by Cary Loren


The Detroit Artists' Workshop was a small universe. A multimedia, interracial art collective reaching into many areas of creative production. The Workshop practiced in the areas of poetry, visual arts (painting, photography, film making), music, politics, and education; often overlapping areas, breaking barriers, experimenting, building small networks locally, which grew in influence and inspiration on a national and global level.

Collaborations between the Artists' Workshop and other avant-gardes such as the Black Arts Movement in Harlem, the Once Group in Ann Arbor, The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in Chicago, and the Black Mountain College in North Carolina, helped to spread public awareness of the new arts, poetry, and avant-jazz movements here in Detroit and beyond. The mouthpiece and connecting thread between these groups were the small mimeographed poetry journals, newsletters, underground newspapers, and portable reel-to-reel tape recordings. Performance spaces were few and limited. It was a network created by "people power" and hand-delivered.

Both anarchy and discipline were welded together in the Workshop. The group's energy came from a belief in the city, a neighborhood and cultural center surrounding Wayne State University that gives meaning to this sense of place called Detroit. The Workshop put ideas about artistic freedom into action, in a space that encouraged self-expression and constant experiment. Hand typing stencils, cross country trips to gain interviews, and underground recordings, collating and distributing poetry books and anthologies by hand, everything done in the name of art and passion with little or no outside recognition or fanfare. There was a total devotion and discipline to the newness of it, the recognition and satisfaction of doing-it- yourself. In the sixties the popular phrase was to "dig yourself" -- the individual in service to a high creative ideal was at the same time serving the community and raising consciousness.

Worldwide avant-garde movements have all sprung out of urban neighborhoods. Montparnesse, Paris in the 1890s was one of the first and best known, setting a pattern that multiplied throughout Europe and Russia. In 1902 in New York City, Alfred Stieglitz published anarchistic articles and revolutionary art and literature in CAMERA WORK, this later evolved into the arts publication 291. Francis Picabia published his Dadaist answer in 391 and later edited the zine DADA with Tristan Tzara. Minotaur and Documents became the mouth organ of surrealism, centered around the poets and artists of Paris in the twenties and thirties. The abyss of World War II left a long gap in publishing until the European avant garde once again landed in America. The aesthetics of The New Poetry movement was largely filtered out of the Black Mountain College in North Carolina.

In the 1950s and early 60s, the Greenwich Village area in New York, Laurel Canyon of Los Angeles, and North Beach in San Francisco were centers of abstract expressionism, beat culture, and emerging pop-art. The most successful art communities are those which were able to put their shared vision into action. All of these avant-gardes had a support system in the form of small presses, which was the most accessible and spontaneous way to spread information about the growing scene.

The Artists' Workshop in Detroit developed its own highly organized and unique practices. It was a communal, pay-as-you-go, dues paying organization. A five dollar donation showed your commitment to the group and gave you a spot on the masthead. Coming out of Moteith College, the Workshop put education at the top of its priorities, opening a "Free University" within its first few months. November 1, 2004 marks the 40th anniversary of the Workshop.

Web surfing is a close relative to the multimedia actions practiced by the Workshop, but the internet leaves out the one essential ingredient of groups coming together and forming creative organic living collectives at the center of the urban experience. It is said that the invention of the telephone ended the art movements of the café society of Montparnesse. Artists no longer needed to meet together and discuss the issues of the day, they could just pick up the phone. What the café was to the early avant-garde, so the mimeograph was to the culture of the early 1960s, a low-tech hang-out for the beat generation. This essay will explore one facet that helped define Detroit's first avant-garde, the Detroit Artists' Workshop.


"What we are witnessing is a delicate shift of total consciousness in America-it won't be done through publicity or propaganda, articles or any form of -brainwashing persuasion - it will occur as a response to altered history scene."
~ Gregory Corso

Many of the radical small journals in the early 1960s were printed on Gestetner mimeograph machines. This allowed cheap and reasonably readable copies to be made and distributed quickly. The mimeograph was a large, heavy, solid metal machine. Before a copy could be run off, a stencil needed to be made first. Most stencils were usually typewritten on, and then strapped to the machine drum. A hand turned crank (later replaced by an electric motor) would put pressure between sheets of paper and a cylinder as ink was forced through openings cut into the stencil. The entire process went smoothly for professional printers, but for most users (i.e., the do-it-yourself crowd) it was a messy business with torn stencils, ruined ink-stained clothes and smearing ink on the pages.

The mimeograph is now a dead medium, replaced by high speed copiers, computers and ink jet printers. There are no longer parts made for mimeograph machines which make their by-products as rare as handmade daguerreotypes. The art and knowledge of this arcane medium is dying off, known only to those who were its early practitioners.

