Monday, November 30, 2015

Interview With Book Editor Joel Allegretti

Rabbit Ears: TV Poems
NYQ Books

  1. Your book is an anthology of poetry about television. What inspired you to put this together?
The seed was planted in fall 2011. I was reading David Trinidad’s volume of selected poems, Dear Prudence. One of the poems is a list of his favorite episodes of The Patty Duke Show. My favorite sit-com from that time period is The Dick Van Dyke Show. I began making up episodes that never made it to the air and wrote “The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Unaired Episodes” that November. Here’s a sample unaired episode:

“1966. Sally’s boyfriend, Herman Glimscher, confesses to everyone that he and his mother are really husband and wife.”

The following month, I wrote a poem about Bob Crane, he of Hogan’s Heroes and seedy extracurricular activities.

In January 2012, it hit me that I’d never come across an anthology of poetry about a medium that has influenced our tastes, politics, opinions, language, and lifestyles. There are many anthologies of music poems and one (that I know of) comprising poetry about film. I did my due diligence and discovered TV was an untapped theme for a poetry anthology. I sent out the first invitations on the first Wednesday of April 2012. A few submissions arrived that very day. By Friday, I had 20 in my inbox. By time the deadline arrived six months later, I had received several hundred submissions.

The title Rabbit Ears comes courtesy of former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who contributed “The Day Lassie Died.”

For the record, David Trinidad is a contributor to Rabbit Ears. Since it’s unlikely I would have thought of it had I not been reading Dear Prudence, I decided I had to have him in the anthology. He contributed “Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera.” He summarizes each episode of the show’s first season as a haiku. The poem reminded me of the Hollywood pitch, where you have only so much time to sell your idea to producers. Haiku struck me at that moment as poetry’s version of the pitch: You have three lines and 17 syllables to make your point and get out.

Incidentally, “The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Unaired Episodes” is my contribution to Rabbit Ears.

I’d like to point out there’s a charitable aspect to Rabbit Ears. Contributor royalties earned on sales will be donated to City Harvest, a New York-based food-rescue organization.

  1. How did you go about determining what to include in your book?
I’m not a passive viewer of TV. Poets by and large today—most of the poets in Rabbit Ears—are educators and scholars. I’m neither. My background is in media relations. My last job was director of media relations for a national not-for-profit organization. I prepared the CEO, his senior executives, and other spokespeople for press interviews. I dealt with Nightly Business Report, 60 Minutes, and producers at local TV stations around the country. I’ve been in TV studios. As a result, I’m attuned to the influence TV wields. I sought to bring that perspective to my editing of Rabbit Ears. I think it shows up particularly in the sections that deal with TV news and television coverage of war.
I had at the outset an amorphous idea of what the anthology would be. There were certain subjects I wanted to cover. I set parameters: Each poet selected would have only one poem in the book, and each subject would be treated once (I wasn’t going to include five poems about Gilligan’s Island, for example); I wanted the anthology to reflect a variety of styles and voices, like TV itself. Aside from that, I was on a journey of exploration.

The submissions sent me in directions I hadn’t expected. Sometimes I’d read a submission, and my reaction would be “I didn’t think of that.” Consequently, even though I’m the editor of Rabbit Ears, I regard the contributors as co-editors. I learned things. I was raised Roman Catholic, but didn’t know there was a patron saint of television until Marjorie Maddox sent me “Clare of Assisi.” I didn’t know Alan Freed had a rock ‘n’ roll TV show until Gerard Malanga sent me “The Big Beat.”

I’m grateful that poets wrote new work or contributed previously unpublished poems. In fact, many of the poems are exclusive to Rabbit Ears.

  1. What aspects of TV do the poems touch upon?
There are 129 poems by 130 poets (one poem, about a married couple who lives The Newlywed Game, is a collaborative effort by two poets). The poems cover the history and early days of TV, the news, sit-coms, soap operas, horror and science fiction, cop shows, iconic TV personalities, children’s programming, game shows, reality TV, and commercials, among other topics.

