Prospectus of The Divers Press


Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker

Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting

[Prospectus of The Divers Press]. Divers Press, 1953. “Printing is cheap in Mallorca.” Contains blurbs by Creeley for Proensa by Paul Blackburn, Mayan Letters by Charles Olson, From the Sustaining Air by Larry Eigner, and The Kind of Act Of by Creeley. folded to make [6] p. : ill. ; 14.8 cm

“Printing is cheap in Mallorca.” It is a given that Divers Press was made possible by favorable economies. So much so that Alastair Johnston opens his interview with Creeley by questioning this as a primary motivation for the formation of the Press. “[P]artly that,” answered Creeley. For it was not just the cheap printing cost, but the low cost of living, and of course, literary ambition. Faas on Banalbufar, Mallorca: “Altogether, a very lovely place. And the prices! two pesetas or a nickel for a shot of cognac; twenty-five pesetas, about fifty cents, to have the car fixed, which took the mechanic close to a full day. In France, the same job would have cost $6 to $8, in the U.S. more like $10. Madeleina, a strong, staunch lady who they hired to help Ann with the household, work for two pesetas an hour. Any job involving labour, Bob reported to Cid, was dirt cheap, pathetically so.” Divers Press flourished because of this pathetic situation involving labor and materials. An interesting paradox for a largely left-leaning, pro-labor community.

Proensa, the first Divers Press title, cost between $300 and $400 dollars. As Creeley observed to Johnston, “The same book today [1988] would cost $1500. So then we really go into it.” Cheap printing did not just make Divers Press possible, it made the impossible worth trying. Thus Creeley could get The Gold Diggers just perfect. “So the thing – they were terrific with us, being a small shop. I remember trying to reproduce the drawings for the cover of The Gold Diggers, which has the drawing of Laubies’. There’s a red background, the red kept bleeding through, but they overprinted it at least twice. They went through these incredible efforts and they charged us virtually nothing. Extremely sweet.” Terrific and sweet, but pathetically so, perhaps.  

But even in a world of sweet labor and nickel shots of cognac, one must have the money to pay for it, and what made Diver Press possible was not just cheap printing, but as Creeley states to Johnston the “little money thanks to Ann’s trust fund.” Seemingly it was not much, $185 a month according to Faas, but such funds gave a poet concerned with breath much needed breathing room, and Divers Press flourished in this cramped space. Jane Lougee, a trust fund kid from Maine, comes to mind. She inspired and bankrolled the Merlin Group operating in Paris contemporaneously with Diver Press. Ironically the Merlin Group offered to publish The Gold Diggers, but Creeley misinterpreted their offer as mere kindness and published it himself.

The woman behind the man is a stock figure in the Mimeo Revolution. Yet maybe the image of women standing by their men is the wrong image. “On their backs” in all the connotations of that phrase may be more appropriate. And thus the pathetic labor and the oft-depicted pathetic Ann Creeley have much more in common than may first appear. Divers Press would have been impossible without them.

Written by Jed Birmingham and published by RealityStudio on 21 April 2019.

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