April 17, 2011

Behold the little press that could

Moon Pie's success speaks volumes of the vision of poet's best friend Alice Persons.

By Bob Keyes bkeyes@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Alice Persons tied a pretty purple bow around the book of poetry and dropped it in the mail. She assumed the chapbook would end up among a stack of others that Garrison Keillor receives and never reads.

click image to enlarge

Alice Persons has built Moon Pie Press into a nationally respected poetry publishing house. Moon Pie will publish its 58th book this month.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

FOR INFORMATION, visit moonpiepress.com

Lo and behold, not only did Keillor pay attention to the book, he read one of the poems as part of his syndicated radio and online program, "The Writers Almanac."

Ever since, Keillor has returned again and again to the poems published by Persons and her tiny Westbrook-based Moon Pie Press. In recent years, he's read 24 poems published by Moon Pie on his radio show, and included four Moon Pie poems in his third published anthology, "Good Poems, American Places," which came out last week.

"Garrison is my publicity man," laughed Persons, who founded the press with her friend Nancy Henry seven years ago. In the time since, Moon Pie has established itself as a leading poetry press on a national scale. It will publish its 58th book this month, a collection of poems by Jack McCarthy.

What began as an outlet for Maine writers has become an outlet for contemporary poetry on a much wider scale.

"I think Alice is a very brave woman to launch a small independent publishing press," said Chris Bowe, who runs Longfellow Books on Monument Square in Portland. "Moon Pie is important, because it is keeping poetry alive and giving an opportunity to poets where there otherwise wouldn't be an opportunity. And Alice is so damn good at what she does. She has become a patron to some very, very talented poets."

PROMOTING MAINE POETS

Moon Pie began on something of a whim. Persons and Henry are friends and poets, and often attend readings together. They were encouraged to learn about what Henry calls "this incredible wealth" of talented poets in Maine, but discouraged that so few people seemed to know about them. The two women decided to make it their mission to bring wider exposure to local poets.

Henry had experience in the publishing world, and Persons had enthusiasm.

Moon Pie's early books met with immediate success. In the poetry world, success is a relative term. Large publishing houses publish very little poetry, because the market is tiny. Most successful poetry presses are associated with an academic program and supported by colleges and universities.

Moon Pie is entirely independent. It is mostly a one-person operation -- Persons runs it from a room in her home in Westbrook.

Her mission is simple: she publishes poetry for people who either haven't had a book before or who are not interested in going the self-publishing route. She decides what to publish based mostly on personal taste.

"It is extremely satisfying," she said. "It's such a thrill for people to have a book, and there is such a need for it. Big-time publishers do not publish much poetry because it doesn't sell very much. And there is an endless need for small presses, but many go under quite quickly. It's a lot of work, and you do not get paid for it. It's tough."

Indeed, this past year was the first year Moon Pie showed a profit. A small profit, yes, but a profit nonetheless.

Persons has kept herself busy, publishing 58 books in seven years. "That's not only productive," she mused, "it's demented."

She generally does her poetry work on nights and weekends, between her jobs teaching English and working as a medical transcriptionist at Maine Medical Center. She loves the work.

"I'm 59 years old, and it took me such a long time to figure out that this is what I was born for," she said.

(Continued on page 2)

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