Small Press Points

Kevin Larimer

Are poetry-only presses a dying breed? Last year BOA Editions, Ltd., lost its standing as an IPOP (independent poetry-only publisher) by releasing Anthony Tognazzini's story collection I Carry a Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such as These and opening the gates to its American Readers Series—which had previously welcomed only nonfiction written by poets—to novelists and short story writers. Now at least two more IPOPs have added fiction to their lists. Four Way Books broke a decade-long streak of publishing exclusively poetry when it released Eileen Pollack's In the Mouth: Stories and Novellas in April. Publicist Lytton Smith describes the book as "such a rewarding, enthralling fiction collection that we at Four Way Books had to add it to our award-winning list of poetry titles." It seems Four Way shares BOA fiction editor Peter Conner's method of assessing potential fiction titles: "As with our poetry, the first criterion for publishing any book will be its artistic excellence." And next month, Wave Books will publish its first book of fiction: The Most of It, by Mary Ruefle, who is also the author of ten books of poetry. According to editor Joshua Beckman, the press is still dedicated to poets and the work they do—sometimes that work just happens to be in a different genre. "It is exciting to be a press that publishes books by poets and not simply poetry books," he says. So what about the remaining IPOPs—are they still standing tall, poet driven and proud of it? Anhinga Press has been publishing poetry since 1972, and director Rick Campbell says he still has no desire to publish fiction. Anhinga will, however, publish its first book of essays, Night Diver, by travel writer Bucky McMahon, later this year. It may also be its last. "It's a fine book and Bucky's a great writer," says Campbell, "but as an editor I didn't get the same level of satisfaction working on prose that I get from working on poetry." Copper Canyon Press, which ranks near the top of any dependable list of IPOPs, actually publishes some prose—Christian Wiman's Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet is a recent example—but marketing and sales director Joseph Bednarik stresses that anything the press publishes "is always and forever in service to poetry." Robert Nazarene, founding editor of Margie/IntuiT House, doesn't mince words when asked if he's considered adding fiction to his list. "The short answer is no," he says. "And the long answer is the same." Despite signs to the contrary, the future of the IPOP appears secure.

When eighty-one-year-old Landis Everson died last November, readers who had discovered his poetry—and for most it was a fairly recent discovery; his first book, Everything Preserved, was published by Graywolf Press just a year before his death—were understandably stunned. Just as shocking as the details of his death (an apparent suicide, following a series of strokes) was the fact that this contemporary of Robin Blaser, Robert Duncan, and Jack Spicer—together they called themselves the Berkeley Renaissance in California during the 1940s—went forty-three years without writing a word before reengaging with poetry and winning the Poetry Foundation's inaugural Emily Dickinson First Book Award in 2006, only to die so soon thereafter. Shortly after his first stroke, he was quoted in this magazine's second annual debut poetry feature as saying, "I hope to recover soon. I hope for a second book." On February 22, poets Bill Berkson, John Hennessy, Brian Henry, and Ben Mazer (the person responsible for coaxing Everson out of his four-decade silence), among others, paid tribute to the late poet at a memorial in New York City. Also in attendance was Mark Lamoureux, who brought with him copies of When You Have a Rabbit, a thirty-page chapbook of poems Everson wrote following the release of Everything Preserved. That hoped-for second book—sadly thin—was published by Lamoureux's Cy Gist Press, named for a traditional French epithet roughly translated as "Here Lies."

Kevin Larimer is the deputy editor of Poets & Writers Magazine.