Books by Martin J. Rosenblum


Home, 1971; The Werewolf Sequence 1975;
Click on covers for enlarged images. Scroll down for comment.

Books by Martin J. Rosenblum


Home: The Offset Revolution and Individual Books

The two books I published (as opposed to those I printed as jobs) by Martin J. Rosenblum acted as tests or trials of what I could do as a printer as well as a publisher. They were so primarily for two reasons: 1. Marty Rosenblum, Barbara Gibson, and Kathy Wiegner were to my mind by far the best poets working actively in Milwaukee during the early 1970s. Barbara was difficult to deal with and she, like Kathy, left the city early. 2. With Marty in the city and out of trouble, I could show him what I was doing as I did it and make sure that none of my decisions or limitations did any harm to the work. Despite a couple of trips out of the city, during most of the working period of both books, Marty was a phone call and/or a short drive away.

I began work on Home while Freek was in progress and I was working at Ed Wolkenheim's shop. At this time, I still had a foot in the mimeo era, but was taking my first steps into offset. More than anything else, this meant considering type in an immediate and practical sense. Given the prevalence of IBM Selectric typewriters and the impact of Charles Olson's notes on typewriters in his "Projective Verse" essay, this may have been the most difficult, and also the most informative, time in which a 20th century publisher should be so confronted.

It's also interesting to me, as well as a matter of civic pride, that the modern typewriter was invented in Milwaukee. The computer you're reading this from is one of its descendents, which now ties the world in a web of communication, and may have as much impact on the writing of the 21st Century as its parent did on the 20th.

Marty took Olson seriously and constructively, and made ingenious use of hanging words, aligned letters, and all the other trappings that the unit spacing of the standard typewriter provided and Projectivism held sacred. They worked as a form of notation for Marty's vocalization, as was common in the era, but this notation was not universally legible. It worked in Marty's poetry on another level at the same time, however. This most interested me in the way it brought out rhythmic patterns in the poems and mimed or mapped the repetitions and catches of obsession, anxiety, anger, aggression, and insistence. This seemed particularly important in a book whose theme was a young man's attempts to find a home that was specifically his and his wife's, but did so without sentimentality, cliches, or models.

This use of type placed demands on the size of the book. Unless I drastically reduced the type, the book would have to be wide to accommodate the long lines. I could set it up on letter sized pages, but that made the book seem to large and clumsy, particularly given the themes it contained. I hoped that by turning the book sideways I could use half a letter sized page and make the maximum use of paper as well as being able to print four pages per run instead of two. This, however, didn't give the poems the kind of breathing space I thought they should have, and it broke poems that should appear complete on a page. The result was an eccentric size, but one I was happy with for the moment. Since I was using Joshua Kessselman's Selectric, I gave him partial credit as publisher, even though he was in Israel at the time and had nothing else to do with the book.

I wanted a hard surfaced cover stock, partly because of the failure of the back cover image on Freek Two. I also thinking that this kind of stock would make the book more durable, both on the shelves of book sellers and book owners. This proved precisely wrong. The inking on the back cover photo "chalked." In this process, the binder in the ink dries before completely setting the ink. It's a common enough phenomenon in the high speed printing and inexpensive stock used in newspapers, and I'm sure you've had enough experience with newspaper pages that leave a residue of ink powder on your fingers. As with most beginners, I printed considerably more copies than I could have hoped to sell. Some 20 years later, as part of another project, Marty and I had the covers reprinted and bound the copies we still had into them. On my next book, Kathy Wiegner's Encounters I not only used a softer stock (which I would have used anyway, having gone over to recycled papers), but also avoided large solids. This created a challenge I came back to in Marty's next book.

Despite all the book's problems and what now appear clearly as defects, both Marty and I were delighted with the book. Part of this came from the process of producing it. The shared part of manufacture came from working with the text. Instead of having a ms. handed over to me or delivered through the mail, and then setting the type in isolation. Marty and I took turns typing its pages, discussing or arguing about how to get the desired letter placements, how to make it work to maximum purpose on the page, and how to avoid typos. The latter required the help of several additional proofreaders. Although our purpose was to do the most accurate job possible, the text did not remain immutable while we were striving for precision. Marty took several poems out and added others as we went. The last poem in the book got there several months after we thought we had finished the type setting process. Delays in other aspects of printing provided the time for Marty to write this poem - and perhaps to see that the book was either incomplete without it, or, more precisely, that the closure it had without the final poem made it come across as phony.

