For over a decade, publisher Steven Clay has taken an unprogrammatic, organic approach with Granary Books, intuitively following his interests as they have developed in the areas where experimental poetry, art, music, and bookmaking overlap.
In its earliest incarnation in Minnesota, Granary was primarily a distributor of literature printed in fine editions. When Clay relocated to New York Citys Soho in 1989, it became a gallery specializing in artists books. Clay cites his decision to move to New York as central to Granarys early development as a press. Being in New York allowed him to meet writers and artists in the community easily, to bump into them frequently, and to be introduced to visiting writers who filtered through town. During the early nineties, the gallery exhibited some of the first artists books Granary publishedamong them John Cages Nods, a book Clay cites as a turning point for his intentional entry into publishing. He had published occasional broadsides, show invitations, and a handful of books prior to that, but the efforts were more spontaneous and singular. By 1995, Clay gave up the gallery space in favor of publishing.
Granarys office is quietly nestled high above Seventh Avenue in Chelsea. Visiting the press feels a good deal like stopping by any writers apartment. Its packed with books. Floor to ceiling shelves house Granary's collection; the remaining space is heaped with piles of incoming and outgoing books. Its an inviting muddle, a little dizzying at times. Theres a lot to take in besides the smorgasbord of bookslike the stunning little Barbara Fahrner drawings which lie discreetly in a glass case. Additionally, authors filter throughLarry Fagin leaves, Jerry and Diane Rothenberg drop some things offa prospective intern interviews. Yet even in the midst of what appears to be a very busy day, publisher Steven Clay and publicist/promotions person Jo Ann Wasserman generously take the time to sit down to discuss the press.
In just one decade, Clay has published over eighty poets and artists, many repeatedlyJohanna Drucker, Barbara Fahrner, Lyn Hejinian, Jerome Rothenberg, Charles Bernstein, Susan Bee, Robert Creeley, Ed Epping, Anne Waldman, and Lewis Warsh have all been involved in three or more projects. Clay has worked with art curators, co-edited books with Jerome Rothenberg and Rodney Phillips, and has presented many more edited by othersJay Sanders and Charles Bernsteins Poetry Plastique, John Zorn's Arcana: Musicians on Music, Anne Waldman and Lewis Warshs Angel Hair Sleeps with a Boy in my Head: The Angel Hair Anthology, to name a few. Clay uses phrases like family affinities to capture the underlying resemblances of Granarys ouvre. He and Jo Ann Wasserman joke about the Presss one hundred children, some adopted, some milkmens bastards, some with multiple biological parents.
Visually, Granary books are varied and unique; they dont have a unifying look. I didnt want it to all fall into line, Clay says. Granary places the emphasis on the total work, on every aspect of the constructionthe quality of the paper, the binding method, the typography, printmaking, size, shapeand how it responds to the qualities of the writing. The book is not simply a neutral container, Clay says, but something that plays a semantic role.
Granary doesnt accept unsolicited manuscripts; in most cases, Clay extends invitations to the writers he is interested in working with. He prefers to be an animating force in suggesting a project, especially the collaborative limited editions. Sometimes the projects are already in progress when Clay adopts them; such was the case with
Figs. Excerpts from The Traveler and the Hill and the Hill
The Traveler and the Hill and the Hill. Clay knew he wanted to do a book with Lyn Hejinian even before he learned that she and painter Emilie Clarke were already at work on a collaboration. He loved the work in progress, published the book, and offered to release their next collaboration, The Lake.
In other scenarios, the writers may have been collaborating for decades, as was the case with Jerome Rothenberg and Ian Tyson. Or prior Granary writers might resurface in a new collaboration. With Rosmarie Waldrops first Granary book, Clay invited her to select anyone at all as her collaborator. She chose to translate Edmund Jabés Desire for a Beginning Dread of One Single End as a collaboration with another Granary artist, Ed Epping. So it just kind of moves around, Clay explains. Jo Ann throws in: Like an old time studio! (At this point who says what blurs in laughter) We have our stable of actors... Ed Epping as a tall Mickey Rooney...
Granarys editorial operations may be centered in New York, but not its sales. The staff travels far and wide to sell books, visiting special collections libraries and hosting booths at fairs. Granary Books are available on-line through their website, and are distributed to bookstores by D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers) in New York City and Small Press Distribution in California.
When asked if its difficult to find buyers for the limited edition books, Clay laughs and replies: The $20 dollar books need buyers too! It seems like the cut-off for whether people will or wont buy a book is around twelve dollars. Its easier to sell a $3,000 book than one costing $30.
Basically all of the trade booksthe paperbacksdont offer much of a financial return. A book like Angel Hair has about 620 pages of poetry to edit. A run of 1500 costs $35,000 to produce and retails for $28.95 a piece. The first order from Granarys distributor (to satisfy all orders world-wide) was for 250 paperbacks and 40 hardback books. From this, the Press gets paid about 30 percent of the retail price by its distributorfour months after the order is placed.
But many things just seem to need to be done, Clay says. Whether its a case of returning something to print, like the work contained in Waldman and Warshs The Angel Hair Anthology, or making an entire critical apparatus available like Jerome Rothenberg and Steven Clays A Book of the Book, these works support the larger project of becoming more accessible to more people. Granary has been filling a need in a number of communities lacking significant histories in print: including artists books, small press publishing, and experimental music. Rather than publishing books and then seeking an audience, Clay has recognized audiences in need of books, as was the case with Johanna Druckers A Century of Artists Books. One thing has truly led to another at Granary, with each book stimulating numerous ensuing projects.
