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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.

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Charles Plymell — Journals From Lysidia


It would be tough to accurately describe Charles Plymell’s importance to the Beat Generation, as well as to little magazines and small press publishing. He lived with Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady in San Francisco in the early 1960s. It’s not enough to say he admired and was influenced by the Beats — his best work stands right alongside that of his contemporaries: Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Corso.

Plymell’s work has been published in numerous places, from well-known Beat journals to Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books imprint. As an editor and publisher, he has, in turn, published many Beat figures, including those mentioned here, as well as many who aren’t: Herbert Huncke, Gerald Malanga, and Roxie Powell; Plymell publications are too many to name here; The Cold Spring Journal and NOW are the first two that popped into mind.

Charlie also printed R. Crumb’s first Zap.

In an interview with Jon Randall, Plymell says the best scene he ever experienced was “in the 50’s high on Oxy and/or Bennies wailin’ in the clubs around K.C., Wichita’s ‘Colored Town’ or Oklahoma City. Driving the old Route 66. As whites, we could go into clubs with musician friends and talk and visit with artists like Fats Domino, Wilson Pickett, or even Charlie Parker, if we were lucky. Everyone was accessible because they weren’t that famous and if you were cool and had a little booze or reef or bennies, you could really be happy. To put it in chronological order, this was before an old hipster by the name of Herbert Huncke hitch-hiked out of Chicago and happen to say, ‘Man, I’m beat’ to the Columbia student, Allen Ginsberg, so at that time, I knew nothing of The Beats.

The second big scene for me happened when I moved to Ashbury St. in S.F. in ’62 and met some of the old poetry people around the Auerhahn Press which was interesting but very tame, somewhat like the old bohemian scene around City Lights Books. Those were the old canons, the intellectual progeny of the literary 1920’s. They were not ready for what was about to happen. Rexroth saw it coming and used to comment on what was going on, when I would visit him at his flat off the Filmore. I was dancing in the Haight-Ashbury completely out of my head on LSD and weed — no ‘hippies’ yet. We called them ‘heads’. ‘Did you see how many heads there were on the streets tonight?’ we would say. This was before Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Rexroth or any of the old beats were aware of what was happening.

Cassady was running around. I met him in North Beach late ’62 or early ’63. McClure dropped by Glenn Todd and Justin Hein’s place to see what was going on with the LSD. Bruce Conner had come back from Mexico with a suitcase full of marbles. We had Sandoz LSD. It wasn’t called acid then and wasn’t like what you got afterwards. (Except for Owsley). We worked up a rock ‘n roll ritual dancing to Ray Charles and then joined hands and really stepped into another world.”

Plymell’s synaesthesia press chapbook, Journals From Lysidia, is an excerpt from the Waterrow Press publication Hand on The Doorknob — The Charles Plymell Reader; in fact, Jeff Weinberg played a major role in getting Journals From Lysidia published and out there, too.

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Roxie Powell — Wild Whispers


Robert Peters said of Roxie Powell’s first chapbook, Dreams of Straw, “anyone anxious for an original experience in poetry will love Dreams of Straw“. Non-workshop, non-Iowa, non-NY city-clever, non-anything. It’s rumored Allen Ginsberg carried one with him for years, and this is fact: Ginsberg paid for a second printing of the book.

Roxie has published only two additional books in the 35+ years since Dave Haselwood’s Auerhahn Press printed Dreams of Straw. the synaesthesia press is proud to publish the poet’s fourth title, Wild Whispers.

From Anselm Hollo’s forward: “these Wild Whispers range from the meditative mystery of the title poem to painterly evocations of place….childhood moments revisited on tortuous paths; bawdy, bucolic, but never obvious love poems.”

Charles Plymell, who penned an afterward, posed the question I’ve already answered here: “What great & feared iconoclastic critic and the real Poet Laureate of his time praised him in print?”

Wild Whispers was published in a limited edition of 125 copies; 99 are numbered and signed by the poet, 26 lettered copies are signed by Roxie, Anselm Hollo, and Charles Plymell. The lettered copies have three letterpress broadsides laid-in. 24 pages, folio, with dust jacket and covers letterpress printed and all copies hand sewn into wraps.

Roxie Powell is one of the best poets you’ve never heard of. We’ll even go as far as to argue that his first book, Dreams of Straw, is one of the most whimsical, quirkiest — and superb — little books of poetry published in the 1960’s.

I’m even taking Richard Brautigan into consideration.

Just don’t expect an argument from me.

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Jim Pritchard — “The Neighbors” and “The Man With The Buzzer in His Throat”


There’s lots to say — and as much to keep quiet — about Jim Pritchard.

His story, The Neighbors, ended up being published as the very first synaesthesia press chapbook. As a publisher, I was heavily influenced by the beat chapbooks from the mimeo era, and that was the initial idea for everything the press would put out. Of course, things change, and that policy went out the door when I went to press with the Chris Offutt book. But looking back at The Neighbors, and Pritchard’s other contribution to synaesthesia, The Man With the Buzzer In His Throat, well, I’ll stand by those two books any day.

The Man With The Buzzer in His Throat ended up being published in Vox. The artist Brian Marsland silkscreen the cover in his backyard on a warm spring day in Tempe, Arizona, in two variants: on cover had just the red ink featuring the man with the buzzer in his throat and the title of the story; most, however, had a yellow background.

Now, if we could only find Pritchard. Last time we heard of his whereabouts, he was living in a one-room flophouse in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, driving a cab, and working on a novel. Then, he disappeared.

If you know how to contact him, please let me know — he owes me money.

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Henry Tokarski — To Sherri O’Brien From Morrell Park in Northeast Philadelphia

The synaesthesia press has listings in a few directories soliciting a poem for chapbook consideration. While I’m not big on this sort of thing, who knows if the next Charles Bukowski is sitting in a cheap room pounding out poems and looking for a place to send them? So I keep the listings current, just in case. And, just like everyone who publishes anything, I get more than I could ever print. To top it off, a lot of the work sent in just doesn’t do anything for me.

Enter Henry Tokarski. From the very first poem I read in his submission, I was hooked. I decided to publish the work before I got to the last poem in the batch.

We look to label everything we experience, from music to people, and while I’m not a big fan of this, I do it, too. So when people heard me talking about Henry’s work and asking me, “what’s it like?” my standard reply is Brautiganesque.

When the project started coming together, I asked Gerald Locklin to write an introduction to the book. Here’s part of what he had to say: Henry Tokarski has produced a sequence of youthful, credible love poems in a time not hospitable to such efforts. His method crystallizes lyric moments, probing and preserving them, and, unlike Proust, always in the fewest words possible, as with all minimalist art, spaces and silences are left for the participation of the reader, the merging of his emotional history with that of the writer. All in all, the pieces add up to a serious, tasteful, and psychologically sophisticated chronicling of a romantic passage, singular in tone and auguring a future of well chosen words.

There’s no way I could have described Henry’s work better.

The book is designed; the type is set.

Target publication date for To Sherri O’Brien From Morrell Park in Northeast Philadelphia is Spring, 2009.