Thursday, May 25, 2006

Eliot Weinberger, who has himself attempted to persuade New Directions to publish William Carlos Williams’ Spring & All as a separate edition; wrote to Andrew Schelling after I ran Andrew’s meditation on the role of New Directions as a post-avant publisher (and Andrew’s assertion that one could, in fact, base a bookstore’s poetry collection on New Directions, at least a couple of decades ago). Eliot cc’d me and the two of them eventually gave me permission to run Eliot’s email here. All ellipses are Eliot’s, and I corrected just one date, that of Duncan’s death.
Hi Andrew —
I read your letter about New Directions on Silliman’s blog, which got me wondering whether there really is a 20-year "gap" in ND’s commitment to "EP/WCW/HD" tradition. So off the top of my head, I made a list...
Bearing in mind that they only publish about 40 books a year, mainly prose (they are not primarily a poetry press) and that they were publishing a lot of poetry in translation — the list seems pretty impressive.
One problem was that it was difficult to take on new people while still keeping up with new books by their old people. In the 60's they added quite a few people — probably too many (in terms of ND’s size, not the worthiness of the individual poets) and a bunch of them ended up going to Black Sparrow.
It’s safe to say they had no interest in the NY School and subsequent generations (Berrigan, Padgett, etc) — until Bernadette in the 90's. And they had no particular interest in Langpo — but let Messerli do that (pretty bad) anthology in the 80's.
But what I don’t see is your idea that they neglected an entire generation. Certainly there are individuals they missed over the decades. Sometimes because they simply didn’t have the opportunity; sometimes because of a mix-up (Bunting, notably); sometimes because of personal animosity toward Laughlin, or vice-versa (Zukofsky) It would be interesting to know who they actually rejected. (The only poetry book Laughlin told me he made a mistake in rejecting was Blackburn’s "Proensa."Around the office, they most regret the Niedecker and Rexroth collecteds.)
It’s true that the list loses steam in the 80's, in terms of new people. Perhaps this was because Rexroth was dead and Laughlin didn’t have anyone he really trusted to talk with about the new poetry. (Most of the new people in the 60's and 70's were Rexroth enthusiasms.) And of course he was getting old, and less receptive.
So here’s the list. I’ve kept it to "EP/WCW/HD trad"and New Americans, ignoring some one-shots, and some odd regulars like Edwin Brock in the 60's and 70's, and Allen Grossman and John Allman later on. And I’ve probably forgotten some....

Continuing: Pound (d. 1972), Williams (d. 1963), Rexroth, Levertov, Ferlinghetti, Merton (d. 1968).
New people: Oppen, Rakosi, Duncan, Everson, Reznikoff, Olson (d. 1970), Tarn, Snyder, Jonathan Williams, Corso, Bob Kaufman, Carruth.

Continuing: Rexroth (d. 1982), Levertov, Ferlinghetti, Everson, Oppen (d.1984), Snyder, Corso, Carruth.
New people: Creeley, Rothenberg, Antin, HD (d. 1961, pub by ND posthumously), McClure, Corman.
[Rakosi, Reznikoff, Everson, and Tarn go to Black Sparrow. Oppen & Laughlin decided "Primitive" was too small a book for ND — you can’t say he was "dropped" by ND, as they published everything else. Corman goes to many presses, comes back in 90's with one book.]

Continuing: Creeley, Rothenberg, Antin, Duncan (returns from silence; d. 1988), Levertov, Ferlinghetti, McClure.
New people: Sobin, Weinberger (since you mentioned me, though hardly a poet), R. Waldrop, David Hinton (as translator), Peter Dale Scott.
[Snyder goes with his friend Shoemaker to North Point. ]

Continuing: Creeley, Ferlinghetti, Rothenberg, Antin, Levertov, R. Waldrop, Weinberger, Sobin, Hinton, McClure, Peter Dale Scott. [Plus one book by Corman.]
New people: Palmer, S. Howe, Gander, Brathwaite, B. Mayer. [Plus one-shot Bronk and Tomlinson Selecteds.]
[Sobin is dropped after three books; d. 2005]

Continuing: Creeley (d. 2006), Ferlinghetti, Rothenberg, Palmer, S. Howe, Gander, Brathwaite, R. Waldrop, Mayer, Weinberger, Hinton.
New people: Mackey, Thalia Field.
Continuing posthumous publications: Pound, WCW, Rexroth, Oppen, Duncan, Levertov, HD, Merton. [Creeley, just before his death, bizarrely decided to go to Univ. of California Press.]
Adding the non-avants, and various strange one-shots, in any given decade they published about 15 living English-language poets, as well as unpublished/uncollected books by the dead, and many foreign poets. In the 60's there were maybe half a dozen more — but of course books were cheaper then. So it's hard to say that a "generation" is missing. Regardless of what one thinks of the individual choices, the living poets on the list right now are in their 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, and (Ferlinghetti) 80's. 
Well, that kept me up!  Hope you saw the anthology ("World Beat")  I just did of all the foreign and some of the Americans ND has been publishing in the last 15 years...
all best —