Wednesday, December 15, 2010

that said, I have a different opinion ....

about Jack Matthews.

I don't know if it is formed by the fact that the book he sought and value are not ones that I do or would, or that his tone is one that feels aloft, but having read a number of books by Jack Matthews on the subject of book collecting and searchings I no longer am terribly interested in the man or his opinions.

I am sure that it's due to reading more than one of his books however that has not been the case with my reading of Michael Dirda or Nicholas Basbanes. SO - it's mostly Matthews and his own writing, or writing style, or his subject matter. He's an Ohioan. His focus is as much about "frontier history" as about Modern Firsts. My focus is on different subject matters and particularly about chapbooks. Modern Chapbooks, if you will. Toothpaste Press, Perishable Press Limited, and the scores of other small presses and publishers who flourished and then disappeared. What remains is the work, and it's primarily a record of the last 60 years or so. The mimeographic revolution period. From the late 1940s through the present.

His focus is much older and more established. Old leather bound history of the Ohio river, letters from the 1870s. That ilk which is important to some but not to me. I respect what he has done but I don't feel that he respects what collectors today do. We don't use catalogues - we have the Internet to research. We might not comb estate sales or sit in the auction chair but that doesn't mean our collecting techniques are inferior. Perhaps there is a generation gap between the Jack Matthews of the world and the stevenallenmays of the world. Perhaps that is the issue in a nutshell.

Friday, September 24, 2010

passing it along

One of the things that has most interested me through the process of book gathering, collecting, and reading is the info and insight being provided by the various authors. They are "passing along" their knowledge about other writers; writers less well known - forgotten - out of print - but not gone. Definitely not gone. The mere mention of these forgotten souls triggers interest in readers like me to find out more about them.

Michael Dirda, the book reviewer for the Washington Post, for example, presented Dawn Powell, Alfred Bester, and others as though they were delicacies of a by-gone time.

The book collector and author Jack Matthews, a professor at Ohio University, wrote about Ralph Hodgson. Hodgson lived in Ohio at the end of his life and at the time of the publication of Matthew's Memoirs of a Bookman (1990) was scarcely recalled. Nowadays his many books of poetry and editorial work is in greater demand. One wonders if the essay in Matthew's book contributed to the revival in interest in Hodgson's body of work.

Thirdly, Paul Oliver who blogs at The Devil's Accountant provides the same level of discovery as the afore mentioned writers. Oliver dusts off lost classics as well as publishers who work needs greater attention.

Collectively they and many others help to "pass along" their expertise to the future. As it should be. As it needs to be.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

my conflicted "affair" with Richard Brautigan

I am not certain what word deems the proper relationship between a reader and an author, especially one where the reader has changed his affections toward the author numerous times, as they say in the midwest, "if you don't like the weather, wait an hour or two."

My first awareness of the name Richard Brautigan came from a copy of Revenge of the Lawn that my father owned. Okay, my Dad is someone I would never refer to as "hip", so his owning a copy of this book threw me for a loop. Still does as I think of it. I ventured into the marsh that is Brautigan on my own, by way of his association with the Beats. But "association" is a funny word when it comes to the Beats. For example, many people squeeze Bukowski in with the Beats. My response has always been, "really? how?" Guilt by association runs wide and deep with the Beats and while it's true that Richard lived in San Francisco and was photographed with lump sums of Beat generation literati, does that really make him one?

Even here I can't give him a pass. I got and read and tried to figure out (if I was missing something or if he was a fraud) ALL his books of poetry. All the ones that were left in print by 1970 when my sixteen year old awareness was piqued by Kerouac and Ginsberg and Burroughs. As the years passed, I collected and then sold off all my copies of Brautigan's work. More than once. I thought him insightful then I felt like I had been conned. I praised his genius and then couldn't remember a single phrase of his prose or a single line of his poetry, or I simply hated his titles without any poetry on the page. To say that I had an "off-again, on-again" relationship with Richard Brautigan is to be very generous to the word "relationship".

If a definition of "the Beats" simply included the core of friends who met each other at Columbia and had the New Vision, then Brautigan ain't Beat at all. But that definition isn't fair, and so I would say that Richard was a parallel Beat. A neutron around the clusters of the atom comprised by Jack and Allen and Old Bill Lee. As recently as 1999, I owned nothing by Brautigan although I continued to find copies of his work easily enough. Copies floating through the used book world and then once the Internet began to sprout, there as well. On Alibris, on any number of websites, and then of course on Amazon. I became a seller of Brautigan instead of a collector of him.

Then, as fate would have it, I got involved with a lady named Kate. Kate's mother has a friend named Kathy and Kathy told me the story of how Richard Brautigan has sent her a letter in response to a note that she had sent him. The letter was postmarked a day or two AFTER Richard had killed himself. So, it was like he typed out this reply letter, put it in the mail, came home and killed himself.

Now Brautigan was a lot closer to me; I could almost see his ghost when I held the letter addressed to my soon-to-be Mother-in-law's friend. Then Katy and I took over the daily operation of Plan B Press in 2003 (I co-founded the Press in 1998), and we decided to publish a short fiction contest. The second year of the contest, I decided to try and tie the contest to the 50th year anniversary of the writing and performing of HOWL for the first time. We had a "Beat themed" short fiction contest and the winner of the contest was Corey Mesler for his piece entitled "Following Richard Brautigan".