Many of the beat writers produced works on mimeograph machines. Poet Allen Ginsberg self-produced first edition copies of Howl, his major work as a mimeograph. Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) and Diane di Prima published their Floating Bear Press journal out of a back store-room of the Phoenix bookshop. di Prima named the press after the name of Pooh's boat (an accidentally overturned honey-pot) in Winnie the Pooh. di Prima recalled the mimeograph operation; "After the editing was over and done with, the rest of the work was chiefly in my hands. I typed the material onto green Gestetner mimeograph stencils with my ancient, heavy IBM typewriter… Correcting mimeograph stencils was painful and painstaking. You applied a liquid plastic, also green, which closed over the typing as it dried, making a new plastic "skin". You had to make sure the schmear of fluid didn't adhere to the stencil's backing sheet, or it would tear off again leaving a big hole in the stencil just when you were ready to print. Then, too, the correction fluid needed to be neither too thin (wouldn't cover the previous typing) or too thick (you wouldn't be able to get the new word to "show through" when you typed in the correction). Painful and nerve-wracking, it was the worst part of the process and makes it clear to me that computers came none too soon."1 di Prima points out how the natural division of labor split their duties and although they both co-edited the paper, "it was Roi's press."

Baraka expressed the public response to Floating Bear: "(it) was coming out regularly and became the talk of our various interconnected literary circles. It was meant to be "quick, fast, and in a hurry." … the publication had real impact and influence and was greatly talked about. And though it had a regular circulation of about 300, those 300 were sufficiently wired for sound to project the Bear's presence and "message" (of a new literature and a new criticism) in all directions."2 The mimeo format gave the press an immediate response time and a spontaneous nature that reflected the poetry it reprinted.


"We need an electronic stencil-making machine, they cost $2000.00! PLEASE HELP US!!... If you want to sell the SUN at your school and think you can get away with it, stop by the office and pick some up... We also owe the Gestetner mimeograph people over $400. And we can't get any more supplies from them until we pay the money. PLEASE HELP US!!!" - Classified Ads from the SUN

In Detroit, Monteith College was an experimental school set up on the campus and within Wayne State University. It was founded by a group of disaffected sociology professors from the University of Chicago. Otto Feinstein, a maverick leader in the anti-nuclear and peace movement, arrived in Detroit from the University of Chicago in 1960. A fighter and survivor against fascism and the Nazis, Otto Feinstein would lend great support to the Detroit Artists' Workshop press, allowing them use of school paper, supplies and mimeograph machines. As Otto later would say: "The University must learn to understand that not only are there a variety of ways to learn, but there are also a variety of people to reach. Kids, are not the generation X, the social and political lazybones, and idlers. It is the institutions not responding to nor creating opportunities for kids that are the generation x, the slackers."3 In His Book, Building Civic Literacy and Citizen Power, Otto encouraged students to participate in democratic actions and express opinions, outlining specific ideas and suggestions to achieve empowerment.

Leni Sinclair and Michael Donofrio were both paid assistants to Feinstein when he was the editor of New University Thoughts, a leftist quarterly at Wayne State that was highly influential in radical circles. Leni recalls:

"If it wasn't for Otto, I couldn't pay the rent, or work on the Workshop press. It was his support that allowed it to happen. There was a printing press at the Monteith Student Center and the policy then was to allow students free access to print whatever they wanted. This helped to get things started. Later we bought our own mimeograph machine and were able to print in colors. John did all the typing. Later, Robin Eichele brought in a large offset lithography press, which he learned how to operate from scratch. Otto's philosophy was "taking the University to the community"-he was an academic but loved and admired what we were doing-we were breaking the mold and creating a new structure for learning. We were the living proof of his theories. His support was essential to our cause."4 Monteith and Otto Feinstein provided many of the building blocks for the mimeograph revolution in Detroit.

THE JOURNAL was a mimeographed 'zine published through the auspices of Monteith and Otto Feinstein, and served as a prototype for the Workshop press. Many of the first workshop members appeared in The Journal; Bill Harris, Jerry Younkins, Robin Eichele, John Sinclair, Ron English, George Tysh, Bill Hutton, James Semark and Magdalene Arndt (Leni Sinclair).

FREE POEMS/AMONG FRIENDS was another mimeographed journal edited by Leni Sinclair for the Wayne State University's Artists Society. It was published weekly in editions of 400-600 copies by the Detroit Artists' Workshop Press for the WSU Artists Society, a university recognized student organization, and given away on campus and at various businesses around Detroit. It was an idea that caught on regionally in Detroit and nationwide, "The FREE POEMS/AMONG FRIENDS - movement is spreading around Detroit as well as other places of the country…. It is easy to start such a movement. All one needs is access to a mimeograph or hectograph machine and a few active poets in the area… the possibilities are infinite. No society ever suffered from too much poetry, I'm sure, but it is possible that many died from a lack of it."5

The Detroit Artists' Workshop produced over 20 single titled poetry monographs and just as many one-shots, anthologies and numerous newsletters and bulletins.

