Thursday, January 17, 2008

Review of Highest Hurdle Press’s Letterhead Volume #1

(Highest Hurdle Press, 2007, $15.00)

Highest Hurdle Press’s latest collection of poetry, Letterhead Volume #1, is a collection of poetry in three sections—the first is a selection of nationally known small and independent press poets, including Mark Sonnenfeld and Joe Verrilli; the next section is an exchange of letters and poems between co-editor Robert Pomerhn and Roarshock editor Harvey Goldner (to whom the volume is dedicated); the third section includes selections by, as the introduction states, “Buffalo [NY] poets and the far-flung members of the Buffalo diaspora.”

Over the course of the three sections, which together present about 75 pieces from 33 poets, we get a little bit of everything (I once again quote the introduction): “confessional poetry, spoken word/slam poetry, vispo, experimental verse, mail art, correspondence, found poetry, political poetry, and collage.”

This seems like a great expanse of styles to contain in one collection, but Highest Hurdle Press seems able to do this just about as well as any poetry publisher out there. One of their central poets (and a co-editor of this volume), Robert Pomerhn, is expansive in his styles, as demonstrated as his HHP title from 2006, “Abuse Art, Not Children.” (I recently reviewed all three of Pomerhn’s books. You can find the review elsewhere on this site.) The secret to their success is that passion and artistic commitment trump a focus on genre, a practice that makes this volume well worth the $15.00 cover price.

The poems are laid out strategically by subject matter, either mirroring one another thematically or through counterpoint, which both strengthens the pieces and the overall unity of the book.

The editors made the choice to not have the authors’ names with their poems. This creates a little frustration having to flip back and forth between the poems and the Table of Contents to see who wrote what, but it also solidifies the community feel of the collection.

The most notable section is the middle, which features an exchange of letters and poems between east-coaster Pomerhn and west-coaster Harvey Goldner, who passed away in 2007. The selections span the time period 2002–2005, and cover the initial submission process and later submissions Pomerhn went through to have his poems published over the years in Goldner’s Roarshock. Goldner was a true poet-philosopher and the feedback and insights he gives Pomerhn should be required reading for any poet. Plan on numerous reads of this section, as there is much to be gleaned.

Goldner will certainly be missed.

Another notable element of this volume is the stunning visual poetry (created in part by contributing editors Bradley Lastname, Brian McMahon, and Eric Johnt). This is some of the best “vispo” I have seen come out of the small and independent press and it is a joy to have it all collected in one place.

Some of the most compelling individual poems in the collection are, in this reviewer’s opinion: “Poetry Rats” by Santa Cruz poet Christopher Robin; “Like Butterflies” by Cambridge, Mass. poet Mark Pawlak; “Killing Season” by Charles P. Ries (Milwaukee); and the poems of Buffalo-area poets Matt Zelasko and D.S. Ephland.

Any student of poetry in modern America should feel compelled to read this collection.

Copies of Letterhead, Volume #1 can be purchased by e-mailing Bradley Lastname at bradleylastname@hotmail.com or Robert Pomerhn at pomerhn.robert@gmail.com