Note: scroll down for a Timeline . . . I just added . . . & a few photographs . . .
“I is now a living Batch”
Ed Dorn, Gunslinger, Book II
I welcome any comments reflections accuracies emendations corrections amplifications of this generously offered material . . . I will put it all together plus more into a tribute to the independent bookstore in America, in this case, as a great example, the Living Batch Bookstore in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I worked, mostly part time from about 1978 to 1991 . . . and I did everything I could to help with poetry readings, book signing events and I’m grateful to everyone who worked there . . . Sally Blaisdell, Joe, Pancho, Mike, Carl Christensen, Sigrun (Siggy) Fox, Geary Hobson, Jeff Bryan (who did fantastic newsletters that vibrated with visuals and word book energy), Kevin Paul, Gus Blaisdell (who took over after Pancho & Mike), Patricia Nelson, Suzanne Sbarge, and many others . . . this is only a beginning . . .
Joe Sprague, one of the first on the scene and I worked with him tho I wore shoes . . . and there was no phone in the store in those days, there between the pawn shop and the poster shop just west of the Frontier Restaurant on Central Avenue. According to Joe the “Southwest Urban Legend” is that Phil and Susan Mayne threw a dart at a map in their home in Boston and it hit Albuquerque, and so they came (1965?).
Joe: On Columbus Day 1971, [1970?]I had a coffee at The *Barn* (which was the first building west on Cornell and Central), a chicken place. Neither The Batch nor The Frontier had yet opened.
[The Yale Street Grasshopper (to turn into the Batch), which moved here from Yale] The Batch (at 2406 Central) rented from a good guy who lived, I think, in Kansas City. On the block, there was The Frontier (formerly The Barn), a poster shop, an old-fashioned barber shop, the Batch (at 2406 Central), and a pawn shop on the alley.
Originally, our rent was $140 and Larry and Dorothy’s rent for The Frontier was $600. Then, Larry and Dorothy bought The Frontier plus the whole block (minus the pawn shop which Larry and Dorothy were unable to buy until the owner died). When the barber shop guys retired (barbers were out, “stylists” were in), Larry and Dorothy gave us the Barber Shop space, too. Larry and Dorothy came from Texas. I could not imagine how they were going to pay the rent, but they said they’d be the entire staff of The Frontier and they had an ace: The Frontier Roll. Joe Sprague
Pancho Elliston, with some additional comments from Mike Elliston. These 2 brothers plus Joe literally saved the Yale Street Grasshopper, Phil & Susan Mayne’s ground-breaking bookstore, from demise.
Pancho: ok here we go:
It seems like I met Phil (Mayne) etc as soon as I got to Alb the spring of 69 when I started working for legal aid. He was a heroic figure surviving on shoestring but a fantastic book knowledge. Of course he had legal battles to fight also things had subsided by 69 but clearly he was close to burnout given his family responsibilities. Somehow after I failed the bar and went east for the fall of 69 we started conversations. I had known Joe since bar exam summer and he too was not interested in pursuing the profession. I did not sense a big book interest from him, I dont know why he wanted to be part of it all. I am grateful he did jump on board. I am not sure he put up any money, the selling price was minuscule but we kept the inventory and probably tripled it with our money, still a small investment. Phil did not go into bankruptcy.
Mike: Initially Pancho wanted to loan Phil the money to keep him going but I suggested it would be better to buy him out. Phil seemed pretty stressedout at the time. Pancho & I each put up half the money. I don’t think Joe put up any money. I set up the accounting system.I think Sally did the accounting pretty soon after we opened the bookstore. Joe left the Batch after about a year & half and went back to law.
Pancho: We immediately tried to keep Phils ideas alive, beat literature etc. but I added the new politics into the mix. My research consisted of visiting other alternative bookstores (Either/Or bookstore) in Hermosa Beach Calif and one on the campus of Colorado Boulder near the campus that is. Mike followed soon after and straightened up the bookkeeping though Joe wasn’t too bad at that. let him tell you about the money being kept in a shoe box, a good story. The fascinating feature was no phone which the southern call store had adopted. I did not know squat about rule number one the customer is always right, and refused to take back a book that was nicked, man he was pissed and he had a right to be. Im sure this fellow ripped us off big time for the rest of the year, live and learn….on the job….
I think class orders saved us, Paul Davis and Mary Powers, (and Geoffrey Young, Joel Jones , Fred Warner) were staunch supporters and drew a lot of students in from across the street. After a few years we expanded to 2 store fronts and did the used book thing. Carl Christiansen loved that part of the business, he was a plus right, what a loss for us and his young family.