The DAW continually improved their technologies and ways of delivering their cultural wares. When Trans-Love Energies appeared as the next incarnation of the Workshop, around 1966, mimeograph technology was replaced with off-set litho machines and the psychedelic silk-screened poster became the new citadel of art production.

The Artists' Workshop produced free jazz concerts and poetry readings every Sunday afternoon and on Friday evenings at their headquarters on West Forest in Detroit. John Sinclair gave a reading the day the workshop opened on November 1st, 1964. Workshop members worked in a state of innocence and compassion, learning by doing. Being influenced by Charles Olson's "Projective Verse" and the NEW AMERICAN POETRY anthology; they sensed the comradeship and ideals of a "national community of artists". These open community "rap sessions" and poetry discussions would develop into an identifiable "Detroit School", but that was furthest from their minds at the time.

The monthly newsletter GUERRILLA grew out of the demise of the jazz journals CHANGE and WHE'RE. A "monthly newspaper of contemporary kulture" that was edited by Allen VanNewkirk and John Sinclair GUERRILLA was a tabloid that followed the publication of WORK #4 in 1966. Visually Work #4 sported an intense Gary Grimshaw cover design, an early psychedelic masterwork that could be considered a transition between eras.

"The beautiful thing about the whole "movement" here in Detroit is that we all started equally-we were literally "nowhere," and we have somehow been able to make a very precise place for ourselves in this city, solely through our efforts, making all the "mistakes" we had to make, taking all the chances we didn't even know were chances…"6

The DAW publications showed a dedicated devotion to new music and its "fine spirit of genuine exuberance."7 The magazines and newsletters were all manifestations of The New Thing, a sense of revolutionary music, art and poetry becoming a powerful force and direction for unity, the bricks of a utopian society.

"This would then be Black Music-a cry of freedom; an utterance so powerful that it shatters the ears with pure Brute Black emotional force. A force that is more powerful than the decibels that make the energy (the sound energy) surrounding the nucleus of this utterance. A wave of energy that refuses to remain hidden in the depths of the Black mind. Being propelled by the force of its own energies.

Raw in its emotions
fresh in its forms
profound in its aesthetics
The New music
The New Wave." 8


"I wanta do do do the
gob gob gobble
do the gobble all night."
--Ed Sanders & Ken Weaver, THE GOBBLE

John and Leni paid a visit to the Peace Eye bookstore sometime in 1966. Sanders had become an early influence and supporter to the Workshop who saw their causes as being aligned. The Detroit Artists' Workshop press was already publishing their own work in a series of journals and poetry chap-books. In an effort to help them pay bills and promote programs, Sanders and the Fugs allowed them to freely reprint THE FUGS SONGBOOK9, which became a small bestseller for the Workshop.

Sander's produced fugitive pamphlets of poetry and prose from his apartment and bookstore. Among of the most notorious was Fuck You, A Magazine for the Arts! One of the early voices of the mimeograph revolution, it's notoriety inspired hundreds of do-it-yourself zines across the nation. There were 13 issues of Fuck You, A Magazine of the Arts!, printed from 1962 through 1965. He published Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Diane di Prima, LeRoi Jones, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Gary Snyder, Diane Wycoski and many others. The bookstore became a famous psychedelic hangout, hosting book parties and art happenings. It held perhaps the first exhibition of comic book art.

Sander's describes the bookstore and his early association with Fug-mate Tuli Kupferberg: "I rented a former Kosher meat store on East 10th Street in late-1964, with groovy tile walls and chicken-singeing equipment which I transformed into a vegetarian literary zone called the Peace Eye Bookstore. I left the words "Strictly Kosher" on the front window. Next door above the Lifschutz wholesale egg market lived Tuli Kupferberg, a beat hero who was featured in anthologies such as The Beat Scene, and who published several fine magazines, Birth and Yeah, which he sold on the streets of the East and West Village." 10

