The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 06, 2009

Q and A with Publishers Weekly Poetry Editor Craig Teicher

Last week I corresponded with Craig Teicher, Poetry Editor for Publishers Weekly. PW is a major trade journal for people in the book publishing industry. It is also one of the few remaining print publications that devote a relatively large amount of space to new and forthcoming poetry titles in every issue.

Craig is a critic, teacher, and a poet. And he recently became the VP/Membership Coordinator for the National Book Critics Circle. You can find out more information about his poetry, criticism, and musical tastes from his website —Alyson Sinclair

FSG: When did you begin working at PW as their Poetry Editor?

Craig Teicher: I took over as PW Poetry Reviews Editor from Michael Scharf about three years ago in Spring 2006. 

How many new titles do you receive every month? Has this number increased or decreased since you started working at PW?

CT: I get somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 poetry titles a month (though that number goes up drastically in the lead up to National Poetry Month and plunges right after, so 50 is the average). The number of titles has definitely gone up, for a simple reason: increased availability of inexpensive, higher quality digital printing options. Poetry doesn’t sell in huge numbers, but there are tons of small and micro presses doing tons of books; with digital printing, they are able to publishing on a small scale that fits the audience for a particular book, maybe only a few hundred copies. I get a lot of really compelling small press books that are printed that way. Of course, I get a lot of really bad ones too.

FSG: How do you decide which books should be reviewed, especially in this rough time when most magazines are shrinking?

CT: Fortunately, my space—twelve reviews a month—isn't shrinking. I just try to pick the books that are most relevant to the national conversations going on around poetry as I perceive them. I'm a poet, so I participate in some of those conversations, in my social life, through reading blogs and literary magazines, as a board member of the National Book Critics Circle, and while of course my judgments as to what books are important to those conversations are subjective, I try to cover a fairly wide range of stuff. Frankly, twelve reviews of poetry books per month is a huge number relative to what most other publications that cover poetry are able to do, so I'm able to get a lot in, considering.

You teach Creative Writing at Pratt and Columbia. I did my time in an MFA program, where I taught a few undergraduate courses in poetry. In my experience it seems fairly easy to get students excited about sharing their own work, but not so easy to get them excited about critiquing their colleagues and published works of poetry. Do you have this problem when you teach?

CT: I teach mostly undergrads with whom, I’m grateful to say, I don’t have that problem. Though I will say I’m a big believer in the notion that, for a poet, anything one does is done to enrich or broaden one’s own poems, so when I teach published poetry to my students, and even when I’m leading a workshop, I’m always urging my students to pretend they had written whatever is on the table, to try to read it as if they were spontaneously thinking the work under consideration at that moment.

FSG: Like many poetry critics, you are also a poet yourself with your second book coming out from BOA  next year. If we lived in a world where people were paid a living wage solely for working on their poetry (with no teaching responsibilities, day job, or scrapping grant money together every few months), how do you think this would change the poetry world?

CT: I can't speak for all poets, but if I didn't have to do anything other than write poetry, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't write any poetry. Writing has always seemed a guilty pleasure to me, or at least a slightly shameful compulsion, the time for which I have to steal away from other more pressing things tied to money and survival. That sense that I'm kind of doing something wrong, that I'm taking resources to make poetry that might be more helpfully used elsewhere, is one of the pressures that animate my poems. I suspect many poets have similar guilt structures built into their writing practice.

FSG: What do you love most and what do you really dislike about National Poetry Month?

CT: I have a question for publishers of poetry about National Poetry Month, which I think is a great idea and is always a boon time for poets who want to do poetry-things in public: why do you have to PUBLISH 60% of the year’s poetry books in one month? It seems to me publishers should simply PROMOTE, rather than PUBLISH in April. Imagine someone in my position—I get maybe 200 books, all of which are coming out in one month, and I have to pick which ones to cover. Keep in mind I have comparatively a lot of space—between January and April, I’ll run reviews of 48 spring poetry titles—but most publications (and there are only a few left) will pick maybe THREE poetry titles to review from among that 200.

Hooray for the month-long appearance of the poetry table at Barnes and Noble, but I think the first half of the year’s poetry titles need to be spread out more evenly throughout the first half of the year.


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