How Did We Do This? Love: Love, Love.

Small Press Distribution has posted their best-selling poetry titles not only of 2009, but also of the decade (the 00's). Much to our surpise and delight, Black Ocean titles made it onto both lists. We've populated a few "best" lists lately, but the nice things about these lists is that they're not subjective or aesthetically exclusionary; they just mean that people love our books! Which people? You people!

Small Press Distribution's Best Selling Poetry 2009
#4: The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg
#9: Scary, No Scary by Zachary Schomburg
#35: With Deer by Aase Berg (trans. Johannes Göransson)

Small Press Distribution's Poetry Bestsellers, 2000-2009
#27: The Man Suit by Zachary Schomburg

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I started Black Ocean in 2004, having completed grad school I was feeling aimless about where my creative life was going. I was getting published in magazines, but I wanted to do something more—something beyond my own writing—and I wanted to find a way to disseminate poetry by poets who, at the time, were underappreciated and out-of-print. I actually started Black Ocean because I wanted to reprint the early out-of-print work of two of my favorite poets: Bill Knott (Corpse and Beans, Auto-Necrophilia, Nights of Naomi) and Frank Stanford (Singing Knives, Crib Death, You). Of course, to generate enough clout to even pitch these projects I needed a strong starting stable of writers.

I spent about a year and half brainstorming, getting things in order, putting on live events and acquiring manuscripts. In 2006 Black Ocean launched with four simultaneous releases:

Upon Arrival by Paula Cisewski
Please Stay On The Trail ed. by Matt Hudson
Dear Al-Qaeda by Scott Creney
A Useless Window by Carrie Olivia Adams

I showed up at AWP-Austin that year, not knowing anybody, with one surly anti-social author in tow. Carrie had become Black Ocean’s Poetry Editor by that point, and was already my indispensible Right Hand Woman.  By the end of the conference I had sold enough books to cover all the expenses of the trip, and had made a few friends in the process. That’s also where I saw Zachary Schomburg read, and heard his poems for the first time. I solicited his manuscript from him on the spot.

In 2007 we put out one book: The Man Suit. Carrie and Zach and I felt really good about its content and by the time we arrived at AWP, with the book hot off the press, there was substantial buzz for it. We sold out of it at the conference, and the rest of our catalog experienced a lot of attention as well. Later that year, we were floored when the New York Public Library announced that they had chosen it for their list of 25 Books To Remember from 2007 (sharing this list with Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke, and only two other poets: Margaret Atwood and Robert Hass). By this time the book had already almost sold out of the first print run, so we sped a second printing up on the schedule.

In 2008, still riding the wave of The Man Suit’s success (and still paying off significant debt) we put out one more title: Rauan Klassnik’s Holy Land. Thanks to Ron’s enthusiasm and tireless tour schedule, Holy Land met with a significant amount of acclaim and derision; the perfect cocktail for a classic in the making. That year we also held our first Open Reading period, from which we discovered the work of newcomer Joe Hall, as well as the first poetry manuscript from novelist Joshua Harmon. That year we also acquired Johannes Göransson’s translation of With Deer, by the radical surrealist poet Aase Berg.

We kicked off 2009 by putting out With Deer and Harmon’s Scape concurrently at AWP. Aesthetically they are very different, but they share an intensely original approach to language and Black Ocean readers seem to have glommed on to both titles with equal interest. Also at AWP this year we learned that one of our first authors, Paula Cisewski, had her second book chosen by Franz Wright for the Nightboat Poetry Prize. In August we released Schomburg’s second opus, Scary, No Scary, printing a special limited edition of 200 in our first ever hardcover. In the Spring of 2010 we’ll be publishing Joe Hall’s debut, Pigafetta Is My Wife, as well as Julie Doxsee’s second collection of poems, Objects for a Fog Death. Additionally, we’ll be announcing our selections from the 2009 Open Reading series in a matter of days.

Sprinkled throughout all of this we’ve had two issues of our literary magazine, Handsome, come together, as well as numerous live events featuring visual artists, performers, film screenings and musicians. Six of our titles have enjoyed many course adoptions, and loads of reviewers have shared their love for our books with their readers online and in print. We also launched a totally new website somewhere a while back, and paid off the small business loan that got us started!

Since my original dream to start Black Ocean, Bill Knott has chosen to release his works in PDF form online and Lost Roads has taken a renewed interest in reprinting Stanford’s work. While those seminal goals have not been realized, I feel immensely fortunate and grateful to have achieved so much else in the past five years. I couldn’t have accomplished all this without the passion of our devoted staff, the faith and talent of our authors and contributors, and most importantly the generosity and support of audiences around the world.

Thanks to everyone for such a joyous half-decade. Your love is the fuel!

Love, Janaka