In a recent conversation with Ed Sanders, he remembered those Mimeograph days, and connections with the FUGS and the PEACE EYE bookstore to the cultural revolution of the 60s and the Detroit scene:


on meeting John Sinclair
CL: when was the first meeting between you and John ?
ES: He started mailing me the Artists' Workshop Newsletters around '65 and I didn't always read these things, but what I liked about it was, it was condensed… it wasn't blather, it was REAL. He talked about McCoy Tyner or Amiri Baraka and about POETRY and I somehow learned he was working on his masters degree about William S. Burroughs and Burroughs was a friend of mine, we used to hang out a lot and I published some Burroughs pieces, and so I heard about a guy in Detroit that was writing his master thesis on Burroughs, and so we got along, we spoke the same language, and both of us read at the Berkley Poetry Conference in the summer of 1965.-those were groovy times. But physically our meeting must've been around '66 -- John brought us (THE FUGS) in to play at Wayne State University, then we'd go hang out at the Workshop… We always had a great time in Detroit.. later we'd play the Grande Ballroom, and bands like Sly & the Family Stone and the Psychedelic Stooges would open for us. We always did well in Detroit… it was a HOT TOWN for the FUGS.. I remember one time, John and I even wrote a poem together driving to the airport in May of '67… and just as we were getting to the airport we saw our plane taking off…
CL: do you still have that poem?
ES: I do.
CL: any chance of publishing it?
ES: I'm not sure I'd wanna publish it… it is A WORK OF ART… but you gotta know when to print 'em, and when to squint 'em.
CL: squint 'em? -- haven't heard that before.
ES: I just made it up. .. but anyway, we did hang out a lot, first at the Artist's Workshop and later when they moved to Ann Arbor.. In Chicago I made arrangements with the Chicago parks department to get power for the MC5 concert (at the '68 Democratic National Convention) It was the only musical event that happened there. The MC5 drove in, set up, and I took the plug and plugged 'em in to the sound system at the kiosk in the park… and they played with an American flag on their big amps, REAL AMERICANA …showing the best qualities of an often good nation… and then they did their gig and were on the road headed out of town, which was lucky for them, 'cause that meant they didn't get tear-gassed or WHOMPED.
On The Peace Eye Bookstore & Fuck You/ A magazine of the arts

