An altogether winning collection of semiformal conversations with the proprietors of eight so-called small presses. With...


AGAINST THE GRAIN: Interviews with Maverick American Publishers

An altogether winning collection of semiformal conversations with the proprietors of eight so-called small presses. With upwards of 2,000 independent (or alternative) publishers of widely variant qualifications from which to choose, Dana (English/ Cornell) claims to have focused on those whose careers have exhibited ""a certain recklessness. . .cutting against the grain of both business sense and received literary opinion."" Perhaps so, but his selections also show remarkable balance as to geographic location, longevity, and degree of emphasis upon the design aspects of book production. Dana's roster of bibliophiles includes: Harry Duncan (Cummington Press); Lawrence Ferlinghetti (City Lights); David R. Godine; Daniel Halpern (Ecco Press, Antaeus magazine); James Laughlin (New Directions); John Martin (Black Sparrow Press); Tree Swenson and Sam Hammill (Copper Canyon Press); and Jonathon Williams (the Jargon Society). Rugged, articulate individualism is perhaps the only real common denominator here. To a man, the nine are committed to fiercely personal visions of worth that effectively preclude participation in the commercial mainstream. Thanks to Dana's skills as an interviewer and obviously fond knowledge of the territory, the small-press publishers emerge as eloquent if largely unsentimental spokesmen for the varied viewpoints of their calling. Swenson, whose mÉtier is typography, speaks of petroglyphs' representing ""a kind of communication that becomes as direct as reading poetry."" The dean of the small-press field, Laughlin (whose New Directions' list encompasses the once obscure likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Jean Cocteau, Herman Hesse, Henry Miller, Ezra Pound, Kenneth Rexroth, Dylan Thomas, and William Carlos Williams) remains dedicated to the avant-garde--""if it's any good."" In the meantime, Ferlinghetti, an un-reconstructed revolutionary who, with complete understanding of the probable repercussions, published Allen Ginsberg's Howl in 1956 and precipitated a landmark obscenity trial, rails against the National Endowment for the Arts for having ""compromised practically every small press in the country."" In his introduction, Dana hints the collection at hand is the start of a series featuring the freer spirits of the publishing trade in their own words. It is to be hoped this indeed proves the case.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1986

ISBN: 1587298279

Page Count: -

Publisher: Univ. of Iowa Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1986