I came to the Batch in the mid eighties. I had been managing the UNM Bookstore’s general book department for a number of years and shared many book conversations with Gus [Blaisdell]. Gus invited me to join the Batch as buyer and manager together with Jeff Bryan. I joined Sigrun, Larry, Geary Hobson, Seth Fiedler, Eileen Jackson. The store deeply felt the loss of Carl Christensen. The recent move around the corner from Central to Cornell had been jarring, and perhaps my arrival was also a jolt.
The storefront at 106 Cornell SE was a narrow space but it reached quite surprisingly far back. Over a few years, we cleared out moribund used book inventory, a new clerestory brought in more daylight, a floor plan evolved in a zig-zag down the center guiding the browser – like a pin-ball machine – all the way to the back. Some particularly dilapidated couches added character.
A wheeled cart out on the sidewalk for sale books, painted blue (constructed by Doug Parker); zany wonderful window displays (Jeff); the ‘big table’ up front. Low book-benches in front of shelves allowed for more face-up books. Jeff built these. Books in juxtaposition and conversation on endcap displays, on the art table left of center and the back-right spirituality table – all this rather funky and homemade. The Batch used a card system filed in a nice set of old library drawers. I would love to go through those cards again. Tucked into the files were a few joke cards from Carl: “Zen & the Art of Footbinding,” “Bonsai Your Pet.” I’m sure others can remember more.
Quintessentially ‘Batch’ – Zen Mind, Beginners Mind, The Wilhelm/Baynes I Ching, Jung’s Synchronicity, Han-Shan, Dōgen, Ram Dass, Hiroshige, Wabi-Sabi, Matisse, Diebenkorn, Alice Neel, José Guadalupe Posada, Alexander’s Pattern Language, Avedon’s American West, Baudrillard’s America, Walter Benjamin, Luce Irigaray, Roland Barthes, Maurice Sendak, Robert Crumb, Robert Hunter, Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski, Ken Kesey, Thomas Sanchez, Ishmael Reed, Oscar Zeta Acosta, Alan Watts, Kenneth Rexroth, Michael McClure, Michael Herr, Tim O’Brien, Carolyn Forché, Denise Levertov, Angela Carter, Philip K. Dick, J. G. Ballard, José Donoso, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Elsa Morante, Jean Giono, Michael Ondaatje, Eduardo Galeano, Octavio Paz, Marguerite Yourcenar, MFK Fisher, Bruce Chatwin, Barry Lopez, J. B. Jackson, Frederick Turner, Larry McMurtry. Integral to the book collection, works of friends of the store, among them Evan Connell, Stanley Crawford, Stanley Cavell, Gary Snyder, Robert Creeley, Henry Rollins, Joy Harjo, Luci Tapahanso, Leslie Marmon Silko, N Scott Momaday, Janet Lewis, Patricia Clark Smith, Miriam Sagan, John Brandi, Ronald Johnson, Edward Abbey, Jack Loeffler, Jimmie Santiago Baca, Philip Whalen, Dennis Tedlock, Gene Frumkin, Bobby Byrd.
As buyer for the Batch, I was immersed in passing seasons of new books, the titles that belonged in the room, new books to join books that endured in the store’s inventory. The Batch had a deep memory. When it celebrated “Twenty Years on the Same Block” the Batch celebrated twenty years of deepening book history. The few books and authors in the litany above could each be seen as fractal centers; iterate around each and any to expand the connections. The Batch had a gravitas, it was above all else a bookstore. Living Batch was a room full of books, and I knew all the books in that room. They were intimate to me.
Northpoint Press was important to the Batch, founding editor Jack Shoemaker a friend of Gus. Shambhala, Grove Press, Graywolf, Copper Canyon, New Directions were some on Batch wavelength; W. W. Norton, Farrar Strauss, Viking, Schocken, Beacon, Pantheon, Borzoi among the literary houses of particular character at that time. We carried our own regional book ecology from UNM, UArizona, UNebraska and UOklahoma, Cinco Puntos, Sunstone, Lightning Tree, West End Press and so many more. University press and small press were particularly luminous. And, of course, Gus Blaisdell founded the Living Batch Press with a new edition of Stanley Crawford’s The Log of the S. S. the Mrs. Unguentine, and published Stanley Cavell’s This New Yet Unapproachable America, reissued Ronald Johnson’s The Aficionado’s Southwestern Cooking (originally UNM Press, and dedicated to Gus). A chronology of Living Batch Press is in Gus Blaisdell Collected. Jeff Bryan founded La Alameda Press with the publication of Kate Horsley’s Crazy Woman. La Alameda continues to publish with its signature and iconic design. As they say, “The best way to support a small press is to buy their books!”
