2021 Lord Nose Award Citation and Acceptance Speech

This transcript of the Lord Nose Award citation was read on June 23 at the 2021 Firecracker Awards ceremony by CLMP Board Member David Wilk. The award was presented to Charles Alexander, Founder of CHAX Press.

I’m so pleased to be here today to present the fifth annual Lord Nose Award, that commemorates and honors the work of my friend and mentor, Jonathan Williams. This Award is given under the auspices of CLMP to celebrate and recognize the achievement and value of a lifetime commitment to literary publishing.

Jonathan was the founder and publisher of the Jargon Society. He was a poet, essayist, photographer, raconteur and cultural observer whose wit was legendary, along with his ability to identify and promote truly individual artistic excellence, specifically poets and photographers whose work he brought forward through Jargon’s many publications.

For more than half a century, beginning in 1951 at Black Mountain College, Jargon published 85 books and 30 broadsides and ephemera, expressing Jonathan’s unique vision, work that truly mattered, that needed to be nurtured and brought forth into the world, no matter the many challenges of time, money and distribution he encountered. His commitment to making books that were as beautiful as possible never wavered.

The Jargon list is an active representation of many of the most important creative figures of the late twentieth century. Jargon books represent Jonathan’s lifelong dedication to words and art, to discovery, beauty, and the joyfully social act of making public the work he believed in.

I would like to thank Jeffery Beam and Stanley Finch for their contributions to this effort, as well as Tom Meyer, Jonathan’s life partner, for his endorsement of this award, and CLMP for giving this project a home.

It is now my honor and privilege to give the 2021 Lord Nose Award to CHAX Press and its founder, Charles Alexander, who lives and works in Tucson, Arizona, CHAX’s longtime home.

Like Jonathan, Charles is both a poet and a publisher. Since 1984, he has been an intrepid explorer and presenter of an eclectic array of highly talented writers of many stripes, all demonstrating CHAX’s commitment to the importance of poetry and language, issuing more than 250 singular works of poetic art in published form. And all this time, Charles has been writing and teaching, continuing the tradition of the poet publisher into the modern era.

Jonathan Williams always sought to identify and recognize the beautiful, sometimes weird moments that make life worth living and enjoying. For more than 35 years, Charles Alexander, with his spouse and partner, the visual artist Cynthia Miller, has done the same. The diversity and depth of CHAX’s publications demonstrate the special ability to identify and foster great works of writing and art, coupled with a high level of design and printing skills, constantly challenging readers to travel together on the press’s artistic journey.

Literary presses are mostly ephemeral. Much like poets and writers, their presses take form and substance through dedication and effort that is transformative, but so often transitory. Many literary presses have produced one or several great books each, but there are only a few that are able to operate for decades and still continue to produce great work. Those that last do so out of a powerful need, a commitment that expresses the ongoing love and attention of their founders. They are truly precious and special, deserving of attention and recognition–because we know how difficult and challenging it is to create a sustained body of work over a lifetime. The effort and will required to remain vital and meaningful over so many years must be acknowledged. The truest dedication to making art through struggle is important, and yes, rare.

CHAX Press exemplifies the tradition of independent publishing that Jonathan Williams embodied. Here are some lines from Charles about the press that capture what he is after:

CHAX focuses on a book at a time, each one individual and different, each one a marriage of form/design and literary content. Our letterpress books emerge from intense collaboration between poet and book artist. They show new ways in the art of the book.

CHAX also curates readings and other events. Our special publishing projects include unique and limited-edition broadsides.

CHAX maintains a commitment to innovation and experimentation in literature, but the modes of such innovation are not seen narrowly, and has long included a commitment to diversity of peoples and to acts of collaboration.

I am quite certain that Jonathan would have enthusiastically joined us in honoring Charles Alexander’s lifetime of publishing great books that truly matter.

Thank you, Charles–and Congratulations!

This transcript of the Lord Nose Award acceptance speech was read on June 23 at the 2021 Firecracker Awards ceremony by award recipient Charles Alexander, Founder of CHAX Press. The award was presented to Mr. Alexander and CHAX Press by CLMP Board Member David Wilk.

Thank you, David, and thank you, CLMP.

So many people to thank, like every CHAX artist, supporter, worker, and every reader, who receives the poem and the book as kinetic energy. Thank you all. And Jonathan Williams, wow! Everything he gave to books and literature, including an attitude about the work that knows how difficult it is, but also has fun with it. The word “jargon” signifies a language of the tribe, and Jonathan knew that the language helps form the tribe, the community. He was a pioneer and hero among literary publishers, particularly of the so-called “new American poetry” which is a big part of the ground from which my work has grown.

Language / literature / letters. While on a visit home from college I saw my high school English teacher. She had heard that I was studying “letters” which I knew as a somewhat aged term for Literature. In typography, letters are building blocks, shapes and sounds that put together a world. Her mention of Letters seemed to predict the path that would take me to cases of metal type filled with letters organized by their patterns of use. Many printers dump a case of such type (called pie-ing the type) and require their apprentices to re-stock the case, letter by letter, minding their p’s and q’s, that instruction toward order. Thankfully, I never had to do that when I was learning, and I learned from one of the best, Walter Hamady–a rebellious best, who saw the book as a place of inspiration, innovation, and improvisation. In a field that seems to demand order, I learned that there is room for what Michel Foucault would call “counter-conduct.”

I have had, in dreams and awake, the recurring idea that in the alphabet lie all of the works in a language that have been written, and that that may ever be. It is a thought that, I believe, authors and artists of CHAX books, particularly bpNichol, Jackson Mac Low, Beverly Dahlen, Will Alexander, Cynthia Miller, and Tracie Morris, and that many Jargon authors, share. Such artists have helped me believe in a flow, from letters to literature to community to world, a possibility expressed in the poet Robert Duncan’s “grand collage” in which we participate.

I am honored to participate with these authors, and with a much wider group over time and space, and I am honored to receive this award. Thank you for recognizing my work in this amazing way.