Legend has it that that Keith Abbott joined the mimeograph underground by liberating a ream of paper from the WWSC English Department supply closet, acquiring a quire of stencils (one may say that now), and finding someone with a mimeograph machine. The end result was a poetry magazine, Blue Suede Shoes, begun in Bellingham, Washington, relocated to the Monterey Peninsula, and then to Berkeley. Abbott embraced the mimeo magazine mystique with all its rebel outlaw underground overtones as a far seeing statement of a generation redefining the literary culture by pointing out as risible the inconsistencies of the Anglo-American academic establishment.
In the early 1970’s Blue Suede Shoes published a representative affiliation of poets in the San Francisco Bay Area who were mostly not native (Steven Lavoie, a notable exception) and from out of state—part of the youth migration to the Bay Area, a center of attraction through Beat notoriety, university influence, and artistic ferment as an alternative counterculture Mecca to New York City (which had its own rough and tumble counterculture and poetry scene on the Lower East Side although the light there was different). Many of the writers associated with Blue Suede Shoes as contributors were west coasters, nonetheless, and privileged by their own particular coastal sensibilities as exemplified by its editors, an urbane Hollywood scion Steve Carey from the LA area, and an erudite quick witted Keith Abbott from the Tacoma suburbs. Keith provided the technical knowhow and enthusiasm for literary mayhem, and Steve provided the astute expertise of an unerring literary eye (or is that ear?). Steve was dialed in to the Ed Sanders/Ted Berrigan radical scene as well, hence the smattering of New York School writers whose work appeared in Blue Suede Shoes. Keith had Northwest sympathies and associations among whom were Richard Brautigan, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and master printer and poet Clifford Burke to complete an amalgam that worked well in that it provided a bi-coastal esthetic that was current and well informed about the leading edge of American poetry, effectively side-stepping the baroque inclinations of academics and English majors. Both subscribed to the snake oil con man myth of the American West (think W.C. Fields or The Marx Brothers), and were bent on perpetuating hoaxes and punking the establishment modeled on the anti-art example of Duchamp and Dada.
Issue #1 was printed in Bellingham in 1970. The Organized Religion issue was either #4 or #6, both produced in 1971, as was #5, Bob Hope In A Buick, a selection of poems by Pat Nolan. Issue #7 was a post-Smith Going Backward selection of poems by Steve Carey titled Fleur de Lis, also published in 1971, and concurrently with Abbott’s poetry chapbook, Thick and Thin as #8. As many little poetry magazines of its day, Blue Suede Shoes burned bright and burned fast. In 1972 Abbott collaborated with British poet and artist Opal L. Nations, the Rupert Sheldrake of poetry and editor of a London based quasi-surrealist punk pop lit rag, to publish Blue Suede Shoes Present Strange Faeces Number Nine as BSS #11. The next four issues, through #15, were comprised of Abbott’s poetry, prose and inspired miscellany.
A partial list of contributors to the dozen plus issues would include Ray DiPalma, Dennis Kelly, Jim Gustafson, Bob Heman, Bruce Andrews, Mary Norbert Korte, Jim Brodey, Barbara Barracks, Opal L. Nations, Clifford Burke, Ron Padgett, Richard Snyder, Steven Lavoie, Avron Hoffman, Jack Anderson, Tom Raworth, Michael Sowl, Curtis Faville, Bill Bathurst, Aram Saroyan, Glen Baxter, David Gitin, Larry Fagin, Tom Clark, Pat Nolan, Michael Sean Lazarchuk, and Paul Violi, with cameo guest appearances by Jean Follain, Max Jacob, Apple Betty, Spike Drihourst, Ana Deal, Robert Frost, and Magic Eddy.
It was enough to make James Schuyler sit up and take notice, as he remarks in his March 1971 letter to Trevor Winkfield: “Have you ever exchanged magazines with Keith Abbott? He is, or was, Blue Suede Shoes. I like a lot of his poems—sort of West Coast Padgett, with a lot of the dilution that might imply—also someone he’s published named Pat Nolan, who’s a little closer to being a West Coast Larry Fagin; or perhaps is to Abbott what Fagin is to Padgett? Only different. . . .” (Just The Things, Selected Letters of James Schuyler Turtle Point Press, 2004).
