If the cliche, “There is no money in poetry” is true, then it would seem that publishing poetry would be one of the most ridiculous business ventures one could engage in. Yet right now there are at least five publishing companies in Long Beach specializing in poetry. That’s not even counting the much-missed Write Bloody, which decamped to Austin last year.
Most of you are probably asking, “How do they do it?” For most of these, “business” means, as Joan Jobe Smith of Pearl puts it, the “busy-ness [of a] labor of love.” These presses operate to put out writing they love, not to make money and they have still persisted at it, some of them for many years.
Whether you’re a fan looking for a new local writer to read this summer or a poet looking to get published, read on.
The oldest publishing company is, no doubt, Pearl. Poet Joan Jobe Smith started publishing Pearl Magazine in 1974, a name inspired by Janis Joplin’s LP of the same title. According to Smith, “Pearl is [also] a Greek derivation of my mother Margaret’s name.” Three initial issues were published and then the magazine went on hiatus until 1986 when Smith and Marilyn Johnson restarted it. They are now up to issue #47, forthcoming this November.
In the 1990s they began to publish Pearl Editions of solicitation-only collections by poets such as Charles Harper Webb, Lisa Glatt, Ray Zepeda, Denise Duhamel, Tamara Madison, Donna Hilbert and Fred Voss. They also established the Pearl Prize for Poetry, an annual poetry competition, with the winners selected by impartial judges. They have published 10 Pearl Editions books, and 25 Pearl Prize Editions. “Pearl publishes words worthy of the page,” says Smith. Pearl’s most recent solicited edition was a poetry collection by the very talented Tamara Madison.
For those interested in submitting, Pearl publishes two issues/year; one of poetry, the other fiction. Says Smith, “Pearl is an eclectic, inclusive journal. We publish narrative free verse alongside lyrical language poetry, formalism, haiku and sometimes rhyming verse. We insist on first-run work and prefer poems with heart and soul or grit and wit or all the above, tough or tender, any gender.” Submissions are via snail mail only with mandatory SASE. Check out their website for guidelines.
Editor/owner RD “Raindog” Armstrong describes Lummox Press as “the best kept secret in L.A. poetry.” The first Lummox press book was published jointly with Vinegar Hill Press out of San Pedro in 1994. Since then, Lummox has published a chapbook series (the Little Red Books), a magazine (Lummox Journal), the current Respect series and miscellaneous other perfect-bound titles, for a total of at least 100 books, plus 100 issues of the magazine. The most recent book is Songs of the Glue Machines by Nick Belardes (poems about working in the factories of California’s Central Valley).
Lummox Press currently publishes a yearly anthology, which is like a magazine only thicker, called, simply, Lummox. Armstrong is currently taking submissions for #2 which has a theme: place. Send two poems, no longer than 50 lines each (including spaces between lines and stanzas) to [email protected]
“I like poetry that seems real to me. I don’t like ‘cute’ poetry, poetry that is more about form than substance,” Armstrong says. “I usually don’t like rhyming poetry. Just give me something that tells me how it is for you, something that surprises me or gives me goosebumps. I’m a happy editor when that happens, though it seldom happens and I reject about 90% of submissions.”
Asked how he got the name for his press, Armstrong replies, “Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a big, hulking guy. I was born a lummox and most likely I will die a lummox.”
Much like Pearl, Aortic Books started with a magazine, Re)verb, first published in 2001. Kevin Lee, head of the press, explains, “A few years ago with Re)verb still going and having published books by individual authors, I renamed the press to Aortic Books. Too many people were calling the press Re)verb Press, so I decided to create a name that was clearly different than the magazine. Aortic came from the idea that the heart takes in and pushes out, and it’s at the root of our life. I loosely relate that to poetry.”
Lee has published seven issues of Re)verb, and seven books by individual poets on Aortic Books. The latest book is The Congress of Luminous Bodies, by Donna Hilbert. There will be a publication reading for the book on Thursday, July 11, at Gatsby Books.
A new issue of Re)verb is also planned for this fall. To submit to Re)verb, email three to five poems in the body of an email with a cover note to [email protected]
“I take my time with the mag, and I consider it my poetry baby,” Lee says. “I keep it small, both in print run and in pages. I accept a very small percentage of poems, because I’m very picky with what I like and what I don’t like.”
What does he like in a poem? “I like accessible poetry that’s not heavy in vague or obscure metaphor. It should be relatable but not diary writing. It should use everyday language, but a twist or turn of phrase is always welcome. It should celebrate the good and bad of life.”
Asked to describe his press, Lee says, “Aortic Books is a Long Beach dive bar full of the smartest people you know.”
WORLD PARADE BOOKS
Paul Tayyar founded World Parade Books in 2007 “to celebrate the diversity of voices of poets who have made America their home.” He chose World Parade for the name of his press because it captured that sense of diversity. World Parade has published 20 books so far, including Beside the City of Angels, an anthology of Long Beach poets, which came out in 2010. The most recent titles are John Brantingham’s short story collection Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods, and Rafael Zepeda’s novel Desperados.
World Parade does reflect the talent of SoCal. “I was tired of East Coast literary presses having all the fun. The West Coast has a wonderful literary culture as well,” Tayyar says. “I love all kinds of poetry and hope that World Parade’s titles reflect this diversity of tastes, from the accessible, conversational style of Edward Field and Rafael Zepeda, to the lyrical style of Dibakar Barua, Donna Hilbert and Regina Nervo.”
World Parade is the only publisher on this list which does not publish a journal.
The most recent addition to the Long Beach poetry publishing scene is Bank-Heavy Press. It was started by Karie McNeley, Cory De Silva and Zack Nelson-Lopiccolo in early 2011, when the members of a poetry workshop dwindled to just the three of them.
“We were workshopping one another’s poems and–bam–this little nugget of awesome that was smashed in a short line of one of Cory’s poems popped out and slapped us,” Nelson-Lopiccolo says. “We didn’t understand this mythological-sounding phrase, ‘bank-heavy,’ but it stood out like like a giant five-eyed fish wearing high heels and lipstick on 7th and Cherry during rush hour. Next thing we knew we were starting a zine and calling it by those very words. Bank-Heavy Press.”
Bank-Heavy publishes a quarterly journal; each issue has a unique title. Nelson-Lopiccolo explains, “We never liked the constant title thing. So we title each one differently and simply label it as a quarterly issue with the Bank-Heavy Press name on it as the publisher. Why be boring? Change is fun and important for everyone.” Their most recent issue is Doughnut Touch Me! Other issues include Pom Pom Pomeranian and Avoid Ninja Stars.
To submit to Bank-Heavy, the editors recommend checking out a previous issue of the journal to get a feel of what they think is worth putting out a little further into the world. They accept poetry, art and fiction. Their website has all the info you need to submit your awesome brain-children.
As for what they like to publish, McNeley says, “We like weird and bizarre stuff, as well as regular every day stuff. We tend to publish a lot of humorous poetry, and tragic poetry as well. We enjoy fresh language. Interesting phrasing is always a plus. We don’t usually care for formed poetry but a few have made the cut. Rhyming poetry tends to turn all of us away from it unless it’s well-done. … Trying to find common ground between a group of several editors with completely different tastes can be tough, but good poetry is good poetry and we recognize what’s generally good and we debate and compromise on what makes it into the magazine.”
Bank-Heavy also publishes dual chapbooks, with two poets featured back-to-back. Their most recent, Life Forms by Anna Badua and Turn Around Don’t Drown by Marianne Stewart, was released last week at Fourth St. Vine. Their slogan: Bank-Heavy Press. Killing trees with poetry since 2011.
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