near Columbia University, by
the writer and poet M. G. Stephens (Season At Coole: Dutton, 1972).
Aware of the neighborhood just north of Manhattan that bears this Dutch Name, M. G. presented his own poetry alongside others who took inspiration from the rich legacy of place as a resonance for literary lore.
Stephens had studied with Paul Blackburn and Joel Oppenheimer at SUNY Cortland and was an early attendee of the recently formed St. Mark’s Poetry Project in the mid to late 60s.
was birthed uptown,
In this Vault lies buried
St. Marks In The Bowery
Season At Coole
M. G. Stephens
by R. B. Kitaj
Jargon Two for Katherine Litz
art and poetry printed by Jonathan Williams
signed by Bob Rauschenberg &
The Spuyten Duyvil Bridge on fire
The Story of Spuyten Duyvil the place is not just a myth but the legacy of reciting and fabling Manhattan, New York City, into the fabric of the Old World. Certainly Washington Irving as well as the Beats took a similar archaism into their midst as they wove whatever personal poetries they would later, on their own terms, embark upon. From such an intersection of name, place and Celtic/Anglic/Germanic Amer-Indian or proto-historical significance, the truth it was set into further motion via poetry, another kind of bridge.
TT arrived in NYC in 1981/82 and read at and attended various venues including St. Mark’s Poetry Project and ABC NO RIO. Out of that experience he kept an affiliation with his earliest recollections of American post WW II poetry. Literature, to Thilleman, was something that did not only exist in the commercial stream of cultural/intellectual trade. His Blasted Tower (2013), part philosophy and part personal history, makes a point to establish the place of difference between major and minor literatures, and why neither actually merges with the other. The fallacy of cultural history is that evolution always guarantees the Major arrived by way of the Minor, that it grew and matured out of an infancy into an adulthood that we can easily consume just before we kick the bucket. This simply isn’t true.
T Thilleman, living uptown as well as having migrated to NYC years earlier, fell in with SD and M.G. while helping to organize Poetry New York, a journal, whose tentative relation to the PNY of Harvey Shapiro/Yale Poetry Review renamed renown had been responsible for publishing Olson’s essay “Projective Verse” in 1950. Thilleman’s fourth book of poetry, Wave-Run, was published by SD in the early 90s, after an uncertain year or more while attempting to run a reading series at CBGB’s downtown.
Thilleman recollects, among other anecdotes from that time, Eileen Myles, who was his first reader. As she saw her own “career” circling, she told TT: “This is strange, because one of the first places I ever read was at the pre-incarnation of Hilly Kristal’s club, before it had its name shortened to CBGB’s.”
Around this same time TT, editing PNY and establishing its pamphlet series, engaged himself in the Live Art Workshops at the newly established Kraine Theater and KGB Bar on New York's Lower East Side. His novel, Gowanus Canal, Hans Knudsen explores the relationship between performance and writing and situates itself in the milieu which still haunts the 4th Street Playhouse and Bar.
Hilly Kristal, owner of CBGB's, c. 1990, right after he allowed a very eager TT to run a weekly reading series in the newly converted space next to 315 Bowery, known as CBGB's 313 Gallery
Eileen Myles, around the time, c. 1991-92, she ran for president of the United States
TT, early 80s
ABC NO RIO, early 80s
Master Printmaker Joe Wilfer, early 80s, in the Canal Street Studio with Chuck Close. TT was hired by Joe to assist in making handmade paper multiples for Pace Editions
The Live Art Workshop
under direction of
Kraine Theater early 90's
KGB Bar, Kraine Theater, East 4th Street, NYC
The Jargon Society of Jonathan Williams, for example, was in sync just as it was out of sync with the haute of NYC-controlled emerging art markets of the 50s and 60s, yet all the while it brought into the foreground a very palpable aesthetic and legacy of the New York School painters alongside music and the alternative (Black Mntn) learning that permeated literary and cultural landscapes of post WW II America. They were never setting out to be a farm team practicing and getting ready to be drafted into the majors.
But that world is never gone from this kind of ferment, no matter how it might seem to change, simply because its closely packed rhythms are transferable among all artistic disciplines at any given time and in any given era. You can’t say the same about every practice. There’s no one path by which everyone is entering and maturing at the behest and in pursuit of some ever apparent goal.
Jonathan Williams, founder, Jargon Society
There is no one country, in terms of literary culture, no matter how it might be packaged and sold as such.
