David Horowitz, writer and head of Rose Alley Press was minding his booth at Wordstock when I stopped by and introduced myself. He was about to release his newest book, Stars Beyond the Battlesmoke, and we spoke briefly about Rose Alley as well as his work. During our interview a few weeks later, I learned that beyond the duties of the creating and publishing, Horowitz works full-time for a downtown Seattle law firm, and devotes additional hours to tending to the needs of his elderly mother. Only then does he sit down to handle the duties of publishing and the demands of the writing life. Part one of our interview focuses on the challenges of publishing, personal integrity and begins to get into his craft as a writer. Part two will appear later in the year. You can read his work on the Rose Alley author page.
(DJ): Between your work as a writer and managing Rose Alley, what struggles do you encounter trying to honor both, and where do you feel there may be some overlap?
(DH): There is overlapping – big time – for me. I’m not fundamentally a commercial publisher. I’m not somebody who’s going to publish something to make money, and then say, “OK, now I have to get to my serious art.” That’s not the way I work. What I publish is what I consider to be my serious art. I’ll take whatever losses come with trying to get it out there.
I don’t have a commercial line and an aesthetic line. The aesthetic line is it. So it’s a tough sell. But it does give me, personally, a lot of energy and sense of commitment to the press, because I’m publishing stuff I really want to sell. I’m not feeling half-hearted about selling it. There’s a strong sense of energized, sincere commitment that you gain by being a purely aesthetic publisher as opposed to publishing something you don’t particularly believe in just to make some money.
Now, there are ways in which the publishing impinges on my own creativity. Publishing is not glamorous. It is often very foolishly stereotyped as something that is glamorous or that entails activities performed by king-making, wealthy people and that kind of nonsense. I don’t make much money in terms of my overall intake, and I lose money as a publisher. But I’m very committed to it.
What impinges is the constant publicity that a small publisher has to do in order to promote the work sufficiently. That means readings, which includes producing fliers for each reading because you have to. People aren’t just going to go to a reading because it’s a reading. There might be 15 or 20 readings on a given night in Seattle. You have to get out there and promote. That’s time consuming. I’d rather spend my time doing research or writing poems. Sending out emails can get old, but it’s something you have to do if you want to sell books. You’ve got to commit to producing good looking work and promotional materials that make people believe this is solid stuff. The editing of brochures, the creation and distribution of email fliers…it’s not glamorous. I’d rather be doing other things sometimes, but it’s necessary. That’s probably the biggest conflict right there.
If there is overlapping, in an odd way, it’s that the socializing you do at a book fair or with your fellow writers can help create a sense of literary community that would otherwise not exist. You deepen your sense of commitment because you all understand you’re in a difficult marketplace. You get a deeper appreciation for one another’s struggles, which deepens your sense of community and commitment to one another. That’s a pleasure. It alleviates that sense of arduous loneliness that can often attend to the publisher’s responsibilities.
(DJ): I love that language…”arduous loneliness…”
(DH): It can be that way. You’re staying up till three or four in the morning sending out email messages and you have to be at work three hours later. It’s that kind of field.
(DJ): Jumping into some of your poems then . . . there’s the final line in the poem, “No Given”:
“Integrity must battle to survive,
In shadowed lunar scene must sharpen sight.”
Could you jump into that line and flash it back toward your work? Especially having heard you say what you said, and visualizing this poem taking place as a scene, it’s as if we each encounter that moment when we’re thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great if we were off doing this, but my integrity keeps me here.” How does that align with everything you just told me?
(DH): I value that poem highly. I don’t tend to write what you might call “statement poems” all that often, but this is kind of a statement poem.
“Integrity must battle to survive.” Yes. That epitomizes, really, the struggle of the principled artist in a corrupt word. The last line is an attempt to soften, a little bit, the potential for finger wagging sanctimony when one urges integrity as a moral ideal. In a sense, “Integrity must battle to survive.” Because, the line before it: “Day’s bribe, threat, and deceit still live–no, thrive.” That’s what you’re faced with.
