Brautigan > Please Plant This Book

This node of the American Dust website (formerly Brautigan Bibliography and Archive) provides comprehensive information about Richard Brautigan's poetry collection Please Plant This Book. Published in 1968, this collection of eight poems printed on seed packets placed in a folder was Brautigan's sixth published poetry book. Publication and background information is provided, along with reviews, many with full text. Use the menu tabs below to learn more.

Publication

Publication information regarding first and other editions of Richard Brautigan's poetry collection Please Plant This Book.

First USA Edition

1968
Santa Barbara, California: Graham Mackintosh
Limited Edition: 1,500-5,000 copies; all for free distribution
Folder (7" x 6.25" closed) containing eight seed packets.
Two flaps inside the folder held the eight seed packets (four of flowers, four of vegetables).
The front of each packet was printed with a poem titled for the type of seeds contained in that packet. Planting instructions were printed on the back, the same for all eight packets.
Printed in sepia ink by Graham Mackintosh

Covers

Folder front cover photographs of Caledonia Jahrmarkt by Bill Brach, a Haight-Ashbury photographer.
Back cover provided printing information.

Other Editions

Buffalo, New York: Undercurrent in cooperation with New Student Review. 1970
Limited Edition: 2,000 copies; all for free distribution
Printed by Tarot Press, Inc. in cooperation with Multi-Media, Inc.

In Spring 1970, the two literary magazines at The State University of New York Buffalo, Undercurrent and New Student Review pooled their budgets to print a facsimile edition of 2,000 copies.

Additions to the original include local printing information on the back cover, and the line "Buffalo, N. Y. / Free" on the left folder flap. The "San Francisco / Free" of the original was moved to the right folder flap. The eight seed packets contained the same seeds as in the first edition, but all planting instructions were printed on a separate sheet and laid into the folder. Printed at the top of this separate sheet is the line "This issue of UNDERCURRENTS is printed in memory of Jacob Titelbaum". The bottom of the same sheet reads "PACKED FOR THE 1970-1971 SEASON".

Feedback from Paul Tenser

"I was a 7th grade science teacher in 1968-1969 and had encountered and loved Brautigan's Trout Fishing in America. I went to San Francisco/Berkeley that summer (1969). That was the summer of Charles Manson/the first man on the moon/Woodstock/Mescaline/ya hoo! When I asked at the bookstore if they had any Brautigan they showed me a copy of Please Plant This Book. When I asked how much, they responded $5.00. I said, "But, but, it's supposed to be given away free" and they said $5.00.

"When I returned to Buffalo I showed the book to friends who published the campus (State Universitiy of New York at Buffalo) literary magazine (called New Student Review). They decided to publish 2000 copies of Please Plant This Book as the Spring 1970 edition of the literature review using University funding for all aspects of publication. I spoke to Brautigan (at a reading in Buffalo) to see if we could make any changes in the layout or the seeds. We thought it would easier to print if we could use different photographs on the front cover and different seeds. Brautigan said no.

"My job was to find a source of bulk untreated seeds—not so easy in 1969, and in several nightlong sessions we printed and filled the seed envelopes and assembled all 2000 copies of the book.

"After everyone involved took some copies I went to the Student Union one spring day at lunchtime. I set up a table and started yelling "Free Books. Free Books." Some people were immediately attracted but many of the staff personel looked questioningly at me when they first went into the cafeteria. They might have thought I was handing out pornography or left wing radical political material. But, after having seen what some of their friends had gotten they mobbed the table on the way out. "Please, for my grandchildren, for my neighbors." One minister wanted (and got) 40 copies for his congregation. Within two hours all copies were gone. It was one of the best days of my life."
— Paul Tenser. Email to John F. Barber, 17 August 2009.

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Background

First published in March 1968, Please Plant This Book, a collection of eight poems printed on eight seed packets placed in a folder, was Brautigan's fourth collection of poetry, his sixth published poetry book.

A limited edition (exact number unknown; reports suggest 1,500-5,000 copies; Brautigan stated 5,000 in his 1968 application for a Guggenheim Fellowship) was published, all for free distribution. This was Brautigan's last independent publishing venture.

Inspiration

One possible source of inspiration for the concept and design for this project was the work of beat visual artist Wallace Berman and his magazine Semina, a free-form art and poetry journal that Berman published between 1955 and 1964. Each of the nine issues was printed on a handpress and then hand-assembled by Berman who glued artwork, photographs, small poems and other items inside. Sometimes the enclosed items were loose, laid in between the magazine's pages, or tucked into inside pockets without prescribed order or sequence. Each issue was extremely limited, a few hundred copies, ephemeral although focused on a loose theme, personal, and distributed mostly via the U.S. Mail to a very select group of recipients who were often the contributors as well. As a literary journal, each issue of Semina was a loosely assembled compendium of the most interesting artists and poets of the time, staking out a new cultural context for the evolving literature and art counterculture. See Semina Culture: Wallace Berman & His Circle. Eds. Michael Duncan and Kristine McKenna. New York: Distributed Art Producers/Santa Monica Museum of Art, 2005. ISBN 193-3045-108.

