Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Cleveland Manifesto of Poetry, The Asphodel Bookshop and the Future of Bookstores

The Cleveland Manifesto of Poetry

The Cleveland Manifesto of Poetry was published from Jim Lowell's Asphodel Bookshop in 1964, a year after the bookstore opened at 465 The Arcade. It prints statements by Russell Atkins, d. a. levy, Russell Salamon, Adelaide Simon, Jau Billera, and Kent Taylor. The statements still seem relevant today, especially those of Atkins and levy, whose manifesto begins "To write surface poems with the appearance of artificial flowers in order to communicate with persons by forcing them to resort to instinctive methods of understanding." It is a beautiful and surprising characterization of the concrete tendencies in levy's poetry and bookmaking. 

Lowell and the bookstore are credited at the top of the manifesto, but in reverse, so the attribution is best read in a mirror. This was perhaps one of the first contrary moves the store made, but certainly not the last. The Asphodel Bookshop went its own way, most famously during its 1966 censorship battle with the police. In doing so it sheltered and developed the local poetry scene to such an extent that it is impossible to imagine the Mimeograph Revolution in Cleveland without it. 

This wasn't a new role for a bookstore. There is a rich and well-documented history of bookstores helping to develop literary scenes, including censorship issues. But this wasn't Paris or San Francisco. What seems truly remarkable about the Asphodel is what it accomplished in relative geographical and cultural isolation. In this regard it reminds me of another bookshop I've been researching, Judson Crews' Motive Bookshop in Waco, Texas, which sheltered a number of little magazines of the Mimeograph Revolution in the years leading up to World War II. 

The isolation of these small, curatorial pioneer shops gave them increased importance to their local scene. They filled a role similar to the one played by local record stores in the seventies and eighties. In fact, Ohio record stores such as the Drome in Cleveland and Garbage in Kent played a crucial role to the Cleveland Punk and Ohio zine scenes, and it would be fascinating to find out if Asphodel was, even in some small way, an inspiration for those stores. For the past few years I've been researching shops like these for an exhibit that we'd like to have some day about the important role of such venues. These small, curated spaces of the past also point out a possible path for bookstores in the future. We live in an economic era in which large, general bookstores have become very difficult to operate successfully, but I think that there will be space in the future for small, curated spaces that will once again play an important role in supporting local art scenes. 

In the case of the Asphodel, this curatorial aspect was also extended through the mail in the form of the mimeographed Asphodel catalogs, which often also printed work by poets, and are as important as any other little magazine of the Mimeograph Revolution. I never got to see the Asphodel Bookshop, but I keep a stack of the old catalogs handy and reread them often. They remind me of the power that a good book catalog can have. I was turned onto literature and bookselling when I was lucky enough to be handed a stack of bookselling catalogs by a neighbor when I was a teenager. 

levy, d. a. & Russell Atkins, Russell Salamon, Adelaide Simon, Jau Billera, Kent Taylor. The Cleveland Manifesto of Poetry (Principles Behind the Writings of 6 Cleveland Poets). [Cleveland]: [Asphodel Bookshop], 1964. First edition. 8 1/2 x 11" sheet, mimeographed in green from typescript at both recto and verso. Two holograph corrections in blue ink, presumably as issued. Fine. SOLD. 

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