Each section is referred to as a channel, e.g. “Channel 1: The Beautiful Brand-New Dream Machine,” which deals with television’s early days.

Rabbit Ears contains poems about the Addams Family, Leave It to Beaver, American Idol, Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, Rod Serling, the Miss America pageant, Jeopardy!, Farrah Fawcett, TV coverage of the Iraq War, The Brady Bunch, the 1984 Apple Super Bowl commercial, local news, The X-Files, Don Cornelius, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc., etc., etc.

The anthology has some Hollywood glamour, thanks to the TV and film actress Grace Zabriskie, who is the author of a poetry collection from NYQ Books, the press that publishes Rabbit Ears. Grace contributed “The Hole,” about an episode of the HBO series Big Love, on which she starred as Lois Henrickson.
I created a Rabbit Ears TV channel on YouTube:

Forty-one contributors produced recordings of themselves reading their poems. Some made what look like mini-movies.

  1. How can we get more poetry books sold and read?
That gets into the question why do people read? It depends on the individual. I think more people read poetry than is generally acknowledged. Everyone who reads the Bible reads poetry, namely the Psalms and the Song of Solomon. When people read them, they’re not thinking, I’m reading poetry. They’re reading scripture. But they’re also reading poetry. My favorite love poem in English is the King James Song of Solomon.

Many Tolkien fans have probably read his translations of Middle English poetry. My sister is a former CFO; she likes Emily Dickinson. One day a plumber came over to work on my bathroom sink. I was at the computer. He asked me what I did. I said I was a writer. He asked what I wrote. I said predominantly poetry. The plumber then asked me if I liked Ogden Nash.

Poetry occasionally shows up on the bestseller list. The week after Billy Collins appeared on The Colbert Report, his latest volume of selected poems was a New York Times bestseller. If I’m not mistaken, Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf made the bestseller list. And my God, that was Beowulf!

Poetry, in fact, has a huge audience. Granted, it’s a specialized audience, consisting predominantly of poets themselves, but a specialized audience is still an audience. The field has its stars and superstars. The analogy I like to use is music. My favorite style of American music is the blues. Now, everybody knows B.B. King and Muddy Waters, but what about Champion Jack Dupree, Mance Lipscomb, and Jimmy Rogers? If you’re not into the blues, you probably don’t know who those guys are. If you’re a blues fan, you do.

At the risk of sounding self-serving, if a neophyte wants to dip a toe in the poetry sea, I’d recommend checking out Rabbit Ears. It deals with a subject that’s near and dear to people’s hearts: their TV shows. The contributors have published their own collections, so if readers like, say, the poem about The Bachelor or the poem about Twin Peaks, they might think, I want to check out what else this poet has written.

  1. Where do you see book publishing heading?
I’m not in book publishing, but as an author, I’d say print-on-demand technology exerts a profound influence. Once upon a time, you’d have a print run of a given title and either there would be another print run or, if the book didn’t sell out the initial run, the publisher would send the unsold copies to the remainder table and delete the title. Print-on-demand technology benefits both the publisher and author; the publisher isn’t left with an inventory of unsold books, and the author’s title stays in print indefinitely.

Because of POD technology, we’ve seen the proliferation of small presses, which are the lifeblood of poetry publishing. There are now many poetry presses that didn’t exist when my first book came out in 2000.

In addition, POD technology has made self-publishing easier.

  1. Any advice for struggling poets?
Regard yourself as your primary competition. What are you writing now and how does it compare with your past work? Are you still writing the same type of poem? Are you absorbing influences? Are you stretching yourself? Are you demonstrating growth?

When you read poetry in journals, relate it to your own. What are you doing differently? What are you doing that’s similar? What do you want your poetry to be? What do you not want it to be?

As for publishing your own poems in journals and with presses, I’ll pass on something a copyeditor for St. Martin’s Press said to me a long time ago: “You’re published by the people who want to publish you.”

  1. What do you believe is the future of television and its impact on society?
Television won’t be saying goodbye, but it will continue to contend with a behemoth of a competitor: the Internet.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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