David D. Horowitz, founder and editor of Seattle’s Rose Alley Press, introduces three poets — Robinson Bolkum (Robin Balcom in his day job), Lyn Coffin and Joannie Kervran Stangeland — included in his recently published anthology, “Limbs of the Pine, Peaks of the Range,” who will read their works today.
Question: How did you select the poems for this anthology ?
Answer: I favored recent poems by Northwest poets written in rhyme and meter and/or form. The book’s 114 poems include 29 sonnets and some finely crafted villanelles, sestinas, and poems in other forms, as well as much rhyming light verse. That said, I included some free verse poems, and I even included a poem in Spanish and its translation. I wanted “range,” as the title suggests.
I sought accessibility without simple-mindedness; compression; vivid physical imagery and diction; enjambment and phrasing with multiple meanings to suggest thematic texture; subtle, unpredictable rhyme; awareness of meter and its relation to theme and tone; and drama and poignancy, not mere virtuosity.
Q: When you, as an editor, read a poem, what do you look for? Do you consider the poet as well as the poem?
A: My first criterion is excellence. I certainly hoped to represent diversity of gender, ethnic background, and poetic voice, tone, and form. Above all, though, I considered the poem, not the poet. I think in poetry there are many famous mediocrities and some unknown masters. Too much is made of fame and celebrity in our culture, so I had no problem including some poets with little public reputation.
Now, to a degree I considered the poet. Yes, I wanted to include work by several poets with national reputations, and I wanted more ethnic range than in books I had previously published. Every poem, nevertheless, had to merit close reading and closer rereading.
Last, I included poems by many poets whose individual collections I had previously published. I wanted to remind readers of these collections, as well as offer the poets another forum for their work.
Q: What is the mission of Rose Alley Press?
A: I founded Rose Alley Press on Nov. 17, 1995. Then and now I strive to promote contemporary poetry, especially in rhymed metrics and form. I try to educate the reading public about writing, publishing, and marketing, particularly through an annually updated booklet I sell at book fairs.
I also promote non-Biblical theism, eschewing any “Bible or atheism” dichotomy. I am a freethinker. Indeed, I want Rose Alley to operate as an independent press in the free market. I lose money as a publisher and depend for funds on my day job (which I jokingly call “fund raising”).
That said, I neither seek nor accept donations from corporations or arts commissions. Nor would I accept any money from someone who might try to impose an ideological agenda on the press. For better or worse, Rose Alley Press books reflect the worth of my choices.
Q: What are your thoughts about poetry in public places?
A: On the one hand, I like poetry to be public — read by the office worker, carpenter, nurse, CPA, soldier, rebellious scenester teen, and weary mother herding her three noisy kids to the zoo. Let them see, read, and learn to value poetry! I love poetry reading series and open mics, too — let everyone have access to a public forum to voice concerns and share verse.
I applaud desktop software and e-book uploading that gives everyone a chance to publish a book. We presumably live in a constitutional republic, so let free speech ring out.
That said, I think it disastrous if artistic standards are lowered to keep everyone in a big poetry tent. Surely, we should applaud even the shy poet’s first reading, awkward but sincere slam performances, and any desire to improve. I do not, however, believe, badly crafted poetry merits a standing ovation, publication by commercial book publishers and journal editors, or prominence on public transport vehicles or historical monuments. Bad public poetry can undermine interest in the art.
Q: What’s the status of poetry in the Pacific Northwest?
A: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The Northwest grows small presses, like Copper Canyon, Blue Begonia, WoodWorks, and Black Heron, as well as a host of small literary journals. Seattle and the large cities feature many poetry performance venues, and the annual Burning Word Festival is establishing itself as a central fixture in the scene. Bravo!
By contrast, the Seattle Poetry Festival just folded; Northwest Bookfest and the Bumbershoot Book Fair also recently folded. Numerous venues last only briefly as venues. The latest edition of “Poets Market” reveals declining numbers of active journals and small presses. While we rightly glory in our freedom to disseminate verse on the Web, much of it is badly edited, cliché-ridden, and redolent of self-fascination, not serious concern for poetic craft. I urge all poets to help support small presses and reading venues and to meticulously study their craft.
Q: What are your thoughts about a poet laureate for Washington state, as the Washington State Arts Commission is undertaking?
A: I have not argued for a Washington State Poet Laureateship. This places me amongst a minority of my poetic peers. I recognize a thoughtful laureate can help educate and popularize. I also recognize the twin dangers of placative blandness and divisive partisanship. I like separation of art and state for the same reasons I support separation of church and state.
Q: Do you find, as an editor, a sense of community in the writers’ circle?
A: Poets tend to be mutually supportive. We understand each other’s struggles and challenges. Many have endured public indifference, scorn, misperception, and jealousy. Most appreciate how difficult it is to get work published and to master the craft itself. The Muse might coo praise as you scribble ruminations during dusk, and at dawn mock you for having felt so good about what you suddenly feel is rubbish. We’ve all been there! Let’s not make it any harder on each other than it has to be!