Thursday, February 28, 2008
In 1987 I completed a descriptive bibliography of all the Unicorn Press broadsides, folios, postcards and other ephemeral publications, 1966-1987. The checklist can be found in the Special Collections department of the Hays Library at Brown University, which owns the complete Unicorn Press archives. Below is a passage from my introduction to the checklist.
"One of the ironies of contemporary literary publishing in America is that forms of publication that were originally introduced in Europe to promote and disseminate the most popular kinds of literature—ballads, satiric or bawdy verses, and simple narratives which were too banal or ephemeral to attract readers of high-priced books—have been reintroduced as an inexpensive and even artistically superior medium with which to promote and sometimes introduce serious literature to contemporary audiences now accustomed to paying high prices for poorly made, mass-produced hardcover and trade paperback editions of books of the most topical, popular, and transitory nature. The "street literature" of sixteenth through nineteenth century Europe and America was published mainly on inexpensive broadsides, handbills printed on a single sheet of paper and often sold by traveling hawkers called chapmen, or by the singers and poets who had authored the works for sale. The broadsides were usually produced with little care and by printers licensed only for the printing of single sheets. Yet a single sheet printed on both sides and folded one or more times easily became a pamphlet or chapbook (literally, "cheap book"), which made collections of bawdy ballads and popular stories, poems, and anecdotes available to large numbers of poor and poorly educated people. Unlike the books of the time, the ballad broadsides and chapbooks were ephemeral, most often read and discarded. Today the situation has been reversed: much of the best American poetry appears in chapbooks produced by small presses working within their limited means, while the commercial houses turn out thousands of expensive books with little intrinsic or enduring value. . ."
Unicorn Press, which existed from 1966 to the mid 1990s had a long and fascinating history. Founded by Teo Savory and Alan Brilliant in Santa Barbara, CA, with initial financial backing from Ken Maytag (grandson of the man who founded the company that makes Maytag appliances), the press began in conjunction with Maytag's Unicorn Book Shop. Its first publications were a poetry postcard and a poster advertising a reading at the shop by Gary Snyder. Soon thereafter, Savory and Brilliant took sole control of the press and began publishing via handset type printed on a letterpress, broadsides of poems by contemporary American poets and short volumes of translations of French and German poets. By the late 1980s, Unicorn had produced nearly 100 books, along with hundreds of ephemeral publications by poets such as M.S. Merwin, Langston Hughs, Robert Bly, Thomas Merton, Jerome Rothenberg, James Tate, Charles Simic, Ted Hughs, Margarat Atwood, Kenneth Rexroth, and Diane Wakowski, to name only a few.
In the early 80s the press relocated to Greensboro, NC. In 1986 Unicorn published a collection of my prose poems and original block print illustrations. This book, entitled The Masked Ball, was handset and printed by Sarah Lindsey. In 1988 I spent six months in residence handsetting and printing a companion volume entitled Puppet Theatre. At the same time I completed a descriptive bibliography that covered all Unicorn posters, broadsides, post cards, folios and other ephemeral publications from 1966-1987.
The photo above shows my own two Unicorn Press titles, along with the last poetry broadside published in the Unicorn Broadside Series. The poem is by Thomas Wiloch and the artwork is mine. I designed this broadside, handset the type and printed it, along with the three linoleum blocks, on a Vandercook SP 15 in Greensboro, the summer of 1987.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Thursday, February 21, 2008
From 1985 to 1995 I edited and published a literary and arts magazine called Asylum. Initially a quarterly, the first two issues of the magazine were typeset using a proportional spaced IBM selectric typewriter. I pasted up the copy on my kitchen table, photocopied the double sided spreads at Kinkos, and bound them together with a hand-powered saddle stapler. These earliest issues had a circulation of about 200.
Over the years I continued to improve the design and production values of the magazine as it grew in circulation. Asylum eventually changed to a biannual format. In 1993 I renamed the magaine Asylum Annual and switched to a 160 page large format with Smyth-sewn bindings. By 1993 the magazine had become one of the biggest and best-distributed independant literary magazines in the country, with a circulation of about 2,500.
