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Small press publications

Grosseteste Press

Each publication was a “singular event”, designed not to fit into a house style but to reflect the content itself. Poetry with longer lines was printed in a landscape format, and new ways to produce work were created to most effectively present poetry and prose. Aimed at an “open-minded reader”, the press focussed on experimental poetry, short prose and translated poetry.

The Grosseteste Review was an established magazine by the end of its first year, but came to an abrupt end in 1978, after the murder of John Riley. Gr/ew books, an aspect of the press that began in 1972, continued until 1984, at which point Longville felt that the future of the small press world was bleak. “I’m tired”, he said to Michael Haslam. “Let some other bugger have a go.”

Despite his lack of confidence in the future of the small press, Grosseteste has remained a significant figure in the publications of the 1960s and ‘70s, printing a wide variety of influential and interesting work from the UK and US. One such writer was Martin Wright, also a member of the English Department at Warwick, who donated this collection to the Library.

White Rabbit Press

White Rabbit Press was a small, independent press founded in San Francisco in 1957 by friends and associates of the poet Jack Spicer, with the immediate aim of publishing Spicer himself. Its first volume was 'Love, the Poem, the Sea & Other Pieces Examined' by Spicer’s close friend Steve Jonas (see display), and its second was Spicer’ own first book, 'After Lorca'. It went on to publish several of Spicer’s subsequent works, including 'The Holy Grail' of 1964, which is on display here. While its distinctive rabbit colophon was drawn by the poet Robert Duncan, the press was run first by Joe Dunn and later by Graham Mackintosh, both friends of Spicer, who were mostly responsible for production and design, usually with significant input from the authors themselves.

The actual work of collating pages and the like was often done collectively, at parties, and the purpose of the Press was to disseminate notable work, not to make money. In fact, Spicer was fiercely opposed to the notion that creative work could become a commodity rather than a shared good, and adamantly refused that his White Rabbit books be placed under copyright. In addition to Spicer, White Rabbit published books by Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson, Richard Brautigan, and John Wieners, as well as less well known members of the “San Francisco Renaissance,” such as James Alexander and Ronnie Primack.

For more information on the White Rabbit Press, see:

Steven Clay and Rodney Phillips, From a Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980. New York: New York Public Library and Granary Books, 1998.

Lew Ellingham and Kevin Killian, Poet, Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Renaissance. Hanover: Wesleyan UP, 1998.


US Twentieth Century Small Press Publications

The explosion of North American small press poetry publications at mid-20th century is often referred to as the “mimeo revolution,” because of the new access to reproduction made possible by the mimeograph machine. These hand-cranked desktop machines, originally designed for office business memos, became widely available when xerographic printing took over the office environment. The mimeo machine effectively turned the kitchen table into a printing press: a magazine or poetry collection typed up on stencils could be editioned in a matter of hours, collated with an artistically produced cover, and bound with staples.

Amiri Baraka, whose pamphlet A Black Value System (Jihad Productions, 1970) is included in the display, was an early adopter of the mimeo--as Leroi Jones editing, with poet Diane di Prima, the influential Floating Bear newsletter. The production was a communal endeavour, bringing together writers, artists, musicians and other members of the ‘Bohemian’ community. Such small press publishing played a key role in the formation of Beat Generation writers—including Jones, di Prima, Joanne Kyger, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, all five represented in this display.

Alice Notley’s collection, A Diamond Necklace (Frontward Books, 1977, individually painted cover art by Rochelle Kraut) and a posthumous edition of poems by first generation New York poet Frank O’Hara, assembled by Notley’s husband Ted Berrigan, The End of the Far West (1974, cover art by Notley), are just two of the thousands of mimeo publications that appeared through the 1960s and 70s. Such editions are characteristic of many of the publications of the so-called second generation ‘New York School.’

Small presses such as Big Sky (All This Every Day, by Joanne Kyger, 1975), Adventures in Poetry (Studying Hunger, by Bernadette Mayer, and Polaroid, by Clark Coolidge, both 1975), or Power Mad Press (A Fresh Young Voice from the Plains, by Eileen Myles, 1981) emerged from a DIY community of writers, artists, and printers leveraging cheap rent, know how, and access to offset printing equipment to publish some of the most innovative writing of late 20th-century North America. Some of this poetry (such as the work by Mayer and Coolidge) would provide a bridge to the influential “language” writing movement.

Following Charles Olson’s death, former students Jack Clark and Albert Glover launched a tribute series that followed Olson’s “Plan for a Curriculum of the Soul” assigning 28 ‘subjects’ to 28 different poets who would write a ‘fascicle’ on their subject. These ‘fascicles’ appeared individually over the years (the collected volume would end up taking 30 years to produce). Michael McClure’s Organism (Institute of Further Studies, 1974) was number 24.

Zephyrus Image, a Bay Area press run by Holbrook Teter and graphic artist Michael Myers, exploited the ‘Aubrey Beardsley’ aesthetic that had come into vogue through the Haight Ashbury counter-culture scene to bring a striking visual style to their activist publications. Many Zephyrus Image productions (such as bumper stickers and flyers) were ephemera not meant for sale, but one of their best-selling titles, a collaboration with Bob Callahan’s Turtle Island press on an edition of Ed Dorn’s Recollections of Gran Apacheria, brilliantly repurposed the comic-book format to upend expectations for a poetry collection.

The “Black Mountain” poets were affiliated with Black Mountain College, a short-lived (1933-56) experimental college of the arts located in North Carolina. Poet Charles Olson was the institution’s Rector from 1951-56, bringing Robert Creeley (among others) to teach there in 1954. In addition to editing Black Mountain Review from 1954-57, Creeley launched Divers Press, publishing Larry Eigner’s From the Sustaining Air (1953, here represented by a 1967 reprint), Olson’s The Mayan Letters (1953), and Paul Blackburn’s translations of troubadour poetry, Proensa (1953, bottom case), amongst other now classic Black Mountain titles.

Groupings such as Black Mountain, San Francisco Renaissance, Beat Generation, and New York poets, were adopted by editor Donald Allen, for the organisation of his influential New American Poetry anthology (Grove Press, 1960). While the anthology was a trade press publication, Allen also ran the small press publishing project Four Seasons Foundation, publishing Bay Area poet Joanne Kyger’s first book, The Tapestry and the Web (1965) and titles by Gary Snyder (who lived and traveled with Kyger in Japan and India) including Manzanita (1972).

Small press editions afforded collaborations between writers and artists of a quality often only available in more expensive fine ‘artist’s books’—as in volumes featured by ‘Deep Image’ poet Jerome Rothenberg (cover by underground comic artist Tony Bennett), Robert Creeley (monoprints by Bobbie Creeley) and Robert Duncan (paste-ups by Jess).

Also: listen to some live poetry readings from our archive collections: recordings from Warwick Emeritus Professor Clive Bush.

Display curated by Lucy Carter (Final year English Student), Professor Dan Katz and Dr Jonathan Skinner.

*Tim Longville, Ancient and Modern (Lincoln: Grosseteste Press, 1967)