000)
One quiet evening a year or so ago there was a thunderous crash from the living room which had me expecting some domestic disaster of worrying proportion. What happened was the entire collection of Bill Griffiths works I'd separated from bookshelf of zines, comics, small presses etc, and piled far too high, crashed to the floor in what Bill himself once entitled 'Spook Call' in a poem.

Concertinaed on the rug and relatively undamaged were conventional Griffiths' perfect bounds, Writers Forums, Bill's own Amra imprints which came in different shapes, sizes, and bindings, including the few visual collaborations I'd done with him.

Bill Griffiths had been very active in the Association of Little Presses (ALP) as cataloguer and archivist, moving the project online as administrator - a role continued to date by Peter Manson. A glance at imprints currently featured @lollipop reveals meeting point between 20th century British 'revival' presses affiliated from days of ALP and newer UK poetry small publishers.

Bad Press, Grasp Press, if p then q, Oystercatcher Press, for example, have added their imprints. 'Innovative', 'experimental', 'contemporary', 'cutting edge' are some small press self-definitions to entice attention and sales.

So has 'alternative' poetry or 'unconforming' writing become a perfect-trim, print-on-demand modernist small press orthodoxy in advanced capitalist countries? If avant-garde has been observed as new 'official verse culture' of experimental Scandinavian poetry what about contemporary work published in other European and Baltic countries? What about new kids on poetry block UK? There are newer presses that have not engaged with Lollipop's 'Listing'. Likeliest reason is newer publishers on many local scenes are unaware of this particular collectivity of interest and purpose.

But in the light of emerging old new little presses; object installation and art writing - the question of a break with the recent past and need to investigate unexplored terrains of both the electronic and the concretised - may be reasons for the setting up of parallel UK initiatives like Openned UK Poetry list, Small Press Catalogue and United Small Press Co-op (USPCO). Most presses now have websites/blogs with paypal facility to sell wares online, at home and overseas.

Due to an appointment mix-up other week I drifted into Glades' Waterstone's. It is rare for me to handle brand new books commodified for the consumer in Bromley's shopping mall but I did spy a couple of Salt books. I fantasized 1960s I-SPY BOOKS in circulation. Spotting a bookstore Salt would 'Score 20'. A Reality Street 'Score 40'.

Ebury Press, a Random House imprint (Score 10), have recently produced The 20th Century in Poetry commissioned for publishers by Sunday Times rich-listed
forest conservationist, Felix Dennis. Felix Dennis was my early '70ies Brit comix publisher who experienced something like a twenty-first century Paulian conversion to poetry (yeah, that is meant to read 'Paulian' not 'Paulin'). Felix Dennis is also something of a conservationist when it comes to traditional poetic forms.

Maybe there isn't a literary mainstream anymore, just a bunch of slipstreams-in-the-making with one or two aiming to look a bit mainstream or old guard. The 20th is a dust-jacketed hardback literary history book rather than a poetry anthology. It's a bookshelf tome. Joyce, Pound, Eliot, Bunting, Gascoyne, Edwins' Morgan & Muir, Adrienne Rich, John Kinsella, British Laureates, and a few Beats are generously represented. Yet presentation browse-read content within volume looks and feels commodified
for nostalgic appeal to international English-language poetry before millennium.

Felix Dennis with customary intelligence and good taste has left editorial selection to literary experts
Simon Rae and Michael Hulse. But edited sections denote modern cultural history rather than modern 20th century chronological poetry or poetics. Inevitable accusations of exclusion are met by Rae and Hulse with scholarly regret [...] for the excellent poets and poetry we were still unable to include. This editorial apologia is compromised when Noël Coward verse and an early Bob Dylan song lyric are reproduced on page as poetry. Both are excellent as twentieth century legends but their poetics may best lay in performance.

So try re-reading marketed seasonal object in bookstore as fetishistic compromise instead. Why not go whole hog and imagine even more pop poetry with printed song lyrics in The 20th. Half-a-dozen, say,
Horovitz-inspired Albion council estate rap 'n' dubstepping great-grands. Imagine "difficult" with at least one Cambridge poet to prove modern English-language poetry can be excellent and complex. And one or two Brit 'revivalists' shaking up poetry-on-the-page. And an 'index of first lines' that includes Bob Cobbing's YARR YAUP YARK YOWL YAP. And a few interpretive English translations of Greek, Roman classicists, Anglo-Saxon poets' narratives plus a couple of Western European decadents yeah why not. And finish off with full-color image of a Maggie O'Sullivan mixed media assemblage gracing back cover.

