by Joshua Kotin
This essay is a preview of a larger project, still in progress, about Ezra Pound’s Cantos 110-116 published by Fuck You Press in 1967. To share information about the book or to comment on the essay, please write Joshua Kotin.
A thought experiment. You are teaching a course on the history of twentieth-century American poetry and can only assign one collection. No anthologies. No compilations. What would you assign? Tender Buttons (1914)? The Waste Land (1922)? Harmonium (1923)? Spring and All (1923)? The Weary Blues (1925)? Howl (1956)? The Bean Eaters (1960)? Ariel (1965)?
I might assign The Cantos 110-116 published by Fuck You Press in 1967. Why that book — a pirated, mimeographed edition, limited to 300 copies? The book connected Ezra Pound, the most influential poet of the century, to the world of the mimeograph revolution, a publishing phenomenon that changed how poetry was written and read after the Second World War.
But the book did more than connect Pound and the mimeograph revolution. It changed them both. The book forced Pound and his publisher, New Directions, to publish Drafts & Fragments (1969), bringing The Cantos to an artificial, arbitrary end. “It is difficult, and perhaps inappropriate, to speculate on the fate of these last poems had this piracy on the high seas of Cantos texts not occurred,” writes Peter Stoicheff; it is possible “that Cantos 110 to 116 and the fragments would never have been included in the complete Cantos.”1
The book, in turn, brought Fuck You Press and its publisher, Ed Sanders, celebrity and revenue. But more important: it allowed a new generation of poets to read Pound in the face of his fascism and anti-Semitism. As Chelsea Jennings writes, “Sanders’s edition of the Cantos […] is at once an homage to Pound — an affirmation of his continued relevance not just to history but to the present — and a defiant appropriation of his poetry and legacy.”2
The book — as a physical object — exemplifies these entwined histories. It tells a story about Pound and the composition and influence of his epic, and about the counterculture in postwar New York and around the world. The book is, at once, a mini-Pound Era (1971) and an introduction to the communities mapped in A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing 1960-1980 (1998), the bibliography that takes its name from the tagline of Fuck You Press. The book also provides a window onto the history of United States copyright law — a history that links Noah Webster to Ulysses (1922) to Napster — and a pre-MFA world of contempt for mainstream publishing. Finally, the book offers a model — relevant today — for how to separate artists from their artworks, and thereby mitigate complicity in injustice.
The facts about the book’s origin and impact are well known. Stoicheff’s essay, “The Interwoven Authority of a Drafts & Fragments Text” (1997), offers the best account. To summarize: in 1960, Pound sent drafts of seven cantos to The Paris Review after being interviewed by Donald Hall. (The magazine published two cantos — “From CXV” and “CXVI” — and the interview in 1962.) Hall shared the drafts with Tom Clark, who was then writing an honors thesis on Pound at Cambridge. Seven years later, Clark shared the drafts with Sanders, who had asked for a manuscript to “instantly freak into print.”3 Clark and Sanders commissioned a cover from Joe Brainard and mimeographed 300 copies of the book in Sanders’s apartment.
James Laughlin, the owner and publisher of New Directions, learned of the piracy from Pound’s bibliographer, Donald Gallup, and summoned Sanders to lunch at the Russian Tea Room to elicit a promise not to print additional copies. “[H]e says he won’t do it again,” Laughlin wrote Robert Gales, a sales manager at J.B. Lippincott, “but with an anarchist like that you never know.”4 Laughlin immediately began to pressure Pound to complete a new volume of cantos. In 1969, New Directions published Drafts & Fragments in two editions. A regular edition of 3000 copies appeared in April and sold for $3.95; and a signed, limited edition of 310 copies, printed by the Stone Wall Press in Iowa City, appeared in October and sold for $100.
Gallup, in his bibliography, describes the basic features of the most common version of Fuck You Press Cantos:
14 leaves. 27.9 X 21.6 cm. Heavy white paper wrappers printed in black on page [i] with design incorporating title: the cantos of ezra pound cx-cxvi; wire-stitched.
