Sidney L. Hall Jr. of Hobblebush Books

April is National Poetry Month, sponsored since 1996 by the New York-based Academy of American Poets. In New Hampshire, the month is cultivated year-round and increasingly across the country by, one could well say, Sidney L. Hall Jr. — pied piper of poets. Hall is founder-publisher-president of 21-year-old, full-range Hobblebush Books based in Brookline. He’s a classics scholar, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Reed College in Portland, Ore., a poet himself.

New Hampshire grows poets: Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings, Maxime Kumin, May  Sarton, Richard Eberhart, Charles Simic, Celia Thaxter, Jane Kenyon, Donald Hall (no relation to Sid).

Hall is nourishing a second growth with his Hobblebush Granite State Poetry Series: Pat Fargnoli, Charles Pratt, Julia Older, Becky Sakellariou, Jim Kates, Walter Butts, Maudelle Driskell, Henry Walters, James Fowler, plus poet and series co-editor Rodger Martin and NH Poet Laureate Alice Fogel who are part of the Hobblebush main list.

Says Hall of the Series: “It’s for those New Hampshire poets who deserve a national audience, for poets not merely skilled but whose work is transformative.”

Is it true you can’t judge a book by its cover? At one time in the history of book making, this used to be literally true.Covers were just wrappers. But today we expect covers to help us understand and even enhance what’s inside, and the most brilliant ones really do. But it is still not a good idea to judge a book by its cover.

How does being a poet yourself affect your publishing decisions for books of poetry? Being a poet makes me understand how difficult it is to write a good poem, and appreciate it more when someone succeeds. But it also makes me more critical, and more able to discern when any of the wonderful and precise tools of poetry are lacking. In selecting a manuscript, I look for poetry that demonstrates extreme familiarity and competence with language and uses it to transcend our ordinary way of looking at the world. Poetry is not philosophy, it’s not a good story, it’s not song. It is all of these things together and at the same time something completely different.

What led you to start the Granite State Poetry Series? As a publisher, I developed a love for beautiful and well-made books. Because New Hampshire has such a wonderful poetry tradition and such an abundance of poets, I realized that I was in a position to put these passions together and help give voice to some of the wonderful poets who deserved it. As a state, we definitely need to export our poetry.

Your catalog offers books of fiction, nonfiction, travel, education, memoir. You also design and print books for other publishers. We have two businesses going on. One is Hobblebush Books, a traditional publisher that selects its own books, pays all expenses and pays royalties to the authors. The other business is called Hobblebush Design. We do book production for other publishers around the country and for authors who want to self-publish. We take a raw manuscript and turn it into a finished book. We do all the prepress and then we work with printers that specialize in book printing, both large offset runs and small digital runs.

"Poetry is not philosophy, it’s not a good story, it’s not song. It is all of these things together and at the same time something completely different."

In what way are e-books today paralleling the revolution of paperback publishing of the 1930s? Well, e-books are helping to level the playing field and make books more accessible to more people, just as paperbacks did. This is a good thing. They are also saving a lot of trees. We are publishing more of our own books in e-book form, even though we will always love the printed book. I think it is a positive kind of revolution, and can only help the world of reading. E-books will become more aesthetically pleasing too, as the technology improves.

The classic Latin phrase cacoethes scribendi describes authors as having “this passionate desire to write.” As a classics scholar yourself, in what way does this describe the current popularity of writing classes and poetry conferences, all the workshops? I think it’s wonderful that there is a widespread passionate desire to write, and that writing workshops help people to perfect the craft. But I am sure we will produce just as much dross as any other age.

How do the mechanics of publishing affect content? When a manuscript becomes a book, I think it undergoes a miraculous transformation. If the manuscript is worthy, the book will prove it. But dressing a poor manuscript up as a book doesn’t make it any more ready for prime time.

In what likely direction are the mechanics of publishing headed? It is very rapidly becoming more and more possible to publish small quantities of books without sacrificing the quality. This is bound to lead to a different model. It won’t necessarily be any better, all things considered, but it will be different.

What would you like to see in the near future of book publishing? I love the diversity and the vitality of small presses, and I think they are filling a void left by some of the big publishers. I hope this continues. I worry about quality, and standards, but I suppose that has been a concern every time there has been a revolution in publishing. I remain a stubborn Hegelian. You lose about what you gain, and life goes on.

Categories: Q&A