Following a two year hiatus, due undoubtedly to the machinations of relocation (Berkeley?), BSS returned as the bane of librarians with the dreaded Decimal issues. Keith’s pleasure, perverse or not, in Coyote pandemonium is obvious in the bibliographic havoc caused by the decimal issues. In 1974 BSS .099 consisted of a selection of Abbott’s poems titled Erase Words (published in an expanded edition by Blue Wind Press in 1977). BSS .049 was a back to back book issue, Ace sci-fi style, of Face by Michael-Sean Lazarchuk and Chocolate Winter by Michael Sowl. BSS .001 was published in 1975 as Being Alone With A Girl, concept and illustrations by Opal L. Nations. According to the inventory list it was “the most notorious” issue, a cut-up of a found 50’s dating manual and illustrated by Nations. BSS .314159265 (the pi issue), with covers and illustrations by Opal L. Nations, consisted of compilations of texts and commentary by the readers (real or imagined) on Being Alone With A Girl (BSS .001) and for clarity also titled Being Alone With A Girl. BSS .5 was naturally the First Manifesto of Syllogism issue, likely candidate as a riposte to the Organized Religion issue. BSS .986 which has the distinction of being the first publication of Steve Carey’s legendary “Rarity Planes” (not to be mistaken for one of his other legendary poems, “AP”) was the Fill-in The Blanks (or The Misplaced Decimal) issue. And BSS .017 had the says-it-all title of The Dripping Dagger Dolly issue.
A mimeo mag in those days was an establishment of presence as well as a quasi samizdat cooperative publishing scheme as a node in a network easily connected by the postal service. The only instant back then was coffee. Instant (online) publishing was the stuff of science fiction. At its beginnings mimeograph was the tool of war resistors and conscientious objectors whose example of dissident struggle was adopted by marginalized non-establishment writers. It was a cheap, easy to use, portable means of communicating an opposing point of view. Some mimeo magazine publishers became quite adept at consistently producing a readable respectable product over a period of years. For the most part, however, longevity of a small mimeo magazine was mercifully short—five years was an eternity for a mimeo poetry press. What was accomplished, however, was a visibility among a particular coterie of artists and writers. That was the fate of Blue Suede Shoes. After 1976, it ceased publication. A bare bones inventory list of Blue Suede Shoes as a pdf file is available here.
Following the publication of Erase Words by Blue Wind Press, Abbott was invited to read at The Poetry Project in the fall of 1978. While in New York City, Keith reestablished personal contact with his old partner-in-crime and co-editor, Steve Carey, prompting a review of past glory and “why the hell not, let’s do a nostalgia issue. Yeah! Call it ‘the specimen issue’. We’ll invite all our favorite poets to contribute a poem. And if they don’t respond we’ll write one in their stead. . .as a free editorial service. Why not just cut out the middle poet and write them all ourselves, using their rhetorical personas, of course.” Of course.
Thus a plan was hatched to get back into the literary mayhem business and return to the days of audacious anarchy, a plan that unfortunately would never be realized. Not that an attempt wasn’t made. Literary history is fortunate that some of that work survived as stray pages of poetry and copies of letters. These documents arrived at the Society’s office a number of years ago as part of an archival acquisition consisting of odds and ends of manuscripts, copies of typewritten letters, and copies of copies of various ephemera passed around the poetry backchannels where deals are made and knives are sharpened. Because it is mostly Carey’s side of the correspondence with Abbott, much is left to be inferred. As exampled below, work was being done to provide the specimens of writing.
In a letter dated 12/26/78 Steve reports his progress
Dear Keith –
Well the dust has settled partially settled on you and Pat’s triumph and NYC is back to its ball-freezing self….
I’m on a plane in a few hours for Christmas on the Coast.
Here’s a couple of items for BSS’s specimen issue. I’ve been trying to finish off a fake Berrigan poem but it doesn’t look like I’ll get it done till after the first of the year. Needless to say Anne Waldman doesn’t know she wrote the work I sent you…I think it’s a good idea to put the “C” magazine archives bit on the end so as to lay the blame and liable suits where it belongs – to the massive lap of I mean of Massa Ted and Lady Alice.
Hope these get to you in time.
My love to you and yours. . . .
An “address” to the reader explains the likely and facetious inspiration for “the specimen issue”.
Due to the influx of mail, engendered by the fab ariticle written about in or appearing in Tri-Quarterly’s biggies about editing little magazines, we felt it incumbent upon ourselves to do another issue so as to satisfy the demands of our ever voracious public.
The single request for a specimen issue sparked this specimen issue off. This request which is reproduced somewhere in the magazine. . . .
Calls to our faithful went out. Letters and mailgrams were written and sent.