Published without authorisation in November 1967; 300 copies printed. Colophon (recto of final leaf): Limited edition of 300 copies of which this is No…. [number written in] [Text reproduced from typewritten copy.]5
Gallup then lists differences between the poems printed in Fuck You Press Cantos and the poems Pound authorized for the New Directions editions.6
Sanders, in his autobiography, provides additional information about the book, reporting that 100 copies were sold to the Gotham Book Mart for $6 each, and that 100 were given to friends. (He doesn’t mention the remaining 100 copies.) He includes a reproduction of an accounting statement, which he dates November, 1967, listing the costs for paper, ink, and stencils, and indicating that he split the $491 profit with Clark, reserving $60 in royalties for Pound.7 In a letter to Stoicheff, Clark offers a slightly different account, reporting that most of the edition was sold to Robert A. Wilson at the Phoenix Bookshop.8 The difference is understandable: Sanders and Clark were both writing decades after Cantos 110-116 was published and distributed.
Unpublished material from various archives resolves some of these gaps and contradictions. My main source is Richard Taylor’s magisterial (and unpublished) Annals project, but I provide citations to the relevant documents.9 In 1967, Laughlin wrote Herbert P. Gleason, Pound’s lawyer at Hill & Barlow in Boston, that Sanders sold 200 copies to the Gotham Book Mart and 100 to the Phoenix Bookshop.10 In March, 1968, Robert H. Johnson, another lawyer at Hill & Barlow, wrote Sanders to demand $2,550 in restitution, claiming that the book was “being sold at $8.50 a copy in New York City.”11 By March, 1969, Laughlin had convinced the Gotham Book Mart and the Phoenix Bookshop to compensate Pound. (That month, Gotham sent a check for $21.25 to cover their profits from the sale of twenty-five copies.) Sanders, however, remained recalcitrant, failing even to send the $60 promised in his accounting statement.12 In a letter to Pound’s wife, Dorothy Pound, Laughlin wrote:
The two offending booksellers who had handled the Sanders piracy of Canto Fragments have now agreed to make a token “contribution” in lieu of royalties, on their sales, since the wretched Sanders has never come through with anything, despite his assurances […]. He is quite hopeless, a very bad apple.13
That March, Laughlin wrote yet another Pound lawyer — Caryl S. Terry at Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. — that Sanders was now “selling the thing” at his Peace Eye Bookstore for $1.50. “Do you think you should take further action on Sanders? I really can’t do anything with him.” “It is my hope,” Laughlin concludes, “that when our book of these Cantos comes out next month that will dry up the interest in the Sanders version, except for a few collectors who must have everything, even if it is pirated.”14
Laughlin’s suspicion that “with an anarchist like that you never know” occurred to me when I began researching Cantos 110-116. Why would Sanders respect the book’s limitation? Why not, for instance, sell ten copies of copy number ten? Why not make as much money as possible?
More than greed was at stake. The piracy, as Jennings suggests, was a way to recognize the importance of Pound’s poetry without becoming complicit in his politics. But it was also a way to harm Pound. An analogy to television in the age of #MeToo is useful, although imperfect: imagine a world in which every time you watched The Cosby Show (1984-1992) or Louie (2010-2015) or House of Cards (2013-present) you took money out of the pockets of the shows’ stars. The piracy created a version of this world. Excluding the bookshops’ reluctant “contributions,” profit was a zero-sum game between Sanders, and Pound and New Directions. As Laughlin acknowledged, sales of Cantos 110-116 directly decreased sales of Drafts & Fragments: only a collector (or scholar) would buy both. Sanders, thus, had an unselfish reason to sell as many copies as he could — political activism — and an almost two-year head start.
