Aífe Murray
Chain 3, Spring 1996

          First I was a painter, so for me, words shimmer.
          Each one has an aura. Lines are laid on the field
          of the page, so many washes of watercolor.
          —Susan Howe

The light of attention as illumined from below drew Sari Broner: her color-xerox collage process of gilt joss paper allows her language to bloom and manifest its formal hybrids.¹ When Dale Going first began learning the trade of a letterpress printer, she remarked on her initial surprise at the weight of each individual letter—this correspondence with the weight of words punctuating the breathable page, as a dancer across tangents, in her moving second book The View They Arrange.² The physicality of Denise Lawson's language/page: word-kernels inform her sensuous first book Where You Form the Letter L.³ The delicate space defined by overlaps of tinted plastic, poetic text and photography work as notation in Jaime Robles' constructions ...

.. ."Daughters" of Barbara Guest and Kathleen Fraser (whose origins are in the New York School) / of (former painters) Susan Howe and Norma Cole / of Objectivist poet Lorine Niedecker / of innovative expatriate writers H.D. and Gertrude Stein / of English "novelists" Dorothy Richardson and Virginia Woolf / of American Emily Dickinson.⁴

These four west coast women—partaking of the immediacy of the 'zine movement—have seasonally placed the control of "publishing" into the hands of twenty to thirty women writers, who inherit the traditions of spatialized text, concrete poetry, chance poems, graffiti, xerox art, artist's books, Kathleen Fraser's visuality, Susan Howe's sound forms, and Emily Dickinson's poetic innovations in "print." Broner, Going, Lawson, and Robles have devised a spiral bound publication-by-contribution book that they "publish" and distribute, to participants, with their eight hands.⁵ Seasoned book editor and designer Jaime Robles was impressed by the "simplicity and the liveliness" of 'zines in which people, geographically dispersed, were conversing and engaging ideas.⁶ A desire to stimulate exchange among artists and writers led Robles to approach the other three. Together they formulated the logistical simplicity of Rooms which entered its third year in March 1996.⁷

           …immediacy is itself both an aesthetic and practical satisfaction of
Rooms…the visual and written chaos of it that you don't get in a
          closely edited journal—
Rooms puts editing in the hands of the reader
          …an open window…playful…democratic forum…having a
          place to place work is an incentive to write…
Rooms is a site of
          influences…there's very little lag time between writing it and the piece
          appearing…each contributor [chooses] what she wants—the visual
          freedom and variability afforded…
Rooms diffuses power issues around
          writing and the persona ofthe poet…we were feeling the irreplaceable
          loss of
HOW(ever)—not trying to "continue" HOW (ever) but do
          homage to Kathleen's important work, to make another place for women's
          experimental writing…now, after doing it awhile, it has a presence of
          its own. It's a room. As if you opened a Poet's House—with chairs,
          reading materials…things can be unfinished, in process…larger than
          the intimacy of a letter—a resonance in the many voices…

At a time when the page has been undone: when the printing press no longer defines lyric dimensions, these women push against the limits of the page/canvas, testing it as a formal constraint. Inviting vellum overlays, splatter of paint, xerox collage, matchsticks and cool blue geometric acetates inserted at cuts in the paper, red toner poems, plays, essays on other writers/other forms, notices, letters, ex/change—everything acts and reacts to what came before or the poem it lies against. Low tech and high tech, Rooms' work ranges between studied design and transparent invention.

The computer has re-defined the page as scrolling indefinitely, language that might wrap around a city block, just as the internet has turned the page into a concept and catapulted poetry—once song— into the interactive silence of space. Poetry can no longer be pinned exclusively to a tangible surface or to the ear (bereft of the body) in a rapidly shifting (uncertain) world. Simultaneously—reactively—performance art, spoken word, monologists, hip hop, salons, and the importance of "discourse" are at an all time high in the urban/urgent landscape. Art is made of that fusion, reflecting the worlds multiple communities/ displacements/relocations/experimentation on the fringes the "border" as juncture.⁸ Dickinson reacted to the printing press, making hybrid forms in the upheaval of her own historic time. Similarly the Roommates (and we mean the four conveners/collators of Rooms as well as all the women who participate—it has that kind of trafficking between orchestrators and contributors) also are bypassing the dictates of the publishing world that seeks commercially comfortable verse. One day writers and critics will discover these interactive, conversational anthologies (in the old senses of those words), amazed at the collective power—the call and response between the Rooms writers—in the same ways that Dickinson scholars marvel at her daring "visual/visceral" use of the page and "domestic technologies."⁹ Rooms is one manifestation of poetry that has moved onto other surfaces and has taken other surfaces onto its pages. And who is paying attention to this?¹⁰ Who is going to write about this phenomenology of rooming with words on/off the borders of the un/known page?

