URI’s Rutherford writes, publishes, and collects books

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Collection in RISD exhibition, two-volume Gothic due out this month

PROVIDENCE, R.I. –March 16, 2012– Brett Rutherford wrote science fiction comic books when he was 6, created a mimeographed publication by the fifth grade, cut up and rebound articles from magazines, put covers on them, and sold them door-to-door. He also sold greeting cards and seeds to his Scottdale, Pa. neighbors to buy his first typewriter.

At Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, he ran his own underground college newspaper while becoming a prize-winning journalist for the school’s above-ground newspaper. He also produced a hand-made book of his poems.

“I can’t recall any time in my life when I wasn’t thinking about writing, the act of making books, and publishing,” says Providence resident Rutherford who, by day, coordinates distance learning at the University of Rhode Island’s Feinstein Providence campus.

He interrupted college to travel to San Francisco in 1967, wound up reading his poetry in coffee houses, and saw several of his poems published in The Haight Ashbury Free Press. He then moved to Greenwich Village in New York City where he met other poets in other coffee houses.

In 1971, he founded The Poet’s Press, www.poetspress.org, to publish not only his work, but also the work of some outstanding, but neglected New York poets he met and/or discovered. To date, the press has published 198 books, among them are a number of anthologies of poets from New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Only 15 of the books are his.

RISD exhibition

Rutherford not only publishes books through his press, he also collects them. Visitors to the Fleet Library at the Rhode Island School of Design this month can view many of them. “Dard Hunter & the Roycroft Print Shop,” an exhibition of arts and crafts books and periodicals designed and printed at the Roycroft Shop, where a printing and arts community thrived near Buffalo, N.Y. from 1895 to 1915. The exhibit is based mostly on Rutherford’s collection of 350 of their books, which he donated to the Providence Athenaeum, and enhanced by other books from the libraries of RISD, Brown University, and URI.

Two-volume Gothic edition out this month

Rutherford’s latest Poet’s Press endeavor is two volumes of horror and Gothic literature. “In 1801, the notorious Gothic novelist and playwright named Matthew Gregory Lewis, published “Tales of Wonder,” a two volume anthology of supernatural poetry, the first such collection in the English language. It included poems by Lewis, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Southey, Robert Burns, and many lesser-known poets,” Rutherford explains. “It has never been reprinted in its original form since 1805. This book was famous in its time, and influenced Byron, Shelley and Poe. I have created a two-volume edition, massively annotated, tracing each of the 60 poems to its original literary or historical source. This project, which took two years to complete, will be available on Amazon later this month.”

“The press focuses on what I call neo-Romantic poetry: coherent, urgent, communicative, beautiful writing. You can pick up most books from my press, read a page aloud, and make sense of it. I do not publish avant garde or experimental writing. Since my heroes are Shakespeare, Shelley, Poe, Whitman, Jeffers, and Hugo, I lean toward the anti-authoritarian, pagan, rebellious and Gothic. That may sound like a boys’ club of role models but in fact the majority of poets I have published are women,” says Rutherford who is a part-time lecturer in URI’s Women’s Studies Program.

He has a second imprint called “Grim Reaper Books” that are overtly Gothic, including books centered on Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.

“Science fiction and horror have been in my blood since I was 5, thanks to comic books, television, and paperbacks. I was reading adult literature at age six. I remember having an argument with a second-grader about infinite parallel universes, and getting punched for saying there was no God.

“Supernatural horror is the other side of the coin of science fiction: it is a joke on the cosmos. Everyone I know who is involved with it does it for fun, whether writing or reading. I have written that “terror is our tightrope over life.” In supernatural horror, man makes gods and monsters, and that’s the way it ought to be. It’s the primacy of the human imagination.

“Most people don’t understand that supernatural horror is done in play. I don’t actually enjoy books or films about pathological killers. Criminals and serial killers are actually rather dull people,” says the Renaissance man.

Rutherford has known or corresponded with some of the masters in the horror genre, and has had encouragement or accolades from the likes of Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch (“Psycho”), Frank Belknap Long, and Gahan Wilson.

Rutherford used to print books himself and bind them by hand, He estimates he has hand bound some 30,000 books and chapbooks. “The books I publish right now are done on-demand. After I have edited, typeset and designed a book, it goes straight to Amazon.com and becomes available worldwide, in print at first, and later as an e-book. The older books from the press I simply give away as PDF e-books.

“We are at the end of the Gutenberg era — the end of the dominance of the printed book. We are also at the end of copyright, as we know it, a very controversial thing to say. I am placing my own work in the public domain as of around 2025 and I am encouraging other poets to do so. Although I am still doing paper books, I do not expect to do so for more than a few more years. My last poetry book has sold maybe 300 to 400 copies in paper while the e-book has had more than 19,000 downloads.”

He has written four plays so far. One, Night Gaunts, a two-act play about H.P. Lovecraft, has been performed twice in Providence, once on radio in Boston, and once in Germany. His other plays are The Death of Queen Jocasta, an imagined “missing scene” from Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex; and “Empress Carlota of Mexico,” a depiction of the mad Empress Carlota; and “The Prisoner,” set in Napoleonic-era Austria.

He also published two horror novels with Zebra Books, The Lost Children and Piper. “The less said about them, the better. I may write some short stories as time goes on, but life is too short to spend any more time grinding out popular fiction,” he comments.

Music plays on his mind. “I put my musical muse to sleep when I returned to school for College Career II at URI. (He earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 2005 and a master’s degree in English in 2007). “I had composed a handful of pieces for piano and for harpsichord. If the muse will have me back, I will do more of that when I retire. Maybe the only thing more foolish than being a poet is being a composer.”

Rutherford’s about 350 years old in vampire time, but is just edging to the legal retirement age in human time. “In my head, I’m just going on 14. The secret to being eternally young is to love everything you loved at 13 with the same passion. I still love Frankenstein movies, the 1812 overture, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and The Count of Monte Cristo.”