In making a trade book, the Press is more engaged in the total process than with a collaborative artists book. More work is done in-house: looking at proofs, seeing the design through multiple stages. Granarys art director Julie Harrison plays a vital role behind the scenes; she is directly involved at nearly every level of a project. (She has also done two books with Granary: If It Rained Here with Joe Elliot and Debtor's Prison with Lewis Warsh.) Additionally, the trade books often lend themselves a public event involving community outreach. As Wasserman adds, It brings it to the people.
Artists books require a one-on-one experience; they also usually require much less editing by the Pressmaybe one long poem, maybe ten poems. And its more lucrative financially. For example, Lyn Hejinian and Emilie Clarks The Traveler cost $25,000 to make. The letterpress and the binding work was done out of house. Emilie Clark painstakingly printed all of the monotypesin every single bookherself. The sumptuous finished edition retails for $3,000. Granary easily sells ten books in the first two weeks to university libraries and special collections, more than covering the full cost of production immediately. After production expenses have been paid, Clay splits the profits generously between the collaborating artist and writer and the Press.
Clay also supports Granary through his work as a dealer in archives, manuscripts, and rare books. Sometimes its an obvious placement, like selling Burning Deck Presss archive to Brown University in its own hometown. But often its a more tailored relationship; Clay recently helped place the literary archives of Charles Bernstein, Kathleen Fraser, and Kenward Elmslie in the Mandeville Special Collections Library at the University of California, San Diego. Although Clay works with many individual and institutional collections, he says he especially appreciates the Mandeville because it is very accessible and the archives retain a sense of family next to those of poets George and Mary Oppen, Charles Reznikoff, Jackson Mac Low, Jerome Rothenberg, Hannah Weiner, Lyn Hejinian, and others.
Preservation is one of the issues Granary focuses on in the poetry community, helping work find homes in permanent collections. But their work gathering rare and out of print poetry lineages for readers at large has been one of the Presss finest contributions. A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980 documents two decades of the hard-to-trace history of small press publishing and mimeographed magazines. It allows a reader to glimpse what a huge variety of journals and publications looked like, to learn who edited them, where they were made, and how long they were active. A Secret Location demonstrates how the small publishing efforts shaped the poetry of the 60s, 70s, and 80s and shows what kind of relationships some of the different schools of poetic thoughtthe Black Mountain School, the New York School, the Beatshad in print. Its a valuable history for poets and scholars and an inspiring model for future editors and publishers; it shows how potent small-scale efforts can be.
These presses and this poetry have been my passion for twenty years, Clay explains. I had already done a lot of the legwork for A Secret Location. Similarly, co-editor Rodney Phillips, curator of the Berg Collection at the New York Public Library, watched all of those publications come into the collection as they were produced. (Ironically, the Librarys policy at that time was to microfiche and then throw away the originals, a loss Phillips has been rectifying ever since, buying up originals as they become available and demonstratingas Clay stressesthat there is something in the artifact.) When it came to the monumental task of researching and writing, Clay and Phillips just divided it up, drawing on their own knowledge, conducting interviews, gathering existing documentation, and using the project as an occasion to invite many editors of the less traceable publications, like Lyn Hejinian's Tuumba, to write their own histories.
Over the last decade, the Internet has made access to even the most obscure poetry presses much simpler, but tracking down Granarys out-of-print books or the rare limited editions requires a more concerted effort from the average reader. Complete collections of Granary Books can be found on the West Coast at Stanford, the Getty in L.A., and the Mandeville in San Diego (nearly complete); at the University of Iowa in the Midwest; and on the East Coast at the University of Delaware, Yale, the Library of Congress, and the New York Public Library. These collections are all available to the public by appointment.
Additionally, a recent Granary publication, When will the book be done? gives a rich visual overview of the Presss books, broadsides, cards, and catalogues to date and is accompanied by bibliographic description and commentary from authors, editors, and critics. The book is part of a larger effort to gain more visibility for the press.
Realizing that its difficult to broaden Granarys audience through what sometimes feel like narrow channels, Clay and Wasserman are looking for new ways to promote Granary and the wider intersection of art and poetry, past and present. Publishing is a big part of what Granary does, but not all, Wasserman says. Using the model of A Secret Location for large-scale curatorial projects, they are focusing on broader domains, considering ideas for accompanying exhibitions, catalogues, even toursorchestrating a sort of moveable feast. Beyond that, in his typically fluid approach, Steven Clay hopes to pursue the opportunity to work off of whatever may come out of it all.
Bio:Jen Bervin, poet and visual artist, lives in Brooklyn. She is the author of under what is not under (Potes & Poets 2001) and numerous artists books. Her work has been published in Chain and Insurance Magazine; is also viewable online in How2s archives at http://www.scc.rutgers.edu/however/v1_3_2000/bervin/index.html. She and Alystyre Julian are currently collaborating on cloud poems; their work in progress is on view in Poets & Poems: http://www.poetryproject.com/bervin.julian.html. Bervin received a BFA in Studio Art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA in Poetry from the University of Denver. She currently teaches poetry at NYUs School of Continuing and Professional Studies and bakes pies at Bubbys Pie Co. in Tribeca.