Crystal Set #17: Country Rush by Maureen Owen (Adventures in Poetry, 1973)

Country Rush by Maureen Owen (Adventures in Poetry, 1973). Mimeo side-stapled, 28 pages, with cover and drawings by Yvonne Jacquette.


Who sent me this copy of Country Rush? Cassandra? Greg? It's gorgeous, with a perfect single-splash coffee stain on the cover. And this copy originally belonged to Frances Waldman, Anne's mother, with her name written in pencil at the top of the first page. Country Rush is Owen's first book, published by Larry Fagin's Adventures in Poetry in the midst of Owen's incredible editing of Telephone magazine and books. As far as I know, there's been no critical attention to Owen's Telephone magazine, which alongside Notley's Chicago and Waldman's editing of The World make up a powerful collection of women-edited mimeo mags from the late 60s through the 70s. [Correction: See Stephanie Anderson's interview with Maureen Owen in Chicago Review Vol. 59, No. 1-2 Fall 2015, a significant, wonderful conversation about women small-press publishers.] In a 1977 radio interview on the program "Expressions" with Doug Lang, "a review of small press books, mostly poetry," for WPFW, a Washington, DC-based station, Owen describes the editing of the magazine and press, publishing the work of younger and more unknown poets (like Susan Howe!), and using the mailing list at the Poetry Project to send out copies. Other than being an incredibly rare conversation with a women solely about small press publishing made during that era, the interview is a wonderful portrait by Owen of what it meant to run a small press in the 70s, from using mimeograph, Xerox, or off-set publishing techniques, how to handle distribution, and the economies of poetry publishing. It's absolutely worth listening to in full (just over 14 minutes long), especially for the complexity of these sorts of exchanges about gender and publishing:

Lang: There's one other thing I wanted to ask you about the selection process for Telephone, which is that Telephone Books seems more predisposed to publish more women than men.
Owen: That just sort of happened, I think, because it seemed like there were more young, not even young, but unpublished women whose manuscripts I'd come across. It seemed like there were more opportunities for men to get published at the time that I was starting. I don't feel tremendously feminist in mine--there's so many men whose work I'm so enthusiastic about. I think it's just simply because I get more manuscripts from women because they don't have the other outlets. It's just not as available.
Lang: That's certainly the only work in book form I've seen of Rebecca Wright, Rebecca Brown, Susan Howe.
Owen: Yeah, all terrific writers. I mean I can't understand sometimes why they're being neglected.
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Lang: It does seem amazing to me that someone like Susan Howe, who is one of the most remarkable writers in America, I think...
Owen: Yeah, really.
Lang: only available to a very select audience who knows small press publishing and has come it through that.
Owen: I know. I think anyone who wants to read terrific poetry that's going down now should make a terrific effort to find out what small presses are available, what books, because there's something terrifically beautiful things being published by tiny presses in really limited editions.
Lang: They'd do well by buying all the Telephone Books to begin with.
Owen: That would be a start!

In a 2016 interview with Pat Nolan, Owen reiterates what it meant to be editing and creating Telephone among the community of artists at the Poetry Project: 

