Bathroom Art Galleries
Reflections on Broadsides, Poem Cards
and Literary Artifacts of The 70’s and 80’s
by Pat Nolan
The bathrooms in these transient student garrets served as galleries of an equally transient art thumbtacked to the water stained walls becoming themselves water stained, pin holed, snail tracked, foxed, and smudged, not worth much except as bookmarks for memories.
Went looking for something. Couldn’t find it. It was gone or put someplace where it won’t be found. Found other things in the mess of pulling out and putting back. A stash of broadsides and poem cards dating from the late 60’s/early 70’s and 80’s wrapped loosely in a cardboard carapace fell from where I was wedging something back in. They were items I had not seen in quite some time though I immediately recognized them for what they were and where they had fit into my life those many years ago. They were bathroom art.
I lived in some low rent student ghetto accommodations attending college on the GI Bill, from a rooming house on Cannery Row to an early century former dry goods store converted to a duplex with a water closet (literarily) and shared tenant shower. This was in Monterey, late 60’s. In Oakland in the ’70 I lived in a tiny (tiny) apartment that leaked water along the bottom of the bedroom wall. Later, while attending Sonoma State University (then merely a college), one kitchen wall in the country rental leaked streams of water from above the windows. All had in common small dismal bathrooms with rusty accessories, moldy showers, and peeling paint. To liven up the squalid monotony, I hung posters and handbills announcing protests, gatherings, music festivals, poetry readings, and various kinds of literary ephemera held in place by a thumbtack or a strip of tape. The bathrooms in these transient student garrets served as galleries of an equally transient art thumbtacked to the water stained walls becoming themselves water stained, pin holed, snail tracked, foxed, and smudged, not worth much except as bookmarks for memories.
The resurgence of letterpress art and craft printing of the late 60’s and early 70’s and the esthetic of the poem on the page found an outlet in the counterculture literary world and was brought to a peak of excellence with David Hazelwood’s Auerhahn Press, and Clifford Burke’s Cranium Press, to name just a few in the Bay Area. Following the letterpress approach of esthetically pleasing production were Holbrook Teter’s Zephyrus Image, also of San Francisco, Allan Kornblum’s Toothpaste Press out of Iowa City, and Ken Michelowski’s Alternative Press from Grindstone City, Michigan. They were not the only ones involved in reviving the art of fine handset printing by producing exquisite limited edition poetry books, but they were the ones I had most frequent contact with—the tip of the iceberg perhaps, but certainly a fine representation. In the process or as a byproduct of these carefully crafted literary editions, broadsides and poem cards were also printed for special or whimsical occasions—the Richard Nixon Memorial Flyswatter from Zephyrus Image being just one example—and freely disseminated to all who would care to have one. I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time or on the right mailing list to be on the receiving end of a lot of literary ephemera, some of which I chose, in my wild and no less impetuous youth, to pin to the wall as a badge of my literary cred or just plain good luck.
Dublin—wood or linoleum print, red ink, 5×8 (12.7×20.32cm) on print paper by artist Bob Duvall, c.1969, Monterey, CA. Bob was the art editor for the student literary magazine at Monterey Peninsula College for which I edited two issues. The magazine had previously been known as e.g. The first year I changed the name to The Brand New Testament. The second year I renamed it Dog Bite after an incident on campus. Instead of a saddle stitch offset edition from a local job printer, I brought the material for two issues to be letterpress printed and produced by Clifford Burke’s Cranium Press as a portfolio of broadsheets. Bob said the image was supposed to be James Joyce. I always thought it looked like me. I used to have those kinds of sideburns. Note pinhole top center.
A Cranium Press Free Poem 4×5 (10.16×12.7cm) printed offset when Cranium Press was located on Schrader Street in the Haight, included as an insert for Hollow Orange 4 edited by Clifford Burke, ‘67/’68. Referred to as “You are a great. . .” or the Cindy Riedel poem, it is a reproduction of Steve Carey’s scrawl along with the picture of a high school girlfriend. Steve lived one block over on Stanyan Street. I partied there once after the Richard Brautigan happening at Glide Memorial. Lew Welch showed up to deliver a sermon. Bill Bathurst and I unintentionally traded eye glasses. But that’s another story. I’m just glad he wasn’t Robert Creeley. The three holes at the top indicate that this item had occupied at least that many postings and from the water stains, likely in bathrooms.
