Totem Press, Yugen – Imamu Amiri Baraka

Charles Olson, Projective Verse (1959). Cover by Matsumi Kanemitsu.

On the same small offset press, and as an arm of his magazine Yugen, LeRoi Jones’s Totem Press imprint published thirteen pamphlets, beginning with Diane di Prima’s This Kind of Bird Flies Backward in 1958. The press also published work by Ron Loewinsohn (Watermelons, 1959), Michael McClure (For Artaud, 1959), and Jack Kerouac (The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, 1961), as well as Charles Olson’s influential and much-admired Projective Verse in 1959 and Paul Blackburn’s Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit in 1960. However, the most important (at least to Jones himself) of the Totem Books was the little six-page pamphlet he edited in 1959 as the second book of the press. Entitled Jan 1st 1959: Fidel Castro, it included poems by Joel Oppenheimer, Max Finstein, Gilbert Sorrentino, Ron Loewinsohn, and Jack Kerouac in addition to Jones’s own “A Poem Some People Will Have to Understand.” Jones’s arguments with his friends (then mostly white) over the relationship of poetry to politics caused him to reevaluate his own position on nonviolence and political action, which eventually led him to break with most of his white colleagues and friends. In late 1960, Jones entered into a relationship with Eli Wilentz of Corinth Books to copublish and distribute Totem Press titles. …”
from a secret location

“… Leroi Jones (later Amiri Baraka, but Jones for the purposes of this column) appeals to me in a way similar to Olson and, of course, William Burroughs. My interest in Jones centers on his Beat phase lasting until the mid 1960s. This work would make an outstanding collection. In 2000, Brown University showcased its Jones holdings and the Beat pieces really spoke to me. I was especially struck by Jones’ work as an editor. It seems like he had his hands in every major magazine coming out of New York City in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Yugen, Floating Bear, Kulchur. This does not include his founding of Totem Press and that press’s publications with Cornith Books. Jones published Michael McClure, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara, Charles Olson, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Ed Dorn, Diane Di Prima, and Paul Blackburn. …”
Reality Studio


About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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