In June of ‘67, in my draft-dodging last visit to NYC for several years, I walked into a letterpress outfit on lower Second Avenue to order stationery for The Ant’s Forefoot. I was twenty-three, a year removed from an MFA at Syracuse, where I’d oriented myself between Pound/Olson and the New York School. Before returning to Toronto, I went on to London and Paris, meeting up with contributors to the first issues—Lee Harwood, Tom Raworth, Andrew Crozier, Wendy Mulford, Jeremy Prynne, Peter Riley, George & Chris Tysh—handing each a personal note under the mag’s stationery subhead: “When the mind swings by a grass-blade / an ant’s forefoot shall save you” (from Pound’s Pisan Cantos). And before I’d left NYC I’d done the same with Ted Berrigan and Paul Blackburn, among others. Those two were my touchstones, encountering Ted at Gem Spa and Paul in his East Village apartment a couple blocks away, where I was treated to a recording of Pound reading that Canto.
I wrote on that letterpress stationery as well to potential funders of the mag and received back charter subscriptions from James Laughlin of New Directions, Lita Hornick of Kulchur, and Margaret Atwood. My perch in the English Department of Toronto’s York University covered mailing costs and correspondence for early issues—most copies went gratis to poets I was writing to and exchanging work with, including Lewis Warsh, Anne Waldman, Ron Padgett, Tony Towle, Ted Greenwald, Bernadette Mayer, Gerard Malanga, and Tom Clark. When I got back to Toronto in the fall of ‘67, I found enough in my mailbox for more than one issue. Complimented by Canadians like Victor Coleman, bpNichol, Michael Ondaatje, Nelson Ball, and George Bowering, the mag would represent, for a while, a transcontinental locus that extended to translations made by Jerome Rothenberg, Anselm Hollo, Ron Padgett, Jonathan Cott, Lee Harwood, Clayton Eshleman, Lewis Warsh, and myself.
The Ant’s Forefoot 5 (Winter 1970). Cover by Jim Dine.
One night at Coach House Press I sat across from Victor Coleman and Stan Bevington as they showed me how you could typeset directly on paper plates, saving costs of offset photography and paste-up. It was like a slightly upscale version of typing mimeograph stencils, and you needed a keen hand because one typo and the plate was ruined. It also limited the run to a few more than 300 copies, which was all that paper plates could tolerate. Still, The Ant’s Forefoot was a legitimate cousin of the mimeo revolution, from those in Canada run by bill bissett, bpNichol, and Nelson Ball, to those of the second-generation New York School and San Francisco Renaissance, among others. By the fourth issue, fortified by a Canada Council grant, we switched to offset in order to up the run to 500–1,000 copies, but the unique graphics remained constant, including different page color and paper texture per issue.
The mag was designed in particular for a shapely page size of 5¼ x 17 inches (the folded-over size of a paper plate). At a foot-and-a-half tall, this human forefoot equaled an ant’s shadow while passing in front of a searchlight. Such were the less off-color metaphors tossed around at Coach House while stripping negs at the light table or working the linotype (Victor taught me). Coach House work was largely donated by super-idealistic Canadian whole-earth type craftspeople. The Ant’s Forefoot covers were by Victor Coleman, Jim Dine, Rick/Simon, Michael Sowden, Donna Dennis, Arlette Smolarski, Lewis Warsh, and myself; illustrations for my “The Necessity of Poetry” (no. 11) by Rudy Burckhardt, Hannah Wilke, George Schneeman, Larry Rivers, et al.
I mailed in contents for issues 4–6 while I was living in Essex and Paris. Sharing a house with poet Paul Evans in Brightlingsea, we ran off a series of Voiceprint chapbooks at UEssex, offshoots of The Ant’s Forefoot and Paul’s Eleventh Finger. Back in Toronto, a back-to-back double issue 7/8 was coedited by Gerard Malanga and myself. Somehow, Gerry had collected unpublished chestnuts by Creeley, Olson, Wieners, O’Hara, Parker Tyler, and Jim Carroll, while Kenward Elmslie, Bill Berkson, Maureen Owen, Clark Coolidge, and Ray DiPalma joined the mainstays. It was now 1971, the year I received an envelope from my Buffalo draft lawyer containing a terse telegram from Attorney General John Mitchell: “Rosenberg charges dropped.” I was soon in NYC again, from where issues 9–12 were edited on St. Mark’s Place: 9 and 10 printed in Toronto, 11 and 12 at Brooklyn’s Print Center as books: Lewis Warsh’s translation of Desnos and Rebecca Wright’s Brief Lives. Offshoots at the time under the imprint Coach House South were made possible by a CCLM grant and printed in collaboration with Larry Fagin (Ted Berrigan’s Clear the Range) and Bill Zavatsky (Tony Towle’s Autobiography).
In ‘75, a few months after the last issue, Annabel Levitt Lee collated and edited my voluminous editorial correspondence and other materials into an archive that now resides at the University of Pittsburgh. By then I was deep into a five-book contract for A Poet’s Bible and soon off to Israel for a few years, to live immersed in the old/new Hebrew language. I edited a journal from Jerusalem called Forthcoming, including the NYC likes of Phillip Lopate, Ann Lauterbach, and David Shapiro.
— David Rosenberg, Miami, 2017
Ant’s Forefoot books (complete)
Clark, Tom. The No Book. An Ant’s Forefoot Eleventh Finger Voiceprint Edition, 1971.
Cott, Jonathan (After Guillaume Apollinaire). The Song of the Ill-Beloved. An Ant’s Forefoot Eleventh Finger Voiceprint Edition, 1970.
Evans, Paul. True Grit. An Ant’s Forefoot Eleventh Finger Voiceprint Edition, 1970.
Rosenberg, David. Excellent Articles of Japan. Coach House Press, 1969. An Ant’s Forefoot Chapbox.
Rosenberg, David. Night School. An Ant’s Forefoot Eleventh Finger Voiceprint Edition, 1970.
Tzara, Tristan. Destroyed Days a Selection of Poems 1943–1955. An Ant’s Forefoot Eleventh Finger Voiceprint Edition, 1971. Translated by Lee Harwood.
David Rosenberg, Excellent Articles of Japan. Coach House Press, 1969. An Ant’s Forefoot Chapbox.
The Ant’s Forefoot 9 (Spring 1972). Cover by Rick/Simon.