Friday, August 03, 2007


When Queer Collection 2007, Gregory Kompes’ contribution to the world of GLBT anthologies, was released in June of this year, I emailed him and offered to help him promote the book. In part, I did this because I have a book coming out next spring and I thought that I could use Queer Collection as a tool to build some new relationships and get a warm up for the promotion of my own book. It didn’t hurt that Gregory selected two poems of mine, First Kiss and Black Dress, for the collection and I was thrilled to see them in print. All to say, my promotion wasn’t selfless. In spite of that it was motivated by my belief in the importance of independent publishing for GLBT writers.

Two anthologies that I treasure are Amazon Poetry and Lesbian Poetry. These books are two iterations of similar material and were edited by Elly Bulkin and are critical anthologies in the development of a lesbian voice in poetry during the second wave of feminism in the 1970s and early 1980s. I treasure them both and am consequently always looking out for anthologies that will capture, most likely retrospectively, our historical moment now. That’s the reason when the call for submissions for Queer Collection 2007 came into my email box, I submitted. I don’t know what will be the collection of queer poetry that signifies a renaissance in queer writing, but I do know that I want to be in it.

So I support the project that Kompes has undertaken and am pleased to be a part of it. I also was thrilled with Gregory sent me ten copies of Queer Collection 2007 to use as promotional copies. I began contacting reviewers and gay and lesbian publications to encourage them to consider writing about the book.

Kate Evans at Being and Writing wrote a lovely entry about the book for her weekly installment, Poetry Monday. Kate’s book, Like All We Love, was recently published and has gotten good reviews.

Ann White who blogs at Red Hibiscus also wrote a lovely - and trenchant - review.

I emailed with Ann a bit this week about her review and I want to include some of my responses here on my blog. This isn’t in any way to refute what Ann has written because I am enormously grateful for the time and attention that she gave to the Queer Collection 2007. I know myself from writing reviews that its and extraordinary amount of work and to write a review that addresses books in a critically constructive way, which Ann has, requires even more work. So I write this to extend her analysis somewhat and to be in dialogue with someone I regard as having a sharp mind.

I wrote to Ann:

Hi, Ann,

I see your comments about the editorial treatment in a political context - as I am want to do. There is a corporatized publishing industry which waxes and wanes in it's treatment of queer writers. Right now, I think we are in a waning phase. There is less interest in queer writers and queer writers aren't selling as well. The Washington Blade just did a story about how Mary Cheney's book underperformed. When in the mainstream houses, queer writers are not doing well, the less mainstream houses suffer - Alyson, Carroll & Graf, etc. Moreover, we've lost some of the important publishers of lesbian writers. I still mourn every day that Firebrand is gone. And Spinsters Ink seems to be rising again, but I haven't seen what they have published lately. In short, I think we're [GLBT writers] underrepresented in the publishing industry and not getting time and attention from them.

This creates a need for independent projects. There are great ones happening - I love what the fellows at Suspect Thoughts are doing, for instance, and the great lesbian romance house in NY - criminey, I can't recall the name - BOLD STROKES Books. I don't consider these corporatized at all. Then there are these independent operations like Kompes. The things is in producing a truly independent book, without any press infrastructure like proofreading, design, distribution, marketing, etc, doing a book like Queer Collection is a humongous undertaking. I salute Kompes for doing it because it isn't profitable - for anyone. If it was, more corporatized publishers (again, I'd include Alyson in that and even in a stretch Spinsters Ink) would be publishing book like this. Now perhaps it could just be said, they don't make money. Well, most literary novels don't make money and no books of poetry are profitable. None. Ok, maybe Jewel and the woman at Blue Mountain Arts - Susan Polis. So in that context, what Kompes has done is to me important and admirable. Is the quality that of a NY publishing house? No. You ask, does the archive of lesbigay writing merit as diligent an editorial treatment as those that have come before? Certainly, but I think that there are some disanalogies in what you set up. Faderman's book, for instance, is out of a big NY house and Faderman did it as a tenured professor. A different beast than assembling something as an independent writer as Kompes is. Moreover, I think it is not only editorial treatment, but design, marketing, distribution, etc. I want lesbigay writers to have the highest quality of everything in the publishing world, but if I waited for that, I'd be living in complete silence and I'd be writing for no one.

That's my political rant. I'm actually going to write a bit more about it on my blog because I think you raise important questions about the anthology though I have other ones as well. Mostly, I just appreciate that in the silence, Kompes added his voice - not a perfect one, but a voice. A sound. We need that.

Have a great day!

