Commentaries - April 2012

Poetry & comics

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.

Mina Loy

Mina Loy, 1917 (photo by Man Ray)
Mina Loy, 1917 (photo by Man Ray)

I first read about Mina Loy in 1987, in Shari Benstock's book about twenty-odd women artists and writers living and working in Paris in the decades 1900 until 1940 - Women of the Left Bank (University of Texas Press, 1986). Of course Gertrude Stein was the prominent or most-known figure in this community. It took many years for some of her less widely read contemporaries to gain notice. London-born Mina Loy was a painter, poet, essayist, sculptor, collagist and a member of the prestigious Salon d'Automne in early twentieth-century Paris. She was in a relationship with the proto-Dadaist poet and pugilist, Arthur Cravan until he disappeared, mysteriously, possibly into the ocean, off the coast of Mexico in 1918. She became involved in the Italian Futurist movement but soon became disillusioned by it and began to write satirically about Futurists' attitudes towards women. Her poetry was praised in journals by T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound and, later, by Kenneth Rexroth. She lived for three decades in France and Italy moving, in 1936, to Lower Manhattan and the Bowery in the United States of America.

April Fools'

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.