Things To Do Today, Ted Berrigan, placard, 5.25×9 (13.33×22.86cm), offset, early 70’s, signed (or facsimile?). I was publishing a mimeo poetry magazine, the end (& variations thereof), out of my apartment in Oakland at the time. I had solicited some poems from Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley which I published in the second issue, The Living End. Poetry magazines in those days were mediums of exchange. Similar to a chain letter they generated a lot of interesting mail. I began receiving items in the mail from Ted and people Ted knew. This is one of them. It has a single pinhole at the top center, and one to the right near the bottom. I probably had it pinned to the wall near my typewriter and bookshelves (not a bathroom item). The second hole indicates that I had overlapped another poetry artifact on to it, possibly the following item.
Moroccan Variations, Clark Coolidge 3.5×20 (8.89×50.8cm), printed on beige chrome stock at Cranium Press, commissioned by Bill Berkson for Big Sky in 1971. Folded for storage. Single tack hole at top testifies that it too occupied the space of my literary accouterments. Coolidge was associated with the New York School poets and was one of a group of young poets published by Harper & Row back then. The other two I remember were Dick Gallup and Tom Clark.
Playing It Out, Charles Bukowski, 5×7.5 (12.7×19.05cm), letterpress on dark green stock by Toothpaste Press, printed for Bookslinger at the ABA, Dallas, 1983. A fine example of Allan Kornblum’s presswork. Another item that found its way to my mailbox, this time at my permanent abode along the Russian River. Not pinned so an odd piece that ended up in that bundle.
After Ling Ching Chao, Anne Waldman 5.75×10.25 (14.6×26.03cm), letterpress on rag paper, faint watermark imprint of eagle feather (?). From Anne Waldman’s Toothpaste Press book, Make Up on Empty Space. Printed for 9th New York Book Fair, May 1983. Number 88 of 175. Probably arrived in the mail with the previous item, and another example of fine press work.
The Woman & The Child Disguised, Jean Follain, 6×11 (15.24×27.94cm), letterpress on light coffee stock, printed in the Collins Street basement at Cranium Press for an Open Printing Saturday on a Vandercook Proof Press, design and execution by Clifford Burke, c.1971 One of my early Jean Follain (1903-1971) translations (more of an approximations). Three pinholes, water stains, and snail track. Obviously a mainstay in the bathroom art gallery.
Spel Against Demons, Gary Snyder, 11.25×17.25 (28.57×43.81cm) printed letterpress at Cranium Press, 1971. From the pinholes in each corner and water stained edges likely occupied a central position in every one of my bathrooms from the time of its acquisition. Folded for storage.
Fourth of July, Mary Norbert Korte, 7×13 (17.78×33.02cm), printed letterpress by Holbrook Teter as a Hermes Free Poem, 4 July 1970. Clifford Burke trained Holbrook Teter on the platen press and linotype machine at his shop on Collins during the production of the two issues of the literary magazine from Monterey Peninsula College in ’69 and ’70. Holbrook along with the artist Michael Myer went on to found Zephyrus Image Press. Hermes Free Press was an adjunct for the dissemination of free poems, broadsides, and literary ephemera. Mary Norbert Korte was an activist, poet, teacher, and a Catholic nun who found inspiration at the Berkeley Poetry Conference of 1965. Leaving the convent in 1968, she continued to write and teach poetry eventually moving from Berkeley to the redwood valleys of Mendocino County.
Scenes Along The Road, Tom Clark, 6×12 (15.24×30.48cm), offset, a free poem from Seattle, May 1971 published by Michael Waiter’s Toothpick, Lisbon, and the Orcas Islands poetry magazine. From the single pinhole this poem probably held a privileged place on the wall near my typewriter. Arthur Akamura is undoubtedly the artist Arthur Okamura and places the composition during Mr. Clark’s residency in Bolinas, land of the lost poets. Pinhole at top center.
