on dreamers waken or die
only the sky
is open to you now
or you may
never know —Katie McDonald, Bardo Matrix broadside circa mid-1970s
The Bardo Matrix Press was founded in Kathmandu in the early 1970s by original Velvet Underground drummer, artist, and poet Angus MacLise and poet, photographer, and publisher Ira Cohen as a publishing outgrowth of the Colorado artists’ collective of the same name. MacLise and Cohen commenced to issue pamphlets, booklets, posters, books, and broadsides by not only themselves and their fellow travellers, but also by some of the most important names of post-war literature: Paul Bowles, Gregory Corso, Diane Di Prima, and Charles Henri Ford were among the chosen.
The publications were printed in editions of anywhere from a couple of dozen to a few hundred, usually utilizing fine printing techniques such as wood blocks, letterpress, special inks, and handmade paper. But this was not based on traditional thoughts on fine printing, but rather on the opportunity to create something cheap and beautiful. There was a built-in audience for these publications on “Freak Street” in Kathmandu, where people in the circle of Bardo Matrix operated a small bookshop which did decent business selling wood-block printed headshop posters alongside poetry broadsides, these publications, as well as second-hand English language paperback books.
After the 1979 death of Angus MacLise, the activity of the Bardo Matrix Press quietly faded out. Ira Cohen returned to New York City where he was a highly visible member of the poetic demimonde until his passing in 2011, shortly after he had helped stage an exhibition on the life and work of Angus MacLise.
The Ira Cohen Archive was acquired by Yale University in 2011.
The Angus MacLise Archive was acquired by Columbia University in 2013.
This exhibition is a comprehensive gathering of Bardo Matrix materials and is on public display from March 26th through May 24th on the second floor of the Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, between Madison and Park Avenues in New York City. Grolier member and exhibit curator Johan Kugelberg is giving a talk on the Bardo Matrix Press on April 4th.
Angus had always been interested in innovative printing, and working with Piero Heliczer on the Dead Language Press making unique books from treebark or fashioning long horizontal hand-made books after the Tibetan or Indian style. It was Angus who, working with local craftsmen and woodblock artists, really began the great rice paper adventure for us. —Ira Cohen (1935-2011)