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R.I.P. Kim Merker

By Harriet Staff

5-28-13_Merker

The New York Times reports on the passing of Kim Merker, publisher of fine-press poetry editions and champion of emerging poets, some of whom would go on to receive major literary awards. From the Times:

For four decades, using presses he operated with his own inky hands, Mr. Merker was a designer, typesetter and printer of some of the most beautiful books made in America in the late 20th century. Almost all were vessels for poems that he found promising, interesting or indisputably excellent — and about which he was usually right: some of the young poets he published went on to achieve renown.

Within the artisanal movement called fine press printing, which celebrates bookmaking as it was practiced before mass production, Mr. Merker had few peers.

The range of poets Merker published is quite impressive:

Stone Wall Press, which he started in 1957, mainly published young poets, but also the occasional work by more experienced hands, like Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Cecco Angiolieri, the brilliant but debauched Italian Renaissance poet and friend to Dante. Ten years later Mr. Merker founded Windhover Press at the University of Iowa, where he had been enrolled in the Writers’ Workshop before becoming a printer and teacher of printing crafts.

Though neither Stone Wall nor Windhover were profit-making, both were influential in recognizing and publishing good poets early in their careers. Philip Levine, Mark Strand and James Tate were largely unknown when Mr. Merker printed early collections of their work in lots of 200, by hand, one sheet of paper at a time.

All three went on to win Pulitzer Prizes, and Mr. Strand and Mr. Levine were both chosen poet laureate of the United States.

Mr. Merker also published early poems by W. S. Merwin, Donald Justice and Robert Dana; a 1960 collection by the avant-garde poet Weldon Kees, which helped restore his stature after it had fallen into obscurity; poems by Theodore Roethke, Gary Snyder and Denis Johnson; some of Pound’s last poems (“Drafts & Fragments of Cantos CX- CXVII”); Mary McCarthy’s translation of poetry by Simone Weil; and the lost but rediscovered foreword, written by the author, to “This Side of Paradise,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s debut novel.

Make the jump to read more about his life and work.

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Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, May 28th, 2013 by Harriet Staff.