A Pair of Presses Join Poetic Forces

Alex Dimitrov

Last December two small Portland, Oregon–based presses, Octopus Books and Tin House Books, announced that they would join forces to collaboratively publish a new poetry series, effectively extending the reach of the city’s growing poetry community. Poets Zachary Schomburg, editor of Octopus Books—a poetry-only press that publishes full-length collections, chapbooks, and the online poetry journal Octopus Magazine—and Matthew Dickman, the current poetry editor of Tin House magazine, will be the acquiring editors for the collaboration. 

“Zachary and I had been having conversations about the poetry community in Portland,” Dickman says, “and in particular about the collaborative spirit running through the different threads of aesthetics here, while at the same time watching large trade presses drop their poets and the amount of poetry they were publishing over the last few years. We wondered about a model that would reflect the community here in Portland.”

The first book in the Tin House/Octopus Books series, Brandon Shimoda’s Portuguese, was published in March and distributed by Publishers Group West. Shimoda, who has published three previous books of poetry, will be joined on the Tin House/Octopus roster by Bianca Stone, whose first book, Someone Else’s Wedding Vows, will be published in the spring of 2014. As the first two acquisitions have indicated, the series is geared toward obtaining the work of both emerging and more established poets. “This is a series that will result strictly from soliciting manuscripts from poets we admire,” Schomburg says, “poets we’re too curious about to wait until somebody publishes their stuff so we can read it.” 

Despite being based in the same city (Tin House also has a New York City office), the two presses attract decidedly different audiences, and often publish aesthetically different work. While Tin House publishes primarily fiction and nonfiction, some of the press’s notable poetry collections have included Alaska-based Olena Kalytiak Davis’s second book, Shattered Sonnets, Love Cards, and Other Off and Back Handed Importunities (2003), and Alex Lemon’s first book, Mosquito (2006). A book that received considerable attention for Octopus Books was last year’s Hider Roser by Ben Mirov. Both editors hope to use their differences in style and perspective to create a series with a far reach and broad appeal. “Maybe the advantage of this collaboration is that our work is the work of two presses and editors with semi-opposing visions,” Schomburg says. 

Dickman, too, speaks of publishing work that would carve out a space for a new audience and invigorate the poetry community. “There’s no desired aesthetic except that of poetry both Tin House Books and Octopus Books finds intriguing and exciting,” he says of the collaboration. “Perhaps, though, it’s a way to look beyond what one or the other press might normally publish, and be enamored by a third option.” 

At a time when large presses are acquiring fewer first books and thinning their existing poetry rosters, the collaboration between Tin House and Octopus is good news for poetry.  “This is a model that is necessary for a new kind of conversation to begin,” the editors write in the introduction to Portuguese, “not to see how we can meet in the middle, but how we can meet at the edges.”

Alex Dimitrov’s first book of poems, Begging for It, was published in March by Four Way Books.