The University Record, October 4, 1999

Symposium, exhibition celebrate ‘The Alternative Press’

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

“The Alternative Press Symposium,” featuring poets and artists speaking on their experiences in creating art in Detroit, will be held Oct. 17–19. In conjunction with the symposium, the University Library has mounted an exhibition of materials from Ken and the late Ann Mikolowski’s Alternative Press. “Your Artwork Here: 30 Years of The Alternative Press” will be on display in the Special Collections Library through Dec. 4.

The Mikolowskis established the Alternative Press in 1968, and over the years it has featured the work of leading poets of the Beat and Black Mountain schools and Detroit’s Cass Corridor artistic community. Letters, notes, postcards, manuscripts, sketches and poetry readings from the Alternative Press’s archive, acquired by the Library in 1996, are among the items displayed in the exhibition.

The symposium, coordinated by James Fox, begins Oct. 17 with poetry readings by Robert Creeley and Edward Sanders. Monday’s program includes Morgan Blair, Donna Brook, Brenda Goodman, Robert Sestok, John Sinclair, Dennis Teichman and Michael Mikolowski. Glen Mannisto will moderate. The U-M’s Kathryn Brackett Luchs will present her film Work in Progress: Images from Detroit’s Cass Corridor, and Marsha Miro, a Detroit-based art critic, will speak on “The Cass Corridor Art Movement.” Ken Mikolowski will speak on “The History of The Alternative Press.”

Ann Waldman and Ron Padgett will present a poetry reading at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 in Rackham Amphitheater. Waldman, poet, writer, muse and editor of poetry anthologies is co-founder with Allen Ginsberg of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colo. Padgett, a poet, novelist and playwright, is known as the “grand old young man of the New York School of poets.”

The “Detroit Poetry Blowout” will begin at 7 p.m. Oct. 19 in the East Quad Auditorium with poets Morgan Blair, Donna Brook, Lolita Hernandez, Robert Hershon, Glen Mannisto, Christine Monhollen, John Sinclair, Keith Taylor, Dennis Teichman and Mick Vranich.

Inspired by the idealism of the 1960s, the Mikolowskis developed The Alternative Press as an inexpensive means of distributing the writings and art of known and yet-to-be-known artists from Detroit’s Cass Corridor art community. By 1971, with printing costs escalating and the cash for materials rapidly diminishing, the Mikolowskis decided on a subscriber mailing that would fund their packets sent in plain manila envelopes, but full of marvelous “stuff.” This experimental, innovative and unpretentious method keeps the simple mission of the Press to “get art to the people.”

In 1996, the U-M Library acquired the archives of the Alternative Press, more than 35 linear feet of material that includes a complete run of the annual packets, examples from each postcard series, all publication by the Press, and all correspondence and business files related to the Press.

“What is remarkable about the archives,” says Kathleen Dow, exhibit curator, “is that we see not only the finished products of the artists’ work, but we see how a poem gets written, a work of art gets created, and how they both get published and distributed. We can see a poem by Gary Snyder as it was first submitted. Next we can see how Ken and Ann printed it in a couple of different ways, and then how Snyder revised the printing, and finally how it appeared in its finished form.”