In reality just one Bill Griffiths' inclusion may have stopped me wishing book gift would come crashing down from a Christmas tree, breaking its spine & falling into linguistically innovative non-recyclable board and uncommodifiable paper dustwrap disassemblage.
Finished notes planned for inclusion in Songs Our Teachers Learn Us, or, Lessons To Be Taught sequence.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Notes on old new little presses part seven
& parts one, two, three, four, five, six, eight, nine

For a 21st century expanding European generation of poets new international networks are emerging fast.

Through, for example, 3:AM Magazine Maintenant and Poetry Kit hub - the internet provides updates on local, regional, and international scenes. Universities have their own creative writing bubbles and old London town has plural exhibition/music/poetry spaces.

Both Norwegian poet Paal Bjelke Andersen and Swedish poet Aase Berg, in recent Maintenant interviews with younger generation British poet Steven Johannes Fowler; seem to suggest, in their individual and distinctive ways that 'innovative', 'experimental' may now be the dominant published poetry in Scandinavia, with small press its mainstream vehicle.

Maintenant: the Camarade project has brought into the picture new collaborative possibilities between English-speaking and foreign language-speaking poets.

New small publishers like The Red Ceilings Press, who've published the Maintenant Camarade mini-anthology as perfect-trim A6 artzine, produce inexpensive limited edition print plus open access screen readings. Working from regional locality it is difficult to envisage this little press and others as new mainstream-in-the-making.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Notes on old new little presses part six
& parts one, two, three, four, five, seven, eight, nine

The British Countryside in Pictures
the writer is re-reading. It has been re-read many times but not for donkey's years. A broken hardback, the end flypapers have added black and white photographs of Tissington village glued in by a former owner's hand with temporal glue stains of sixty-plus years. Fountain pen and faded ink inscription To Sheila and Rosemary -- From Wullil; Wullil; Wullil, January 1948 (underlined) With Supplements (underlined) by a friend. The Supplements are the added stuck-in photographs, also hand-inscribed with ink by the photographer who presumably took them.

The book can be read as found installation in postwar house. A sculpture, a physical presence - a living bookwork.

Book production is concrete and materialist process. Book unproduction is unbound poetry. Before book's broken pieces become phantasmagorical form again. Before its pieces become fetish object again. Book bits ready for waste collection ... *X No thanks Hardbacked books (we cannot recycle the cover - why not give them to charity?)... unbound beyond exchange/ consumer value. Beyond re-commodification.

Re-reading book content: lines from a poem by A. S. Wilson are selected by editor Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald to describe a section on THE GOOD EARTH (...) and the Publishers wish to express thanks to Miss Ruth Pitter, author of Romford Market and to Messrs. Macmillan for an extract from a poem by T. E. Brown.

The closest to sense of book as object - bookwork in process as sculpture and installation, received after the HomeBaked 2010 bookartbookshop show - were zimZalla's first four objects contained within a plastic stationery wallet.

zimZalla is an 'avant-object' project organized by Tom Jenks. Three of the objects (including an audio CD with its own avant-object; Matt Dalby's walksongs - which I listen to whilst re-reading The British Countryside in Pictures) - have individual ISBNs. An artzine object featuring three poets has a cover image instead of a title. A top-left-hand-corner-stapled A4 seventeen-sheeted paper report by Tina Darragh is another object, this one not bibliographically catalogued with ISBN. Stephen Emmerson's poems found at the scene of a murder is sealed in a 165mm x 115mm A6 envelope I haven't opened since receiving it.

I may open it one day.

* from a local authority refuse and recycling collection service update

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Notes on old new little presses part five
& parts one, two, three, four six, seven, eight, nine

Just like catching a thorn on a beautiful prize rose I've made my right forefinger bleed on a sharp sticking-out Klatch 'zine staple. It's a piece. Klatch is an uncommodified living bookwork.

press free press produced a publication as performative background to Beckenham Bubble 2 (July 4, 2011). With the speed of experienced zine-making symposium workshop facilitators to be and to be a book was authored, printed as limited edition, distributed and performed within an hour and a half. to be and to be a book can be read and re-read for content, form and living bookwork properties.

I re-read publications as artwork bits and pieces. In wartime council requisitioned suburban house the present writer lived as small child there was only one book. How it got into the house and why is unknown - The British Countryside in Pictures (Odhams Press, undated).

This formative deprivation of literary ownership has been compensated for - no - overcompensated for, by filling every corner, every shelf and cupboard space in small domestic units over decades with books, zines with sharp rusty staples, comics, and more books. When I re-read publications I mean I read their presence as pieces. A colourfully illustrated but ripped paper dust jacket just about clinging to a plain blue, green, red, brown or black hardbacked cover. Paperbacks-a-plenty - many pristine or well preserved except for bent corners: perhaps creased, torn, stained: perhaps unbound with broken spines, in literal bits and pieces held together clumsily by sellotape, and after a decade, yellowing into unsticky back plastic, in bits and pieces again or hopelessly re-sellotaped. A book-love for the unstitched and unglued through constant referral - all in varying stages of disintegration through age and damp.

