The Alternative Press
Ann and Ken Mikolowski
Detroit; Grindstone City, Michigan; and later Ann Arbor, Michigan
The Alternative Press Subscription Mailings [Art, Poetry, Melodrama] – (Fall 1972–2006). No. 14/15 is a double issue.
The experimental, innovative, and unpretentious links forged by the Alternative Press between poets and painters recall other legendary collaborations: the poets and painters of the Dada and Surrealist movements in the early part of this century, and, closer to our own time, poet Frank O’Hara and his connection with the New York School painters. The Mikolowskis have sought out contributions from the major figures in the country in contemporary poetry, as well as some of the finest artists. The layering of work by Detroit artists and by artists around the country lends the Press its luster as an important showcase for Michigan artists while disdaining any regional label. Its modest production and low-key approach masks a truly revolutionary spirit.
— Mary Ann Wilkinson, Curator of Modern Art, Detroit Institute of Arts
The Alternative Press began its thirty-year run in a Detroit inner city basement in 1969. Ann Mikolowski, an artist, and myself, a poet, were the recent purchasers of a 1904 Chandler & Price hand-set letterpress. We had never printed before. For us it was the cheapest, but not easiest, way to publish the work of our friends, the poets and artists of Detroit. We provided the labor and all that needed to be bought was paper and ink. But the 1,500-pound press was an intimidating presence and demanded we quickly get up to speed.
After more than a bit of trial and plenty of error we established our functional format of broadsides, postcards, bookmarks, and bumper stickers.
Until, one day, we upped the ante. We found an easy answer to our printing labors: we turned artists and poets loose with 500 blank postcards each, to do with as they pleased. Each card was handmade and unique, no two alike: poems, paintings, collages, photographs, even metal works and ceramics. Everyone brought whatever they had and gave everything they had.I’m not real modest about the impact of this; there’s nothing like it in publishing history. Random House could never do this. In fact, neither did we. It was the artists and poets who did it, and we were the distributors, sending those cards on to our subscribers, generally other artists and writers, for over thirty years. It was fun. Robert Creeley, Alice Notley, Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, Anne Waldman, Joanne Kyger, and Bill Berkson were just a few who participated. Faye Kicknosway, Alice, and Bill did more than one set. Faye holds the record of four sets of 500 originals. Ted, Alice, and Faye all published books from their postcards, but Creeley deliberately did not make copies of his: each was a handwritten, numbered, and signed original. Whoever received that poem has the only one in existence. A bibliographer’s nightmare. Each package from the Alternative Press contained these multiple-original postcards and a variety of new printed work from writers such as Jim Gustafson, Donna Brook, Ron Padgett, Sherman Alexie, Allen Ginsberg, Eileen Myles, and Andrei Codrescu. With Ann’s death in 1999 the press came to an end. But it was quite a run.
— Ken Mikolowski, Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 2017