Alastair Johnston
from Cento Magazine

Ed Dorn and the Z I Connection


In 1971 Ed Dorn came to San Francisco to read at a book fair held by Friends of Books and Comix. Here Dorn met a very simpatico pair in Holbrook Teter and Michael Myers who had just started their own imprint, Zephyrus Image press. The success of Zephyrus Image was due to the contrasting personalities of the principals. Teter, the unruffled scholar and rock-solid anchor, was a skilled typographer, while Myers was a crazy artist whose drinking exacerbated his diabetes. Dorn collected personalities like these and Myers was even more outrageous than Dorn needed to fire his imagination. Many of Michael's wild ideas were captured in the sayings of Dr Flamboyant, a character in Gunslinger. In an interview with Barry Alpert in VORT magazine you can sense Dorn's excitement at meeting the duo who would collaborate with him on Bean News, a real newspaper that rose out of the pages of Gunslinger. "I think we have made the best newspaper in the world," he says. With help from Jeremy Prynne, Tom Clark, Tom Raworth, and a widening circle of connections, Bean News became one of the biggest in-jokes of the decade. The fact that only two issues saw the light of day added to the mystique of this legendary enterprise. Copies were printed on newsprint and also on bible tissue paper in imitation of the airmail edition of the Manchester Guardian. The participants were so enthralled with the project they created press credentials, sundry letterheads and notecards, and an array of ephemera to go along with their paper.

But this was not the only joint enterprise of the trio. Dorn saw to it that Teter & Myers were invited to Kent State in 1974 for a creative arts festival. While there they produced a portfolio of poetry by Ed & Jenny Dorn, Joanne Kyger, film-maker Samuel Fuller, Joel Oppenheimer, Devo, Ines Brolaski and Barbara Einzig. The two Dorn items, "Mesozoic Landscape" and "Green Poems" are a complex of metal type, in many different styles arranged at angles, and include found art (Hitler shaking hand with a giant) & Myers' linoleum cuts that replicate Dorn's writing as well as a brace with an arrow pointing to it.

Back in San Francisco the trio became neighbors, and their mutual meeting ground was either the print shop, Dorn's dining room, or the Pub, a former speakeasy on the corner of Geary and Masonic Boulevards, where editorial meetings were held with copious amounts of Irish coffee and other spirits. Among the many artists and writers on the scene were Bob & Eileen Callahan whose Turtle Island Foundation was putting out a distinguished series of American writers including Zora Neal Hurston, Carl O. Sauer and Jaime De Angulo. Dorn was a great teacher of Callahan and gave them the manuscript of Recollections of Gran Apacheria which was turned into a comic book by Teter and Myers. Myers' drawing of the Opuntia Ellisana cactus, which adorned the cover of the hardback copies, was also used for a postcard announcing the book. On close inspection the cactus is made of ping-pong paddles.

Zephyrus Image loved the Dadaistic look of found images that were liberally employed in their works. For a pamphlet containing two poems by Ed Dorn plus two by George Kimball, they used a press photo of a kid stuffing a hot dog into his mouth. It had come from the junk pile of the Akron Beacon Journal, where the mother of Dorn's babysitter worked. She, Ellen Mann, retrieved the old discarded zinc cuts and fed them to the press. The title "Semi-Hard" added a salacious note to the image.

Though Dorn returned to England to teach at the University of Essex, he was now deeply involved with Zephyrus Image. They were working on the collected Gunslinger, retitled Slinger, to be published by Wingbow Press (the publishing arm of small press distributor Bookpeople) in 1975. While Teter did the complex typesetting on his Linotype, Myers worked up several drawings (a cowboy shooting a jukebox, a horse smoking a bomber, etc) that, in the end, were not used (though the book does feature a peyote button drawn by Myers as a cul-de-lampe).

For a Dorn reading at the University of Connecticut, Z I printed up an elegant broadside of his "Prolegomenon to Book IIII," adorned with an incredibly detailed linoleum cut by Myers of a Lady Caslon G, that has five tint blocks. It was apparently a portrait of Joanne Kyger.