The problems of learning how to print the book were legion. I remember clearly the first negatives I shot with the process camera, and Ed's constant fussing over my shoulder as I did it. But I'm not sure whether the copy I shot, the soup I mixed, or the images that developed under the magic of the safe light were for Freek or Home.

As Ed became less interested in printing, we spent longer periods of time talking to other printers - sometimes at multiple lunches held at different times for different businesses, sometimes sitting around other shops as the day wound down, the work load became less, and the printers, as was common at that time, indulged more heavily in alcohol and marijuana, in part to compensate for the amphetamines they'd taken earlier in the day when work was more hectic. I learned a great deal from their conversation as well as Ed's tutelage. One of the things we both learned from other printers was what shops were going out of business or in other stages of transition. From this, we were able to buy equipment at extremely low prices. Most of it we resold, sometimes after making repairs. On one level, this seemed to make up for some of the money we were losing in the printing business. On another level, I had to learn about the equipment as we bought and refurbished it.

I was seriously thinking about problems of distribution, and this is something I spent a fair amount of time talking to Marty about in regard to Home. He had run Albatross Press for a number of years, and at times had moved sales slightly out of the red. At this point, he was ready to let go of Albatross. Instead of simply dumping it, he turned it over to me. I could thus change its name to Membrane Press and take over its reserved ISBN numbers without having to restart the procedure. You can still see the prefix, 0-87924, on books I publish. Marty also brought me through a lot of other forms of paperwork and pre-publication prep for new titles. How much this benefited me in the long run, I don't know. My press has hardly made the Fortune 500. But the B School aspect of this period was none the less something I had to go through.

The Werewolf Sequence: Large Offset Books Come of Age

Aside from anything else, Home pleased us because it was the best poetry Marty had written so far (it doesn't stand up badly today), and the book was well done by the alternative press standards of the early 70s. Bear in mind that the type for most alternative poetry books of the era came forth from IBM Selectric copy, and that even though the image on the back chalked, it did look more like a mainstream publication than most of the other poetry books making the rounds at the time. Satisfied with the book we were, but we knew we could do better.

That something better required technical and artistic evolution on the part of both of us. I assume Marty got some of his bearings for the next work from writing Home. I got some from printing it.

For me, one literary line of evolution combined my growing sense of the possibilities of visual poetry and the limitations of the lineation of Projective verse. Here I am only speaking of lineation, not the poetry as read silently or aloud. I think I've written enough about visual poetry elsewhere. Suffice it to say that I came to think of the lineation of Projective verse as similar to Concrete in its smallness of scale and its seeming need to exult triviality. At the same time, this kind of scoring did not even hint at the possibilities being explored at the time in the rapidly expanding sound poetry genre. In this respect, little indentations, alignments, and hanging words could become downright deceptive. An example to me of a serious problem with Projectivist conventions in typography came from a younger poet who contributed to Freek while I was working on Home. She had heard Marty, me, and several other poets who used the kind of notation Olson advocated to accentuate rhythmic patterns by line breaks in places where the sense of a given sentence would not indicate pauses. Robert Creeley had been the supreme master of this kind of syncopation on a tight scale, but we had followed it in a number of different ways. The young woman who heard us read, but had not seen any such work in print picked up on the patterns of sound easily enough, but heard them as examples of how "real" poets were supposed to write truly hip and formally correct poems. Instead of using line breaks and other types of tinkering with lineation, she punctuated her poems with periods so that they would stop in odd places, and, when read aloud, would sound like those of the slightly older poets. This could have produced interesting results had she been working from an understanding of the conventions in vogue or from ideas of her own which diverged from them. As it was, she was essentially working against herself. Her poems were not as good as, say, Gertrude Stein's or Denise Levertov's, but they did show promise. What did not show promise was the stylish affectation of meaningless pauses and stops. This did not mean that there was something inherently wrong with breaking up syntax in unexpected places, but it did suggest that such practice could be easily misunderstood - not only by people who simply wanted to hear the poems, but also by a younger generation of writers. These conventions could become as dead as the meter and rhyme in greeting cards for audiences who didn't feel the line breaks, as audiences of Marlowe or Shakespeare's day had heard the hot-blooded pulse of declaimed iambic pentameter.

