Finding a Niche for Poetry

Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:00:51 +0000

In the world of publishing, poetry is one of those areas where bigger is not better. Poems rarely excite the interest of the general readership, and as such, the major publishing houses will usually decide that any given book in the genre is simply not worth their time, effort, or money. After all, when was the last time a volume of poetry made the bestseller list? When was the last time you saw one prominently displayed at Barnes & Noble?

Small presses, on the other hand, often prove more enthusiastic about printing and marketing poetic works. Whether they are dedicated exclusively to the genre or simply inclusive of poetry that falls under their area of expertise, niche publishers currently offer one of the best venues for poets seeking to introduce their work to the world.

Take, for example, our own Ooligan Press. Ooligan’s specialty is books from the Pacific Northwest for the Pacific Northwest, and we have published several poetry titles under that umbrella in past years, all of which can be found on our website. Ooligan’s flagship poetry title is Alive at the Center, an anthology featuring hundreds of contemporary Northwest poets. Nominated for the 2014 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, Alive at the Center is available as a single volume, or divided into three smaller books according to the three major cities that the writers call home: Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver.

Then there’s Copper Canyon Press, also located here in the Northwest. Copper Canyon is a nonprofit indie publisher that dedicates itself solely to the poetry genre, operating under the motto, “Poetry is vital to language and living.” (“All poetry, all the time” was presumably deemed too cliché.) The press prints and distributes paperback collections from an international array of talented poets in over fifteen different languages. Forty-three of its titles so far have won various awards, prizes, and other literary honors.

Another small not-for-profit publisher offering a notable selection of poetry is Graywolf Press. Originally founded in Washington State with a focus on printing volumes of hand-bound, letterpressed poems, Graywolf has since moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and branched out to include novels, memoirs, short story collections, and essays. A significant chunk of their bestsellers and award-winners, however, still come from their poetry list. Most recently, two of Graywolf’s titles have been named as finalists for the 2014 National Book Award in poetry.

This is, of course, hardly an exhaustive list—there are many more small presses in the world of anglophone publishing with an interest in poetry. These indie publishers go above and beyond merely accepting more submissions from this genre than the big houses; they aggressively market their poetry titles, constantly strive to win awards and accolades, and exploit every opportunity to promote and nurture interest in the art of poetry. Thanks to the efforts of niche publishers, the poetry genre will quietly continue to survive, and even thrive, at the margins of today’s overcrowded, cutthroat market.

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