Wave Books throws everything at the wall, finds poetry collections stick on their own

By Harriet Staff

In an article for the Seattle Times, Mary Ann Gwinn looks at the success the five-year-old Wave Books has had in helping its poets find readers while maintaining critical acclaim.

Launching a poetry-only publishing house was a leap of faith, says Wave Books editor Joshua Beckman, powered by a lot of untested ideas: "We had more ideas than we knew what to do with," he recalls.

Chief among them: getting the word out about new poetry, beyond its core audience of poets, college teachers and MFA candidates. (One of Wave Books' zanier projects was a "Poetry Bus" that toured the country in 2006 — a 50-day, 50-city tour in which 360 poets, who rode the bus for varying amounts of time, read their work all over America).

That doesn't necessarily mean that the for-profit publisher has turned a profit, but all things are relative in the world of poetry. Gwinn notes that a number of their titles have sold around 5,000 copies, compared to other publishers who are lucky to move 1,000. With all of Wave Books' experimentation-- besides the Poetry Bus, they've tried out poetry residencies and an online journal --Beckman believes that the form itself provides a built-in durability that keeps readers coming back. The same characteristics that many see as making poetry incomprehensible or difficult are also the ones that attract avid readers of poetry and keep them coming back to the same poetry collections over and over again.

He says the poetry book is a compact, accessible, enduring package for the art form. "Poetry books are things that people want to have and read over many years," he says. "People keep their favorite poetry around — for 10 years, 20 years, 30 years. For life. A lot of poetry demands reading and rereading."