Thursday, August 5, 2010

The New Zamizdat

OK, I must admit that I'm mesmerized by the new Blogger stats tool—in a shiny packratty sort of way. I am endlessly fascinated that I can now view what pieces are being read—how many readers, and what countries. Positively mind-blowing.

First, writing is a lonely business. Audience is a whole other hemisphere. Then there's the old saw: Who do you write for? Who are your readers? The publish or perish paradigm took off its kid cloves and flexed its knuckles and whistled, "hey kid 'comere!" when blogging was invented. Shades of Marshall McLuhan's Global Village.

I come from the American school of Samizdat or, rather, Tamizdat tradition. No, tamizdat is not a typo—as one well-intending publisher tried to correct one of my posts.
Russian samizdat, from samo- (self) + izdatelstvo (publishing house), from izdat (to publish). Coined facetiously on the model of Gosizdat (State Publishing House). (from AWAD)
Soviet samizdat was a form of illegal self-publishing in a seriously limited edition format, using ten layers of carbon paper plus ten sheets of clean paper—and an upright manual typewriter replete with a print ribbon you had to re-ink by hand. Typing through that many layers of paper was a real bitch. Weak ring finger strength equaled blurred "e"s in final copies. And pity the poor sot who was gifted copy #10—it was a bitch to the tenth power to read.

This is the underground tradition in which Soviet poetry (and secret texts including copies of Bibles) were painstakenly reproduced—and distributed, underground. I met one of Osip Mandelstahm's samizdat publishers in Leningrad, held a fragile copy in my hands—knowing that people risked their lives preserving his poetry. Mandelstahm & Blok's chapbooks still reeked of rancid printer's ink decades later.

Then there was the Leningrad Rock Opera singer Valera (aka Valery / Valeriy) Stupachenko - Валерий Ступаченко (who I did not marry because he loved his dead wife and God more than me—who could compete with that?) Valera treasured his dog-eared carbon-paper Bible. Cherished possessions from a time when religious worship too was illegal.

(Valera of Singing Guitars - Поющие гитары, in 1969 made famous a Russian version of Neil Sedaka's 1959 B-side hit, One Way Ticket (to the Blues) Синий иней —one of the few English phrases Valera could say to me. Which was alarming in all its permutations. If you really want to digress, here's a list of vintage Russian rock music videos.)

Valeriy Stupachenko, Singing Guitars

Tamizdat is merely samizdat in technological clothing—with the addition of a duplicator, or mimeograph machine (pre-Xerox). Tamizdat editions were often destined to be smuggled out of the country of origin for possible publication abroad. The term later included desktop publishing and copy machines.

I was in the USSR during the time copy machines were introduced to the public. Kinko's in Moscow—no matter that the price was prohibitive for Americans (valuta, or hard currency was needed—and it was still illegal for Soviets to have/spend hard currency).

My Soviet friend, artist & writer, Oleg Atbashian, with whom I co-translated Soviet poetry into English, marveled at the publishing possibilities. He touched the copy machine lovingly, ran a tremulous finger along its sleek flank.

Little did Oleg know that within a year (1990), he'd be in San Francisco, frantically working with me round the clock in an old military complex-cum-art center, Fort Mason, pasting up a newspaper-style tamizdat journal, "Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost," (Mother Earth), in time for Herman Berlandt's annual National Poetry Week. From 1989 to 1991, we published many new Soviet poets including Yan Martsinkevitch, and Viktor Kulle.

Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost

(BTW, those photos of Oleg & Lawrence Ferlinghetti SPSG are my work—uncredited, naturally. How typical. And I was the first person to bring Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg's books to the Ukraine—I gave their books away at a poetry reading in Cherkassy—not knowing the Beat Poets were FORBIDDEN! But I digress…).

Desktop publishing was invented in San Francisco, or rather in Silicon Valley—with the advent of Apple's Macintosh computer in 1984. Small presses abounded in California—when the rest of the world ignored California writers, they took to the s/tamizdat concept and self-published literary newsletters and chapbooks on carbon paper, mimeograph and rizograph machines, hand-letter presses, linotype—you name it.

When the Mac came along, it revolutionized the small press publishing industry. No more carbon-paper filled in 'e's or weak-fingered typing style clues for Sam Spade to decode and pin the ransom note on the unlikely suspect in the secretarial pool. Typography took on a bold new style and publishing has never been the same since. But I'm getting a few decades ahead of myself.

I'd like to pay homage to California's revolutionary—in all senses of the word— small press tradition. Granary Books blog by Steve Clay & Rodney Phillips (1998) on the origins of small (but subversive) American tamizdat tradition that featured the disregarded poets from the NY school, Black Mountain, The Beats and the San Francisco Renaissance which spawned the new American poetry scene—is a must read.

The poets Clay and Phillips cite were my literary parents—in some cases, they were literally my babysitters—my mom got around. I've met/heard most of them read—with the exception of Spicer and Kerouac.

According to Granary Books, in "A Little History of the Mimeograph Revolution," the earliest mimeographed literary item was Yvor Winters's Gyroscope (a newsletter published for his classes at Stanford, 1929-30).

But the west coast American tamizdat literary tradition really took off with William Everson, while he was incarcerated in a CO camp in Oregon, who published poems in a newsletter, The Untide, which led to chapbooks including his X War Elegies, and Kenneth Patchen's An Astonished Eye Looks Out Of the Air —before moving his press to Berkeley.
William Everson ca 1992

In 1947, another mimeo rag, The Ark was published in San Francisco, featuring Everson, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan—which begat Duncan's Berkeley Miscelleny with Jack Spicer and Robin Blazer. Which led to the Gallery Six reading. And so on.

