Dear Emily Post-Avant,

Have you been following the series Matvei Yankelevich, co-founder/editor of Ugly Duckling Presse, has been doing at the Harriet Blog of the Poetry Foundation? It is all about the honorable history of the small poetry press and the new cooptation of “small press publishing” (and so much else in poetry) by–as we used to call it, back in the 80s and 90s–the Culture Industry.

It’s so blunt-mannered that the Poetry Foundation is putting up long disclaimers before each article in the series. He’s at three, with one to go. I don’t think the PF knew what was coming. What do you think, Ms. Emily?

We adore you.

–Old Timer Veteran of Bolinas, Now Retired near Pittsburgh


Dear Old Timer Veteran of Bolinas, Now Retired near Pittsburgh,

I have always wanted to go to Pittsburgh. It sounds so nice. The many little hills and the three rivers and the proud ethnic enclaves and the long steel bridges and the antique worker taverns and the old steel mills puffing little clouds. Oh, it sounds like a children’s picture book!

Did you ever see that movie about the Creative Writing program at U of Pittsburgh, now I can’t remember what it was called, The Lost Boys, something like that, I don’t feel like looking it up, adapted from a novel by a famous guy whose name I can’t recall, sorry. I am a bit overserved at the moment, just got back from my monthly Spokane Still-Living Oldster-Roadsters Poetry Association (SSLORPA) and we were slurping mint juleps, round after round, in honor of the “Louisville Conference on Literature after 1900,” which from now on might properly be known as the “Louisville Conference on Literature after 1900, Pending Grad-Student-Mob Approval of the Participants.” It was a pretty good movie, even if only an upper-shelf commercial novel, early Clinton years neo-lib, quasi-Updike-Realism-drift. Do I sound OK?

Starship Troopers, though not about Creative Writing and stuff, is another film from that same year (I think?), which is really excellent and underrated. What a movie! And much more important than The Lost Boys, because Starship Troopers is an unintended [or not?] allegory of the coming civil war that will finally free us from the tyranny of the Earth Invaders. In it, at the end, when they take the Big-Boss Bad Slug out of the cave, a huge, squirming mass of fat, the little mouth of the gristle-glob goliath squeals, pitiably, “I AM AFRAID! I AM AFRAID!”

And all the beautiful Starship Troopers, men and women, white and Black and Brown and Asian and Native, gay and straight and in between, they cheer and hurrah, they are so happy.

I don’t want to lose the thread about my main point of this, Yankelevich and his essay, but I’ll tell you why that movie is so much more relevant than The Lost Golden Boys, if that’s the name. Because at the end of it, the main traumatic episode is that the Professor’s giant novel typescript gets taken by the Pittsburgh wind and blown hither and yon, lost forever, half of it floating down the Ohio. (This was the last movie about contemporary writers in the typewriter era).

To which, of course, one must ask, as the tenured white prof (everyone’s white, in the movie, obviously) runs crazily about, chasing after his pages: What does it ultimately matter? Though maybe, to be fair, that could have been Chabon’s point, whose name I just remembered, though probably not. Excuse me while I go to enjoy a Gitanes, for drinking makes me smoke.

Hi again. True, I have read only the third part of Matvei Yankelevich’s subversive series, published, ironically enough, at the Big-Boss Gristle Slug Wooden-Horse Inside Poetry’s Polis, otherwise known as the Poetry Foundation. But it is the part most relevant to my main point, to which I will soon arrive by way of stream of consciousness, I hope.

By the way, I love Ugly Duckling Presse and all the kids there, I love them dearly, for they are the true swans of living U.S. poesy. I have collected all of what they do for a dozen years now, or almost all of it. Everyone else should, too. There should be a statue of Matvei Yankelevich and Julien Poirier, on a corner in Gowanus, when they were still young, and friends.

I hope I don’t sound like a psoriasis-ridden trans girl who is totally sloshed, because I am, OK? There are some titles that are OP and gone and I can’t get them, and you won’t be able to, either, like in the Lost Literature Series, dammit. But I have almost all of what they have produced, as I said, including posters, ephemera, book bags, even T-shirts. To me, the UDP peeps are the example of what a poetry press can and should be. I want to go to bed with all of them! I don’t want to have sex with them, I just want to hold them, gently, while they are softly snoring. All those now-legends in the Granary Books classic, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side (I’ve got it signed by Steven Clay) would be proud as peaches, there is no doubt of it. UDP is the lead inheritor of all that. Grab them, darlings. Love them. Love other small presses, too, it doesn’t have to be UDP, just choose one and support it, without cease. Subscribe permanently. (Brian Teare’s Albion Books, for instance. Or CUNY’s Lost & Found series.) This will make you a true poet forever, and by default.

Let me close abruptly by saying just one thing, which is finally my main point, as I promised, because the shorter the better, and I for sure don’t always live up to that worthy cliché, especially after eleven mint juleps.

Yankelevich says it clearly: Everything in poetry is getting taken over by corporate and finance cash and their State administrators, nearly all of whom hate Sanders and love Biden and Bloomberg. Adorno and Benjamin had it so damn right, way back, and here we are, stunned and wondering what the hell has happened. Those who realize something has happened, that is. Most youngsters think it’s all just so wonderful, that poetry never had it better, and just look it up on your smart phone, eh, etc.

OK, so Coffee House, Graywolf, and Copper Canyon presses are outfits any true poet should now start boycotting the fuck out of. You know what I’m saying? Because here’s the thing: The opportunist, cynical bastards pretend they are “small presses.” And they do so to grab the bulk of State grant money getting dished out, even under the Trump reign, keeping it all for themselves, while the little and tiny and most risk-taking micro-presses starve and die, all of which is in line with the classic divide and rule politics of all imperial programs of “cultural beneficence.”

These dirty big-three Po-Lit Press operators (along with a few other mid-level “independents,” hi, Wave Books, I’m waving) know no shame. Does it not occur to them that if they really have a freaking caring for poetry they would at least donate most of their State proceeds from their already nice bank accounts to the little presses who desperately need just a bit of meager income? To whom even one-grand in coin would mean the world? These fake “small” presses have become wanna-be entrepreneurs in spirit and deed, and to such an extent they are willing to take State cash, happily pushing the best micros into the gutters, to flow away, down the sub-culture drain. What an obscene joke on poetry and its best traditions these Po-creeps are.

People at the 2020 AWP, as Ben Lerner says somewhere in Angle of Yaw, please listen to me: Stay away from their book tables! Or if you go to their tables, dump bags of your personal shit upon them, collected, collectively, in the bathrooms. I am serious. This is what Raúl Zurita and the heroes of the Chilean CADA resistance did, in the Museums, way back (they also self-mutilated themselves with acid and razor blades, but you don’t need to do that), and in the end an overwhelming mass movement hit on and rallied around one of their numerous poetic slogans, and this brought down a neo-fascist junta—one supported by the same government and corporations and institutions that now want to buy you off. Don’t ever let them tell you poetry can’t matter.

Be like CADA!

Say “NO MÁS!”

Civic people of the future will name beautifully designed parks after you.

–Emily Post-Avant