Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mothers' Day + Poetry Matters + Get Well, Gilly

Happy Mothers' Day to all the mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, all who serve as motherly guardians, mentors and friends, and to all of you, I say, thank you beyond measure!


How appropriate on Mother's Day to extend a tardy congratulations to poet Lucille Clifton, who received the 2007 Ruth Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation. This $100,000 award, was established in 1986 and is one of the most prestigious poetry honors given for a lifetime body of work. Previous recipients include Adrienne Rich, Yusef Komunyakaa, John Ashbery, Maxine Kumin, Charles Wright, and current U. S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall. As I noted in an email to a colleague, Clifton is not only a great poet, but one of the best and most precise and generous teachers, readers and critics of poetry writing that I've ever encountered. Congratulations to her again!


Also, Reggie H. has sent an email link to an article from the Poetry Foundation site on the difficulties of small-press poetry distribution these days. Poet and editor Travis Nichols's article, "If No One Finds My Book Does it Exist?," explores the recent trend of several of the important smaller, for-profit poetry distributors being snapped up--the culprit being the relentless beast called free-market capitalism--by a larger conglomerate, the publisher and now distribution behemoth, Perseus. The acquisition of the smaller distributors forced publishers to make a difficult choice: accept Perseus's terms or, ni some cases, go out of business.

While the verdict remains out, for poets whose small and micro-press books, which I would imagine constitute the majority of poetry books published in the US today, if their works aren't listed with the lone not-for-profit distributor Small Press Distributors (SPD), which the article criticizes for its passive sales approach and curatorial idiosyncrasies, they may find it increasingly difficult not just to sell their books, but even to get them in bookstores and readers' hands. To quote Nichols' article:

The low-risk, low-investment acquisitions of Client Distribution Services, Consortium, and PGW [Publishers Group West] have made Perseus the country’s largest small press distributor. Their website declares them to be an “independent provider of third-party distribution services in North America” with more than 300 small press clients—from the children’s book imprint KO Kids to the erotic Cleis Press—and thousands of new titles each year.

“We’re waiting to see how it plays out,” Wiegers says. “I see few tangible changes, beyond lowered morale among the remaining staff and rep force. What seems clear is that Perseus and CDS have far more on their plates than any one—and maybe even two—sales forces can handle.”

Understaffing and inefficient sales help are, of course, two of the major reasons most presses move from SPD to commercial distributors.

“When I joined Consortium, it felt like a family,” Coffee House Press founder Alan Kornblum told Publisher’s Weekly, “But that’s over. The family feeling is gone. It’s just business now.”

“It’s not the death of poetry,” Amherst Books’ Mark Wooton says of the Perseus consolidation, “but it is the death of a distribution network.”
The article does point to the importance of other kinds of distribution networks, such as hand-to-hand and online marketing, but none of these methods has had the same impact as the for-profit distributors, with their paid sales and marketing staffs. Years ago on-demand publishing seemed to be the brightest future option, and some self-published authors and tiny presses have taken this route, but its time may not yet have really come; as the article notes, one small publisher that tried this route, Tougher Disguises, ended up folding, and the costs may outweigh the benefits, at least for now.


One thing I've been meaning to post about for a while is that blogger Steve Gilliard, co-founder of The News Blog, has been hospitalized for several month with a serious health crisis. The News Blog was one of the early blogs and one of the only ones by a Black blogger to emerge from the DailyKos cluster. Steve was a practicing journalist, I believe, before he began blogging, and The New Blog has primarily featured provocative, left-oriented political entries, as well as posts on a range of other topics that interested him, like cooking and US and military history. (I have to admit, I never tried any of the recipes.) He even found himself under scrutiny by the mainstream media and right wingers for featuring a derisive image of Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas. I have sometimes quibbled with his analyses (and often bemoaned his rampant spelling and grammatical errors, even as I make my own), but his blog was one I read on a daily basis for a while, and one that I cited or quoted more than once here in J's Theater.

While he's been in the hospital, a range of guest bloggers have been contributing excellent posts, giving the blog a very different character, but also showing the friendship and courtesy that have developed across the Net. According to Gilliard's close friend and fellow co-founder Jen (who always posts in purple), he has taken a turn for the worse after a period of improvement a few weeks ago. If you pray, please do say a prayer for him, and please wish him a swift and complete recovery. While I like the cavalcade that his blog has become, I miss his perspective on events. As the caravan of scandals and the overall rotten picture of Bush's Washington have emerged over the last eight months, viewpoints like his are indispensible.

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