Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Word Works—Truth, Lies and Gossip

In the life of a small press, some things cannot be said and certainly not as a blog post where truth, lies and gossip are often equal partners. This means some unspoken stories go to the grave with their tellers.

Perversely I correct people who say Karren Alenier is The Word Works or The Word Works belongs to Karren Alenier because it started with her.

Fact: Wandering on the Outside by Karren LaLonde Alenier was the first book published by The Word Works. The year was 1975. Deirdra Baldwin as founding director and chairperson of the board created The Word Works at the end of 1974 with her brother-in-law Paris Christopher Pacchione, a graphic artist. They made up the board of directors along with Yolanda Gerritsen, a Dutch citizen married to the American lawyer Roy Nierenberg who nailed down nonprofit status for Word Works.

When Deirdra showed up in 1975 at my house on Bradley Boulevard in Chevy Chase to ask for the manuscript that would become my first book, I hadn’t seen her in some months. The truth was I was fed up with her and the antics of a man named Jim Morrisette, the same man who claimed he was calling Ezra Pound in the middle of the night but Pound was always willing to talk to him. Perhaps I misheard but Pound had died in 1972. Morrisette was just looking for his next drink. Yolanda said Jim had fallen backwards out his chair at the Childe Harold during a planning meeting Deirdra had called.

Why did Deirdra pick me as the first author? She believed I knew more people than anyone else she had in mind and therefore would sell more books boosting the small seed grant from an anonymous donor (yes, here is one of those secrets). Her plan was that sale of my book with a foreword from her would fund the next book. It worked. Paul Revenko-Jones’ the end of the hand (1975) with a foreword from me came next. After that, Word Works got two National Endowment for the Arts grants and published In Praise of Secrecy (1977) by John Wellman, The Emerging Detail (1977) by Deirdra Baldwin, and The Unicorn and the Garden (1978) edited by Betty Parry.

Of course this is only a surface. Every book takes a pound of flesh out of the people involved in producing them. There are many stories that could be told, but not now and maybe never. But one thing to know—The Word Works is a literary organization, not just a publishing house. Our creating papers mandate that we provide an educational component and we do that through our public programs. Come to CafĂ© Muse at the Friendship Heights Village Center if you want to know more. I might whisper something in your ear.

Friday, November 8, 2013

On the Birth of The Wineberry Press

“Not sure we should call it Mulberry Press,” Peggy hesitates. “Mulberries messy, fall to earth, don’t do anything.”

 “Mulberries are pesky,” Elaine says. “A nuisance, they irritate. Like certain poems, or poets.”

 Our mulberries are delicious. The first book from our future—what may be The Mulberry Press—will be an anthology of poems by ten poets: my students, most older than I. Elinor Castendyk Briefs, Maxine Combs, Lucia Dunham, Elizabeth Follin-Jones, Barbara Goldberg, Elaine Magarrell, Mariquita Mullan, Elizabeth Sullan, Margaret Weaver. Their idea, an anthology, but I suggest they first submit their poems to journals, see if editors consider their poems good enough to publish individually first. Though I don’t think anthologists should include their own poems, they insisted mine be.

 Journals indeed accept the submissions. We can create an anthology. But what can we call the book? The press? Pomegranate Press? Persimmon Press? Maine poets can create the Blueberry Press. South East Asian poets, The Durian Press, Rambutan Press…Mango…

 “Our garden is prickly with wineberry vines!” I realize.

 “Poor man’s raspberries…”

 The Wineberry Press is incorporated. We are all on the editorial board. When we find a name—

 The Wineberry Press publishes Finding the Name 1983. We can only afford a one-color cover: naturally it is purple. For the launch, we all wear purple stockings.

 Over the years, sporadically as the fruit, The Wineberry Press produced new books of stories or poems: unusual, experimental, most skinny, collections conventional big presses would scorn. Our authors include Beatrice Campbell-Murphy Get With It Lord!, Maxine Combs Swimming out of the Collective Unconscious, Judith McCombs 20/20 Visionary Eclipse / Whorling Try/Angles, Elizabeth Follin-Jones Nobody Here is Listening, Elizabeth Stevens Horse and Cart, and after a long sabbatical, Maxine Combs Waiting for Wings and Elspeth Cameron Ritchie Tearing through the Moon: Poems & Prose of an Army Psychiatrist. All have gone on to publish other books, and Beatrice Campbell-Murphy had already published “one of the first anthologies of Negro Poetry— and yes, we called it that back then.”


by Elisavietta Ritchie

Friday, October 18, 2013

Introduction to Splendid Wake-up

The purpose of the Splendid Wake-up blog is to bring systematic attention to the Splendid Wake project, a massive endeavor to document poets and poetry in the Greater Washington, DC area from 1900 to current day.

 The Splendid Wake-up blog supports the Splendid Wake project goal to get people to write about poets, poetry events, poetry movement, and anything that was produced or happened within the geography and timeframe named and then to send these essays to the wiki administered through Special Collections of the Gelman Library at The George Washington University.

How to submit to the Splendid Wake wiki: Send essays, biographies, vignettes to Jennifer King at JenKing @

Questions about the Splendid Wake project may be posted here as comments.

The current steering committee of Splendid Wake headed by Myra Sklarew includes: Karren Alenier, Anne Becker, Sarah Browning, Teri Cross Davis, Sunil Freeman, Nan Fry, Patricia Garfinkel, Barbara Goldberg, Patricia Gray, JoAnne Growney, Rod Jellema, Jennifer King, Mary Ann Larkin, Merrill Leffler, Judith McCombs, Jean Nordhaus, Elisavietta Ritchie, William Rivera, Kim Roberts, Dan Vera.

Schedule of Splendid Wake-up Posts

The Splendid Wake Committee has committed to a series of monthly posts to the Splendid Wake-up blog. Other unscheduled posts may also appear, for example to inform the public of upcoming Splendid Wake activities.

Nov     Elisavietta Ritchie
Dec      Karren Alenier

Jan      Kim Roberts
Feb      Merrill Leffler
Mar     JoAnne Growney
Apr      Myra Sklarew
May     Judith McCombs
June    Rod Jellema
July     Patricia Garfinkel
Aug     Joanna Howard
Sept    Anne Becker
Oct      Jean Nordhaus
Nov     Patricia Gray
Dec      Grace Cavalieri