It feels both hugely restorative and humbling, in our age of digital media, to visit an archive and hold a fifty year-old literary magazine, carefully made and preserved, yet still fleetingly physical, in your hand. Anne Waldman, co-editor (with Lewish Warsh) of the small magazine Angel Hair, describes the significance of that experience in this quote from her introductory essay to the 2002 Angel Hair feature in Jacket: “...so-called ephemera, lovingly and painstakingly produced, have tremendous power. They signify meticulous human attention and intelligence, like the outline of a hand in a Cro-Magnon cave.” This “tremendous power” can be applied specifically to Angel Hair, which published the work of Ted Berrigan, Denise Levertov, Joe Brainard, Michael Brownstein, and Warsh and Waldman themselves, among others, early in their lives as poets.
Ted Berrigan’s “The Drunken Boat” — a mimeograph publication from 1974 with drawings by Joe Brainard — exemplifies a different type of insouciance towards the source text than any we’ve seen thusfar. Berrigan passes off his seemingly straight, utterly conventional translation of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre” as his own work. He calls his translation a “homage” to Rimbaud — which, while usually a humble gesture acknowledging influence and gratitude, in this case could be possibly interpreted as a form of naked aggression and erasure.
It’s only Wednesday, and so far, it’s been a pretty good week as far as poetry and comics are concerned. On Monday, Sommer Browning’s first full-length book of poems (with some comics), Either Way I’m Celebrating, came in the mail direct from Birds, LLC. The press is based in Austin, Minneapolis, New York, and Raleigh. So far Birds, LLC has put out half a dozen books and uphold the opinion that ‘great books are a collaboration between editors and authors.’ I couldn’t agree more—and this is a great book. When I opened it, the first thing I noticed was that Browning has published over twenty books between 1985 and now, but only two are associated with small presses, the others simply identified by date and title on the ‘also by’ page opposite the title page. Where have I been all my life? How could I have missed all of these? My best guess is that those that are not are not associated with a press are self published and/or unique works of art. Either way, Either Way I’m Celebrating was the first book by Browning I’ve read, and yet, by the time I was a third of the way through, I felt like I had known Browning’s work for years, in that funny way that every now and then you encounter a stranger in a strange place, and suddenly there’s nothing strange about the place or the person.