Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Goodbye to the Gotham Book Mart

This week the entire inventory of the Gotham Book Mart was auctioned and the storied history of that New York cultural icon came to a close. Opened in 1920 by the legendary Frances Steloff, the bookstore became a central location for much of the city’s literary scene and a favorite haunt, or even a meeting place, for generations of writers, including Theodore Dreiser, W.H. Auden, Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams (once fired from his job as a clerk at the store), Truman Capote, Saul Bellow, Arthur Miller, and John Updike. Early on, Steloff and her bookstore achieved a reputation as being truly independent, extending to the point of challenging censorship laws and smuggling into the country copies of banned books by D. H. Lawrence and Henry Miller.

The bookstore attracted celebrities from the entertainment world as well. From Charlie Chaplin, George Gershwin, and Gloria Swanson to Woody Allen, Patti Smith, and David Bowie, familiar figures would often be seen browsing seemingly chaotic and disorderly shelves or loose stacks of books lining the few aisles. Indeed, the shop was unusual in many ways, including this literary gem’s location in the center of the midtown diamond district, surrounded by wholesale outlets and appraisers of precious stones. Walking down 47th Street’s narrow passageway of storefront windows glittering with valuable gems and expensive jewelry, one would suddenly come upon the famous sign above the Gotham Book Mart’s entrance, “Wise Men Fish Here,” a reminder to all that the title alluded to a nursery lyric inspiration for the bookstore’s name—L. Frank Baum’s “Three Wise Men of Gotham” from the Mother Goose rhymes.

Although Frances Steloff sold the Gotham Book Mart to Andreas Brown in 1967, she continued to live in her apartment above the store and remained a distinct personality frequently sought out by visitors. Steloff died in 1989 at the age of 101. Two years ago, when the original site of the bookstore was marketed and sold, Brown preserved the Gotham Book Mart by moving it a block away to 46th Street. However, this year the storeowner faced eviction from his new spot, which also had once been home to an antiquarian bookseller. (In fact, the landlords apparently purchased all the properties of the Gotham Book Mart with a $400,000 blanket bid at the auction.)

My own memories of the Gotham Book Mart mark my emotional reactions to this week’s closing with much nostalgia and some sadness. When I worked in Manhattan at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street while still a student and apprentice poet, I’d regularly spend my lunch hour picking through the new poetry books from small presses and the latest issues of literary magazines. Fortunately, part of my job at the library in the acquisitions department entailed purchasing limited editions and rare books from the Gotham Book Mart; therefore, I sometimes mixed business with my personal literary interests.

Moreover, after work I often attended poetry readings and the publication parties sometimes held at the Gotham Book Mart in the evenings. On these occasions I’d be amazed by the famous faces among those in attendance and offering presentations, whether Edward Gorey or Andy Warhol or Allen Ginsberg or W.S. Merwin. Indeed, the Gotham Book Mart represented a special place for some of the best-known poets, many who premiered their books with readings or book-signing receptions in the upstairs gallery area.

When I was a student of John Ashbery I attended the publication party for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, and I remember it as a wonderful gathering. In the years after that celebration, I recall days when I would arrive early from work to attend a later reading and I visited a nearby tavern (if I remember correctly, appropriately named Keats’ Pub) to eat, drink, and pass time before the evening event. On a couple of occasions I found the famous featured poet at the bar also, perhaps preparing for his performance, and we engaged in friendly conversation about books and writing.

Therefore, I was thrilled when my own book of poems was about to be released by Boa Editions and publisher Al Poulin phoned me to announce that a publication party would be held at the Gotham Book Mart. He had reserved the second floor open area for what he hoped would be a large gathering who would celebrate the release of my collection of poems alongside the simultaneous release of a James Dickey volume by the press. I was told the two of us also would be signing books. Since John Ashbery had written a preface to my collection and would be attending to sign books as well, Al seemed to have assured a considerable turnout for the evening.

Surely enough, in addition to a number of my friends and former classmates, an array of people appeared at the publication party, including other poets and personalities from the art world, as well as a few actors and actresses from Broadway, the movies, and television. During the evening, three odd and memorable instances occurred that I still find amusing. First, after years of anonymously noticing her around the store when I’d browse the shelves but too shy to speak to her, Frances Steloff introduced herself to me, remarked how wonderful that I was the young poet whose book she was holding in her hands, and told me that she was pleased to meet me. Second, at the end of entertaining a small group of listeners with tall tales he was dramatically narrating, James Dickey turned to me and asked if I’d like to trade signed copies of our books, to which I agreed quickly, knowing that I was getting the better end of that deal. Third, Richard Thomas, very much looking like the famous character of a young and aspiring writer he played on television, and in a voice sounding every bit that of John Boy Walton, approached and congratulated me on my book of poems.

Of course, my personal memories merely make up a slim and insignificant page in the long chronicles of the Gotham Book Mart, and there are many others who have even more interesting recollections or personal ties to the bookstore. Certainly, one would need considerably fewer than six degrees of separation to connect the Gotham Book Mart with just about every one of the authors who have written important works of literature in the last 87 years. Perhaps the following picture, the most famous image of individuals gathering at the Gotham Book Mart, illustrates such a point.

The above photograph was taken November 9, 1948, during a reception at the Gotham Book Mart for Dame Edith & Sir Osbert Sitwell (seated in the center). Clockwise, they are surrounded by W.H. Auden (seated on the ladder), Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Delmore Schwartz, Randall Jarrell, Charles Henri Ford, William Rose Benet, Stephen Spender, Marya Zaturenska, Horace Gregory, Tennessee Williams, Richard Eberhart, Gore Vidal, and José Garcia Villa. The Gotham Book Mart is now gone, but its important position in twentieth-century literary history will persist long into the future—alongside a few other book shops, like Shakespeare & Co. in Paris or the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco—permanently associated with many of the period’s finest writers, including those individuals captured in that black-and-white snapshot nearly six decades ago.

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