Nathaniel Bellows, author of Why Speak? (Norton)
Residence: New York City
Graduate degree: MFA from
Jobs: Freelance writer, artist, small press publisher
Influences: Robert Frost, Richard Hugo, Brigit Pegeen Kelly
Time spent writing the book: Ten years
Time spent finding a publisher: One year
Why Norton? "I'd grown up reading the Norton Anthology; they publish authors I admire and they produce beautiful books."
Sample: "The ivy split, released / a peacock. The blue caught my eye; all its eyes caught my eye—all its eyes, / splayed out along the tail, which it dragged across the grass, a heavy net."
Blurb: Richard Howard: "His unchallengeable voice, new among us but veteran for poetry."
What's next: "I'm working on another novel, a collection of linked short stories, and more poems."
Tips: "Try to publish as many poems as possible in literary magazines—build up your acknowledgments page so that when editors look at your manuscript, they know you've been making an effort to get your work out. Try to figure out a way to best deal with rejection so that it does not completely discourage or debilitate you. Obviously this is going to be different for everyone, but getting rejected is such a huge part of this process."
Roger Bonair-Agard, author of Tarnish and Masquerade (Cypher Books)
Graduate degree: None
Jobs: Teacher, performer
Influences: Amiri Baraka, Martín Espada, Audre Lorde, Black Stalin, Derek Walcott
Time spent writing the book: Eight years
Why Cypher? "The imprint's mission appealed to me; that idea that they would publish the best possible voices who plied their trade in the performance poetry world."
Sample: "I lost my virginity to calypso / to the songs of slaves / the ghosts of souls that disappeared / with languages lost"
Blurbs: Amiri Baraka, Colin Channer, Kwame Dawes, Daphne Gott-lieb, Patrick Rosal, Patricia Smith: "There is simply no resisting these stanzas."
What's next: "The second book, whose working title is 'Extra Cover,' is a collection of poems centered around the game of cricket—what it was like to grow up black in the West Indies at a time when we dominated this white, colonial, gentleman's sport."
Tips: "Think hard about what you want the book to say once you think you have a book; what this volume will encapsulate about your voice, or indicate about your place in the world."
Albert Flynn DeSilver, author of Letters to Early Street (La Alameda Press)
Residence: Woodacre, California
Graduate degree: MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute
Job: Director of senior homecare agency
Influences: Ted Berrigan, Hart Crane, Gerard Manley Hopkins
Time spent writing the book: Two years
Time spent finding a publisher: Seven years
Why La Alameda? "Because of the quality and design of their books, their list of amazing authors, their distribution through the University of New Mexico Press, and the sweetness and kindness of J. B. Bryan and Cirrelda Snider-Bryan."
Sample: "We are led onto Early Street where / the yellow double line down the middle is a noodle / that strangles direction"
Blurbs: Bill Berkson, Paul Hoover, Lisa Jarnot: "A voice fresh with joy, delightful in its innocence."
What's next: "I have a new book of prose poems titled Walking Tooth and Cloud out from French Connection Press and a new, unpublished manuscript of prose poems titled 'Working Title,' which is based on titles from the U.S. Department of Labor's Dictionary of Occupational Titles."
Tips: "Be patient and persistent and stay true to your own heart and to the poems."
Aracelis Girmay, author of Teeth (Curbstone Press)
Graduate degree: MFA from New York University
Influences: Anna Akhmatova, Gwendolyn Brooks, Martín Espada, Ross Gay, Nâzim Hikmet, Audre Lorde, Patrick Rosal, Arundhati Roy
Time spent writing the book: Six years
Time spent finding a publisher: Two months
Why Curbstone? "The social commitment to its readers and writers is absolutely amazing."
Sample: "& even in / that quick departure as the life rushes on, / headlong or backwards, there must, must / be some singing as the hand waves 'be well' / to its other hand, goodbye"
Blurbs: Martín Espada, Nicholasa Mohr: "Her keen observations are put forth with an appetite for life without fear or self-conciousness."
What's next: "I am reworking a collection of short stories that I've lived with now for a few years. And I'm hard at work on a new group of poems."
Tips: "Ask yourself, 'Which books do you love? Who is publishing them? Whose vision—pedagogically—works with yours? What is your ideal scenario?' Remember that you have choices and that you have power—be sure to remember that publishing is mutually beneficial, not just for you, but for the press, too. If ever you have questions, ask them."
Alena Hairston, author of The Logan Topographies (Persea Books), winner of the Lexi Rudnitsky Poetry Prize
Graduate degree: MFA from Brown University
Influences: Gayle Jones, Jean Toomer, Carolyn Beard Whitlow
Time spent writing the book: Five years
Number of contests entered: "Around twenty."
Why Persea? "They publish high-quality, genuine works. I knew my manuscript would be read seriously."
Sample: "In the descant of departure, / any arrival is an aria / whose highest pitch / forks the lowest chord / in the underbelly of want. // Beyond the hawthorn, a vibrant loneliness: / Unsteady bridge, love / is afferent, / returns itself."
Blurbs: Donna Masini, Thylias Moss: "Alena Hairston maps the intensity of feeling, the persistence of memory, and the impact of both realized and unrealized dreams as they become part of what is mined and unmined, the danger of collapse always imminent. The vigor with which these lines knit and hold the world is impressive, and honest, and beautiful."
What's Next: "Another book of poetry and a book of fiction."
Tips: "Be resilient. Be kind to yourself. No matter what happens, keep writing."
Dorothea Lasky, author of Awe (Wave Books)
Graduate degree: MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; pursuing PhD at the University of Pennsylvania
Job: Assistant to the vice dean of Penn's graduate school of education
Influences: William Blake, Søren Kierkegaard, Sylvia Plath
Time spent writing the book: Four years
Time spent finding a publisher: Four years
Why Wave? "They are one of the few poetry publishers out there who truly care about poetry enough to read it closely. Their small staff seems to work tirelessly to spread the good word of poetry in a way that is nonelitist and nondogmatic, and yet is still susceptible to the real world we live in—in the best sort of way."
Sample: "In friendship we are one together and in friendship / I am all soul. No that's wrong, too. / What is a soul all aflame? / If it's a bird in snow. / Then that's what I am."
What's next: "I am working on a second book of poetry."
Tips: "Keep reminding yourself you are trying to publish your book because you have to—because it is something born out of you that must be spoken. Know that every impetus to write is there because there is some reader out there who you must communicate with. Your goal is to find that reader through whatever method you can."