In 2014, I began a census of the book — an attempt to track down all 300 copies. I have located 152 copies so far. My method is basic: WorldCat, word of mouth, bookfinder.com. There are no overlapping numbers — but there are definitely more than 300 copies in circulation. I have located 118 numbered copies — in institutional and private collections, and for sale. (Seventy-four of the 118 are in institutional collections.) I have also located thirty-four unnumbered, out-of-series copies. These copies do not have a colophon — and I don’t think ever did. Thirteen of the unnumbered copies have pink covers, instead of the white covers listed in Gallup’s bibliography. (None of the pink copies has a colophon.) I’ve also found a copy numbered 302, which belonged to Allen Ginsberg. I bought it in 2016 on eBay for $50 from the seller, “artinall,” who has been selling books from Ginsberg’s library. Many of these books have been put up for sale again by Captain Ahab’s Rare Books.
My research has revealed other connections. The University of Delaware has copy number one, which belonged to Wilson, suggesting that the first 100 copies were sold to the Phoenix Bookshop. (Michael Stevens reports that Larry McMurtry’s Booked Up bought stock from the Phoenix after it closed, including thirty copies of Cantos 110-116. Stevens then bought some of these copies to sell on eBay.) A collector in Toronto has copy number two, which belonged to Joseph Gold, the former general counsel and director of the legal department of the International Monetary Fund. (Pound would have found the connection relevant.) The University of Pennsylvania has three copies — two of which (124 and 133) are from the stock of the Gotham Book Mart. (Over 200,000 items from Gotham were donated to Penn in 2008, and are preserved in the Gotham Book Mart Collection. Other items from the bookshop are currently for sale at Grey Matter Books in Hadley, Massachusetts.) Harvard has two copies, including one (113) that Laughlin purchased from Gotham in 1967, and that now resides in the New Directions archives. (These numbers confirm that the first 100 copies went to the Phoenix, and the next 200 went to Gotham.) Yale has Gallup’s copy (225). Steven Clay has poet Paul Violi’s copy — with white covers and no colophon. A pink copy at Princeton was a gift of Charles Ryskamp in 1969; and another pink copy, with the autograph of a Bruce Richman, is part of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library. These connections, together, tell a story about the almost immediate institutional absorption (or arrogation) of the counterculture.
Because I have been working on the census for four years, I’ve been able to track the movement of copies in real time, and have given and traded copies myself. (I bought six copies in 2015 for $120.) One copy (228) traveled from bookseller to bookseller to bookseller — from Burton Weiss to Kenneth Mallory to Brian Cassidy. Another copy (132) traveled from Derringer Books to Sheffield University. I gave a copy (223) to a poet and Pound scholar as a birthday gift; and traded another (80) to the editor and publisher of Crater Press — one of the best poetry publishers today — for a subscription.
There are many questions about the book left to answer. Most obvious: where are the other numbered copies? What is the story behind the different versions? Was Sanders really attempting to harm Pound when he pirated the book? But other questions also matter. Were the first 300 copies printed and numbered in 1967, and the remainder printed at a later date — perhaps to give to friends or to sell for $1.50 at Sanders’s Peace Eye Bookstore? Were all the copies produced in the same way — on the same mimeograph machine with the same stencils? Cassidy, the bookseller, has suggested to me in conversation that the three versions might have been produced using different duplication technologies. A curator at the Morgan Library and Museum has suggested that I try to identify additional variants by comparing staples.
Jed Birmingham notes that printing out of series was not uncommon during the mimeograph revolution. He cites a 1966 letter from Wilson to Dan Saxon — editor of the magazine Poems Collected at Les Deux Mégots / Poets at Le Metro (1961-1965) — asking for new copies of five back issues. “Could you possibly produce one of each?” Wilson asks.15 As Birmingham observed in an email to me, “if Wilson did this with Saxon I am sure he did with Sanders. The mimeograph is after all just a copy machine.”
From St. Elizabeths in Washington, D.C., where Pound began to write his final cantos, to Rome, where he completed his initial drafts; and from London, where Hall shared them with Clark, to New York, where Clark and Sanders freaked them into print; and from Arlington, Massachusetts, where I am writing this sentence, to wherever you are reading it now: Cantos 110-116 illuminates a world. Every book has this potential. One can track a book’s composition and distribution; indeed, one can track a book’s actual composition — the supply chains and manufacturing processes that lead to the object that one holds in one’s hand. (Eric Slauter is doing just that for a book, Walden’s Carbon Footprint, about the first edition of Walden, published in 1854.) A census — of a book, of a place — reveals a unique network of lives.