Asylum was a one-man operation. Although the magazine managed to be "in the black" financially, it was always a labor of love that required a decade of long hours without any pay. At its peak, it was not unusual to receive more than 150 unsolicited submissions each week. That's a lot of mail to answer.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Literary translators are without a doubt among the most under-appreciated workers in the field of arts and letters. A faithful translation requires supreme effort, humility, and patience. Back in 1980, when I stumbled upon a reference to the novella La Fanfarlo in Enid Starkie's biography of French poet Charles Baudelaire, I thought it might be worth a look. My library search took me to Baudelaire's Ouvres Complètes, where I began struggling through the French text. I found the prose difficult and began translating passages I didn't understand in a notebook as I read. By the time I'd finished reading La Fanfarlo, I'd become hooked on the process of rendering French into English. I started again at the beginning and began weaving my passages together into a complete translation. A couple weeks later, when I'd completed my rough translation, I decided to compare it to other English language versions. I wanted to see how well I'd done. Another, more careful library search revealed that no English version of the work existed in print.
That was the beginning of a five year process of revision, as I struggled to render faithfully the rich language and complex irony of a French master into English. The process took me back to graduate school, where I worked on the project with one of my French professors. Later I had the good fortune to send the manuscript to a publisher whose expert reader happened to be a skillful translator of Baudelaire's poetry. On that reader's recommendation, the publisher rejected my translation. A week later, the same reader, Kendall Lappin, wrote to offer his help. A retired professor at the U.S. Navel Academy, Ken agreed to work with me on the translation "for the fun of it", expecting nothing in return for the countless hours he spent on the project over the next three years. In the end we took the manuscript through another six drafts, arguing through the mail over the merits of nearly every word in the text. It was a wonderful and formative experience.
Though I've translated other 19th century French literature, including short stories and poems by Petrus Borel, Gérard de Nerval, Théophile Gautier, and Victor Hugo, as well as a few poems by French surrealists, after La Fanfarlo, I never returned to literary translation as more than a hobby. I realized that to do it well requires more time and effort than I could spare. Compared to translating Baudelaire, writing my own stories and novels seems easy.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
In 1986, one of my books, the first complete English language translation La Fanfarlo, an early and relatively obscure novella by French poet Charles Baudelaire, had the good fortune to turn up in the "Noted with Pleasure" section of The New York Times Book Review. At the time I was teaching writing and literature at California State University, Northridge, and publishing poems, short stories, reviews, and literary journalism at a frantic pace. Rather naively, I thought such recognition would impress my peers and raise my professional and academic stock. To my surprise, about the only real result of my success was that two or three other translations of the Baudelaire novella appeared within the next two years, published by major academic presses such as Oxford University Press. Nevertheless, I continued to believe that a parade of my latest books glowingly reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Choice, Library Journal, The Los Angeles Times, NY Newsday, The Washington Times, and dozens of other big city newspapers would somehow positively impact my career.
By 2004, when my own novella was reviewed favorably in The New York Times Book Review, I'd learned not to expect anything as a result. In the end, good reviews, even in the most highly regarded and most widely read journals and newspapers, don't sell books by unknown authors unsupported by the financial clout of major publishers. Nor do they attract editors who work for those publishers to consider a writer's new work. As I've sometimes whined on my worst days, my success with the critics and the stack of reviews touting my genius has never amounted to much, aside from bragging rights. On the other hand, I've been reminded often enough that I'm one of a small number of authors of non-mainstream literary work whose books have been consistently reviewed and well received. I suppose that makes me "a writer's writer," which seems like a backhanded compliment, a polite way of saying an author who is read, but only by critics bored with mainstream writing, other writers, and people with an overwhelming compulsion to seek out what's new and original. A friend of mine, who now teaches wealthy customers how to fly their new private jets, struggled financially for years as the conductor of a small city symphony orchestra. He and I used to joke about what we called our "wonderful careers." No doubt about it: the arts is just the place for those with a taste for irony.
Most new literary magazines last only an issue or two. Would-be editors and publishers can learn a great deal from the failures and successes of others. Before I started Asylum magazine, I looked carefully at other independent literary magazines that been around a long time. An excellent article by Marvin Malone of The Wormwood Review laid out a few simple rules for longevity. From Malone and others I gathered that it was important to single-handedly control all aspects of the operation—from the editing to the finances—to keep expectations for growth realistic, and to plan for both the content and the funding of issues a year or more in advance of publication. With these basic concepts in mind I launched Asylum, which had a ten year run and grew from a distributed base of under 200 to roughly 2500. I'll post more about Asylum magazine and Asylum Arts Publishing in the future.