Larry Fagin & Lewis Warsh reading at The Bishop’s Coffeehouse in Oakland, July 6, 1970. 8.5×11 (21.59×27.94cm) xeroxed on newsprint. Pinholes and water stains testify to pride of place in the bathroom art gallery. For a brief time I hosted a reading series at The Bishop’s Coffeehouse in downtown Oakland. Bill Berkson, Scott Cohen, and Clive Matson were some of the poets who read for that series. Larry Fagin was visiting Bolinas, the new watering hole and refuge for New York School poets—what Ed Sanders called a “psychedelic Peyton Place.” Lewis Warsh was living down the road in Stinson Beach sharing a place with Tom Veitch. Both poets eventually returned to live on the East Coast.
Michael Brownstein & Anne Waldman reading at the Intersection, SF, Tuesday Sept 14, 1970 (?) 8.5×11 (21.59×27.94cm). I recall this as a rather uneventful reading. Michael and Anne both read well. There was one heckler, however. When Anne asked me afterwards if I knew who it was I told her, “Baudelaire.” This was an early incursion of New York School poets into the Bay Area and they were not always well received by the entrenched Frisco poets, particularly the North Beach scene. The Tom Clark reading introduced by Ted Berrigan is a case in point. The illustration looks to be by George Schneeman or someone imitating his minimalist style. Tack holes at each corner and one in the top center as well as water stains easily places this item as a perennial in the gallery of humid air and ephemeral artifacts.
Good Bye, Monte Rio, Michael-Sean Lazarchuk, scrap newsprint, 7.5×14 (19.05×35.56cm), Olympia table model (West German manufacture), black ribbon, signed and dated. Left on the typewriter after one of Sean’s visits to Monte Rio in 1975. I kept it pinned to the wall in my office where I could see it at a glance. Sean made many visits to these environs after that date but this goodbye poem resonates with his lighthearted humanity years after his passing in 2008 and his abandoning the literary scene in the early 80’s. If I were still tacking poems to the wall, this one would be the first to go up.
This odd assortment of ephemera, some examples of fine craft poetry printing, brought to mind events in which I participated and items I received from connecting with poets and presses with a stake in presenting the poem with finesse and craft on the page. Unlike the pieces (shards more like) offered here, most are stored in archive bags in airtight containers, carefully set aside and valued for what they are, artifacts of a pre-digital style and esthetic. Archived, however, they remain out of sight, out of mind. It took a search for something quite unrelated to accidentally uncover this set of dusty forgotten literary relics and belatedly berate myself for not taking better care to preserve them. Tacked to my walls they were a daily reminder of my involvement, even if only peripherally, in the Bay Area literary scene of the 70’s and 80’s.
Although most texts today reside in the electronic ether of cyberspace, the art of letterpress printing remains seductively tactile and has its fair share of practitioners unafraid to get their fingers smudged or delight in the precise bite of cold steel on fine paper. Antique presses, such as the 18th Century Stanhope iron press, are salvaged and restored and put to work as the brilliantly uncomplicated machinery they are. Words, sentences, stanzas, paragraphs, pages are painstakingly assembled at the type case by printers in inky aprons transfixed by the task at hand.
Digital texts and on demand printing allow for expedient egalitarian simulacra, some never moving beyond the pixel grid of a computer display, but they don’t hold a candle, even a battery powered one, to the printed object into which hours, a precious commodity, have been applied to the esthetically pleasing results of fine print artistry. Fortunately there are still havens and refuges from the overshadowing digital noise where the tradition of letterpress printing continues its meaningful work. I have to count myself fortunate to have among my correspondents and associates a few esthetes of the craft of ink and steel, and to have remained on the receiving end of their meticulous creations. They are no longer tacked to the walls, and if hung at all, framed behind glass, not in the bathroom.
Here is a slideshow of the items if you’re not interested in scrolling through the text again.
Pat Nolan’s most recent book of poems is Exile In Paradise (Nualláin House, Publishers, 2017). His poetry, prose, and translations have appeared in magazines and anthologies in North America, Europe, and Asia. He is the author of numerous poetry selections and three novels. A volume of selected poems is scheduled for release in early 2018.