While stationed with the U.S. Army in Germany during the 1950s, David Haselwood conceived the idea of becoming a publisher. At the time he was corresponding with his friend Michael McClure (also a native of Wichita, Kansas) who was living in San Francisco. McClure’s first book of poems, Passage (1956), was being published by Jonathan Williams’ Jargon Press. “Jonathan was having books printed in Germany because of the high quality and low cost,” Haselwood says, “and I began looking into things.”
When Haselwood was released from the Army, he came to live in San Francisco. According to Haselwood, “During the summer of 1958 I drifted around San Francisco talking endlessly with painters such as Robert LaVigne and Jesse Sharpe and poets [Philip] Lamantia, [Michael] McClure, [John] Wieners, and reading all the live poetry and prose I could get my hands on. It was at this time that it occurred to me that the press could mean a great many things … ” From this intense exposure to the active literary scene in the Bay Area grew the desire to see these writers published without the great delays imposed by larger printing establishments.
A short while later in 1958 appeared the first publication of the Auerhahn Press, John Wieners’s The Hotel Wentley Poems. After this initial experience, in which the actual printing was done by a commercial printer (and edited by the printer without Haselwood’s knowledge), Haselwood was convinced that he should not only design all future books himself, but also print them: “The first and final consideration in printing poetry is the poetry itself. If the poems are great they create their own space, the publisher is just a midwife during the final operation…” With this ideal in mind, Haselwood tackled the publication of Philip Lamantia’s Ekstasis, and went on to the printing of Michael McClure’s Hymns to St. Geryon.
Though its limited financial resources were drained by this last publication, the press continued its publication of controversial and avant-garde works, such as Lamantia’s pamphlet Narcotica.
Haselwood took on a partner, Andrew Hoyem, in 1961. By then, a number of Kansans had arrived in San Francisco — including Robert Branaman, who shared living quarters with Haselwood for a time, and Glenn Todd, who later worked as a pressman and editor at Arion Press, which Hoyem founded after an amicable dissolution of his Auerhahn interests in 1964. Todd remembers the partners at work at 1334 Franklin Street: “The Auerhahn was a small press in a small room. Andrew would be setting type, and Dave running the press, passing single sheets of paper through. They’d be in their blue printer’s aprons.” Branaman adds, “Dave looked like someone out of Dickens to me. His shop was a center for artists. It was a well-known center of the culture.”
Another of San Francisco’s cultural hot spots was the Batman Gallery, first owned by William Jahrmarkt, a.k.a. Billy Batman, whose art interests leaned to the visionary, the experimental and the mystical. According to Jack Foley in O Her Blackness Sparkles! The Life and Times of the Batman Art Gallery, 1960-65 (1995), the opening of the gallery was a “spectacular affair” and featured 99 pieces of Bruce Conner’s work. Auerhahn produced the announcement. In 1962, the gallery was sold to Michael Agron, a psychiatrist and University of California Medical Center associate professor who researched LSD as a therapeutic tool. Collaborating with Haselwood, Agron conceived of each exhibition’s announcement as a work of art. The first Agron show, Master-Bat, showcased the works of, among others, Conner and Branaman.
As the Beat scene faded with the ascent of Hippie culture, Haselwood continued to collaborate with artists on Dave Haselwood Books projects. He worked for a time at Arion Press and designed books for other presses, but his interest in publishing had waned by the close of the ’60s. It was time, he says, to choose another path.
Clay, Steven and Rodney Phillips. A SECRET LOCATION ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE: Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980
New York: New York Public Library / Granary Books, 1998
Clements, Marshall. A CATALOG OF WORKS BY MICHAEL MCCLURE, 1956-1965
New York: The Phoenix Book Shop, 1965
Johnston, Alastair. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE AUERHAHN PRESS & ITS SUCCESSOR DAVE HASELWOOD BOOKS
Berkeley: Poltroon Press, 1976
Lepper, Gary M. A BIBLIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION TO SEVENTY-FIVE MODERN AMERICAN AUTHORS
Berkeley: Serendipity Books, 1976