Part four of Jumping the Poetic Hurdle continues the discussion with independent Australian publishers of poetry about the current and future state of poetry publication and distribution. This time I spoke to John Knight, the founder and manager of Brisbane-based publisher, Post Pressed.
As a small, independent publisher, what do you see are the major challenges for the publication and distribution of poetry in the 21st century?
Survival — poetry isn’t profitable! Ironic, it seems more people want to be published than want to buy poetry.
I like to publish well-crafted books of verse — they’re so much nicer than CDs or on-line journals — and more durable too. People don’t want to spend more than $15 or $20, but a low unit cost is contingent on high volume printing — and the books sit and moulder. Perhaps I should downsize to chapbooks…
Most bookshops don’t want to stock much verse — except for the ‘big’ names — it doesn’t sell — or if they do, will only take ‘on consignment’. And promotion/advertising is expensive.
The best avenues of sale are direct — by proactive authors — at readings, other poetry events, to friends and relatives. Or else gratis!
Some publishers get by with vanity press set-ups — the poet pays and is published regardless of quality. We don’t — we have a review panel of competent poets, and generally I meet the costs.
Why is it that poetry, an art that arguably best reflects the speed at which we absorb ideas, information and imagery, is being neglected by corporate publishing houses and distributors throughout Australia?
Big publishers want sales of 3000 copies, and books remainder quickly. (Big publishing is definitely a post-modern game?)
Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? What is the future of poetry publishing and distribution?
Not really. If only teachers, parents and the media could proselytise the joy of language, of verse, of creation. I expect there will be a continuing shift to Chapbooks, CDs and the Web. For the latter, e-zines or self-sponsored web-sites. Also more self-published books, of varying quality. Plus vanity publishers snaring even more of the unwary or incompetent.
Perhaps we need government subsidised publishers? (Grants have always been beyond Post Pressed because we’re not an incorporated business.)
What is on the horizon for Post Pressed?
Post Pressed is committed to continue to publish quality emerging local and regional poets who would otherwise not gain the recognition they deserve. In the queue for 2009 is work by Pam Schindler, Katherine Samuelowicz, Agnieszka Niemira and Laurie Brady.
John Knight is founder and manager of Post Pressed, an indie publisher of verse, fine arts and academic books since 1995. An accomplished and internationally recognised haijin, he is a foundation editor of Paper Wasp, an Australian journal of haiku. He also served as poetry editor of Scope and Social Alternatives for a number of years. His published verse includes Wattle Winds: an Australian haiku sequence (Paper Wasp, 1993), From Derrida to Sara Lee (Metro Arts, 1994), Extracts from the Jerusalem Archives (Sweetwater Press, 1997), big man catching a small wave (Post Pressed, 2006) and Letters from the Asylum (Sudden Valley Press, forthcoming). In a previous life he was an Associate Professor in The School of Education, The University of Queensland, with a particular interest in policy studies and social and literary theory. After his retirement he has worked in a mentoring relationship with doctoral students at QUT and elsewhere.
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