Becky Cremin and Ryan Ormonde have eaten their Press Free Press bookworks at a launch and spat out the bits, commodifying bagged results as having identical consumer value as unchewed chapbook version.

All little press art objects now - as preciously fetishistic and uncommodified to an appreciative reader in his or her subjectivity as objective exchange market commodity value is nil to book collectors (way beyond 'poor condition'). Publications reduced to paper and card, ready to throw into the rubbish skip or trashcan recycle. Although comics and zines can be preserved longer in clear mylar bags (polyester resin) archivists of comics and cheap paperbacks will tell you it is still an uphill struggle to preserve wood pulp product.

In recent email appealing for unsoiled copy of Herbarium poetry anthology that could be displayed during a Royal Horticultural Society poetry reading - contributor matt martin writes ... my own copy got rather muddy in the excitement of the launch reading. I was happy about this at the time (it means the book will forever bear traces of the Urban Physic Garden that inspired it).

Curious thing about vegetables submitted in competition for prizes is they don't look edible. Giant leeks on show at RHS when I read yesterday looked differentiated from smaller, mudded, rusty leafed, grit-embedded, weevil-bitten plant I yank from ground. Possible to clean, cook, eat tasty leeks AND grow them for show. I'd argue publications can also be differentiated for reading as books, and for reading as objects. Text read as 'wave' and text read as 'particle'.

London E1 Carnivale launch night stock of Openned Press's first perfect-bound shiny publication 'from The Mountain of California ...' (2010) by R.T.A. Parker (Richard Parker who runs aforementioned 'old new' Crater Press), had spill with overturned wine glass later evening - turning remaining paperbacks into 'objects' (at least in present writer's perception). Openned Press's representative for the night Amy De'Ath carefully and coolly explained details of wine spill incident offering generous discount on stained copies left. Guess Amy, Alex and Steve may have been thinking -

Fuck. Damaged stock. Now I've got to flog'em at fucking discocunts - shittttt!

Similar reaction runs through every small press producer's mind when money, care, hard work and effort goes into reproducing texts in multiple edition then an experience of upset when stock becomes damaged or spoiled in accident or by chance.

'from The Mountain of California ...' is a labour of love - a beautifully written, designed and edited paperback, fully copyrighted and ISBN catalogued. It's the first-ever copy of a printed Openned Press book with brilliant poetry and poetics. I read the content, read & re-read content. Wine-patterned outerbound roséd leaves make it an even greater joy to read
& read and re-read.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Notes on old new little presses part four
& parts one, two, three, five, six, seven, eight, nine

There was already an air of poetic recognition about The Arthur Shilling Press before Harry Godwin began his imprint in 2009. Almost forty years before, in an earlier incarnation, the present writer had drawn this characterized image for his first comic book. And just as serendipitous, the present writer's father's real forename was 'Arthur'and first primary class teacher at age five a very real 'Miss Shilling'.

In two years the press has swiftly moved from initial London homebaked chapbook, desk top printer, basic stationery paper stock feel; to that of Devon-based little press. Chapbooks commodified as collectables with designated first editions and other limited special editions. Further limited by numbering and author-signings in some instances. Unconventional folding, collation, cover-in-relation-to-content size, and proposed future use of techniques such as woodcut suggests The Arthur Shilling Press is very much part of an old new little press phenomenon.

Godwin, poet and bookwork artist himself, is also founder and publisher of Cleaves international poetry, a journal with bibliographic series ISSN catalogue archive - experimenting with both electronic screen and conventional perfect-bound print-on-demand artzine formats.

Retrofit 'arfur shilling logo (above) with English music hall "half a sixpence, what a picture what a photograph" association appears to have been superseded by typographic and/or print-kit stamped 'a' (space) (stop) (space) 's'.

In the age of the internet UK small presses don't wish to play to solely domestic audiences at local bookfairs or litfests. Post-Brit special Chicago Review generation of poets have achieved wider recognition within an international, expanded European, Anglo/American axis. Old new little presses fill the bill with letter-pressed modernist dissent.

Arguably, there is also suggestion of postmodernist play with pre-electronic mechanical reproduction. Thinking of 'gentleman-amateur' Critical Documents, or 'calendar man' Punch Press.

From its online shop Damn the Caesars/Punch's variegated editions employ what looks like Linotype/Monotype setting on selected paper types, some with added wraps. Using pre-electronic printing methods and complementary styles of advertising availability (or non-availability). Initial impression is one of post-modern commodified hawking. Ordered Punch Press's HAX-Crot to test delivery and own reader response.

At the moment Punch's
concretised press seems as if it's zooming out of the Class Consciousness print-shop chapter in EP Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class and zooming into some uncertain poetic future presence.