You remember how the Batch got its name, Ed Dorn’s Gunslinger, Gunslinger with 5 gallon barrel of acid injected into a dead person such that he awoke and became “a living batch.” I got an extra copy if you cant find the reference in Book II, I loved reading that out loud even today at Geoff Young’s gatherings. Gus came into the store very early and did his ranting that wowed me as one might expect. Sally did not come aboard till years later then Siggy and you a good crew right, Geary Hobson, Jill Barret who eventually introduced me to Waldorf education and Great Barrington. My best friend here runs a store in Lenox, it must be very tough these days. We took special orders but told customers that it would be 4 weeks, they did not bat an eye.
Mike: I sold my half to Pancho in 1975 or 6 and went into computers & building.
Pancho: The big question is why did I sell it? Did I want a new life bad enough to get rid of the store. I was running a lot across the street at first and then on the mesa. I tried to start one in Silver City with a neat guy Raphael, I forget his last name. I was in England and the money drain was too much. I wonder how it would do now. Gus got the store for a bargain but it ended ok because we were on the same page.
I wish I could add some stories. That is Joe’s department. I do remember Erica Jong standing at the doorway disgusted we had no copies of Fear of Flying in the store quite an ego. I often think that a sizable minority of our sales were covered by 6 books, Don Juan, Be Here Now being at the top of the list. We did stock some Steiner books when Jamie Hutchinson was working for us and Mike always grumbled about the poetry section housing some non sellers. I loved the particular interests each employee initiated. I found politics tail off as the 70’s came to a close (add Whole Earth Catalog to that best seller list).
Larry I hope this is a start. I am disgusted that I hold such fuzzy memories of the most powerful years of my life. Thank god we are no longer in our 30s, do you enjoy the 70s decade, I find it a bit frightening. I’m getting a new left hip in December and all the time I thought it was going to be my knee first. Wait your turn, damn it, hey ask Gwen Mabry for some info, she’s in the phone book on Alvarado NE I think. Mail me if this is not enough, best, Pancho. Pancho Elliston
Larry, I worked there on and off I believe from 71-73. The store was still two rooms on central, now part of Frontier. Working there for me was an amazing experience as I was a young whippersnapper in the company of some very heavy hitters(yourself included). I remember Pancho warned me once that Gus would eventualy let me have it. He never did, but I asked him why once and he said it was because I was pure of heart. My favorite memories are of working alone in the summer and watching the monsoon rains through to front window. I felt really lucky to be working there at that time in my life. I went from there to Walden Books in Coronado and that was a painful contrast indeed! Gwen.
Gus Blaisdell took over the store in 1976, brought the Batch thru a whole new era until it’s demise December 24th, 1996, the downward pattern of many other independent bookstores in America . . . His collected essays are freshly available from UNM Press, the Gus Blaisdell Collected edited by William Peterson and Nicole Blaisdell Ivey.
Living Batch Time Line With Some Comments
RECHERCHE DU TEMPS GRASSHOPPER (this is from a Living Batch Newsletter)
Hannah Mayne, daughter of Phil & Susan Mayne, generougly sent photographs of her dad who started the Yale Street Grasshopper, 120 Yale S.E., in Albuquerque — Phil Mayne then, & now! Without the Grasshopper there could be no Batch. Phil’s generosity towards authors, poets, small press enthusiasts was ineffable and generative and his displaying and selling the best current Beat & American contemporary writing gave Albuquerque the literary boost it needed.
“The Yale Street Grasshopper opened Sept. 20, 1967 at 120 Yale, now, alas, a plasma donor center. Its founder, Phil Mayne, came out here from Boston to drink coffee with Bob Creeley & bring the spirit of Black Mountain to the Sandias.
“Phil thought ABQ would be a nice town to sell books in & set up shop with accounts-payable in a cigar box & a hastily assembled inventory of lit & liberal thought, Beats, small press, poetry & underground papers. But before he had even opened for business, a thoughtful officer warned that overt harassment (checks for ‘exit’ signs, fire extinguishers, etc.) would ensue. Browsing plainclothes detectives signaled trouble ahead.
“On Nov. 17th a search warrant was issued. On Dec. 15th, Phil was arrested for selling Burroughs, McClure, William Eastlake (an assigned UNM text) Henry Miller and others. The Grasshopper was rudely searched by a vice team & ordered closed.
“Charges did not stick and the Grasshopper reopened immediately. Phil was released after visiting with friendly inmates expressing wonder at his crime, but still faced prolonged legal struggle.
