New Exhibit and Opening Lecture | Free Poems and Functional Art

The Special Collections Research Center is pleased to announce the opening of a new exhibit, Free Poems and Functional Art: 50 Years of The Alternative Press. This exhibit, open now through June 2, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the founding of The Alternative Press, an experimental small press publisher in Michigan.

In 1969, Ann and Ken Mikolowski set up a 1904 letterpress in their home and began The Alternative Press. After getting their start printing free broadsides of poetry, they began a series of unusual mailings: envelopes that included an assortment of bookmarks, broadsides, bumper stickers, and postcards. This spin on a literary or arts journal allowed for each mailing to contain a variety of design approaches and encouraged recipients to not just read and enjoy the mailings, but to integrate the works into their daily lives or pass poems along to friends and family.

original postcard reading "Art in Detroit" with an illustration of a running question mark
"Art in Detroit" original postcard, Gordon Newton and Ken Mikolowski (issue 12, 1983)

The Alternative Press showcased work by artists and writers from Detroit’s Cass Corridor, publishing them alongside key voices from the Beat and Black Mountain schools of poetry. The mailings also came to include multiple original postcards, where writers and artists were set loose with 500 blank postcards to use however they liked. The completed cards were sent to subscribers, each getting a one-of-a-kind work of art that might use ink, photography, collage, or even ceramics. The exhibit presents a broad selection of this work, along with correspondence and drafts that provide insight into how the work was made.

postcard reading "One day after another--/perfect/They all fit./Robert Creeley," cut in the middle to insert a pink wavy line
"One day after another" altered original postcard, Donna Brook (issue 9, 1980)

Join us on Friday, March 15 at 4:30pm in Hatcher Gallery for the opening lecture and reception. Press founder and poet Ken Mikolowski will give a short talk about his work, followed by time for questions, discussion, and browsing the exhibit. Light refreshments will be provided.