Romanian immigrant and poet Andrei Codrescu moved to downtown New York in 1966, where he worked at the Eighth Street Bookshop and encountered other writers such as Ted Berrigan, Susan Sontag, and Allen Ginsberg; he later moved to the West Coast, where he lived in a commune with Hibiscus after he left the Cockettes and formed Angels of Light.
Ed Sanders was a new father who needed a steady stream of income—publishing a mimeo literary magazine and fronting the Fugs certainly didn’t pay the bills—and in 1964 he opened the Peace Eye Bookstore on 383 East Tenth Street. It served the East Village in much the same way Paperbook Gallery and Eighth Street Bookshop did Greenwich Village. By this point Sanders was friends with Andy Warhol, who was working on a popular new flower print series that anticipated the “flower power movement three years ahead of its time,” as the Peace Eye proprietor recalled. After Warhol agreed to print flower banners for the grand opening of his store, Sanders bought some colored cloths from one of the many fabric vendors on Orchard Street and carried them to the Factory. Warhol silkscreened red, yellow, and blue banners for the bookstore’s walls—though Sanders certainly didn’t treat them as precious works of art made by a famous artist. He used one banner as a rain cape, which he accidentally left at a deli, and ripped apart another onstage during a frenzied performance with the Fugs. The store’s grand opening attracted Time magazine reporters and even middlebrow celebrity author James Michener, who was dropped off in a limousine in his evening attire. While the occasional famous figure might drop by, Poet Andrei Codrescu described Peace Eye as a neighborhood bookstore for poets, activists, street riffraff, travelers, visionaries, and crazies. “It was a scene,” he said, “because Sanders’s mimeograph machine was right in the middle of the store, and Abbie Hoffman hung out there a lot. It was a hanging-out place for various activists of the age.”
From Chapter 5 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore
Ed Sanders met many interesting and prominent people during this time, but nothing compared to the thrill of befriending Allen Ginsberg, who lived on the Lower East Side. “When I was first exploring New York City in 1958 and 1959,” Sanders enthused, “I never thought in a cycle of centuries that I’d ever become friends with such a hero.” He first met Ginsberg in front of Gem Spa, a newsstand located on St. Mark’s Place that sold chocolate egg creams for a quarter. St. Mark’s Place was a three-block street that terminated on its east side at Avenue A, in front of Tompkins Square Park, and to the west of Second Avenue it turned into East Eighth Street—a major throughway to Greenwich Village. Gem Spa was a popular hangout, where poet Ted Berrigan held court, smoking unfiltered Chesterfields while surrounded by younger poets such as Andrei Codrescu. “It was my first time staying in New York and I’m having a wonderful extraterrestrial floating experience,” Codrescu recalled. “I saw Ted outside Gem Spa, and I just rushed him and said, ‘Ted, I’m on acid!’ And Ted just looked at me and he said, ‘Yeah. I always wondered how it would feel to kill somebody on acid.’ And I just thought it was the greatest, most wonderful thing to say. I just followed him around like a puppy for the rest of the day.” (Berrigan also founded his own mimeographed zine, C: A Journal of Poetry.)
In late 1966, a seventeen-year-old named Richard Meyers arrived in New York, enthralled by the scrappy writers whose work appeared in those poetry zines. “The street poets I liked wanted to have fun and be direct and uninhibited, and their whole thing was mimeo,” said Meyers, who later adopted the name Richard Hell and cofounded the early punk band Television. “It wasn’t just that they were simply done cheaply and spontaneously. You could conceive of a book in the morning and have it at the East Side Bookstore on St. Mark’s Place the next day.” He added, “The mimeo magazines were also gorgeous objects. The people who were making them had really advanced ideas and high personal standards for making a book as effective in every area, including its design. The font was a typewriter, but they had great illustrations.” This nearly instantaneous form of printing strengthened the connections that had already formed through face-to-face encounters on the street, and it anticipated a mode of publishing later enabled by the Internet. “There’s no question that mimeo was a community-building tool, but we weren’t thinking of it that way then,” Andrei Codrescu said. “We were thinking of the fact that we could actually publish our works quickly because, if you sent it to any other magazine, it would take about a year to publish it and we weren’t interested. The mimeos took one ink-stained day and three-hour street-corner distribution. Our poems were news and we had in mimeo the technology to make them news, but I’m not sure the Internet has the same kind of intimacy, even though it’s instant. It doesn’t have the touch of the flesh and ink on the hands.”
“I worked part-time at the Eighth Street Bookshop,” Andrei Codrescu said, “the greatest literary bookstore of all time.” The downstairs room housed the traditional books with spines; poetry mimeos could be found in the store’s second-floor room, which was dedicated to books from smaller publishers, such as Something Else Press. “The Eighth Street Bookshop was pivotal to a young poet in those days,” Ed Sanders recalled. “It was there I monitored little magazines such as Yugen and Kulchur and where I first purchased Allen Ginsberg’s epochal Kaddish and Other Poems.” Eighth Street bustled on the east and west sides of the Village, but the stretch between Fifth and Second Avenues seemed cursed. Odd-ball businesses—such as a French art store that employed both a classical painter and a modern painter, wearing berets—would open and then disappear, though the area came alive around the Eighth Street Bookshop. Another jewel in the downtown’s literary crown was the Paperbook Gallery, on Sixth Avenue around the corner from the Eighth Street Bookshop. Cabaret performer and Off-Off-Broadway music composer Paul Serrato managed the Paperbook, which stayed open until midnight—a practice that encouraged people to socialize. “The area was like the Times Square of the Village,” he said, “In those days, everybody hung out there, and Paperbook Gallery was the epicenter of all the independent publishing.” Frank O’Hara, Ted Joans, Diane di Prima, LeRoi Jones, and others came in to drop off their mimeographed publications, which were displayed on a series of shelves that looked like mail slots.