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.