York’s Poet Laureate hates sleep.
Actually, I’m sure she loves sleep. I’m just not convinced she gets any because she’s too busy writing poetry, promoting poetry, attending poetry events (which, in the York region, are many), and booking/coordinating/producing a weekly TV show about poetry (and art, and music).
Oh, and she also publishes poetry.
Carla Christopher runs an independent small press called PoemSugar. Her sleep recently took yet another hit when she agreed to take time to answer some questions about PoemSugar and the poets she’s published.
Warning: Her enthusiasm for her authors is infectious. It’s like a PoemSugar high.
Q. With all that you already do with and for local poetry, what prompted you to start a small press? How did PoemSugar come to be?
A. I was inspired to start a local press that served the York area because once I started exploring and enjoying the poetry world, I was greedy for more. I loved the voices I was hearing at readings and shows so much, I wanted to take them home with me … but far too many authors didn’t have any books! Some authors were shy, some had previous yucky experiences with larger publishing houses and some just didn’t know enough about the publishing world to even know where to start. I was awed by the quality of work that other local small presses were putting out and at first considered encouraging artists to just check them out. Plan B Press in Berks County, Iris G. Press in Lancaster, Post Dada Press in Harrisburg — all have top quality books by amazing authors.
I am an all-York-all-the-time girl, though. I believe in the talent that exists locally, and I believe it’s best served by a local press that understand the market and has those regional connections. Besides, there is room for all of us. My second book, “Baby, Read Me Something with Rhythm,” was an experiment to see if I could publish a book worth looking at. I found a genius copyeditor and all-around resource finder in local poet and Parliament board member, Missi McLaren. I found a great second reader and publicity guru in Crystal Charisse, another local poet … and the book came out pretty darn good. I learned a lot, though, and our next book was even more incredible, as are all the others (yes, I admit to being slightly biased).
We have a very specific mission. PoemSugar is about having an author-centered publishing process, where the author is actively involved, fully empowered and thoroughly educated. PoemSugar authors retain their own copyright, have the right to publish their poems in other journals or competitions and get final approval on everything. We are not going to make any edits or design a cover that the author hates, then just tell them to live with it. I make the authors do their share of the work, too. I will spend hours editing work or debating poem order, and will help to book shows and coach performing. But my goal is, by the end of the process, each PoemSugar author should know enough about the publishing process to either go to a larger publishing house and not be taken advantage of OR be able to publish a book themselves. I make them get their hands dirty from beginning to end, and all of us can be tough. I may run PoemSugar, but when I was working on my most recent collection, “Addicted to Relapse,” Missi had no problem telling me “That poem doesn’t go — take it out!” I had help all along the way with poem selection, editing the pieces, finding errors and typos and deciding on a cover concept. It’s the best of both worlds — the skill, advice and help of a publisher and the control of self-publishing.
Q. What kinds of voices and poetry do you wish to promote via PoemSugar?
A. As for what kinds of voices sing the songs of PoemSugar…we service first or “first in a long time” authors who are particularly dynamic, creative and outside of the traditional poetry box: Minority, LGBT, young or experimental-style authors who are traditionally underrepresented by traditional publishing houses. Rich Hemmings, who we published a chapbook for, has been a bastion of the York poetry community for more than 20 years, but he has a very unconventional, slam-inspired style. We published “Orbits Around a Lightless Star” and it worked. “Below-the-Belt” was a collection of erotically-inspired poetry by lesbian or bi-sexual women. We published it and audiences adored it.
In the works right now are a spoken word-inspired collection that totally works on the page by local performer, Joslin Kearse, aka SoulCry, and an inspirational collection by TJ Gagliardi that explores the journey through clinical depression. SoulCry literally brought an audience to its feet at a recent reading … in the middle of the poem! They wouldn’t even let her finish! Who gets that? And TJ — the man uses totally contemporary language and imagery about powerful issues and manages to put them in sonnet form? Tell me these authors don’t NEED books!
Q. How do you acquire manuscripts? Do you solicit authors that you want to publish, or accept submissions, or run a contest?
A. I absolutely will solicit an author I think should be published, but our most recent collections have been from authors who approached me.
Q. We talked about the logistics and challenges of producing an arts showcase for TV. What are the logistics and challenges of running a small press? How do you see the press developing or evolving in the future?
A. Down the road, I would love to have contests and open calls to solicit manuscripts, but we’re a small press and give tons of individual attention to each book. In the last year, we have published six books and we already have two more in editing and another two in the wings. We need some more editors for all that! I absolutely see PoemSugar evolving in having the staff and funds to publish even more books, becoming the go-to source of York’s most exciting poetry. I see a journal in our future, and annual contests to find new authors. In this, our fledgling stage, it’s a constant battle to find the money to print each book and to market it and to find the time to work intensely one-on-one with each author. We make it happen, though, because the work is just that good, and, I believe with all my heart, needs to be shared. A published book is a gift to future generations, a legacy, the ultimate personal statement. It’s who you are, who you were in a certain time and place that can never be recaptured once it has passed. Being a part of that process with each author PoemSugar publishes is a gift I would never give up on.
Read any PoemSugar books lately?