Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - The Grey Fox in the Chicken Barn
By Jed Birmingham
I have never been able to fully embrace the work of Lew Welch. He has been suggested to me numerous times over the years as a poet whose work I would enjoy, and thus I dutifully track down a copy of Ring of Bone or more recently his potluck How I Work As A Poet.
And each time I come to the conclusion that he is not for me. That said, I greatly enjoy coming across anything by Donald Allen's Grey Fox Press, which kept Welch before a reading public after Welch walked away from poetry in 1971 never to be seen again.
If not for Allen's efforts, Welch might very well have disappeared without a trace altogether.
While roaming in a bookshop if I come across a Grey Fox title, I always pick it up and more often than not take it away with me, such as my copy of Gary Snyder's Passage Through India that I bought at the Chicken Barn outside of Ellsworth. The orange covers have faded to yellow, no doubt by the Gay Sunshine, the interview conducted by Allen Young with Allen Ginsberg, that I also picked up at a used bookstore years ago.
Composed on the Tongue. The Good Blonde. Old Angel Midnight. All used bookshop purchases; all found through browsing and happy chance.
I never set out to find a Grey Fox, but I am always filled with wonder when I see one lurking in the stacks or hiding in a box.
The day I bought Passage Through India I also bought T.S. Eliot's On Poetry and Poets, in the 1957 Farrar hardcover edition, which sat on the same shelf of the Grey Fox title in the literary essay section. On Poetry and Poets contains Eliot's essay What is Minor Poetry?
The backlist for Grey Fox Press provides an answer to that question in terms of New American Poetry rather than Eliot's New Criticism. I am always pleased by the juxtapositions and associations that I find in my stack of books picked up after a day of hitting the used bookstores.
Much more satisfying than downloading What Is Minor Poetry? off of JSTOR for $44. A simultaneously richer and cheaper experience to be sure.
Published on Mimeo Mimeo. Artists’ Books, Typography and the Mimeo Revolution, presented here by permission of the author. Pictures: Mimeo Mimeo.