Leah Maines has edited over 800 poetry, fiction, and play collections, including several award-winning titles. She is the publisher of Finishing Line Press. She is former Poet-in-Residence of Northern Kentucky University (funded in part by the Kentucky Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities).
Leah Maines is the author of two poetry books.
Her first book was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Williams Carlos Williams Book Award (Poetry Society of America). Looking to the East with Western Eyes, New Women’s Voices Series, No. 1 (Finishing Line Press, 1998) reached #10 in the « Cincinnati/Tri-State Best Sellers List » (Cincinnati Enquirer), and is now in its fourth printing. Her most recent collection, Beyond the River, (KWC Press, 2002, 1st edition) won the Kentucky Writers’ Coalition Poetry Chapbook Competition in 2002. Her poems have appeared in numerous national and international publications including Nebo, Owen Wister Review, Licking River Review, Flyway and other literary magazines and anthologies.
Leah Maines lived in Gifu, Japan where she studied and researched classical Japanese poetry at Gifu University. She also studied at Kings College London, England, and The Marino Institute in Dublin, Ireland. She holds degrees from Cincinnati Christian University and Northern Kentucky University. Leah lives with her husband and children in Central Kentucky.
RD: – What is poetry for you [What does it mean to you]? What role does poetry have in your life?
LM: – Poetry has become my life. I wake up to manuscripts every day. Poems surround my bed in the form of chapbooks. Emails equal more poems. Conversations are filled with the latest word on the street about poetry. However, my own poetry has meandered down a little traveled footpath compared to the super highway of other people’s poetry in my life. My life seems to be consumed with other people’s words.
RD: – Leah Maines, do you believe you were born a poet, or that you became a poet?
LM: – I think poets are born. I have never met a made poet. I have read some well-crafted words written by some learned writers, but they seem to lack that certain something that true poets instinctively carry inside themselves. Perhaps it is the ability to move the reader’s soul with their words. You know, words that make you stop and think, and sometimes make your lips quiver a bit.
RD: – What inspires you the most? How do you work with your inspiration? Are your poems one-offs, or have they needed one or more passages in « lyrical laboratory » where the reworking of the form and substance of the ideas has carved fresh life into your poetry?
LM: – My poetry comes to me all at once. I rarely do rewrites. However, I do rereads. I allow the poem to rest on the page for a bit. Then I go back and reread for flow and wording. Usually I only change a word or two, and line breaks / stanza breaks.
RD: – Between publishing and writing, which are you more passionate about?
LM: – I want to say both, but it is not possible. My life, like all lives I suppose, has had its seasons. The past season was my time to give to the writing community by helping others find publication. I selected and published over 1,000 chapbooks, and I edited over 800 poetry, play, and fiction collections. My greatest reward has been helping others fulfill their dreams of publication. I have had the greatest satisfaction with working with terminally ill writers and their families. Together we were able to publish final collections of poets. For most it was their only collection. And now I am entering a new time in my life. It is time for me to focus on my writing and other projects. I was recently diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Familial Mediterranean Fever, and that has made me aware of my need to finish another book. I will continue to do some editing, but I will also take time for my own writing. So to answer your question, this past decade I was most passionate about publishing, and as for the future, I must force myself to be passionate about my writing.
RD: – The history of poetry tells us that poetry, like hymns, began to evolve and took a concrete and complex form, separate from prayers and religious hymns. In the beginning, its function was to express the sentiments of a group, of a collective. It was very similar therefore to music – specifically to chanting.
Is poetry still like a prayer today?
LM: – That is such an interesting question. I have read so many different types of poetry. I do see some poetry written like prayer. Some poetry attempting to be written like prayer that should not be written at all, or at least not submitted for publication, and I see some pretty profound and profane stuff too. I guess it all depends on how you look at it, and to whom one is praying to, or not to, eh?
RD: – Often known as the lonely exile, the poet of the previous centuries lived a little outside the world, in the melancholy and misery of loneliness and poverty. He was thus considered, in turn, « magician», « crazy », « bearer of the tragedy of human destiny » and for that, « cursed ». He occupied a special, unpleasant place. Even today, do you think the poet and his poetry are driven to the margins? What place does poetry have in American society? Do American poets have a certain amount of prestige, or are they marginalized?
LM: – Actually poetry is pretty hot now. It amazes me how everyone wants to be a poet these days. I’m not sure if it’s Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, or HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, or poetry slams, or maybe it started when Maya Angelou read a poem at Clinton’s inauguration, or a combination of all of it, but poetry is the thing in the USA.
RD: – In what way is your position as the editor Leah Maines similar to the poet Leah Maines?
LM: – Actually, I would say the editor and the poet are two different creatures. I have to be objective as the editor. I have to think business. I have to think, “okay, these are not nature poems, but it is still very good…okay, maybe we should publish this….” kind of thinking. In other words, I have to be willing to look at the poet as the valued poet with the valuable words. I have to think, who else might like to read this? I must be willing to take a chance on someone else. And sometimes, I have to admit there are much better writers out there, and I get to brush greatness, and encourage them to bloom into their greatness. I love that part.
