Curbstone Sandy Taylor

Alexander "Sandy" Taylor died early this morning in Connecticut. Sandy was the visionary behind Curbstone Press,
a man of courage and jokes and cigarettes and wisdom and laughter and joy. He, in sweet and loving cahoots with Judy Doyle (his longtime partner and Co-Director of Curbstone) carved out an essential niche in the precarious industry of making books. Like so many independent publishers, he started Curbstone in his home, making the books himself and stapling them together. (See the photo of him and Judy below.) The important thing was the words, what they said and how they moved the world. Sandy was not happy with the direction of contemporary literature in the 70s when he birthed the press, and he especially didn’t like the direction of poetry— the academic scene, the New American Poetry, the School of Quietude, what have you. He figured the world had enough of what white, middle-class American men thought and wrote. Especially if they decided to sit on the side of the road and be witnesses to history as it whizzed by. He wanted to promote a literature that was out in the street and at the barricades, fighting for issues and igniting causes against the machine. Truly, he raged war against the machine. No wonder he was at home publishing so much Latin American literature, the literature of peoples of color, the literature of the disenfranchised—literatures that made political issues the rationale of their aesthetics.

Oddly enough, his own poetry is at home within the New American canon. Here’s a poem he dedicated to his friends Grace Paley and her husband Bob. It will serve as a fitting epitaph for Sandy.

Is Something Missing?

I must have lived my life all wrong,
never having had any grief counselors
or psychologists to comfort me on every move--
Imagine! - I endured the death of my friend
all by myself and for me every new town
was a great adventure. Maybe that's why
I seldom cry at movies and am always ready
to kiss death on the mouth...

Sandy was a great friend to Lee and me at Cinco Puntos as we struggled to learn how to make and sell books beyond our original scope. He was generous with his ideas and his lists of names and his honest and open friendship. He loved to tell jokes and to laugh and to punctuate each great burst of hilarity with a cigarette. When I explained to him once that it had become almost impossible for Cinco Puntos to publish poetry, he told me not to worry, “Publishing poetry is suicidal!” Then I looked at his list. It had three books of poems on it.

And another time he told me about how he and a friend of his, a big stout red-headed guy, drove a truckload of medical supplies down to Nicaragua during the revolution. It was a humanitarian expedition. The medical supplies were destined for the poor in the mountains that were suffering because of the on-going war. When inside the country, the army stopped them at every possible turn and searched the truck, sure they were smuggling arms or some sort of contraband. Finally, he delivered the medical supplies. And, of course, the truck—the truck was the contraband he smuggled to the FSLN!

I think Sandy would say right now, “Well, they wanted me to quit smoking, didn’t they?” And then he’d laugh and cackle and cough, give me a hug and walk off all bones and elbows toward the darkness, a cigarette stuck in his mouth. Of course, if he had his druthers, he’d go to hell. He would start a little press in some corner of that confusion. He would figure he could do some good in hell. It would be like being at home in Willimantic with George Bush in the White House.

Curbstone Press is a non-profit press. Please pay attention to their books, buy their books and, if you have a few dollars, give generously to their on-going journey. You will honor a great spirit.

1 comment:

Bobby Byrd said...

ALLEN KORNBLUM, founder of COFFEE HOUSE PRESS, forwarded me this note that he sent to the Coffee House Board:

To the board, staff, recent board members, authors and friends of Coffee House Press

A few days ago, a friend and fellow small press publisher, Alexander “Sandy” Taylor, died of a stroke. Sandy and his equally passionate, dedicated wife, Judith Doyle, ran Curbstone Press from their home in Willimantic, Connecticut. I’ve attached a document with an article and a more formal obit, copied off the internet.

In a flurry of emails about his passing, another small press publisher, Bobby Byrd from Cinco Puntos Press, mentioned two things: that “Sandy certainly kissed death in the mouth. Knowing Sandy, he probably even got a little tongue action too.” He also said that the last time he saw him, Sandy told him that he hoped his funeral would prove to be Curbstone’s best fundraiser ever.

I mentioned that last part to one of my few friends outside the world of literature, and he gave me a funny look and said, “He really wanted his funeral to be a fundraiser for his press? Man you guys are tough.” I wouldn’t contest that.

But as to Bobby’s first statement—I don’t know if Sandy kissed death in the mouth, but I know he’d given life more than one great big juicy smack in the lips. Curbstone Press publishes a wide range of literature, with a special emphasis on books that promote social justice, including a substantial Latin and South American list, and a strong Scandinavian list (the guy spoke a lot of languages).

But as we all know, the American left has often doomed itself with its grim, gloomy presentation. For Sandy, literature was life itself, and he took on life with more than a smile—he looked at the terrible injustices of this world, and fought back with with one of the greatest laughs I’ve ever heard (kin to Anselm Hollo’s great earthshaker).

Small press publishers take upon themselves the weighty responsibility of presenting the work of gifted writers to the world, and Sandy fully understood the implications of that weight, the importance of that responsibility. But fulfilling it didn’t weigh him down, it lifted him up. Of all my colleagues, Sandy was the one who always reminded me that publishing was about joy.

Of course it’s my job to raise money for Coffee House, and I’d like to thank all of you who have donated to the Press. But if you have a little left in your coffers, please join me in honoring Sandy’s wish that his send-off prompt a little fundraising action for Curbstone. The following link will take you to their fundraising page, and if you click on the “give with a credit card” line, you’ll see there’s room for an affiliation. If you want to write Coffee House Press board, staff, author, friend—to quote another Coffee House author, Andrei Codrescu, “that would be very comradely.”

Curbstone’s donor page is: http://www.curbstone.org/index.cfm?webpage=10

Wishing you all a safe Christmas and New Year’s season on our snowy, windy roads,

And a wonderful New Year for us all,