University of Hawai`i Press

When the author is dead: posthumous collections of poetry from Hawai`i

(with love & rage in equal measure)

Painting by Reuban Tam (1916-1991)

Just over a week ago, I put this request up on the Tinfish Press facebook page: “I’m looking for good models of books published posthumously, especially by poets who are not well known already. In what ways are these books same/different from books by living authors? How, in the end, does one work up interest in such poetry after the very literal death of the author?” Some 35 substantive comments later, I realized that there was probably a book to be researched and written in response to those questions.  Instead of writing one, I’ll be looking at two recent posthumous volumes from Hawai`i in this commentary, namely, Westlake: Poems by Wayne Kaumualii Westlake (1947-1984) (University of Hawai`i Press, 2009), edited by Mei-Li M. Siy and Richard Hamasaki, and Language Matters: Tony Quagliano, Selected Poetry (New York Quarterly Books, 2012), put together by Quagliano’s widow, Laura Ruby, although no one is credited as editor on the title page. There’s a lot to remark upon: the way the poetry is presented, contextualized, edited, but also the odd, unremarked upon affinities between the two poets.  They both revered Kerouac, knew their Pound and his Imagism, adopted William Carlos Williams’s obsession with the local language, place. Their tone was often acidic, provocative. Both were idealistic and profoundly angry poets.

"Money is a kind of poetry," but poetry is not a kind of money

A counter-economy of publishing in the era of budget-cuts

Art by Lian Lederman

A few years ago I was teaching a class on poetry and politics when my students got angry with me.  I had just laughed at their stated ambition to make money writing poetry.  My laughter, they informed me — in no uncertain terms — meant that I did not take them or their work seriously.  That day’s lesson plan fell aside as I told them about the (im)balance sheet of Tinfish Press, about doing one’s life’s work while losing buckets of money at it.  And, hardest of all to fathom, why such a thing might be worthwhile.

One summer I talked my way onto a panel at the Hawai`i Book and Music Festival in Honolulu.  I was under a tent, up on stage with some other publishers, one of whom began talking about how he’d done a print run of 60,000 books.  I heard myself responding that at Tinfish we do print runs of 100 to 300 chapbooks and consider that what we’re doing is pretty important. 

The new president of the University of Missouri, Timothy Wolfe, is a businessman by trade (though his parents were college professors, which surely qualifies him for something).  Recently, he made one of his first decisions.  He is closing the University of Missouri Press.  On firing ten employees, who had heard nothing of it beforehand, President Wolfe was quoted as saying that administrators “take seriously our role to be good stewards of public funds, to use those funds to achieve our strategic priorities and re-evaluate those activities that are not central to our core mission.”

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