The Alternative Press was an experimental poetry press begun by Ann and Ken Mikolowski in 1969. It was formed as an outgrowth of their experience and interactions with the Detroit Artist’s Workshop. The Alternative Press gathered artist and poet ephemera, and hand-printed them on exqusite paper on a heavy high quality letterpress. The small eclectic works were stuck between sheets of laundry-shirt cardboard stiffener and stuffed into large manila envelopes, often with the content titles stamped on the outside. The postcards, bookmarks, photos, bumper stickers and assorted paper weirdness, was sent through the mail to the Mikolowksi world-wide network of friends, artists and subscribers.

Some of the Alternative Press artist and poet participants included; Allen Ginsberg, Brad Iverson, Tom Clark, Bern Porter, Robert Creely, Gordon Newton, Charles Bukowski, Kofi Natambu, Ed Sanders, John Sinclair, Joe Brainard, Ray Johnson, Chris Tysh, Bradley Jones and many others. It was a poetic mail-art experiment that helped merge the local Cass Corridor scene to a wider national audience. Similar to Wallace Berman’s earlier Semina project, the Alternative press was a package of rare beauty and haiku power. Their tightly edited envelopes overflowed and exploded with a bouquet of color and fine design. Today, they are highly sought after artifacts of the 60s and 70s mail-art network.

The Alternative press became exhausted with Ann’s death in 1999 at the age of 59. A Metro Times article LASTING IMPRESSIONS, recalls memories of the press and its long haitus after Ann’s death, as Ken prepares the final AP issue.

Inspired by the idealism of the 1960s, the Mikolowskis developed The Alternative Press as an inexpensive means of distributing the writings and art of known and yet-to-be-known artists from Detroit’s Cass Corridor art community. By 1971, with printing costs escalating and the cash for materials rapidly diminishing, the Mikolowskis decided on a subscriber mailing that would fund their packets sent in plain manila envelopes, but full of marvelous “stuff.” This experimental, innovative and unpretentious method keeps the simple mission of the Press to “get art to the people.”

In 1996, the U-M Library acquired the archives of the Alternative Press, more than 35 linear feet of material that includes a complete run of the annual packets, examples from each postcard series, all publication by the Press, and all correspondence and business files related to the Press.

“What is remarkable about the archives,” says Kathleen Dow, exhibit curator, “is that we see not only the finished products of the artists’ work, but we see how a poem gets written, a work of art gets created, and how they both get published and distributed. We can see a poem by Gary Snyder as it was first submitted. Next we can see how Ken and Ann printed it in a couple of different ways, and then how Snyder revised the printing, and finally how it appeared in its finished form.” — from the University of Michigan’s ALTERNATIVE PRESS SYMPOSIUM

Two recent exhibits at CCS galleries, focus on Ann Mikolowski’s own powerful small portrait paintings and her large scale naturescapes:

Friday, March 16, 6 – 8 p.m., The College for Creative Studies’ Center Galleries presents:” Ann Mikolowski: Two Ways of Looking in a Mirror” featuring a performance by Johnny Evans (of The Howling Diablos) Through April 28.

Saturday, March 17, 5 – 8 p.m. paulkotulaprojects presents: “Ann Mikolowski: Works on Paper”
Through April 21. Center Galleries’ exhibition, “Ann Mikolowski: Two Ways of Looking in a Mirror,” focuses on two significant series to which the artist devoted
much of her career: the large-scale land and waterscapes and miniature portraits, two completely different but wholly connected bodies of work.

Friday, March 30 at 8:00 p.m.: Center Galleries presents an evening of poetry with readings by ANDREI CODRESCU, CHRIS TYSH, CLAYTON ESHLEMAN, and KEN MIKOLOWSKI.

Thursday, April 5 at 12 Noon: A Gallery Talk on the Ann Mikolowski exhibition at Center Galleries.

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