I was meeting some terrific unpublished poets, so many of them women, and though The World was publishing great works, there were those not finding a way in. I wanted to give the women writers I was finding and that outlier community a voice. At readings I would be knocked off my chair by their stunning poems that were nowhere in print. It’s so incredible to discover poems that take your breath away. I’ve always craved making things, hands on, making collages and such. So naturally I thought I could create a magazine. I wanted it to be eclectic and open to all like the telephone book. So I christened it Telephone. Almost immediately I realized I would do books too. I would call the press Telephone Books! Once I put my idea out to myself, it felt the most natural thing of all.
So I asked Anne if I could use the Gestetner mimeo machine at the Project to do a magazine.  In her typical utter generosity, she said “sure!” Of course I had no idea as to the process. Larry Fagin kindly gave me instruction on how to type a stencil:  How to Type A Stencil 101. And Tom Veitch offered to teach me how to run the massive Gestetner, add ink, load the stencils, etc. Often, after I put the boys to bed with Lauren or a neighbor watching over them, I could be found working alone upstairs in the big, dark, spooky and haunted church, the loud clunking of the Gestetner echoing as I rolled out the copies. St Marks is notorious for being haunted by Peter Stuyvesant. It’s said you can hear his wooden leg smacking the floorboards after midnight. There alone, I heard his walking many a night as I cranked the big wheel on the mimeograph machine and turned out page after stunning page of glistening wet black letters that floated on the white paper.
Tom ran off the initial issue of Telephone magazine for me. It was a magic moment when the first pages rolled off the drum. It seemed both a miracle and a magic trick that all those typed stencils were working. I had done illustrations with a stylus, holding the stencils up against a window to trace the original. They appeared fully perfect. I was astounded.

About Country Rush Owen says: "It was mimeo with a stunning cover and original drawings by Yvonne Jacquette. When I first saw Yvonne’s drawings for the book I felt as though she had magically pulled the images straight out of my head. She had captured images that resonated to an unbelievable degree with the poems. Her drawings were the very objects that I had been looking at that summer in Minnesota on my uncle’s farm. Starkly focusing on one telephone pole against an infinite sky or one corner of a barn roof pushing into infinite space, it was cosmic!"

There is a cosmic attentiveness in these poems, swaying between a Buddhist pleasure and knowledge of the natural world, of ecological systems, that tracks "Nature's / out & out extravagance" ("Land O Lakes"), and a kind of playful social ruckus and personality, like in these lines from an untitled poem: "Perhaps I'll develop the limping stride / of Byron / people stepping back as I jerk through." Owen's proximity to the Beats during her time in San Francisco and years in Japan during the 60s are clear influences, including a poem dedicated to Gary Snyder. Though as she traces in her interview with Nolan, she was already plugged in to a Tulsa-cum-New York School aesthetic via her early friendship with David Bearden, the poet playfully memorialized in Berrigan's The Sonnets, "I wonder if David Bearden still dislikes me." I pick up that lineage in lines like "The true measure of reality      an attitude" from "Farming Country" and "under these stars full of beer & power" from "Gravel Rush." There's a lush flair in Owen's attention, like she's having to say things quickly because of the pressing demands of the day, limited time, and this tension pushes the poems' wit and energy. I love these last lines from the poem "Goodyear," which sort of erupt from a meditation on dream and love: "Incidents while we stood under the drupaceous branches / fondling mammoth peaches with our tongues." The poem's willingness to acknowledge and hold how dreams and self (interchangeable?) have the ability to be what "washed in to blunder the details of life" is refreshing. In all of the rushes of the book, there's also Owen's "Body Rush," an ecstatic, funny, and horny catalog of excitements and care. Like Notley's first book, 165 Meeting House Lane, published two years before Country Rush, the female body is irreducibility present--never a metaphor, never owned--in a position of pleasure and refusal. The play on "country"--the rural and the sexual--is painted across the book, and the "rush" is an ongoing excitement, both music and a way of being in the world against the stillness of narrative.

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You can also see a lineage from Owen's work to Bernadette Mayer to Lisa Jarnot, with her lyric attention to the natural and domestic that doesn't exclude the fantastic or the incantatory, and for her wonderful devotion to lists and the nouns that populate them, like in the poem below "for Lauren." Mayer's Midwinter Day, written in 1978, is full of such catalogs that reframe what it means to describe a day. Jarnot's books also revel in associational and sonic joys of including words like "spice bush" and "false solomon seal" in a poem. 

Owen's poetry book Amelia Earhart (Vortex Editions, 1984) won an American Book Award in 1985. Audio recordings from 1970s through 2012--the image of Owen to the right is from a 1978 "Public Access Poetry" video--are available on Owen's PennSound page.