Totem Press

magazines & Presses

Totem Press

LeRoi Jones [Imamu Amiri Baraka]
New York

1958–1962

Charles Olson, Projective Verse (1959). Cover by Matsumi Kanemitsu.

Totem Press. Charles Olson


On the same small offset press, and as an arm of his magazine Yugen, LeRoi Jones’s Totem Press imprint published thirteen pamphlets, beginning with Diane di Prima’s This Kind of Bird Flies Backward in 1958. The press also published work by Ron Loewinsohn (Watermelons, 1959), Michael McClure (For Artaud, 1959), and Jack Kerouac (The Scripture of the Golden Eternity, 1961), as well as Charles Olson’s influential and much-admired Projective Verse in 1959 and Paul Blackburn’s Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit in 1960. However, the most important (at least to Jones himself) of the Totem Books was the little six-page pamphlet he edited in 1959 as the second book of the press. Entitled Jan 1st 1959: Fidel Castro, it included poems by Joel Oppenheimer, Max Finstein, Gilbert Sorrentino, Ron Loewinsohn, and Jack Kerouac in addition to Jones’s own “A Poem Some People Will Have to Understand.” Jones’s arguments with his friends (then mostly white) over the relationship of poetry to politics caused him to reevaluate his own position on nonviolence and political action, which eventually led him to break with most of his white colleagues and friends. In late 1960, Jones entered into a relationship with Eli Wilentz of Corinth Books to copublish and distribute Totem Press titles.

Totem Press books include

Blackburn, Paul. Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit. 1960. Blueplate no. 3.

Di Prima, Diane. This Kind of Bird Flies Backward. 1958. Introduction by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Finstein, Max. Savonarola’s Tune. 1959. Foreword by Gilbert Sorrentino. Published by Laurence Hellenberg and distributed by Totem Press.

Jones, LeRoi, ed. Jan 1st 1959: Fidel Castro. 1959. Blueplate no. 1. Includes poems by Joel Oppenheimer, Max Finstein, LeRoi Jones, Gilbert Sorrentino, Ron Loewinsohn, and Jack Kerouac.

Loewinsohn, Ron. Watermelons. 1959. Introduction by William Carlos Williams.

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McClure, Michael. For Artaud. 1959. Blueplate no. 2.

Olson, Charles. Projective Verse. 1959. Cover by Matsumi Kanemitsu.

Totem Press books in association with Corinth Books include

Dorn, Edward. Hands Up! 1964. Cover by William White.

Four Young Lady Poets. 1962. Includes poems by Carol Bergé, Barbara Moraff, Rochelle Owens, Diane Wakoski.

Ginsberg, Allen. Empty Mirror. 1961. Introduction by William Carlos Williams. Cover by Jesse Sorrentino.

Jones, LeRoi. Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note. 1961. Cover drawing by Basil King.

Kerouac, Jack. The Scripture of the Golden Eternity. 1960. Cover drawing of Kerouac by Robert LaVigne.

O’Hara, Frank. Second Avenue. 1960. Cover by Larry Rivers.

Oppenheimer, Joel. The Love Bit and Other Poems. 1962. Cover by Dan Rice.

Snyder, Gary. Myths and Texts. 1960. Cover and drawings by Will Peterson.

Sorrentino, Gilbert. Black and White. 1964.

Whalen, Philip. Like I Say. 1960.