Forty years ago, I started Roof, a small press dedicated to publishing new writing. I lucked out and found a ready-made generation of poets ready to revise the accepted standards of American verse culture. Today those writers have succeeded in establishing a firm profile in American poetry and literary institutions.
Over the years Roof Magazine and Roof Books have published Pulitzer Prize winner Rae Armantrout; National Book Award winner Keith Waldrop; and the young language writers who have since changed the way poetry is taught in universities—Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, and Bob Perelman. It has published new narrative writers like Brandon Brown; flarf writers Nada Gordon, Drew Gardner, K. Silem Mohammad; conceptual writers Craig Dworkin and Monica de la Torre; the environmental writer Evelyn Reilly, and writers of color like Edwin Torres, Fred Moten, and Erica Hunt, writers focused on gender like lesbian erica kaufman and trans writer Trish Salah.
Roof usually introduced and published these writers early in their careers, at a time when the economics of poetry did not permit university and commercial presses to invest in unknown poets. Today the finances of poetry and innovative prose remain difficult, even for the best-known writers. Perhaps it’s the financialization of our society that makes poetry that much more important today.
But poets and poetry publishers are not always aware of the most effective financial and administrative procedures. So, an organization like CLMP makes all the difference. For a startup press introducing new writing practices that go against the grain of today’s accepted styles, CLMP can make the difference between continuous publishing and having to take a day job. Such new presses are out there trying to galvanize small groups of readers to pay attention to new ideas, new language, and new angles on culture, politics, environment, and the many topics of interest to today’s young poets. How do they get distribution, do publicity, get classroom sales, find grants to smooth cash flows if not through CLMP?
CLMP at 50 remains dedicated to these recurring problems of new publishers, helping editors of magazines and book series to understand the concentric circles of readership that grow their sales, make critics want to write about them, and attract funders to a new poetry in town, a novel prose style, and an expanded set of ideas about how language works on the page, in a voice, in the world. Happy Birthday CLMP.
James Sherry is the author of 13 books of poetry and prose, most recently The Oligarch (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2017) and the poetry book Entangled Bank (Victoria, TX: Chax Press, 2016). Since 1976, he has edited Roof Books and Roof Magazine, publishing more than 130 titles of seminal works of language writing, flarf, conceptual poetry, new narrative, and environmental poetry. He started The Segue Foundation, Inc. in 1977, producing over 10,000 events of poetry and other arts in New York City.