I learned a lot about what not to do when running a small press from my experience at Unicorn Press (more on this in another post). Though I avoided making the same mistakes, I managed to make others. A few years ago Paul Rosheim launched a wonderful small press that publishes an on-going series of terrific books. Obscure Publications produces very small editions in an inexpensive format. Rosheim gives the entire press run to writers rather than attempting to sell the books. Ironically, his decision to stay out of the mainstream of book publishing and distribution has insured the success of his operation. Though never reviewed in major media, OP books have collectively achieved an impressive reputation among the ever expanding group of avant-garde writers who participate in the project...
The Obscure Publications books are part of the rare books and special collections unit at the Indiana State University library. The photo above shows OP books on display in the rare book unit windows (the book on the bottom shelf of the center window is one of mine). For more information, visit their web site: http://library.indstate.edu/about/units/rbsc/obscure.html
I've always loved mazes and one of these days I'd like to lay out a meditation labyrinth on some property. Here is a wooden maze I created several years ago to hang on the wall. The dimensions were three feet by three feet. Paul Rosheim of Obscure Publications published a photo of this maze as the cover artwork for a posthumous book of poems by Lawrence Fixel.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
According to which source you consult, the people in this famous Atget photo are either viewing an eclipse, watching the famous magician Aristide Nambuli fly over Paris, or posing for a surrealist experiment still a few decades in the future. Though Atget called the photograph "L'Eclipse", such an metaphorical title is bound to be ambiguous and open to interpretation.
Over the years I've designed and printed several dozen poetry broadsides and posters for book fairs and readings. Many were handset and printed on the Asylum Arts Studio Vandercook proofing press. More recent designs have been computer generated, including this one.
Susie Bright published one of my short stories in the first ever Best American Erotica anthology back in 1993 and reprinted it this year in the "Best of the Best" final edition of the series. In between she's been a huge fan and supporter of my work, publishing reviews of my books on her web site, offering up delicious blurbs, and in general being the kind of loyal and intelligent literary friend and editor every writer hopes to encounter in the profession but almost never does. In 2003 she asked me to write an erotic novella for a series she was editing for Simon & Schuster, which came out in 2004 under the title Three the Hard Way. Here's Susie commenting on her web site about Amy Sohn 's very favorable review of Three the Hard Way in The New York Times Book Review:
"The author she singled out, Greg Boyd, who wrote the second novella in Three the Hard Way, called 'The Widow,' is a freakin' genius. He can write better than me and Amy Sohn hogtied together to a desk."
Did I mention how much I love Susie?
Saturday, February 9, 2008
Since the publication of his controversial book The Myth of a Christian Nation and the resulting New York Times profile and the Charlie Rose interview on television, another Greg Boyd—theologian, author, and evangelical pastor of a St. Paul, MN mega-church—has obscured my already dubious "fame". There's even a "Greg Boyd Rocks" t-shirt, which, alas, has nothing to do with me. Still, if you get one of those shirts, no one will ever know you're not celebrating me instead of him!
The music of New Orleans steel drum and funk performer Greg Boyd is also well worth investigating. For sample tracts of some of his compositions, click on the link below.
In 2003, along with my publisher Jordan Jones, film director Tony Liano, and poet Richard Martin, I co-founded and co-edited an experimental on-line journalism/arts project called The 365 Project. The web site still exists, feisty and incomplete, a testament to both the vision of its creators and the lack of support for such a monumental undertaking. Check it out for yourself at:
During 2003, as part of my creative output for The 365 Project, I attempted to create a new outdoor sculpture each day. These sculptures were made on site, usually of found natural materials such as fallen leaves, fallen fruit, dirt, flowers, grass, as well as by juxtaposition of made-made items with the natural setting. Some of these sculptures were linked to the 365 Project website, which you can view by clicking here: http://www.the365project.org/commissions/boyd_greg/index.htm. Others later figured into my multi-media novel The Nambuli Papers.
Chakannah (poetry chapbook with CD). Black Falls, WI: Obscure Publications, 2006.
"The Widow" (novella) in Three the Hard Way, ed. Susie Bright. New York: Touchstone, 2004.
The Nambuli Papers (multi-media novel). San Francisco: Leaping Dog Press/BlueRain Films, 2004.
The Double (Doppelangelganger: a novel). Chantilly, VA: Leaping Dog Press. 2002.
The Tide Writers (chapbook). Black River Falls, WI: Obscure Publications, 2002
The Nambuli Papers (chapbook with original pen and ink illustrations). Black River Falls, WI: Obscure Publications, 2001.
