restricted access 2. Small Presses and Stabilizing the “Littles”
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74 c h a p t e r 2 Small Presses and Stabilizing the “Littles” People like you keep asking me to write and leave something behind for posterity. And I tell them I make beautiful books. Isn’t that enough? —Ashok Shahane There is both the desire to be seen but also the desire to not be mistakenly seen. —Adil Jussawalla The separation between little magazines and small presses that I am making in this book is an artificial differentiation. The same people who operated the little magazines also published a small number of books during this period: Ashok Shahane, who edited Aso (1963–65), also published Pras Prakashan1 books; Bhalchandra Nemade, who brought out Vacha (1968), also started the press Vacha Prakashan in the 1970s; and Raja Dhale, the creator of various Marathi littles like Atta (1964), Yeru (1967), Tapasi (1968), and Chakravarti (1969), also founded the publishing outfit Atta Prakashan. In English, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, the editor of the little magazines ezra and damn you, began the ezra-fakir press in the 1960s and later, in 1976, was the one of the four founding members of the now legendary Clearing House (along with Adil Jussawalla, Arun Kolatkar, and Gieve Patel); and Santan Rodrigues, the editor of the English little magazine Kavi, was one of three poets who started Newground Press in Bombay. The publishing chops of the small book publishers were developed in the rough and exciting contexts of little magazine production. For example , Mehrotra, the editor/publisher of damn you and ezra in Allahabad in the 1960s, brought his magazine experience to his literary collaborations in Bombay. Describing how he and Amit Rai planned to start a Small Presses and Stabilizing the “Littles”   ❘  75 magazine inspired by the American little, Fuck You/A Magazine of the Arts, Mehrotra recalls: Amit’s father, a publisher, had converted a part of the front verandah of his house into an office. In it, among the wooden tables and chairs, stood a Gestetner mimeographing machine, covered in dust and seldom used. We had it cleaned and learnt how to operate it. After applying ink from a large tube to the roller, we rotated the drum a few times to let the ink spread evenly. We then fastened the stencil, fed the paper and watched nervously as the sheets rolled out.2 Such experiments formed the foundation of future book publishing in the context of small press books. As Loss Glazier notes very simply in the American context, “Small presses are noncommercial publishing operations that publish books; little magazines are their serial counterparts .”3 This chapter both connects and separates the workings of the twinned operations of the little magazines and the small presses: the origins are the same, and the people working in them are the same, but the operation of the ventures and the structure of the products are vastly different. In that sense, they are separate even if they belong to the same literary family. Like the transatlantic modernists, the sathottari Indian publishers in Bombay started their careers as writers and editors of little magazines, which defined the nature of their work throughout.4 The independence of the small presses was linked to the rebellions of the little magazine movement, and the individuality of their books stemmed from their extremely close connections with the writers. Having already been the editor of avant-garde writers’ work in the little magazines, the small press publishers were intimately conversant with the cultural and historical contexts of their own era and cultivated unique ways to read a poet’s work, as well as the aesthetic and textual preferences of the given writer. Two such collaborations are discussed in detail later in the chapter: the first among Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Adil Jussawalla, Gieve Patel, and Arun Kolatkar in English poetry (in Clearing House Press) and the second between Ashok Shahane and Arun Kolatkar in Marathi poetry (in Pras Prakashan). For the editors and publishers, being a close associate of the poets while also having a small publishing house with its traditionally noncommercial interests meant that there was less overhead, more flexibility in design, and a greater potential for textual experimentation. 76  ❘  The Context A general enthusiasm for poetry flourished during the sathottari period, an interest that was fueled greatly by the push of little magazines that highlighted the genre in its pages. With the demise of many of the initial little magazines at the end of the 1960s and the increasing cultural visibility...


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