"New Directions was founded three years ago to do a particular job: to foster the branches of literature which are being victimized by the excessive commercialization of American publishing--poetry, criticism, translation, belles-lettres, and unconventional fiction."
New Directions was founded to counteract, in its small way, the tendency to treat a book as nothing more than a package of merchandise. Perahps the editor is an idealist. But that species is not yet extinct. Our first years have shown there are a great many people in this country who love the best in literature and resent its degradation. Confident of their support and anxious to deserve it, New Directions enters another publishing year." - James Laughlin, 1939
So wrote New Directions Publishing Corporation's founder, poet and steel company heir James Laughlin (1914-1997), three years after the publication, when Laughlin was a 22-year-old Harvard sophomore, of New Directions in Poetry & Prose, an anthology that featured the work of writers, some of whom were already acclaimed but many of whom would eventually be recognized as among the most important in 20th century American literature: William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, Elizabeth Bishop, Henry Miller, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, and e. e. cummings. 75 years and countless authors, from the modernist canon and from literary traditions all over the world, later, New Directions is still publishing, having introduced US readers to the work of major American and international writers like H.D., Delmore Schwartz, Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Clarice Lispector, Raja Rao, Muriel Spark, Thomas Merton, Anne Carson, Jorge Luis Borges, Allen Grossman, Jerome Rothenberg, Victor Pelevin, Bei Dao, W. G. Sebald, Roberto Bolaño, and Javier Marías, to name just a few.
Last night, Poets House in New York, one of the finest repositories of poetry books in the US, hosted a dodranscentennial celebration and reception for New Directions, to coincide with its debut, on its second floor, of selected materials from New Directions' rich archive. The reading featured eight authors and translators, some from New York and some from farther away, who read from authors published by New Directions or their own work. After Poets House Program Director and publisher Stephen Motika opened the program, he introduced the first reader, translator Susan Bernofsky, who has translated several works from German by Swiss author Robert Walser, read from her recent translation of Microscripts (New Directions, 2010). Subsequent readers were NYU French professor Richard Sieburth, who read two selections from the work of Ezra Pound; poet, translator, scholar, and Bomb editor Mónica de la Torre, who read translations (by Laura Healy) from poet Roberto Bolaño's funny, provocative Tres (New Directions, forthcoming in September 2011).
After Mónica, Brown professor and translator Forrest Gander read selections from his newest book, published by New Directions; Eliot Weinberger read from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's 1958 volume A Coney Island of the Mind, one of New Direction's and American poetry's best selling volumes; poet and Duke professor Nathaniel Mackey, who received the National Book Award for his New Directions-published collection Splay Anthem in 2005, read from that and a more recent collection, then offered a snippet from Djuna Barnes's 1936 volume Nightwood; and he was followed by the final reader, poet, critic and Buffalo professor Susan Howe, who began with a small selection from William Carlos Williams's Paterson (1946-1958), before finishing with a thrilling little sliver, which included a passage she performed almost like sound poetry, from her most recent book, THAT THIS (New Directions, 2010). New Directions editor and poet Jeffrey Yang concluded the event with brief remarks, and a fine reception followed upstairs.
If you are in New York and want something engaging to do--and afterwards you might stroll along the picturesque riverwalk just a few steps awa--before October 8, 2011, please visit Poets House during their regular hours and view their wonderful exhibit, in vitrines and along the upstairs walls, of New Directions books, manuscripts, correspondence, book cover mockups, and ephemera. There are some real treasures in the vitrines and along the walls; I've posted a few images below, but I intend to go back when it's a bit quieter to explore the wonderful treasures on display. Poets House also has its 2011 Poetry Book Showcase on display on the first floor, and will be hosting a celebratory event in conjunction with it, with readings by Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Evie Shockley, Albert Mobilio, and Jena Osman next Tuesday!
Poets House Program Director and publisher Stephen Motika, delivering his beautiful introduction of the evening's events
Susan Bernofsky, who has translated Robert Walser for New Directions, reading from her translation of his Microscripts
NYU French and Comp Lit professor Richard Sieburth, reading Ezra Pound
Poet and translator Mónica de la Torre, reading from translations (by Laura Healy) of Roberto Bolaño's prose poems Tres
Brown professor Forrest Gander, reading from his poetry
Eliot Weinberger, before he read from Lawrence Ferlinghetti's A Coney Island of the Mind (1958), one of New Directions' and American poetry's most popular and best selling volumes
National Book Award winning poet and professor Nathaniel Mackey, reading from Splay Anthem, the first of his books published by New Directions
Poet and professor Susan Howe, who began her reading with a selection from William Carlos Williams's Paterson
Poet and New Directions editor Jeffrey Yang, closing the event
The packed reading
The reception after the event
New Directions books on display (founder and poet James Laughlin is pictured on the left)
New Directions books, catalogs, correspondence and ephemera on display
A vitrine featuring Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Octavio Paz's work
Two New Directions books; Bob Kaufman's book is one of my favorites. He is also, I believe, the first African-American author New Directions published in a stand-alone volume
A vitrine feature Gary Snyder's Pulitzer Prize nomination and his award-winning volume, Turtle Island (1975).
Another vitrine, featuring Anne Carson and several other authors (cf. the work on the bottom right)
A letterpress version of one of William Carlos Williams's most famous poems
A broadsheet version of one James Laughlin's poems
More New Directions poetry books in the hallway at Poets House