Remember waiting for a care package? Or Charlie Brown, standing by the mailbox on Valentines Day, waiting for a valentine? Charlie Brown doesn’t get a valentine, but we imagine every other mailbox stuffed with messages, notes and love letters. I can’t tell you how to get love letters to fill your mailbox, but I can tell how it will be filled with poems.
This is about Octopus Books, one publisher I subscribe to. It’s also about supporting small publishers and the things they send you if you do.
Octopus Books is a Portland-based Poetry small press, and perhaps my favorite small press (It’s either them or Song Cave). Editors Zachary Schomburg and Matthias Svalina have spent the last 11 years building a catalog of poetry they recognize as vital for sharing and reading. A catalog that’s come to 26 full collections so far.
Octopus Books has been publishing poetry since 2006. In that time it has published collections by Patricia Lockwood, Brandon Shimoda, Bianca Stone (one of the artists behind the Emily Dickinson Tarot), Heather Christle, Ben Mirov and Amy Lawless. Its collections have touched on themes and topics so broad that I can only take stabs at what themes have not been touched on (Sled dog racing? Waffle making? I’d be more confident but for Brandon Downing). Themes in one book include trees with television screens, or in another witch trials, or in another Popeye, or in another Sandra Bland. Poem titles range from “The Grown Folks Music” to “"Don't fucking text your friends when I'm reading a poem it took two years to write"; book titles include Someone Else’s Wedding Vows and Sex Boat.
All poetry presses are small and unprofitable. Some admit it. We call these presses “small presses.” But honesty isn’t a small press’s only distinction. There’s this difference too, that a small press selection feels more like the outcome of loving curation than selective exclusion. Schomburg and Svalina find voices that you need to hear, and make sure you do with care and excitement. Schomburg has said that Octopus Books was born almost immediately when he and Svlaina shared a TA office in Lincoln Nebraska. That energy shows.
When I renew my subscription to Octopus Books I’m asking that Schomburg, Svalina and the staff at Octopus send me something they think is wonderful. Over the years the wonderful things have been more than the books their press publishes. The books have come with a page torn from an old dictionary, a note of thanks, a comic from another publisher, a mix tape, a vinyl record of Eileen Myles reading. A poem on a single page, which I have put up on my fridge and talked about with my daughter.
My goal should be clear, it’s to get more people to subscribe to Octopus or another press, to give them support. December is one of the few times we wait with any anticipation for the mail. You can easily have that all year, or give the experience to someone you know. And all year, you can wait at your mailbox for a package and a note of thanks for being an Octopus.
Here is a link to subscribe to Octopus and also a by no means definitive list of other small poetry publishers you can subscribe to.
Octopus Books – I just wrote about this press. I hope you’re sold.
Bloof Books – Based in central New Jersey. Handmade books and limited edition chapbooks. Bloof Poets include Jennifer Knox, Danielle Pafunda and Sharon Mesmer.
Another press that has sent me random stuff.
Eohippus labs – Eohippus labs will send you lots of thin pamphlets. Be ready.
The Cupboard Pamphlets – Cupboard pamphlets are the tiniest beautiful paperback books I’ve seen and are presumably published by tiny elves.
Black Ocean Press – Beautiful books. Authors include Zachary Schomburg, Lisa Ciccarello, Matthew Zapruder. Recently collected the works of Tomaz Salamun.
Wave Books – Sparse cover design makes this press immediately recognizable. All business. Will not send you cool stuff. But the authors featured. Where to begin. . . Dara Weir, Graham Foust, Mary Ruefle, Dorothea Lasky, Timothy Donnelly. Substantial books too. Easily ships the greatest poundage of books of all the subscriptions on this list (utterly crushes Cupboard Pamphlets).
Ugly Duckling Presse-- UDP was transformed from a 1990s zine into a Brooklyn-based small press by a volunteer editorial collective that has published more than 200 titles to date. Books, chapbooks, artist’s books, broadsides, and periodicals often contain handmade elements.