Artists Worksheet 1965

The Worksheet was initiated as our first public written means of communication in February of 1965, after the Workshop had been in operation for three months, presenting concerts and readings every Sunday afternoon in the original building on West Forest in Detroit. We thought to create a printed context for work that was being read (and written) in the workshop situation, so the people who came to the readings could SEE what was being done as well as hear it, and so the poets and writers could present work that would supplement their readings and, hopefully, illuminate them. But to understand the context we wanted and needed so desperately to create here, some of the history of the Workshop should be given.


When the sixteen people whose names are affixed to the “manifesto” printed in this collection got together at my apartment in the late summer of 1964 to “do something about Detroit,” we were literally on our own. Tysh, Eichele, Semark and myself had been writing “seriously” (i.e., taking ourselves seriously as poets) for only a short time, and our talks with each other had been so exciting for us that we wanted to make that activity available to other people – especially younger writers – who might have been working as we had been prior to our meeting with each other: in a vacuum. Since there was no leadership in the city, and no one had been able to find who was even aware of the existence of what we had found to be “projective verse” (reading Olson’s essay, even at that late date, had completely blown our minds, and we took it quite seriously as our single dogma to one degree or another), we wanted to get the news of what we had “discovered” to as many people as possible in what we hoped would be our community. The spirit of love and friendship that informs the “manifesto” was a very real force at that time, and happily has continued to be a force in our development, and we were very much concerned at the beginning with turning people on, making them aware of new possibility for self-expression, and sharing ourselves in whatever ways we could.


We were so naive, though, and the writings that made up the Worksheet are very precise to that weird innocence we had. Reading this work over now is an embarrassing experience for me, and I find it really hard to believe that we were in fact that totally naïve, such a short time ago, like, did I really say that? Wow!! Etc. But it was our truth then, and that’s finally what makes this collection exciting for me now, I mean we really did say those things, and said them with the authority of our tremendous innocence. Yes. I had to give these writings to my brother to type up, I was that concerned that I might change them irrevocably in the interest of “better writing” or whatever – and what I was really concerned with was that people could see the actual work itself, as it came out of the Workshop at that time, to get a sense of where we started from and how far we were able to come just through the context of the Workshop.


The beautiful thing about the whole “movement” here in Detroit is that we all started equally – we were quite literally “nowhere,” and we have somehow been able to make a very precise place for ourselves in this city, solely, through our own efforts, making all the “mistakes” we had to make, taking all the chances we didn’t even know were chances, etc. The work that we’ve done in and through the Artists Workshop has formed us, and in the process we have formed it – which is just as it should always be. My own life has been inextricably bound to the life of the Workshop – for example, I gave my first public reading the day the Workshop opened, on the 1st of November 1964; I typed my first stencil when we printed up the “manifesto,” my first real publications were in the Workshop and later in WORK, I learned “how to write poetry” through private and public talks with Tysh, Eichele, Semark, and the younger people who became part of the Workshop, etc. It can’t be clearer than that.


As I said above, we took Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse” essay quite literally as our doctrine, and the New American Poetry anthology was our bible, for better or for worse. Along with our regular Sunday afternoon readings, we instituted a series of Friday night readings “from the New American Poetry” and tried to give our fellows a sense of the “national community of artists” we felt. But there was always the concern too that each of us develop his own line, his own poetry, as precise to our own senses of our selves as we could make it, I mean we did read Olson that closely and were not at all concerned with creating a “Detroit school” or whatever. The work in this collection, and the books we’ve published, I think bear witness to the diversity there existed in our group.


Of course, the Worksheet never realized the possibilities we felt it had, and I kept it going only as long as I felt it was successful in that term. But what remains is what remains, finally, and here it is. I’m happy that we are still here and still together enough to be able to present this collection, if more as a historical document than anything else really. My only regret is that you can’t hear the MUSIC that went on in those days – the Detroit Contemporary 4 and 5, Pierre Rochon’s workshop Art Quartet, and the historic Workshop Music Ensemble organized by Jim Semark and Lyman Woodard. It was, and still is, our constant inspiration – we started to breathe with and from that music. I hope you will be able to use it.


– John Sinclair, “Introduction to the Artists Worksheet”, 9 February 1967, (The Collected Artists Worksheet 1965, Artists Workshop Press, Detroit, 1967).