Julie

In the days since that email and in my further mullings of things, I still feel strongly inspired by what Gregory has done with Queer Collection 2007. Certainly, Ann raises good points, but as I’ve been working for a publisher this summer i am becoming more and more aware of the challenges that publishers, even large publishers, have to getting books into the hands of readers. Yet, I know and believe in books powerfully. Books have changed my life and they have changed my understanding of the world. We must have them. We - especially us queers - must find ways of getting them out into the world. Even if that means our projects have shortcomings. Even if that means we make mistakes. Even if that means we have a flawed archive. To have no archive at all would be much worse.

In the interim from this communication, another small press, A Midsummer Night’s Press, has announced two new annual anthologies. I’m pleased and thinking about what I’ll send them in November. Their full call for poems is below.

Meanwhile, though, I’d love to hear from others their thoughts about publishing, independent and otherwise, the queer archive, anthologies, or any of the other issues raised here.

A Midsummer Night's Press announces two new annual anthologies:

BEST GAY POETRY edited by Lawrence Schimel
and
BEST LESBIAN POETRY edited by Linda Alvarez

For the 2008 editions of this exciting new series celebrating the best
in gay/lesbian poetry, A Midsummer Night's Press invites submissions
of poems published during 2007.

Poems can have appeared in print or online magazines, journals, or
anthologies; we are also willing to consider poems from books or
chapbooks first published in 2007, even if the poem was originally
published previously in periodicals, so long as the poet has the right
to reprint the poem.

We are open to all styles of poetry, from formal to free verse; we are
likewise open-minded in terms of content, so long as it somehow fits
(even if pushing the boundaries of) what might be considered "gay
poetry" or "lesbian poetry".
We are willing to consider slam poetry, so long as it has been
published in text form, not merely performed; the poem must also work
on the page, for these anthologies.
We are open to English-language poetry from all over the world, and
actively look to include non-North American voices.

Submissions from individual poets or queries should be sent by email
in .doc format to one of the following addresses, as appropriate:

BestGayPoetry@gmail.com
or
BestLesbianPoetry@gmail.com

Please title documents with the poet's surname.

Please include contact information (both street and email address),
bio, and previous publication history WITHIN the document, as
documents will be read separately from the emails.

Deadline is December 1, 2007.
(We will consider submissions of work that is scheduled to appear in
the latter half of the year, but which has not yet been published.)

In each volume, A Midsummer Night's Press also plans to include a
round-up of all books/journals/anthologies of gay/lesbian poetry
published the previous year. (We also welcome recommendations or
suggestions of appropriate poems from editors of journals or
anthologies.)

Books and journals for review can be sent to the attention of the
appropriate editor at:
A Midsummer Night's Press
16 West 36th Street
2nd Floor
New York NY 10018

About the Editors

Linda Alvarez is the editor of the anthologies BEST DATE EVER: TRUE
STORIES THAT CELEBRATE LESBIAN RELATIONSHIPS (Alyson) and DYKE THE
HALLS: EROTIC LESBIAN CHRISTMAS TALES (Circlet) and lives in New York
City.

Lawrence Schimel is an award-winning author and anthologist who has
published over 80 books, including FIRST PERSON QUEER (Arsenal Pulp),
TWO BOYS IN LOVE (Seventh Window), THE FUTURE IS QUEER (Arsenal Pulp),
PoMoSEXUALS (Cleis), and TWO HEARTS DESIRE (St. Martin's Press). He
also edited the first (and so far only) anthology of gay love poetry
to appear in Catalan, ELLS S'ESTIMEN (Llibres de l'Index). His poems
have appeared in a diverse array of periodicals, from THE CHRISTIAN
SCIENCE MONITOR to PHYSICS TODAY to THE LYRIC, and have been widely
anthologized in GAY LOVE POETRY, THE PRACTICE OF PEACE, CHICKEN SOUP
FOR THE HORSE-LOVER'S SOUL 2, and THE RANDOM HOUSE TREASURY OF LIGHT
VERSE, among others. He lives in Madrid, Spain with his husband,
Ismael Attrache.

About the Publisher:

A Midsummer Night's Press (www.amidsummernightspress.com) is an
independent publisher devoted primarily to poetry, publishing under
three imprints: Fabula Rasa for work inspired by fairy tales or
mythology, Funny Bones for light verse and humor, and Body Language
for works exploring sexuality and queer subjects. The press' first
titles include THIS IS WHAT HAPPENED IN OUR OTHER LIFE by Achy Obejas,
THE GOOD-NEIGHBOR POLICY: A DOUBLE-CROSS IN DOUBLE DACTYLS by Charles
Ardai, and FAIRY TALES FOR WRITERS by Lawrence Schimel. A Midsummer
Night's Press is distributed by SPD (www.spdbooks.org).

