The National Poetry Series (www.nationalpoetryseries.org) has restored a sense of balance to the rotating roster of academic, commercial, and independent publishers in its annual open competition. From 1984 to 2000, two small presses participated in the series each year, but during the past three years there has been only one independent press among the five participating publishers: Green Integer (www.greeninteger.com) in 2001 and 2002, and Coffee House Press (www.coffeehousepress.org) in 2003. No big deal, right? Tell that to the nearly 1,400 poets who entered this year’s competition. Providing the extra indie press presence in 2004 is Verse Press (www.versepress.org), which recently secured distribution from Consortium (www.cbsd.com). Editor Matthew Zapruder says partnering with the NPS will allow Verse Press to publish another title (“that we might not otherwise have had access to”) and will help publicize other Verse Press books, like A Green Light by Fence poetry editor Matthew Rohrer, published in April, and The Book of Funnels by jubilat coeditor Christian Hawkey, forthcoming later this year. The winners of the 2004 open competition are scheduled to be announced this month.
To better understand the literary climate in which Fiction Collective Two (www.fc2.org) was founded, in 1974, consider who won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction that year: no one. After the three-person jury for fiction voted unanimously to award the prize to Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, the other 11 members of the Pulitzer board overturned the decision, calling the book “unreadable.” That same year Pynchon’s complex tome shared a National Book Award with A Crown of Feathers and Other Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer. It would be an understatement to say that experimental or “postmodern” fiction of the time met with a decidedly mixed reception. So it follows that a group of avant-garde writers—Jonathan Baumbach, Raymond Federman, Clarence Major, and Ronald Sukenick among them—were annoyed and discouraged by the editorial and marketing limitations of commercial presses at the time. The result, a cooperative publishing venture called the Fiction Collective, was reorganized and renamed Fiction Collective Two, a nonprofit author-run press, in 1989. During the past 30 years, the press has released hundreds of books, published in print runs ranging from 1,200 to 5,000 and distributed by Northwestern University Press. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, FC2 has thrown parties in Los Angeles and Chicago, with plans for a third at the Brooklyn Public Library in September. Forthcoming in the fall is A History of the Imagination by Norman Lock, The Garden in Which I Walk by Karen Brennan, Dirtmouth by Alan Singer, and a reprint of The Collected Short Fiction of Marianne Hauser.
Another small press that was founded in 1974 in response to the limitations of mainstream publishers—in this case, limitations imposed on women writers—is Kelsey St. Press (www.kelseyst.com). The first books published by the nonprofit, founded by Patricia Dienstfrey and Rena Rosenwasser, were hand-set and printed on a letterpress in the basement of a house on Kelsey Street in Berkeley, California. Since then the press has published books by innovative writers such as Rosmarie Waldrop, C.D. Wright, Barbara Guest, Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge, and Fanny Howe—all distributed by Small Press Distribution (www.spdbooks.org). In the mid-1980s Kelsey St. Press launched a series of collaborations between visual artists and poets and, in 1999, established the Frances Jaffer Book Award for a first book of poetry that is “experimental in spirit and practice.” The press is celebrating 30 years of publishing with a yearlong schedule of readings, exhibitions, and parties, and is offering a deep discount on select titles available on the Web site. Forthcoming from Kelsey St. Press are Occupied by Carol Mirakove and The Girl Riding Through the Story Garden by Patricia Dienstfrey.
Kevin Larimer is the associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.