(The “e” at the end, the UDP website explains, comes from Kafka- or K-Presse, a small German publishing house.)
First of all, isn’t this like the best name for a press? This art & publishing collective was founded in 1993 by “a couple of college kids who wanted to put together a zine, without really knowing what that is.” Fifteen years later, this humble do-it-yourself-Xeroxed-project-beginning matured into a reputable and cutting-edge enterprise that publishes poetry by undiscovered voices, lost works, translations and artist’s books. It also produces chapbooks, broadsides, a magazine and a newspaper. And each and every publication contains a “handmade element” that “calls attention to the labor and history of bookmaking.” This is indeed a refreshing approach that answers to the mass market product (and sometimes uninspired content) coming out of the large New York houses.

And more: Ugly Duckling Presse also supports works off the page in collaboration with visual and performance artists: “UDP endeavors to create spaces in which people can have an experience of art free of expectation, coercion and utility.” To reiterate: refreshing, isn’t it?
Marvei Yankelevich, original co-founder, is still very much involved with the press. He has journeyed along with the various homes and growing stages of UDP—from Europe to America, from Boston to the various boroughs of New York City. Currently, it nests on the Old American Can Factory in Gowanis, Brooklyn. Among Yankelevich’s many roles is editing the Eastern European Poets Series. One of the many finds in this series is the book Do Not Awaken Them with Hammers, published in 2006, this is the all-attitude, in-your-face poetics of Mecedonian poet Lidija Dimkovska, translated by Ljubica Arsovska and Peggy Reid.
The opening poem “Decent Girl” is full of zingers from its opening “I took my perspective of the future to a thrift store/ but nobody would buy it,” to its finger-snapping ending, “We’re having tea, biting each other’s nails/ and licking our lips. Chirp chirp! Metachirp metachirp!” And in-between is an exhausting girl’s guide to survival in a male-centered culture and economy: “I’m not afraid of Virginia Wolf,/ I fear Lidija Dimkovska. Have you heard of her?”
In a later poem the speaker asks: “How long can the bat in me keep/ from appearing in front of the guests?” The truth is she’s unstoppable and will not be ignored.
Had you not set out to conquer the void
between the balcony and Budapest
I wouldn’t have left you without one ear,
I wouldn’t have held you in a total derangement of nerves.
Rimbaud could not foresee everything.
Let him come and judge for himself
if life is more expensive that a TV set—
particularly as the Romanians have PRO-TV
and Macedonians have 200,000 refugees—
and if life can be fenced in by a TV screen without turning love
into a public performance of trained cats.
I owe you a small spoon of Immunal for every word
and for your nails—a book of poems which,
according to decree No. 07-3944/2
issued by the Ministry of Culture, a reduced tax shall be paid.
Fantasy is a dogma, you accept it or you don’t.
Atrophy of conscience, and out bed is shared.
The dental floss becomes apocalyptic
when you decided to get to Budapest or bust,
but it’s closed for inventory.
The three girls who once picked pumpkins
whisper in your ear: I want you!
The folk hero of the Eastern World
has outdone Kierkegaard in the tactics of Seducer, B.A.
The West eavesdrops in the church vestibule—
“To him that belong the sheep belongs the mountain”—
and trips God on the way to Budapest.
Self-service is confirmed individuality. You can even eat raw meat
and nobody will reprimand you. Atrophy of conscience, my love,
babies understanding Sanskrit and screaming in ancient Greek,
Homer, Je te manque! How much longer will the walls
be walls, that’s something only dermatologists know
but they keep silent. What? You didn’t know I was a mason?
Only Hölderlin’s tower will save us
from the sous chefs of literature.
Yes, but had you not set out to conquer the void
between the balcony and Budapest,
I would not have left you without one ear, with empty pockets,
I could, as you yourself have said,
have unburdened my conscience into them.
Fantasy is a dogma, you accept it or you don’t.
and the fact that I’m a woman changes nothing
except, it seems, the infrastructure of Budapest.
Dimkovska’s sense of social consciousness is biting, playful and never backs down from the many political, historical or linguistic conflicts she brings up. Even the translators are put on notice:
Authorized translator, that’s you, not me. Check it over,
read me again, correct the errors,
give form to the text, give form to me with the tip
of the tongue (lingue/parole).
When the mucous membrane starts trembling
seal me, fold me in two, disown me/you,
the angel, the question of life and death,
enter me in a crossword and that’s it.
Perhaps this is why the poet/speaker is told in another poem: “you won’t end up in an oven, but you won’t end up/ in the catalogue of National Library either.” If Dimkovska is an indication of the works in the series, then sign me up. I need to get the other fabulous titles. And I’d also like to acknowledge and congratulate Ugly Duckling Presse for their sobering mission and for the many fantastic projects they undertake.

Originally Published: February 17th, 2008

Rigoberto González was born in Bakersfield, California and raised in Michoacán, Mexico. He is the author of several poetry books, including So Often the Pitcher Goes to Water until It Breaks (1999), a National Poetry Series selection; Other Fugitives and Other Strangers (2006); Black Blossoms (2011); and Unpeopled Eden (2013), winner of a Lambda Literary Award. He...

  1. February 17, 2008

    Last year U.D. made a set of post card-esque pieces that folded down as the old perforated postcards from across the country -- the press really does a great job, I think, of looking at the recent history of this country, incorporating elements lost and forgotten -- camp and beauty alike along with the totally current. Fun, beautiful, and yes, so refreshing!