Judith Kerman Triple Feature

Judith Kerman has brought Mayapple Press to Woodstock. For a welcoming gift, I haven’t yet given her a copy of the green bumper sticker that once graced my car, “Welcome to Woodstock/Roll up Your Windows/ And Please Don’t Feed the Poets,” nor do I need to, for she’s fast learning the lay of the land. The other day we tabled together at the Woodstock Library Fair. Now that I play at being a publisher myself for Walking Woodstock, a book that Judy discovered while still living in Bay City, Michigan and considering retirement to our famous little town, I appreciate in her a trait that I suspect true publishers have: in conversation, she frequently mentions one book or another from her press, not because she’s shilling them, but because they are her clan, the poems and prose set down in print that she feels a familial responsibility towards, whether or not they’ve been sales successes. They are are her life. Now that I’ve spent several years hawking my own books, I wonder if I could be so devoted to anyone else’s. Yet Judy has done it a hundred times over. This fall Mayapple Press, launched in 1978 to publish three titles but relaunched in 1991 as an ongoing concern, will release its hundredth book, a novel by Eleanor Lerman, Janet Planet, about a Carlos Castaneda-like figure. All day at the fair she kept placing an advance galley copy into the hands of passers-by to build buzz. The publisher working the front lines. I kept taking longer and longer breaks, eager to get home to my blogs. A true publisher I’m not.

In the early 1980s I met one of the great publishers of the time, Roger Straus, Jr. of Farrar Straus & Giroux at an afternoon party on the Upper East Side hosted by a friend of the family who would later become my in-laws. He was a gruff, worldly gentleman, wavy gray haired, big nosed, a great talker with British inflections in his Park Avenue accent. He relished two words in particular: “marvelous” for what he enjoyed in life, “prickface” for some of the characters he had to put up with. For years afterwards, my girlfriend and I amused ourselves by reciting “marvelous prickface” in accents that jumped from British for “marvelous” to Chicago for “prickface.” Yet, looking back, I now see this odd combination as the right formula for a publisher: the uninhibited enthusiasm to say “marvelous” to aesthetic pleasures coupled with the brusk tenacity to say “prickface” to get things done in the business world.

Now, this isn’t to say that I’ve heard Judy say “marvelous prickface” as if it’s part of a publishers’ creed, but I do sense the same mixture of book love and business persistence. Plus, her enthusiasm is infectious. The other day after a conversation I bought a Mayapple book, probably the first of many, because she’d made it sound so interesting, a chapbook of science fiction poetry, a genre new to me, David Lunde’s Blues For Port City. The first poem has a quote from Baudelaire, as if to suggest that outer space should belong to the romantics as well as the geeks. Hmmm. I could go there.

Judy and I recently exchanged manuscripts for comments. Let me share three of her poems that I especially enjoyed.


One time
night fell
and kept on falling
there were stars
all over the ground
the earth began to burn.

All night, birds flew
through a sky
with no stars
with light coming up
from below.

The birds got tired
and came down to find seeds
the stars were in their way
and burned their feet
a bird picked up a star
a seed of fire
it glowed like a gem
in the bird’s beak
the sun came up
and splashed light on the stars
until they went out.

The sun went away
and it was dark again
with no stars
the birds sat on the ground
and waited.

* *

The Fusion Reactor

The doctors croon
over their latest
hot property.
They want to make a sun.
It guzzles, nuzzles,
golden baby,
electric mirage,
grappling the impossible
in a bottle of bad dreams.
It glows like a wedding ring.
They can see it now,
the burning plasma
glaring at itself, flagrant
in the mirror of the walls.
rushes toward ignition.
“Danger” and “Magic”
flare like neon in a bar, glowing
over a city skyline of glass.
It wants to eat everything.
It wants to be a star.
Only imagination
holds it in.

* *

Star-nosed Mole

for Larry Pike

Afterward, God imagined a mole:
snatch of dark fur,
pale polyp flower of a nose
snuffling through the dirt.
Imagined her passing through cloth
like the needle of a blind tailor
turning hems by touch.
Imagined the shovel claws, scraping
toward the knot of black roots,
the ears, deep in the skull,
listening for small movements,
the eyes, no more
than stitches in a shroud.
Even now, all these years later,
the light of her star
gleams down the long tunnels.

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