by Noor Hindi
If you’ve stayed tuned to the news, you would have probably thought that the University of Akron Press had taken an early grave. But despite its near-death experience, the UA Press remains strong.
“The fact of its restoration has revitalized the press, I think. I’m overjoyed, beaming, really, to see that public support for the arts can wield real power,” says Jennifer Moore, author of UA Press’s most recent poetry collection “The Veronica Maneuver.”
On September 25, the UA Press announced author Sandra Simonds’ poetry manuscript, “Further Problems with Pleasure” had won the Akron Poetry Prize, which includes $1,500 and the publication of the poet’s manuscript. This news came a few weeks after the temporary layoffs of the UA Press staff members Amy Freels and Carol Slatter.
“(Winning is) great because I get to take all my friends out for dinner and drinks,” says Simonds.
2015 Akron Poetry Prize judge Carmen Giménez Smith chose the manuscript from a list of 18 finalists. The finalists were picked by Akron Series in Poetry editor and UA professor Dr. Mary Biddinger. [Ed. note: In the interests of full disclosure, Dr. Biddinger is Noor Hindi’s poetry instructor at the University of Akron but that played zero part in the editorial decision to run this profile of the work being done by UA Press. – Chris H.]
“If Coleridge, Plath, Ovid, and Celan started a love commune where they built a manifesto Molotov cocktail out of the pastoral, eros, blank verse, and kitsch: it would be this book,” writes Giménez Smith about Simonds’ work on the UA Press website.
Biddinger, who has worked with the press since 2008, says she read 509 manuscripts this summer. She chose Simonds’ work as one of the finalists of the Akron Poetry Prize because of the voice.
“Too often, collections of poems apologize for their own assertions and emotions, and ‘Further Problems with Pleasure’ is the antidote to that problem,” Biddinger says. “From the first line of this book I was completely captivated by the power of the speaker’s voice. I also value the fact that it’s an important contribution to feminist discourse.”
To prevent competing against Simonds’ most recent publication, “Steal it Back,” which has been available since Dec. 1 from Saturnalia Books, the publication of “Further Problems with Pleasure” has been delayed until early 2017.
“I think that this collection is an attempt to understand what pleasure is and the limits of pleasure, or the body, as a site of liberation, of freedom, especially for women who are punished for both experiencing pleasure and seeking it out in a ‘masculine’ way,’” Simonds says.
Coinciding with the announcement of the 2015 Akron Poetry Prize, Moore’s “The Veronica Maneuver” is available for purchase through the UA Press website.
“‘The Veronica Maneuver’ leaped out of the stack of manuscripts and announced that it was ready to be out in the world. One quality that sets Jennifer Moore’s work apart is her use of images. ‘The Veronica Maneuver’ takes numerous layers of disparate ideas and lets them work together in a brilliant sort of harmony,” Biddinger says.
Moore says the title of the collection came from reading Ernest Hemingway’s “Death in the Afternoon.”
“The more I learned about its etymology, its appropriation into the bullfighting arena, its historical and religious significance, the more I realized my aesthetic interests were bound up in the same sorts of resonances that emerge from the term: drawing the eye of a reader or viewer, or bull; dazzling the audience through visual image, spectacle or performance; considering what’s ‘true’ about a ‘true image’ (vera, ‘true’ and eikon, ‘image,’ so veronica literally means true image),” Moore says.
Although the administration never formally closed the press, the ultimately brief layoff of Freels and Slatter could have lead to the eventual death of the UA Press.
“What they clearly did not understand is that the press would not continue without these two employees. You could never lay off these two people and keep the press running,” transitional director and Associate Professor Dr. Jon Miller says.
Without Freels and Slatter, the press would have lacked a design coordinator, as well as a print manufacturing and digital production coordinator, which are both critical jobs. Miller was one of the many individuals who stood up for the press in the summer when Scarborough was making budget cuts.
“I emphasized its alignment with academic programs, its potential and its use for the students,” Miller says. “If you’re going to talk about experiential learning, internships and career-focused, sort of applied [learning], you would want to keep it. It’s one thing to teach people to do writing, and then it’s another thing to teach people how to actually get their writing published.”
Since then, UA President Scott Scarborough has pledged to keep the press running, as well as maintain its full membership in the Association of American University Presses.
Biddinger says there is much to celebrate about the press. Its national recognition and eclectic publications makes the press stand as a critical part of our community, and among university presses in the United States as a whole.
“What we aspire to do now, and hope to continue to do at the UA Press, is to publish an eclectic catalog of work that will please our current readership while bringing new readers back to poetry,” Biddinger says. “Whether they’re seasoned poetry fans who are checking out every new Akron Series in Poetry collection, or people who loved poetry back in the day but somehow drifted away from it, we have just the right book. [We] like to publish collections that help readers rediscover poetry, and in doing that we have an obligation to represent a variety of voices. Poetry is for everyone; it’s something to be shared.”
Noor Hindi just really loves poetry