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Bowery Poetry Club Hosts Tribute to A Pair of Controversial Artist-Innovators, Including an Inventor of Early Television Who "Found" His Poems
Bernard Harden Porter (1911 - 2004) died June 7, 2004. Bern Porter and his protégé Carlo Pittore (Born May 14, 1943) are the subject of a tribute this Sunday October 17, 2004, at 12 Noon at the Bowery Poetry Club. Who else could claim to be an innovator in found poetry and self-publishing, a friend of Gertrude Stein, an early publisher of Henry Miller and the Beat poets, but also worked on the Manhattan Project across the hall from Albert Einstein, and instrumental in the creation of the cathode ray tube in the 1930s, leading to the invention of television? Only Bern Porter, who died with surprisingly little recognition the same week as Ronald Reagan.
Porter's protégé Carlo Pittore, an internationally-known mail artist and self-publisher as well as a painter and gallerist (The Galleria dell'Occhio, East Tenth Street) from the (1980s) days of the East Village art scene, is battling liver cancer in Maine and will also be a subject of the tribute. Pittore was a distinctive voice in the 1980s mail art network and made history for standing up for the rights of artists often, most notably during a controversial exhibition at the Franklin Furnace "Mail Art Then and Now," in which art critic Dr. Ronnie Cohen was taken to task for breaking her own rules for the anything goes, "all work shown" exhibition. Pittore's manifestos and an "Open Letter" caused ripples in New York and around the world. For many years, Pittore championed the work of Porter in his role as a founder of the Maine Visual Artists.
In the late 1930's, Bern Porter worked as a physicist for the Acheson Colloids Company. His work for the New York firm utilized graphite suspended in water to coat the interior walls of a cathode-ray tube so that a beam of electrons was shielded with an opaque electrical conductor. This led directly to the creation of television before World War II.
When the U.S. entered the war, Porter was drafted for uranium separation work on the Manhattan Project with Albert Einstein in the Physics Department at Princeton University, and in Oakridge, Tennessee, a job he quit after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945.
Next, Porter was the one of the very first U.S. publishers of Henry Miller. He published Miller's anti-war tract, Murder the Murderers which Porter called, "an incredible diatribe and, in my view, one of the greatest anti-war satires ever written." Porter actually published it during the war, "outside the gates" of his work at Oakridge. Neither he not Miller originally used their names on the tract. He described some of his difficulties in an interview in the mid 1980s: "It was necessary for me to go through the guard system to the printer almost surreptitiously, owing to the circumstances of the times. Henry could have gone up for treason and I could have lost my job... Besides censorship, in those days there was a shortage of glue, thread, and paper. Some of the books I did were bound in wallpaper."
Porter also actively promoted and published other writers such as Kenneth Patchen, Kenneth Rexroth, Gary Snyder, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Anais Nin under his own imprint Bern Porter Books. He was also an early correspondent with mail art innovator Ray Johnson before the creation of the New York Correspondance (sic) School. As Porter published others, he developed his own art that incorporated found poetry, sound poetry, mail art and performance art among other art forms. Porter remained an advocate of self-publishing throughout his life.
Porter worked again as a physicist on NASA's Saturn V manned space project and while working on the integration of science and art, he formally developed his "Sciart Mainfesto" in 1950. He later founded the Institute for Advanced Thinking in Belfast, Maine, a headquarters for his network of non-academic scholars in various arts where he welcomed visitors from around the world. Among other things, the Institute had a controversial Wilhelm Reich Orgone Accumulator on the premises.
Porter spent the rest of his life travelling around the world, creating poetry from found texts and sending it off into the mail art network and beyond. His work was recently included in a boxed CD set by the band Wilco. Some of Porter's books include: Bern! Porter! Interview!, Found poems, The Book of Do's, The Manhattan Phone Book, a visual satire of the New York phone book, The Wastemaker, 1926-1961,Gee-Whizzels, Where to Go/What to Do/When in New York/Week of June 17, 1972, a visual alteration of a weekly entertainment guide, Art Productions, a catalog of Porter's artistic output from 1928 to 1954, Bern, an autobiography, What Henry Miller Said and Why It is So Important, The Last Acts of Saint Fuck You, an anarcho-liberationist wall-poster.
Two interviews with Porter and an article on Carlo Pittore appear at http://www.panmodern.com. Porter's official website can be found at http://www.mainepoetry.com/bern.html
Bern Porter titles available from The Dog Ear Press, P.O. Box 155, Hulls Cove, Maine 04644 &/or The Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, P.O. Box 143, So, Harpswell, Maine 04079.
For additional information on this event, contact: Mark Bloch 212 982 8454 firstname.lastname@example.org or Bob Holman at the Bowery Poetry Club 212-614-0505.
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