CL: how did you come up with the name Fuck You Press?
ES: well, it was a catchy title; it got right to the point.
CL: what was the comic show like?
ES: that was at PEACE EYE, when we moved to the Avenue A location, early '68… we moved into the East Village Other offices... that was one of the first ever underground comix exhibitions, it occurred in November, '68. We had Art Speigelman, Robert Crumb, Kim Deitch, Bill Beckman and Spain Rodriguez… Spain did the TRASHMAN series, he was the only Marxist comic book artist I knew… a brilliant artist, still around I think,… he did the sign for PEACE EYE… and he also did the sign for the FREE STORE around the corner. We always had artshows going on… in one we showed works by Gregory Corso… we did a book party for Abbie Hoffman's Revolution for the Hell of It.
CL: and the mimeograph work was done there?
ES: I had a FREE mimeograph print center in the bookstore - where anybody could put out anything-it was a community free print center, and we printed thousands of flyers and poetry booklets… we'd print anything for anybody. I had the only electric stencil cutter back then…
CL: was that your drawing on the cover of Roosevelt After the Inauguration (William S. Burroughs, Fuck You Press)
ES: well, Ginsberg drew that, I supplied him with a primitive light board and some cutting instruments. It was an ARTFORM cutting stencils. You had to have a whole bunch of tools to do it well-which I still have. In fact, I still have my mimeograph machine in my garage… 'cause if Bush.. if they ever open up CAMP ASHCROFT, I can start printing leaflets almost immediately - I don't need electricity, I got ink. I got stencils. And I got my 1966 GESTETNER mimeograph machine… what did Kerry say, "I will be reporting for duty" - for mimeograph duty if CAMP ASHCROFT opens.
CL: I heard they don't make parts for mimeograph machines anymore.
ES: well, they do what they do for old Dodges. You need a loner, they're out there, there are still people today who mimeograph as an artform. In my youth, I was sort of the WILLIAM BLAKE of my era, 'cause I could draw on the stencils, pretty well actually. So I trained myself, and got these real small engraving tools which I used on the stencil film.
CL: those lost technologies are kind of fascinating.
ES: yeah, ya see, they didn't keep William Blake's heavy stone press he had, they just got rid of it. They should've kept it and his engraving tools - there just isn't anything around. They all got dispersed and sold.
CL: that's great you kept everything.
ES: whatever University winds up with my archives has to have my mimeograph machine, that's gonna be part of the deal.
on midwest presses & the best minds
CL: I was thinking how many of the best ideas in the sixties came not through individuals, but through very small groups and scenes that brought people together-just like earlier avant-gardes. Were you in touch with any other Mid-western presses like the one out of the Asphodel bookstore?
ES: D.A. Levy bought a letter press in '63 and through '66, until his suicide he printed really brilliant books-he mimeographed and letter pressed. He worked out of the ASPHODEL Bookstore (after a William Carlos Williams poem). His press was called THE RENEGADE PRESS and it printed hundreds of small poetry booklets. He printed one of my first books in '64-a letter press book with his own artwork, he also printed an early underground newspaper called THE BUDDHIST THIRD CLASS JUNK MAIL ORACLE.
CL: that's great.
ES: it was quite a beautiful collaged tabloid, that ran ads. He also printed THE MARIJUANA QUARTERLY. He was in trouble all the time in Cleveland, with the law. He came once to New York, to my bookstore-D.A. Levy was a really great, underrated poet, but to get to your point - it comes out of the first line of Ginsberg's poem HOWL:
"I saw the best minds of my generation…" - everywhere people tried to find the best minds of their generation-so that in Detroit, John hooked up with Charles Moore, Robin Eichele and George Tysh, and later there was the Cass Corridor scene and a confluence of music and writing and poetry and publishing and leftist politics. And the mimeograph revolution was a great statement from the left and John and I and D.A. Levy and others were brothers and sisters under those banners, so it came about during an era of a lot of war money, the Vietnam war, so the livin' was cheap, art was affordable, it was very affordable to put out these things.
CL: do you recall any other mimeograph presses?
ES: In New York City there were a lot of mimeograph presses, ANGEL HAIR, and YOWEL, there was THEO, and TELEPHONE BOOKS-a whole group of mimeograph presses. At poetry readings in the Lower East Side, there was a guy who came around and published a magazine right on the spot, he had his equipment right there and wrote down the stuff and got it printed-there was the instant quality-the instant gratification to be able to instantly put together a magazine or a broadside. In San Francisco there was BEATITUDE and a bunch of others all over. I don't have the specific memories of other presses but there are University libraries that specifically collect this stuff, the Labadie Library at University of Michigan is one of them, also Brown University and the University of Texas. but what quickly came about beginning in 1964 and really 1965 was the underground press movement, which was all over America. There were these web presses that could very cheaply print newsprint-like The NATION, tabloid style, you could print a 1000 copies of an 8 or 16 page newspaper in half an hour.
on the exorcism of the Pentagon
CL: I really love the ads done for the PEACE EYE. Did you do those?
ES: It was an actual bookstore, that did very well actually, so I had a staff, a lot of the ads were done by managers and people working there. I was on the road a lot with THE FUGS and was doing many other things, as in community activism, working on demonstrations and the EXCORCISM OF THE PENTAGON in October '67.
CL: was that the event where people circled the Pentagon and put daisies in the rifles?
ES: Tuli and I bought the daises.. THE FUGS just played the Ambassador Theater in Washington, and we were flush with cash, so we bought a whole bunch of daisies..
They were our flowers… people, including myself, stuck them into the barrels. Originally, we made arrangements for a small plane to fly over the Pentagon (!) and drop the daisies, but the plane was seized at the airport.
CL: you were going to drop the flowers over the Pentagon?
ES: not me personally, but we made arrangements. We also had a cow that was painted in psychedelic paint with a lot of occult symbols.. like the goddess HATHOR, the Egyptian goddess of education and schools. We were gonna bring it in, but the cow was stopped… and our plane was stopped.
CL: there was a famous photograph taken there that won the photographer the Pulitzer prize. It appeared in Life Magazine-it shows a long haired kid stuffing a daisy into a rifle pointed at him. It turns out the kid in the picture was HIBISCUS, a student of Jack Smith and Irving Rosenthal. He was on his way to San Francisco with Irving. They formed a commune together and Hibiscus later founded the performance group THE COCKETTES.
ES: It was a wild time, what can I say?
CL: have you decided where your archives are going?
ES: No. I use the stuff. I'm writing a 9 volume history of the United States and I'm right in the middle of it. Three volumes have been published and I'm busy. I just finished all four volumes of TALES OF BEATNIK GLORY. I used a lot of my files for that and that should come out by winter of next year.
CL: Will Black Sparrow continue to publish your AMERICAN HISTORY IN VERSE?
ES: Yes, volume three just came out and four will be out in about a year. Yeah, so I got something to do. I have my files and I visit them, and I use them, I peruse them, I touch them, look at them…
CL: What was Tuli printing then?
ES: He published BIRTH MAGAZINE and he published YEAH In 1960, '61, '62, '63, '64, he self-published 1001 WAYS TO AVOID THE DRAFT, he published a lot of small books and magazines, and would sell them in Greenwich Village outside theaters.
CL: Is that how you met Tuli?
ES: yeah, I met him outside the Charles Theater, after a Ron Rice movie, not QUEEN OF SHEBA, the one before, THE FLOWER THIEF.
CL: what's that noise in the background, it sounds like a parakeet.
ES: That's my Cockatiel.
CL: well thanks, you've been really helpful. I'm looking forward to meeting you at the Workshop events.
ES: I'm happy to come out and salute John's leadership in artistry in November. It's funny, I'm giving a talk on Yiddish speaking socialists of the lower east side and then getting on a plane for Detroit. I'm gonna bring some stencils and correcting fluid.


