Paul Violi started Swollen Magpie Press in 1970 as a vehicle to self-publish two of his early poetry chapbooks: She’ll Be Riding Six White Horses and Automatic Transmissions. The press title (with its punning reference to “vanity press”) came from Ezra Pound’s famous lines toward the close of Pisan Canto LXXXI:
Pull down thy vanity
Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
A swollen magpie in a fitful sun
In the following year, Swollen Magpie published Phillip Lopate’s novella In Coyoacan, and from 1970 to 1973 the press put out four issues of a poetry magazine (coedited by Violi and his friend Allen Appel) outrageously titled New York Times, with work by Jim Brodey, Dick Gallup, Ron Padgett, Carter Ratcliff, Peter Schjeldahl, Tony Towle, Bill Zavatsky, myself, and others, and covers by various artists, including Paula North.
Appel left Swollen Magpie in 1973, and the press was dormant until 1976, when I joined forces with Violi as coeditor. Over the next six years, Swollen Magpie published chapbooks by both Violi and me, Tony Towle, Joseph Ceravolo, Mary Ferrari, Yuki Hartman, and Martha LaBare—as well as a Towle/North collaboration, a monograph by Lita Hornick on the artist David Antin, and Broadway: A Poets and Painters Anthology, which I coedited with James Schuyler.
James Schulyer and Charles North, eds., Broadway: A Poets and Painters Anthology (1979). Cover by Paula North.
Broadway (which had a sequel published by Hanging Loose Press a decade later) included poems by fifty-one poets, including John Ashbery, Bruce Andrews, Bill Berkson, Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, Jim Brodey, Michael Brownstein, Joseph Ceravolo, Douglas Crase, Ray DiPalma, Kenward Elmslie, Larry Fagin, Mary Ferrari, John Godfrey, Ted Greenwald, Barbara Guest, Vincent Katz, Kenneth Koch, John Koethe, Michael Lally, Frank Lima, Bernadette Mayer, Eileen Myles, Pat Nolan, Alice Notley, Maureen Owen, Ron Padgett, Anne Porter, Peter Schjeldahl, Elio Schneeman, David Shapiro, Towle, Violi, Anne Waldman, and Lewis Warsh; and drawings by Mary Abbott, Nell Blaine, Rudy Burckhardt, Robert Dash, Cornelia Foss, Jane Freilicher, Yvonne Jacquette, Alex Katz, Darragh Park, George Schneeman, and Trevor Winkfield. The cover was by Paula North, who also designed the Swollen Magpie logo that appeared on the title page, as well as on the title pages of subsequent chapbooks.
Although Swollen Magpie received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines, and the Kulchur Foundation, it mostly operated on a shoestring, and many expenses were routinely handled out-of-pocket. For Broadway, which included graphics as well as text (the cover was limited to one color), the editors secured a handful of private contributions to supplement the usual sources. All publications were produced at the nonprofit Print Center in Brooklyn, directed by the poet Robert Hershon; many of the chapbooks were hand-collated and stapled by the editors; distribution was entirely in-house. From 1976 on, editorial chores were performed at Violi’s house in Putnam Valley, N.Y.
— Charles North, New York City, January 2017
Swollen Magpie Press books (complete)
Ceravolo, Joseph. INRI. 1979.
Ferrari, Mary. The Mockingbird and Other Poems. 1980.
Hartman, Yuki. Red Rice. 1980.
Hornick, Lita. David Antin/Debunker of the “Real.” 1979.
LaBare, Martha. Shooting Star & Other Poems. 1982.
Lopate, Phillip. In Coyoacan. 1971.
North, Charles. Six Buildings. 1977.
Schuyler, James, and Charles North, eds. Broadway: A Poets and Painters Anthology. 1979.
Towle, Tony. Works on Paper. 1978; 2nd printing 1980.
Towle, Tony, and Charles North. Gemini. 1981.
Violi, Paul. Automatic Transmissions. 1970.
Violi, Paul. She’ll Be Riding Six White Horses. 1970.
Violi, Paul. Poems. 1976.
Paul Violi, Automatic Transmissions (1970).