The response was staggering. As you can see by the boastful cover, the firmament of American poetry responded.
Dated 3/3/79 Steve updates with a quick handwritten note
Here’s a couple more hoaxes for Blue Sued Sue. Harris Schiff and I wrote the Alice Notley piece. The Berrigan I did alone (except for a few Berrigan books from which I was able to maintain compositional integrity by employing Ted’s very methods).
A Snyder poem? I’ll try it, but if you think I’m going to sit on the floor in perfect lotus and write it you’ve got another thing coming. Do I have to burn incense?
Hope the issue is still on—not abandoned or already completed or anything perfectly reasonable like that.
See you soon. . .
More on the way
ALICE ORDERED ME TO GET LAID When I had a crush on Simone Weil I was blighted the mere fact of her existence was a hideous artifice an affront to my favorite deity the god of lust. He stands outraged where the moon fell on the stoop his kilt billowing akin to my skirt. He wants attention or her wants to be left alone or legacy. When we pass it is good passing. He started late, vows excellence forever. Table cloths Bocce ball I forgot his last name why did she do that anyway? Don’t tell me the truth I like being in a state of being pilled and an air of hustling so I can sweet talk the man at the fish store who knows everyone and gives away nothing but yesterday he said to me that History teaches that fishin’ is constant he confessed this ecstatically showing his wisdom tooth would you please kiss me not me I kiss the vermillion specter will you join me often sitting on ass true buggery light? Have mercy. Have mercy, baby sick tonight on mercy beer I am the squeek wicker kiss of chair when you sit and when you lay I lie to sweeten the news what’s broken my ass in the aria going to my world. You dream a week and sleep it off, the harelip scatsinger with a problem back, Daddy, save me a donut. Fuckall is a name I have for myself. He says lame excuse. Under your tongue looks like a dork. I don’t know I got thrown off a horse at Santa Anita. The colors are so much brighter now that I’m deaf. Among dilettantes I am lapse into not that song. I am a verbal agreement to be obstinate. “I shot the sheriff but I did not shoot the butcher. . .” I was in Colorado & I can prove it Ma’am I swear by my nipples which god only knows everyone has Ma’am tho mine might be more titillating than Godzilla’s or Hitler’s but get your Disney off my desert please Ma’am -- Alice Notley
In a letter dated July 31, 1979, Steve reminds (or warns) Keith that Ted Berrigan is headed to the Bay Area.
Dear Keith –
By the time you get this, the monster Irish bozo who wrote the thing and asked me to send it to you will most likely be in your immediate vicinity. This is Ted’s Steve Carey poem – not a bad job, I must say, though of course in no way comparable to my Ted Berrigan poem.
I’m working on the Padgett and Whalen works you sent me. They seem pretty much on the money as is, but you know me. . .I’ll do anything for a pretty face. I’ve so far got a couple pages of Ronny (Oklahoma Crude”) Padgett nee Walton saying the same thing over and over while debasing his brain-casing and begging the indulgence of Dear Reader. I just love it when Ron does that. Philip I’ll just air out a little or maybe just take him up and off the wall a few times. I’m not sure. In any case, as soon as the mosquitoes give me a few minutes to myself (it’s no good typing and swatting at the same time: you end up with neo-passé Concretist Poetry), I’ll send them on to you to do with as you please.
