Friday, February 08, 2008

A small-press internship

Last Spring (2007) I began to research possible internships. Through an internet search for small poetry presses in the Philadelphia area, I discovered Aralia Press. I called Mike Peich, Director of the Poetry Center at West Chester University and Aralia Press. It caught my interest because it was so close by, only 20 minutes from my home. From our first conversation, Mike expressed enthusiasm at the idea of my internship. Many possibilities existed. There was one glitch. He would be on sabbatical in the Fall of 2007, when I expected my internship and third semester to take place, and unavailable for supervision.

The West Chester University Poetry Center was created in 2000. It’s goals are:
➢ to provide the nation's finest instruction in the diverse traditional techniques of poetry;
➢ to provide an international forum for the discussion of poetic form and prosody;
➢ to train teachers in the art of teaching poetry and poetic form;
➢ to foster the necessary dialogue between practicing poets and critics in a culture that too often separates them;
➢ to recognize poetic achievement through the Iris N. Spencer Awards;
➢ to illustrate the important connections between contemporary poetry and fine printing.

Mike and I met in person and discussed options. Could I help immediately, in the Spring 2007? I could sit in on his classes and help at his small printing press where he produced small books of poetry from handset types and printed letterpress on fine papers. My schedule didn’t permit me to help in the Spring ‘07, plus I would not get credit for it. One of the other options was to help with the annual Poetry Conference in June. I assisted with much of the administration of this conference and used it for my Enrichment Project.

Due to illness in my family with my brother battling lung cancer and not doing well, and my mom battling esophageal cancer, I delayed my internship and two other third-semester courses until January 2008. Mike and I stayed in touch and decided to see what might evolve for January.

In the meantime I also contacted the Editor of Saturnalia Books in Philadelphia. Henry Israeli, the Editor, was delighted and anxious to meet with me. (Amazing what free labor means to people!) We met several times and discussed what I might do. Saturnalia was doing well, but needed an administrator – someone who could follow through on the 501c3 filing, someone to research foundations and grants, someone who could network for private funding – all of this and more were presented to me, plus reviewing manuscripts for publication. The books of Saturnalia impressed me. They appeared to be quality publications that included some artwork. But the position that Henry described felt overwhelming – too much expected and he was a one-man show.

I put my decision on hold through the Fall 2007, until things settled. Within a three-week period in November, my home sold, we moved, and my brother passed away. Then the December holidays happened.

I spoke again with Mike in late December, and told Henry I would not be working as an intern for Saturnalia. Mike and I met in January at which time he outlined his plan for my help. The Poetry Center had purchased the inventory from Story Line Press that remained after going out of business. Mike was interested in using that as a foundation to launch a new public press called Contemporary Poetry Review Press (CPR).

CPR will publish four things: (1) a collection each year as the winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Award; (2) critical work focused on contemporary poets and poetry; (3) anthologies, and (4) a series of monographs on living poets. All titles will be consistent with the mission of the Center.

The first step and my first responsibility is to apply for non-profit status or a 501c3. I will assist Mike in establishing a foundation for CPR to move forward, including administrative functions. Past volunteer and work experience has prepared me to some extent for this internship. I assisted a small non-profit, Girls Star, to establish their 501c3 about four years ago, and worked with setting up their program in local schools, as well as training facilitators.

My work with CPR, however, will be from the very infant stages of formation. I hope to gain experience in developing my editing skills and managing a small press. Although not directly developing my writing skills, the internship work is very much related to my primary genre, writing poetry. I will be exposed to the nuts and bolts of operating a small press publication. I will have the opportunity to review manuscripts. And, eventually, the opportunity exists for the internship to evolve into practical work. Primarily, I will be working in an atmosphere and spirit of dedication to promoting lively and serious poetry representative of our time.

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