Hope and Fear at the Hudson Small Press Fair

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron asks us to believe in synchronicity. And, sure enough, once you look, you find it. Two years ago this spring I took an Artist’s Way course taught by Dan Region in Hudson, which recharged my creative energies like nothing else had in years. (I soon found myself acting in a play for the first time in my life.) For our finale, we did a celebratory show and tell of paintings, poems, songs, photographs, and other representations of our artistic journeys. Then out under the blue sky of the first hot Saturday in May we bid our farewells as an organized group and promised to stay in touch. Before heading home, I dashed across the street to the Hudson Opera House to check out the small press fair. In the past I’d found it a dangerous temptation—all those $2 literary journals and $4 books I’d bought a boxful of—but I’d also had luck. The young editors of Ballyhoo Stories whom I’d met had later published a piece of mine in a themed issue on “Sin and Redemption.” (My story featured Santa Claus as a foul-mouthed dwarf. So far, readers have loved it.)

This time some of the tablers were old friends: Bertha Rogers of Bright Hill Press, Dayl Wise of Post-Traumatic Press, and Donald Lev of Home Planet News. But standing behind one book display was a big woman with short hair, a sports coach-like presence, and a name tag that gave me the shivers: Judith Kerman of Mayapple Press. Sure, life has coincidences, I thought, but this was too much. Wasn’t Mayapple Press out in Michigan? What was she doing here?

Judith Kerman had been one of those strangers who changes your life. For years, I’d been working on a long narrative poem, a cyberpunk epic with nods to Homer entitled Lyndon Baines Takes a Fare to the Palace of Wisdom. Finished at last, I’d spent a year and a half sending it to publishers large and small. For my troubles, I’d gotten a few nice rejections and a post card from Lawrence Ferlinghetti that I’d thumbtacked to my bulletin board: “A punk cyberitic masterpiece, thank you & salut.” Nice to brag about, but a far cry from a book contract. Poor Lyndon Baines seemed fated to get no farther than the Staples copy machines.

Then an e-mail arrived. “We love the idea,” enthused Judith Kerman, whose name I’d picked from a directory because Mayapple published science fiction poetry, but “it needs a lot of editing.” I was both thrilled and irritated. “Trimmed?” I thought. “Do you know how many drafts this has been through?” But from the sample edits she offered I saw her point. The writing could be tighter. When I sat down to read the whole poem from the top for the first time in ages, however, I saw something else: it sucked. Well, not that it sucked, exactly, but it was a paltry version of the extravaganza that had played in my mind’s eye as I’d written this over-the-top tale. Half of Lyndon Baines didn’t seem to be on the page. It was still in my head. I’d gotten so caught up in tinkering with line breaks that I’d neglected much of the fun. Without knowing it, Judith Kerman had given me the freedom to scrap what I had and start over.

So why, instead of saying hello to her at the fair, did I quickly head for the door? Because, as Julia Cameron says, synchronicity can be terrifying: “Answered prayers are scary. They imply responsibility. You asked for it. Now that you’ve got it, what are you going to do?” Privately, I was disappointed in myself for not yet finishing my new version of Lyndon Baines two years after getting her e-mail. (I took The Artist’s Way for good reason, a habit of putting aside the projects I cared about most.) Besides, what would I say to this woman who might not even remember my manuscript? Whatever my excuses, the feeling I left with was cowardice. Julia Cameron follows her discussion of “Synchronicity” with one about “Shame.” She knows us, her readers, perhaps better than we know ourselves.

Fortunately, life offers second chances. Judith Kerman, whom I’ve now gotten to know and to thank, was in the early stages of moving her life and her press from Michigan, where she has just retired from college teaching, to Woodstock, where she intends to keep going strong. This fall Mayapple will publish its hundredth title, no small accomplishment for a small press.

And on Saturday, May 21st the Hudson Opera House (327 Warren Street) will host another small press fair from 11am to 4 pm sponsored by the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses. After the fair, the fun moves over to Hudson Wine Merchants (341½ Warren Street) for a reception and reading by the poet Rebecca Wolf, memoirist Jonathan Dixon, and fictionalist Lynne Tillman.

Now, here’s a poem from Judith Kerman’s fine book, Plane Surfaces/Plano de Incidencia, which has Spanish translations of her selected poems by Johnny Duran, a Dominican poet. Billy Collins included this poem in his anthology, Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry.

In Tornado Weather

wet-ash light
blows across the road
I’m driving with my foot to the floor
sixty miles over flat midwestern highway
driving to hear poetry
the sky ready
to boil over, a lid clamped on
the pressure drops
flattens the landscape further
I watch the horizon for state troopers
think of the wind:
one hundred miles to the west it has
sliced the top off a hospital
smashed two miles of Kalamazoo
nothing anyone will read tonight
is wild enough

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