Fuck You Press Cantos connected Pound to the mimeograph revolution and changed them both. And it continues to change our world, connecting poets, scholars, collectors, booksellers, institutions, presses, readers. The book’s comparatively small scale — 300 plus copies, fourteen pages (thirteen without the colophon) — allows us to track its impact even as it impacts us.
I thank Rachel Applebaum, Sheelagh Bevan, Jed Birmingham, Ronald Bush, Brian Cassidy, Michael Kindellan, John Logan, Gabriel Swift, and Eric White for discussing Cantos 110–116 with me; I also thank everyone who responded to my queries about specific copies of the book.
1 Peter Stoicheff, “The Interwoven Authority of a Drafts & Fragments Text,” in A Poem Containing History: Textual Studies in The Cantos, ed. Lawrence S. Rainey (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 220.
2 Chelsea Jennings, “Pirating Pound: Drafts & Fragments in 1960s Mimeograph Culture,” Journal of Modern Literature 40.1 (2016): 103.
3 Tom Clark, quoted in Stoicheff, 214.
4 James Laughlin, quoted in Stoicheff, 215.
5 Donald Gallup, Ezra Pound: A Bibliography (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983), 107.
6 For a history of the Drafts & Fragments text, see Stoicheff, and Ronald Bush, “‘Unstill, Ever Turning’: The Composition of Ezra Pound’s Drafts & Fragments,” Text 7 (1994): 397–422.
7 Ed Sanders, Fug You: An Informal History of the Peace Eye Bookstore, the Fuck You Press, the Fugs, and Counterculture in the Lower East Side (New York: Da Capo Press, 2011), 286.
8 Clark, quoted in Stoicheff, 214.
9 Ezra Pound et al., “Annals, Documentation for a Variorum Edition of The Cantos,” ed. Richard Taylor, Word file, 2014.
10 James Laughlin to Herbert P. Gleason, 21 December 1967, item 2917, folder 127, New Directions Publishing Corp. Records, circa 1932–1997 (MS Am 2077), Houghton Library, Harvard University.
11 Robert H. Johnson to Edward Sanders, 5 March 1968, item 5056, folder 1, New Directions Publishing Corp. Records. The New Directions archives includes a receipt for two copies that Laughlin purchased from the Gotham Book Mart for $8.50 each, less a discount. See Gotham Book Mart receipt, item 5056, folder 1, New Directions Publishing Corp. Records.
12 Sanders also failed to send $120 he promised another Pound lawyer in 1968. (Sanders told the lawyer that he had sold copies of Cantos 110–116 to the Phoenix Bookshop and the Gotham Book Mart for $2 each.) See Caryl S. Terry to Laughlin, 12 November 1968, item 5003, folder 4, New Directions Publishing Corp. Records.
13 Laughlin to Dorothy Pound, 24 March 1969, Pound mss. II, box 9, The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. The two bookshops wanted to protect their relationship with New Directions, and thus were willing to comply with Laughlin’s request for “contributions.” In 1968, Laughlin wrote Caryl S. Terry, one of Pound’s lawyers, that “Andy Brown at Gotham Book Mart […] is pushing me hard for a larger allocation on the next limited edition, and he now seems to want to cooperate, and describes himself as repentant for having gotten mixed up in the Sanders affair.” The high price of the Drafts & Fragments limited edition meant a significant profit for the bookshops. See Laughlin to Terry, 18 November 1968, item 5003, folder 4, New Directions Publishing Corp. Records.
14 Laughlin to Terry, 13 March 1969, item 5003, folder 5, New Directions Publishing Corp. Records. Pound’s lawyers were reluctant to prosecute, knowing that damages would not cover the cost of prosecution.
15 Robert A. Wilson quoted in Jed Birmingham, “The Smoking Gun,” Mimeo Mimeo (blog), Mimeo Mimeo, https://mimeomimeo.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-smoking-gun.html.