Another possible inspiration was the Festival of Growing Things, a rock concert held at Mount Tamalpais Outdoor Theater on Saturday and Sunday 1-2 July 1967, 11:30 AM-6:00 PM, featuring many all the major San Francisco bands of the time. Charles Perry says, "free packets of flower seeds were given to all who attended" ( 215), but the promotional poster for the event says simply "Free Seeds." From the background illustration of the poster, one could assume the "free seeds" were marijuana.

A newspaper advertisement, like the event poster, listed the bands scheduled to perform. The Saturday line-up included: Quicksilver Messenger Service, Steve Miller Band, Blue Cheer, Sandy Bull, Hugh Masekela, Congress of Wonders, Charlatans, Ace of Cups, Wildflower, and Mt. Rushmore. Sunday's line-up included: Big Brother and The Holding Company, County Joe and The Fish, Sandy Bull, Congress of Wonders, Charlatans, Wildflower, Mt. Rushmore, Ace of Cups, and The Phoenix.

According to William Hjortsberg, the "genesis" of the idea for poetry printed on seed packets came from conversations with Jack and Vicki Shoemaker about producing an "edible book" or a "disposable book" for the upcoming, Digger-inspired Pacific Coast Free Thing, 3 June 1967. The idea was too complicated to complete before the festival, but Brautigan apparently hung on to the idea (William Hjortsberg 316).

Date of Publication

Reportedly, the first copies of Please Plant This Book were to be given away on 20 March 1968, at the First Day of Spring Celebration in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. As Sandy Darlington notes in the 21 March 1968 issue of San Francisco Express Times, "Richard Brautigan is bringing out a book called Please Plant This Book. He's having seed packets printed up with a poem on one side and directions for planting the contents on the other. There will be eight packets, with eight poems and eight different kinds of seeds, four flowers and four vegetables. The packets will be inside a folder. Read the poems and then plant the seeds.

"Recently he spent an afternoon in a seed store in Daly City selecting seeds. They had to be easy to plant and growable anywhere in Northern California. That ruled out the Firecracker Zinnia. Richard had a poem all ready for it, but the seed man said it wouldn't grow in San Francisco. So he substituted Calendula.

"Graham Mackintosh is printing up the folder-poems-book. Richard and his friends are going to package the seeds by hand and then give the book away for free, starting on March 20th at the First Day of Spring Celebration in Golden Gate Park. He only bought a few pounds of seeds, sixteen to be exact, but they're small and the total number of them comes to over five million. You must have a lot of ground to cover said the seed man" (Darlington, Sandy. "Please Plant This Page." San Francisco Express Times, vol. 1, no. 9, 21 March 1968, p. 5).

Darlington profiles Brautigan's Please Plant This Book, using it as an example of how authors release books to their readers. The article features a photograph by Bob Siedemann of Brautigan sitting in a wicker chair. READ this profile.

Funding for Printing

Reports differ regarding who paid for the printing of Please Plant This Book. William Hjortsberg says Brautigan raised money from Jack Shoemaker, owner of the Unicorn Book Shop, 905 Embarcadero del Norte, Isla Vista, California, and received a donation from the band Mad River (William Hjortsberg 328).

Richie Unterberger, author of numerous music books and reviews, says members of the band Mad River, "mindful of Brautigan's kindness when they were starving, had used some of their Capitol [Records] advance [against royalties from their third album "Paradise Bar and Grill"]" to pay for the printing of this book.

David Biasottti, biographer for Mad River, says while some band members do not remember, others feel they used a portion of their revenues from their first successful record album to finance the printing of Please Plant This Book, and helped glue the folders together. ("Just Like a Poem: Richard Brautigan and Mad River." Richard Brautigan: Essays on the Writings and Life. 2006, pp. 48-61). READ this profile.

Sources within the Diggers who wish to remain anonymous say the Diggers financed the printing of Please Plant This Book, helped put it together, and helped distribute copies. One Digger recalls distributing copies at local fire stations.

Production

The folder and seed packets were printed by Graham Mackintosh who noted this book as one of the two most imaginative he ever printed. "By imaginative I mean, really, fitting the subject matter, the word, with the format. Like using a good heavy book on marriage techniques to press a wedding flower, or to conceal pornography. With the Brautigan book, poems were printed on actual seed packages and these were then worked into a book. But the essential thing was that the seeds were real—that is, if you planted Shasta daisies you got back Shasta daisies and not carrots—and one had only to plant this book" (Alastair Johnston 89).

