Brett Rutherford ’05, M.A. ’07, wrote science fiction comic books when he was six, 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.
As a student at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, he ran his own underground newspaper while becoming a prize-winning journalist for the school’s above-ground newspaper. Interrupting college in 1967, he wound up reading his poetry in coffee houses in San Francisco 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.
“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 coordinates distance learning at URI’s Feinstein Providence Campus.
In 1971, he founded The Poet’s Press (to publish his own work and the work of some outstanding but neglected New York poets he met and/or discovered. To date, the press has published 201 books, a number of anthologies of poets among them. Only 15 of the books are his.
“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. 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 also a part-time lecturer in URI’s Gender and Women’s Studies Program.
His second imprint, Grim Reaper Book, is overtly Gothic, including books centered on Poe and H.P. Lovecraft: “Supernatural horror is the other side of the coin of science fiction; it’s a joke on the cosmos. Everyone I know who is involved with it does it for fun, whether writing or reading. I have written ‘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.”
He estimates he has hand bound some 30,000 books and chapbooks.
“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 the same. 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.”