September 22, 2008
Rootdrinker Institute & Benevolent Bird Press
For some months now I've had on my desk (rising & falling through the various strata) a stack of chapbooks, broadsides & newsletters from Alan Casline & his DIY small press, Benevolent Bird Press, & his Rootdrinker Institute. The "statement of purpose" from the Rootdrinker Newsletter says that they "encourage artists, musicians, writers, and crafters to use local images, lore, and legends, along with the artistic inspiration and creative visions of those people who before them by advocating interest in nature, local history, and local traditions." Gee, sounds like Emily Dickinson, or Walt Whitman, or William Carlos Williams, or Charles Olson, even Frank O'Hara.
The chapbooks include Heat Wave by Barbara Hatch Vink, Harvesting Silence by Dennis Sullivan, Alan Casline's own Some Thursday Night Poems, & a funny, spurious The Annals of Perious Frink, a compilation from the local writers in Casline's stable (some already mentioned).
The broadsides are attractive works 8 1/2 x 11 inches, short poems illustrated by one of Alan's photos or hand-printed block prints (as are many of the covers of his chapbooks). The poems tend toward "Nature" poems, but then that includes human Nature as well as birds & snow & rivers. The broadsides include poems by Alan Catline, Art Willis, Dennis Sullivan, obeedude (Mark O'Brien), Barbara Vink, Dale Hobson, Albert Glover, Tom Corrado, Cathy Anderson, Stephen Lewandowski, Mike Burke and Alan Casline.
Also in the pile was a collection of "history, folklore, poetry, natural history, art, photography," Normanskill: Watershed Anthology, designed & edited by Alan Casline. It is a very attractive & informative gathering of, well, what it says, "history, folklore, poetry, etc." A sequence of my early love poems are situated along the Normanskill & one of Alan's color photographs actually captures our "secret spot." The anthology includes work by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (the section from the beginning of The Song of Hiawatha that mentions the Tawasentha (today's Normans Kill); an essay & poem by early 20th Century "farmer poet" W.W. Christman; essays by Allison Bennett & Cathy Anderson; & poems by Mimi Moriarty, Art Willis, Alan Casline, Barbara Vink, Tom Corrado, Dennis Sullivan, Edie Abrams, Mark O'Brien; & reproductions of paintings by Kay Levine.
Together these documents & poems & visual art are what is best about this DIY age & it's inherent paradox: the technology makes it possible for anyone to put out attractive, well-make work in simple, inexpensive formats. Rootdrinker & the Benevolent Bird Press is preserving & presenting the work not only of some of our fine local poets, but also the work of lesser-known or forgotten local writers & historians. Talk to Alan the next time you see him at a poetry event (he's the big guy with the big hat), or write to him for information:
P.O. Box 522
Delmar, NY 12054