Ugly Duckling Presse

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1993: A couple of college kids decide to put together a zine, without really knowing what that is. The hand-pasted collages, cheap glue sticking out, ballpoint scrawl, ink blots…. it’s a true beautiful mess. They call it The Ugly Duckling. No intention of becoming a swan. Its creators and editors for those first few years are Tristra Newyear and Matvei Yankelevich. Just a few pages long, the zine is xeroxed at a student club office where Ugly Duckling is given copier privileges as the literary organ of the Russian House (ostensibly language-focused living quarters). It sometimes has some Russian (and Russians) in it, but also German, French, and English creeps in. It is in no way your typical club newsletter. The Ugly Duckling (usually a couple toner-saturated sheets of legal paper folded in half) finds its way into legitimate campus newspapers and regional papers through what might be called guerilla blow-in tactics. Otherwise it is distributed personally to those that it might surprise or confuse. Found and flattened objects, inadvertent scrawling, dream poems, politically charged newspaper collages, dada juxtapositions and some stark minimalist composition comprise this “Journal of the Russian and the Absurd”—a short lived subtitle.

1995: Matvei Yankelevich publishes the first book on Ugly Duckling Presse, “Poems and Other Sounds.” (The “e” comes from Kafka- or K-Presse, a small German publishing house). Lots of xerox toner is spent. Collation occurs in the north wing of German House, on hands and knees. The Ugly Duckling Zine and Presse moves (with Matvei) to Boston for the summer. Issue number 7 (mostly local Middletown, CT poets) and number 8 1⁄2 are completed. Then the Presse moves to Moscow, via Dublin and London. No. 9 is printed on A4 paper in Moscow using found art and travel documentation. Back in the U.S.A, after months of intermittent labor, Greg Ford, Yelena Gluzman, Filip Marinovich, Julien Poirier, and several others collaborate on BIRD OF PROPAGANDA, a one-time, 500-copy, highly collaged zine of poetry, comics, presidential cut-ups, and other goodies. They distribute it in front of Hamilton Hall on the campus of Columbia University. A few people notice. (The Bird now makes occasional guest appearances in New York Nights.)

1996: The Presse moves to New Haven, CT, to undergo serious schooling. There, No. 11 is pasted and hand-painted in a loft on the wrong side of the tracks. But soon the Duckling gets away to New York City, of course, in the Fall of 1997.

1998: By total chance Matvei meets Ellie Galligano and becomes her studio assistant. In return Ellie agrees to collaborate on the Ugly Duckling and, soon after, to shorten her last name. Yan Kilevich and Ellie Ga take over the editorial offices of Ugly Duckling Presse in Woodside, Queens. In a matter of months, they put out Issues no. 12 and 13, and change forever the aesthetics of the zine with literary and art contributions from Joel Dailey, Philip Farha, Michael Mauzy, Scott Keeney, Richard Kostelanetz, John M. Bennett, Jim Jarmusch, and others. The two also “steal” a thousand “Go Cards” from various cafes in Manhattan, paste copy-art and hand stamp the cards, and redistribute them to the “Go Card” dispensers in the cafes. Public art projects now become a part of the game. The editors stroll through Times Square and the East Village with Ugly Ducklings (no. 13) in tow on little leashes.  UDP’s Woodside Galleria has its first (and only) art opening in September of that year, exhibiting collaged architecture, handmade Boris books and Boris cards, a Boris fan, hand-altered photographs, and a bunch of other junk.

1999: That summer, Matvei Yankelevich meets Yelena Gluzman, over a theatrical production of Boris by The Sea. Writer meets Dramaturg: neither have a positive impact on the play. They decide to do something for the theater. They find the long lost Bros. Lumiere at Anthology Film Archives, and conspire to produce the EMERGENCY Gazette. Years of theater-going, debate, writing, editing and photocopying ensue. The paper is distributed free in New York City and elsewhere, sometimes as often as every two weeks. Through Yelena, Matvei meets Julien Poirier that summer. They take a few walks together, discuss poetry and also pseudonymns, and a peculiar coincidence (re: Dirigible magazine). Vague talk of making books begins. Later that year, at EMERGENCY HQ on Amsterdam Avenue, Matvei meets infernal poet Filip Marinovic. Marisol Martinez appears. There’s a party on Yelena’s porch. Matvei, Inna Giter and Ellie arrive and there’s Yelena, Julien, Marisol, Filip, and Elizabeth Reddin. Everyone meet everyone! Around that time Greg Ford is passing through en route to Italy.

