December 17, 2010
Results of Our September-October Open Reading Period for Sacred/Spiritual Poetry
Steel Toe Books is pleased to announce that we have acquired the rights to publish Imperfect Prayers by Richard Carr, selected from a pool of 134 manuscripts submitted during our latest reading period.
Imperfect Prayers is a remarkably cohesive collection of poems. Each poem is ten lines long. Reading it is like watching the poet play a dramatic tennis match with his quirky, ecumenical god on the other side of the net. The poems are numbered, and in every odd numbered poem, God says or does something; in every even numbered poem, the human speaker describes some aspect of his intimate but often vexed relationship with God. Read this pair of poems that we particularly like:
God assures me that imperfect prayers are heard,
that the bad prayers of the dying
help a little,
that breast tumors and switchback roads
can be survived
with concentration and adequate training,
and as for the mystery of suffering,
the protruding bone of it,
teens in car wrecks, fleas, nothing on TV tonight,
death dissolves it quickly, like a sugar cube in black coffee.
I object to the secrecy,
knowing coffee contains caffeine,
then not knowing,
visualizing the water molecule as three ping-pong balls,
only smaller, and more colorful, like doughnut sprinkles,
agitated but clinging together in the boil
inexplicably, bound in theory
like a family ready to explode, the daughter volatile,
and no amount of coffee can stop it
or expose the agent of their grief.
We’re really happy with our decision to seek manuscripts on this topic. Many of the cover letters confirmed what we had suspected: there are many poets writing about spiritual topics but few publishers have been showing interest. One poet wrote: “My heart leapt when I read your call for manuscripts dealing with the sacred in poetry because I’ve always feared that such subjects were unwelcome at publishers – or at least overlooked by them.” Another wrote “I am encouraged by your decision to consider work that has a spiritual/sacred focus.” A third wrote “Honestly, it heartens me that there is a publisher in America who is currently seeking out religious poetry.” We had to eliminate quite a few good manuscripts because the authors hadn’t closely read our guidelines or simply strayed off topic. Still, we were thrilled to see so many poets making the connection between religious practice and poetic ecstasy (or poetic practice and religious ecstasy). Much of what we read left us feeling inspired, blessed and challenged.
As a Mom-and-Pop shop, we are always on the precipice of going out of business. We rely on sales to keep us afloat, and we thank those of you who have supported us by purchasing our titles. If we had more resources, we certainly would have selected more than one manuscript during this reading period. We would like to make honorable mention of the following manuscripts that came close and were in the running until the very end:
Cain by Dennis Braden
The Opposite of Work by Hugh Behm-Steinberg
The Yemen Gate by Yahya Frederickson
Gyres of Exile by Robert Manaster
Call This Glass of Water an Oak Tree by Brad Modlin
Sacred Suburbs by Kelly Moffett
The Next Big Thing by Chad Prevost
Will Work for Paradise by Allison Smythe
In Broken Latin by Annette Spaulding-Convy
Local Congregation by Phillip Sterling
Voodoo Inverso by Mark Waganaar
We plan to release Imperfect Prayers in early 2012. In April 2011, watch our site and Facebook page for the release of Vertical Hold by Jeff Simpson. The manuscript was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, thus delaying our production. As it turns out, their oversight is our gain. This is the third time Steel Toe Books has picked up a manuscript that had previously been a finalist for the National Poetry Series. Check out the others, by James Doyle and Martha Silano.