September 28, 2012

The Next Phase

Imagine that a child was born in 2010 and raised by a different set of parents every six months or so. Suppose that in 2012, someone handed you a two-year old and said, “He likes animal crackers, Batman, and he thinks balloons are terrifying. He can talk a little, and he’s about 60/40 on potty training. Try to not to screw him up!” And then they leave, and you and the child sit there, looking warily at one another.

This is my first quarter at Ooligan Press, and Alive at the Center is my suspicious new two-year old.

I should start by saying that I feel tremendously lucky that Jesse and I are getting the hand-off from Rachel and Jonathan, who were thorough and patient and generally great. I’ve asked them a million questions already, many of them redundant, several of them stupid, and I’m only just getting started. As a former operations manager, Jesse was familiar with the project already, but we are both learning the idiosyncrasies and the unique challenges that Alive at the Center presents. Our tenure with the book will cover the final proofing of the full anthology, the individual “city” books, and the eBook. We’ll also be working with marketing to develop a strategy for the book’s tri-city launch in April. This week we are focused on managing the transition, updating the production schedule, and tying up some loose ends.

Right now even the most mundane tasks relating to Alive at the Center are a little exciting. I’m thrilled to be working with this book, which is really, truly a pleasure to read. I moved from Chicago to Portland a little over a month ago, and the poems in the book have been part of my introduction to the Pacific Northwest. If you want to learn about a new place, have thirty poets tell you what they think its soul looks like. And for a native, I imagine there’s the thrill of recognition in these poems, something like watching a movie shot in your hometown. “That restaurant!” you say, pointing, “I walk past it every day.”


October 12, 2012

Spreading the Word

Jesse and I meet pretty regularly to discuss Alive at the Center. Sometimes these are quick and informal meetings, but other times we have to sit for an hour or two staring at the same laptop, drinking coffee and taking illegible notes. At this stage in the project, there are little tasks to assign and minute details to resolve, but we also have to focus on our long-term plan to make sure everyone in the Pacific Northwest knows about ATC.

To that end, this week the champs in marketing and design are helping us put together e-marketing kits to send to each of the poets in the anthology. One of our great resources in this project is our many contributors, each a potential node in our network. We want to give them the tools to promote the book (and their work) in their own unique way. And because this project has had such a long gestation period, it’s going to serve as a handy check-in with the poets who don’t follow us here on Start to Finish.

The other marketing event this week is Wordstock, Portland’s annual literary festival. It’ll be my first time there. I’m assuming it’s like the legendary Woodstock festival, but with more folding chairs. Ooligan Press will be represented at the conference, and Alive at the Center contributors Floyd Skloot, Ed Skoog, Kathleen Flenniken, and Paulann Petersen will be reading. It will be my first chance to meet some of the poets and editors that contributed to ATC, and I’m really excited. We’re going to party so hard, you guys! Or we’ll politely exchange small talk. Either is fine!

Wordstock is a fitting reminder that the meetings, tasks, coffee, and emails serve a real purpose. The literary community here is diverse, inspiring, and growing every day. We want to celebrate it.


November 9, 2012

Permissions, Proofing, Progress!

It’s been a crazy, busy, occasionally exhausting week—let’s just say that this weekend, I’ll be project-managing a series of whiskey sodas.

We’re winding down permissions now and getting ready to enter the proofing phase. While Editing and Digital work on proofing, Jesse and I will focus on the marketing side of the project. We’ll send out individual marketing guides to our poets, try to gauge enthusiasm for events and readings via a poet/contributor Facebook group, and seek out writers that might be willing to blog here on the Ooligan site. We’ll also be working on planning launches in all three cities and organizing a poetry box project here in Portland. This month will also find us planning our overall budget, and thinking critically about what marketing resources we have.

So much of our marketing effort is dependent on the enthusiasm of our poets, so we want to make sure we are providing them with a forum to communicate with us, and more importantly, with one another. One of the aims of the Pacific Poetry Project was to unite these three vibrant communities, and while the anthology does that in a formal fashion, we want to go beyond that and make the PPP a means for poets to discover one another and help create a culture that will help sustain poetry here in the Pacific Northwest.


November 22, 2012

Insert Thanksgiving Reference Here

Because I’ve tried out a few and abandoned them all, including one that compared Ooligan Press to a turducken. It was even clumsier than it sounds. Yes, Thanksgiving is here and I don’t have a snappy lede.

Even though Thanksgiving failed me as metaphor generator, it is providing a much-needed break from the Alive at the Center process. It’s not that things are incredibly busy right now—we are actually in what passes for a lull for us—but it’s nice to have a chance to step back from the minutiae of the project and think broadly about the book. Lately I’ve caught myself thinking ofAlive at the Center as a commodity, because we’ve been so focused on bureaucratic and organizational issues. Though it seems counterintuitive, the upcoming marketing phase is an opportunity to reconnect with the book as a work, a collection of art. I’m going to spend some time over the break re-reading the anthology galley, not for typos or errors, but for pleasure. We know we want the book to be a success, but it’s important to get reacquainted with why we want it to be a success: We like our book! We want you to read it.

With that in mind, we’ll be sending out individual marketing kits in the next few weeks. The Digital/Social department is asking our poets to contribute blog posts for the run-up to the release, and we’ll get our poet/contributor Facebook page off the ground. And here and there, we’ll deal with the bureaucratic details. Because bureaucracy is just like gravy at Thanksgiving dinner, right? It holds the whole thing together?