2000: The new fast friends talk of an all-welcoming Center for Junior Artists (like themselves) for making performance and books. Greg returns from abroad to join the effort and after much debate, this project takes shape as Ugly Duckling Presse, including many different departments for all the members’ varied interests.  
The Bros. Lumiere throw a party for The EMERGENCY Gazette at The Piano Store on Ludlow St. (now some fancy French place) staging two plays—by Filip Marinovic and Julien Poirier respectively. In the spring of 2000, Julien and Matvei make a book, utilizing the EMERGENCY copier at Columbia University, and the books is Julien Poirier’s 25-cent bestseller, Flying Over the Fence With Amadou Diallo. The two make the book with a rubber band binding and pink cover stock. It sells out at St. Marks Bookshop. The two discuss making a poetry magazine. Greg and Filip join the effort, and 6×6 is born just in time for Independence Day, 2000. The editors, with the help of volunteers, spend several days folding, cutting, stamping and rubberbanding in the sweltering July heat of 6×6 headquarters on Duke Ellington Boulevard in Morningside Heights (home of Poirier & Ford, also known as The Waffle House after Greg’s sourdough breakfasts). Despite the heat, 50 people crowd into the hot little apartment for the first 6×6 party, the most raucous poetry event this writer has ever visited. Julien, Filip, Greg, Eli Rarey, and the young Nathaniel Farrell read. Ellie Ga is at Women’s Studio Workshop, upstate, working on Boris by the Sea and Classifications of a Spit Stain. Letterpress technology is discovered, again. She acquires a clam-shell press and tons of lead type from a traveling printer who is going to jail, and transports it in her Chevy to Red Hook, Brooklyn. That fall, Matvei meets James Hoff who is working at the Incommunicado Bookstore at Tonic in the Lower East side (which soon turns over and emerges as the Soft Skull Shortwave Bookstore). James interviews Matvei about the press for Insound. He meets the rest of the Ugly Duckling gang and soon starts up Loudmouth Collective with old Bloomington buddy Ryan Haley. [In his article for, James Hoff said that Ugly Duckling Presse “has recalled the Futurist and concrete poetry traditions and combined them with a spirit reflective of early zine and mimeograph pioneers to create literature that is both important and needed. From subversive postcard art to teabag-size magazines to zines printed on tree bark, Ugly Duckling has…served as a forum for the reinvestigation of our commonly held notions of the book.”] Later, 6×6 #2 is unveiled at the famous Bushwick loft. Arkadii Dragomoshchenko makes a heavy appearance.

2001: James’ Loudmouth Collective starts a busy year of bi-monthly Anti-Readings with help from the Ugly Duckling kids. Many free little books are made and given away. Loudmouth puts out Ours, Yours by Julien Poirier, and Writing in the Margins by Matvei Yankelevich. Shortly after September 11th, Julien and Marisol start New York Nights as a forum for art, poetry, and opinions against the war. “LAPA” by Daniil Kharms—UDP’s first paperless book—is performed during a snowstorm in February to a packed Lower East Side theater. Later, Yelena forms Science Project and directs “School for Salome” twice. A Christmas party for 6×6 #5 in the Old American Can Factory rounds out the year.

2002: The Anti-Reading lights up at the Poetry Project and travels to Montreal. Snow White, a paperless zine based on Donald Barthelme’s book, is directed by Inna at the Red Room. The Morningside Headquarters (home of Greg, Julien and Marisol) burns down in the middle of a warm spring night. Much of Marisol’s paintings, a mock-up for her artist book, back issues of 6×6 and New York Nights, original New York Nights covers, and some one-of-a-kind UDP books go up in the blaze. Luckily all are safe. Joel Schlemowitz, frequent Anti-Reading contributor, films the wreckage a day or two later, to include in his documentary on Loudmouth and the Presse. A few weeks later, New York Nights comes out with a double issue, and 6×6 is back in the summer with #6, the special wallpaper issue. Anna Moschovakis joins the Presse, learns letterpress and designs The Gray Notebook by Alexander Vvedensky—which is the inaugural edition, #0, of the Eastern European Poets Series. Our first intern arrives to help: Lindsay Caplan, who now works with Autonomedia. Loudmouth releases Anti-Reading #8—this time the event is inside a box, with contributions from Anti-Reading regulars, including Julien (presenting a readable ice-cream sandwich), Ryan, Anna & Matvei in a little collaborative book, Joel Schlemowitz, Lorraine Affourtit, and others. Next on our roster of releases: James Hoff’s About Ten Poems. We toss 6×6 #7 into the world and throw a winter party at Low (thanks to Ariana Smart), with music performances by Tim Barnes, Jim O’Rourke, Ty Braxton, and Matt Mottel, plus the poets. So closes another year.