Modern Love and Other Tall Tales (stories). Los Angeles: Red Hen Press, 2000.
Sacred Hearts (novel). Davis, CA: Hi Jinx Press, 1996.
Carnival Aptitude (prose poems). Santa Maria, CA: Asylum Arts, 1993.
Water & Power (stories). Santa Maria, CA: Asylum Arts, 1991.
Puppet Theatre (prose poems and prints). Greensboro, NC: Unicorn Press, 1989.
The Masked Ball (prose poems and prints). Greensboro, NC: Unicorn Press, 1987.
Balzac's Dolls and Other Essays, Studies and Literary Sketches. Daphne, AL: Légereté Press, 1987.
Circus Deluxe (poems). Madison, WI: Jump River Press, 1982.
La Fanfarlo by Charles Baudelaire. Berkeley, CA: Creative Arts, 1986.
ILLUSTRATED BY GREG BOYD
A Newcomer's Guide to the Afterlife by Daniel Quinn and Tom Whalen. New York: Bantam, 1997.
EDITED BY GREG BOYD
The Smile at the Foot of the Ladder: a prose poem anthology (with Paul Rosheim). Black River Falls, WI: Obscure Publications, 2004.
Unscheduled Departures: The Asylum Anthology of Short Fiction. Santa Maria, CA: Asylum Arts, 1991.
Friday, February 8, 2008
When we lived in California, I had a great studio in a separate building behind the house. Most years I participated in the Chico Art Center's "Open Studios Tour," which brought a lot of people up from the San Francisco Bay area to meet local artists and tour their studios. Sometimes I let visitors ink and pull prints on my Vandercook press. One year I cleared almost everything out and brought in a carpet of leaves...
I've been making relief prints since 1980 and have made well over 200. Over the years I have exhibited my prints in galleries, bookstores, coffee houses, book fairs, and restaurants. My initial lino-block prints were the illustrations for my first book of poems, Circus Deluxe. I also used wood and linoleum block prints to illustrate The Masked Ball and Puppet Theatre, two hand-printed letterpress editions of my prose poems published by Unicorn Press. Along with photo montages, prints are also a part of my novel The Double. My prints have been featured on the cover of numerous books and magazines, as well as on t-shirt designs.
In 2000, film director A. D. Liano discovered a copy of my book Carnival Aptitude on the shelf of a San Francisco used book store. His brilliant film adaptation of my story "Three Cornered Hat" was the first of our collaborative film efforts. To view a trailer for Seven Fallen Objects, the feature film I co-authored with the director, click this link: http://www.tidewriter.com/productions_sfo-media.htm.
To view a clip from the mock documentary Tide Writers: The Lost Reel, click this link: http://www.tidewriter.com/productions_tidewriters-media.htm.
The surrealists believed that anyone with a pot of glue and a pair of scissors could be a visual artist. In collage the emphasis is on vision and arrangement rather than technique. Over the years I've cut up and recombined black and white photographs I found in old magazines to form strange and sometimes strikingly dream-like images. My photo collages have appeared on the cover of books, magazines, and recordings, and as illustrations for A Newcomer's Guide to the Afterlife, by Daniel Quinn and Tom Whalen, as well as my own novel The Double and collection of prose poems Carnival Aptitude. Some of my collages are available on T-shirt designs from cafepress: http://www.cafepress.com/ldp
The concept of a traditional (non-electronic) image that can be manipulated by the viewer to create many potential paintings from a single work stemmed from a desire to actualize the implied motion of Cubist and Abstract Expressionist paintings. Using slide puzzles as my initial inspiration for a moveable, interactive picture plane, I began fashioning painted square tiles of hardboard into core images which contain the seed of millions, even billions of potential paintings. I mounted those painted tiles with magnets on sheet metal frames so that they may be freely manipulated. In even the simplest configuration, the nine positions of the tiles multiplied by each of the four possible orientations of the squares results in a huge number of potential abstract arrangements.
My latest book, a multi-media novel, is difficult to describe simply because there's never been anything quite like it before. A mythological adventure of art, magic, and the circus, centered on the life of turn-of-the-century escape artist Aristide Nambuli, The Nambuli Papers redefines the literary canvas through the use of original film, sculpture, photography, and a board game—all included as part of the first edition boxed set. For reviews and more information about The Nambuli Papers, check out the publisher's website at http://www.leapingdogpress.com/isbn.php?isbn=1587750139#advance.
For photos of the inside contents, try this link: