I was walking down the main street of the middle block of Point Reyes Station in the fall of 1969, open to any suggestions, mine or otherwise. I’d finished work for my master’s degree in creative writing at San Francisco State in 1968 and been accepted into the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa on the basis of my fiction to work towards my doctorate beginning that fall. But my life changed and that plan was put on hold. In the interim I was working as a teletype operator at RCA out by Abbotts Lagoon and living with a co-worker in one of the six homes on stilts on the backside of Millerton Point. They were all burned down one day, in accord with a California State Park mandate, and I remember watching the inferno standing with a large group in the parking lot next to the Inverness Store.
I saw an empty storefront (now occupied by Zuma) in Point Reyes between the Bank of America and Fred Rodoni’s insurance office that had the letters “Captain’s Sea Chest” faded and peeling on the front window. I looked inside and saw that it was no longer a viable business and in bad need of repair. I decided to open a bookstore. It had been a dream since I first came to San Francisco from the east coast in 1961, lured by the Beat movement and my love of jazz. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was a primary role model.
Point Reyes Station at that time was comparatively empty and desolate, with few visitors and only some basic businesses. A bookstore seemed improbable but fun, and it was. One day in 1970 or 1971, I looked up and there was Robert Bly, one of my great heroes. His first book, “Silence in the Snowy Fields,” was followed by “The Light Around the Body,” published in 1968, which won the National Book Award in poetry. Another book that came out during that time was The Teeth Mother Naked at Last. These books influenced me greatly, as did his magazine The Fifties, followed by The Sixties, publishing the work of many other poets, American and international.
He was wearing a cape and had a big shock of white hair. He loved the bookstore. One entire wall was drama and theater. Another was all poetry. I had gathered a remarkable inventory from many people who were divesting themselves of their material possessions, including two complete, well-stocked personal libraries. He was suitably impressed and we began our conversations, which spanned the next year or so. He was taking a one-year, self-appointed sabbatical from his vehement protest against the war in Vietnam and living in Inverness.
As with most writers, Robert wrote every day. He was enchanted with Point Reyes and had a good friend in Dr. Michael Whitt, who thoroughly enjoyed showing Robert around, even taking him out to the Farallones. While in Inverness, Robert wrote a series of prose poems concerning his impressions of the land and sea. As he finished each one, he took it to the Point Reyes Light, which then published it. Subsequently, these poems were collected in a book published by Mudra Press of Half Moon Bay in 1974. The cover illustration was by Arthur Okamura of Bolinas. Some years after this collection went out of print, Robert asked me if I would like to publish them in a new edition, and I was glad to do so. I’d started Floating Island Publications in 1976. Robert had generously given me work for the Floating Island anthologies, and the first edition of “Point Reyes Poems” under my imprint came out in 1989, with a fine introduction by Dr. Whitt. I had 2,000 copies printed with a cover illustration by David Lubin, hand-gathered and bound with needle and thread.
In 1991, I brought Robert to read all of his Point Reyes poems, in addition to other work, at the Dance Palace. It sold out quickly, was a huge success, and captured on film. Robert was at the height of his Iron John fame, central to the Men’s Movement, and there were as many people outside the Dance Palace as there were within. More, perhaps. Some enterprising attendees gained admission using counterfeit tickets.
In 1993, I published another 4,000 copies in two printings, with a cover by Gary Smith, all of them hand-sewn as before, which has since sold out. This new edition of Point Reyes Poems will consist of 2,000 copies in the same format but with a new design, using my photographs from Kehoe and McClure’s beaches. It will be my 54th title under the Floating Island imprint. I’ve also published “Ten Poems by Issa,” translated by Robert Bly and illustrated by Arthur Okamura. My next title, now in process, will be a reprint of “Basho,” also translated by Robert Bly, first published by Clifford Burke at Cranium Press in 1971, with the original illustrations by Mr. Okamura. This will complete the three books we wished to do together.
The new printing of “Point Reyes Poems” will be sold around the Bay Area, including at Point Reyes Books and the bookstores of the Point Reyes National Seashore and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Michael Sykes lived in Inverness for 27 years, from 1967 to 1994. He then moved to Cedarville in the far northeastern corner of California on the edge of the Great Basin Desert, where he started his seventh bookstore over the past 46 years, and continues his publishing endeavors.