In the years from 1963 to 1968, d.a. levy produced numerous handmade publications that helped to define the small press resurgence in America. Besides his own work, levy assembled chapbooks of other writers who he felt were important & needed to be heard. Initially using an old letterpress & publishing as Renegade Press, levy continued as 7 Flowers Press using ditto copiers & mimeographs as well as having publications professionally printed. With each progression, levy pushed the boundaries to see what else could be done. he took the rulebooks & burned them.
Almost 40 years later, while computers, scanners, color copiers & laser printers eliminate all the dirty work from publishing, these modern enhancements also remove much of the creative process. No longer do you need to type the stencils (without spell-check or auto-correcting features). No need to prevent the liquid or paste ink from goobering all over the pages when they are ejected from the mimeograph. Or worse, having the mimeo's drum or screen goober too much ink in one location & not enough ink elsewhere on the page. In the 1960's small press world, the publications were produced by human hands performing human interactions with typewriters & big dumb printing presses in basements, closets or any room in an apartment where there was an available flat surface. Today, everything is a crisp, clean copy produced by a modern machine. Gone are mistakes that, either by accident or plan, created something unique & different (like typing on the reverse side of the stencil or feeding the paper backward through the mimeograph). "Slickness" used to be a dirty word.
Reprinting these books requires being part archeologist, part technologist & part psychic mind reader. Many of levy's poems & collages have been reprinted in collections such as ukanhavyrfuckinciti bak by Ghost Press in 1968, d.a. levy's poems and collages by Quixote Press in 1980 or Zen Concrete & Etc. produced by Ghost Pony Press in 1991.
Whereas these later poems & collages provide a kaleidoscope of the events in both levy's life & Cleveland, Ohio in the late 1960s, they are only one part of the man who wanted to examine the society around him. The areas which have never been adequately explored are his earlier lyrical poems which were printed in various small press publications across the USA, England, Mexico & Canada; his letterpress concrete chapbooks; his ditto copier mandalas as well as covers & prints he created for chapbooks written by other poets.
I began reprinting d.a.levy poetry in 1975 using Tom Kryss' old A.B. Dick mimeograph that had been used to print ukanhavyrfuckinciti bak. In 1976, I printed two collections of rarer levy poems entitled Barking Rabbit & Red Cat of Reason (Barking Too). these were true mimeo productions with swearing, sweating & ink spreading all over everything. Note: if you talk to a former mimeographer today, I bet they say that mimeo ink still flows in their veins.
In 1998, as Kirpan Press, I decided to reproduce, in their entirety, levy's first three letterpress poetry books from 1963 (Variations On Flip, Fragments Of A Shattered Mirror & More Withdrawed Or Less). Retyping the poems created the challenge of replicating letterpress printing & spacing using a true-type, Microsoft Windows-based, word processing program. This required much tweaking to align the letters similar to levy's layout on the original page.
Spelling was another issue. Just because each word is composed using individual letters when setting letterpress type, it doesn't mean everything must be spelled correctly. During retyping, the guideline was to compare the same word in another poem to see if it was misspelled the same way or if the misspelling actually convey a special meaning by levy.
The fourth book in the initial reprint series (Random Sightings) was another collection of early rare levy poems which had only previously appeared in various small press publications, all out of print & mostly out of existence. [Figure 1] This presented more questions since levy's poems had been retyped by small press publishers who probably added their own typographical errors & misalignments.
In 2000 Kirpan Press completed a six volume, second series containing d.a. levy reprints as well as unpublished poems, collages & manuscript pages that exposed further conflicts.