2003: Anna and Matvei work with Genya Turovskaya to design Calendar and the broadside, Placebo Affliction (printed at Soho Letterpress). The broadside is chosen for a Letterpress Showcase at the Center for Book Arts. Ode to Go is launched, with poems by Laura Riding and Garrett Kalleberg printed on paper coffee cups and served out at Brooklyn kiosks and cafes. By this point, the little house in Red Hook is bursting at the seams with UDP stuff. Out of the blue, answering their prayers, NEST gives Ugly Duckling Presse a home in D.U.M.B.O. UDP spends several months renovating the ground floor workshop and opens its doors in May. The Presse moves out of the Red Hook living room.  The first book party at the new UDP HQ is held in June for Cedar Sigo’s Selected Writings. Soon after, the Eastern European Poets Series is officially launched on June 26th. Genya Turovskaya’s Calendar, Alexander Vvedensky’s The Gray Notebook (2nd printing) and Ilya Bernstein’s Attention and Man are unveiled for public scrutiny. In the fall, UDP finds a distributor and picks up the pace, publishing Poker, Tomaz Salamun’s first book, translated by Joshua Beckman with the author, featuring a cover designed by Jeremy Mickel and letterpressed by Peter Kruty Editions. Three chapbooks by three young chaps—James Hoff, Mark Lamoureux, and Aaron Tieger—are unveiled at a home-style reading and reception at the UDP workshop. In late October, 60+ independent presses gather in the NEST for the first (and so far last) Cheap Small Press Fair, hosted by Ode to Go, UDP’s semi-secret public poetry wing. Our new intern David Paige steers the fair to success; Phil Cordelli comes by to volunteer and becomes volunteer photographer. More than 500 curious souls stop in to check out their books and zines and end up hanging out all afternoon with a beer in one hand and a slice of Bubby’s (donated) pie in the other.

2004: The new year brings the (slightly delayed and much awaited) release of Jen Bervin’s Nets, as well as Dmitri Prigov’s Fifty Drops of Blood and Lev Rubinstein’s Catalogue of Comedic Novelties. G.L. Ford goes wild with the cover of his new book, Landscapes of Fire and Music. 6X6 #8 is finally assembled and plans for a big party—perhaps our last in the NEST space—commence. The party is a big success with a rather dramatic finale (you had to be there). Year gallery, run out of NEST’s storefront by Ellie and her friends Bryan Savitz and Merydyth Sparks, takes off, drawing the attentions of editors at Artforum magazine. Poets & Writers Magazine recognizes UDP as a small press to look out for. Just before spring arrives, UDP goes on the road with Loudmouth Collective, bringing its books, journals, and antics to Pittsburgh, the Chicago AWP circus, Bloomington, and Cincinnati. UDP’s long-awaited 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status finally is granted by the IRS. Three books, Bending Spoons by Charlie Foos, Afield by Anthony Hawley, and Placefullness by Karen Weiser are released in June. On July 1st we move to new digs at the Liberty Warehouse on the waterfront in Red Hook. Garth Graeper (August) and then Linda Trimbath (November) find UDP through and become regular volunteers.

2005: working, working… In Red Hook. Thanks to Bryan Savitz for master-building the frame of the new space (and Keith Gessen for carrying up the drywall). Seems like a slower pace down in Red Hook (at least from our vantage point today) with whiskey from LeNell’s wonderful shop in the winters, barbecues and beer in the summer on the roof of the Liberty Warehouse—good old 106 Ferris St., between Coffey and Van Dyke Streets. (We wonder now if it’s luxury condos, or still the pre-civil-war planks and bricks.) By this time Phil Cordelli (originally attracted by finding Poker in a bookstore and our internship ad on NYFA website) is working among us, helping out on all projects and designing and editing Dan Machlin’s chapbook 6×7 (Phil’s first solo effort for UDP). Among a steadier stream of interns and volunteers, David Jou appears around September, quickly becoming indispensable to UDP’s operation. Soon after, Nick Rattner moves to New York looking for a publishing job; he volunteers with UDP thinking he might get a job that way—well, seeing as their’s no paying work at UDP, Nick decides to forget about Random House and Houghton Mifflin, keeps his restaurant job and keeps coming down to the Presse (called “the space,” “the studio,” or “the workshop” depending on who you talk to) on free days to lend a hand. Linda Trimbath takes on the design and printing of the cover for Edwin Frank’s Stack (an accordion book in a custom-made felt pajama top screened with a Gocco!) and assembled with manual labor help from David, Nick, and various volunteers. She also designs and prints the cover for 6×6 No. 12.

