The Jargon Society is now a part of the BMC Museum + Arts Center. The BMCM+AC is honored to announce that the Jargon Society, the highly significant small-press publisher founded in 1951 by Jonathan Williams (Asheville native, Black Mountain College alumnus, poet, publisher and photographer) is now under the museum’s auspices.
The Jargon Society was founded by Jonathan Williams and David Ruff in 1951 in a San Francisco Chinese restaurant. Jargon 1 was a folded pamphlet with a poem by Williams (Garbage Litters the Iron Face of the Sun’s Child) and an etching by Ruff. Just 50 copies were produced. Jargon 2 was called The Dancer and consisted of a poem by Joel Oppenheimer and a drawing by Robert Rauschenberg. It was published at Black Mountain College soon after Williams’ arrival there in the summer of 1951. Other Jargon publications included The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson, The Neugents by David M. Spear and many others.
Williams died in 2008 and is survived by his partner Thomas Meyer. It was Meyer who made the decision to give The Jargon Society inventory and rights to the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.
Meyer had this to say about the new arrangement: “The Jargon Society has always championed outsiders, mavericks and the neglected, itself no stranger to same. Yet with the death of its founder, it seemed to me the time had come for the foundation to make some changes. The BMCM+AC struck me as a perfect compass to provide new directions. Shared histories, shared aesthetics, and shared missions. In short, a perfect shelter, a perfect match.”
Jonathan Williams’ publishing philosophy was to seek out writers, poets and photographers who pursued a singular path in their work and were under-recognized, outside of the mainstream, but deeply deserving of attention. Jargon books and publications were always beautifully designed and printed, expressing Williams’ unique aesthetic sensibility. He often paired artists, photographers and writers in a way previously unseen. There are 115 Jargon Society titles in the original series. A number of these are rare, valuable and highly sought after by collectors. Of the 115 original titles in the Jargon catalogue, approximately 85 are books and another 30 are broadsides, pamphlets and other publications.
Jonathan Williams provided early appreciation and an important publication outlet for now-celebrated writers such as Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, Mina Loy, Lorraine Niedecker, Kenneth Patchen and many others. One of Jargon’s most noteworthy titles was the publishing phenomenon White Trash Cooking by Ernest Matthew Mickler. Now celebrating its 25th year in publication with a special edition, White Trash Cooking has received rave reviews by a diverse roster of fans including the governor of North Carolina, the New York Times Book Review, cookbook authors and actress Helen Hayes. It continues to be Jargon’s top-selling title even now.
Aptly characterized by Hugh Kenner as a “custodian of snowflakes,” Williams championed the outsider in art and literature. The Jargon Society provided a vehicle for Williams, a man of wide-ranging interests and talents, to pursue the writers and artists he valued and to encourage collaboration between them when appropriate. Poet William Carlos Williams wrote to Jonathan, “It’s a strange thing about the ‘new,’ in which category I place what you do. At first it shocks, even repels, such a man as myself, but in a few days, or a month, or a year, we rush to it drooling at the mouth, as if it were a fruit, an apple in winter.”
As a publisher, Williams’ goal was to give the artist and/or the poet “the book that they wanted” if it was at all possible. This approach, while unusual in the publishing world, was consistent with William’s belief in democracy and consistent with a philosophy that championed the underdog.
Brian Butler, Board Chair of the BMC Museum + Arts Center states, “We are greatly honored to carry on the singular and extraordinary legacy of The Jargon Society. There is nothing quite like it in publishing history, and Jonathan’s and Jargon’s connection to Black Mountain College makes this an absolutely perfect fit for our organization. We look forward to the possibilities. While not by any means unsung, the importance of the Jargon Society’s publications is certainly not given near its proper canonical place in American publishing, in poetry, nor in its highly significant, indeed central, place in regards to the history of Black Mountain College. The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center is extremely proud to be the recipient of Jargon’s great tradition and thanks Thomas Meyer deeply for his confidence in our Museum. We consider this gift a great sign of trust in the Museum’s mission and will treat the gift with the deep respect it deserves.”
Thomas Meyer, Williams’ partner, worked with him on Jargon projects for many years and has several books of his own poetry published under the Jargon imprint. Additionally, Meyer’s work as a poet and translator has been widely published and acknowledged for its precision and depth of feeling. His recent book Kintsugi has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award.
Future Jargon/Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center projects have yet to be identified, but the possibilities are exciting to contemplate.
Image: The Jargon Society sign and Poetry Crown (both made by artist James Harold Jennings) now reside in the BMC Museum + Arts Center.