It’s the solstice: the shortest day of the longest year I’ve ever experienced. Reflecting on 2020, the twentieth anniversary of Cuneiform Press, our celebration has been quieter than expected, but no less meaningful. In fact, I’m more grateful than ever for the writers, artists, printers, bookbinders, distributors, postal workers, board of directors, readers, and so many others who have made these books possible in various ways. Poetry is a team sport, as Robert Creeley once said.
For me, making books has been a source of peace and solace for two decades, and in these quiet months, it has given me an opportunity to be social while maintaining physical distance, and an opportunity to send art into the world, one book at a time. As Buzz Spector said, ‘Turning a page is one of the most optimistic gestures a human can make.’
As we turn the page to a new year, I’d like to look back on the last twelve months and thank the following poets and artists with whom we have had the pleasure of collaborating this year.
“Poems moving as music, first thought the first chord, playing with trust to a notion of free improvisation, rhythm guiding the tongue to an ending fade. Each page seems as if news from a day, a report made magic by poetry’s promise, a devotion—in love with a world thought safe, yet entirely askew. Sunnylyn’s voice is on the radio, some mystic Southern station, and it sounds beautiful.”
Peaches & Gravy: Selected Poems 1966-2016 is the first wide-ranging selection of Larry Fagin’s work to be published since his selected early poems, I’ll Be Seeing You: Poems 1962–1976. Edited with an introduction by Fagin’s friend and literary executor, Miles Champion, the book primarily focuses on the poetry Fagin wrote after moving to New York City in 1967, his collaborations with the artists Joe Brainard, George Schneeman, and Richard Tuttle, and the prose poems he devoted himself to almost exclusively from the mid-1970s onward. Peaches & Gravy sports a full-color cover by Richard Tuttle.
“Lisa Rogal’s poems trace the distances between bodies, the fantasy of intimacy and the actual fact of closeness, all the unguarded feelings and mixed signals, the strangers who stare at you on the street and you look back and then look away, all the frozen moments when nothing (and everything) happens. ‘You can’t know what you want,’ she writes, ‘when something’s being given to you,’ and that’s true whenever something is being offered (whether you want it or not). The momentum in Rogal’s poems leads her forward and back to a place that may or may not exist, and in the end might sweep her out to sea, but she is never unwilling to risk everything to get there. The poetics of total attention are on display here for your pleasure.”
“These meditations explore, with measured attention and endless affection, how the mind walks the body farther than it could ever walk itself, and makes it, in fact, walk out of itself and into a beyond populated by Shakespeare, Oppen, Catullus, Pound, and so many others, all counting each syllable as a step in a journey whose goal is itself.”
“When you have circled the sun more than eighty times, mourning has become deeply folded into your daily life and memories are apt to make an unexpected appearance. (‘I am a child with red ears’). There are many more dots to connect. (‘My thoughts / go back to / Jules Ferry Square / where I was given / the secrets of / unhappiness.’) And yet, despite the death of many close friends and colleagues, Jim Dine continues to be a purposeful and enthusiastic peripatetic celebrating the commonplace, often with a sweet humor (‘Return to the Metro! / all the Alsatian ‘crybabies’ / are our cousins, / (the little elves)’). Dine’s perceptions are a torrent that he shapes. The music animating the poems is all his. Whether short or long and skinny on the pages, the poems are constellations of light brimming with declarations of love, sad and happy memories, of being alive to the tremors and aftershocks of the world. Through it all Dine remains full of wonder and in pursuit of joy.”
“John Godfrey’s poems keep the figures and voids, the letters and haunts, the anthems and hums all equally active. They work perspective from the inside-out, making through their cuts the world be worn as seen, on the streets-mind and felt underneath. Living sonics keep time where decisions quietly and loudly get made, every line on in or about a plane, with connections. A Torch for Orphansturns out what it, being specific, and therefore mystical, is to be alone with many, to be many alone with this curious ongoing everybody, staying in the way of them who back walk, singing powerful unlikeness from the depths of the real spaces between us.”
Our featured product is a collaboration between musician and activist Thor Harris, Peace Paper Project, and Cuneiform Press. The paper was produced by Peace Paper Project by pulping articles of clothing worn by Syrian refugees when they crossed the border into Germany, an act of transformation and healing. The woodcuts were carved by Thor Harris in type-high rock Maple and printed by Cuneiform Press in many colors. No two prints are alike. Limited to 85 copies measuring 12×18 inches, signed and numbered by Thor. All proceeds will be donated to the ACLU.