The Fifth Estate was founded by 17-year-old Harvey Ovshinsky, and began publication in 1965. Ovshinsky was inspired by a short summer internship at the first underground U.S. newspaper, the Los Angeles Free Press. Published out of his parent's basement, in 1966, the Fifth Estate moved to offices by the campus of Wayne State University. The Fifth Estate was part of a powerful leftist tide of alternative papers, an underground press revolution, which grew to over 500 papers by the late sixties. Now run by Peter Werbe, a local Detroit multi-media anarchist (see ) The Fifth Estate lays claim to being the "longest publishing, English language, anti-authoritarian newspaper in American history".

In 1966, Sinclair interviewed Sun Ra for the first issue of the Warren Forest Sun - one of the early underground presses of Detroit. The Sun began as a mimeograph machine newsletter designed by Gary Grimshaw for the next psychedelic evolution of the Workshop known as Trans-Love Energies. Using multi-colored inks and his tight hand-drawn liquid-dream lettering, Grimshaw gave each issue an eye-popping sensibility. In describing their mission, the staff wrote, "we feel that the artwork, interviews, reviews and columns that are featured in the SUN are the news. … We are not "competing" with the FIFTH ESTATE, and we think that should be clear by now… there are still many aspects of the contemporary culture in Detroit and elsewhere that do not have a voice… The SUN will concentrate on those aspects of the culture that are most important to us: the music scene, the dope scene, reports from inside people's heads, the writing scene, and of course artwork to cool out your eyes. We want to make each page a total experience, incorporating words, photos and artwork."11 The Sun was an extravagant yet simple journal, serving up supercharged cultural-news for the community, and in this sense, an extension of earlier Workshop publications.


In 1998 the New York Public Library presented over 400 publications in the exhibition A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980. This exhibition included mimeograph and offset poetry and journals by many of New York City's and San Francisco's underground lit luminaries, including; William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Charles Olson, Diane di Prima and Leroi Jones (Amiri Baraka). Designs and original artwork were often included in these short-run journals by artists such as Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, and Alex Katz. A catalog based on this exhibition was published by Granery books in 199912 . The New Yorker said in a review of this book, "Between the end of the Second World War and the advent of desktop publishing, the American literary underground had its own "little magazines": small-circulation journals published on mimeograph ditto machines. In loving detail, Clay and Phillips recount the history of nearly a hundred such publications, ranging from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Journal to Ed Sanders's Fuck You, a magazine of the arts. Their overview of the "mimeo revolution" summons up an era when the forging of literary communities demanded more commitment than posting a page on the Internet." 13

Also on display in the exhibition were two 1951 issues of Origin: A Quarterly for the Creative, a journal published by poet Cid Corman. Origin featured the work of many important poets, including early poems by Charles Olson, who (with Robert Creeley) a few years later created the seminal Black Mountain Review, published from Black Mountain College where he was rector. Many of the teachers and students of Black Mountain College would have a seminal effect on art and the new poetry of 1960's.

The title for this New York City mimeograph exhibition was also code for the Peace Eye bookstore: a secret location on the lower east side, was printed as the publisher's address in many of the Peace Eye books. In 1966 the police raided Peace Eye and confiscated and destroyed many publications they classified as pornography. The Floating Bear also experienced similar harassments. Distribution of these small journals were handled primarily through independent bookstores or through personal subscription. Some journals like Floating Bear were sent free to a select list of artists and writers.


The free distribution of artwork through the mails began with Detroit artist Ray Johnson, who is considered the unwitting godfather of the international mailart network. Johnson founded the New York Correspondence School of Art, sometime in the early 1960s. Johnson mailed out tens of thousands of artworks in his lifetime (many had instructions to be "added to", or "forwarded on"). His ideas of communication and collage construction involved a small inside community, an educated audience able understand the puns, allusions and private jokes he constructed, whenever he wanted a connection to be made.

Produced as unique works, collages or sometimes mass-produced in large numbers, Johnson was able to connect and comment upon the most well-known figures and cutting edge ideas in contemporary art through the mail system (Johnson would later add the telephone to his methodology). As early as 1945, Johnson, who attended Cass Tech high in Detroit, was producing mail art pieces to his close friends. In 1948 Ray attended the Black Mountain college and fell under the guidance of the chance composition impresario John Cage. His magazine collages of Elvis, James Dean, and Lucky Strikes in the mid-fifties are considered the "Plymouth rock" of the pop-art movement. In the early sixties he was associated with the Fluxus movement and the Warhol circle.

