A Bell, the Beat Imperative, and Omphalos: Two Literary Journals Donated to the Dead Archive

Geoffrey Gronlund, ed. Omphalos, Vol. 3 (Winter 2007). Bridgton, ME: Nine Point Publishing. Saddle-stapled pamphlet, 5-3/8 x 8-3/8 in., 24 pp.

Geoffrey Gronlund, ed. Omphalos, Vol. 11 (Summer/Fall 2010). Bridgton, ME: Nine Point Publishing. Perfect-bound paperback, 5-3/8 x 8-3/8 in., 88 pp. Signed by Stanley Mouse on inside front flyleaf.

Archive supporter Geoff Gronlund visited McHenry Library on August 25 and toured the exhibit, leaving behind a wonderful gift: two issues of a literary journal he edited and published from 2005 to 2012. Entitled Omphalos, the journal adds to the Archive’s holdings of Dead-related literature with a wonderful unpublished short story by Robert Hunter, entitled “Great Bell of the Atlantic,” which appears in Volume 3, and ten illustrations by Stanley Mouse decorating Volume 11, which Stanley signed.

Gronlund is a committed Deadhead and literary fan, dating his love for collecting small press printing and book arts to his discovery of a signed copy of Ken Kesey’s Last Go Round, purchased from an Ithaca, NY, bookstore in 2002. An avid reader of the Beats, Gronlund already credited Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac for much of his literary outlook, and Kesey linked that passion to the extraliterary (and literary) art of the Grateful Dead.

When Gronlund founded Omphalos, he never imagined that he would end up publishing Robert Hunter and Stanley Mouse, but these two volumes are a credit to his vision and perseverance. Mouse fans will be pleased to see how well Stanley’s paintings lend themselves to illustrating the poems in Vol. 11, making the point that the art of the Dead always tapped much deeper cultural wellsprings. (Several of the images are available as posters for sale at Mouse’s website, too.)

Hunter’s story fits in with a number of efforts he has written in recent years reworking his vision of Christian origins and Western myth, a body of work now reminiscent of Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes project. A whimsical but brooding story set in a post-apocalyptic America, “Great Bell of the Atlantic” features some of the famed lyricist’s telltale whimsy and erudition, with semi-comic imagery wrapped with pointed allusions all cloaking some very thoughtful meditations on the human condition:

“Religiosity is the bane not only of government but of religion itself. It was never otherwise and, if the calculations were not erroneous, never could be. Contrary to Yeats, it appears the falcon can see the falconer pretty damn well, in point of fact, but does not care to return to the glove.” (15)

There are a few telltale Dead references throughout, such as “love light” and the bell itself, the central metaphor and subject, although it isn’t until the denouement of the story that the real Dead subtext unfolds, and we’re treated to Hunter’s vision of the Jubilee, which plays such a prominent role in his lyrics for “Sugaree”:

“Religion, law, philosophy, and science are among the means to approach it, but once the Jubilee is attained, they serve no further purpose and are replaced by art, music, baseball, and a whole lot of dancing.” (20)

In Leviticus 25:10, Jubilee is described as a celebration held every fifty years and widely interpreted as a time for forgiving all debts; Hunter’s take provides a whimsical and poignant telling of the metaphor that continues his long-running spelunking of the subterranean crannies of literature and myth that so much of his work has mapped over the years. Some of that he published on his website, others have cropped up as email publications—look for wonderful story cycle Red Sky Fishing especially—and in a variety of small press efforts, like Omphalos. The Archive is grateful to Geoff for thinking of us and bringing this to our attention.

Gronlund’s work as editor and designer is first rate, and the production—especially in Vol. 11—is superb. The color printing makes Mouse’s illustrations come to life, and even the earlier print pages gathered in the center of Vol. 3 are superbly rendered. Sadly, Omphalos has ceased publication, but it leaves behind an impressive legacy and some wonderful work, as seen in these two issues. Two good articles about Gronlund’s bookstore and printing efforts can be found here and here. Many thanks to Geoff for donating these issues to the Archive, and we wish him well with his next ventures.

Nicholas Meriwether
Grateful Dead Archivist