‘Except for Perhaps Poetry…’

Independent publisher David Godine, shown with his press in his backyard barn, has sold his company and published the retrospective “Godine At Fifty.” PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF.

In 1970, David Godine started a small publishing company in an abandoned cow barn in Brookline, Massachusetts. After a distinguished history of publishing select titles in well crafted editions, he has sold the company. I enjoyed reading what he did NOT publish.

We didn’t publish any books on society or current events. We were not heavily engaged in the 21st century or where it was going… We didn’t do any books on celebrities or glamour. Nothing on material culture. We did absolutely no books on weight loss or exercise. We had no books on horror, no fantasy, and no graphic novels.

Godine concedes that a publisher has to turn a profit to survive.

Except for perhaps poetry, I don’t think we deliberately published books where we knew we were in for a big loss. Also, we published a lot of books that sold many, many copies and paid for a lot of books that didn’t sell many, many copies, but which you feel a responsibility to do.

The interviewer presses Godine about the exception he makes for poetry:

Q. You say every self-respecting publisher has a responsibility to support poetry, but celebrity, weight loss, and graphic novels would have sold a lot better than poetry, right?

A. [Laughs] Absolutely. Publishing poetry is like dropping a rose petal off the rim of the Grand Canyon and anticipating the echo. It’s Dante-esque in the purity of its hopelessness. It’s not an arena one enters with any expectation of making money.

(Mark Shanahan, “Q&A with David Godine about ‘Godine at Fifty’ and the press he founded to publish ‘books that matter for people who care,’” bostonglobe.com, 11-18-21)

Discussing the poetry of Tommy Pico, Alan Gilbert writes: “Poetry is a form of nourishment based on need, yet one that can turn into a choice.” Later in the same paragraph Gilbert says, “A world driven by consumption can only in the end devour itself.” (“Refuse to Settle,” Poetry, December 2020, p. 304).

For me, Gilbert’s comment hints at what must be a deeply unexamined but compelling rationale for supporting the verse habit of the few who never quite go away. Much respect to Mr. Godine for being a gladiator for poets in the publishing arena.

(c) 2021 JMN — EthicalDative. All rights reserved

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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