Kathleen Fraser and the Roommates have contributed to this piece.

1. Broner's work has appeared in two publications from Em Press (Mill Valley, CA): Everything is Real Except the Obvious (1992) and Fascicles, Volume 1.(1993).

2. Dale Going, The View They Arrange (Berkeley: Kelsey Street Press, 1994). Going publishes innovative writing by women in the fine press tradition under the imprint of Em Press (Mill Valley, CA).

3. Denise Liddell Lawson, Where You Form the Letter L (San Francisco: San Francisco State Chapbook Competition Winner, 1992). Lawson is a member of Kelsey Street Press (Berkeley, CA).

4. Many of these poets are associated with innovative writing, not to be exclusively boxed by the above categories, only to suggest origin influences.

5. Between them, these women have extensive experience in fine printing, the arts, book design and editing, and publicity. Perhaps because of this combined experience, they have deliberately chosen this particular low tech form for

6. Former publisher of Five Trees Press and later editor for Lapis Press and Bedford Arts, Robles currently collaborates tvith Peter Josheff (of Earplay) on spoken word and music. Tlieir first collaboration was performed in San Francisco at Intersection for the Arts, in October 1995. Work has appeared in small press editions in the U.S. and Greece (these are available through Robles).

7. Rooms "publishes" writing by ivomen. For more information, contact
Rooms, c/o Jaime Robles, 652 Woodland Avenue, San Leandro, CA 94511.

8. On this issue, see the performance work and writings of Guillermo Gómez-Peña. His Gringostroika (St. Paul: Graywolf, 1993) addresses the borderizalion of the world and the transculturation that arises from that flux. He notes that artists of color, especially with absence of institutional support, go back and forth between art and politically significant territory; making art "of fusion and displacement that shatters the distorting mirrors of the ‘western avant-garde'" (16).

9. Two articles which examine Dickinson's work as collage and canvas (in ways one sees evidenced in
Rooms) are Jeanne Holland's "Scraps, Stamps, and Cutouts: Emily Dickinson's DomesticTechnologies of Publication " (189-181) and Jerome McGann's "Composition as Explanation of Modern and Postmodern Poetries" (101-138) in Ezell and O'Keeffe, Cultural Artifacts and the Production of Meaning: The Page, the Image, and the Body. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1994.

10. Kathleen Fraser's essay, "Line. On the Line. Lining up. Lined with. Between the Lines. Bottom Line" (in Frank and Sayre, ed.
The Line in Postmodern Poetry. Urbana & Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1988. 152-114) remains one of the most important and moving essays on a sampling of contemporary genre-bending feminist poetic practice. Also see Linda Kinnahan's new book, Poetics of the Feminine: authority and literary tradition in William Carlos Williams, Mina Loy, Denise Levertov, and Kathleen Fraser (New York: Cambridge U P, 1994). As an innovative writer and a scholar, Rachel Blau DuPlessis is tracking what's happening in mixed form and feminist poetic practice. See The Pink Guitar (New York: Routledge, 1990). On November 3, 1995, Small Press Distribution hosted a forum in Berkeley CA, with over 60 people in attendance, on feminist presses publishing experimental or innovative ivomen writersTlie Bay Area's Em Press, Kelsey Street Press, and Rooms as well as Korc Press (Tucson) were among current women's innovative presses represented. Moderator Kathleen Fraser raised the question of why, with so much interest and so much happening in the contemporary women's tvriting scene, there isn't more critical writing on these innovative writers. Now that How(ever) has ceased publication, there is no regular forum for reviews exclusively devoted to contemporary-innovative-feminist writing. Most critical work, other than academic attention to the Language poets, tends to mill the usual traditional feminist tokens:Levertov, Lorde, Rich, and Walker.