“The Grasshopper as a symbol, an issue, a meeting ground was established. The political temperature of the times & the input from an active clientele created a center for poetry readings, free university classes, small press publishing & draft counseling. As Phil, amiable despite all, has said, ‘Albuquerque has a warm, indigenous, book-loving population.’
“In 1970 the Grasshopper changed ownership & became Living Batch Bookstore. VOILA!”
1967. December 15th, Police “Hit Yale St. Store, Confiscate Obscene Books . . . Three detectives from the Albuquerque police vice squad raided the Yale St. Grasshopper bookstore, 120 Yale, SE Wednesday night and confiscated 16 editions of paperback books, charging the owner with possession of obscene materials.” New Mexico Lobo. One of the suspicious books was TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
1968 & on. Some of the poets who read “nestled into the backroom of the Hopper” were Anselm Hollo, Michael Browne, Gus Blaisdell, Laura Chester, Goeff Young, Larry Goodell, many folk, and Pat Bolles’ Grasshopper Press is born and publications included Gene Frumkin’s Rainbow Walker, 1968.
[1968. Allen Ginsberg, reading performance to a packed Anthropology Hall audience at UNM followed by a trip to the Thunderbird Bar in Placitas.]
[1970. March 23, Allen Ginsberg & Gregory Corso read together for the first time in 8 years at UNM, Corso mostly interrupting Ginsberg while Nanao Sakaki sat and then chanted at the end, University of New Mexico. April: Edward Field, New York poet, read from his “photo plays.”]
1970. April, Lawrence Ferlinghetti reads to benefit Phil Mayne and the busted Grasshopper.
[May 1st, Lenore Kandel reads to the packed Popejoy Hall, including the “Love Lust Poem” with Gregory Corso by her side and it caps the whole controversial episode. The entire audience was breathlessly still during this reading.]
1970. Columbus Day October 12, the Living Batch Bookstore is born from the Grasshopper (see Pancho & Mike Elliston’s account above).
“It was an alternative to an absence. When [the Batch] started there was no gay, no women, no politics, no black, no small press poetry, no serious literature in the state. Maybe you could find the books at my place you couldn’t find anyplace else,” Gus Blaisdell said about the store’s earliest years.
1978. Batch gets a phone.
1982. Batch moves from Central to 106 Cornell S.E. when the Frontier expanded.
1986. “The employees are so loyal it’s almost a drawback, Blaisdell said. Goodell has been there 16 years. ‘I’ve tried to donate him to the Museum of Natural History, but they won’t take him,’ ” he joked. From the Albuquerque Journal.
1988. The Batch gets a Cash Register.
“Batch employees said the store is similar to other alternative bookstores known around the country for their unusual offerings. Blaisdell cited City lights in San Francisco, the Hungry Mind in St. Paul, Minn., and Elliott Bay in Seattle.” From Small Business Profile, 1990, Albuquerque Journal, “Store Is a Browser’s Paradise.” Also, Cody’s, 8th Street Bookstore, Either/Or Bookstore, Gotham Book Mart, Phoenix Book Shop, East Side Book Store, Grolier Poetry Bookshop.
Poets & Authors at the Batch,partial list: Edward Abbey, Allen Ginsberg, Judy Grahn, Philip Whalen, Robert Creeley, Margaret Randall, Bobby Byrd, Geoffry Young, Natalie Goldberg, Dodici Azpadu, Maisha Baton, enee Gregorio, David Dewitt, Mary Higgins, Jack Loeffler, Sharon Niederman, Patricia Clark Smith, Ed Dorn, Eileen Myles, Nanao Sakaki, Henry Rollins, David Benedetti, Tom Guralnick (music), Steve Benson, Ricardo Sanchez, Clark Coolidge, Luci Tapahonso, Lit Dog Triad, Bill Pearlman, Stanley Cavell, Ken Saville, Joe Speer, Carma Bums (including S.A. Griffin, and Scott Wannberg), Ellyn Maybe, Keith Wilson, Ted Enslin, Joe Somoza, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Gino Sky, Leo Romero, Pablita Velarde, Clifford Burke, Cecelio Garcia-Camarillo, Mia Stageborg, Gene Frumkin, Mary Dougherty, Nathaniel Tarn, John Brandi, Holly Wilson, Robert Peterson, Debbie Coy, E.A. Mares, Larry Goodell, Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Poetry Ensemble, Lee Bartlett, John Tritica, Levi Romero, Jim Sagel, Carol Moscrip, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Diana Huntress, Mary Bess Whidden, Robert Spiegel, Demetria Martinez, Jon Gill Bentley, John Tritica, Leslie Marmon Silko, Kell D. Robertson and many more . . .
