Australian Print Poetry and the Small Press: Who’s Doing the Books?

By | 24 February 2012

A More Traditional Mix

There are a number of larger presses that I have not yet mentioned that still consider themselves part of the small-press industry; houses that are consistently releasing significant poetry collections. Those collections are, of course, in addition to other fiction formats and non-fiction titles – which, in terms of numbers, outweigh to far outweigh the poetry titles. University of Queensland Press has a proud, storied history in publishing both new and well-established authors, resulting in a poetry list that is as impressive as it is long. New titles are in the works, and the pace, while almost certainly closely watched regarding the bottom line, doesn’t appear to be slowing. Academic presses tend to have the clearest leeway in terms of more popular titles providing monies to produce books that may break even or miss that mark entirely.

During my time at University of Chicago Press, it was widely known and trumpeted that its flagship reference title, The Chicago Manual of Style, and its lone trade paperback, A River Runs Through It, completely funded UCP’s entire poetry series (amongst much else), which, when isolated, costs much more to produce than the press earns back from its sales.

With academic presses, their cachet and calculated prestige (which, in turn, are perceptions set by the titles published) come to the fore, allowing room for books that need to be published purely for cultural benefit. I applaud this wholeheartedly. I cannot at all say I know what the actual mix is at UQP, but I hope, in whatever its ‘models’ are for publishing, that it keeps it up. Incidentally, UQP may or may not be absorbing Hunter Publishers’ book list – this small press is currently dangling in a state of suspended non-animation – a press that got off to a promising start with its Contemporary Australian Poets series.

Operating with a director that has as much cult of personality and has as much inspired direction as any literary figure in Australia, Melbourne University Press, under the guidance of Louise Adler, seems much more like a box of scattered parts of this-es and thats – albeit a litany of mostly impressive ones at that – as compared to UQP. MUP does not publish much poetry outside of Meanjin’s pages. If this MUP title is anything to go by, it might want to remainder the lot and stick to what it excels at. As a direct opposite to politically engaged/mired MUP, Black Pepper Publishing is a raggedy, dogged and hyper-supportive-of-its-authors small publisher that has, all too quietly at times, put out a number of excellent poetry collections.

Publishing somewhere in between MUP and BP is the inestimable 5 Islands Press. Though blessed with/encumbered by its association with the University of Melbourne, it has run as an autonomous entity for years and is no relation to MUP. Its New Poets series has produced countless titles of merit since 1986. An infusion of fresh thinking, desire, direction and, undoubtedly, funds has revamped and revived 5IP over the past two years. It appears to be set with quality releases for the future.

Giramondo Publishing is, according to its website, ‘an independent, university-based Australian literary publisher of award-winning poetry, fiction and non-fiction, renowned for the quality of its writing, editing and book-design.’ Succinct and accurate; not much more needs to be said. One of its goals is to ‘build a common ground between the academy and the marketplace’, which is, aside from UQP and UWAP, the only small press to explicitly state as much. Overall, its publication list is focused, sound and accomplished; this not at the expense of diversity – with poetry titles a more honed example still.

How has Giramondo done it?

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