Adam Deutsch: Publishing poetry, one collaboration at a time
Adam Deutsch, the Publisher/Editor of Cooper Dillon Books, has a novel approach to small-press publishing: he avidly collaborates with poets and responds to manuscripts within five weeks of submission (oh, how we wish we could be that speedy!). Deutsch has tons of small-press experience – he’s worked on the editorial staffs of numerous journals, including Ninth Letter and Barn Owl Review.
Fringe’s Rachel Dacus caught up with Adam by Skype for a chat about poetry and publishing.
Why do you think poetry is on the outskirts of our culture?
It might be because the poets seem to write for themselves, or their tight workshop circles, rather than writing for some sort of process of discovery that can be shared with another person. It’s rare that a poet gives of himself the way I’ve seen some musicians give to their audience. I’m talking about presenting something, and letting it go in the process. It involves a humility, and the intent of the poet to share something, rather than be recognized or applauded for it. One friend suggested that poets—particular at a reading—are taking more from their audience than they’re giving, and it drains us.
What would you see changing that?
There’s an absence of community; maybe we can get back if we could also get beyond being so proud of ourselves. It’s part of human nature: if someone says to you, “this is awesome and you need to hear it,” the reaction from most people is “No, I don’t,” and maybe “Get out of my face.” But if someone approaches us with sincerity and says, “Hi. It’s so good to see you. Can I share this with you?” we’ll be far more inclined to listen—and we have to be okay if the answer is “no.” We can do this, if we can understand that the writing comes from some place outside of us, and that’s where there’s a sense of unity that is natural. Maybe our community is currently dominated by people resisting that unity, and wanting to be told that everything they do is great. It’s selfish, and can be mean and ugly. I think the community would do well to be more humble and thoughtful. It might make the community more sincere, and maybe a little more patient.
We need to think about each other. Attend events you believe in, teach books you believe in. Buy books directly from the press rather than from a distributor or Amazon. Read journals and if you like a poem, track that poet down and buy the book. Find the small presses and journals that are publishing what you want to read and support them. So many journals don’t have a readership to support them. Maybe I want to buy a journal but when it’s $15, I won’t. But I’ll always buy an issue of Poetry magazine because the price is right: $3.18 an issue (on subscription) and they also have critical articles and letters. They’re community-minded.
When did you begin writing poetry? What were your early poetic influences and how have they informed your work as a poet and a publisher/editor?
I didn’t write, or really read, poems until I had just turned 20. I came across On The Road like many kids, when I was around 16, but didn’t read it until I was 19, and moved out to Nantucket for a summer. The following semester was my last at Nassau Community College, and I signed up for a workshop. We read The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry that semester, and a little Bukowski, C.K. Williams, and Li-Young Lee. And I was digging it all, and decided to be an English major, so I took the British Romantics, some comparative lit, etc. etc.
Whitman, Emerson’s essays, William Carlos Williams, Ginsberg, Sylvia Plath, Byron, Milton, William Matthews, Szymborska, James Wright, Brigit Kelly and Neruda all stick with me. Each one moved me outside of myself, and that became the sensation I was looking for when I read. Transcendence became a priority of studying poetry, and it’s what I look for as a publisher.
Why did you start a poetry press?
I’d been working for a number of years with journals like Ninth Letter and Barn Owl Review. I sort of missed that process of discovering wonderful work that came with that, and I missed the poetry community. Colleen Ryor approached me from Black Lawrence Press, wanting to get into an all-poetry press. So, Cooper Dillon Books was established.
Part of our mission is to nurture the writer, which means working with writers with respect and establishing trust. Some authors seem disenchanted with a press after their book has been out for a while—whether it be in the form of long waits for responses to emails, or a lack of transparency about sales numbers and contract details—and we never want our poets to feel like we’ve ceased to care about their work.
In order to serve our community (which includes our poets, readers, as well as those submitting) it’s important that we be trustworthy, attentive, and excited about what we’re doing. That means responding to emails and submissions quickly and kindly, working with stores to get the books in people’s hands (especially when those people are students), packing up orders the day they’re made, and doing something as simple as staying behind the table at Associated Writing Programs Conference (AWP), and standing up while we’re there. I don’t even want to think about how many great books I’ve missed because the person representing the press at a bookfair didn’t look like they cared about where they were; how can I expect someone to be interested in the work we’re doing if I’m sitting down with my hands in my face, and nodding when someone says hello?