This year we had the honor of donating our services to Basta!, a non-profit project dedicated to helping Austin renters work with their neighbors to improve conditions in their homes and communities. When the organizers told me that thousands of our neighbors were in danger of being evicted, we cranked our hundreds of protest posters in English and Spanish that were plastered around the city of Austin.
My thanks to Bradley King and Sarah La Puerta for collaborating with Cuneiform Press on our only online event of the year, featuring poetry readings by Bernadette Mayer, Philip Good, and friends. Together, we were able to raise nearly $8,000 for Bernadette and Phil.
I’d like to thank Steve Robinson of Letterpreservation for delivering a beautiful Vandercook 219 AB all the way from Canada to our printshop in Austin. This press will allow us to make larger prints, and the adjustable bed will open the door for more creative adventures in letterpress printing.
I’d like to thank Max Koch of Koch Printing for making us a bunch of new stationery and ephemera on his Heidelberg Windmill.
Some of these titles are not yet available on the Cuneiform website, but they will be soon, thanks to Laurel Barickman and her web development team at Recspec. Thanks to Laurel for redesigning the Cuneiform website, forthcoming early in the new year.
&&& other projects
Outside of Cuneiform, I’ve been working on a few other projects this year. I’m very grateful to Chax Press for publishing my most recent collection of poems, A New Kind of Country, and Kin Press for publishing None of Us, a picture-poem collaboration with Ted Greenwald. I’d also like to thank Dusie Press for many wonderful conversations about poetry as we edited my forthcoming book of poems, Color & Light, as well as the editors of Ugly Duckling Presse for their diligent and creative work on A Poetics of the Press, also due out early in the new year.
“Kyle Schlesinger’s poems and prose texts speak in a voice that gets beneath the skin of these times, pointing us in and beyond ourselves. ‘The words are in the body / The body is in the mind’ he tells us. And ‘What’s on television’ he asks, then admits ‘Just another hallucination.’ Green light and pink lighting permeate this work. ‘You wouldn’t believe it / If I told you / That I was where / You thought you were / When we heard the news.’ We need these words of Kyle’s to help us shoulder that news—fake and otherwise—aimed at us each day. The two-line poem, ‘Split,’ is worth quoting in full: ‘We were / Now we’re.’ And poems such as ‘It’s a Freak Out’ deliver a sophisticated humor. A wholly original book.”
In the spring of 2016, Ted Greenwald and Kyle Schlesinger began a poetic postcard collaboration comprised of three lines per card. The goal was not to produce a direct call and response, but rather to let the chips fall where they may and arrange the poem chronologically. None of Us is not only an exploration of chance and synchronicity, but an experience in free-association and imagined dialogues. Reproduced in full color.
“Objects don’t have color (they give off light) and words don’t havemeaning (they give off vibration). Color and meaning are ours to determine and agree upon, but what if, first, we sift through our colloquial phrases, our idiomatic expressions, our perceptual experiences, until we enter a world of mutuality rather than human centrality? A poet of both Exteroception and Interoception at once, Kyle Schlesinger asks his reader to ‘Think with / Your Eyes,’ ‘Eyes like Buber.’ At turns both funny and heartbreaking, Color & Light reminds us that meaning is not intrinsic; it is relational—‘I’ll say differently / I won’t say literally.’”
The publication of Donald Allen’s The New American Poetry (1960), as well as the Vancouver and Berkeley poetry conferences, sparked a poetic renaissance. It was an era rich in exploration and innovation that articulated a new relationship between form and content. Simultaneously, American artists began working with the book as a creative medium that rivaled the European tradition of the early twentieth century. This book is the first collection of interviews with some of the pioneers working at the intersection of the artists’ book and experimental writing that continues to this day.
Includes interviews with Keith & Rosmaie Waldrop, Tom Raworth, Lyn Hejinian, Alan Loney, Mary Laird, Jonathan Greene, Alastair Johnston, Johanna Drucker, Phil Gallo, Steve Clay, Charles Alexander, Annabel Lee, Inge Bruggeman, Matvei Yankelevich, Anna Moschovakis, Aaron Cohick, and Scott Pierce.
On behalf of Cuneiform Press, I wish you all health, happiness, and hope as we enter the new year.
— Kyle Schlesinger
Proprietor, Cuneiform Press