Last Saturday poet Hoa Nguyen joined my Publication Design class for lunch before we took a tour of the Ransom Center here in Austin, Texas. I asked if she would speak about her life and times editing Skanky Possum and she brought a number of books and issues of the magazine. Some I had seen before, others were new to me, but the one that caught my eye immediately was In the Branches of the Upper-World: Selections from the journals of Harvey Brown with a checklist of the publications of the Frontier Press published in 2002. 

I've heard about Brown for years, particularly in Buffalo where his accomplishments and persona still live a life of mythic proportion, but there was never very much detail. He was always discussed as a piece in a mosaic, part of a context, but this slim and carefully conceived book helped me to understand a bit more about his person and poetry. There's a great line drawing by Philip Trussell, and the introduction and editing are by Michael Boughn, who writes that when Brown got to Buffalo, he extended his work as a record producer, supporting musicians such as Don Cherry, Clifford Brown, Ornette Coleman, and Clifford Jordan, with the founding of the Niagara Frontier Review, "...a magazine that published the writers whose work was in the spirit of Donald Allen's groundbreaking anthology, The New American Poetry (1961), and Frontier Press." Boughn continues:

Initially established to publish crucial texts from Olson's reading list that were no longer available, Frontier Press soon became an adventure unto itself, publishing an eclectic and unpredictable list of poetry, history, and essays. Harvey worked closely with Olson, Ed and Jenny Dorn, and Ron Caplan, a Pittsburgh based book designer to whom Olson had introduced him. From 1965 to 1972, Frontier Press published 25 titles, some of them extraordinarily beautiful, all of them fascinating in the openings they proposed.

Of those titles, I have a few by Dorn, which are among the highlights of the poet's fascinating publishing history.

Twenty-Four Love Songs was designed and printed by Graham Mackintosh in San Francisco, 1979. If there's an unsung hero of this era in American printing, it's Graham, who designed books for many prominent publishers in the Bay Area. I would love to see a carefully conceived exhibit of his work accompanied by a thorough bibliography.

I've never seen The Rites of Passage, Dorn's first book with Frontier published in 1965, but if I understand the checklist, it is the same novel as By the Sound, issued in 1971 under a different title. Caplan notes: "The cover--an odd green, like a slash of light downward--that's not mine... They tore off the 'old' ones and pasted the new ones on. Of course, the rest of the book was as I designed it."  

Some Business Recently Transacted in the White World, 1971.

Another sweet book designed and printed by Mackintosh, Songs Set Two--A Short Count (1970).

The Cycle, 1971.

Gunslinger Book III, The Winterbook (1972) with cover by my friend Philip Trussell.

- KS


L.A. Howe said...

i agree about graham--he truly is one of the unsung heroes of the small press movement in the sixties & seventies, who published many interesting writers. he is also unassuming (and acerbic with a finely tuned sense of the macabre!) and was generous with his time & expertise back in the 80s to a couple of local undergraduates. i learned a few things about typography & design from him, for which i am grateful. i hope someone will do an exhibit of his work.

L.A. Howe said...
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