Burning Deck Retires After 56 Years
Since 1961, when it was co-founded by Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, Burning Deck has been a model press for DIY publishing, for experimental poetries, and for works in translation. Now after 56 years, and after 247 publications, Burning Deck is closing up shop. Before the doors are locked and the type is put away, Eric M. B. Becker at Words Without Borders talks with Rosmarie about establishing the press, her work as a poet and translator, and the future of small press publishing. We'll give you a look at the press's foundational years and then let you head to WWB for the rest of the interview:
Words Without Borders (WWB): Burning Deck was founded in 1961, as a magazine, and then later transformed—after the fourth issue (if my research can be trusted)—into a pamphlet series. Could you tell us a bit about where the idea came from and what the catalyst was that prompted you and Keith to found Burning Deck? What were those early days like?
Rosmarie Waldrop (RW): The catalyst for Burning Deck magazine was the early 1960s “war of the anthologies” between “the Donald Allen” and “the Hall-Pack-Simpson.” Both anthologies claimed to represent current poetry, and not a single poet appeared in both of them. Keith and his two fellow grad students, James Camp and Don Hall, were irritated by this too-clean dividing line between, roughly, “Beats” and “Academics” and decided to edit a magazine that would print and review a wider spread of poets.
Actually the first publication of Burning Deck, in 1961—before the magazine—was The Wolgamot Interstice, which came about because Joe Gula, a friend of Don Hope’s, wanted to learn how to use a linotype machine and needed an immediate project. Don Hope put together an anthology from our group of poets in Ann Arbor and Detroit.
The magazine started in 1962. As we couldn’t afford printing costs, Keith and I bought a letterpress and learned to set type and print by trial, much error and some professional advice. Friends were rounded up for collating and stapling parties. The mag was planned as a “quinterly.” But instead of five times a year it came out only four times in five years. By this time the three editors had scattered to teaching jobs in different areas, and mailing manuscripts back and forth (this was before email!) had become too slow and cumbersome to continue. This made us switch to pamphlets edited by Keith and me and appearing irregularly, whenever we could get around to printing them.