Monday, October 7, 2013

Small Presses Make the Poetry World Go Round

Reviewing the list of publishers for the 208 volumes published between 2000 - 2013 I've collected prompts me to place even higher value on small publishers for the service that they provide poets and poetry. Large and well-funded publishers like Knopf and W. W. Norton have an outsized  share of the market. However, the many, many smaller presses allowed for such a wide range of poets to come into print.

48 of the 85 publishers represented on our list published just one volume, and many of those imprints are relatively small. Without the services provided by those small presses, the landscape of poetry and African American poetry in particular would look quite different than it does now. Most notably, we'd have far fewer poets and poetry in print.

Poetry, as I've noted before, is a densely populated field. Nonetheless, a lion's share of the awards and recognition go to poets whose works are published by major publishers. Those awards and recognition do not necessarily mean that those major publisher poets are always somehow better; what's more important is that major publishers can better position their writers to receive attention in the field and consideration for awards.

Small presses typically do not have considerable reach.

But collectively, small presses still create a range of opportunities. For better and worse, when poets at small presses become more well known and "successful," they receive the chance to publish at larger publishers. Small presses also develop notable reputations for themselves and thus draw emergent writers and also nurture long-term relationships with readers.

Taken together, small presses are largely responsible for the diversity of poetic voices that we witness in book form. Scholars of print culture tend to concentrate on historical works; however, if there was more scholarly attention to contemporary, we would certainly get a better sense of the significant efforts performed by small presses to bring so many African American poets into print.      

An Introduction to 208 volumes of poetry by African American poets, 2000-2013

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