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I would first like to say that I read both points of view and although I haven’t read or even heard of QC I must say that I agree with both ladies in respect to having our voices heard, Julie, and presenting ourselves in a light comparable to other works in mainstream publishing, Ann. The problem, as I see it, is in GLBT publishing entities staying afloat. So many have ‘waned’ to use Julie’s term and the interest in GLBT writing seems to be underrepresented because the desire is clandestine, at best, especially for writers who write outside of mystery, vampirism or poetry or political or paranormal. Bold Strokes, Alyson, etc. cater to specific masses and are difficult to break into if your writing is outside the realm of what they deem appropriate for their house. Furthermore they accept fewer and fewer new authors yearly. Not fitting in makes it that much harder for us independents. As Julie touched upon true Indy operations foot the production costs hook, line and sinker. And, yes, it is a humongous undertaking but there is that necessary need to leave the legacy of our voices for the next generation.

And, like Ann, I desire a more concrete, professional or expert print of our writing but what I find almost reprehensible is the fact that it is nearly impossible to find press infrastructures i.e. editors, proofreaders, designers, distributors who are one, of GLBT family and or inclined to be objective if not and two, willing to splice or unite with Indy ops without sufficient financial gain or unless several works have already been established. Yet, as Julie so poignantly stated lesbigay works are not bringing in the units, which reflect dollars, which brings us back to fan based desire and readership. It’s a catch 22 as they say. Furthermore, if you are not cloned or fit in a certain cultural group some of the more corporative publishers refuse your work point blank. Case in point, Bold Strokes, who has no Black or Asian, (Latin unknown) authors, has recently celebrated their third year as a publishing entity and while I applaud them and their efforts I find that their literature is nearly similar for all their cultural respective authors. There is little, if any, variety or diversity in their press/prints literature which tends to produce the same type of book under a different title, different author, different cover. And then you have the prints that only produce erotic lit or hard core fiction leaving out many competent writers of GLBT writing.

I will say it is easier for anthologies to be printed, whether poetry, prose or lyrical as is mystery, paranormal and vampirism, etc. than romances or mainstream novels and depending upon your cultural grouping some literature is much more distributable and fan based than others. It is sad that in this day and age we still have to fight and struggle to be heard, appreciated and honored in the literary world or that the support of our literary works come with such tribulation. But as Julie stated in her blog if we waited for certain justices we’d be living in complete silence, writing for [no one] … our selves and our voices would be muted. We should applaud anyone who independently publishes his or her work in the lesbigay genre and after or instead of alluding to the amateurishness of the work step up and perhaps volunteer to uplift, embrace and assist in making the work more professional and high in quality.

My humbled opinion,

Julie R. Enszer said...

Thank you for your comment!

I do think that another component of this is writer's responsibilities to engage in the business and promotion of our work. Understanding publishing, promotion, and distribution is equally a writer's job as is writing, I would argue. And I would append, especially for GLBT writers. The first responsibility of the writer is of course to write beautiful poetry and/or prose. This responsibility is tantamount and in some ways this responsibility should drive the call for excellent in all areas of publishing. In addition to writing like this, however, we as writers are also compelled to read widely and to engage in the publishing and promotion of our work. We have to look to find readers and reach those readers with high quality projects.

I also really resonate with the commenters statement about the need for more stories and work that is multicultural in the queer worlds. We live in a community that is exciting and compelling. It is our responsibility to write about it and capture it in honest, thoughtful, and beautiful ways.

Ann said...

As the reviewer of QC 2007 mentioned both by Julie and by Anonymous, I’d like to respond to a couple of comments that I’ve heard from different sources.

The intent of a critical review is fairly specific. It’s to present the merits and the weaknesses of the work under consideration. A critical review is not designed to promote a book, its contributors or its publisher. It’s not designed as a one-sided compliment or as a fluff piece. To do so would in fact, diminish the “review,” make it worthless, turn it into a mouthpiece, an unpaid advertisement.

The state of publishing for queer writers is not the issue in a review - at least not in my review. The fact that mainstream writing is more acceptable to mainstream publishers than non-mainstream or queer writing is a given that I don’t argue with, but I do argue with the stance that this situation somehow allows for any publishing of queer writing, just for the sake of adding a book to the market.

