Airlie Press is a new, Oregon based, nonprofit publishing collective. They’ve recently published their first titles: The Eddy Fence by Donna Henderson and Last Apples of Late Empires by Jess Lamb.

They are currently accepting new manuscripts for 2011 publication consideration, from poets who live within a reasonable driving distance from the Monmouth area, where the press’ business is conducted. Authors whose manuscripts are selected by Airlie Press must commit to responsibilities of the collective for a period of three years. Complete guidelines are on their web site. The deadline for manuscript submission is September 15, 2009.

Jess Lamb, one of the founding members of Airlie Press, recently answered a few questions for us about how the press got started and their mission.

Paper Fort: You’re currently accepting manuscripts until September 2009. Can you say anything about the kind of work you’re looking for?

Jess Lamb: First and foremost, we’re looking for fine poetry. Since we didn’t form the press to further a particular poetic agenda, we are simply looking forward to being surprised and delighted! We’re four very different poets–the two titles we released this spring diverge from each other in tone, content, and form, as do the next two in line–so we expect to have some lively conversations about the submissions we receive. When we come to consensus, it will be because we agree that a manuscript reads like a complete work, not just a loose compilation of separate poems, and commands a certain authority.

Because the membership of the collective will change every year, with new members coming on board and (eventually) the founding members revolving out, we expect that Airlie will go on to publish a wide array of voices. Because we share all the many tasks of producing books, we will be looking for two individuals who fit in well with the existing group and are enthusiastic about the whole enterprise, which involves much more than just seeing their own books into print.

How did Airlie Press get started?

The four founding members—Donna Henderson, Carter McKenzie, Anita Sullivan, and I—have belonged to the same poetry critique group for many years.

About ten years ago, I read an article about a group of poets in the San Francisco area who started a publishing collective called Sixteen Rivers Press. I was so taken with the idea that I proposed to my friends that we pool our resources to found a publishing company. At that point we agreed that though the project sounded intriguing, we weren’t ready to take it on; three of us had manuscripts that we were just beginning to send out, and we wanted to see what sort of reception they received.

The idea remained in dormancy for several more years while we sent our manuscripts to contest after contest–the customary way to get a first book of poems into print–collecting encouraging rejections and frequent enough close-calls so that we knew we had publishable material, just not enough publishers.

Finally one day in the fall of 2006, we revisited the collective idea and this time there was an immediate igniting of energy and excitement about the endeavor. The time just seemed ripe, and we knew that the shared-work idea would take off in Oregon, where there are so many passionate readers, writers, and do-it-yourselfers. We invited one of the founders of Sixteen Rivers, Terry Ehret, to pay us a visit, and grilled her for an entire day. She told us everything she knew about founding a true collective, where all the tasks are shared equally by the writer-members, all decisions are made by consensus, and all profits return to the press for the publication of future volumes. We officially began laying the groundwork of the press in the spring of 2007. As far as we know, Sixteen Rivers and Airlie Press are the only collective poetry publishers on the West Coast. We’d love to be corrected if we’re wrong–email us and let us know you’re out there! One of our missions is to be a support to other aspiring collectives in the Northwest. We hope to see more of us springing up.

How has the process of publishing the first two books with the press been like what you expected, and how has it been different?

As a whole it’s been incredibly gratifying, edifying, exciting, and yes, at times a little overwhelming. The more we learned about publishing, the more we discovered there was to know! But we very quickly found that a collaborative creative project attracts collaborative creative people, sending ripples of enthusiasm throughout widening circles. This was a surprise, though in retrospect it shouldn’t have been; somehow I thought we’d feel more alone, like pioneers. Instead our friendships have flourished, firmly rooted in mutual respect, as the press has continued to invite new alliances. We would have been lost without the help of talented people such as book designer Cheryl McLean and web designer Kelly Wildman, to name only a few.

Finally, can you describe a good writing day for you?

I’m up early on this day, my “good writing day.” I have a little time to sit quietly before anyone else wakes. With a couple of notebooks (one to write in, one to mine for lines if I happen to stall), I walk to the Multnomah Arts Center in my neighborhood, where for $3 an hour I can have any room that’s not being used.

If I’m lucky I find things. Today I find a scrap of someone’s day book on the sidewalk: balancing lessons on Wednesday at noon. I sign in at the Arts Center front desk; I’m the only one who ever drops in to rent a room, so I sign in under my own name, noting with dismay if it’s been longer than a few days since I was here last. My favorite room is 34, with a row of vine maples lining the windows. A Bible study group meets here regularly; on the board is the following enigmatic list: “Swallowed. Didn’t want to go. Hated that repented. Angry. Prayed. Rebelled: consequences.” I jot in my book of notes, pausing every so often to soak up the quiet. Sometimes I start a poem or make some changes to one; sometimes I stare out the window. I stay a few hours. The sign-in sheet has no place to sign out, so I just wave as I pass the desk. Part of me stays in room 34, reminding myself to come back (balancing lessons, Wednesday at noon). Half the work of being a writer is remembering to keep coming back.