By this time, I had no desire to try to undo the lineation of Projective verse, but had ceased using anything like it myself. I also decided that whenever I printed poetry of this sort, I would do nothing to try to make proportional type look like the unit spacing of a standard typewriter. This infuriated several poets, including Robert Duncan, but he wasn't a poet I expected to publish in the near future. When we started working on The Werewolf Sequence, I no longer had access to a compositor such as the one we had at Ed's shop, but Tom Montag had the one he used to set Margins. The arrangement we made was that Marty would pay Tom a modest fee to set the type as long as Marty sat with him as he worked, and whenever a decision had to be made regarding the positioning of letters, Tom would show him his options and Marty would choose the one that worked best. I had hopes that this might also give Marty a better sense of the problems he might run into with books he might write in the future. In the city where the typewriter was born, I tried to get poets not to buy Selectrics, but typewriters with proportional instead of unit spacing, and not fall into an insoluable bind between tyewriter copy and set type.

I don't know all the literary processes Marty went through during this time, but their results were profound. The werewolf of the title came from an imaginary guardian he had placed in his room to protect him as a child. The wolf summed up much of the iconography and pop culture of boys growing up in the 1950s. The wolf evolved with Marty as he did with other males of the same vintage. As a writer, Marty had been strongly influenced not only by Projective verse but also by Objectivism, particularly the poetry of Carl Rakosi, and combined these two literary heritages into a form of discourse that in turn took cues from traditional English dramatic monologue and the poetry of John Barryman. In Home, he had explored tensions in trying to find a congenial mode of daily life. When he had completed that and moved on to The Werewolf Sequence, he had developed a base that allowed him to do extensive improvisations on the texture of the everyday life of the time. In a period as chaotic as the early to mid 70s, it seemed appropriate that he should find a mode that allowed delicate miniatures to wander in and out of rants, diatribes, and interior ruminations. Of young people who attempted long poems at the time, few in the U.S. did so as well as Marty. I don't know if the book will see a reprint, but it certainly would deserve one. It's a much better book than most of the period, and is worth checking special collections and used book stores to find.

I started printing Toby Olson's Changing Appearance before The Werewolf Sequence. Toby's book contained more pages, but I could print four of them at a time, and the book had greater sales potential. Since I no longer had a process camera, the cost of standard negatives would be expensive. At the time I farmed them out to a shop that fit my copy on scraps at the end of the day. This was cheaper than any other way of having camera work done, and Dick Higgins would later use the same method and the same shop for his Printed Editions books. Still, the cost on a book as large as Marty's would be too high. The cost of standard plates would also be high. A solution to this came with diffusion transfer plates. These plates did not use negatives, but were exposed directly from the copy. A finished plate thus cost less than half its negative-based counterpart. Diffusion transfer didn't hold as tight an image as a conventional plate, but with a bit of care, the results were almost as good for text copy. I wouldn't use these plates for halftones and most other forms of graphics, but I only had a few in The Werewolf Sequence and the extra expense wasn't a big deal. The diffusion transfer plates required less intense light for exposure. The arc light used for standard plates could cause blindness if you looked directly at it during during the burn.

I had learned to do more extensive solids in the years between the completion of Home and the beginning of The Werewolf Sequence. But I did want to produce a lavish edition this time, and the chalking on the back of Home still bothered me. In designing the new book, I didn't hold back on large areas of coverage either on the cover or the endpapers. A press like mine wasn't designed for such work, but there were a number of ways to get around its limitations. One I picked up from the old mimeo days. This was slip sheeting - the throwing of a piece of cardboard on top of each sheet as it came out so that it wouldn't smear or set off on the sheet that landed on top of it. The other was to let the rollers make several revolutions between each impression, so they could become fully inked and the ink could even itself out after each strenuous impression. This latter procedure required careful adjustments of the water system on the press, and after approximately 30 impressions, you'd have to run scrap paper through the press for a while to keep the ink from building up in patterns reflecting the image areas and causing smears.

Neither slip sheeting nor allowing the rollers to catch up on the ink could be done at the slowest speed at which the press could be run. To accomplish the procedures, you'd have to allow one sheet through, then turn off the feed until the cardboard had been dropped and the rollers had caught up. In a pinch, I could sit on a low stool or wooden box at the roller end of the press, and, with the shoe removed from my right foot, wrap my big toe around the front feed lever. I did this with a number of books, though it was dangerous and wasteful. Even with an assistant handling the rear feed lever, muscle aches and cramps set in fairly quickly, and the exasperation curve rose quickly once the process had begun. For most of the assistance I needed, I used the labor exchange that was part of my sense of what interlocking cottage industries should use, and which I used with members of National Organization of Women in producing their newsletter and in conjunction with projects done at Water Street Arts Center. Occasionally, I had to hire someone to assist me for cash if I couldn't arrange anything else. Working with large coverage required professional skills. If the assistant and I took turns at the two ends of the press, it became dangerous, since the chain delivery system could easily take a finger off, and with a little effort could shred a hand. The only person available who had the skills for this kind of work was Pat Wagner, and she did all the assistance on large coverage areas of this book. I paid double for what I called "shit work." Some jobs such as collating could be considered "shit work" because they were boring. Okay, a lot of work is boring. That doesn't matter. A job that's frustrating and painful, however, should earn the worker extra money. Generally the printing industry paid in precisely the opposite manner - dangerous and unpleasant work earning the lowest money; more gratifying work paying top dollar. Pat got double pay for her labor. This worked out better than other forms of shit work, since she generally had a better temper and although there were times when she could get cranky, she understood the problems involved well enough to keep from going that way during it.