On Friday the 13th in January of 1995, Ray Johnson performed a complex number of actions that can be only viewed as his finest performance piece, and took his own life. Recent activity about Johnson can be seen in the still active ranks of the mail-art network, the retrospective produced after his death, and in the recently released film documentary on his life and death, How to Draw a Bunny. A quickly growing web presence has developed around Ray Johnson, whose correspondence school represents a three-dimensional anti-technology equivalent of the web network. For Johnson, the network became a way to degrade and lessen the importance and centrality of traditional gallery and museum exhibition. It was a way to keep the art experimental and fresh, to receive instant feedback and audience interactivity. Johnson was able to keep the focus of his art purposefully directed, and always played by his own rules.

A similar approach was taken up in the late 50s by the West Coast based artist Wallace Berman in his Semina series. Semina was a small arts anthology, produced in an edition of 200 copies, finely printed on letterpress. A collaboration among artists and poets, Semina was usually given away to other artists and friends on Berman's mailing list, or sometimes sold in small bookstores like the Peace Eye. The packaging of each issue was unique and often included postcards, photos, poems and collages. Items were presented loose in small unique handmade folders or envelopes.

The study and appreciation of the mimeograph may seem slightly out-of-step today, but a closer look at these dinosaur printing methods can put a sublime spotlight on the way current and future media behave in this delirious media-saturated world.

The speculative cyber-fiction writer Bruce Sterling maintains a website devoted to obscure media such as the phenakistoscope, the Edison wax cylinder, the stereopticon, the panorama, magic lanterns, the teleharmonium, pneumatic transfer tubes (that riddled the underground of Chicago), and early 20th century electric searchlight spectacles. These and many other jurassic technology gadgets are the subject for a Popular Mechanics type discussion blog. Sterling's mission is to throw more light onto the ruins of technology, where our media ancestors have gone to die an ignoble death. "What we need is a somber, thoughtful, thorough, hype-free, even lugubrious book that honors the dead and resuscitates the spiritual ancestors of today's mediated frenzy… A book to give its readership a deeper, paleontological perspective right in the dizzy midst of the digital revolution." 14

Author Geoffrey Batchen15 postulates that the beginning of the digital revolution began in the drawing room salon of Charles Babbage in the 1830s. As Babbage unveiled the Difference Engine, (the first modern computer) Henry Fox Talbot revealed his experiments with positive/negative paper photography. Sir John Herschal who coined the photo terminology "positive and negative" was also a close friend and confidant to Babbage, and came to many of his salons. Talbot's early example of negative lace photographs clearly echoed the modernist grid and future mapping of the digital age. Perhaps through discussion of the photograph the Analytical Engine (computer) could be visualized. In the moment of that convergence of two 19th century Victorian inventor-entrepreneurs, science and art came together in a revolutionary way. From Babbage and Talbot we have a long trail of intersecting technologies and poetics, a path that found expression in communication vehicles such as the telegraph, telephone, chromolithography, photography, mimeograph presses, zines, and offset presses. An examination of the origin story in each technology can lead us to develop a vision capable of expressing and understanding it. The grave markers of media can impart a clearer understanding of current and developing technologies.

The new poetry scenes of the late 50s and early 60s helped support various small presses and journals despite the odds of difficult distribution and financial instability. By the early 70s, the energy and mind-set of these networks were badly weakened and slowly dissipated. What these renegade poets, publishers and artists had in common, besides their independent nature, was the motivation and need to work within small groups and ensembles, to share their discoveries on small levels which might be considered insignificant by today's globally connected web-generation.

Each of these small press mimeo-gangs participated in a small "collage" aesthetic. Working as tiny collectives they experimented patching new media together in unique designs and combinations. Presentation, delivery, politics and authorship were challenged. The mimeo revolution brought focus to these diverse trajectories. Ideas that were soon spilling over into the contemporary art scene battled there way awkwardly and beautifully through the pages of these small journals. Visually there is a conservative, reserved and serious look to the early mimeo sheets. Graphics were difficult if not almost impossible to portray, but often this obstruction would lead to some fascinating results. Binding was often the most utilitarian: staples. The limiting factor of graphic design, led to a strong emphasis on content.

By the time off-set and web printing became standard and cheaply available, it coincided with a newer more visually centered psychedelic culture. Conceptual, psychedelic and distorted "mutant" forms of art were created across all mediums. Poetry, underground comix, posters, artist books, film and music were mixed and remixed. A new visual language grew out of the language obsessed mimeo-zines.

The late sixties cult magazine-in-a-box ASPEN (1966-1971) collected recordings, artwork, stamps, postcards, posters, poems and sometimes even films within each issue, edited by a guest artist. One of the first multi-media, ultra-designed magazines, ASPEN was a physical construction that reflected Mcluhans' information age (including some of his own writings in issue #3) cloaked in the language of psychedelia and pop-art. Just as Fluer Cowles' creation FLAIR represented the extreme heights of art possible in magazines of the 1950s, ASPEN took the lead in the 60s, becoming the most extreme example of visual design and multi-media.