His early forays into letterpress concrete (Farewell The Floating Cunt or White Light) are graphic as well as cerebral. Trying to scan the original printed page (without destroying the book & the stapled binding) is a balancing act during replication. When archiving, some libraries remove the staples from small press publications since most of the staples will eventually rust due to acid in the paper or moisture in the air. It took a lot of effort to assemble the books in the first place (particularly since many of levy's books contain multiple paper sizes). Why would anyone want to take them apart merely to "save" them? Another library habit is to rebind levy's publications by removing his unique covers, adding thick cardboard covers & professionally saddlestitching the books back together. His cover prints have been destroyed or discarded.
levy's ditto copier publications (like the machines used in public schools before photocopying became a way of life) suffer even a worse fate. Due to the nature of the stencils, they generated a limited number of quality prints before the letters began to decompose & bleed on the paper. Also, the ink pigment (a bluish violet) was susceptible to sunlight that faded the ink from the page. The original editions that I've seen of levy's mandalas in Pplastic Saxophone Found In An Egyptian tomb or The Box Lunch Travel-og Of Fremont Gulch have made exact reproduction an approximate art. [Figure 2] and [Figure 3]
An additional problem while reproducing these limited edition chapbooks was that, occasionally, mistakes & omissions were made during the original page collation. There are two versions of the egyptian stroboscope by levy & D.r. Wagner. The first version was printed in 1966 in an edition of 108 copies by levy's 7 Flowers Press. This was one of the publications seized by the Cleveland olice in the Dec. 1966 "blitz-bomb." Grass Coin Publishing Company printed the second version in 1967 in an edition of 100 copies. There are certain pages missing in version one that appear in version two. The page order is slightly modified. Which version has the correct pages? Which version has the correct order? Is there a correct order?
Most copies of levy's professionally offset- printed publications (The Buddhist Third Class Junkmail Oracle & The Tibetan Stroboscope) were produced on newsprint that has substantially darkened & yellowed throughout the years. The issues of The Oracle were sold for "only 10 cents IF YOU CAN AFFORD IT / 15 cents out of Cleveland." The Tibetan Stroboscope, which originally sold for 35 cents, has been reprinted in levy collections & also appears at this web site.
Rarely reproduced are the levy cover illustrations & internal prints that he created for other poets' chapbooks. Many of the early artworks were woodblock prints or drawings (Selected Poems Of Kent Taylor or Poems Of Jacob Leed). other cover styles included pen drawings (Down, Off & Out by William Wantling) & india ink washes (Permit Me Voyage by Adelaide Simon or The Free Lance magazine). [Figure 4]
For some chapbook covers, levy painted a long roll of brown wrapping paper as a continuous piece. Then, he cut the roll into 8-1/2" strips & glued the painted paper onto the cover stock (Cleveland Poems, Chicago Poems & Other Shit by T.L. Kryss). He used the same method with original collages; cutting a large collage created from adult magazines into unique covers (The Day Is A Prayer They Can't Understand! by D.r. Wagner). No two covers were alike. The same was true for internal prints. Some of the graphic statements made by levy were woodblock prints, what appear to be painted prophylactic pressings [Figure 5], ink drawings & individual paintings. [Figure 6] sometimes, only a handful of copies had these special levy prints. In 2001 Kirpan Press began a third, limited edition, six volume series which includes many unpublished color paintings, [Figure 7] collages & very obscure poems from all phases of levy's life.
This raises the question, what is the definitive version of a d.a.levy publication? With so many variations in covers & illustrations, mimeograph print quality for each page, collating errors & the deteriorating condition after thirtysome years, can there be a pristine, absolute version of any small press publication? The most precise statement that can be made is that a 1990s reprint is the reproduction of a specific copy of a 1960s chapbook. The other "37" original copies of the same book might be different.
More importantly, the ultimate question is: were these small press books ever meant to last this long or were they meant for the moment; to kick you right in the head & then disintegrate like levy? levy was not a saint nor a superman as many of the myths would want you to believe. He was just a guy who tried to show Cleveland & the world what they were; a mirror which reflected all the beauty & the zits. The fact that he was only human makes his accomplishments even more impressive. So when my friend asked me about all this rarely seen levy work that I'm printing, I told him: these books are not levy's body (which is gone forever). They are only his thoughts.
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Copyright © 1999 by Alan Horvath
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