AN ALTERNATIVE PUBLISHIING MODEL
Over the past few weeks, I have attended readings of two poets whose work appears in the recently published anthology Letters to the World: co-editor Rosemary Starace, a dear friend and valued critique partner; and Amy Lemmon, whom I met this year when she invited me to speak to her honors class at the Fashion Institute of Technology on challenges creative women face.
The readings, like the anthology itself, were notable not just for the quality of the presented work but for the inclusive and generous spirit which apparently informed the project from its inception.
The anthology is an outgrowth of the Discussion of Women's Poetry List (known as "Wom-Po"), a ten-year-old Internet community dedicated to exploring women's poetry and supporting women poets, both established and emerging.
I had experienced the warmth of the Wom-Po community a few years ago. My book, Getting Unstuck without Coming Unglued, was originally conceived of as an anthology of essays by women on the topic of gender and creativity. Rosemary posted my "elevator pitch" on the listserv, and within a few days my inbox was flooded with fascinating emails containing not only descriptions of proposed essays, but suggestions for other ways to attract good writers. I corresponded with several of these women and included their essay descriptions in my book proposal.
When the editor who had solicited my proposal got back to me with the news that the publisher was most interested in my introductory material and wished me to expand that into a single-author book, I sent out an email to the contributors thanking them for their efforts and explaining that this project would not proceed further at this time. I didn't expect to hear back from anyone. But a number wrote back to congratulate me, wish me well, and say that they were looking forward to the published book. I knew then that this was a special group.
The anthology, whose title was inspired by Emily Dickinson's "This Is My Letter to the World," represents the work of 259 contributors from nineteen countries over five continents. The forms range from traditional to uncategorizable; the subject matter from romantic love through the mechanics of home pregnancy tests, the chemistry of decomposing bodies, and nearly any other topic a poem can be written about. No two are similar; all belong.
The readings were more like parties. There was no jockeying for the spotlight; no stretching of time limits at the expense of othe readers. Each anthology poet--three at Amy's reading; two at Rosemary's--read a selection of other contributors' work before presenting her own poems. There was nothing pro forma about any of this--the interpretations of the work of absent poets were clearly fully felt; often, the poem was followed by an expression of appreciation by the reader: "Doesn't that last line give you goosebumps?" or "God, what an image!" The result was a blurring of the boundary between reader-artists and audience; we were all drawn together into the charmed circle of participants in the appreciation of beauty and authentic expression. It was a magical and enlightening experience, one that, I'm assured, is typical Wom-Po.
This is not a model most writers can afford to follow. The list and the book are not profit-making ventures; their sole "business" is exploring and promoting art. It's fun to reflect, though, on what life would be like if that were the business of publishing generally.
Susan O'Doherty, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with a New York City-based practice. A fiction writer herself, she specializes in issues affecting writers and other creative artists. Her book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: A Woman's Guide to Unblocking Creativity (Seal, 2007) is now available in bookstores. Send your questions to her at Dr.Sue at mindspring dot com.