The poet is traditionally a teller of tales, a subtle preacher of the prevailing moral code, a cultivator of the precious verbal medium of communication, the dearest jewel of the community, the bearer of beauty all can share. What does it mean when such a person eschews the vast machinery of publicity in the publishing establishment, and strikes out on his own? One or more of three things: he is not allowed into the establishment, he wants no part of it, or, he has extra-literary purposes in mind. If he wants no part of it, it may be because the literary quality is so poor in the establishment, or it may be because he has something against our medium of exchange, money, or it may be that he wants to reach people in a profounder manner than is possible in the circus, and wants to reach people who may not even know that they would love to curl up with a good book.
Whatever our original purpose was, what actually comes out of it often ends up being all too uniform in its message to the society with whom we want to communicate, a message that comes out as a garbled version of “fuck you.” The truth is that people come to a poet to be charmed, entranced, refreshed and refined, not to be thundered at and ordered around, and certainly not for a blue-print for a selfless society. Alternative poetry should be concerned rather to bring out the latent beauty, order, tenderness and strength in Americans as they really are, and most of all in the American language with its incomparable richness and suppleness. I turned to printing my own work not out of hate for this great country but out of love for its brave, generous and resourceful people. That publishers have cheated both poets and readers is what I hold against them, not the aim of making money, which I even share with them.
The idea of small press poetry, besides getting entangled in politics, has also suffered from the boom in graphics as a result of the offset process. To produce a book that delights the eye with beautiful covers, ingenious drawings, heartmelting calligraphy and wild type faces, is far easier than to create and promote the very best poetry. Consequently one finds silly three-word poems beautifully calligraphed on special paper with deckled edges or more embarrassing, ugly, snarling stories accompanied by nostalgic line drawings. Even had I the money, I would not abandon for the most part my plain paper leaflets and imperfect letterpress impressions. Nothing should distract my readers from a single word or nuance of what I want to get across.
The most important thing about small press poetry is probably direct personal contact with our readers. When I sell on the street or at fairs, I live for the occasional smile of incredulous pleasure from people who like poetry but have never seen a poet. Even if they only buy a broadside for a quarter, it means a lot to both of us. It means honesty, simplicity, a kind of intimacy — in other words, it means being part of the community again.