One way to survive as a poet is to print your own work. Cal Kinnear once had a Hoe Washington press, an old newspaper flatbed. He set the type and chose the paper for the poem, sometimes issuing a poem at a time and sometimes a collection. Les Gottesman founded his own imprint, Omerta Press, and published 14 chapbooks (2006-12) before Finishing Line Press took his first official book, Misuses of Poetry and other poems (2013), which ends:
The cosmos promises to
load my book
on the real hard drive.
Let's hope so. I think it's what we all hope for, and getting our poems printed and reviewed and read and remembered is one way to get there. If Cal had his printing press, Les had his inkjet printer and produced all the Omerta books himself.
Les's poems are funny and personal, sharp and obscure. His tightly arranged sounds and vivid words take you somewhere but don't tell you where it is. He's a grave jester with a speeding mind and a montage artist's control of tone. Example:
A white hamburger led children to a wall.
You had to be there in order to be there.
Poems have changed
from schematic arbitrariness
to slutty impatience
like laws or cancer.
There's some influence here from Koch and O'Hara, but it's Les's voice, his pronouncement. Some of his poems are readings of the world, some like the work of a prophet with no god:
Misuses of Poetry
Jesus was right. The grammar I
undressed with my eyes had
already devised the emphatic predicate
of he-acts in space and she-acts at
the outer rings of time's
onion of conscious syrup that
the sentence wouldn't stop.
He gets the immediate moment and can pile words like a Beat. He has published many individual poems in magazines and online, but it takes a book of his poems to get the idea, to feel who this Gottesman character is. The Omerta chapbooks and the new book let one spend enough time with him, get a sense of the worlds he builds—as in the ending of the prose poem "Day One Two" from the Immortal Nails chapbook:
Decisions are rented. Land is brought, and taken away. A man goes into a buried store.
The Omerta books were distributed by the author. In a while they'll be all kinds of collectible. But the new book, Misuses of Poetry, is available on Amazon. And the next one will be too: Les just won Tebot Bach's 2012 Clockwise Chapbook Competition for The Cases (due in 2013).
Poetry books that appeared in a few hundred copies used to have to find special distributors. It was hard to get a book into a store, and in fact it still is. It helped that some bookstores focused on poetry (Cal ran one in Olympia called Word of Mouth Books, one of the first bookstores where people could sit down and read) or were known for their poetry sections. Amazon and its network of affiliated sellers have made it much easier for a small edition to find readers, as long as it has a publisher and an ISBN number. Cal's new book, Shale Eyes (2012), is on Amazon too, and so is mine, Love If We Can Stand It (2012). Personally I'm extremely glad that my book can be found in poetry bookstores as well as bought online, and I'm glad that Amazon's "look inside" feature allows people to read a lot of the book for free, almost as if they were browsing in a bookstore.
Thanks to Amazon and other retailers, it poses absolutely no impediment to U.S. distribution that my book was published in England. For the record, there's 45 years of work in that book, and it had to be a book because the key poem in it, "Two Greek Women," was too long for any of the magazines I sent it to to consider publishing—even The New Yorker, which liked it and does publish fiction longer than that poem. For ten years I entered "Two Greek Women" in chapbook contests and the whole book in book contests, rewriting and rearranging the book all the time, but had no luck. I queried publishers directly, but no one would read it. I put enough money in my will to have the book self-published if I died without finding a publisher. Finally, in 2011, I had good luck in England: Anthem Press, which had just accepted my book Horror and the Horror Film, was part of a publishing group that had a new imprint, Thames River Press, that planned to publish new fiction. I asked the editor at Anthem, Tej Sood, whether Thames River might consider a book of poems, and he said it was possible and put me in touch with the head of Thames River, Kamaljit Sood, who had my book and another poetry manuscript that had coincidentally been submitted sent out for anonymous evaluation, and my book was selected. A later anonymous reader suggested putting "A New Song" first, and I agreed and rearranged the book for the last time. The finished product looks good, was printed and bound well, and has no typos. I'm glad I didn't have to die for the book to see print.
Cal Kinnear, from Vashon Island in the state of Washington, has not been influenced by the New York poets as Les has. Cal is a meditative poet with a trace of Rilke in his work. He is also a good clean translator of Paul Celan. His first book, Taurolog (1971), was self-published. A Walk in Bardo (2008), a significant long poem, was published by Blue Begonia Press. Heart Range (2011) was published online by Raven Chronicles. His Celan translations were and still are published by Longhouse (A Handful of Sleep Seed, 2008, a set of folding cards) and by Ekleksographia (Selected Poems, 2009, online). A poem addressed to Celan, "Brief," won the Nelson Bentley Award in 2003 from the magazine Fine Madness. And Shale Eyes, a book of love poems, was published in 2012, set electronically but bound with a hand-printed cover, by Taurolog Books, Cal's new imprint. But even if it's technically self-published, it's on Amazon—through an affiliated seller.
Taurolog, typeset on that huge old Hoe Washington press, on beautiful paper with an etching on the cover by Nancy Solomon, printed when Cal was teaching printing and creative writing at Wells—hence the imprint Wells College Press—ends like this:
You go on,
an open vein,
to where you are cured
your tattered speech
Wells failed to give him tenure, a stupid move to which he owes the rest of his life. (I was teaching there at the time.) He took the press with him when he left; it weighed a literal ton and took many friends to get it into a U-Haul truck. For a while he was a waiter. He kept writing and giving readings. From his translation of Celan's "By Day":
Rabbit skin sky. A clear
wing keeps on writing.
And let's all hope for that too. Also from Celan:
Sunken Farmstead. In the entry porch
the blown-out lung blooms. A handful of
breathes out of a mouth
stammered to truth
out in the dialogues of
Sometimes he asks resonant questions with private symbols he knows how to share. At one point in Shale Eyes he says he wants to talk about:
the moth-eaten holes
things come and go through passing
from dream. This world of mud and morning light
and oat bread is dense and sweet.
* * *
If there were not fox, where
would I die to?
But he can also be as direct as he is in this poem, also from Shale Eyes:
The next morning,
rose from bed, you
had gone. I
put on self with
jeans and a sweater,
went out to replace
my car's dead battery.
But called me later,
you called. Life is
more fluid now, open-
and wide open.
It takes guts to write with that much love. It takes guts to keep writing for years and putting it out. It takes a call, and I don't mean a phone call.
Les and Cal are pushing 70 if they're not there already. Time to read them.
Gottesman Web site, where all his books are available: http://lesgottesman.com/
Kawin, Love If We Can Stand It: http://www.amazon.com/Love-If-We-Can-Stand/dp/0857289217/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366232006&sr=1-1&keywords=kawin+love+of