Thick as Trees

It is often said that the Small Publishers Fair has a feeling of family about it. This excerpt from Ross Hair‘s article  ‘Thick as Trees: Kinship and Place in Transatlantic Small Press Poetry Networks’ explores the instinct to connect that is part of what the Fair is about.

“Commenting on the ‘consistent differences’ of small presses such as Jargon and Wild Hawthorn Press and their social importance, Stuart Mills recalls the societal dynamics:

‘In continuing to publish I continue to acknowledge theirs and similar achievements: I continue to wave a handkerchief at the world and know that, inevitably, sometime, someplace, another will wave back with a handkerchief, though decorative, equally impractical and most probably, purchased from some small bazaar or emporium a considerable remove away from the chain stores of the high street.’

Not all birds sing, John Bevis notes in his A-Z of Birdsong , but nearly all call, that is they make specific sounds for warning off predators, asking for food, finding each other or so on. Like the bird’s call (or wave of the handkerchief), the publication becomes an equivalent and equally idiosyncratic way of ‘finding each other’ and acknowledging another’s presence, regardless of distance. Thus in its own way, publishing is itself a call of kinship.

Jonathan Williams summarises this social inclination by evoking Walt Whitman’s claims for companionship in a line where he said that what he aspired to do was to make it ‘as thick as trees by the rivers of America’.

In addition to suggesting camaraderie and intimacy, ‘companionship’ is also a printing term that refers to a company of compositors working together under the management of an elected foreman. It is, in this respect, a fitting analogy for the kinship and collaborative efforts witnessed in Jargon’s “Society” and “Certain Trees” which it helped cultivate beyond America’s shores within a geographically dispersed network. Indeed, as Jonathan Williams remarks in the context of Whitman’s trees, in the utopian interspaces of the small press publication, “We are all in this together.””

Thick as Trees: Kinship and Place in Transatlantic Small Press Poetry Networks by Ross Hair first appeared in the journal Anglophonia/Caliban 35 (2014): pp. 159-177.