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Lawrence Ferlinghetti — Four Poets


I went to a reading Mr. Ferlinghetti gave at the Caravan of Dreams, in Fort Worth Texas; this was in 1992, I think.

Ferlinghetti read for an hour or so, and afterward, he signed books and answered questions. While I was getting a book signed, I asked if I could have a poem to print, and, without a second thought, he opened up the folder he was carrying and handed me one.

What a gentleman.

Pure class.

It would be the last poem Steve Fisher and I would get for a then-untitled project, and it really completed what was to become 4 Poets.

Mr. Ferlinghetti’s poem, “Poet as Fisherman”, later appeared in These Are My Rivers: New & Selected Poems 1955-1993, published by New Directions.

4 Poets was published in an edition of 232 copies, with 11 “special copies” that had a variant cover. The variant covers were simply mock-ups of different papers I was experimenting with for cover stock.

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Steve Fisher — Rock Salt & Glissandos

synaesthesia press paperback original #1 is Steve Fisher’s Rock Salt & Glissandos: Stories and Poems.

For lack of a better term, it’s our first “real” book.

Steve Fisher is one of the co-founders of the press. He was there from the start. In fact, he named the press. In addition to being a piano tuner, he was a bookman and a writer.

Steve now functions as Guardian Angel for everything synaesthesia.

“Steve Fisher’s work reads like Jim Thompson (at his best, say, Savage Night) meets Drugstore Cowboy with Jean Genet standing outside in a freezing desert wind waiting to score. It’s a shame we can’t have more, much more — because Fisher wrote like a flaming angel genius. Maybe he was.” –Barry Gifford.

Rock Salt & Glissandos is the first of a projected series for first-book authors. Fisher’s work first started appearing in many of the country’s finest literary journals in the late 80’s; TriQuarterly #99 ran a special “Steve Fisher section”, publishing seven of the short stories that appear in this collection. Hayden’s Ferry Review called their special section of Steve’s work “Edges & Spears Outside”.

“The vitality of Steve Fisher’s sense of human presence, his great ear for the way language is emphatically, richly, meaningfully spoken in situations of intense feeling and danger, and his sheer talent as a writer make his stories among the most remarkable and memorable of our time. It is heartbreaking that he is not still here among us, able and writing. What he had to say, we need to hear, and the way he said it was completely his own.” –Reginald Gibbons, author of Sweetbitter: A Novel and Fisher’s editor at TriQuaterly.

Fisher tuned pianos for a living, scouted for and collected rare books (Charles Bukowski, Nelson Algren, and Harry Crews were a few of the authors Steve collected.) He also corresponded with Bukowski while Steve was incarcerated, and he wrote great short stories and poetry. Don’t confuse the author with the mystery writer Steve Fisher; since I’ve been telling people about this book, that seems to be the common reaction. And since there’s no living author, there’s also no book tour, no interviews, no signings or readings.

This book needs all the help it can get.

“It’s essential despair, hell on Earth in prose and poetry, all of it as real as life, caught from the viewpoint of one of the condemned. A subjective style that creates the prison world from a viewpoint of an inmate who barley mentions his feelings but makes the reader aware of his own relenting agony. I couldn’t put it down.” –Floyd Salas, author of Tattoo The Wicked Cross.

As a small press with only one “real book” to offer, the distributors are hesitant to carry this title. I don’t even want to talk about the horrors trying to sell this at Amazon.

“I decided early on that Steve Fisher was the best writer of prison life and the drug world I had ever read. He wouldn’t have liked such pigeonholing, but it is high praise indeed. He didn’t get to write as much as, say, Burroughs, but I would in all honesty rather read Steve.” –Gerald Locklin, from his introduction to Rock Salt & Glissandos.

Read this book. If you’re into drug literature, prison literature, William S Burroughs, Jean Genet, Harry Crews, Bukowski, The Beats, Nelson Algren, or Barry Gifford, you’ll love it.

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Barry Gifford — “The Strangest One of All”, “The Lost Christmas” & “Elegies”

Barry Gifford has become a special friend of the press.

Initially, he was kind enough to support Steve Fisher’s book with a back cover blurb.

Mr. Gifford’s first chap book with the press, The Strangest One of All, is a short narrative about a visit he took to the Bunker — a one-time residence for William S. Burroughs.

