In my previous post I claimed that there has never been a more interesting historical moment in publishing than the present. “Publishing” is often understood as synonymous with the “publishing industry,” but in my teaching and writing I prefer to use the term inclusively in order to put small press publishing, self-publishing (including blogging and other forms of social media) and other forms of grassroots activity in dialogue with the more traditional commercial media outlets. Personal and interactive media have absorbed or trumped traditional mass media providers, and those that have survived the ‘big switch’ (as Nicholas Carr calls it) have done so by incorporating the paradigms and principles of emerging media technologies. While writers still embark on book tours to promote new titles, many publishers have cut back significantly on the budgets allotted to personal appearances, favoring virtual promotional tactics such as Twitter feeds, YouTube videos, FaceBook pages, and networked blogging. The fact that all of these tools are user-friendly and essentially free has done much to level the playing field inhabited by small presses and major presses. Where it would have been prohibitive for most small presses of the pre-personal computer era to send a poet on an all-expense-paid trip to promote their new book of poems, a similar press can now create an online campaign on a very limited budget.
In the last decade or so, the proliferation of digital technologies has created an unprecedented interest in the art of the book, its history and culture, what William Everson called ‘the book as icon,’ and yet I’m not entirely convinced that people are reading more in the poetic sense of the word, that is, more deeply, broadly, tactfully, consciously, skeptically—dare I say imaginatively?
For over twenty years, Steve Clay’s Granary Books has brought together writers, artists, and bookmakers to investigate poetic and visual relations in the time-honored spirit of independent publishing. Granary’s mission—to produce, promote, document, and theorize new works exploring the intersection of word, image, and page—has earned the publisher a reputation as one of the most unique and significant small publishers operating today. Archivist, author, curator, and publisher Steve Clay has written:
The first item that I identify as a Granary Books publication was actually published by Origin Books in 1986—Wee Lorine Niedecker by Jonathan Williams. It embodies several elements that remain important to me now, some fifteen years later, among which is an acute awareness of the “book” as a physical object.
When I lived in New York, my favorite weekend escape was the town of Beacon, just up the Hudson. DIA, fresh air, and a change of pace were always a draw for the family, but my favorite part of the trip was invariably the Hermitage bookstore. It was located on a hill off the main drag in a small house by a silo of some sort, and it specialized in poetry, mostly American small press editions of the 50s, 60s and 70s. There was usually a record playing in the back room, a small, but meticulously curated collection of books on the shelves and tacked to the walls in mylar bags. Jon Beacham ran the store with a then-girlfriend whose name escapes me. For a while it seemed that everyone was going up there to buy a few books and grab some soup with Jon. Jon had a Pilot press that he used to print a couple books and ephemera to accompany the exhibits—the Zephyrus Image and Auerhahan Press were most memorable. When a Vandercook 4 came up for sale, Dan Morris of The Arm in Williamsburg and me drove up to give Jon a hand moving it into his place.
Eventually Jon closed the shop and moved back to New York, and gradually, printing began to take precedence over book selling. Jon’s knowledge of artists’ books and private press editions is vast, and it shows in the work he produces under the Brother in Elysium imprint. Check out the work at: http://www.thebrotherinelysium.com
Karen Randall started Propolis Press in 2001. My introduction to the press was Rosmarie Waldrop’s Within the Probabilities of Spelling, produced in an edition of just eighteen. A few years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Karen in person in New York, and a few years after that, I had the pleasure of including her edition of Christina Strong’s The New York School in Poem & Pictures. Other poets published by Propolis include Nancy Kuhl, Elizabeth Willis, Jane Rice, and Randall’s own poems. The images in all of the books are created by Randall, who is the leading authority on four-color letterpress printing on gampi.
She is currently collaborating on an artists’ book with Lee Ann Brown entitled Bagatelles for Cornell, which includes three poems written in homage to Joseph Cornell accompanied by Randall’s digital collages printed via cyanotype and gum bichromate photography, as well as mixed relief techniques. She is also collaborating with Anne Tardos on Ginkgo Knuckle Nubia, a segment in The Dik-dik's Solitude (Granary, 2003).