November 16, 2008, Patricia Dienstfrey’s living room, Berkeley, CA
In 2008, on the occasion of the 34th anniversary of Kelsey Street Press, four founding members discussed the impetus for forming the press, and its early days. The participants were Marina La Palma, Laura Moriarty, Patricia Dienstfrey, and Rena Rosenwasser. This conversation was moderated by Frances Phillips and recorded by Ramsay Breslin.
This discussion took place only six years ago, yet many aspects of KSP have changed in recent years: the composition of the press has continued to develop, and there are five new members since this discussion was recorded; not only have we all seen a Kindle, we have published our first ebook; and, in discussing the aims and existence of KSP today, members seem less hesitant to refer to the press as a feminist project. Yet, the focus of these conversations—the process of starting a press from scratch, the excitement of challenging the status quo, the intense and thoughtful consideration of poetics—remain fascinating and relevant to the press today, and to anyone who is interested in its history.
Section One (20 minutes)
Introduction by Dienstfrey: background on the press and participants; connection with Berkeley Poets Cooperative; Karen Brodine and Kit Duane’s involvement; Second Wave context; the all-male San Francisco Bay Area Poets anthology; the example set by other small presses; printing materials and learning how to use a letterpress; Poems from Neurosuite, and KSP’s early interest in translation; Other Voices anthology; book design with Robert Rosenwasser; printing and office changes; purpose of the panel.
Individual influences before forming KSP: La Palma on Gallimard, performance, sound. Rosenwasser on women’s consciousness groups and feminist art programs at Cal Arts; protests at MOMA over the exclusion of women artists; typesetting; the Bacchanal on Solano Ave.
Section Two (23 minutes)
Rosenwasser’s memories of the art and feminist movements in the 1970s. La Palma on dances that she and Karen Brodine participated in; moving toward poetry as performance. Moriarty on her different trajectory into the press; being an undergraduate at Cal when KSP started; moving to SF with Jerry Estrin.
Discussion about KSP not having an explicitly feminist mission statement in the beginning. Moriarty on political and poetic oppositions that felt heated at the time and, in hindsight, appear to have dissolved. Dienstfrey on gender oppositions; her initial thoughts on Language poetry. Differences between Language poets and the How(ever) group. Moriarty on becoming aware of Language writing in the late 1970s. The nature of group identity. Discussion of a specific debate between Language poets and the How(ever) group. The intensity of debates about embodiment versus process.
Section Three (17 minutes)
Rosenwasser on how the women’s movement made it possible to bring more parts of life into art; the impetus to separate from Berkeley Poets Cooperative. Dienstfrey on a particular poem by Karen Brodine that was critiqued by men in the Berkeley Poets Cooperative. La Palma on how work by women writers was deemed feminine in an inherently limiting way. Rosenwasser’s memory of hearing Kathleen Fraser read a poem about heavy legs in her high school as part of a Poets in the School program, and her (male) English teacher’s disapproval of the subject matter. Moriarty’s sense that being a few years younger and from a working class background changed her experience; remembering the Language poets/How(ever) debate of which Dienstfrey spoke, but ultimately finding the dichotomies false. Language poets like Carla Harryman, Lyn Hejinian, Leslie Scalapino. Moriarty’s sense that rhetoric influenced the ways poets read one another during that time.
Discussion of group identity and academia. Moriarty on male Language poets like Ron Silliman. Moriarty’s memory of giving a talk “On Pleasure” and being surprised and amused that men in the audience argued against pleasure. Dienstfrey on a Feminist Presses Panel at Duquesne, Third Wave, inclusiveness and non-hierarchy. La Palma on the grueling process of starting the press, decisions by consensus, trying to balance desire for diversity with aesthetic interests. Discussion about inexperience in the early years.
Section Four (15 minutes)
Discussion of models for publishing that influenced KSP. Moriarty on how the issues for small presses today are similar and different. Becoming educated on the business aspects of publishing. Discussion of fundraising, grants, and diversity. Discussion of the poetry scene in the 1970s and today. KQED recording in 1976. Salon events: Fraser and Barbara Guest, Barbara Christian and Carrie Mae Weems.
Rosenwasser on how artist collaborations came about; Simulacra with Kate Delos; Guest and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge’s interest in collaborations. Dienstfrey on artwork in the early books; frontispieces by Robert Rosenwasser; Hair-raising; Desert Flats by Rena Rosenwasser; Girl Named Hero by Kit Duane; Poem for a Single Pallet by Fanny Howe; she talks to herself in the language of an educated woman by Frances Jaffer. Discussion of HAIR-RAISING, and the 1970s feminism ethos. Making the Park. ROOMS.
Section Five (22 minutes)
Discussion of rifts and conflicts in the press; changes in the composition of the press. Dienstfrey on the split with Karen Brodine. Moriarty on her decision to leave the press. La Palma on Brodine’s departure from the press, as well as her own. Rosenwasser on transitioning from a collective model to a business model. Dienstfrey on how life changes affected her involvement with the press; how the reorganization of the press made it possible for it to continue for so long; the community of press members. Rosenwasser on how she and Dienstfrey provided continuity for the press.
Dienstfrey’s concern with the historical record; how culture is preserved and perpetuated. Small presses as a connection to a community. Moriarty on defining the success of a small press; the importance of SPD and distribution. Rosenwasser’s love of the book as a made, physical object; concerns about losing that with a shift to electronic publishing. Generational changes in feminism; the now-global perspective of feminism. Dienstfrey’s concerns about continuing to counter patriarchal forces in culture and in consciousness. Discussion of legacy of KSP; moments that stand out as highlights; the aesthetic of KSP—space, openness, tactile, visual; realizing that KSP was on the map. Conclusion from Frances Phillips.
