Small Presses—Where to Look for Intriguing Poetry

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As a poet, I am always trying to do new things with my own work, trying to push my own boundaries so that I don’t end up writing the same poem over and over in the same way for the rest of my life.

The tough question is, how does one do this?  Beyond living my life and growing as a person with different life experiences, blah blah blah, which can all be painfully slow for an impatient writer like me, the other thing I try to do is to read a lot of poetry.  But not just any poetry.  I try to read the most intriguing work.  By intriguing, I mean work that is different from my own and work that pushes some kind of boundary, that makes me reconsider how I perceive something.  I then pray that somehow my own work will absorb some of what I’m reading and become newer in its own way too.

Throughout this process, what I’ve noticed over the past few years, is that some of the most intriguing poetry is being published by small (and sometimes new) presses or series—admittedly, I’ve asked a few friends and colleagues for suggestions too.  By small presses, I think this includes poetry imprints at university presses with new leadership.  This is not to say that all the work being published by larger more established publishers is not worthy of our attention or not interesting, but rather the work at small presses might be particularly worth our attention.

Below is a list of small presses that intrigue me.  Not all of the books they publish I necessarily personally care for, but each press has certainly published some interesting and beautiful books:

1. Cleveland State University Press: University presses don’t always get the attention they deserve, but under the leadership of poet Michael Dumanis, I think the press has published some of the strongest books over the past few years.  Some favorites of mine are Mule by Shane McCrae and Self-Portrait with Crayon by Allison Benis White.

2. Canarium Books: Run by Joshua Edwards and founded in 2008, Canarium Books is based in Berkeley, California.  The press is sponsored by The University of Michigan MFA Program in Creative Writing.  Suzanne Buffam’s The Irrationalist is worth notingThere are some incredibly witty and insightful short poems in the middle section of the book like the two-lined poem titled “On Suicide”: “People who commit suicide don’t fail to believe in life./They fail to believe in death.”  

3. Noemi Press: When I heard Shane McCrae’s (author of Mule) second book of poems will be published by Noemi Press, I knew I had to look more closely at Noemi Press.  Noemi Press is run out of New Mexico by publisher Carmen Giménez SmithNoemi has published Campeche by Joshua Edwards, editor of Canarium Books and they recently published Rusty Morrison’s new book of poems, Book of the Given.  They also have a large group of chapbooks.

4. Black Ocean: This press is run by Janaka Stucky and run out of Boston, New York, and Chicago.  Some of its influences are silent films and early punk rock and the website calls Black Ocean a “movement”.  One of my favorites is Fjords vol. 1 by the ever interesting Zachary Schomburg.  Plus back in 2011, the press offered its readers a lifetime subscription to the press’ books if they got a tattoo inspired by one of the press’ books!

5. Octopus Books: Octopus Books is run by editors Zachary Schomburg, Alisa Heinzman, and Mathias Svalina.  They published Heather Christie’s The Difficult Farm and the most recent The Trees, as well as other books like Jenny Zhang’s Dear Jenny, We are All Find.  It’s a small catalog of books they have published so far at just 14 books, but I expect more in the future.

6. Saturnalia Books: Saturnalia has been around for a few years and is run by Henry Israeli.  They’ve published some strong books by Sarah Vap and two books by Catherine Pierce, of which the most recent is The Girls of Peculiar.  A new book to look out for is Xing by Debora Kuan.

7. Ahsahta Press: This is one of the bigger smaller presses run by the tireless Janet Holmes out of Boise State University.  All the books are beautiful physical objects.  One of my favorite poetry books is an older one, Spell, by Dan Beachy-Quick, a book that uses Moby Dick as a conceit.  Some recent books to note are Brian Teare’s latest, Pleasure, Kate Greenstreet’s The Last 4 Things.

8. Akron Series in Poetry: Mary Biddinger edits the Akron Series in Poetry, another university press series, and some interesting books they’ve published recently are Carnival by Jason Bredle, Prop Rockery by Emily Rosko, and Hurricane Party by Alison Pelegrin.  They’ve also published book Oliver de la Paz’s Requiem for the Orchard.

There are many more wonderful older smaller and bigger presses and no longer small presses like Graywolf, Wesleyan University Press, Omnidawn, Wave, Tupelo, Four Way, etc., that I always monitor, but these are just a few of the presses and series I’ve been curious about lately.  Over my next several blog posts, I will track down and interview some of these small press souls, many of whom publish beautiful innovative books out of their bedrooms or basements, sometimes edited virtually across different cities.