In the early 1980s, when Kelsey Street Press moved its operations out of co-founder Patricia Dienstfrey’s basement (on San Francisco's Kelsey Street, of course), it began to expand more than just its workspace.
When Dienstfrey and Rena Rosenwasser started the press in 1974, they wanted to give voice to Bay Area women writers "who felt compelled to address the historical marginalization of women writers by mainstream publishers." Immersed in the theory of French feminists, the group, assembled under the banner of the Kelsey Street Press, sought to expand accepted margins of "poetry, language, space, and the body," says Rosenwasser, and to challenge "traditional boundaries of identity and form."
In 1984, Rosenwasser and painter Kate Delos culled their mutual love of Roman art and their respective talents to produce Simulacra—collaging monoprint portraits and narrative poems—a book that would propel Kelsey Street through a series of such collaborations that have become one of the press's hallmarks.
After Simulacra, poet Barbara Guest approached the press with an idea for a book with Bay Area artist June Felter, a collaboration of watercolor prints and poems that eventually became Musicality (1988). Since then, nearly a dozen other poet/artist collaborations have come out of Kelsey Street Press’ expansive vision, including poet C. D. Wright and photographer Deborah Luster's book Just Whistle, and poet Rosmarie Waldrop's partnership with artist Jennifer MacDonald in the book Peculiar Motions.
Many of the press's collaborations focus on a central theme or conceit. Arcade, for example, which features poems by Erica Hunt and drawings Alison Saar, takes on the "sprawl and spectable of New York." Poet Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge worked on three books with artists Delos, Kiki Smith and Richard Tuttle. Her 1997 book called Endocrinology—the result of a collaboration with Smith—features a few lines of poetry on each page, along with Smith's playful prints of the body's endcrine organs. For example, a picture of the femur accompanies the following lines: "The place where a word originates in her body is the physical source of her sense of beauty, / so you can change the word for 'happiness' that was formerly, 'innocence.'"
These unique collaborations go well beyond authorship. Rosenwasser and Dienstfrey arrange for publisher, designer, writer, printer, and artist to work hand-in-hand on each project.
To view a complete list of Kelsey Street Press collaborations and other titles, visit www.kelseyst.com.
Image courtesy Kelsey Street Press. Arcade by Erica Hunt and Alison Saar (1996). Used with permission.