Ponderings by Henri Bensussen
Mendocino Quill's editor, a.k.a. The Maven
Henri serves on the board of the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. She worries endlessly, fruitlessly, and in between writes tragic poetry and comical short stories.
It is a rainy Saturday and the Maven is sunk in a rocking chair with Malcolm Margolin’s life story, a river of remembrances not subject to drought. The Heyday of Malcolm Margolin: The Damn Good Times of a Fiercely Independent Publisher www.heydaybooks.com introduces us to his world, the bored schoolboy who began his life as a young man by learning the wrong Torah segment for his Bar Mitzvah, made it to college but dropped out twice before finishing with a degree in English, rode horses in Puerto Rico, spent two weeks in an insane asylum as part of an LSD experiment, … the stories go on. How he and his wife settled in Berkeley in the Sixties, met Fred Cody of Cody’s Books, organized a conference on printing, learned how to make books and went on to write them, and began Heyday Books as a way to get his second book published.
It’s a paragraph on book promotion that stops the Maven in her mad rush of reading Margolin’s dramatic and enlightening history of publishing. “I was out speaking all the time,” he writes. “That’s probably been as important as the writing, this public presence. The number of people that actually sit down and read a book and get something from it is rather limited, but the number of people influenced by hearing something, by radio interviews, by what they see on TV, that’s bigger.
“There’s a statement, I forget who said it, to the effect that you write a book and publish, it and then you go out into the world to give readings and interviews, and if you’re lucky, you discover why you’ve written it. A book isn’t just a finished, dead product. It’s alive, shaped by the interactions of those who read it and the growing awareness of the author about what it means.”
The Maven realizes Margolin’s book is a living thing, taking over her life. She puts it down next to her empty coffee mug. According to him, her little chapbook of poems, soon to be published, will require a nurturing audience to keep it alive. In a way it’s an exciting concept, like being a new parent before you’ve experienced its problems. Will there be more than three people at her readings?
Writing poems and then finding a publisher—she hadn’t thought beyond that. Of course, she knows about publicity, but not the marketing part. Poems don’t market themselves; that will be her job. You can produce a crop of potatoes, but taking them to market, finding buyers? Like potatoes, she wants her poems to tempt others with their polished skins and satiny flesh, their promise of sweet and salt, their nourishment of the heart. She will show them off, she decides, and hawk them to the public with the confidence of an organic farmer raising heirloom vegetables.
Note: “Earning Colors,” the Maven’s first chapbook of poems, will soon be published by Finishing Line Press, she hopes.