Judith Johnson Sherwin is the editor of a new literary quarterly, Spondee, "the first issue," she explains, "will be a short-sleeved yellow magazine," and she expects it to sell at least 20,000 copies. Big numbers in the small but expanding world of American poetry.
"I wish I could say it will hit the bookstores and newsstands next May," says Sherwin, "but they don't know how to handle it -- so it will be hitting the teen-age boutiques."
Spondee, Sherwin explains, will be printed on T-Shirts. The first issue will consist of a peom by Robert Creeley. "There will be a picture of a light-bulb approximately in the area of the left breast, the poem will be entitled 'Okay,' and its full text will be: 'I see delight.'"
All this way relatively late in the day, long after the ceremonies at the Folger Shakespeare Library, in which the Poetry Society of America awarded prizes to six poets.
David Ray, who won the William Carlos Williams award, also teaches, edits New Letters magazine and broadcasts poetry over National Public Radio from Kansas City. Last night, he was inviting fellow poets to go out on a limb with him for a new venture: "It will be the first annual New Letters Poets in the Trees Festival. The poets will be sitting in trees and people will walk around from one tree to another to hear them. We'll have ladders and ropes to help the poets up, but sissy poets will be allowed to sit under the trees."
"How about poets in the bathtubs for the second day?" someone suggested.
Earlier, in the daunting atmosphere of the Folger's Shakespearian theater, it was rather formal with poets giving readings and receiving checks, June Jordan giving a speech on the unjust neglect of Walt Whitman in his native land, and Cynthia Macdonald (a little rushed because it was getting late by then), discussing the difficulty of reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson through the encrustations of biography and anecdote. Besides Ray, prizewinners included Virginia Linton, L. L. Zeiger, Charles Gunther, William Dickey and Anselin Hollo.
The atmosphere loosened notably when the assembled poets adjourned for refreshments (including a fizzy punch and ginerbread cooked with Emily Dickinson's recipe), and it became downright chaotic when a hare-core group went off for a Chinese meal together.
"I didn't know it was a philosophical poem," Lila Geiger was explaining to a friend. "It was just a simple, unpretentious little thing about driving up a mountain to watch the sunset and man and the cosmos and a few other things."
Judith Sherwin, past president of the society as well as T-shirt entrepreneur, began reminiscing about a poet named Blein Kern who gave a reading riding down Fifth Avenue on the back of a camel. But her heart was still in T-shirts. "When we've exhausted the market for long and short-sleeved magazines, with and without hoods," she was saying, "We should look into the cocktail napkin as a medium. Then there are printed poems on pencils: "It was very ingenious because, as you sharpen the pencil, words disppear and the poem changes."
"We're trying to interest linoleum tile companies in printing poetry on tiles, so that people can assemble do-it-yourself anthologies on their floors. Just think -- you could walk across your favorite poem."
Elizavietta Ritchie (who won the Emily Dickinson Award a few years ago and had the prize smuggled in to an imprisoned, dissident Russian poet), said she has a friend who does poetry on ceramics and suggest a series of poems on dinner plates. "I'll have to get to know some pottery people," said Sherwin.
Then she remembered Bill Zavatsky, who has printed poems on pencils: "It was very ingenious because, as you sharpen the pencil, words desappear and the poem changes."
The subject turned to poets in prison, and H. L. Van Brunt (who did time in the same Tulsa orphanage as David Ray) said he knew of quite a few. "What the average prisoner-poet needs most is a new typewriter," he said, and plans began hatching around the dinner table to get typewriters for poets in prison.