We Fuggin Love You, Ed Sanders (So Does the NYT)

By Harriet Staff


"Present at the Counterculture's Creation" is the headline for a new review of Ed Sander's Fug You at The New York Times. (Not everyone can be the Fug Girls.) Of course everyone in poetryland knows that The Fugs were around long before the word got so darn useful. But we digress. This is a terrific review of Ed Sanders's new work, Fug You: An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the ____ You Press, the Fugs, and Counterculture in the Lower East Side. Ben Ratfliff writes:

Mr. Sanders, now 72 and living in Woodstock, N.Y., has described his 1960s in various ways over the years. His long bibliography includes a book of fictionalized stories (“Tales of Beatnik Glory”) and epic-historical verse according to the precepts of a technique he calls “Investigative Poetry.” (He published a manifesto about that too.) But “Fug You,” a book of more straightforward storytelling and documentation, may be the master source.

As a poet Mr. Sanders operates on joy, velocity, humor and catharsis, forcibly mushing bodies of knowledge together; he describes his literary persona in the ’60s as an “anarcho-Egypto-Bacchic.” As a prose writer he’s pretty much the same, with extra mugging and contextualizing. To some extent this is an old-school show-business gossip memoir that doesn’t want to waste your time, even as it discusses Egyptian glyphs and the C.I.A. (It has a funny tonal parallel, to, say Walter Winchell’s memoir, “Exclusive.”) Mr. Sanders is fond of subtitling each rat-a-tat vignette; deploys Mad magazine-style triple exclamation marks; and reprints many of his own words, from personal letters, screeds, news releases, and talk-show colloquy, including his appearance on William F. Buckley’s “Firing Line” alongside Jack Kerouac.

When you read about Mr. Sanders’s journey through the demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago — which led to the arrest and trial of the Chicago Seven — you might marvel at a passage in which he eats some powerful hash-oiled honey. “I looked up through the tear-gas sonata of Lincoln Park,” he writes, “and the Universe from the edge of the Lake up across the wide Midwest sky was made up of pulsing, writhing mountains and vistas of spinach.” These same words, and many others in the same chapter, were arranged almost exactly as poetry in his book “1968: A History in Verse,” published in 1997.

But that’s all right. Mr. Sanders is a creative collector and recycler. Elsewhere in this book he describes a moment of penury in 1964 when he assembled a catalog of literary ephemera, including two packets of the pubic hair from famous poets — O’Hara, LeRoi Jones, Edwin Denby, Ted Berrigan and others — harvested by Ginsberg and donated to Mr. Sanders as a favor. The items “sold briskly,” he notes.

Read more more more here. Then head over to Printed Matter and pick up some rare Fugs/Sanders ephemera before it's ALL out of stock. In fact, they've still got a copy of Peace Eye for a decent price. Let's talk about Peace Eye, actually. This from Reality Studio:

With no idea what to collect and no sense of what books were worth both for me personally and on the market, everything seemed so expensive. To pay $100 for a book seemed crazy. Finally I could take it no longer and on an impulse I called Antic Hay Books in New Jersey and bought Ed Sanders’ Peace Eye published by Frontier Press in 1965 inscribed by Sanders to Philip Whalen: “With Tender Squirts.” Years later the mimeo nature of this book fit into my collection but when I bought it I knew nothing about it except that for $65, I could get a book linking two famous Beat writers. The association was everything. The book brought together a second generation East Coast Beat with a primary West Coast Beat who read at the Six Gallery. How did Sanders and Whalen know each other? Did they meet in person? Did they have a correspondence? I have yet to answer these questions.

Now the pleasure of Peace Eye has little to do with the signature and lies in the series of associations that I make with the publisher. Harvey Brown founded Frontier Press when he was attending the University of Buffalo in the 1960s. Brown came from a family of considerable wealth and, like the Hitchcocks who associated with Leary at Millbrook, Brown gave freely to the counterculture. The biggest benefactor of Brown’s generosity was Charles Olson. Buffalo in the 1960s was the epicenter of Olsonmania. (For more on Olson in Buffalo, see “Olson’s Buffalo” and Albert Glover’s “Charles Olson: Recollections.”) Literally and figuratively a huge figure in the decade, Olson rocked the University of Buffalo upon his arrival there in 1963. An Olson circle developed that championed the poet in the seven years until his death. This promotion continued through works of scholarship by the likes of Ralph Maud or George Butterick. Few in this circle were more fascinated with Olson than Harvey Brown. Brown founded Frontier Press to publish work that related to modern poetics or that Olson thought should be in print. The press was prolific. From just 1967 to 1971, Frontier Press published 25 books and pamphlets. Brown used his press to publish pirated editions of out of print work forcing larger publishers to issue forgotten texts by important writers. The Frontier edition of William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All is a perfect example. This work proved to be one of the Ur-Texts in the emerging poetics of the 1970s, like LANGUAGE poetry.

Frontier Press published Sanders’ Peace Eye in 1965. Peace Eye was an early book initiated by the Vietnam War and an example of the political nature of Frontier’s efforts. The book links the Olson circle in Buffalo with the mimeo and freak scene in the Lower East Side. Both Frontier and Fuck You Presses would publish the late numbered Cantos of Ezra Pound. Sanders, like Brown, was deeply influenced by Olson’s poetry and considerable presence. By all accounts, Olson was a force of nature and his powers of conversation are legend from Black Mountain to Buffalo to the Poetry Conference in Berkeley to the University of Connecticut right before his death in 1970.

Peace Eye was reissued in an expanded edition by Frontier in 1967 out of Brown’s hometown of Cleveland. Again the presence of Frontier Press in Cleveland creates a web of associations. Cleveland in the 1960s was home to as vibrant and diverse an underground publishing scene as any in the world. Like Sanders in New York, D.A. Levy served as the figurehead of the mimeo scene in Cleveland. This scene deserves much closer study. Hopefully, I can get to it in the near future. The various incarnations of Peace Eye link several vital communities of 1960s alternative poetry and that is the magic of the book for me now, not the more obvious linkage of names and coasts through the wonderful inscription.

Originally Published: January 13th, 2012