Bookpeople in Berkeley was a supportive distributor, they are gone now. Last Gasp sourced all those comix and head shop titles. Ingrams still operated on microfiche. We had a print copy of Bowkers Books in Print. A few of the sales reps who called on the Batch – Ron Smith, Nelson Priest, Gordon Saul, Jeannie Dunham, Henry Hubert, Susan Donnelly, Adena Siegel, Wendy Werris, Richard McNeace, Patrick Mcnierney, John Majeska, John Zeck, Randy Hickernell, Dan Christiaens, Gabe Barillas, Louise Simon, Judy Kucera, Bob Vickrey, Karen Hopkins, John Hopkins, Tom Carney, Brenda Marsh, Terry Warnick, Gordon Saul.
Larry Goodell –rushing in clutching books and papers, or crane-like, shelving books, “the Aristophanes of the Upper Sonoran Desert,” the poetry maestro. Jeff Bryan – painter, writer, gardener, ‘semi-native’ New Mexican, poet of the bosque with a vocabulary of joy, “ luminiferous, splendiferous,” his aesthetic embodied that which was ‘Batch.’ Janet Maher, Kevin Paul, Stephanie Yiannias, Suzanne Sbarge, Seth Fiedler, Siggy Fox all at the heart of the store. A portrait could be sketched of each. And Gus –calling on his ‘myrmidons,’ hanging out up front in his disreputable Stanford cap, khaki shorts from May to October and long-enduring sandals, jousting and bantering. A force of nature, brilliant, ferocious, occasionally radiant.
Batch spirit manifested in the extraordinary poetry readings, literary events. Many events will be recalled. I particularly remember inviting our Oxford sales rep Henry Hubert to play for an evening on our beat-up upright Steinway, a former UNM practice piano rescued by the Batch. Henry took the occasion seriously, Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart I think were on the program. On a snowy night to a sparse audience I remember Oscar Pincus for the publication of House of Ashes, and an enduring friendship with Oscar and Ilse. A lovely evening as V. B. Price introduced Louise Adler with a lovely homage. Henry Roth visited when Call It Sleep was ‘rediscovered’ and reissued as a masterpiece.
Death ‘Live at the Batch’ appeared for the Day of the Dead, the huge skull head a costume from a UNM theatre department production of The Nose. The Batch brought books to the Albuquerque appearance of the Dalai Lama at Popejoy Hall, great vases of blooming spring branches on the tables. Batch events brought the community together for an Earth Day benefit for the Peace & Justice Center. A Los Angeles Bookstore Relief Party was held for two bookstores burned in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict with Linda Piper performing her inimitable Zora Neale Hurston, poet Maisha Baton, the Meter Maids and Zimbabwe Nkenya & Black Culture.
Some events established themselves annually on the Living Batch calendar. Monte Vista Elementary School’s literary magazine The Penguin Papers brought a flock of children reading their works to a crowd of parents. The holidays were very sweet and often included a Chanukah evening with klezmer and Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb. Many children recall the annual holiday performance by Loren Kahn’s Puppet Puppet Theater – with Floppo and Natalia. And the exclusive North American appearance of the Christmas Gorilla who bopped in to wild riffs of cheer, played sax and offered banana chips.
The Batch was improvisational, ad-hoc , an on-going project. It was touchingly poor, a phone in 1978, a cash register in 1988. I’m reminded a bit of Stone Soup. Each brought something more to the pot. An old overstuffed chair, worn oriental rugs, household gods and totems displayed on the high running shelf down the length of the store, the effort of errands, the heavy lifting and grunge work, preparations for events, opening early, closing late. Many talents served generously. The prestidigitating, bibliotherapeutic intuition connected the right book to the moment. Living Batch was a personal bookstore created in the image of its community, consciously shaped, collective. It called on the creativities of many, and many gave to it from the heart.
With its literary roots back to the Grasshopper days, its circle of friends, the devotion of Batch people, the store seemed an entity, not a retail business, but it needed to sell more books. The Batch was not a collective. One could imagine a future, a present tense for the Batch. But over a critical period, the store changed, staff changed, and the Batch closed. I have a haunting sense of the long room; for some reason in dreams it has an unswept wooden floor and the odd litter of a place abandoned. But in fact it really was a special place, it is remembered differently by many, it was good and generous. Patricia Nelson
Many thanks Pat Nelson for your article here giving body to the form of memory and lighting up the greatness of the independent bookstore in America . . . lg