Thursday, November 30, 2006


Ken & Ann, Ken & Ann

back the edge
with art that cares

This short poem, two syllables, three, then four, almost the essence of concision & a noble idea at that – tho that may depend on what you envision the edge to imply – by my old bud, the late Jim Gustafson, stares up at me impeccably printed on a plain gray piece of cardboard, one part of this year’s mailing from The Alternative Press, the last hurrah in a run of annuals dating back to the founding of the press in 1969 by Ken and Ann Mikolowski. Was there ever a press more aptly named than this one?

This year’s annual is, in fact, the first in several years, apparently since Ann passed away from breast cancer on Hiroshima Day, 1999. She was 59 at the time, a detail that makes Hettie Jones’ own “Song at Sixty” in this year’s mailing all the more plaintive:

If you want to know me
you better hurry

In the preface to The Collected Poems of Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley describes the Mikolowskis' process, as well as Ted’s own unique use of it:

Ted’s final book (though these are not his final poems) was A Certain Slant of Sunlight, which occupied him for all of 1982. This sequence of poems was written on individual postcards, 4½ inches by 7 inches, sent to him by Ken and Anne (sic) Mikolowski of the Alternative Press. There were five hundred cards to work with, one side left blank for a poem and/or image, and the other side incorporating space for a message and address. Postcard by Ted Berrigan was printed at the top of the message space, and running sideways, The Alternative Press Grindstone City. Many other artists and writers participated in the Milolowskis’ project, producing original art or text for the blank sides of their own five hundred postcards, the finished cards were always sent out singly, along with other Alternative Press items – broadsides, bumper stickers, etc. – in the Press’s standard free packets. Ted, so far as I know, was the only participant who turned the postcards into a full-scale writing project and then a book.

There are an almost infinite number of variations the post-avant poets of our time have been able to figure out – for example, I have one card meticulously hand written – not quite formal calligraphy – by Edward Sanders dated 10-5-93 that reads

      perfect space
in their streets

and perfect lawns

but do not hesitate
to create
in other countries’ streets
& blood & gore
on other lawns

Yet another card (# 410, it tells me) offers a drawn, collaged & typed piece by Gustafson that is borderline illegible (tho I note the phrase “the notion of cwazy onwardisms”) and another postcard, from a sequence entitled Just Married by Alice and Andrei Codrescu challenges my sense of interpreting handwritten script. I think it reads

with a miner’s lamp affixed to his head
Clark Coolidge mines these strata.

written between layers of watercolor (or possibly finger paint), ranging from dark purple at the top, through some deep blues to a color I take as bordering on aqua. But when I first read it, what I saw was

with a swimmer’s lungs affixed to his head
Clark Coolidge mimes these strata.

Which has a certain attraction as an image as well. A handwritten poem by Faye Kicknosway similarly challenges my interpretive skills.

A number of the postcards, tho, are not hand-produced originals but rather short press runs of poems, including ones from Al Young, Lee Ann Brown & this from Allen Ginsberg, dated 3/23/97 4:51 AM, less than two weeks before his death:


Sun rises east
Sun sets west
Nobody knows
What the sun knows best

North Star north
Southern Cross south
Hold the universe
In your mouth

Gemini high
Pleiades low
Winter sky
Begins to snow

Orion down
North Star up
Fiery leaves
Begin to drop

Several of the cards are artworks as well – collages in particular seem popular here. And there are larger works, such as the Gustafson poem printed above, fully 8½ by 11, or poems by Sherman Alexie or another by Ginsberg, printed two months and one day later than the card, this time for a memorial reading in Ann Arbor.

In addition to Ken’s three books, and the various shows of Ann’s artwork there have been, the Alternative Press itself has been the subject of some exhibits, including one at the Detroit Institute of the Arts back in 1990 and a more recent one at the University of Michigan shortly after Ann’s passing. Since this current packet is the final number, I don’t know if there are any unclaimed copies available. But you could write to Ken (mikolows AT umich DOT edu) and ask. It’s one of the originals of my generation.


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