Mackintosh included Please Plant This Book as one of seven of "special interest" in a show titled "Fifty Years of Printing by Graham Mackintosh" held at the San Francisco Public Library during August 1968 (Johnston 57-59).

Given Brautigan's interest in the presentation of his work in print it seems likely that he had some specific order in mind for the seed packets. There is, however, no definitive information about what that order was to be.

Brautigan created a model of the folder and its seed packet contents using poster board. He illustrated the cover with a crayon drawing of a black horse surrounded by carrots and flowers and bursts of red, yellow, and green. He wrote his name and the title on the cover. On the back, he wrote, "This Book is FREE." He created models for the seed packets from 3" x 5" pieces of paper, typing the eight poems on one side, the planting instructions on the other.

Assembly

Copies of the book were assembled at Mackintosh's printing shop, Jack Shoemaker's house in Isla Vista, California, and at Kendrick Rand's San Francisco apartment. Members of the band Mad River helped assemble the book s payback from Brautigan's help assembling their first record album, released in the fall of 1967.

One Digger, recalls coalating the book. "I was a Digger and was friends with Richard and helped collate Plant This Book outdoors on a nice day. I've never seen it refered to and have always wondered if anyone remembered it. I loved it.
— Anonymous, email to John F. Barber, 17 February 2007.

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Contents

Richard Brautigan's Please Plant This Book consisted of eight poems printed on seed packets. Four of the poems were about flowers. The other four were about vegetables.

Text on back of each seed packet read
Packed for 1968-1969 season
California Native Flowers:
Plant seed directly in the open where plants are to remain in well prepared soil after all danger of frost is past. In frost-free districts seeds may be planted in the fall. Mix seed with several times its bulk of fine soil and sew broadcast, preferably in an open sunny location. Cover any exposed seed very lightly, not over 1/8 inch and press soil down firmly. When plants are well established thin out to stand 6 inches apart as crowding produces inferior plants. Keep ground moist with fine spray until plants are well up. If allowed to remain, the plants will reseed year after year.

All poems first published in this collection. Any particular order for the seed packets in unknown.

California Native Flowers

In this spring of 1968 with the last
third of the Twentieth Century
traveling like a dream toward its
end, it is the time to plant books,
to pass them into the ground, so that
flowers and vegetables may grow
from these pages.

Reprinted
San Francisco Express Times, vol. 1, no. 921, Mar. 1968, p. 1.
Published weekly from 24 January 1968 (vol. 1, no. 1) to 24 December 1968 (vol. 1, no. 49) as San Francisco Express Times. Continued after as Good Times. Published at 15 Lafayette Street, San Francisco by the Trystero Company. Printed by Waller Press. Associated with the article "Please Plant This Page" in which Sandy Darlington profiles Brautigan's Please Plant This Book, using it as an example of how authors release books to their readers. See "Background" menu tab.

Shasta Daisy

I pray that in thirty-two years
passing that flowers and vegetables
will water the Twenty-First Cent-
ury with their voices telling that
they were once a book turned by
loving hands into life.

Calendula

My friends worry and they tell me
About it. They talk of the world
ending, of darkness and disaster.
I always listen gently, and then
say: No, it's not going to end. This
is only the beginning, as this book
is only a beginning.

Sweet Alyssum Royal Carpet

I've decided to live in a world where
books are changed into thousands
of gardens with children playing
in the gardens and learning the gen-
tle ways of green growing things.

Parsley

I thank the energy, the gods and the
theater of history that brought
us here to this very moment with
this book in our hands, calling
like the future down a green and
starry hill.

Squash

The time is right to mix sentences
sentences with dirt and the sun
with punctuation and the rain with
verbs, and for worms to pass
through question marks, and the
stars to shine down on budding
nouns, and the dew to form on
paragraphs.

Reprinted
San Francisco Express Times, vol. 1, no. 9, 21 Mar. 1968, p. 5.
Published weekly from 24 January 1968 (vol. 1, no. 1) to 24 December 1968 (vol. 1, no. 49) as San Francisco Express Times. Continued after as Good Times. Published at 15 Lafayette Street, San Francisco by the Trystero Company. Printed by Waller Press. Associated with the article "Please Plant This Page" in which Sandy Darlington profiles Brautigan's Please Plant This Book, using it as an example of how authors release books to their readers. See "Background" menu tab.

Carrots

I think the spring of 1968 is a good
time to look into our blood and
see where our hearts are flowing
as these flowers and vegetables
will look into their hearts every day
and see the sun reflecting like a
great mirror their desire to live
and be beautiful.

Lettuce

The only hope we have is our
children and the seeds we give them
and the gardens we plant together.

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