Well, almost. It’s nine o’clock in the evening on April 2nd, and I just got home from the wild after-party celebrating the 37th anniversary of Poltroon Press, founded on April Fools’ Day 1975 by Frances Butler and Alastair Johnston. I would have stayed for breakfast but I knew that I was supposed to start writing a new column on book arts for Jacket 2. Guests included Lucia Berlin, Philip Whalen, Joanne Kyger, Darrell Gray, Tom Clark, Luxorius, Jess, Larry Fagin, and many more. The colorful, and at times controversial, history of this press is essential reading for anyone interested in Bay Area poetry, book arts, and the relationship between the two. These are captured and actively illustrated in Trance & Recalcitrance: The Private Voice in the Public Realm and Pshaw!, produced to mark the twentieth and thirtieth anniversaries of the Press, respectively. In addition to publishing typographically-informed books of poetry by some of my favorite authors, Poltroon began producing artists’ books before anyone really knew what that genre could be or mean. But the thing that first drew me to the Press was the trilogy of bibliographies they wrote and produced about three of the most important presses in the Bay Area of the 50s, 60s and 70s: The Auerhahn Press, White Rabbit and Zephyrus Image. Remarkably, a few copies of all of these are still available, as are many others, including two recently unearthed ‘vintage’ books by Tom Raworth, Nicht Wahr, Rosie (winner of the AIGA excellence in typography award) and now-canonical artists’ book Logbook (with remarkable images by Butler). Still going strong after 37 years, I just finished reading their latest, Typographical Tourists: Tales of Tramping Printers, an anthology of amusing tales from the road by one of America’s most bizarre subcultures. Learn more about this, and other titles at www.poltroonpress.com.
Thanks for checking out the Book Arts column. I’ll be back soon with more poets, printers, publishers, and places soon.