Saturday, March 30, 2013

Persons, not publishing houses

The facts are political. And it does matter. As Jennifer Dorn makes clear in her introduction to the Collected Poems, Ed published with persons, not publishing houses. There was always a firm engagement, a direct relationship carried through by regular and active correspondence, or face to face. LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) argued out the first US publications, The Newly Fallen and Hands Up!; Tom Raworth, in England, another reliable card and letter-writer, delivered From Gloucester Out. In other words, poets published poets, signalling their affinities the best way, through production, while continuing to strengthen transatlantic traffic, through readings, academic exchanges, hospitality. Distribution was nicely random, with many of these books and pamphlets being trusted to the postal service, as gifts to peers, known and unknown. News had a frontier quality, coming in on the railway (in my case the clapped-out North London Line between Dalston Junction and Camden Road, for the great souk of Compendium Books). Control of production kept the process well away from corporate adventurism and required a network of fly-by-night independent bookshops. Dorn was comfortable in this world. Mike Hart, or one of the others from the communal Camden Town operation, would be on the phone to let customers know that the latest volume of Gunslinger had arrived. It really was as tight as that, 18th century in a way Dorn would have appreciated. That was his period. He took Johnson’s Lives of the English Poets as his prose model. ‘My desire,’ Dorn said, ‘is to be / a classical poet.’


Stuart Montgomery, the publisher of Gunslinger (and of Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Basil Bunting, David Jones and Roy Fisher), a wispy-moustached medical man with a significant hobby, decided to do something about the sluggishness and indolence of mainstream critics. He flew off to Las Vegas and took a cab to the hotel where Howard Hughes was rumoured to be sequestered in the penthouse, intending to present him with a copy of the poem in which Dorn shaped his non-existence into a divine comedy of cocaine and cactus; virtual travel through high sierras and white deserts zeroing towards the vanishing line of the horizon like the bad craziness of a Monte Hellman western. It was that craziness we used to call the possible: that an invisible London publisher could provoke a reaction from the richest hermit on the planet, an unbarbered Texan tool-bit weirdo guarded by Mormon goons; that Howard Hughes, a fabulous entity capable of impersonation by Leonardo DiCaprio, would sue an impoverished poet and doctor with prime unsold stock stashed in his garage. Oh yes, those were the days.

Iain Sinclair, "Dysfunctional Troglodytes with Mail-Order Weaponry," LRB, 11 April 2013

... More deets, via Matthew Sperling:

"So SM goes to look for HH in Vegas. Gets turned away by bodyguards. SM hatches a new publicity coup: he sends telegram from Vegas to himself in London, demanding immediate withdrawal of Gunslinger, signed 'Howard Hughes'. Goes back to London and leaks this to the press. They make a news story of it, and Fulcrum sales shoot up. Postscript is he subsequently hears from Hughes's actual lawyers, who are no more in touch with Hughes than he was, saying, 'Our client sent that telegram; why haven't you withdrawn the book?'"