If anything, the state of queer publishing should be an incentive to present the very best writing in a queer anthology. As I said to Julie: entice quality writing with quality writing. Don’t accept whatever is submitted just for the sake of creating an anthology!

I chose to review QC from a historical perspective, simply because that is its nature and its fate. The book will go out of print at some point, and perhaps be reissued. But in the meantime, it stands as a testament to writing by the queer community. As I mentioned in my review, it will be evaluated as an addition to the history of anthologies written by, for and about lesbians, gay males and trans people. This is an important point.

I, too have a copy of Amazon Poetry, compiled in 1975 along with the Lesbian Poetry anthology that Elly Bulkin & Joan Larkin produced in 1981. These are classics. They stand strong 20-30 years later not because they were just lesbian anthologies but because they were damn good lesbian anthologies. Do you honestly believe that QC 2007, as a whole, will endure for 20 years? Will it be the anthology you grab off the shelf, the “legacy of our voices for the next generation“? If you cannot honestly say “yes,” then you are giving the work a critical review. That’s what I did.

Now a couple of folks have invited me to edit the next Queer Collection. Whether that’s being said in sincerity or sarcasm, I’m not sure. But I do know that as a reviewer, I have no obligation to improve the work reviewed or its successor. Likewise, I have no obligation to pour laudits on the editor simply because he published the work.

Julie, I appreciate your honest comments. But I don’t believe that the discussion concerning the state of queer publishing is directly related to substance of the writing in QC or to my review. It’s a different subject. If it is related, I’d suggest that poets in general, especially the previously unpublished, are having a hard time. I’d also mention what to me is an obvious point: good writing finds a home. And, as a lesbian and a poet (I don’t necessarily team-up the two identities), I know that craft development takes a long time. If we want to be “appreciated and honored in the literary world” and if we want “support of our literary works,” then let’s produce the best poetry we possibly can, raise our expectations of each other’s work, and keep in mind that Marilyn Hacker has been at it for 30 years. It doesn’t come quick or easy.

Anonymous said...

In response ... see there in lies the issue. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What may be beautiful poetry or prose to you may not be to me and this is what causes the ache in literary processing esp GLBT. Of course we must first write high quality prolific prose/poetry. As Ann states, good writing always rises and finds its podium. However, as I see it, that all depends upon 'who' is judging the writing and what cultural group they are judging it from. Hence my comments re the 'corporate' houses.
When dealing with diverse groups we must look at the writer and her/his environment and how s/he is presenting the work. Again, I'm speaking particularly from a GLBT stand. In some genres there is cultural dialect that may sway the judge into denouncing the work as poor or low grade when in fact it is comprised of a particular grouping.
I say all of this to say that as reviewers, writers, poets and such we must be open to evaluating craft based on a multitude of avenues and then leave the rest to the critical reviewers (readers) and hope that they are coming from a place of a broad mindset able to see beauty in all her glory.
As others have stated the job of the lit reviewer is to be criticle based upon her/his perception. I just hope that the perception is one embedded in diverse culturalism.
Humbly,

Julie R. Enszer said...

Thanks for the comments, Ann and anonymous!

A related piece that I just read today was by Sven Birkerts who was writing about the blogosphere and literary criticism. It is worth a read.

Here is the link:
Birkerts in Boston Globe

Patricia said...

I appreciated reading the exchange between Julie and Ann. I read Ann's review after reading Julie's response which she clearly stated was an attempt to expand upon Ann's perspective. Each woman expanded my understanding about GLBT writing and publishing. I have spent 3 years trying to get a book published--a memoir/oral history-- without success. I've had some great rejection letters, which indicate that the book has merit. Reading this blog entry and the comments has helped me see why I've had such difficulty finding a publisher, and it also encourages me to keep trying. I think the voices in my book have a place in the GLBT archive and I think the writing is worthy enough to take that place. As a theater reviewer, I appreciate what Ann has to say about the role of the critic and as much as I would hate a crummy review, I'm most interested in getting an honest review. I have a gazillion thoughts rolling around in my head after reading these postings, too much to write here, but I wanted to post a statement of gratitude to both women for their thoughtful consideration of the issues.

Julie R. Enszer said...

Patricia,

Continue to persist with your book! One of the things I've been thinking about is the tension for writers between the solitude required to write and revise and the necessity to engage others in the world to find readers. In order for writing to be good, it has to simmer a long time alone in the pot, but the soup has to be tested and has to have an audience in order to be consumed when it is done. Therein is the balance.

Thanks, again, Patricia, and all who have commented.

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