Here is Ted Berrigan’s parody of Steve’s poetry:
JAP CINDERELLA for Peter Whalen here I am at 92 a.m. in The Woman’s House of Detention the air is hot? inky? fiction? no, heat, on the way to pomp directionless device at corner is no help AND so I drink down some Irish Milk fuck Scotch both this kind of day AND light smoke. The streets, regrouped tonight because of a.) a Bedouin b.)$512.00, lack of & c.) my yellow cup, “I’m the girl in the yellow cup, cup” Look is it clitoral as toothpicks on my porcelain Sink mine, yours, whoever. So I essay NuYorican grimace (i.e. smile) also thuds (grimace) twitches (snarl) polarity-hop (scratch balls) cough. The my enemy of Harris Schiff is on later but now well, now, Who would have thought that I’d be here? Manahatta? Not good old A Girl, not Madame Backward, nor Cindy, Della Berater, Miss Energy-Going-Backward, certainly not Frieda Disgust even The my enemy of Harris Schiff says “I think I’m going out of my head” the bank is closed too just Like they might as well be anyway. ANYWAY. My poet thoughts go through my heads: Nook: Equals: Aging: Seal: Divorce-ing: Married: Sand: & Box: Sandbox. “Well, We don’t have to go anywhere.” I am impending tizzy sickly pale o’ercast with bump! When Will I be admirable or deplorable ambition, Dramamine provided No Extra Charge? Alone and nondescript Tomcat Mountains Only dug at traffic light by traffic light, I slip softly into Face River. . . “you call that home?” You bet your ass I call that Home you fuck! The world’s Riff-Song flows through my lunch-pail. --Steve Carey
Here is an excerpt from Steve’s Berrigan poem modeled on Ted’s post-Sonnet Calder-esque “Tambourine Life” and the Things To Do poems (it goes on for three more hilarious eerily accurate pages):
THE SWEET SCIENTIST for Tommy Finnigan, Danny O’Toole, Paddy Sullivan, Tom Dooley, Flan O’Flaherty, Bump Mulligan, Alan Dugan, Rick Michael Duffy, Brother Mickey, Jim Kennedy, Brian Patrick Aloysius Feeney, Duff Hanrahan & Teddy Cassidy Dear Miss, hello. I wake up each strong morning noonish the unlikely sight beached on the shores of this the 51st state It is important to wait when it is most how you say severe That is not to say warm Not now * No It’s Bump & Run with today’s mail providing you can “read” the field so Pepsi, pill, paper One must be sure footed to use the stutter step *
The Philip Whalen imitation is apparently a collaborative effort as is the Ron Padgett spoof though who contributed what is unknown.
NOWHERE FAST oh where are my manic ambergris here they are right where the Lakavosatra Sutras said they were i.e. “when the true Buddha comes there will be rejoicing even under the cooking pot lids” Swami Upshadacinx, V. 2., ed. Vivian Satisflux, tr. Dutton Edwin-Jones Forkwith, Bodley Head gork vap slurp under my cooking pots nada broke again i.e. broke again i.e. we see under our lids the same as we see out? over? in? through? up? Down? Our eyes “. . . . .ain’t seen nothing yet.” how come everyone hands me the universe & I gotta explain it all as if grouse cows unwind around where a dead cow was once --Philip Whalen LEFT BY THE PETUNIAS I don’t know why I can’t I was going to say Think today by then I I was already This little man in my Was going to say mind But he’s really not er He sort of speaks out of the clouds little pieces of space ship raining down -- Ron Padgett
The supporting documents, which include copies of the letters and the copies of extant takeoffs of Michael McClure, Ann Waldman, Ed Dorn, Robert Creeley, a Classical English Shepherd collaboration between Ted and Steve, a collaboration between Creeley and Edgar Allen Poe, and the entirety of Carey’s Ted Berrigan poem are available here as pdf files: Specimen Correspondence (2 pages), Specimen Poems & Letters (18 pages)
In the early years of the mimeo revolution, small poetry mags proliferated like mushrooms after a rainstorm. Pat Nolan’s the end (& variations thereof) was one of them, modeled on Blue Suede Shoes in its literary flippancy, appropriation and impersonation. Michael Sean Lazarchuk’s Baloney Street from Ventura, and Famous, an associated magazine, published out of Oakland by Steven Lavoie were also 70’s offerings. And magazines published by Darrel Gray and George Mattingly out of Iowa smuggled the Actualist phenomena to the Bay Area, yet another good time hoax bought into by the clueless.
By the late seventies, however, the mood had changed. In the Bay Area, as likely elsewhere, there was a serious epidemic. Quite a few writers came down with serious. The forces of repression, this time with collared shirts and ivy league privilege, are always serious. Inevitably the pervading anal neurosis took the fun out of everything. Maybe the specimen issue was already dead on arrival by 1979 and was nothing more than the spark created when the like-minded high five, yet it was enough to exercise (exorcise) the vagaries of being a poet at the end of the decade with the crack of wit, the snort of snark, the glee of anarchy. The subversive flame of mimeo resistance by the obscure and marginalized was kept alive into the eighties with Steven Lavoie and Pat Nolan’s Life Of Crime, Newsletter of the Black Bart Poetry Society, and Caveman, a similar scurrilous low tech production from NYC’s Lower East Side. Now however blogs are the mimeo of the digital age so that anyone and everyone can post their opinion, right, wrong, or indifferent, and not get ink on their hands. Present company not excluded.
Submitted to the membership by the Parole Officer 1/6/2020
Pat, its true, like girls, poets just want to have fun! David Berrigan