Curses all around as I know find myself gathering copies of his books again, along with reading Terence Malley's 1972 Richard Brautigan critique which was part of the Writers of the 70's series and becoming frustrated that so much of his work was not included in this volume as it had not been written yet! Then, of course, Corey Mesler was able to complete his book and have a publisher bring out the full Following Richard Brautigan with a thanks by the author to me specifically for my/Plan B Press's assistance along the way toward the completion of the novel. Of course, I buy a copy of it and am hooked. To Mesler's novel, and to Brautigan's work. Dang it. If only I could find a copy of "Plant this Book".

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Steps by ruth weiss

I saw this copy flittering on ebay. Wait, I thought, I know ruth weiss. This must be an early book (it was her first - published in 1958). I bought the book and wrote to ruth weiss. Once the book arrived, I looked it over and wrote the seller to see where HE got it. The seller is in San Francisco where ruth lived for a number of years. He informed me that the copy came from the basement/garage of a local SF poet and political activist. Most of the material which the seller acquired had not seen the light of day in 40 years and that the seller was surprised by the response on Ebay to this store of stuff.

The result of my letter to ruth was a phone call today. ruth told me that there were only 50 copies made of her first book and that the address listed on the back of the book, 1116 Ellis St., San Francisco was adjoining attic apartments that ruth and her first husband, Mel Weitsman, shared. She also told me, since I had asked, about the production of this first book. It was typed out using two typewriters. Mimeographed at a different location. The blue tape binding was stolen - shhhhhhh! - from a local stationary shop.

Very rare chapbook by a 82-year old survivor, a poet who continues to make her voice heard.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

- now that

Once I sorted out the numerous conflicts within the 2 printings/editions, I decided to follow a tact that I had stumbled on earlier - which is to contact the seller and get whatever backstory there may be. Here's what I learned about the copy of Texas Liveoak that sparked my interest; the seller wrote, "I got this item at the friends of the Abilene Public Library book sale here in Abilene, Texas. The Library often hosts Texas authors for readings and book signings. I assume that this may have come from one of those or as a donation from a patron. It is always a huge sale."

The second printing was printed in Mexico and sold in Austin, Texas at Foreman's Brazos Bookshop. In 1979, Foreman opened the Brazos Bookshop which carried mostly small press publications. In Austin, he continued his involvement in the small press community, staging poetry readings, organizing workshops, and speaking about his work as a writer and small press publisher.

After publishing nearly 100 books and journals, Foreman closed the Brazos Book Shop, and Thorp Springs Press ceased operations during the early 1990s. So - it seems that the second printing had to have been made AFTER 1979.

According to an article I had read, Foreman's greatest success as a publisher was in bringing out Len Fulton's 1974 novel, The Grassman: a novel. Interestingly, there is a poem in Texas Liveoak dedicated to Fulton entitled "The Grassman". Small wonder then that Foreman would sign a copy of his collection for Len Fulton.

The association copy came from a seller in California which is where Len Fulton still lives.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

now this -

As much as I had given this blog early on is as little as I have given to it since. At the heart of it is a self exploration, a blog as diary as developing essay as book idea as......

for myself and whomever might wander in - in the months since I gave this more attention I took my somewhat limited attention to a parallel blog dealing with chapbooks. In that blog I began to examine the book as object but also to explore the history of the author and publisher, and illustrator, and the copy itself as far as I could. That began with a chapbook I still haven't written about published by a shadowy organization called Vigilance Society. The more I learned, the less I knew.

I began to think about the publishers, and additionally, about the copy of the book that I held in my hand. If a book is published in a run of 1500 copies in 1970, for example, where did the individual copy go - what was the journey of that copy? Who originally bought it or received it?

This all led to my own response to a book of poetry by a fellow named Paul Foreman who founded Thorp Springs Press in Berkeley, CA back in 1971. The book was entitled Texas Liveoak. The copy I first found online was a "second printing" of the book. It was inscribed and signed to a couple in Texas where Paul had returned in 1978. I started to research the book and its author and quickly discovered that the University of Texas held the papers of Foreman and Thorp Springs Press in their permanent collection. In the notes on the webpage for the collection on the University of Texas library website, I learned that Foreman had published Len Fulton who went on to become a publisher of some note himself for Dustbooks and his International Directory of Small Presses, etc.

While learning more about Foreman and his press, I looked on Amazon to see how many other copies of Texas Liveoak might be in circulation and saw that someone was selling a collectible copy inscribed and signed to "a small press publisher". I wrote the seller and asked whom that person might be, and he wrote back that it was Len Fulton. I promptly bought this copy of the book. I now had an association copy of the book and more importantly, I had a first edition of the book. The difference between the first and second printings of the book were remarkable. So much so that I believe the second should have been assigned the wording second edition.

The cover images were completely different.

The second "printing" was printed in Mexico. The publishers address was different. The title page was different. The cover image was different. It was a different BOOK, why was it being called "second printing"? Because the poems had not changed? But they changed things inside the book - I was confused. The FIRST edition was published in the US, had a Berkeley, CA address, had a different cover image and an additional image on the back cover. It also had a dedication page, had differently colored cover stock - I mean, how different can one book get?

Thursday, August 5, 2010


it's been entirely too

the trouble with multiple faces is dressing them each day

more books that I could throw a brick at

clutter my wife doesn't love me for

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

lag time is terrible

i have too many platforms going at once