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Pineda, poetry and thoughts about small press publishing

Really enjoyed the reading by Jon Pineda last week. (I would have written about it earlier, but I had a cantankerous iBook that refused to operate to my satisfaction. Thus delaying this post until today.) Being half Pinoy (or Filipino), Pineda explores themes common to those who have been removed from their heritage. He is now discovering it through poetry. The book's epigraph sums up his theme: "It's what always begins/In half dark, in half light" -- José Gracia Villa.

He read exclusively from his award-winning book, Birthmark. Poems read included, "Matamis," "Wrestling," "Arboretum," "Night Feeding," "Birthmark," and others.

The poem "Wrestling" still haunts me:
"At our first match, I wrestled a guy/I had met summers ago at a Filipino gathering, ... a few of the boys pinned my shoulders against a tree//while one punched me."

"I watched the clock as I locked a breath inside his throat."

I wanted to buy a copy of Birthmark that night but I only had $6 in my pocket and the cover price was $14.95. This displeased me greatly for I wanted a signed copy of Jon Pineda's book. Why is it that poets cannot afford poetry books? After working on a book project for the last six months, I know that the book (most likely) costs less than $4 to manufacture. This is not the poet's fault. I recently bought two books at another reading (which is probably why I only had $6 left). One book was a 275-page hard cover book for $18.50 while the other book was a 57-page soft cover book for $16.95. The poetry book was the skinny, expensive book.

Maybe that's why readers don't read as much poetry--there's not much to read for 17 bucks. Forgive me again. This is not the poet's decision. I understand why this happens. Poetry publishers supposedly schedule small press runs--maybe 500 to 3000 copies per printing. With those quantities, the book production costs range from $3 to $6 per copy--possibly higher. Add mark-up for retail distribution and the cover price is logically $16.95 per copy.

I'd like to challenge that system. If poetry publishers offered a subscription based books program (i.e. an annual subscription offering three to four books), then they could print with more efficiency and pass the savings to readers. As it is currently, poetry publishers risk a lot and have to build that risk into the cover price. For example, if an independant small press offers a poetry book subscription of $39.95 for their annual series of four books, then they could operate with less risk due to the fact that they have a defined audience (i.e. subscribers) rather than a hopeful audience (i.e. retail outlets).

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