M. G. Stephens moved to England by the mid 90s and so Thilleman assumed direction of the tiny publishing house. SD was later incorporated and TT began building a title list which would eventually include Robert Creeley, Martha King as well as other Black Mountain affiliated writers. This identity, along with Thilleman’s preference for understanding creative writing as what does not include the official hierarchical idea embedded in text, overlapped with the writing he sought to create for his own oeuvre. No matter how museum ready or out of step it appeared to be.
Black Mntn and the Beats are only two examples of cultural heterogeneity that stood on their own without cultural and commercial or major academic assimilation. Of course that isn’t the case now, and is the signal reason small press publishing even in the age of the internet still stands by itself as a portal for simultaneous self-discovery and cultural anthropological re-imaginings. It, among a thousand other things, has the potential to not see itself as solely a commercial activity.
Yet the heritage of small press publishing continually grapples with the demands the so-called market makes of it, seeking to turn it into a palatable plate of chow. And the “market” emerges anywhere one suddenly decides it is to be. Survival is not wrapped up with the way smaller publishing houses or micro-making enterprises produce and create, but always it is dependent upon what it brought into the world. To look at the mechanics in any other way justifies mass produced matter. Logic and market savvy have nothing to do with determining or envisaging the world an imaginative “product” is entering and thereby re-shaping and re-aligning the world by.
Modernity evolves from the creation of the multiplication
of one-time only crafted type.
The handmade aspect of past associations
is "applied" differently.
Northwest Native Shaman with Thunderbird headdress. Photographed presumably by Franz Boas, considered the progenitor of Cultural Anthropology
The Art of Memory is a study of the history of applied knowledge, or, mnemonics
Marshall McLuhan understood that the explosivity from the Gutenberg re-trajectory of human cosmos was able to be read even by more orally centered societies than our own, albeit in a different way
The great misquoting of such small enterprise exists when it thinks it emulates a non-mainstream aspect, or dismisses its non-belonging as content that doesn’t “get it.” Both of these assessments never see the content in any actualizing context. Only through a very manhandled historical context do any of the particulars within the content come to light. The content, in other words, is not a product of either/or. The content struggles and endures to be seen and heard, regardless of the forum presenting it. This is why even the most well-intentioned small press enthusiasts miss the point of an endeavor like SD: they want to believe it is either part of an evolving scene, OR, it is not at all involved with any scene and just floats out into the world as a pure product of some disembodied imagination.
TT and j/j,
"community of spirit"
But there is real effort and struggle to get each of the titles produced. This does not mean smaller publishing enterprises are in any way inferior. The assumptions, that go to creating a series of projects that might be enjoyed by many, are part of our culture: assumptions inhabiting our bodies completely unquestioned. Creative struggle is actually more enabling than a larger because it tests assumptions up close and in real time and thus tests the culture at large through the very nature of its small scale.
To this end it was very important that TT, embodying the press, find the company of a writer who would share his awareness of scale and time and culture.
TT began correspondence with the poet j/j hastain toward the latter end of the 00's. He changed his writing name to the initial T to echo the community he had found in J. The sense of a poetick community had meant very little before. The words of the great mystic poet Rumi suddenly made sense to TT, more than any other cultural assumption:
"There is a community
of the spirit.
And close both eyes
to see with the other eye."
Thilleman’s undertaking in the mid 00’s, establishing SD among larger distribution and publishing outlets, met with a variety of problems. None of the problems, however, had anything to do with penetrating the inner core of a constituted literary culture. The facts were very apparent: a wall surrounds the center of mainstream artistic thought simply because the history by which that thought is recognized exists by the failures and successes of an incredibly monied or capitalized field.
It was plain to see the virtue of publishing was in its hidden history, traceable to Gutenberg and severed from the evolution of the industrialization in printing and the growth of trade in cultural goods. The very fact that the vernacular in Bible translation was given its headrush by movable type, thus enlightening all the various theoreticals that, say, Marshall McLuhan gave birth to, moves still in the real efforts and sheer penury of literary production.
The task for years has been survival, but beyond that the assembly of a variety of voices, unafraid to be counted among the inheritors of vernacular substance, a realism based in discovery not auto repeat, compels SD’s introspection and its need to give life as well as to grow out of that content first and foremost.
Darwin's notebook with the first re-alignment of the living tree in the form of genus and species inter-relativity