The Werewolf Sequence provided a lot of opportunity for play as well as work. By far the biggest asset to this aspect of the book came from a six foot tall papier mache werewolf Marty's wife Maureen made while he was writing the poem. This wolf sat with his legs crossed and one of his extended arms had fingers fashioned so that he could hold a cigarette in a fey manner. The wolf was, of course, covered with fur, and Maureen insisted that the fur be 100% Jewish. Thus some of his locks came from just about everybody in her and Marty's family. It seemed to me that the werewolf should preside over production, living in my pressroom from the time I started printing till I had several hundred copies bound.

The day I brought the werewolf home, Barbara Einzig was staying with us. She had business to do downtown, and I let her off on my way to Marty and Maureen's. I picked Barbara up on the way back to the house, and she had the wolf sitting in her lap on the way. This brought a lot of stares from people on the sidewalk and at a gas station where we stopped.

I had a draftsman's stool next to my press, since it was something I could lean against without sitting on while printing. When I wasn't printing, I put the wolf on the stool. It didn't take long for me to discover how much fun I could have introducing people to him. I left him sitting in the middle of the pressroom, facing the door. When visitors came, whether they had anything to do in the basement or not, I found an excuse to bring them down stairs. The pressroom is at the other end of the building from the stairs. Before it, there was a room in which I kept paper. In bringing people to the pressroom, I arranged to get them in front of me when we entered the room, and threw the light switch on just as they entered the door and found themselves staring into the wolf's face. Most jumped at the sight. One of the women from NOW who lived, ate, breathed, and slept martial arts let out an heroic exhalation in assuming a battle position and came within an ace of destroying the papier mache monster. I had him sitting in various places in the basement while working on the press, and even scared myself with him a couple times.

I burned the plates I'd use at the beginning of each day's work. As printing neared completion, it seemed appropriate that the book should be finished under a full moon. I checked the calendar and saw that the next full moon would be on January 27, 1975, and made a colophon saying that it was finished on that date, and specifying that printing had been completed under a full moon. I had most of the work done a few days before, and the last day's work went easily enough. I went out for supper, but as I was waiting it occurred to me that I hadn't checked what time the moon set that night. After ordering, I ran across the street to a magazine stand to pick up an almanac, noting that the fat moon wasn't all that high. I only had a few hours to get the job done, but there was enough time for me to eat, get back, run the last signatures and start washing down the press with about half an hour to spare. Late that night, I took the plates to Marty's back yard and arranged them around it, so that when he got up in the morning he would find the silver metal shining in the early moring light, either understanding that the press work had been accomplished or wondering if he'd wandered into a genre parallel to werewolf movies, movies about invasions of shiny beings from outer space.

My partner, Susan Kurth, Maureen, Marty, and I made a several day long party out of collating the book. An old printer's belief - one held by Walter Hamady, the country's supreme master printer - says that a book needs one typo to let the evil spirits out. I assume that Walter's friend, the rug merchant Ed Gulisarian, host to poets visiting Madison, reinforced this notion with a similar one regarding oriental rugs: each rug needs an imperfection to confound the devil. I had been translating Anglo-Saxon charms at the time I was working on The Werewolf Sequence. We found a typo in the book. I wrote a ceremonial exorcism for the evil spirits which involved cutting the typo out of my copy of the book and dropping it between the grates of a drain in my driveway while reciting verses based on Anglo-Saxon models. The day was overcast and rainy - providing a Norse-like environment. A German shepherd on a neighbor's porch watched the ceremony with intelligent curiosity, and gave us an appropriate howl at the end of the ceremony.

Return to Some Volumes of Poetry, Part 1

Maureen Rosenblum sitting on the werewolf's lap.