Aloes Books: Senate House Library’s Pamphlet Collections, Part 2

This is the second in what I hope will be a series of blog posts highlighting works from Senate House Library’s (SHL) literary pamphlet collections. What I find fascinating about this collection is the variety of imprints held within it; whilst publishers are not usually represented in the entirety of their output, a wide span of presses is reflected providing researchers with a broad overview of a world of enthusiastic self-publishing and small press printing.

One of the imprints represented among the US literary pamphlets is Aloes Books, a London press formed by Jim Pennington, Richard Miller and Allen Fisher as the ‘60s evolved into the ‘70s. An absorbing and in-depth article on the founding of Aloes Books and its influences from within the alternative press, bookselling and political scene of the era can be found on Ink Monkey (2013?) so I won’t cover that ground here. Instead, this post considers the specific Aloes pamphlets held at SHL, and a recent serendipitous encounter that demonstrates the continued relevance of these works.

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Aloes Books logo

Two of the Aloes pamphlets held at SHL are editions of short stories written by Thomas Pynchon: ‘Mortality and Mercy in Vienna’ and ‘Low-Lands’. The provenance of the Aloes Pynchons (of which there are two additional titles: ‘Secret Integration’ and ‘Small Rain’), and their possible influence on the publication of Pynchon’s collection of early stories ‘Slow Learner’, is also well-documented, this time in an article by Florina Kostulias Jenkins (s.d.).

What these pamphlets emphatically show is that, by printing primarily for love not commerce, small presses can have an important role in the safeguarding of literary works, and in promoting their accessibility. Until ‘Slow Learner’ appeared in 1984, the Aloes texts had been the only means of reading these particular stories unless you were fortunate enough to trace the specific magazine issues in which they were originally published in the 1950s / 1960s. Indeed, one of the stories, ‘Mortality and Mercy in Vienna’, is still only available via the Aloes pamphlet, unless you can locate the Spring 1959, Vol IX, No.4 issue of Epoch (Jenkins, s.d.), a tricky proposition in the UK as even today a quick search on COPAC shows only 3 holding libraries.

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'Low-Lands' by Thomas Pynchon, Aloes Books

Also located in SHL is the Aloes pamphlet ‘Snack…’, consisting of two tape transcripts, one by Eric Mottram for the BBC in defence of William Burroughs’ work, and the second of a meeting between Mottram, Burroughs and Jim Pennington in Burroughs’s flat, over a snack lunch of sandwiches, wine and milk. Of the Aloes pamphlets we hold, this one most exemplifies to me the value of such printing endeavours. As Jim Pennington’s introduction states, the pamphlet includes passages of Burroughs reading his works which were not published elsewhere and which, thanks to the BBC’s then policy of tape erasure, were at potential risk of disappearance if it were not for this print exposure.

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'Snack' by Eric Mottram and William Burroughs, Aloes Books

The final two Aloes works held in SHL are both written by Mottram, which is perhaps unsurprising given his status as a literary scholar and academic within the University of London and co-founder of its Institute of United States Studies, the collection of which was moved to SHL in 1992 (MASC25, 2008). What is curious about these final two pamphlets is the differing locations they have been accorded. The copy of ‘Paul Bowles: Staticity & Terror’, a piece of literary criticism, is in the US Studies and is borrowable (as are the other Aloes pamphlets already mentioned; the Burroughs in particular has a very healthy date label reflecting use from its accession to now). On the other hand Mottram’s own poetry volume, ‘The He Expression’, has been granted rare book status and is located within the Library’s Special Collections.

As a librarian working with the pamphlet collection today, finding interesting leads and curiosities as I go, I am attempting to understand its genesis with few clues, and many questions: how were the pamphlets acquired? How were they located, and by whom? Who decided in which collection they would be held? Whilst at this distance I inevitably have more questions than answers, there is one aspect of which I am certain and that is the continued significance of printed small press works and the collections holding them.

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'Mortality and Mercy in Vienna' by Thomas Pynchon, Aloes Books

Whilst I was planning this post, excited to find a handful of Aloes works in the collections, I received a message from artist and writer Alexander Adams with details of his latest work ‘London, Winter’, an extract of a novel concerning his time as a student at Goldsmiths. In addition to the work’s relevant subject links to the University of London my attention was caught by the publisher’s name: Aloes Books. Alexander was able to confirm it is indeed the same Aloes Books and kindly put me in touch with Jim Pennington, a London printer still. Since then, Jim has generously donated the remaining two Aloes Pynchon pamphlets to the SHL collections, whilst we are purchasing ‘London, Winter’ and another new Aloes pamphlet by David Wojnarowicz.

Jim has been generous in other ways, providing information and tales on his printing process, his love/hate of the Gestetner, and what recently led him back into the world of small press publishing. Whilst discussing the latter, especially in the context of the current boom in small presses, Jim mentioned “…I think it’s the physical connection to the word – typing/scribing/inking/running to the paper – is what is connecting…and totally engaging too when compared to the blank electrical interface of screen to screen communications” (Pennington, 2017). As I continue to browse the SHL literary pamphlet collections, unearthing gems like the Aloes Books publications, I can only concur with his sentiments.

Bibliography:

Aloes Books. [Online]. [Accessed 18 May 2017]. Available from Aloes Books.

Burroughs, W., Mottram, E. (1975) Snack. London: Aloes Books.

Ink Monkey [2013?] Licking up the fun: Jim Pennington & Aloes Books. [Accessed 18 May 2017]. Available from Ink Monkey Books.

Jenkins, F.K. [s.d.] An enquiry into the nature: Aloes Books and the Pynchon “piracies”. [London}: Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. [Accessed 18 May 2017]. Available from the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association.

Mottram, E. (1976) Paul Bowles: staticity & terror. London: Aloes Books.

Mottram, E. (1973) The he expression. London: Aloes Books.

Pennington, J. (2017) Email to Leila Kassir, 10 May.

Pynchon, T. (1978) Low-lands. London: Aloes Books.

Pynchon, T. [1976] Mortality and mercy in Vienna. London: Aloes Books.

MASC25 (2008) United States Collection [London]: MASC25. [Accessed 18 May 2017] Available via MASC25.