One could say that Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights Publishers (founded in 1952, the year I was born) came out of California's version of the tamizdat tradition. City Lights published Philip Lamantia, Jack Spicer, Robert Duncan, Pauline Kael—and Larry—who, BTW, went by the name of Ferling in those days. City Lights was launched into the literary limelight in 1956 when Lawrence published Allen Ginsberg's controversial Howl and Other Poems. But again, I digress.

While I was at Sonoma State University in the late 1970s, we produced several tamizdat books and poetry readings. I silk-screened cover stencils and cranked out books and broadsides mimeograph machines….

Apparently digression is my middle name today. Guilt by associative memory and having access to Google at my fingertips. But first, let me wrestle my wayward thoughts back to those Blogger stats.

(Here's the apologia:) Because I no longer host myriad poetry readings, rarely read in public, nor profusely publish tamizdat editions—I feel cut off from the writing community. I continue to write, and teach poetry to kids under the auspices of California Poets in the Schools—but my relentless pursuit of the printed word has diminished. And so has my sense of audience.

And so I turned to blogging, I published new work, old work—work in many genres—so much so, that a reader complained of navigating the disorganized aspect of my blog. Which I can't help as the only organization I can claim is a random chronology.

Suffice to day, work from 2007-2008 is mostly old work—mostly previously published. Articles, poems—interspliced with new work in the form of memoir. I really only began this blog in August of 2008, so this is a two-year anniversary of sorts.

Lest you think I've reached the ultimate vanity of blogging on my blogger stats, let me say that because I only have 14 followers posted on my blog page—and I had to twists some arms to get that many followers, I find it endlessly fascinating to see that I do indeed have real readers—though few people actually leave comments.

Another blogger boggler is that my readership includes the former Soviet Union—the Russias including Ukraine. My revised 1992 article on artist, Igor Tischler, seems to be getting a fair bit of play at present—should I assume that the Russians are reading it?

As I write these words, six readers in the former USSR are reading my blog. It's not surprising to have a following in English-speaking countries: but when I refresh the Now button, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Latvia, Czech Republic,  South Korea, Vietnam, China, Iraq, Colombia, Brazil, and India appear. Where the hell is Burundi? Near Rwanda, it's vying for the dead bottomth position of the ten poorest countries in the world. Where's Bono? I have Tutsi & Hutu readers? How utterly exotic.

OK, so in India, English is a second language. But I've turned on the Hindi translator—just in case. All the rest, no can do. Here's hoping Google Translator won't make a dog's breakfast of Tutsi or Swahili.

I've learned that I have two dozen readers in Ireland—since they all seem to be uploading a photo of my great-grandparents, I'll assume they're my newfound Walsh cousins from Bantry. Valerie in UK and Kat in Canada are boosting my stats, I'm sure.

For some reason, Black Bart, the gentleman Po8 is on the radar. He was California's own Robin Hood of a poetic persuasion. I can understand why Hiking up Big Rock Ridge is garnering attention—California's assinine SB 624—to abolish California's state rock, serpentine—because it harbors asbestos (not)—is a hot news item.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why the post, Cat's Up is garnering any attention. It's so non-sational. One of the odd upshots of knowing one's readership—is what they're reading—which, in turn, has me madly revising old writing I would've never otherwise revisited Case in point with Cat's Up. What is it, is it the name that attracts? I tried Googling it—to no avail. What's the link?

What's most astounding figure to come out of the Blogger stats is that in the month it's been in operation, I've had an amazing amount of traffic to one blog entry in particular, The Irish Redhead Gene Myth. Which really should read as: The Viking Redhead Gene Myth because that's the really myth I'm debunking. If I change the name, will I lose those readers? Sigh.

Then the penny dropped—as I tabbed between Stats Overview, Posts, Traffic Sources, and Audience—I realized I have had more readers on my redheaded rant in one month than I probably ever had from all my poems in print.

Think I'll coin a new phrase. Google's Blogger is the New Zamizdat!


Glenn Ingersoll said...

You do seem to get some credit:

by Yan Martsinkevich
(Translated by Oleg Atbashian and Maureen Hurley)

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to read 'em.

And it sounds like I've gotta investigate blogger's tools again.

Twilark said...

This is a fascinating insight into the publishing of Samizdat,Tamizdat poetry and texts. It is wonderful to hear your story.
I will be back to read it again from time to time.
You've also roused my interest in blog stats. I have a couple that defy explanation.

Maureen Hurley said...

Haha! Twilark, now I know you're one of my GB stats! But there are some very odd stats too of readers from obscure and distant shores—that boggle the imagination.

Maureen Hurley said...

Glenn, your comment prompted me to post the edition of Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost in its entirety (another blog entry). Thank you for the nudge. Ugh, what a LOT of work it is.

I realized that the first volume of translations I published in Mother Earth News—which led to Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost—I don't have a single copy of. Argh.

The biblical floods of 1998 took care of all my original translations and notes. So this is all that there is.

What strikes me upon rereading them, is the constant reference to Chernobyl—the Wormwood Star again raising its radioactive head as the wildfires of Moscow burn.

I remember being puzzled by the myriad references that stood for linguistic shortcuts within Soviet culture—which were had to find new Western equivalencies.

What got lost in the process was my inability to find an appropriate Western metaphoric translation for some images. So footnotes were my friend.