Small press book fairs, a poem

I participated in several small press book fairs between 1975 and 1979 while a member of the board of the Minneapolis Metropolitan Arts Alliance. For some reason I was never able to understand, small press publishers insisted on holding these events on college campuses, where the only people coming attending were students and professors. My idea of holding these events in public places like shopping malls or the open court in a new downtown Minneapolis building always fell on deaf ears. After a particularly sparsely attended day at one of these events, I went to a Chinese restaurant and penned the following sardonic poem, complete with “liner notes” for the album cover. I wrote this poem in 1976.

Lament of a small press publisher after having attended a small press book fair. For oboe, viola da gamba and tenor voice, slowly   — dedicated to small press publishers everywhere.

After sitting a long
day and-a-half,
I went round to
some of the other
and asked: “How’s it going?”
and got answers like:
”Oh, slow. I only took in
forty bucks yesterday,” and
“thirty-five bucks since I set up
this morning. Not much,”

and I went back and
sat down in my booth,
depressed. After a long
day-and-a-half, I’ve
sold one book and one
poster for a total of
four dollars, twenty-five cents.

It’s enough to make
a person ask
philosophical questions of himself.

If I sit here much longer,
my rear end
will grow moss on it
and my eyes will disappear like moons.
Already my elbows have sprouted roots
and my feet, grown flat from
disuse, have fallen asleep.

Outside, Waterman’s kid
is playing Frisbee in the court,
while across from me
his dad is smoking a cigarette and staring
at the stack of books in front of him.

When the red-haired poet
comes by with a bullhorn
announcing: “Lar Burke of the
Lake Street Review is reading in
the Fine Arts Lounge, come an’ hear
Lar Burke!” and there are only five
or six people standing around, not counting
Waterman and myself, I begin thinking
of Sartre, Camus and Sisyphus and
“What’s it all about, Alfie?”

The most activity around here is
Waterman’s kid, leaping after the
Bright red soaring saucer and the arc
Waterman’s cigarette makes as it descends
to the ashtray, caught between the fingers
of his left hand.

Liner Notes

“Lament of a Small Press Publisher” was originally intended as an opera in the Romantic tradition of Beethoven, Wagner and Rossini. However, after considerable difficulty in casting it in so grand a scale, the composer decided to put it in the mode of a cantata for male voices and baroque ensemble. Since this, too, proved to be too complex for so simple an idea, he settled on a small work in Renaissance style for tenor voice accompanied by oboe and viola da gamba, thinking that such could “profitably be sung at Renaissance Festivals and art fairs.” The result is a hauntingly beautiful song reminiscent, in its rich harmonic textures, of the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. The song may also, according to the composer’s notes, be accompanied by fiddle and guitar (or flute) “without losing a thing.”
The composer was born 42 years ago in Santa Barbara, California, and has held a variety of jobs throughout his career. Of his musical training, he says: “I listen to an awful lot of music.”
G. P.
Dragon City Café
Minneapolis, MN
October, 1976


About gwpj

Originally from Seattle, I now live in Sapporo, Japan, where I write, explore this city, read widely, and ask questions about things that i see as important. I'm also an author, with three novels published ("The Old Man and The Monkey", "Grandfather and The Raven", and "Bear: a story about a boy and his unusual dog"). For more information about my writing, drop by my website, at
This entry was posted in aging, Humor, Poetry and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Small press book fairs, a poem

  1. I love this. Thank you for turning something unpleasant into a work of beauty and humor!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s