I recently spoke to Alan Corkish, senior editor and co-owner (with Dr. Andrew Taylor) of the chapbook poetry publisher erbacce-press, about its unique cooperative model, and why the platform is not ready to move to e-book production—yet.
What follows is a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
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TeleRead: Given your production process, what plans if any do you have to move to wider online distribution of poetry e-books? What, if any, would be the formatting and other challenges to this?
Corkish: Naturally, we’ve considered e-books, and will continue to asses our needs in this area. However, poetry presents special difficulties in terms of layout, and the radical poetry which we specialize in presents even greater difficulties. We can produce accurate PDFs via InDesign, but even so, the conversion samples we have produced have not been entirely satisfactory. But things change; we’ll keep watching.
TeleRead: With the pullback of Salt Publishing and the slashing of Arts Council budgets, how important are erbacce and similar operations to sustaining independent poetry in the UK?
Corkish: We run purely as an independent poetry cooperative and desire no ‘filthy lucre’ from anyone… we started to run erbacce with a pool of about £1,000 [U.S. $1,530], which my partner and co-editor, Dr. Andrew Taylor, and I chipped in. Since then all of the 150+ books and chapbooks we have produced have been financed by fellow poets. Even if we could get money from the Arts Council, we wouldn’t accept it; two words are paramount to us; ‘independent’ and ‘cooperative’.
TeleRead: How are you able to keep the operation going?
Corkish: It’s quite simple, really. The contract we supply to all the poets we publish agrees to pay them 20 price of the cover price as royalties, but it also asks (very important, that—it ‘asks,’ it doesn’t ‘demand’ or ‘require’) that they donate some of their royalties back to erbacce in order that we can promote another poet. To date, we’re very proud to say, only one single individual has refused, and many of the poets donateall of their royalties back to us.
To produce a chapbook of 40 pages including full-colour cover costs us about £180.00 [U.S. $274], and to produce a perfect-bound [edition] of about 200 pages costs us about £900.00 [U.S. $1,373]. That’s for everything—cover-design, ISBN, legal registering, typesetting, editing, printing, sales and distribution.
Once our selection panel (all academics and published poets themselves) identify a poet whom we think would benefit from a book, we put them in a ‘pending’ file, and once we have enough funds available, we immediately produce their book. Then we wait for funds to build up again, and then produce the next book.
We are constantly broke in effect, but that doesn’t matter; the cooperative is paramount. Dr. Taylor and I give all our time for free, as do the selection-panelists, because when we were beginning to have our poetry published we were constantly having competition organizers and publishers asking us to pay to have our poems read, or to pay spurious ‘entry fees;’ we will have none of that.
TeleRead: What place do the chapbook and shorter poetry volume have in modern poetry?
Corkish: I remember when Paula Brown Publishing produced my first chapbook; it feltso good to hold my own collection in my hands. It’s an acknowledgement; it says, some publisher (or in the case of erbacce, some fellow poets) have believed I am worth publishing.
People are fond of saying ‘no one reads poetry anymore,’ and although there is some truth in that, peopledo attend poetry readings. Today (Friday) in my home city of Liverpool, I can quickly Google ‘poetry events’ and find half a dozen events for today. At these gigs, usually ‘open mikes’ or ‘art-events,’ chapbooks sell well. People love the entertainment, and a fiver for a well-produced chapbook is a ‘memory’ which people treasure… no one will make a million from writing and/or performing poetry but they can subsidize their travel costs and maybe pay for a few beers by selling their pamphlets and chaps at such events.
Also the books we sell via our website go worldwide. We must have sold at least 10,000 chapbooks and they go all over the world (postage-free, by the way) which, I would suggest, gives them avery special place in the evolution of modern poetry, radical poetry and different ideas. They are essential.