Thursday, August 17, 2006

Poets & Fine Presses: The Net of Connections

One reason Dave and I took "fine press" as the third specialty of Kingdom Books (our other two are poetry and mystery) is that good poetry has always linked closely with fine press work. Sometimes it's the shared sense of beauty; sometimes it's the shared passion for words; and often, perhaps especially here in New England, it's the independence of thought. Broadsides, for instance, come up in American independence politically long before they hold poetic significance in our history.

I've been researching the history of New England fine presses and noting how the people involved have influenced each other. Cross-mentoring may be a new term, but it's an old habit. From practicing on each other's hand presses to feeding each other type to sharing poetry, the connections form a thick and necessary web.

So I found great delight yesterday in finding an extra set of strong strands that link today's Vermont fine presses with the Midwest: Michael Tarachow and his Pentagram Press affected the thinking of two Vermonters that I've spoken with lately, Bob Arnold (Longhouse Press) and Jim Schley (Chapiteau). And some of Tarachow's significant first poets were from New England: Bob Arnold (as poet), and Down East poet Ted Enslin.

I'm also noting the variety of presses that picked up work by Hayden Carruth. Arnold's press is strongly connected here, as Bob and Hayden became close friends.

To write or speak the truth (which, in my opinion, is one excellent strength of poetry) aligns so nicely with those who will shape it powerfully on the page.


Susan Arnold said...

Hello Beth,

I enjoy your web-blog and perspectives and look forward to the postings. And as Bob may have written you, we are in the middle of listing our Longhouse bibliography (at recent count, over 360 published titles including anthologies and individual works by poets from broadsides to books and booklets and even bookmarks). Bob is annotating all of these titles, so we're all in memory lane, and more so Bob!

Reading your writing from Thursday: that "Michael Tarachow and his Pentagram Press affected the thinking of two Vermonters that I've spoken with lately, Bob Arnold (Longhouse Press)..." I need to respond to the word "affect" -- as affect can mean what? Good, bad? What is “affect”? Michael Tarachow’s relationship with Bob and Longhouse was a collaboration of exciting energy between the two in the late 70’s and well throughout the 80’s. I certainly observed this, as I am the co-publisher since our mimeograph days in the mid-70's. Compatible and energetic rapport, YES! But Longhouse is not a letterpress such as Pentagram. As gorgeous as Tarachow’s press work was back then, Michael placed a high dollar value on his production, and his titles were costly. Bob published by the seat of his pants via mimeograph and eventually photocopy; and was influenced by the mimeo-presses of the 60's and early 70's. No grants were received nor applied for, and all the Longhouse publications were given away free or for exchange -- and certainly there were donations, either by a church lending their mimeo machine, or by the generosity of readers and writers with stamps, their own books for trade and spare dollars for a subscription.

Bob began Longhouse in 1971, and he was influenced by the publishing lives of Cid Corman (of Boston & Japan) and Jim Koller (then on the West Coast) and their respective presses begun in the 50’s - 60’s. In fact, Bob’s contacts were with this earlier literary generation, and he virtually had no contact among his peer group during the start of the 70's. Much would change as time marched on.

While Pentagram published four books of poems by Bob in the 80's, Michael was also a family friend. So, for me, “affect” is really a rapport between the two of mutual influence and great spontaneous energy.

Best wishes, Susan (Arnold)

Beth Kanell said...

Hello Susan,

Thanks for adding the interior view to the commentary about Longhouse and Pentagram, Bob and Michael. I can see a special parallel between Bob's choice to stay low-cost, and Greg Joly's similar choice (although Greg uses letterpress, and sometimes collaborates with Bob, yes?). Here's where we start to differentiate between "fine press" that's meant to be "art," and simply fine presswork that's honoring the text. I think that the web site on which you and Bob publish ( is an example of the latter -- even though it isn't on paper.

Speaking of work on paper: The little gems that Bob sent up here last week have their own featured display area today for our Fine Press Appreciation event. I've placed Mad River and Bull Thistle presswork nearby, so people can explore the connections easily. I know we're a long drive from Green River, but Dave and I both hope to welcome you and Bob up here one of these days.

And I especially look forward to reading your annotated Longhouse bibliography!

Warm regards,

Beth Kanell