The poet’s poet
Its founder’s deep sense of responsibility drives work of Greenfield’s Talisman House, Publishers
OK, quick, name three important contemporary Romanian poets. Or two Spanish ones. Can you name one Italian?
“It’s generally said that nothing sells worse than poetry in this country than poetry in translation,” poet and publisher Ed Foster, who runs Talisman House, Publishers in Greenfield, says with a laugh.
Yet Foster publishes, “in a good year,” 10 or 12 books of poetry, fiction or essays, many of them translations of contemporary work from abroad because it is something he felt “needed to be done.”
Foster teaches in the College of Arts and Letters at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., but lives in Greenfield. Born in Williamsburg, Foster has lived in the Pioneer Valley for most of his life.
He considers himself “first and primarily, a poet.”
But Foster rejects the idea of the poet as a “solitary genius, feeding on his or her own private devils.” He refers to this “Romantic (19th-century) notion” as, “not only somewhat outdated but also deeply objectionable in a democratic culture.”
“Poets should do what they can for other poets,” Foster wrote in an email after our conversation, “whether by sponsoring readings, editing a journal or a blog about poetry, publishing books, translating, reviewing, etc.”
This deep sense of responsibility to other poets drove Foster to found, in 1986, a literary magazine, “Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics.” The idea had been hatched with poet Ted Berrigan, a colleague and friend, who died before they could bring the journal to fruition.
A year later, Foster founded Talisman House, Publishers. He operated the press out of New Jersey for many years until he moved back to the area in 1999, eventually incorporating the press in Greenfield in 2008.
With gentle humility, Foster describes Talisman House as being, “fairly well known.” The type of work the press publishes belongs to the “New American tradition” of Donald Allen, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Hilda Doolittle, who published under the name “H.D.”
Foster adds that the work he likes to publish is not academic but “more innovative, experimental.” It includes what some might think of as language poetry, Foster said, “But we do a lot more things than that.”
One of the many things that Talisman House does is to bring the work of overlooked writers to light — Foster cites as an example the American poet William Bronk, whose work Foster feels should have been included in the seminal 1960 anthology “The New American Poetry” but was not. Talisman House is known for publishing or reissuing Bronk’s work; 10 books of poetry and a book of Bronk’s essays are now available through the press. A book of essays on his poetry and prose is in the works.
And then there are the translations: Talisman House has published an impressive and varied list of work by contemporary foreign authors and poets, sometimes introducing their work to English-speaking audiences for the first time.
“Poetry is an international enterprise that transcends boundaries in gender, race, sexual orientation and much more, including nationality,” Foster believes.
Yet most Americans know “little beyond English” and are not aware of what is happening in the world of poetry outside of their own language.
“As with many things — unfortunately, I think — we’ve become very provincial,” he said.
Foster is trying to remedy that. One of Talisman House’s recent titles, “New Poetry from Spain,” released in 2012, was the first anthology of contemporary Spanish poets to be published in English in 40 years.
Another book, in process and expected to be available in November of this year, marks the first publication of Turkish poet Gülten Akın’s “Poems of 42 Days” in English.
Translated by Saliha Paker and Mel Kenne, Akın’s work is a numbered series of lyric and prose poems first published in Turkey in 1986 and written in response to the harsh political repression that followed in the wake of the military coups of 1972 and 1980.
Foster compares Akın to the better-known Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, whose work was censored by the Stalinist regime. Both women’s poems speak out fiercely against repression and in defense of social justice, often from the perspective of the overlooked or downtrodden. Most of the poems in Akın’s “Poems of 42 Days” focus on the mothers of young Turkish political prisoners.
Foster quotes from Robert Frost: “It is true that ‘poetry is what is lost in translation.’”
“Nonetheless, with the aid of a translation, one can with effort enter the space in which a poem in another language exists,” Foster said.
Foster is committed to creating these spaces — spaces I imagine as rooms in Talisman House, an ever-expanding, multi-cultural mansion, in the oldest sense of the word, which carried none of the current connotations of ostentatious wealth but meant simply “a large dwelling.”
Talisman House is large indeed.
Contact Talisman House, Publishers by email at thpbooks@ aol.com; by mail at Talisman, PO Box 896, Greenfield, MA 01302; or find the press online at www.talismanhousepublishers.com. Find “Talisman: A Journal of Contemporary Poetry and Poetics” online at www.talismanmag.net.
“By Ocean Divided: Poems of Ireland and New England” by Kevin V. Moore. Aided by personal memory and the study of Celtic mythology and history, Moore explores his Irish heritage in this collection of 100 poems self-published in 2013. Available through Barnes and Noble or Amazon online.
Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. One of the founders of Slate Roof, a member-run press publishing western Massachusetts poets, her chapbook “Walk through Paradise Backwards” was published by the press in 2004. Her poems have appeared in anthologies, journals and Ted Kooser’s national column, “An American Life in Poetry.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Crapo is seeking published poets for her column. She’s interested in books written by a Franklin County poet and/or published by a Franklin County press. To submit a book, mail it to Franklin County Poets, The Recorder, P.O. Box 1367, Greenfield, MA 01302, attention, Adam Orth. Or, drop it off at our office, 14 Hope St., Greenfield.