THE MIMEO REVOLUTION.

[From Jay Babcock: The book pictured above, published by the New York Public Library in 1998 in conjunction with an exhibition there, is the direct inspiration for the new line of Bastet “Mimeo” publications (see Arthur news for details). Here’s the NYUPL’s description of the “A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980” exhibition…]

From their apartments, garages, and basements, poets like Allen Ginsberg, Jack Spicer, Ted Berrigan, and Anne Waldman created their own publications as an alternative to the academic literary mainstream of the mid-twentieth century. More than 400 such publications are included in A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980, an exhibition on view from January 24 to July 25, 1998 in the Berg Exhibition Room of The New York Public Library’s Center for the Humanities at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.

These publications overflow with the enthusiastic experiments and explorations of such writers as Paul Auster, Clark Coolidge, LeRoi Jones (Imamu Amiri Baraka), Kenneth Koch, Eileen Myles, and Aram Saroyan. Also included are designs and original art by artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Joe Brainard, and Alex Katz, who created covers and illustrations for many of the publications. A compelling photograph that helps introduce the exhibition is by Allen Ginsberg, taken from his back window. At the bottom, in black ink, he inscribed “Out my kitchen window, Ed Sanders’ Fuck You/ A Magazine of the Arts was Emimeo’d in a secret location in the lower East Side’ circa 1964 . . . . ”

The writers who created their own publications required cheap, accessible means of duplicating them. In many cases they turned to the then prevalent mimeograph machine. “Mimeograph allowed for immediate publication and distribution and was a primary tool of communion among many poets and other writers of the ’60s and ’70s in what became known as the mimeograph revolution,” said Rodney Phillips, curator of the Library’s Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature. Mr. Phillips and Steven Clay, Publisher of Granary Books, are the curators of the exhibition.

A Secret Location showcases several early items which were precursors to the wave of artist-created publications that started appearing in the 1960s. On view are two 1951 issues of Origin: A Quarterly for the Creative, a journal published by poet Cid Corman. Origin featured the work of many important poets, including early poems by Charles Olson, who (with Robert Creeley) a few years later created the seminal Black Mountain Review, published from Black Mountain College where he was Rector.

One of the most fascinating early items on view is Allen Ginsberg’s publication of his poem Siesta in Xbalba, which he created in 1956 aboard a ship in the Alaskan Sea. Ginsberg managed to find a mimeograph machine on board and published approximately thirty copies of the work.

It was Donald Allen’s watershed 1960 anthology The New American Poetry that stimulated the flood of poetry that led to the mimeo movement. Allen defined a “New York School” of poets, which included such writers as John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, and Frank O’Hara. The work of these writers is included in many of the publications in A Secret Location, and their own elegant magazines are also on view. These include Art and Literature, edited from Paris by Ashbery, and Locus Solus, issues of which were edited by Ashbery, Koch, and James Schuyler.

In the early 1960s, a second generation of younger “New York School” writers emerged. Centered in New York City’s East Village, many were affiliated with The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the-Bowery, which even today is considered the premier venue for new and experimental poetry. The loose band of second-generation writers included Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, Larry Fagin, Dick Gallup, Ron Padgett, Anne Waldman, and Lewis Warsh.

The exhibition features many of their publications, including copies of Berrigan’s “C”: A Journal of Poetry, Fagin’s Adventures in Poetry, and Angel Hair, edited by Waldman and Warsh. Also included is the first issue of the Poetry Project Newsletter, edited by Ron Padgett in 1972, and issues of The World, the Project’s journal. Both are still being published and are important beacons of contemporary poetry.

In addition to providing a cross-sectional look at the poetry and art of the 1960s, A Secret Location allows a glimpse at the vivid social life of the era through a series of photographs and artifacts from the personal collections of some of the second-generation “New York School” poets. A series of thirty or so small, color snapshots capture a charming exuberance which seems to have characterized the group. There also are photographs of a long-running poker game in which many of the writers played and of the session in which a score of poets posed nude for a painting by George Schneeman. The huge, unfinished artwork is on display and dominates the walls of the exhibition room.

Journals were often devoted to works in a particular style or form. For example, 0 to 9, edited by Bernadette Mayer and Vito Hannibal Acconci, focused on “concrete” poetry; Carol Berg?©’s Center published “performance” poetry; and Trobar, published in only five issues from 1960 to 1964, was dedicated to “deep image poetry.” A Secret Location also showcases publications reflecting a third generation “New York School” poetry as represented by the work of Eileen Myles, Gregory Masters, Michael Scholnick, Gary Lenhart, and others.

Although much of the material in A Secret Location was created in New York, the mimeo revolution thrived in many locations throughout the country, but especially in the San Francisco Bay area. Among the most important precursors to the genre was City Lights, which in the mid-1950s began publishing from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s bookstore in the city’s North Beach neighborhood. City Lights became known for publishing works of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and many other important poets of the Beat generation. Jack Spicer’s J, published in 1959 and 1960, also came out of the North Beach area. It featured intricate mimeographed covers with designs formed from thick patches of letters typed in repetition.

The materials in A Secret Location are drawn largely from the Library’s Berg Collection. Other materials have been loaned by poets and collectors. The exhibition will also form the basis for a book to be published by the Library and Granary Press.

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About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in JTHomesteader.com with Stephanie Smith. https://linktr.ee/jaywbabcock

One thought on “THE MIMEO REVOLUTION.

  1. Pingback: A Secret Location on the Lower East Side | 1960s: Days of Rage

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