RD: – Do you have a favorite author (edited by you or not)?
LM: – Billy Collins is my number one. I love his poetry. I read his poem “Splitting Wood” in Poetry in 1996, and it inspired me to write my first poem. A good poet makes you want to read more poetry. A great poet makes you want to write poetry. Billy Collins is a great poet.
RD: – What do you like about/what are you most pleased with in your publishing business?
LM: – I am very pleased that we have won several awards for our books. I think we have done a great job at selecting excellent writers, and I’m so very happy that others have agreed with us.
RD: – What kind of authors do you publish? How do you find these writers? And then, please tell us how you encourage and assist your writers after the release of their books (promotion, advertising, readings, festivals, residencies, etc.)?
LM: – We publish all kinds of authors. I have published poet laureates, first-time authors, movie stars, and housewives, among others. It’s all about the quality of the writing. I’m all about giving the writer a chance. Our books are available on amazon.com, in bookstores, libraries, and many of our books are used as texts in college classrooms. Our authors give readings around the USA and abroad.
RD: – In the market for publishing and distribution of literature, what is the position of contemporary poetry? Who supports it? / Is there a market for it?
LM: – Everyone wants to be a poet; however, few want to support the art. We encourage our authors to get the word out about their books by using social media such as Facebook and twitter to announce their readings, and also their books.
RD: – Thinking about Emily Dickinson, Hilda Doolittle, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, and Gertrude Stein, I want to ask your thoughts on how women live and write contemporary poetry/lyricism in America. Are there certain subjects and themes that preoccupy them, and why?
LM: – I really don’t see any themes that preoccupy women in particular.
RD: – Is Finishing Line Press open to world/international works? What is your editorial policy?
LM: – Yes, we have published writers/poets from around the globe. We welcome submission year round. Please visit our website for complete guidelines at: www.finishinglinepress.com
RD: – What does it take for a publishing house like yours [a small, independent one] to succeed/be recognized in the public eye in the US? Sponsors? Tricks? New media [The internet, Facebook, etc]? A strong network of friends?
LM: – Prayer, and lots of it. It is a difficult time for everyone now. The economy is bad in the USA. For us, we depend on word of mouth, social media like Facebook and Twitter, blogs, direct mail, amazon.com, and our website to promote our authors. We also have the support of past authors who help by promoting new authors via social media, etc… it is almost like we are a family of poets helping each other get the words out to the masses.
RD: – What do you think about/focus on when you’re not writing?
LM: – I read a lot. I pray a lot. I’m very thankful for my family and friends. I appreciate all that has been given to me. I try to look at each new day as a good day, at least in the morning.
RD: – What American publishers of poetry would be good models to follow?
LM: – It’s difficult to say at this time. The publishing world is changing now. We are entering into a new generation of publishing. Please, ask me again next year.
RD: – You have traveled and studied in Europe. What did you like and what did you not like in Europe?
LM: – I love the adventure of travel and learning. I loved France and the beauty of the art, the landscape, the fashion, and the cuisine. I loved the history and art in England. I did not like the food in England. Potatoes and eels. Need I say more?
RD: – In America, what is the perception of European literature? What European poets and novelists would be known in the US?
LM: – I am only one American. I can only speak for myself. I greatly value European literature. Please, may I include Shakespeare in the mix? Not his poems, but his plays. I thank G-d for Shakespeare. And, well, what about Yeats and Keats? And I cannot neglect Chaucer. I must make mention of Molière and Voltaire, and Camus, yes, him I like very much. Defoe and Swift are also noteworthy. Brontë and Baudelaire, and I should also say Goethe all need a nod. But there are so many others. I must not forget Tolkien, Beckett, Joyce, Kafka, Proust, Wilde, Tolstoy, and the most lovely Flaubert, just to name a few.
RD: – As a poet and editor, what causes are you passionate about/active in?
LM: – The advancement of women in the arts. Finishing Line Press was started to promote women in the arts. It just so happens we do allow some men in the mix from time to time.
RD: – Dear Leah Maines, to conclude our interview, do you have any final thoughts or messages for our readers?
LM: – Life is short. Please be kind to one another!
TRANSLATOR for RD (from french) : ILENE STARGER
Publications and Prizes
Beyond the River (Kentucky Writers Coalition Press, 2002), Looking to the East with Western Eyes (Finishing Line Press, 1998)
Flyway, Licking River Review, Nebo, Owen Wister Review
Beyond the River, Winner of the Kentucky Writers’ Coalition Chapbook Competition.
c/o Finishing Line Press
P O Box 1626
Georgetown, KY 40324
Phone: (859) 514-8966
Reporter: Rodica Draghincescu