Small Press Points

Kevin Larimer

It may not be on the level of the current Roberto Bolaño craze, which started for most readers in 2007 with the release by Farrar, Straus and Giroux of the late Chilean author's novel The Savage Detectives and was further fueled by the epic 2666, published by FSG a year later, but the work of poet, translator, and artist Keith Waldrop is making some serious waves in the sea of small presses and is being celebrated by the literary avant-garde communities that those presses serve so well. (It should be noted, because it hasn't been noted nearly enough in reviews that have appeared since the Bolaño bowl-over started, that four Bolaño books had been published by none other than New Directions before FSG editor extraordinaire Lorin Stein got his hands on The Savage Detectives; a fifth, the poetry collection The Romantic Dogs, was published in the same month as 2666. But back to Waldrop.) The author and/or translator of more than a dozen poetry collections—who, with his wife, Rosmarie, founded the influential indie press Burning Deck in Providence forty-eight years ago to publish experimental poetry and prose, including that of Walter Abish, Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Barbara Guest, Lyn Hejinian, Emmanuel Hocquard, and Marjorie Welish—has had three books published in the last two months, each of them showcasing different shades of his talent. In March, the University of California Press released Transcendental Studies: A Trilogy as the twenty-seventh title in its impressive New California Poetry series, edited by Calvin Bedient, Brenda Hillman, Forrest Gander, and Robert Hass. The volume includes three related poem sequences: "Shipwreck in Haven," "Falling in Love Through a Description," and "The Plummet of Vitruvius." Later that month, Wesleyan University Press published Waldrop's translation of Paris Spleen, a collection of urban prose poems written by the sickly Charles Baudelaire between 1855 and 1867, the year he died. The new edition joins Waldrop's 2006 translation of The Flowers of Evil in Wesleyan's catalogue. And in April, Siglio Press, the indie in Los Angeles that last year published Joe Brainard's The Nancy Book, released the equally beautiful and exquisitely designed Several Gravities, a collection of Waldrop's collages. (View a slideshow at In an essay in that book, the volume's editor, Robert Seydel, describes the seventy-seven-year-old artist-poet-publisher-translator as "that rare figure—a poet's poet, inherently graceful in his utterance, in both poetry and prose, and somewhat hermetic, sage-like, very beautiful in his hesitations and quiet delivery of both self and poem." The kind of writer, in other words, who gets swept along in a current of popular interest and whose work, thankfully, fulfills the promise.

Having already followed the familiar story line of Literary Magazine Launches Book Imprint—which has resulted in such valuable entities as Calyx Books, Fence Books, Hanging Loose Press, Slope Editions, and, most recently, Canarium Books, among others—Octopus Books has joined the company of another, somewhat rarer breed of publisher: the subscription press. For fifty-six dollars, one can receive two years of Octopus titles, which, for 2009 and 2010, would include the poetry collections Boris by the Sea by Ugly Duckling Presse cofounder Matvei Yankelevich and The Difficult Farm by Heather Christle, both forthcoming in the fall, and one or two additional titles. Other indies that have incorporated subscription models include Clear Cut Press, Featherproof Books imprint Paper Egg Books, Soft Skull Press, and Tupelo Press. Coeditor Zachary Schomburg says Octopus Books doesn't get a substantial number of subscription orders—but one can be sure it's a lot more than his journal has ever received: Octopus Magazine, online, is free.

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