Poet, Publisher, Editor
Born in 1947 in Western Pennsylvania, Brett Rutherford started writing his own science fiction comic books at the age of six, his own horror stage plays at the age of ten, poems at thirteen, and fiction at fifteen. The landscape of the mountainous area, with its abandoned coal mines, smoking coke ovens, and sinister hillbillies, colors his writings about his childhood years, which he survived thanks to science fiction novels, Classic comics, Shakespeare, Shelley, Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and a handful of good teachers. He attended school at Edinboro State University (then Edinboro State College), interrupted by a sojourn in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco, where he wound up reading his poetry in coffee houses and becoming editor of the short-lived Haight-Ashbury Free Press. He returned to school in Pennsylvania once again and spent 1968-1969 engaged in working toward his degree in English, composing piano music, and running his own underground college newspaper, The Edinboro Prometheus. There, he also produced a hand-made book of his poems, Songs of the I and Thou. He also did college radio work, and was a prize-winning student journalist for the school's above-ground newspaper, The Spectator. He left school in 1969 and headed for New York City, where he was soon reading his poems in coffee houses and working for a living.
A few months after arriving in New York City, he found work as a temporary typist for an employment newsletter at American Institute of Chemical Engineers on East 47th Street. In short order, he was offered the job of Public Relations Director, which involved him in PR work, writing publications catalogs, editing executive speeches, and serving on committees for that non-profit. By 1971, he had acquired enough print buying experience to feel a desire to own a printing business. With a friend from Pennsylvania, he founded The Poet's Press that year. The aim of the press was to be a viable commercial printer, and to use the assets of the printing enterprise to publish poetry books for deserving authors. The Poet's Press also served Manhattan's gay community in the post-Stonewall years, doing printing for a number of gay activist groups and social organizations. Although the commercial venture went bust in the recession of 1973, The Poet's Press was well-launched as a small press and continued, publishing about a book a month at its busiest.
Along with poet Barbara A. Holland, Rutherford also established Poets Fortnightly, a newsletter and poetry calendar, New York's first organized poetry calendar listing. He began publishing some of Greenwich Village's most intriguing "neglected" poets, including Emilie Glen, Barbara A. Holland, Ree Dragonette, Donald Lev, Richard Davidson, and Shirley Powell. He read at practically all the poetry venues in New York City, directed a staged reading of Richard Davidson's Song of Walt Whitman at Westbeth, and read at the inaugural meeting of The Shelley Society.
Running a series of poetry readings in his Sixth Avenue loft called "The Eighth Day," Rutherford helped found an informal circle of neo-romantic poets who were unlike the prevailing "avant garde" who centered around St. Mark's Church or the Upper East Side. These poets were fascinated with surrealist art, the supernatural, mythology, and often as not wrote longer, narrative poems. Two of these poets, Emilie Glen and Barbara Holland, had between them thousands of magazine publications of their work. In retrospect the Greenwich Village poetry scene of the 1970s may be seen as the last flowering of Literary Bohemia. In the following decades, it became economically impossible for writers to live and congregate in the Village or any other central "Bohemia." This was the end of an era, and The Poet's Press was a visible part of it. The live readings these poets attended, held all over the city, were lively and often thrilling, and it was not unusual for two or even three poets to write and introduce new works in response to what another had written the previous week — or even the previous day. During this period, Brett Rutherford published his own books: City Limits and The Pumpkined Heart, and edited the anthology May Eve: A Festival of Supernatural Poems.
To pay the bills and support his Muse, Rutherford found employment as an editor for National Association of Printers and Lithographers (NAPL) in 1973, and within a few years he became Communications Director of that organization. Shortly after it moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, Rutherford made his own leap across the Hudson to the then-sequestered Weehawken, a small town perched on the Palisades directly opposite mid-town Manhattan. From there, he continued his literary and publishing ventures. Many new books came from the press; more new poets were found and fostered, and Rutherford accumulated a growing body of poems that he edited into thematic books, including Anniversarium: The Autumn Poems and Whippoorwill Road: The Supernatural Poems. He also co-authored a successful horror novel, Piper, with John Robertson, which was sold to Playboy Press as a hardcover, and then not published when that press shut down its hardcover operation. The book, in a thorough revision, finally appeared from Zebra Books and sold 35,000 copies .
When his place of employment was taken over by an unpleasant megalomaniac, Rutherford went freelance, and spent the 1980s editing and writing hundreds of articles, monographs, manuals and books about printing and graphic arts topics. He had a regular column in the weekly newspaper Printing News and edited four newsletters for Printing industries of America, and wrote technical, sales and marketing manuals and training materials for a number of non-profits. He also became a desktop publishing, computer and database consultant to publishers, helping several convert to computers and to train their personnel. His largest projects were three landmark market surveys and equipment censuses for the American gravure industry, the automation of a national database publishing concern, and editing and designing a college textbook on printing.
While he was doing this workaday work, accumulating more than 600 publication credits, he was applying the new techniques of desktop publishing and new media to The Poet's Press, producing books combining new technology with hand bookbinding, and publishing books on diskette and CD. In New York City, he co-founded, with Matthew Paris and Jane Madson-McCabe, The New York Writer's Cafe, an Internet cooperative that put hundreds of e-texts onto the Internet at a time when this idea was still quite leading-edge. The Poet's Press had its ups and downs during this period, at times almost vanishing, and then re-emerging when it seemed that some new technological breakthrough would make it possible to produce new books and help aspiring poets. He shared his novel production methods with a number of other small presses.