2006: Speaking of volunteers, from those Red Hook days of 2005-2006, we remember fondly our “Presse-Day” team and interns, among whom were Betsy Dorman, Jessica Elsaesser, Jane Caflisch, Danny Snelson, Corinne Manning, Michael Barron, Susan Brennan, Eliza Honey, Courtney Frederick, Kali Handelman. Old friend Elizabeth Reddin comes by a bunch to help with various things, and to assemble more and more of the Lewis Warsh double-CD that UDP co-produced with her Deerhead Records, officially released back in 2004. A CEC Artslink grant sends the Eastern European Poets Series editors to St. Petersburg, Russia to initiate several forthcoming translations of younger Russian poets Skidan, Golynko and Fanailova. By now we have published scores of books, chapbooks, artist books and zines. New ducklings have joined the collective, some have moved out of town, but still carry the torch. The Lost Literature series, co-edited by Ryan Haley and James Hoff, blasts onto the scene with an incredible rhebus-filled volume by Gabriel Pomerand, leading figure of Lettrism, Saint Ghetto of the Loans, followed by the compendium of Bernadette Mayer and Vito Acconci’s seminal late 1960s mimeographed magazine, 0 TO 9, in a single-volume facsimile edition.

2007: Life on the piers, beautiful as it is, has grown untenable due to leaky walls, dust, and woodshop fumes. We wave goodbye to the statue of liberty in January 2007 and move into our new home at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn, where we join a great community of artists, designers, visionaries and entrepreneurs. Here we enjoy more stability (and cleaner floors) than in any of our past haunts, beloved as they have been. New interns from Pratt join us in the new digs: Nalini Ramautar, Caroline Gormley. Maddie Harkness becomes our key intern in the Fall. UDP’s list grows with emerging poets, artists, and foreign writers, drawing the support of NYSCA, the NEA, various Ministries of Culture, and the Jerome Foundation via CLMP’s “Face Out” grant, and the attention of a growing number of critics and readers.

2008: New interns Will Hubbard, Margarita Delcheva, Joey Calavenna, Isabel Sobral and Lee Norton power the Presse. From Evergreen College, Will Owen and Claire Sammons give generously of their time. Mission “UDP Archive” is launched in the late Spring of 2008: With special volunteer Erin Heath in the lead, a team including Summer intern Kate Gavriel and past interns Lee Norton, Will Hubbard, Margarita Delcheva and Isabel Sobral help assemble and catalog our archives (starting with the Ugly Duckling zine and one-of-a-kind books and ephemera) and start work on a digitized image library (which you can see here). Presse Day team on saturdays includes the resilient Lauren Russell, Margarita Delcheva, Stuart Perry, and Emily Vaughn.

2009: A reinvigorated Board of Directors, with some previous and some new members—Neil Alger, Charles Bernstein, Edwin Frank, Jeremy Sigler, Ariana Smart Truman—meets in January. UDP mentioned on New York Times Style Blog (The Moment) features a mention of UDP’s Full Presse Subscription—what a bargain! Nine months of archiving work comes to completion with the sale of a big collection of UDP books and ephemera to the Bienecke Library at Yale University. Jamie Jones, James Copeland are official Spring interns, and Joey Calavenna and Ben Fama continue to lend a hand. Fabulous summer work with Josie Nash, Ava Lehrer, Anastasia Skoybedo and James LaMarre. August: We confirm the hire of James Copeland as Managing Director. He and Kali Handelman (once an intern, now our bookkeeper) form the core of the UDP staff, assisting the all-volunteer editorial collective (steady at 14 members) with all possible tasks, maintaining the ever-smoother though still hectic operational chaos that is the high-speed motor at the heart of our endeavor. November sees the publication of the first book in the new EMERGENCY Playscripts series—Hello Failure by Kristen Kosmas—and a full-cast reading of the play at the Can Factory. Totals for 2009: More than 20 titles published this year. 27 Partner Bookstores in our network. 187 Full Presse Subscribers.

2010: BIRTH OF NEW UDP WEBSITE: SATURDAY NIGHT, FEBRUARY 20, 2010. Welcome to the new, freshly engineered, Ugly Duckling Presse online experience of the virtual present. Take a look around! March 2010—Artbook@PS1 mount an exhibit that explores the history and productions of UDP, marking approximately 10 years since the original founders met to break a bottle against the prow of a promising little dinghy, now grown into a many-masted sea-worthy vessel.

2012: We move up to the top floor of the building, consolidating our storage space with our workshop, and find ourselves in a natural light space with room to move around. Book production is delayed as we get ourselves situated but we’re back on schedule. The Cellar Series resumed with Will Rahilly as our Producer, and Linda now oversees the scheduling and podcasts. Our Presse Manager, Sarah McCarry, became a published author and moves into the grand sphere. Brett Price is welcomed into the fold as our new Presse Manager.

2013-2014: Too busy making books to update this story … for the moment.