Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Ladies

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Detail of the Michael Myers linocut for the cover of the first edition of Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, published by the Zephyrus Image in 1977.

A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, published in 1977, is Lucia Berlin’s debut as a writer, preceding the publication of Angel’s Laundromat by four years. The book came about after Berlin sent the manuscript – originally entitled “Suicide Note, A Manual” to Ed Dorn. Her letter, which is quoted in Johnston, mentions scathing rejection letters, and concludes “P.S. 42 days sober Think I’m going to make it. Hard to write without Jim Beam, on the other hand I can read what I wrote the next day.” [Johnston, p. 126].

It is fortunate, perhaps that the story was rejected elsewhere, for the book that, Holbrook Teter, Michael Myers and Dorn created a striking book in which all the details of the publication resonate intimately with the text of the story, giving it the feel of a truly collaborative artists’ book. One of Myers linocuts painstakingly details the 14 bottles of sesame seeds found in the story.

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Linocut by Michael Myers showing 14 bottles of sesame seeds, from Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies

The most striking illustration in the book shows a linocut of a cleaning lady standing boldly on top of a stove, wiping Coke off of the ceiling; the model pictured was based on a neighbor of the ZI crew in Healdsburg.

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Linocut by Michael Myers of the narrator cleaning Coke stains from the ceiling. From Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies (1977)

Berlin was pleased with the result; in a letter to Teter quoted in Johnston, she writes “Manual is really beautiful. I’m, well, elated, never have had anything printed, (really) before. Thank you.” [Johnston, p. 126].

It would be another four years before Berlin’s work would be printed in book form again, and never as perfectly as it was here –  a fitting tribute to the work of perhaps the best short story writer of her time. Berlin’s work has finally come to a larger audience following the long overdue publication of her collected short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women by Farrar Straus and Giroux in 2015 (I don’t know why the title was changed for the collected, but I’m sure there is a story there – please get in touch if you know.) 

Berlin, Lucia. A Manual for Cleaning Ladies. Washington DC [Actually Healdsburg, CA]: National Endowment for the Domestic Arts / Zephyrus Image, 1977. First edition. 12mo, [20] pp, shand-sewn in wraps, letterpress printed. Illustrated with four linocuts by Michael Myers. Housed in the original envelope linocut printed in green, as issued. Inquire. 

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Original printed envelope for Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, with linocut by Michael Myers.

 

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The Poetic Exploration of the Swarming Possibilities in American Life

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Detail from Harry Martin’s cover illustration for Set #1

In the first issue of Set the editor was clear about the lofty aims of the magazine, as he laid out in the poem manifesto in the first issue;

“This magazine is about the poetic exploration of the swarming possibilities (some occult, unused) in American life, urban & local (the rural is no longer available to poetry; to life?) here & especially now.”

What is truly remarkable about Set is not just the fact that it accomplished those goals, but the generous and various way that it accomplishes them, mirroring the generosity of Lansing’s own poetry, which joins the erudite and the accessible with such a light touch that it casts doubt upon any hierarchical distinction between the two.

The best magazines are intersectional rather than exemplary. Plenty of periodicals give the flavor of a like-minded school of poets, but the particular genius of Set was the way in which it sounds a resonance between disparate writers, just as the color red aligns and raises the three letters of the title out from the jostling mass of black lettering on the Harry Martin cover for issue no. 1. Set included poets associated with the Bay Area Renaissance, the Boston Scene, the New York School, and even one Fra Perdurabo – aka Aleister Crowley. The first issue prints three excerpts from The Book of Lies.

Set at Division Leap.

Set #1 and Set #1 are both hosted as pdf’s and available to read for free at the Pennsound website.