Weed/Flower Press Collection

Ref: Special Collection
Title: Weed/Flower Press Collection

Scope: A collection of non-mainstream poetry and chap books
Dates: 1965-1974
Extent: 43 vols

Administrative/biographical history:

Nelson Ball’s Weed/Flower Press
Nelson Ball (b. 1942) is one of Canada’s most respected non-mainstream poets. Since 1985 he has lived in Paris, Ontario, in a building built in 1929 by the Canada Gypsum and Alabastine company as their head office. He relocated there from Toronto with his wife, the painter Barbara Caruso who died in 2009. Their cavernous home (9,000 square feet and bought for a bargain price) was large enough for Caruso to maintain studio space for her oversized canvases, and for Ball to concentrate on his rare and second-hand book-selling business, which specialised in non-mainstream Canadian poetry. In 1972 Ball took a hiatus from writing, which lasted until 1987.

Ball and Caruso were married in 1965 and lived first in the city of Kitchener, in southern Ontario. In 1967 they moved to Toronto and established themselves there at the centre of that city’s emerging avant-garde poetry scene. Nelson founded Weed/Flower Press in 1965 and ran it for nine years publishing not only his own minimalist poetry, but also early works of some of Canada’s finest poets, among them, bill bissett, David McFadden and Victor Coleman, as well as poetry from America and Great Britain by Anselm Hollo, Clayton Eshleman and Carol Bergé. Ball’s own poetry was also published by Seripress, Coach House Press, and CURVD H&z; and, in the twenty-first century, by BookThug, Rubblestone Press, The Mercury Press, fingerprinting inkoperated, above/ground press, Imagist Press, press-press-pull/alabastine press, and many others.

BC with Nelson (jpg, 87KB)

Weed/Flower Press 1 (jpg, 91KB)

During the life of Weed/Flower Press, Nelson Ball produced forty beautifully prepared and executed chapbooks and books. Barbara Caruso was responsible for designing some of the covers (which for that reason enhances their specialness). Caruso’s cover design for Rosemary Eckert’s The Story of Cinderella (1970) won the ‘The Look of Books Award’. Also in 1970 Weed/Flower published bpNichol’s The True Eventual Story of Billy the Kid, one of a collection of four titles for which Nichol received the Governor General’s Award for Poetry for 1970. Weed/Flower published the first Canadian edition of Nichol’s Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer (1973), originally published by Bob Cobbing in London in 1967; and Ball compiled its Coach House Books edition in 2004. Ball also published two poetry journals, Weed (1966–1967) and Hyphid (1967).

Weed/Flower Press 2 (jpg, 38KB) Weed/Flower Press 6 (jpg, 12KB)

Among Weed/Flower’s contemporary small presses that sprang up in Toronto in the 1960s during the mimeograph revolution were bpNichol’s Ganglia Press and grOnk (with David Aylward); bill bissett’s Blewointment Press; and Coach House Press, before it grew into a literary press. One of the fundamental reasons why Nelson founded Weed/Flower was the autonomy that a sole editor enjoyed: the freedom to publish whatever he liked and to go in whatever direction that caught his fancy. His personal objective was to publish interesting new poetry that ‘wasn’t boring’:

I would have been unable to define this at the time, but I avoided mainstream poetry that struck me as too well written, too flawless, too polished. I now recognize that I felt that some of this poetry had had the heart removed from it by its poetic-ness and artifice.

I was interested in the ‘process’ of writing. That’s reflected in my own poems written during the 1960s and in some of what I published by others.1

Weed/Flower Press 4 (jpg, 167KB)

Room of Clocks (1965) was the first of Ball’s own collections that he published under the Weed/Flower imprint. It was printed on a Gestetner; and collated, stapled, and folded by hand with the help of Barbara Caruso, who also designed the cover. There followed collections by Bergé, Hollo, and Eshleman. Eshleman had admired Barbara Caruso’s work and invited her to design a silkscreened cover for his The House of Okumura (1969). Too late was it realised that the cover, designed in full black, became marked and damaged very easily (the copy in the Sheffield collection is quite possibly the only one in existence with an undamaged, mint cover).

One of the standout Weed/Flower publications is the collaboration Points of Attention (1971). Minimalist poems by Ball are balanced by Caruso’s serene silkscreened plates with hand-mixed colours, smaller versions of her much larger Colour Lock canvases; one of the few hardback volumes from the press.

Financial gain was low on the list of expectations for Ball—intentionally so. He enjoyed exchanging his publications for titles from other small presses. Most of the poets he published had appeared in Volume 63 (a journal he had edited, while in his first year at the University of Waterloo, with Steve Buri), and Weed (his journal published under the Weed/Flower imprint). Weed/Flower titles were also available in London, England, through Diana Gravill and Nicholas Rochford’s Compendium Books, and Tony Godwin’s Better Books. Nelson met visiting non-Canadian poets such as Anselm Hollo, Clayton Eshleman, David Rosenberg, draft-dodging poets Joe Nickell and Doug Featherling, Diane Wakoski, and Allen Ginsberg.

Weed/Flower Press 3 (jpg, 26KB)

Weed/Flower Press 8 (jpg, 12KB)

Weed/Flower Press 5 (jpg, 24KB)

1 Nelson Ball, letter to Amanda Bernstein, March 2016.

  • Related collections: Seripress Collection; Small Press Poetry Collection
  • Source: By donation and purchase
  • System of arrangement: Numerical
  • Subjects: Poetry, Chap Books, Experimental poetry, Innovative poetry, Avant-garde poetry
  • Conditions of access: Available to all researchers, by appointment
  • Restrictions: No restrictions
  • Copyright: According to document
  • Finding aids: Listed and catalogued