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Best Poetry Presses, by Design

By Harriet Staff

Sean Bishop wrote this post over at the Ploughshares blog. In it he lists the top ten poetry presses according to their book design.

Here’s his intro. Make the jump to read the list:

Here’s some Not-News-To-Anyone: poetry doesn’t sell itself. Successful first books, in particular, depend on a poet’s overall visibility online, a real-world group of friends and friends-of-friends to assist in writing and publishing reviews, the poet’s willingness to go on a thankless monetary sinkhole of a cross-country “tour” with several other poets packed in the back of a beat-up 1997 Honda Civic with no a/c, and last but not least: the artwork and design of the book itself. Is it pretty? Would it look good on your pillow?

As we move into an e-book future, poetry might be one of the last battlegrounds for bibliophiles. Most poets still love the thingness of a book: the color of the paper, the smell of the glue (take a good sniff of FSG’s hardcovers sometime… amazing). Fiction-lovers might disagree, but I think poets are also more likely to return to a particularly beloved collection five, ten, twenty or fifty times, giving the thingness of a poetry collection an almost totem-like quality that novels and even story collections tend not to share.

Moreover, e-readers have been slow to figure out what to do with line breaks (or so I’m told), and seem geared much more toward linear reading habits than their made-of-paper predecessors, which is a problem when it comes to poetry… most of us don’t read a poetry collection from front to back, at least not after the first go-through. All this is to say that attractive, long-lasting and innovative design is more important than ever in the poetry world, and will likely only become more important in the next five or ten years. (After that we’ll all be cyborgs and will download books directly to our brains).

Unfortunately, poetry publishers have been slow to privilege innovative design. So here’s a list of the ten best-designed poetry publishers out there right now—the presses that have set the bar for what a poetry collection can look and feel like. I want to be clear: even the lower-ranking presses on this list are important publishers whom I respect deeply… pretty-looking but otherwise not-very-good/important presses simply aren’t included here, nor are good presses who employ less-than-adequate designers.


Posted in Poetry News on Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.