Part 4 in our ongoing series, The Birth of a Press, CKP publisher Joan Cusack Handler discusses the ins and outs of running a poetry press.
Not surprisingly, at the forefront of CavanKerry’s concerns is/was the publication of FirstBooks or New Voices. Since the talent was so abundant and the doors mainly shut, we wanted to focus on this very worthy group of writers. Hopefully more publishers would pick up the cause; perhaps others would start presses. This concern included a commitment to no competitions and no reading fees. In their emphasis on winners and losers, competitions seemed to pit writers against each other and exacerbate the envy and insecurity that often already existed. And they are costly. As are reading fees. Unpublished poets as well as those with short publishing histories should have the same rights to have their books read as do poets of considerable reputation and fiction writers, neither of whom are charged reading fees.
Our commitment was/is to publish 2-3 First Books/New Voices every year; manuscripts would come from open submissions and recommendations as well as from the considerable array of worthy poets that the publisher already knew. In addition, due to the fact that publishing like so many other industries/arts seem to venerate the young, particular notice was/is given to older poets. (That said however, no generation has been neglected; our writers range in age from late twenties to early eighties.) Our first New Voices book was A Day This Lit by Howard Levy published in September of 2000. As of the Fall of 2012, of all the books we have published, we have introduced New Voices: Howard Levy, Karen Chase, Peggy Penn, Sherry Fairchok, Sondra Gash, Liz Hutner, me- Joan Cusack Handler, Christopher Matthews, Eloise Bruce, Celia Bland, Catherine Doty, Giorgianna Orsini, Joan Seliger Sidney, Laurie Lamon, Chris Barter, Andrea Carter Brown, Robert Seder, Richard Jeffrey Newman, Ross Gay, Joseph Legaspi, Christine Korfhage, and Teresa Carson.
CavanKerry’s interest in writers who are “under-recognized or rejected by the literary mainstream” came to include many more than previously unpublished poets. So too the seasoned poets at mid career (or beyond) mentioned earlier, many of whom have already published several books by as many publishers, and must, with each new book, solicit another. These are CavanKerry Notable Voices and include Robert Cording, Mary Ruefle, Kenneth Rosen, Jack Wiler, Baron Wormser and Sam Cornish.
Out of print books also concerned us. The plethora of exquisite work that is allowed to go out of print due to slow/limited sales is staggering. We added these to our list and committed to both publish reprints of fine books that we believe deserve permanence, and to do all we can to not allow any of our own books to go out of print. Martin Mooney’s Grub was our first. I was drawn to him first as a gifted writer; that interest deepened once I heard that his publisher had ‘pulped’ the 600 copies of Grub that remained in storage. Without informing Martin and at least inviting him to purchase them or simply remove them. He discovered that the books were destroyed when he contacted his publisher to purchase books for a reading. Grub and Moyra Donaldson’s Snakeskin Stilettos were our first reprints.
Another of our interests is intelligent, insightful works that focus on the creative process and the making of art; these are CK Critical Collections. Our Carolyn Kizer (introduction by Maxine Kumin) and John Haines (introduction by Dana Gioia) books collect the essays and poems of reputable poets and essayists across the country who have studied the works of these two brilliant writers and write in depth about it.
Rounding out our initial aesthetic commitment and introducing our community focus is our interest in special projects; CK published two collections to benefit another arts organization. The Breath of Parted Lips: Voices from the Robert Frost Place, Volumes 1 and 2 were published to honor the great work of The Robert Frost Place Center for Poetry and the Arts in Franconia, New Hampshire under the protective mantle of former executive director, Donald Sheehan, where many notable and fledgling artists, including myself, have made and shared poems.
Finally, it’s important to note that integral to CKP’s identity is our commitment to producing beautiful books. For CKP, books are art pieces whose visual/ physical art must equal the literary art that it frames.