On Thursday April 13th at 1:30 in the Poetry & Rare Books Collection at SUNY Buffalo I will be conducting an informal interview with Lyn Hejinian about her Tuumba Press and artist book collaborations. Very little has been written about the press, but Lyn wrote the following reflection for Steve Clay and Rodney Phillips' exhibition of the "mimeo revolution" hosted by the New York Public Libray entitled "A Secret Location on the Lower East Side":
I founded Tuumba Press in 1976. It was a solo venture in that I had no partner(s) or assistant(s) but it was not a private nor a solitary one; I had come to realize that poetry exists not in isolation (alone on its lonely page) but in transit, as experience, in the social worlds of people. For poetry to exist, it has to be given meaning, and for meaning to develop, there must be communities of people thinking about it. Publishing books as I did was a way of contributing to such a community—even a way of helping to invent it. Invention is essential to every aspect of a life of writing. In order to learn how to print, I invented a job for myself in the shop of a local printer. The shop was in Willits, California—a small rural town with an economy based on cattle ranching and logging; the owner of the shop (the printer, Jim Case) was adamant that “printing ain’t for girls,” but took me on three afternoons a week as the shop’s cleaning lady. A year later I moved to Berkeley, and purchased an old Chandler and Price press from a newspaper ad. I knew how to run the press but not much about typesetting; friends (particularly Johanna Drucker and Kathy Walkup) taught me a few essentials and a number of tricks. The first eleven chapbooks (printed in Willits in 1976-1977) had a slightly larger trim size than those I did myself (in the back room of the house in Berkeley)—I was using leftover paper in Willits, but in Berkeley I bought paper from a local warehouse and used the trim size that was the most economical (creating the least amount of scrap). The list of authors of the first books makes it clear that for the first year and a half I was looking to various modes of “experimental,” “innovative,” or “avant-garde” writing for information; the subsequent chapbooks represent a commitment to a particular community—the group of writers who came to be associated with “Language Writing.” The chapbook format appealed to me for obvious practical reasons—a shorter book meant less work (and expense) than a longer one. But there were two other advantages to the chapbook. First, most of the books I published were commissioned—I invited poets to give me a manuscript by a certain date (usually six months to a year away)—and I didn’t want to make the invitation a burden. And second, I wanted Tuumba books to come to people in the mode of “news”—in this sense, rather than “chapbook” perhaps one should say “pamphlet.” It is for this reason, by the way, that I didn’t handsew the books; they were all stapled—a transgression in the world of fine printing but highly practical in the world of pamphleteering.