Battery Park City, NYC (Tuesday, June 29, 2010) - As some herald the death of the printed book, predicting its replacement by e-book readers and online media, it’s clear for the small press community publishing most of the poetry these days that printed books hold a certain kind of currency, fascination, and legitimacy for both readers and authors; for better or worse (and I speak now as someone who edits an online publication), printed books and related objects such as chapbooks tend to be the talismans around which poets and their would-be audiences gather.
Given this situation, Poets House provides an excellent service to the public once again this year with the opening of its annual poetry showcase, a “display of all the poetry books published in the past year.” The flurry of activity on the showcase’s opening night on Monday saw many readers perusing the new book offerings, looking for presses they recognized, flipping through pages, taking a moment to read from this book or examine that book, and interacting with some books that had unusual or interesting designs.
This year marks the first occasion for Poets House to host the showcase in their new (LEED Gold certified) space in Battery Park City, which opened this year. It’s an airy two-story space bordered by a transparent glass wall, and it feels open, bright, and friendly.
The story here, more than anything, is that the Poets House Showcase is one of the most visible places where the public can expect to see, on a regular basis, all the new poetry books published from the past year gathered together in one location. It’s a valuable service because it seems harder for us to get the news from poems lately, when so much of the best work by the most innovative, experimental, and avant-garde poets is now published on small presses by publishers scattered throughout the country. And rather than an academic conference book exhibit where the emphasis is often placed on schmoozing, in this showcase the emphasis is on the books themselves as objects, put on display face out (like in an art exhibit), and the general public is invited to come in to contact with the kind of small press publications they might not otherwise get to see, except online or in catalogs.
This year’s showcase features about 2,200 books by about 600 publishers altogether from the US, with good representation by a number of presses outside the US and by a little over 100 titles in translation. While so many publishers have noteworthy books that appear in this year’s show, I think the best service I can offer as a practitioner and participant in the field would be to offer an idiosyncratic (and opinionated) map of some of the most worthwhile new offerings, so here goes:
In this year’s showcase, Coffee House Press features Akilah Oliver’s A Toast in the House of Friends which I would recommend, as well as a new book by Ange Mlinko. Futurepoem Books has Mina Pam Dick’s very impressive debut Delinquent on display. Ahsahta Press continues to produce beautiful books which this year feature Brenda Iijima’s really terrific If Not Metamorphic, as well as new volumes by Julie Carr and Kate Greenstreet. Belladonna is showing three recent books from the Elders Series, an innovative feminist project in which the book object consists of an interview by a younger poet with an elder, pairing works by the two poets between the pages. Chax Press makes one of the strongest showings here, with beautifully designed books including Joel Bettridge’s clever Presocratic Blues, Jacque Vaught Brogan’s remarkable oversize book ta(l)king eyes, Barbara Henning’s Cities and Memory, a posthumous volume of new plays by Leslie Scalapino, and additional new books by Linh Dinh, Tenney Nathanson, Leonard Schwartz, Jane Sprague, and Mark Weiss. Hanging Loose Press features a book I’m eager to get a copy of, The Truck Darling Poems, written by Jeni Olin’s alter ego.
Instance Press features the brilliant book Commuter by James Belflower, who is really onto something new. Bowery Books has a new volume by Cynthia Kraman, The Touch, which looks terrific. Kelsey Street Press, long known for its dedication to innovative poetry by women, has on display Bhanu Kapil’s essential volume Humanimal. Krupskaya has two terrific new books available here, by Andrea Brady and Ryan Murphy, both essential reading. Vincent Katz’s press Libellum has on display two remarkable new books by Tom Clark which I recommend highly. Litmus Press is also a key presence at this exhibit, with very strong new titles by Jennifer Scappetone and Stacy Szymaszek on display as well as--copub with Belladonna--NO GENDER: Reflections on the Life and Work of kari edwards, a volume of essential essays on this transgender avant garde poet (in the interest of full disclosure, I wrote one of the chapters in this book).
Meritage Press has a beautiful new volume of poems Autopsy-turvy, a collaboration between Thomas Fink and his daughter Maya Diablo Mason. Brenda Iijima’s Portable Press at Yo-yo Labs is a presence here, featuring a new chapbook by Frances Richard as well as a copy of the really well-designed, substantial eco language reader, a book of essays exploring issues about and around the “ecopoetics” phenomenon. In my opinion this book, copublished with Nightboat Books, should be essential reading for everyone in poetry this year. Nightboat Books has other offerings featured in the exhibit which are worthwhile too, including a new book by Laura Moriarty, a Collected Poems of Leland Hickman, and a volume of writings by Edoard Glissant, translated by Nathalie Stephens. Tarpaulin Sky Press has two notable new books this year, The Stars of the Night Commute by Ana Bozicevic and Black-Eyed Heifer by Shelly Taylor who writes as if she has a direct line connecting her to the duende itself. Significant books this year by Ugly Duckling Presse include Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch’s collaborative book of conversations, Ten Walks / Two Talks and Rachel Levitsky’s Neighbor.
University of Alabama Press continues producing great, valuable books on poetics, most notably on display here the volume Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture, edited by Stephen Paul Miller and Daniel Morris. University of California Press has a wealth of exciting titles on display this year, including a selected by Nicole Brossard, a resissue of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee, new books of poetry by Lisa Robertson and Keith Waldrop, Mark Weiss’ anthology of Cuban poetry The Whole Island, and the third volume in the Poems for the Millenium series, this time on the Romantics (going back to Blake) and edited by Jerome Rothenberg and Jeffrey Robinson. Last but not least, Wesleyan University Press is showing a number of remarkable new titles including Bright Felon by Kazim Ali, Versed by Rae Armantrout, Practical Water by Brenda Hillman, and Tan Lin’s genre-busting, rule-obliterating book Seven Controlled Vocabularies and obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking. [Airport Novel Musical Poem Painting Theory Film Photo Hallucination Landscape].