Important readings and booksignings during much of this time were also being held at John Randall’s Salt of the Earth Bookstore and the women’s bookstore, Full Circle.
Jeff Bryan. “ . . . you should write about the history of the readings that occurred there. there were so many great ones it is hard to even comprehend . . . the living batch . . . set the gold standard for poetry readings and the albuquerque scene as it is today owes a lot to that history.
“i loved the living batch and the independent bookstore ethos of the time. i enjoyed the shmoozing with the sales reps, some of whom were really cool people. i loved working with Bookpeople and such, but they also all went under. the book business changed and it keeps getting worse. did you know that Random House is merging with Penguin? are they going to call it Random Penguin? i guess what they are trying to do is gain enough market power to stand up to Ingrams. the book business is only about product, literature shmiditure.
“those golden days are gone and gus knew it when he closed the store. books were no longer affordable to young people and the masses. i think the living batch was part of a great cultural efflorescence which flared up thanks to places like city lights in SF and the various stores in NYC. independent bookstores sprang up in college towns and became gathering places for free thinking and politics, or at least good places to hang out. probably one of the batch’s great assets were the couches.
“one of the things i wished i’d gotten before the batch closed was the shoebox filled with photographs used as bookmarks taken from used books. i think carl [christensen] started finding them and then wrote the title of the book on the back of the photograph. hilarious grassroots surrealism. also carl would put inventory cards for fake books in the filing system. one would come across them while working. there were many such hidden enjoyments, i even contributed my share. remember –for a few years i wore a gorilla suit on christmas eve.” Jeff Bryan
Pat Nelson. “I loved the Batch and put my spirit into that room full of books, a phrase that has remained with me. I spent over eight years there I think, through a rare period in the store, a feeling of festival. During this time, we wrote the Living Batch News which was a collaborative effort designed by Jeff Bryan. I wrote many of the keynote cover essays which were for me exercises in recasting a metaphor for bookselling. I wrote about bookselling for the holidays. I think I could describe these little essays as ‘cherishment’ as the term is used by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, a benevolent well-wishing expression of what is dear to the heart.” Pat Nelson Manager of the Living Batch` from 1986 to 1993.
Andrei Codrescu (on what to do when visiting Albuquerque)
“One of the liveliest literary spots in New Mexico, the Living Batch Bookstore, is as good a book place as you’re likely to find anywhere, including New York City. Well-disposed toward local culture, it carries poetry and novels by local authors, books on Indian Pueblo people, art books on the rich traditions of the Southwest, and, most importantly for me, cookbooks on Northern Mexican cuisine. . . . They have chairs and places to sit and read at the Living Batch, which is the mark of a civilized bookstore. (from Southwest Airlines SPIRIT magazine October 1993, Savor it Slowly.”
1996. Living Batch closes.
“There’s a prominent contemporary American poetry section & a few regional poetry mags. The emphasis now, in so far as the poetry goes, is on largely good regional stuff plus lots of New Directions pubs, women poets, Native American, Hispanic poets, & just good quality selling stuff. The Batch does not take stuff on consignment & doesn’t welcome unsolicited little mags. You have to be practical & ask will it sell in Albuqueroue? There’s a university across the street & quite a few discriminating people come in from around the state & across the land. Major sections in the store are fiction & psychology & probably building & energy.” from Contact II, 1977, “Living Poetry in the Southwest” Larry Goodell
“And the spoken word, and sometimes the sung word, and occasionally even the ineffable. Don’t let the relaxed ambiance and some of the posters on the wall fool you – the Batch is serious about literature and its attendant arts. Apart from the quality selection (there are no double helix stacks of the latest commercial blockbusters in the window here), the Living Batch perennially puts on the most ambitious and eclectic series of readings, lectures, performances and appearances by writers, poets, artists, and even filmmakers and musicians. They’re particularly diligent in offering exposure to local and regional talent and their newsletter is usually interesting reading in itself. If this were a TV commercial we would have to say the Batch is ‘more than a bookstore.'” from Route 66 Magazine, “Best Care and Feeding of the Printed Word.”
If you have pictures to contribute please send a good scan to me firstname.lastname@example.org: I’d love to have early pictures of the workers, the store, and I thank you, and many thanks to Nicole Blaisdell Ivey for sending many facts & photos . . . & love to all . . . larry