No? Ok.

Happy Thanksgiving!


January 11, 2013

How old is Alive at the Center?

Some say it has always been, that the wind whispered “Pacific Poetry Project” in the world’s first breath. Others say it rose from the sea a thousand years ago, and will return to the briny depths when its task is finally complete. Still others claim it was early 2010, which is still a pretty long time for an Ooligan book to be in development.

Alive at the Center has been steadily progressing all that time, but now that our release date is in sight, everything is moving really quickly, in a hundred different directions. The beast awakens!

All week we’ve been receiving video and audio recordings from our poets, and it’s time to start thinking conceptually about how we’ll combine those recordings in our book trailer. Our poets have also been guest-blogging on the Ooligan blog, which I highly recommend, and I’m ramping up the posting on the Facebook page. Jesse and I will meet with our marketing department soon for a big overview of our plans so far, including the launch parties in April. The manuscript has been proofed and is being corrected, our digital department continues their work on the e-book, the design department is working on our print bid, and this next quarter will find us preparing to launch the book at last. Alive at the Center is lumbering toward you, America. Look out.


March 15, 2013

Real, live books.

Alive at the Center has had so many different meanings for me. As an incoming graduate student, it was a shadowy challenge whose dimensions I would come to know intimately. It was a project and also an ideal, and occasionally it was a time-devouring demon that I cursed before passing out with the laptop open.

It was, in the technical sense, a class; the most demanding and wide-ranging I have ever taken. It was an experience. And now, it’s a book.

I suppose I always knew it would be, but Alive at the Center was a complex undertaking, with a complex history. At times, I could only see as far as the next task, and though we did a lot of big-picture planning—developing a marketing strategy and overseeing the final stages of editing, design and production—I never stopped to imagine it sitting on my bookshelf like a real, live book. And soon, it will.

Alive at the Center arrives at the Ooligan office this Friday, and though our official release date is April 1st, I feel like celebrating early. So many Ooligan students worked so hard on this project, and so many poets contributed their time, their energy, and their wonderful work. We can be deeply proud of what we made together.

When I became co-manager of this project, I had only been in Portland for a month. I knew about four people in the city. I knew one bus route and three or four major roads. I knew next to nothing about creating a poetry anthology. When I think about how much has changed since then, I am awed by life’s potential to challenge and surprise us. That’s what I’ll see when I see Alive at the Center on my bookshelf. I truly cannot wait to find out what this book will come to mean for readers everywhere.


April 14, 2013

Seattle, Vancouver, Portland

I’ve worked on Alive at the Center for all of my three quarters with Ooligan Press, so it’s safe to say I know the poems in the book pretty well. But I’ve always experienced the poems in their inert form, on the page. I read them with my own rhythms, in my own voice. It was quite another thing to hear them read aloud last Friday at the Vancouver launch. Poems that I thought I understood expanded and took on new contours. They became three-dimensional. Fine, I’ll say it. They came alive.

Chris Gilpin read his poem “Our Salt Spring Island Dinner” in the voice of an irascible old man and made the whole room howl with laughter. The last line of Christopher Levenson’s “Cell Phone” brought the house down. I am ashamed to say that I didn’t realize how many of the poems in the book are funny. All they needed was the right timing or inflection, or a well-planned tweak of the poet’s eyebrow. And the more serious poems, read with the poet’s own rhythms and emphasis, felt more fundamentally human than ever. Timothy Shay’s “The Wine Drunk Sea” and Fran Bourassa’s “Song for the Dead” immediately come to mind, but all of the many poets who attended the launch impressed us with their generosity of spirit, their close-knit and supportive community, and their considerable talent. It was a warm and wonderful night, and I want to thank the wonderful Rhizome Café, our charming emcee Rob Taylor, and Ooligan’s own Sarah Soards, who planned the event. We’ve got one launch left in Portland, and if it’s anything like Seattle and Vancouver, it’ll be a night to remember.


April 22, 2013

And now we can relax.

This past Friday, Ooligan Press joined Literary Arts in celebrating Alive at the Center. We had a wonderful time hearing poems from the book and beyond, and meeting many of the poets involved in the project. The Portland launch was the last of three consecutive launches we had for the book, an achievement that (I can admit this, now that we’ve accomplished it) seemed almost impossible when it appeared on my list of tasks as project manager: three launches, in three different cities, on a minimal budget, all in one month. It would have been impossible without our External Promotions department, specifically Jyoti Roy and Sarah Soards, who planned all three launches.

Every person in Ooligan Press has a big, full life outside the program. Our students are parents, full-time employees, teachers, and graduate assistants. Nearly every one of them is the busiest person you have ever encountered. For Sarah and Jyoti, taking on these big, complicated, challenging launches was a real investment of effort, energy, and emotion, and I’m so grateful that they were willing to do it. Seriously: three cities in one month, with 130+ poets to coordinate and no budget? It’s possible sorcery was involved.

I’m also grateful to all the individual students and departments who worked on the book, attended launches, and supported us in other ways. Creating a book with Ooligan is a truly collaborative process, and Alive at the Center is covered with hundreds of invisible but indelible fingerprints. The end of our “active” time with Alive at the Center is over, but it’s a part of the Press now, one of the books that truly defines Ooligan: it was complicated, ambitious, and in making it, we learned.