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.
September 22, 2013
Gurgling in the Monster Depths:
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 19, 2009
Rena Rosenwasser: October 23, 2007, Barbara Guest’s livingroom, Berkeley, CA
The main focus of this track is on Guest’s collaborations with visual artists throughout her writing career.
Guest’s visits to Berkeley in the eighties for readings and to stay for periods of time in friends’ homes. How “writing against personal difficulties” stimulated her middle and later poems. Combinations of adventurous spirit, risk-taking, insecurity, fear, opportunity, spontaneity as part of her process and an aspect of her modernism. Guest’s close friendship with artist, June Felter. The importance of the writing of “Chalk” in an empty Albany, CA classroom. Rosenwasser’s first meeting with Guest and their visits in NYC in the eighties. New York School views of life and art as not separate from social engagement of artists, writers, dancers, musicians in studios, museums, bars, parties and private conversations. Reasons for Guest’s move to the Bay Area in 1994. Guest’s immediate impact on the poetry Bay Area poetry scene among innovative feminist writers, students, and others. Discussion of some of her Bay Area poet friends. Guest’s many awards in later life, including the highly prestigious Robert Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime of Work in Poetry from the Poetry Society of America, 1999.
DEFENSIVE RAPTURE, Sun & Moon, 1993
QUILL, SOLITARY, APPARITION, Post-Apollo, 1996
THE CONFETTI TREES, Sun & Moon, 1999
Poem paintings with Mary Abbott in NYC and Ilse Getz in Paris
MUSICALITY: With artist June Felter, Kelsey Street Press, 1988
THE NUDE: With artist Warren Brandt, International Editions, 1989
THE ALTOS: With artist Richard Tuttle, Hank Hine Press, 1992
OFTEN: A play, in collaboration with poet Kevin Killian, performed at Small Press Traffic, 1990’s
STRIPPED TALES: With artist Anne Dunn, Kelsey Street Press, 1995
SYMBIOSIS: With artists Laurie Reid, Kelsey Street Press, 2000
DURER IN THE WINDOW: With artist Richard Tuttle and editor Africa Wayne, Roof Books, 2003