Guest editors at ASPEN #9, included Angus Maclise and Hetty Maclise, central figures of the New York loft scene who created a truly mind-blowing Dream Weapon issue with psychedelic nude postage stamps by Don Snyder, calligraphy by Marian Zazeela, scores by Terry Riley and LaMonte Young, musical "spontaneous sound" flexi-discs by Maclise and friends, Universal Mutant Theater color postcards by Ira Cohen and Bill Devore, and poetry by Vali, John Cale, Gerard Malanga and Lionel Ziprin. The Andy Warhol issue (ASPEN Vol. 1 #3) included pop music trends recorded by the Velvet Underground and a Peter Walker "love raga", a Music, Man, That's here It's At! section in a separate folder contained an essay by Lou Reed, pop-postcards with artists' comments on their paintings, a news portfolio composite on the Exploding Plastic Inevitable made up of underground newspapers flourishing across the country, an underground flip-book of Jack Smith's forthcoming movie Buzzards Over Baghdad, and the Berkeley Conference on LSD with texts by Richard Alpert and Timothy Leary. The entire explosion of material was housed in a Warhol designed neon colored FAB detergent box. ASPEN captured the attitude and vision of the 60s within a box.

As John Sinclair expressed throughout his life and poetry: Look on each action as future history. The journey of the Artists' Workshop and other micro-presses was an expression of absolute freedom in the arts. The underground comix and newspapers raised the banner throughout the late 60s. Raw Books and Graphics headed by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly revived the scene throughout the 80s, bringing an international flavor to the graphic novel. Raw widened the path for neo-pop Juxtapose artists in the 90s

Mimeo publications and the early off-set presses were transformed into the alternative press media-a media that expressed the changes happening in our culture. The mimeograph revolution was a revolution of the senses, a preamble to the full-blown sixties version and the multi-leveled electronic media stew we swallow daily. The community created by these artists and micro presses was part of the process to create an alternative version of history.

An different version of THE MIMEOGRAPH REVOLUTION was writen inside THE CIGAR BOX REVOLUTION an essay written for DISPATCH DETROIT #7, some of the material was also recycled from BLASTITUDE, issue #13:

1Diane di Prima, Recollections of My Life as a Woman: The New York Years, (Viking, Penguin, 2001), p.252
Amiri Baraka, The Autobiography of Leroi Jones, (Laurence Hill Books, Chicago, 1997) p.251
Otto Feinstein quoted by Eric Bockstael, Eulogy of Otto Feinstien, Memorial Service, January 2004
Leni Sinclair, phone interview with author 9/04/2004.
Leni Sinclair FREE POEMS/AMONG FRIENDS Vol. 2, Winter, 1966
6 ?
7 CHANGE 2, letters column, 31.12.65, Gene Fowler, San Francisco, Other readers were less exuberant , "Good God, man, you've got a propaganda sheet not a music publication!"-Barry G. Parsons. John Sinclair responds later in the issue from the Detroit House of Corrections, "CHANGE doesn't mean the same old beef stew, babies. & when the things that were fighting against have a whole civilization pushing them 24 hours a day, on all fronts, we'd look pretty silly going to jail and spending all our time and what little money we can muster, for the very thing we despise, right? Right."
Charles Moore, CHANGE #1, BLACK MUSIC, The New Wave, DAW press, 1966
THE FUGS were an underground, nihilistic, Lower East Side band that recorded radical, subversive folk rock. They were brought to the ESP label by maverick filmmaker Harry Smith, where they recorded their first two albums. THE FUGS are still in existance and have just produced their 10th album THE FUGS FINAL CD (part 1) on Artimis Records. To read "The History of the Fugs" vist the website "The FUGS are an emination of the culture of the Lower East Side. They write all of their own songs, puking them out of a personal history
Ed Sanders, The History of the Fugs,
11 The Warren Forest Sun, issue #4, "Sun Editorial"
Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980 A Sourcebook of Information, Granary Press, 1999
13 The New Yorker,
February 22- March 1, 1999.
Bruce Sterling, "The Dead Media Manifesto",
15 Geoffrey Batchen, Each Wild Idea, MIT press, 2001, p.167-169, "Talbot tells the story of showing a photograph of lace to a group of friends and asking them weather it was a "good representation". They replied they were not so easily fooled for it was "evidently no picture but the lace itself"… It also meant that Talbot rendered the world in binary terms, as a patterned order of the absence and presence of light…Babbage too might have been impressed by the photographs ability to represent accurately the geometric patterns of lacework, for here was mathematics made visible."

© 2002