October 11, 2013
Brenda Hillman: February 25, 2008, Barbara Guest’s living room, Berkeley, CA
This interview fills in gaps in chronology from earlier interviews and focuses on Guest’s creative process, as well as her later work. The third voice is Patricia Dienstfrey, co-founder of Kelsey Street Press. The interview is divided into four sections, with summaries below. Many thanks to Brenda Hillman for helping Kelsey Street Press recover this lost track. The other interviews in this series can be found here.
Section 1: Guest’s creative process and how she responded when her work was described as obscure. The influence of modern art and literature. The return to Berkeley later in her life (working with Kelsey Street Press in 1988, and moving to Berkeley in 1994). A visit with artist June Felter in Berkeley in 1987. Guest’s breakthrough in writing “Chalk” on the chalkboard at the Windrush School. The struggle for avant-garde writing to be accepted by academia.
Section 2: Filling in the chronology from earlier interviews. Guest’s younger siblings David, Pat, Nancy, and Jimmy. Moving in with her aunt in California at age 11 at her grandmother’s urging. Her father’s work as a probation officer. The family history as pioneers. Social work in Los Angeles. Guest’s job as a typist for Henry Miller. Her relationship with Miller’s roommate John Dudley. Moving to Kansas and then to New York. Discovering the art and literary scene in NY. Discussion of Guest’s suspicion of academia, and how scholarship on avant-garde writing has changed over the past 50 years. The importance of freedom. Guest’s sense that the NY School writers had drifted apart by the 1980s. In the 1960s, the demand that writing be political, rather than personal. How Guest opposed any such mandate on writing. The imagination as transformative. Discussion of realism with reference to Fair Realism and Wallace Stevens. Religious upbringing and faith later in life. Spirituality, art, and Kandinsky.
Section 3: Discussion of Rocks on a Platter: Notes on Literature. Adorno. Discussion about lyric poetry. Aesthetic changes between Rocks on a Platter and Miniatures and Other Poems. Guest’s anxiety that Wesleyan might not accept Miniatures and feeling held back creatively by that anxiety. Her prolific writing and the sense of always needing to push aesthetic boundaries. The intensity of her creative process. Her notebooks. Discussion about The Red Gaze and her process in writing it. “Imagined Room,” “The Brown Vest,” and “The Next Floor.” Sense of her poetry being grounded in life despite its strangeness. Her love of color and the influence of painters. Her collages.
Section 4: Collaborations with Kevin Killian. Hadley Haden Guest’s relationship with her mother. Guest’s appreciation of beauty and art. Hadley Haden Guest’s education and youth; her relationship with her stepfather; her father, his family history, his relationship with H.D. Conclusion.
March 23, 2009
In the effort to preserve valuable information about Barbara Guest’s life for future biographers and lovers of her work, Kelsey Street Press has done a series of interviews with Barbara’s daughter, Hadley Haden Guest. The interviews took place between Fall, 2007 and Spring, 2008, at Barbara’s home in Berkeley, which she shared with Hadley for more than a decade at the end of her life.
The interviews include: Susan Gevirtz, on Barbara’s early years; Kathleen Fraser, on her years in New York City; Brenda Hillman, on certain late poems and the creative process; Rena Rosenwasser on collaborations with visual artists; and Patricia Dienstfrey on Hadley’s recollections of Barbara in the context of family life. If you cite or quote this series on your website or in your work, which you are invited to do, we ask that you acknowledge Kelsey Street Press. These recordings are unedited. Address: 2824 Kelsey Street, Berkeley, CA, 94705.
March 21, 2009
Susan Gevirtz: May 9, 2007, Barbara Guest’s livingroom, Berkeley, CA. Recorded with the help of Ramsay Breslin.
The three Gevirtz/Guest tracks divide into two main sections.
Section 1: Guests’ peripatetic childhood moving back and forth between Florida and West Virginia. Brief profiles of her mother and father. Influences of the Depression. Beverly Hills High in 1930’s. College at UCLA and UC Berkeley. World War II years, social work and other jobs. First marriage to John Dudley and moves from LA to Kansas City and Manhattan. Barbara in Los Angeles, 1940s. Discussions of “Handbook of Surfing,” and “Turkey Villas” from THE BLUE STAIRS. Guest’s conflicted views regarding psychoanalysis and doctors given her Christian Science background. Hollywood and THE CONFETTI TREES. UC Berkeley: the Beats, Josephine Miles, Kenneth Rexroth and the SF Renaissance poets. Poets who influenced Guest’s poetry. Her view of historical time in poetry and the character of her modernism. Hadley Guest reading “Blurred Edge” from MINIATURES.
Section 2: The third voice is Patricia Dienstfrey’s, co-founder of Kelsey Street Press. Guest’s apartment overlooking Kandinsky’s studio in the Flatiron District. Her respect for artists who came to the U.S. from European and Eastern European during World War II. Her four siblings.Part 1 of 3 Part 2 of 3 Part 3 of 3
March 18, 2009
Patricia Dienstfrey: May 23, 2008, Barbara Guest’s livingroom, Berkeley, CA.
This interview focuses on Hadley Haden Guest’s memories of family life, growing up in a household with her mother, her stepfather, Trumble Higgins, and her half brother, Jonathan.
Track 1: Hadley’s early childhood memories of her father, Stephen Guest, and her stepfather, Trumble Higgins in New York City.
Track 2: Barbara Guest’s and Trumble Higgin’s differing perspectives on politics and class. Barbara Guest’s activism during the Vietnam War. Years in residence in Washington, D.C. during the Kennedy Administration. Entertaining at home. Styles of argument and discussion in the family context. Hadley’s years at boarding school and Bennington College. Barbara Guest’s style of criticism and her advise to Hadley starting out as a writer of children’s books.