Tender Benches is a blog series initiated in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Kelsey Street Press. Through this series, we will look more closely at KSP titles, from the 1970s to the present day, and the KSP archives housed in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. At the time of KSP’s founding in 1974, “Tender Benches” was one name originally proposed for the Press, and ultimately dismissed. This offbeat suggestion evoked Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and benches as public spaces for meeting and contemplation. The reference to benches—on city streets, in parks, on trails, overlooking vistas—now feels apt for pausing to reflect on the history of KSP and the past 40 years.
This week, in our audio catalog, we published a roundtable discussion recorded in 2008 with Patricia Dienstfrey, Rena Rosenwasser, Laura Moriarty, and Marina La Palma. Along with Kit Duane and Karen Brodine, they were the founding members of Kelsey Street Press. This recording contains a wealth of information about the early days of the Press and the cultural and political scene in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 70s and 80s.
One little-known fact about KSP: the founding members were influenced by Gallimard and the small presses in Europe that had published the great modernist works and, as such, originally intended to focus on international writers and translations. The first book published by the Press was Poems from Neurosuite, excerpts from a work by Italian poet Margherita Guidacci, with translations by Marina La Palma. Poems from Neurosuite was letterpress-printed in 1975, in a limited edition of 200 copies. Guidacci is known both for her own Italian poetry and for her translations of English poetry into Italian, particularly translations of Emily Dickinson, T.S. Elliot, and Elizabeth Bishop. In Guidacci’s own poetry, the influence of Dickinson can be felt—Guidacci’s poem’s are spiritual, metaphysical lyrics that question a present state of being and push toward transformation. See the poems below, “Madame X” and “Di Notte,” with La Palma’s translations on the right:
While the Press ultimately decided not to focus on translations due to the difficulty of negotiating international copyright law, it has retained an interest in writers with diverse international backgrounds—from Asian-American authors such as Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, Myung Mi Kim, Nellie Wong, and Bhanu Kapil to Chilean poet Cecilia Vicuña to Lebanese-American poet and artist Etel Adnan.