August 01, 2012

We Need Another National(ish) Poetry Series

Art by Doug Beube
Last month I had the pleasure of attending a reading at the home of Reb Livingston, the editor of No Tell Books, which featured poet and editor Bruce Covey. As I chatted with Bruce about the upcoming slate of publication for Coconut Books, I asked: 

Why doesn't a consortium of publishers start up another "national" poetry series for indie and/or experimental presses?

The principle is simple: poets pay a reading fee to have their books considered not by one press, but by five quality presses simultaneously. The existing National Poetry Series (which currently incorporates Coffee House Press, Fence Books, HarperCollins Publishers, Penguin Books, University of Georgia Press) has a great track record of selecting poets from a variety of aesthetics and matching them to appropriate houses. But they get a ton of incredible manuscripts, of which they can only publish a few. 

There is room for another national poetry series, one that recognizes an annual cohort of exciting new voices. Coconut, Black Ocean Books, Octopus Books, Switchback Books: I am looking at you. Doesn't need to be the same publishers every year, though there should be a quality control mechanism for rotation in and out of presses (perhaps approval by an advisory board) that includes a pledge of minimum reasonable levels of support in terms of editorial infrastructure, design, number of copies printed, distribution, secondary award nominations, and publicity. The reading fees could fund an auxiliary force that works to market each year's winners, and by association the publishers. While I realize that there will always be variations in aesthetic--different opinions of what the "best" manuscripts are--that is why one employs multiple judges. 

One thing the NPS does not do is create a network between each year's winners/judges, though the invaluable perks include name cache, an AWP reading, etc. But imagine if these indie presses went all in, and pooled their resources in terms of connections to opportunities with readings series and classroom visits around the country. Anyone who attends AWP offsite events recognizes that these likeminded affiliations already exist on an informal level. Imagine if this gave heft to freelancers trying to pitch small press books for review? Imagine if Small Press Distribution did an "Indie Poetry Series" summer special, a package rate for all five titles? 

I'm not naive about the bureaucracy or ethical complications associated with contests, but I'd love to hear some discussion. Nothing great ever happens unless you start with the "imagine" phase.  


Far Beyond The Ridge said...

Years ago i tried coffee house n the others with short stories, knowing only poets with connections had a chance.
No one would even take a look long enough to reject it. I gave up.
I think of a river runs through it. One of my fave books. He had connections galore and still couldn't get it accepted except, finally, by i think the school in chicago where he taught.
There are a thousand stories like that. The best writers will never be known. But there is no limit to the horrible ones who are.
That's why i drive a truck.
But i'm glad you're out there swingin for the fence, even if your bat is short on power.
Good luck!

Henry said...

Hey Sandra,
If someone can muster up a sponsor to cover costs (printing and award money) then we at Saturnalia Books would be game.