Poet Mary Norbert Korte, who died last November at age 88, was known as a beatnik nun who left the Dominican Order to join San Francisco’s poetry scene, and as an off-grid eco-warrior who preserved more than 400 acres of old-growth redwood forest in Mendocino County, Calif. Though Korte operated under the mainstream radar, she won counterculture literary admirers. In Jumping into the American River: New and Selected Poems, Vol. 1, due out June 1 from Argos Books and TKS Books, coeditors Iris Cushing and Jason Weiss reintroduce Korte’s place-based poetry and her remarkable life in Northern California.

Cushing started indie publisher Argos Books in 2010 and continues to operate it with cofounder and translator Elizabeth Clark Wessel. Argos publishes two books of poetry, works in translation, or hybrid genre books per year and is distributed by Small Press Distribution. Cushing discovered Korte while working on her PhD in literature at CUNY and collaborating with Ammiel Alcalay, founder of the archival chapbook series Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative.

Alcalay had discovered handwritten response poems by Korte in an archived copy of poet Michael McClure’s Ghost Tantras. Korte gave these poems to McClure in 1968, the year she left the sisterhood. She was then 34 and had been a nun since 1951. She’d experienced a new kind of spiritual conversion at the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference, which inspired her to join the literary scene of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Spicer, and Diane di Prima.

Cushing, already studying di Prima, “ended up reading through all of Korte’s archives at the University of Rochester,” she said. “I decided that she would be one of the people I wrote my dissertation about. I’m from Northern California, and I love the literary history and folklore” of the area. She published a pamphlet on Korte, The First Books of David Henderson and Mary Korte: A Research, in 2020.

Mary Catherine Kinniburgh, one of Cushing’s fellow CUNY graduate students and the publisher of TKS Books (distributed by literary indie publisher Granary Books), turned the Ghost Tantras poems into a publication for Lost & Found.

Cushing and Kinniburgh met Korte for the first time in 2017, said Cushing, who wrote about the experience in a small-press publication, Into the Long Long Time: How Mary Norbert Korte Saved the Redwoods, in 2019. The visit to Korte’s cabin led to conversations about poetry and clashes between eco-activists and logging companies in the remote forests around Willits, Calif.; while writing her contemplative poetry, Korte worked with environmentalist Judi Bari and the Earth First! movement to protect old-growth forests.

“We got to be very dear friends,” Cushing said, and “between 2017 and 2022 I went there probably half a dozen times. She had a really cool handful of friends who lived on the land with her and who took care of her in the last years of her life. In her poetry, she captured a sense of place beautifully.”

“Korte is the genuine deal,” Kinniburgh agreed. “She had extraordinary presence in person, and I wanted to be near it.”

Cushing set herself a goal of reviving Korte’s work while the aging poet could see the effort and perhaps the finished product. She and Weiss, who’d met Korte in 1970, pitched the book to a few presses, but “it just wasn’t a fit.”

That is when Cushing decided she should publish the book. “I just had this moment where I was like, Why do I have a press if not to make things like this happen?” she remembered. “I called Mary Catherine and said, ‘We should publish Korte’s selected poems as a collaboration with our publishing projects.’ ”

“Iris and I both felt strongly about the importance of sharing Korte’s work,” Kinniburgh said. “So we pooled our publishing resources to get it done and both contributed financially. While Iris took the lead on editorial and project management, I designed the cover and consulted with her on design and production.”

Last November, Korte called Cushing to see how Jumping into the American River was coming along. “She was a lifelong chain smoker, and when she quit smoking, it sent her body into total turmoil,” Cushing said. “She called me from the hospital and said, ‘Things aren’t looking good. Do you think that book is going to come out in the next couple of weeks?’ ”

Cushing admitted it wouldn’t be done for a couple of months. But she felt grateful to say that the book was underway, its title borrowed from Korte’s 1977 poem about making a leap of faith.