In 1985, the city of Providence, with its H.P. Lovecraft and Poe associations, beckoned Rutherford to pick up roots and try a new city. He liked the idea of moving with his writing and press to a college town, where he hoped to form a new circle of writers and artists interesting in working with him on the press. The move was also a great one for Rutherford's writing, and he soon produced The Lost Children, his second Zebra horror novel, his book Poems from Providence, and his biographical play about H.P. Lovecraft, Night Gaunts. The play was given two staged readings at The Providence Athenaeum.
Despite the charms of Providence, New York continued to be where the work was. Rutherford twice found himself returning to New York City to live — once to complete a major market study that required him to be on site, and once to take a position with a New York directory publisher as its Manager of Information Systems. During these returns he lived in Weehawken, and, briefly, in the atmospheric Vinegar Hill neighborhood near Brooklyn Heights. New Poet's Press books were published fitfully, and, despite all odds, the press passed the landmark of publishing 150 books.
The late 1990s found Rutherford back in his beloved Providence, writing much new poetry, but watching with alarm as the printing industry, which had been the subject of his journalistic work, begin to shrink. Magazines shut down; others became ghosts of their former selves, and the nonprofit groups in the field no longer commissioned the kinds of large projects that he preferred doing. After several years of working for a market research firm doing elaborate surveys about the procurement plans of printing companies (a dreary topic indeed), and seeing little else on the landscape other than writing Chicken Little articles about the coming demise of print, Rutherford decided to commence a new life chapter.
How to combine a lifetime of experience in writing, publishing and printing? Back to school! The interrupted journey in academia was resumed in the Fall of 2003. Rutherford enrolled as a lowly undergraduate at University of Rhode Island. He graduated May 2005 with a degree in English and a minor in History. He started 2005 with a quadruple whammy: in the first week of the year, he published his newest poetry collection, The Gods As They Are, On Their Planets; a new, expanded edition of Whippoorwill Road: The Supernatural Poems; and an expanded edition of Night Gaunts: An Entertainment Based on the Life & Writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The fourth publication is an anthology from Invisible Books called Buried Alive: An Anthology of Underground Writing, which features Rutherford's poetry. He was featured in an anthology of poems about space flight from University of Iowa Press, and a symphonic suite by composer William Alexander, inspired by three Rutherford poems, was be performed by The Erie Philharmonic in April 2005. In September 2005, he started graduate school at University of Rhode Island. A busy year!
At present, Rutherford is also accelerating the production of e-book versions of his own books, and of the entire backlist of The Poet's Press. These e-books, many of which are for dead poets, are to be circulated free to a worldwide audience via The Poet's Press website.
Rutherford hopes to spend the rest of his years teaching some combination of literature, the art and technology of publishing, and poetry. This probably means a Ph.D., but where and when, the gods only know. His mission as a teacher: for the past, a focus on the Romantic era, with the reconvergence of informed reading of its literature with history, art music, drama and visual art; for the future, an exploration of the evolving fusion of American literature with Native American, Latino and Asian cultures.
"American's literature will now be hemispheric," Rutherford notes, "with its past rooted in European culture, and its future enriched by the shock of the new, especially from Latin America and Asia. Poetry may be the most powerful way to bridge between cultures, and with the advent of instant electronic publishing, the next generation of writers are going to appear and triumph, possibly in cool disregard for traditional publishing channels. And the reader will find them."
Three New Books in 2005
In what has to be a publishing record, The Poet's Press published three books over the New Years' weekend. First up is the huge 208-page new collection of Brett Rutherford's The Gods As They Are, On Their Planets. This is available as a free PDF on this site, or can be ordered for $19.95 from Our NEW ON-LINE BOOKSTORE. The Providence-based poet has included in this book all the poems he has written and revised since his last big collection, Poems from Providence. CLICK HERE TO READ THE PDF
The second new book is the expanded third edition of Brett Rutherford's landmark poetry collection, Whippoorwill Road: The Supernatural Poetry. This extraordinary 250-page paperback contains all the poet's supernatural poems, including more than 40 pages of new poems since 1998. Praised by Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury, these poems may be the best supernatural poems of the 20th century. Now you can read the entire PDF free on this site, or order the print edition for $19.95 from our NEW ON-LINE BOOKSTORE. To READ THE PDF, CLICK HERE.
The third new book is the expanded second edition of Brett Rutherford's biographical play, Night Gaunts: An Entertainment Based on the Life and Writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The book also includes a number of "ceremonial" poems written to be read at H.P. Lovecraft's grave in Swan Point Cemetery, Providence. The play has been performed twice at The Providence Athenaeum, and was recently adapted as a radio play by New England Institute of Art in Brookline, Mass. You can order the print edition for $14.95 from our NEW ON-LINE BOOKSTORE. To read the PDF, CLICK HERE
Brett Rutherford's poem about the Viking Mars lander has been published in the exciting new anthology, On the Wing: American Poems of Air and Space Flight, from University of Iowa Press. Go to our BOOKSTORE CAFE to learn more about this book and to place an order.