"Sure. How difficult could that be?"
"Yes! Oh man, Professor Arthur Summers is going to shit a brick!"
She fell back and held my hand, and we both giggled at the ceiling until I started to get just a little bit horny again.
And that is how I became a publisher, and how Heidi Yamada
became a poet. She wrote her first poem the next day, on the
job, between sweeping the floor and counting out the change
in the register before we opened the door. She brought it to the
back room and handed it to me and watched me read it.
"Nice handwriting," I commented.
"Do you like it?" she asked.
"Maybe you need to warm up a little bit. This is your first poem ever, right?"
The smile left her lips. She nodded. "You said you'd publish my book," she said.
"And I will," I said. "This poem shows me you have a way with words, your images are arresting, you have an ear for language and an eye for detail, and before long you'll be writing real poetry. Heidi, Babe Ruth didn't hit a home run his first time at bat."
"I have an ear for detail?" she asked.
"Eye for detail. An ear for language."
"Too much!" The smile had returned. "I'll have a book of poems ready for you by the end of the week I promise."
"As Thom Gunn would say, time's a-wastin', pardner." So she delivered a book-length manuscript in seven days. The handwriting was still beautiful, but unfortunately she wanted the book set in type.
I chose Caslon Old Style. She got to choose all the words, and she refused editing. She let me choose the font because I was the publisher.
By the time the book came out in the fall of 1980, we were no longer lovers. When the book went back to press for a second printing, spring 1981, she quit the store to write full-time. She got Beatrice Knight to be her literary agent. The following year, spring 1982, Heidi's second book was published by Charles Levin Books, an imprint of Random House. It was reviewed by Taylor Bingham for Newsweek and she got on the Carson show and she got on the Carson show and made the cover of People. By that time, Guy Mallon Books was publishing three other poets, real poets who wrote real poetry, including Arthur Summers.
We continued to grow through the 1980s. It got to where Guy Mallon books were being reviewed regularly by the major poetry journals, and we were packing up our wares every Memorial Day weekend and hauling them off to display them at the annual American Booksellers Association convention. The conventions gave me a chance to travel all over the country, but of course I liked it best when they came west, which usually meant Los Angeles, Anaheim, or San Francisco.
Most of us in the business of literature pretended to be appalled
that the American Booksellers Association had chosen Las Vegas
for their convention in 1990. Was this what the nineties were going to be all
about: schlock, insanity, waste, high risk, tits and
ass? And then most of us winked and shrugged and said, well,
that's what New York publishing has become in the eighties
anyway, so let the new decade roll. Viva Las Vegas.
Besides, the ABA convention, known simply as the ABA, whether it's held in Chicago or Washington D.C. or New Orleans or San Francisco or Anaheim, is wilder and goofier than Las Vegas anyway. It's a four-day roller-coaster of hard work and wild parties, wheeling and dealing, free books, free booze, literary celebrities to bump into (literally), deals to make, nonstop noise, lines to stand in for tasteless hotdogs, hospitality suites, shuttle-buses, hands to shake, backs to slap, a lot of standing around in utmost boredom until another friend walks by and you're off for another beer, more shmooze, more noise, more party invitations, more lies and hype.
From The Poet's Funeral by James M Daniel. Copyright © 2005 by James M. Daniel. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means without the prior written permission of both the copy right owner and the publisher of this book.
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