Mitzi Milkin is the founder and president of Ongepotchket Press.
Lawrence Holgerson is a noted collector of modern American poetry.
She Made Me Become a Publisher
I know that Heidi Yamada had a profound, lasting effect on every
one of us who will be speaking to you today. Every one of us was
changed by knowing her. She was that kind of person: beautiful,
stylish, funny, original to the point of being unique, and disruptive
in the best possible sense: she turned our lives around.
As for me, it is no exaggeration to say Heidi Yamada made me what I am today: a publisher. If Heidi had not walked into my life in the spring of 1980, I would no doubt still be a small-town, small-time merchant, selling used books and barely getting by. But, by the grace of Erato, Heidi did walk into my store, and into my life, and she offered me a manuscript that was to become her first published book, and mine as well.
In the ten years that have passed since that spring day, Heidi went on to publish other books with other publishers, and I went on to publish other books by other poets, and both of us made names for ourselves. Heidi Yamada is right now, today, perhaps the most spoken name in the world of poetry. My name is barely known outside the city limits of Santa Barbara. But I have no regrets except for one: that Heidi Yamada is no longer with us, will no longer visit my office and fill it with smiles and arresting phrases.
Happy is the man who has found his work. Heidi helped me find mine.
I had a small used bookshop in downtown Santa Barbara when I first met her. I got into that business mostly by accident, having collected first editions of post-WWII American poetry all through college and then through my twenties and early thirties, working for a big bookstore in Palo Alto. By the time I got tired of the traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area, I had acquired enough books to constitute a fine collection. Perhaps the best private, individually owned collection in the country, although Lawrence Holgerson would no doubt dispute that claim. I quit working for the Palo Alto Bookshop, a job I'd had too long anyway, and packed all my books into a U-Haul trailer and pulled them out onto the road. My plan was to drive south to Los Angeles, where I had a few friends. I never made it that far because my car threw a rod in Santa Barbara and I had to stay there for a few days. I found a third-floor walk-up room in the Schooner Inn, a cheap hotel on lower State Street. It was February, 1977, and the weather was gorgeous. I spent the first day out on East Beach, where everyone was naked, including myself. The second day I walked around town and knew I'd found the city I was meant to live in, a place of red tiles, blue skies, erect birds of paradise, and cascading bougainvillea. On the third day, I stumbled onto one of the three major finds of my life among books, the Santa Barbara Used Book Factory, a hippie store in an old Spanish courtyard on a side street lined with skirted palms. I never pass up a bookstore, and the sign in the window said: "Going Out of Business. ALL BOOKS ON SALE."
I walked through the door and went straight to the front counter, where a tall young bushy-haired man was staring dreamily into space, plucking a nonexistent guitar.
"Hi," I said.
"You got a stepladder I can use?"
"I'd like to browse your stock."
"Be my guest," he said. He smiled at the ceiling and continued playing guitar riffs in the air.
"I need something to stand on," I persisted. "I'm only five feet tall."
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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