05 March 2007


Fantastic trip to Buffalo last week to visit the Joe Brainard retrospective at the University of Buffalo's north campus. On the drive in, I stopped at one of my favourite little towns, Grimsby, and had a great meal at the Smiling Dog Café. Then I wandered down the road to one of the town's two thrift shops and picked up a few paperbacks for 10 cents each: The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck, Twenty-One Stories by Graham Greene, and Badlands by Robert Kroetsch.

And then it was hi-ho towards the border at Lewiston, which I crossed in about 30 seconds. The campus was in a barren wasteland, or so it felt. But the gallery itself was spacious and well-lit, and I was giddy entering a room filled with original Joe Brainard artwork. The walls and some of the display cases held original artwork from Joe's C Magazine, which featured primarily poems by others that Joe illustrated. There was "The Fleur-Love Story," with Peter Schjeldahl; "Title Page," with Bill Berkson; "Red Rydler and Dog," with Frank O'Hara; "The Earth Machine," with Kenneth Koch; "Poem," with Frank Lima (a beautiful three-panel piece: the title panel is an ink blot; the second panel is a silhouette of a tape dispenser and a silhouette of an ink bottle, each thinking, "IRON"; the third panel is Nancy — the cartoon character, a favourite borrowed image for Brainard — in silhouette, thinking, "I have burned down the sky"); the magnificent epic "Pay Dirt," with Joe's life partner Kenward Elmslie; "Foreheads," with Barbara Guest; and other collabs with Ron Padgett, Jimmy Schuyler, Tony Towle, and others.

Most of this stuff was from the early to mid-1960s.

There were also issues of Larry Fagin's mag Adventures in Poetry, one featuring a Brainard ink drawing of a cherry on the cover; a copy of the legendary Padgett collaboration Bean Spasms, open to a 4-panel "Nancy" comic strip attributed to "Ernie Padgett." One wall held five 1971 watercolour/collage collaborations with Bill Berkson, with just a minimum of text, and a single-sheet ink-drawing collab with Kenneth Koch. Sharing the display case with a cloth-bound Bean Spasms was a copy of Schjeldahl's book An Adventure of the Thought Police, featuring a spectacular, pristine blue and black Brainard cover. The case also held issues of the great mag Mother, and also White Dove Review, which Joe and Ron started up when they were in high school.

More conventional but no less engaging were the 1971 graphite portraits of Dick Gallup, Berkson, Padgett, Schuyler, and Ted Berrigan. Man, I didn't know that half of this stuff even existed! What an incredible era for American poetry, this period mimeo mags and artist/poet collabs.

A couple of oddball items were neither poet- nor book-related. Mounted on one wall was a piece called "Icon," a 1965 wooden sculpture that included cloth, watercolours, and beads, with images of Jesus and his mom. And across the way was a 1967 fabric collage called (uncalled?) "Untitled (Garden)." There were also a couple of white-paper-cutout collages from 1971: "Dunes" and "Birches." Stuff you'd never expect from Brainard.

I spent a couple of hours in the gallery, going around in circles, imagining Brainard bent over these very sheets of paper, laying down ink in his trademark style: clean, comic booky, loving.

A nice tie-in: this afternoon I went to Coach House to pick up the proofs for a book I'm publishing by Ron Padgett: If I Were You, a perfect-binder featuring collaborations with Allen Ginsberg, James Schuyler, Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley, and a few others. The cover is a wonderful drawing by Joe Brainard.

It's sort of hard for me to believe I'm publishing this thing. Maybe a copy of it will someday be in a future Joe Brainard exhibition.

And now I recall that I've published Brainard before: a photocopy reissue of one of his old mimeo books, The Friendly Way, originally published by Siamese Banana Press. Brainard and I were both reading at an Elliott Lefko-organized two-day lit festival about 25 years ago. The reprint project grew out of that meeting, which also included an interview I did with Brainard and Elmslie for the first issue of my magazine Mondo Hunkamooga.

I think I was only vaguely aware of the New York Poets at the time. I asked Joe what he thought of Margaret Atwood, and he said, "Who?" That was one of his more expansive answers. He was pretty shy.

Joe died in 1994. More about him right over here.

Over and out.


At March 07, 2007 10:49 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"good n' fruity madonna" is exquisite.
thanks for the intoduction and link to joe brainard.

At March 09, 2007 12:30 am , Blogger speterme said...

Aaah, Grimsby and The Smiling Dog Cafe. A good memory there, Stuart. Thanks for the Brainard write up. I'm envious. I've read Padgett's biography. I hope to get to see an exhibit like this one some day, and I'll look forward to getting the book you are publishing. Are there any copies left of the other one?

Stv Ptrmir
no man's land
minnapolis, mn

At June 04, 2007 1:16 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi Stuart

i came across your web site and enjoyed reading about all the wonderful projects you are working on. Its been a long time since that Brainard reading. What an amazing talent he was. Its great to see you are publishing and involved with writers that youve long admired. Maybe list some of the music you are listening to on your blog. You were one of my earliest incluences on music. you were into punk and new wave so early.

Elliott Lefko


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home