Although we love to advise each other on everything from microfiche techniques to the proper employment of the en-dash, the editors at Lost & Found only have one rule: “follow the person.” Practicing it led some of us to Diane di Prima’s garage, where she keeps her own rare archives. Others discovered unopened boxes in university libraries or split bottles of wine with writers they had previously admired from afar.
Ammiel Alcalay, the founder and the heart of Lost & Found, first offered this rule—he probably would call it a suggestion—to confound the academic conventions that stultify projects. We lost labels and schools, proper milieus, and received historical wisdom, and we found unpublished manuscripts, loving letters between writers who theoretically should dismiss each other, and the genuineness of unedited remarks. Applying Ammiel’s suggestion to himself would be the best way to understand the accomplishments and aspirations of Lost & Found, but his generous approach to authorship and the sharing of credit means that we have to follow the archive instead.
With the support of the City University of New York’s Center for the Humanities and the enthusiasm of Ph.D. students at the CUNY Graduate Center, the first edition of Lost & Found appeared in spring 2010. It included previously unpublished letter collections between Ed Dorn and Amiri Baraka and Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara, as well as selections from Philip Whalen and Daphne Marlatt’s respective journals, and a thoughtful look at Muriel Rukeyser. The following series continued, with some excellent exceptions, to highlight authors whose acclaim (or underappreciation) dated from a similar time period to that of those writers. Series II returned to Rukeyser and introduced work from Diane di Prima, Margaret Randall’s selections from El Corno Emplumado, a memorial lecture for Charles Olson given by Robert Duncan, and Jack Spicer’s translation of Beowulf (1962–1969). Our most recent series featured Lorine Neidecker, Michael Rumaker, the return of di Prima, Ed Dorn, letters between John Wieners and Charles Olson, Joanne Kyger, and an exploration of the relationship between Langston Hughes, Nancy Cunard, and Louise Thompson.
Lost & Found’s apparent focus felt appropriate since a project dedicated to the revelation of how creative communities grew in unexpected and underreported ways benefits from beginning with a circle of people who offered inspiration and friendship to each other. The other advantage of this focus only became apparent as it unfolded. Lost & Found, sweetly and without fuss, sabotaged many of the aspects of current graduate education that people seem most to regret when they appraise the academic landscape. Writers ignored by the establishment became the focus of a Ph.D. program, the joining of different “specialized” fields became necessary to comprehend the richness of the influences that propelled the era, and archival work often transformed itself into an intergenerational exchange between people who, despite their different contexts, shared similar artistic dreams and interests. Writers said to belong in the 1940s–1970s were suddenly writing poems in the Graduate Center’s English lounge and politely telling the overeducated that they had it all wrong about this New American Poetry stuff.
Just as Lost & Found only has one rule, it likely only makes one discovery: “your assumptions are wrong.” Fortunately, we continue to discover many [End Page 8] exciting ways to be wrong. I just read an email from an author I once thought had died, which remains my favorite corrected misapprehension. Along with liberation from perfection (not applicable to proofreading), we like to think that Lost & Found replaces a territorial anxiety about rare books and the establishment of definitive literary interpretations with the greater possibilities provided by restoring unseen and unacknowledged texts to the public. John Harkey’s loving reproduction of Lorine Neidecker’s Homemade Poems is an exemplar of this ethos; a collector’s item with a...