Barry went with his son and an ex-baseball player named Jimbo Carothers. There they met Burroughs, and they talked about things like poisonous darts and deadly spiders.

The total edition for The Strangest One of All was 176 copies. Illustrations by Billy Childish. Book design by Johnny Brewton. 150 were numbered, the first 50 signed by Barry, with 26 lettered copies that were placed in a manila envelope and containing three woodcuts Billy Childish created for the book. Both Barry and Billy signed the lettered edition, too.

It was the first separate edition of a piece that appeared in SPEAK Magazine in Fall, 1997.

More recently, the synaesthesia press collaborated with Gifford and Don Ellis of Creative Arts Book Company to produce The Lost Christmas & Other Stories: A Holiday Trilogy. 99 copies were printed, none of which were sold. Instead, we sent them out in December ’01 to the friends of the author, the synaesthesia press, and Mr Ellis, as a holiday greeting.

I also printed and published Elegies in 2004. Elegies is a set of two individual poetry broadsides written by Barry as elegies to Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso: “On Viewing The Manuscript Scroll of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road in the Tosca Bar, San Francisco” and “Small Elegy For Corso”.

I printed the poems on card stock and housed them in a three panel folder with a die-cut cover that featured a linoleum block design that was heavily influenced by the Dada artists I admire. Barry signed the whole edition at his mom’s kitchen table as I handed them to him, and we talked about things like the novel he was working on, movies we admire, and Barry Bonds.

200 copies of Elegies were printed. Design and text are both digitally set and printed by hand, then letterpress printed on an old Vandercook press — a #219 Old Style, to be exact, which is the backbone of synaesthesia.

With the generous help of Barry Gifford, the synaesthesia press has become a much better thing, for lack of a better term.

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Denis Johnson — 4 Poets


It’s 1990 — maybe 1991. I’m on the phone with a cat named Steve Fisher. We’re in some pretty serious talks about starting a publishing company. Steve makes a suggestion: “let’s call it the synaesthesia press.”

“I’m all for that,” I said.

Steve suggests we contact some writers we both admire and solicit them for work. Our original thoughts are to launch a broadside series first, then get into chapbooks.

We talk about it some more, hang up, and I run to my dictionary to look up the word synaesthesia.

Steve secures a poem from Denis Johnson, and of course it’s a keeper.

Then, some things get into the way. Steve vanishes, and, later I discover, it’s for good.

In the winter of ’94, I made a commitment to synaesthesia press, and the following spring I published its first two books.

The Denis Johnson poem appears in the second book, 4 Poets. As do the rest of the poems from writers I solicited — and a few I never spoke to.

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Tsaurah Litzky — Blessing Poems


Remember Joe Maynard’s Beet magazine? It was a small gem, published out of Brooklyn, New York, and I think I found a copy one day at Tower Records. Joe did a great job with Beet, and I wish it were still around.

I first stumbled on to Tsaurah Litzsky and her “blessing poems” in Beet. I went nuts over them. They made me laugh a whole lot, and anytime poetry makes me laugh, I want to publish it.

The Blessing Poems was synaesthesia press chapbook #5, and it was published in the late summer/fall of 1996. I remember the book well because it was only halfway done when I moved from Arizona to San Francisco and started graduate school.

I collated and bound the book in a little room I rented for a few months — #419 — at the Mayflower Hotel. The Mayflower’s on Bush Street between Geary and Taylor in San Francisco. There was a hot plate and a small TV, alongside my typewriter, piles of Blessing pages, and a stapler, all crammed on a kitchen table overlooking the city.

What a great view! I was almost on the top of Nob Hill, but I like to refer to that area as “the Tender Nob”. The Mayflower was right off the #29, near the #32, and just blocks from the heart of the ‘loin. I left that room to take a gig managing a residence hotel in the same neighborhood not too long after; I should have just stayed put in that hotel the entire time I lived in SF.

I don’t recall the limitation, but I do recall writing the colophon and ISBN by hand on each book. There’s still a few here, in the archives, that aren’t bound yet. And another synaesthesia press author, A.D. Michele, illustrated the book.

Tsaurah Litzky lives in Brooklyn, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe this is the reason she says the purpose of her work is to seek the light. She’s been widely published, most notably in the Best American Erotica series.

Tsaurah believes this is the Promised Land.

