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.

And maybe that’s the other connection (aside from poetry and comics) I see between Browning’s first ‘book-book’ (as people sometimes say) and Joe Brainard’s Collected Writings just out from the Library of America, which arrived in yesterday’s mail. As far as I know, all of Brainard’s writing, with the exception of Granary’s wonderful edition of I Remember, has been out of print for a long, long, time. So long in fact, that for writers of my generation and younger, the only way to read Brainard has been in special collections libraries. On a ‘now or never whim’ I bought a very rare copy Brainard’s Bolinas Journal a few weeks ago, in part, because it was the first book published by Bill Berkson’s by Big Sky Books in 1971. The cover mimics a classic composition notebook, and it includes journal entries and a lot drawings (some comics, some not) and holograph poems from Brainard’s first visit to Bolinas. I was worried that a book with so much graphic complexity wouldn’t be included in The Collected Writings, or worse, that the publisher would reprint the text and omit the images. But happily, it’s here, with all of the images and text that were included in the magnificent first edition, sans cover and colophon. It’s a very ambitious undertaking, a marvel to behold, and I’d like to extend my thanks to Ron Padgett for his dedicated work as editor of this book, as well as The Library of America for producing it with integrity and imagination. Together, they have made it possible for present and future generations to experience The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard.