Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Woodland Pattern is everything a bookstore should be: independent, socially- and politically-conscious, community oriented, and most importantly, fun. I probably became aware of Woodland Pattern through Stacy Szymaszek who worked there before moving to New York to work at the Poetry Project. Anyways, it's been on my radar for years, and I've always heard good things about it, but the inventory totally exceeded my expectations. I spent a few hours browsing with friends from Columbia College who made a jaunt up the lake's shore from Chicago to Milwaukee, but I didn't stray too far from the poetry section, which consumed the largest wall in the store from floor to ceiling with a sturdy ladder to take you to the top shelf. There was also an elegant cabinet with drawers about twice the size of an old card catalog, each stuffed to the brim with sumptuous chapbooks. There was a lot of small press stuff no doubt produced by students of Walter Hamady. The stock was incredibly well organized, and there wasn't much they didn't have. I always feel pleasantly surprised to see my own books in stores, books that I’ve written, published, or edited. There were even some books that I helped friends print and bind a long time ago that I forgot about until I stumbled on them again at Woodland Pattern.
Although they don't sell used books, many of the 'new' books have been there for years, and many of those that are ten or twenty years old were being sold at their original prices, while some of the older books that have appreciated substantially in value over the years were kept behind the register. For exampled, I came very close to buying a copy of Larry Fagin's Rhymes of a Jerk with the brilliant Ruscha cover, but exercised some moderation (against my better judgment). There was also a thrilling stash of broadsides Charles Alexander printed for readings at the bookstore under the signs of Black Mesa Press (his imprint from the pre-Tucson days) and his current imprint, Chax Press. The signed Tom Raworth, Robert Duncan and Ed Dorn broadsides were particularly alluring and marvelous to encounter, Dorn's larger than life autograph, Duncan's neat correction to a small typo in the poem written in his own hand on each copy, and the long, narrow format that seemed perfectly conducive for Raworth's agile writing.
I came away with a healthy bundle of books that I've been slowly reading since I've been back in Austin, including this collection of poems (above) by five San Francisco poets with a cover by Michael Myers of Zephyrus Image and typography by Clifford Burke. Other great finds include: Joanne Kyger's God Never Dies; Johanna Drucker's Simulant Portrait; Kit Robinson's Democracy Boulevard, Balance Sheet and 9:45; Ron Padgett's Blood Work and Oklahoma Tough; Michael Gizzi's Continental Harmony, No Both and My Terza Rima; Tom Raworth's Clean & Well Lit, 6 Poems and Windmills in Flames; Miles Champion's Compositional Bonbons Placate; and CJ Martin's impossible-to-find-anywhere chapbook City.
After paying for our books and dropping them off in the rental car we made our way over to Karl Saffran’s garden for a poetry reading. Chuck Stebelton had the grill going and Karl was manning the keg (he explained that they it is a common misnomer that there are kegs at every reading in Milwaukee). I met Roberto Harrison for the first time as well as many other poets and writers in the city on the lake, which somehow felt immediately familiar. I look forward to returning to the area, and next time I’ll be certain to give myself a few extra days to make a trip out to the Hamilton Woodtype Factory (now a museum) and to Lorine Niedecker’s abode.