So do I…even after everything’s that happened since this book was published.

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Joe Maynard — Grampa Odis


I’m not sure how or when I came across Joe Maynard.

I’m positive I knew Beet before I knew Joe, and I’m thinking I got a hold of him after reading some of Tsaurah’s Blessing Poems in his little mag. We started a bit of correspondence not long after, and we kept it up for a bit. We tried to meet up for a beer, when, in the summer of ’95, I was in NYC for the Kerouac Conference. We never did make that meeting, and I’ve not been in touch with him for quite some time…not until the Armory book fair in NYC, which musta been 2005.

In addition to Beet, Joe Maynard edited and published Pink Pages; it was a superb little mag that specialized in naughty stories. Erotica. That sort of thing.

I found this bio on a website that had some of his work: his poetry and fiction have appeared in Long Shot, Lungfull, and Exquisite Corpse, among other places. His entire life is contained within four square miles between Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan with only an occasional leak here and there.

Viva Atlantic City!

Grampa Odis is Joe Maynard’s book the synaesthesia press published, and now it’s out of print. I can’t recall how many copies I printed.

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Alan Catlin, Erroll Miller, & Jack Micheline — Bad, mad and dying


In 1997 the synaesthesia press published Bad, mad and dying — a limited edition chap book featuring three writers: Alan Catlin, Errol Miller, and Jack Micheline.

There were three different editions: 26 copies were lettered and had a cover with an original painting by Micheline; 1 – 50 numbered copies were signed by all three contributors on the page in which their story appears; the rest of the edition were numbered.


Alan Catlin is from upstate New York and is a poet & bartender. His story, “Finnegan’s Wake,” takes place in — you guessed it — a bar, on Saint Patty’s day, and all I’ll say is: fatality. Catlin’s poetry has appeared in many little magazines, including X-Ray.

Errol Miller is a short story writer from Louisiana. His stories have appeared in hundreds of little magazines. His contribution is called “The Pool Hall Affair.”

What can be said of Jack Micheline? He was an original Beat, there from Day One; Jack Kerouac penned the intro to Micheline’s classic first book of poems River of Red Wine, Charles Bukowski loved him, and Allan Ginsberg couldn’t ignore him…Jack really helped on this title. Here’s how:

We were waiting for the #16 to take us out of the Mission when it all began:

ME: I got a couple good stories to publish.

JACK MICHELINE: I gotta poem, man. It’s good. You want it?

ME: Of course. Now all I need is a title.

JACK: What’re the other stories about?

Here’s when I tell him about Alan’s and Errol’s stories, and then Jack leans up against the building on 17th and Mission — the Asian fish mart — and he thinks real hard for a while and I’m thinking maybe he’s making fun of this whole deal when suddenly —

JACK: I got it, man. Bad, mad and dying. That’s a tough title.

ME: Better believe it. Now I need a cover.

JACK: Gimme two days. Come to my room Friday. You’ll have your cover.

Jack also provided an illustration for the center of the book: it’s a picture poem — Kenneth Patchen comes to mind — and it is a drawing of 4 horses and under the drawing the poem reads:

North Star Number 2
Wins the 1 Mile Race
At Cold Downs in Memphis Tenn
June 12 1948 It Paid $97.60
Dennis Morales Up

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Harold Norse — Sniffing Keyholes

From the Barry Miles book The Beat Hotel: Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso in Paris, 1957-1963, published by Grove:

“…for a brief period — from just after the publication of Howl in 1957 until the building was sold in 1963 — it was home to Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Brion Gysin, Peter Orlovsky, Harold Norse, and a host of other luminaries of the Beat Generation.”

Mr. Miles is referring to, of course, #9 Rue Git-le-Coeur, Madame Rachous’ hotel — The Beat Hotel.

The synaesthesia press was proud to publish Sniffing Keyholes, a small masterpiece written by Norse while he in residence at Rachous’ hotel.

From the author’s introduction to Sniffing Keyholes: “In February 1960, before moving into the Beat Hotel, I began doing ink drawings and cut-up poetry at the Hotel Univers on rue St. Grègoire de Tours next door to Edouard Roditi. He had often put me up at number 8 where, he said, Thèodore de Banville had rented a room for Rimbaud. Shortly after I moved into the Beat Hotel in April, I wrote Sniffing Keyholes, a sex/dope scene between a muscular black youth called Melo and a blond Russian princess called Z.Z. It was my first narrative cut-up. I felt I had broken through semantic and psychological barriers; hashish and opium helped with the aleatory process.