If I had additional space and time, I’d tell you more about great new titles on display at the showcase this year by Alice James Books (Joanna Fuhrman), Apogee Press (Pattie McCarthy), BlazeVOX Books (Basinski, Featherston, King, Sarai, Tabios), Burning Deck (Martenson, Nakayasu, Gizzi), City Lights (Berrigan, Cole, Joron), Counterpath (Laynie Brown), Displaced Press, Edge Books (K. Lorraine Graham), Factory School (Allison Cobb), Fence Books (Macgregor Card, Aaron Kunin), The Kenning Anthology of Poets’ Theater, Kore Press, Letter Machine Editions (Nakayasu, Nichols, Yau), Marsh Hawk Press (de la Flor, Foster, Lopate, Miller, Rerick, Tabios), New Directions (Will Alexander, Anne Carson’s Nox), Octopus Books (Matvei Yankelevich), Omnidawn (Myung Mi Kim, Bin Ramke), Palm Press (Rob Halpern, Jen Hofer), Roof Books (Evelyn Reilly, Joan Retallack), Sarabande Books (Jean Valentine), Saturnalia (Kristi Maxwell), Singing Horse Press (Norman Fischer), Stanford University Press (Collected Poems of Larry Eigner, edited by Curtis Faville and Curtis Grenier), Talisman House (Burt Kimmelman), Truck Books, University of Michigan Press (Meena Alexander’s Poetics of Dislocation), and Wave Books (Dorothea Lasky, Maggie Nelson).
Especially for small press publishers who are just starting out, this showcase can be an invaluable opportunity to reach the public directly. I don’t know any other kind of venue off the top of my head that would be generous enough to prominently feature Nothing is in Here by Andrew Levy, the first perfect-bound poetry book that I’ve published on a press that has grown out of the magazine I edit, EOAGH: A Journal of the Arts.
The tried-and-true standard for small press publishers is the chapbook, and the showcase event at Poets House this year includes a number of chapbook publishers too. Paolo Javier’s press 2nd Avenue Poetry, for example, has on display R. Zamora Linmark’s terrific new chap The Filipino Exiled Poet Channels Montgomery Clift and Other Poems. Another such noteworthy publisher is Mark Lamoureux’s Cy Gist Press, which has great new chaps by Basil King, Joel Sloman, and Angela Veronica Wong. Dancing Girl Press has some terrific chaps on display here, as does Dusie, the collective that has on exhibit new work from Cara Benson, Shanna Compton, Arielle Guy, Paul Klinger, and Elizabeth Treadwell. John Harkey’s Creature Press, new this year, publishes a series of chapbooks which are loose-leaf poems inside a box. The first round includes chaps by Tonya Foster and Paolo Javier. Hats off to Finishing Line Press for the sheer number of chapbooks they have on display at this show--there must be over 50 here from the past year--I know them from the book of Wendy Burk’s that they did a few years ago. Flying Guillotine Press has a nice-looking chap by Steven Karl. The recently started Slash Pine Press has a chapbook by Brent House that looks interesting. And Tente Press has an excellent chapbook on display by Akilah Oliver, A Collection of Objects.
Of course, there are offerings by more prominent presses here too (yes, we appreciate it when they publish poetry), and these include Charles Bernstein’s Selected Poems All the Whiskey in Heaven, recently out from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. They also include Ashbery’s Planisphere, a new book by Campbell McGrath, and Robert Hass’ New and Selected, all out from HarperCollins/Ecco. Other notable larger presses here include Oxford University Press’ Oxford Book of Latin American Poetry, which is edited by Cecilia Vicuna and Ernesto Livon-Grossman. And Penguin Books has new volumes out by Anne Waldman and Ann Lauterbach.
In the interest of encouraging interaction and a sense of community at the ground floor level, Poets House is being more proactive with the showcase this year, bringing a wide variety of authors in to give readings that compliment the new books on display. These readings--almost all of which I’d enthusiastically declare unmissable, and all of which feature free admission--include:
TUESDAY, JULY 13, 7 PM
Mark Bibbins (Copper Canyon Press)
Leslie Chang (Fordham University Press)
Julie Sheehan (W.W.Norton)
Terese Svoboda (University of Arkansas Press)
THURSDAY, JULY 15, 7 PM
Maureen N. McLane (FSG)
Ryan Murphy (Krupskaya)
Evelyn Reilly (Roof Books)
Estha Weiner (Tiger Bark Press)
TUESDAY, JULY 20, 7 PM
Nathalie Handal (University of Pittsburgh Press)
Indigo Moor (Northwestern University Press)
Matvei Yankelevich (Octopus Books)
Monica Youn (Four Way Books)
THURSDAY, JULY 22, 7 PM
Ken Chen (Yale University Press)
Joanna Fuhrman (Alice James Books)
Rachel Levitsky (Ugly Duckling Press)
Tan Lin (Wesleyan University Press)
TUESDAY, JULY 27, 7 PM
Featuring Persistent Voices: An Anthology of Poets Lost to AIDS (Alyson Books)
with Star Black, Cyrus Cassells, Douglas Crase, Mina Pam Dick, Particia Spears Jones, Timothy Liu, Dante Michaux, and others to be announced.