In addition, Teter began looking for property to share with the Dorns as they had decided to live together and start a writers commune with the press at the heart of it.

In retrospect this seems like a foolhardy idea as the personalities involved were too strong to be isolated in the pressure cooker atmosphere of a commune, but they did find a remote mountain-top property outside of Healdsburg in Sonoma County, a couple of hours north of San Francisco. Disaster struck as the press movers dropped the heavy Linotype machine on the treacherous road up to the ranch in spring 1976. Dorn was now teaching at U.C. San Diego in La Jolla and was driving his van up and down the length of the state to work, quite an achievement. While he drove he jotted down the poems that became Hello, La Jolla (I think he missed a great opportunity to title this book, "Ahoy, La Jolla"!), and when the book appeared, Z I printed a broadside of his poem "Phaenominon" with a linocut border by Myers.

Another fine linocut image of Myers' was employed for Dorn's broadside "The Octopus Thinks With Its Third Arm." The trio were much more conscious of this as an elegant production and, for once, used handmade paper to print it on, adding their three names at the foot in Linotype Optima bold. The linocut of the octopus was printed in two colours so there are two states of this broadside.

At least two of the books from the press were collaborative efforts betwen Dorn, Teter and Myers. These are a spoof of fine printing, titled The Menu Appendix Taken from William Caxton's Original Cookbook, which looks like a plastic-covered menu from a cheap diner and contains lists of excruciating puns about printers, typefaces, and printing. (Remember Dorn had worked in a newspaper in his hometown, and ran the press at Black Mountain, so he was certainly able to keep up in this venture). The other work was a farewell blast at Dorn's teacher at Black Mountain College, Charles Olson. The first sign of unrest was Tom Raworth's broadside, "The Auction of Olson's Head," which the press ran off in a very small quantity in 1975. In 1976 they followed this with a flip-book titled Folgers, the cover looking like the label on a can of Folger's coffee (the rather tenuous conection is that Folger's coffee had a spokeswoman named Mrs Olsen and their slogan was "It's Mountain Grown). Or mountain groan, in this case. Inside is a flip book (one of several made by the press), showing Charles Olson in front of a weather map of the United States rubbing his forefinger up and down over his lip in the "beeble-deeble" gesture adults sometimes make to amuse babies. A lot of work went into this one-liner joke, but it was executed with all the care and attention Zephyrus Image lavished on their many other works.

As a bibliographer my task was complicated by the state of some of the items I discovered in the press' archives. Zephyrus Image was fond of humble materials, like newsprint, and unusual formats. Dorn had been working on a film script, at the behest of Stan Brakhage, entitled "Abilene! Abilene!" and the press did produce this work in galley-proof format. But there are no copies as far as I know outside the archives, indicating it was not formally published. However it would not be unusual for it to have come from the press in this intermediary state: a trial printing as it were. Or it may well be that the work got this far and stopped because of perennial lack of funds, while paying jobs were brought to the fore. A third issue of Bean News was typeset (37 galleys exist for it) and the complex mass of material had been assembled into trial page formats. This took place during the move and the fallout of their close working relations that put an end to the enterprise.

People who visited the quartet on the mountain have differing views of the tensions that waxed between the men. It's a safe bet that Jenny Dorn took the brunt of it, as she was very close to Michael, but also didn't relish the little woman in the kitchen role, in addition to being the one driving the kids up and down the mountain to school, fetching water, shopping, and all the other chores that were amplified by the remoteness of their situation. After a year the mountaintop scene was so brittle that the Dorns fled as Myers emptied a shotgun in the direction of their departing vehicle.

However, through Ed the Zephyrus Imagists had connected with some important writers, like Robert Creeley, Fielding Dawson, Tom Raworth, and Lucia Berlin, and ZI published booklets by all of these writers, in addition to Bly's translations of Rilke, and books by Stan Brakhage, William T. Wiley, and others.

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My 244-page bibliography of Zephyrus Image, published July 18, 2003 by Poltroon Press,, lists and illustrates over 300 works printed by these two artists who were true innovators and pioneers of the artist book movement.