Here’s an example. I never violate privacy in order to sell. In the world though, that stuff does go on. It’s amazing how much privacy is violated to find out people’s buying habits. Then stuff comes back through that data and now people think they have a better chance to sell to you. Sometimes it’s done above board and sometimes it’s not. I won’t do that. I’d rather starve than violate people’s privacy to find out their buying habits. I’ll take my chances on being an honest person. That’s not necessarily everybody’s approach. Some could care less about privacy. All kinds of databases and lists are gathered by questionable means.
The line, “In shadowed lunar scene must sharpen sight.” Well the “shadowed lunar scene” is a kind of penumbral reality . . . the penumbral moral decision making we have to face. It’s tough sometimes to know what integrity means. It’s tough to make decisions. Sometimes people who might seem good aren’t good. Sometimes people are angry but they have a good reason for anger. Or they don’t have good reason. It’s difficult to know. It’s rarely absolutely clear just what integrity does entail. On one hand, I have a strong sense of integrity. By the same token, I want to emphasize with the last line that making decisions that inhere of integrity is often tough. It can be tricky.
There are two places I will never compromise on integrity, ever, in any shape or form. One being, the art itself. You’ve got to say what you’ve got to say. You can’t sit there and worry if something’s going to be popular. You can’t go there. I say what I really think needs to be said. Number two, the basic morality, as a publisher at least, of selling. Not cheating people, not manipulating people, no baiting and switching, spying on their computer habits…none of that garbage.
(DJ): Regarding your integrity to the art itself, I’m reminded of our first conversation when we discussed your adherence to form. I’m curious about your drafting process, since your final versions are so particular to the form that you hope to convey. As you explained, there’s something in the form that in a way creates more beauty. What do your first drafts look like?
(DH) A couple of points. First, I call myself a rhyme addict. I will frequently start poems with what I call “rhyme seeds.” A rhyme strikes me as being particularly strong, and I write it down. Then, some kind of, often, very metrical line hits me. And I have an epigram…a two-liner or a four-liner. Sometimes I feel it has everything I need to say. Sometimes I feel it doesn’t. Then I really work more with a kind of putty. I’ll have a couplet or quatrain that’s pretty strict or finished, but if I don’t feel it has everything that needs to be said, I work more with drafts that have less metrical lines, maybe have off-rhymes that are really more off than I wanted, or images that are a little too nascent. So I often start with a rhyme-originated couplet or quatrain that helps me generate another few quatrains or lines that are less well-formed.
I’m also kind of an artistic libertarian. I believe everyone should be writing what they really want to write. If they’re not comfortable in form, I’m not going to berate a person for being some kind of inferior poet. There are a lot of really good free verse writers and a lot of bad formalists. I hesitate to embrace form as a kind of adjunct to a political dogma. By the same token, I’m not afraid to announce my presence. I do love rhyme and meter, and I do so unabashedly. I hope not dogmatically, but unabashedly.
I think of poetry as the intersection of language and music. Form, specifically rhyme and meter, helps convey the musical sense to the words you’re using. Form can especially help with witty poetry. It helps sharpen the sense of atmosphere, mood, tone, resonance – obviously consonants, alliteration, lots of rhetorical devices help do that too, but rhyme and meter, especially when they’re used in particular cases and not just generically, give a lot to a poem.
Consider the most basic, elementary example, which is Longfellow’s “Song of Hiawatha.” It’s not iambic. It’s trochaic. Think about the Native American subject matter. If you go iambic, you’re going, “bum BUM bum BUM bum BUM bum BUM.” Trochaic is the inverse. You’re going, “BUM bum BUM bum BUM bum BUM bum.” It’s the perfect sound of an Indian drum. So the shift of the meter changes the mood and tone of how the language is conveyed. If it were iambic, you wouldn’t get much of a sense of Native American drumming or rhythm. Trochaic – that is so perfectly chosen. That’s just one example, but there are many of using form not just as a rational structure or generic default because you don’t have the creative energy to think individually, but instead to reflect the theme, tone and emotions in the writing. It’s a wonderful tool to do that.