Fifteen years ago, as a young(er) poet, I got it into my head that I could not longer read my poems aloud unless I had a gigantic video behind me. This was all well and good, and slowly with some support from 911 Media Arts Center, I had some help making this a reality. I also, as they say, painted myself into a box, because I did not know how to to collaborate, raise money, or promote this kind of work.
Poetry is the collaboration with the world. While much of its difficult work might take place within the romanticized solitude of the author’s desk, the ability to get the work read, heard and most importantly, to occupy our shared sphere of being human, requires collaboration.
Of course, there are many well-known combinations of poets, painters and musicians responding to each other’s work, not to mention that most stubborn collaboration, the translation! It is impossible to imagine the New York School without the painters, the Harlem Renaissance without the musicians, the Romantics without the radical press! Even our most lonely of poets, Emily Dickinson had her windows and letter campaigns.
Why is the market place so determined to present work solo. Why do we feel the need to believe that the creativity of the poet or the artist happens in isolation rather than inherently as part of a community? A community that exists not only between people expressing themselves creatively in response to the world, but the community that supports the individual artist with the mundane. Sometimes it’s nice for someone else to put on the coffee when there’s writing to be done!
In our mind, the ability to collaborate is truly the unsung skill of all successful poets and artists.
As poetry press, we have the good fortune to have our financial goal be, “Let’s just not lose a lot of money.” (see our statement on Financial Transparency here). With that goal, we’re able to put out work in formats that financially make no sense for a press that has to pay staff salaries and support a bigger marketing efforts and other complications. It means we put out fewer books, but that we can put out books that give our poets and artists more creative freedom and the opportunity to very publicly engage with each other. It means that we can work closely with local presses to run the work, rather than sending the books to China to get printed. It means that we have a responsibility to put out work that otherwise would be too difficult to find a home for in the market as it exists.