Geoff Young and Laura Chester began The Figures in 1975 in Berkeley, claiming the name of the press from Charles Olson’s Maximus Poems. Young and Chester had earlier edited Stooge magazine, which had provided them with the experience in publishing they needed to begin their small press. The Figures grew to be one of the three or four most important publishers of experimental writing in the country, publishing some 135 titles. Its first publication, Mixed Doubles: Fifteen Poems by Artie Gold and Geoff Young, was an elegant limited edition.
Jack Collom and Lyn Hejinian, Sunflower (2000).
But the press really hit its stride three years later, in 1978, with a host of titles by younger language-centered writers in simpler but carefully produced “trade” editions with good covers. Among the important books The Figures published in 1978 are Steve Benson’s As Is, Kit Robinson’s Down and Back, Rae Armantrout’s Extremities, Christopher Dewdney’s Spring Trances in the Control Emerald Night, and Bob Perelman’s 7 Works. Although never again equaling in one year this annus mirabilis of language writing, the press went on to achieve a solid list including, among other important works, Lydia Davis’s Story and Other Stories; Clark Coolidge’s The Crystal Text; Johanna Drucker’s Italy; Steve Benson’s Blue Book; Lyn Hejinian’s Oxota: A Short Russian Novel; and festschrifts for James Schuyler in 1991 and Bernadette Mayer in 1995; as well as Ted: A Personal Memoir of Ted Berrigan by Ron Padgett (1993). Young informally closed The Figures in 2005, although he has published a couple of titles under the imprint since: his own The Point Less Taken (2013) and Michael Gizzi’s Complete Poems (2015).
Kathleen Fraser, Each Next: Narratives (1980).
The Figures books include
Auster, Paul. Wall Writing. 1976.
Benedetti, David. Nictitating Membrane. 1976. Prints by Allen Schiller.
Benson, Steve. As Is. 1978.
Benson, Steve. Blue Book. 1988. Published in association with Roof. Cover image by Ross Bleckner.
Bernheimer, Alan. Cafe Isotope. 1980.
Chester, Laura. My Pleasure. 1980. Cover reproduction of a painting by Guy Williams.
Clark, Tom. Baseball. 1976. Cover and other illustrations by the author.
Collom, Jack, and Lyn Hejinian. Sunflower. 2000.
Davidson, Michael. The Prose of Fact. 1981. Cover reproduction of a painting by Richard Diebenkorn.
Davis, Lydia. Story and Other Stories. 1983. Cover photograph by Lizbeth Marano.
Dewdney, Christopher. Spring Trances in the Control Emerald Night. 1978.
Drucker, Johanna. Italy. 1980. Cover and drawings by the author.
Einzig, Barbara. Disappearing Work: A Recounting. 1979. Cover by Mercy Goodwin.
Fraser, Kathleen. Each Next: Narratives. 1980.
Gold, Artie, and Geoff Young. Mixed Doubles: Fifteen Poems. 1975.
Hejinian, Lyn. Writing Is an Aid to Memory. 1978.
Perelman, Bob. 7 Works. 1978. Cover by Francie Shaw.
Raworth, Tom. Ace. 1977. Illustrations by Barry Hall.
Rice, Stan. Some Lamb. 1975.
Robinson, Kit. Down and Back. 1978.
Rodefer, Stephen. The Bell Clerk’s Tears Keep Flowing. 1978.
Silliman, Ron. Tjanting. 1981. Introduction by Barrett Watten.
Young, Geoff. Subject to Fits. 1980. Cover by Mel Bochner.