The Written Image: Up Is Up, but So Is Down

From the November/December 2006 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

In lower Manhattan between 1974 and 1992—before Banana Republic and the Gap opened stores on every other street corner, before SoHo became a tourist trap, and long before the events of 9/11 forever changed the city's skyline—a group of poets, fiction writers, journalists, graffiti artists, punk rockers, and activists contributed to a dynamic literary community known simply as "Downtown." These images are taken from Up Is Up, but So Is Down, a collection of writing and more than 125 photographs, book covers, and flyers that illustrate the

dynamic, subversive work of the period. Joe Chassler designed the cover of Bob Holman's poetry collection Tear to Open (This This This This This), published in 1979 by PowerMad Press (upper left); Art Spiegelman designed a cover for the Low-Tech Manual, a literary journal edited by Ron Kolm, in 1981 (upper right); Kolm's poem "Suburban Ambush" was illustrated by Michael Madore in 1991 (lower right); and a flyer for a reading by Janice Eidus, Kolm, and Geoffrey O'Brien at the Knitting Factory in September 1991 was designed and illustrated by William Anthony (lower left). The five-hundred-page book, published by New York University Press last month, also includes over eighty excerpts from books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by writers such as Kathy Acker, Eric Bogosian, Mary Gaitskill, Spalding Gray, Joe Maynard, Sparrow, Lynne Tillman, and David Wojnarowicz. In the book's introduction, editor Brandon Stosuy writes, "Downtown writing not only served as an alternative to mainstream publishing; it presented writers with a shadowy, shifting, often ad hoc blueprint of how to create works that breathed freely and remained connected significantly to the everyday, circulating like samizdat."