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By Carol Frome
Itís fair to say that a good number of people wonder why I am starting a press. And when they do, I want to say, because for me, itís a natural course of action. Because itís a long time dream of mine. And because lately, I asked myself, Why am I waiting? And then I realized, itís time.
I have a big entrepreneurial streak, a high tolerance for risk, and I suffer from the same publishing frustrations that most poets do: Who was it that said, Trying to publish poetry in America is like dropping a feather into the Grand Canyon and waiting to hear it hit bottom? For the longest time, I had that quote taped to the wall of my gray cubicle where I busily sold my labors and good intentions for money. Recently, and finally, I arrived at a junction in my life that has allowed me to start a press. Even though Manifold Press wonít be publishing my work, Iíll have the satisfaction of publishing other deserving poets. I wrote to someone, right before I started the press that ďI might only make a pinprick of difference, but for those poets I publish, it will make a world of difference.Ē
My tastes are another thing people are curious about, because obviously, my tastes will inform my publishing decisions. For the record, Iíll say I like accessible work but this does not mean I want superficial. I also like difficulty, and I want both. In other words, I believe someone should be able to read a poem and feel it viscerally, understand what it's getting at on a first level. But the poem should also invite more readings, suggest layers that can be accessed as revelations.
Iím most deeply engaged by lyric poetry, but Iím not completely closed to anything, except mindless rhyming, and I donít want to publish Haiku. I also love long line poems and even prose poems, when theyíre done well. The question for any particular manuscript will concern whether or not I feel enthusiastic enough to spend thousands of the press's money on publishing it and whether or not my entrepreneurial side thinks the author can sell it. A book of poetry that doesnít sell is a book that cannot enhance the life of American poetry. Ideally, I want work that will grab people by their collars and say, You will not forget me.
I think we all have a responsibility to awake and educate our wider audience, the one outside what is now a relatively small circle of people who read contemporary poetry. Ignoring that wider audience is at least quasi-suicidal. But I think some people in letters, too many perhaps, take a blue-blooded approach, and we all know what happens when too many blue-bloods inter-marry: they start birthing hemophiliacs. The next generations are weakened.
I recently read www.drunkenboat.comís Spring, 2000, in which Paul Stephens marks Billy Collinsís work as banal. Whether you agree with him or not, do we really need to worry about it? Will Billy Collins demean poetry? I think not. Poetry is richer and more resilient than one poet. If his work isnít high art, itís not schlock, either, and surely, Collinsís is a voice that can certainly serve as an entrťe to more sophisticated poetry. Without accepting voices like his as part of the range of voices, we are reduced to either/or: either itís Hallmark greeting card stock or itís ďThe Duino Elegies.Ē When I was a teenager drinking in the alley behind my friend's house, I liked Boone's Farm apple wine. Then I liked boxed wines. Now I like Chateauneuf-de-Pape. People's tastes evolve with them, but youíve gotta start somewhere, and Iíd rate Billy Collins even better than boxed wine, so if anyoneís first meaningful encounter with poetry came form Billy Collins, good.
Obviously, Iím glad that Billy Collins has been the Poet Laureate. He helps Manifold Pressís agenda, which is to get more poetry in front of more people who might like it if they knew about the range and wealth of contemporary voices. My plan is to use conventional ads, but more important, a grass-roots approach to marketing the books that Manifold publishes. And if some of those approaches offend--because Iím sure some folks will worry about commercializationóoh, well.
Iím sincerely hoping that someone sends me a collection of very good poems that deal with NASCAR, the fastest growing sport in America. Iíd do my very best to help the poet set up a booth at NASCAR races. And I also want to work with more than one distributor when a particular book could benefit from it. I canít help thinking, why not sell a book of food poems through gourmet food shops? So, Iíll be contracting all books with a distributor like SPD Books which targets the book-buying market, but I think some books might benefit from having a second distributor one that targets a wider number of and more commercial markets.
I admit: it's true that promoting poetry books in this way could possibly lead to a popularization that will encourage a lot more greeting card poetry to be published. But a lot more good poetry will likely be published, too, so we all will benefit from the wider audience. I think that a lot of other people feel the same way, and that they are using the Web find that audience. When I cruise the Web, lately, looking at literary sites and doing my homework, Iím astonished at the variety and quality. This is a very good development for all of us. In all honesty, just two or three years ago, I would not have considered publishing my own work in an electronic journal, but now there are so many good onesóand they often have a lot of people reading themóthat Iím happy to publish online. Obviously other serious poets feel the same way, or there would be no worthwhile material for online journals.
Using Manifold Pressí website, I hope to make an electronic contribution, also, by publishing Manifold Chapbook, a page thatís devoted to rotating the work of worthy poets. This is a free public service to both poets and readers because that way I can give some exposure to more poets, even if I can't physically publish all of them. As far as books go, Iím hoping to publish about four books a year, after the first book comes out. Ideally, Iíd love to publish as many books as there are fabulous manuscripts, but I have to be realistic. Hopefully, whatís realistic in the future will be greater than whatís realistic now.
Finally, as the manuscripts arrive, I have to say, I am feeling an intense responsibility and enormous gratitude. I am well aware that every single one of those poets has taken a chance, has let me see a creative work that to the author is very important, and intimate. Whether I publish a given work or not, and certainly I canít publish everythingóI canít even publish everything thatís goodóI feel honored and privileged that good poets are letting me see their work.
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