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Dave Haselwood & The Auerhahn Press

By Cedar Sigo

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Dave Haselwood founded the Auerhahn Press in 1958. The first title he printed was The Hotel Wentley Poems by John Wieners. The story I have heard (from Dave himself) is that he loaned Wieners his own room at the Hotel Wentley, as Wieners was without a place to stay; when he returned, he found the room empty but for a sequence of poems typed and lying on a desk. He took the book to a San Francisco printer and “A Poem For Cocksuckers” became “A Poem For _ _ _ _suckers.” (Wieners would fill the word in whenever he autographed that first edition.) Haselwood soon realized that if he wanted to print books without interference he would have to take up the actual printing himself. I am writing about Auerhahn Press with regard to craft because the design and execution of each individual book is without parallel.
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Through Auerhahn, Haselwood printed books by Jack Spicer, William Burroughs, Philip Lamantia, Diane Di Prima, Ronald Johnson, Lew Welch, and Charles Olson, among many others. The covers were often designed by artists close to these poets, including Wallace Berman, Bruce Conner, Fran Herndon, Bryon Gysin, and Robert LaVigne. There are any number of strong collections of poetry with beautiful cover art, but countless other details must be attended to in order to bring across a complete look. The physical size of the book, its font, layout, and tiny personalized accents (for instance, tiny red and black scorpions in the corners of Philip Lamantia’s Destroyed Works). This level of attention tends to move Auerhahn’s books past plain literature and into the realm of object. Because Haselwood brings as much to each project as the poets and painters, each of these volumes seems born of “the third mind.” Whenever I encounter one, even within my personal collection, they startle me. It always takes a second to remember they can even be opened. The whole venture seems to date very well — several of the poets under the imprint have had their collected works published in recent years. Auerhahan’s instinct and aesthetic is similar to what one finds behind the printing of Semina, Open Space, White Rabbit Press, and other fugitive San Francisco publishers of the era.

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I’ve always felt a personal affinity for Auerhahn because I see the same sorts of activity paying off within my own circle. I love (and seem to know) painters who revere poetry more than their own practice. Conversely, I can say that Wallace Berman has influenced me as much as any poet. An amazing bibliography of Auerhahn was printed in 1976 by the great Alastair Johnston on Poltroon Press. It can hardly be called a book. It’s more of a handmade museum. It contains facsimiles of the original covers, ephemera, posters for readings, and a long dramatic commentary by Johnston detailing the highs and lows of the press. Auerhahn had painstakingly laid out Robert Duncan’s A Book Of Resemblances only to have him pull the book at the last minute. Jack Spicer became extraordinarily paranoid during the printing of The Heads of the Town Up to the Aether, even including these lines in his poem “The Fix”: “This is an ode to John Wieners and Auerhahn Press, who have driven me away from poetry like a fast car.” But Spicer also once read After Lorca out loud from beginning to end after hearing it was Haselwood’s favorite of his books. In the Spicer biography Poet Be Like God, Haselwood is quoted as saying, “That Spicer was capable of making such a gesture is the point of the story. And that such hardened characters as poets and publishers can touch each other, beyond words or politics, is what makes life bearable in the rather snippy world of artists.” Haselwood once told me that he had planned to publish a second collection by John Wieners entitled Scott Street, but John’s sudden departure from San Francisco and subsequent hospitalization made it impossible.
Throughout Johnston’s bibliography, Haselwood is (very rightly) lionized as a sort of master of the universe. I met him on my first trip to Bolinas, in 1996, at the home of Joanne Kyger and Donald Guravich. It feels like he was there for each of my next five visits, too. He’s always been encouraging of my work, even sending me his own translations of poems from Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil for the premiere issue of my magazine Old Gold. We also share a marked interest in the works of Kenneth Anger.
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The legacy of Auerhahn Press can be seen in the present day with the overriding success of UDP, Publication Studio, and Atticus Finch, presses in love with the possibilities and materials of bookmaking. Haselwood is a practicing Buddhist living in Cotati, California. He was ordained as a priest by Jakusho Kwong in Oct. 1996, at Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, then re-ordained by Jisho Warner in June 2003, at Stone Creek Zen Center in Sebastopol, CA. He received dharma transmission from Jisho Warner in June, 2007.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Friday, December 10th, 2010 by Cedar Sigo.