McSweeney’s Opens Poetry Series

This winter McSweeney’s Books is carving out a home for poetry. After making a name for itself in independent-press circles with its stylish, smart books of fiction, children’s literature, and food writing, the fourteen-year-old San Francisco–based outfit is starting its first poetry imprint. Launching in February, the McSweeney’s Poetry Series will publish up to four lovingly designed titles each year. The series will be coedited by poets Jesse Nathan, who recently edited the McSweeney’s title Of Lamb (2011), with poems by Matthea Harvey and paintings by Amy Jean Porter; and Dominic Luxford, poetry editor of the press’s Believer magazine and editor of its only anthology of poetry, The McSweeney’s Book of Poets Picking Poets (2007).
The series begins with Love, an Index, a first book by Utah poet Rebecca Lindenberg, and continues with Fragile Acts by Allan Peterson, forthcoming in June. Both books are indicative of the series’ openness to new voices and to work hovering on the edge of mainstream recognition. “We weren’t trying to go with poets of any [particular] stripe,” Luxford says. “We just wanted to have our socks knocked off.”
Lindenberg and Peterson have already enjoyed the special brand of support that publication in a McSweeney’s zine offers. Excerpts of Lindenberg’s debut, a series of poems that traces her relationship with the late poet Craig Arnold, who disappeared in 2009 while hiking in Japan, were published in the Believer in 2010. And Peterson, who had a poem appear in the September 2011 issue, had been writing without formal training since the 1960s and considered himself an outsider to the literary world before his work recently caught the eye of several influential tastemakers. One admirer, Harvard professor Stephen Burt, helped bring Peterson to Luxford and Nathan’s attention.
Not surprisingly, Peterson, who also works as a visual artist, was delighted to be approached by Luxford and Nathan for a collection of his poetry. “Jesse and Dominic took a number of poems and we all put them together in a collaborative way,” he says. “I like that they don’t seem to care if you are young or old—I am so happy to be part of this effort.” Lindenberg echoes this sentiment. “It’s exciting to be building a dream from the ground floor,” she says. “McSweeney’s is really trying to make poetry available to a large audience of smart readers who might not read poetry otherwise.”
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