My experience of breaking new ground alarmed and exhilarated me. For awhile I believed I had lost my reason but didn’t consider it a great loss — the mind works in mysterious ways. Actually, word, image, and perception come together in a simultaneous jumble, not, as grammar and logic would have us believe, in a linear structure. I telescoped language in word clusters in a way James Joyce had pioneered, but with this difference: I allowed the element of chance to determine novel and surprising configurations of language. John Cage had done it in music, Pollock in painting. When I showed it to Brion Gysin he raved, “You’ve done something new! It’s a gas! Bill must see this right away.”

Bill Burroughs came down to my room. “Well, Harold, Brion says you’ve written a very funny cut-up. I’d love to see it.” In his fedora and topcoat he sat at the edge of my bed reading the piece, exploding in little sniffs and snorts, his equivalent of lusty guffaws. “This is marvelous,” he said, looking up. “You must show it to Girodias.” Maurice Girodias, owner of Olympia Press, had published Naked Lunch; his father had published Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. But I wasn’t so sure he’d go mad about a few typewritten pages of cut-up. Burroughs disagreed. “I’m calling him right away to get you an appointment.”

A day or two later I trekked over to the office a few blocks away on the rue St. Sèverin. I was right. Girodias read it and thought it similar to Burroughs. He wanted to see more but didn’t sound enthusiastic. “He missed the point,” snorted Burroughs. “He rejected Naked Lunch the first time it was offered to him.”

I published Sniffing Keyholes in an edition of 203; the first 100 were signed by the author. Book design with die-cut cover with see-through illustration of “Z.Z.” by X-Ray Book Co.’s Johnny Brewton; hand-sewn in wraps, nine pages. OUT OF PRINT.

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Tim O’Brien — Enemies and Friends

Enemies and Friends by Tim O’Brien — two short stories published in a single volume and constructed in the dos á dos format.

A chap book printed in a dos a dos format, 6″ by 7″, 6 pages per side.

Each story originally appeared in The Things They Carried. This is their first separate publication.

Illustrations by Fritz Scholder.

Letterpress. The entire edition consists of 125 copies: twenty-six lettered copies are bound in cloth. Each is housed in a slipcase made of 12 gauge steel; boxes hand made by a local blacksmith. They were priced at $250; however, the book was oversubscribed at publication.

Ninety-nine copies are hand-sewn into Olive Larroque, a French, hand-made paper. Priced at $125; OP as well.

Publication date 15 September, 2001.

They can be had on ABEBooks.


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Chris Offutt — A Dog & His Boy


I can’t believe it’s been 7 years since Chris Offutt’s A Dog & His Boy was published. Mr. Offutt’s story was published in a very small run of fifty copies; I don’t think we need to say it was over-sold upon publication. There were also six author copies that weren’t mentioned on the colophon, and a very small number of “overs” — five to be exact. They’re marked “out of series”.

I always thought I would going to write something about my experiences with Mr. Offutt; who knows…maybe I will.

The book was letterpress printed: Baskerville Roman was the font face for the text of the story; Goudy Bold and Goudy Handtooled were used for the cover and title page. The actual book work started in the fall of 1999, and we went to print in December of that year.

The story was printed on Somerset Text. I love that paper and will use it again. Two different endpapers were used, but I don’t recall what they were. I pretty sure Banana Mash was one, and I want to say Thai Grass was the other. To make matters worse, either Banana Mash or Thai Grass were used only for the author’s copies. I just don’t know which got which. Rives Arches was the cover stock we used. It looks pretty, but it’s a bitch to print with.

Kathy Sheehan provided linoleum cuts for the illustrations. She was in the MFA program at Arizona State University at the time, studying printmaking. Kathy carved four illustrations: two illustrations of a school bus, one coming towards the reader, the other leaving. The bus is the first and last illustration of the book, and the image — coming and going — provides a very nice book-end effect. There are two red feet, as well as one of the main characters in the story, The Dog.

The Offutt collectors that were on our mailing list secured a copy of A Dog & His Boy for the publication price of $75. Once upon a time, Joseph The Provider had one listed for $250, but he sold it.

And I don’t have any more.