A small-press retrospective

Editor's Choice: Literature and Graphics from the US Small Press, 1965-1977, edited by Morty Sklar and Jim Mulac. Iowa City: The Spirit That Moves Us Press (P.O. Box 1585, Iowa City, IA 52244). 501 pp. $9.50 (paperback).

Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s America discovered that almost anything could be politicized - civil rights, feminism, a nation's involvement in an unpopular war, the small press.

Yes, the small press. Little mags and chapbooks went political - handouts mimeographed in tiny storefront rooms, stapled-together poems offset in dimly lit basements.

''Seeking freedom, we move to counter mass movements,'' might well serve as the rallying cry of the presses Morty Sklar and Jim Mulac have drawn from to give us ''Editor's Choice,'' selections from 400 publications bearing names like ''Nitty Gritty,'' and ''Toothpaste Press.''

The works selected - poems, stories, essays, and graphics - illustrate an era of rebellion. Small-press people were among the first to be politicized. ''I was known,'' writes one poet, ''for being . . . a romantic idealist, a suicidal weatherman, a bomb/throwing anarchist, an SDS leader a/communist, a class chauvinist . . . I was . . . a map maker, a printer's devil, a carpenter's helper, a glazier, locksmith,/ editor, publisher, promoter and critic. . . .''

In ''Editor's Choice'' we discover that the small press in America is part of the protest movement. Its fiction and poetry, its photos and essays feature the alienated, the drop-out, the temporary or seasonal worker, the member of a minority, and the hippie.

The selections in this anthology are part of our national tradition, stemming from Thoreau, from Emerson, from Whitman.

The words and pictures of this salutary and challenging rerun of the '60s and '70s suggest in their rough-cut, grubby-faced, and Rabelaisian way that the American dream is still alive and kicking in what Charles Bukowsky hauntingly describes as ''the territory of the darning needle/ the territory of the mustard jar/ the territory of mad dogs and love gone stale/ the territory of you and me.''Victor Howes, author of ''The Lobsterman's Daughter and Other Poems,'' teaches English at Northeastern Universty.

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