For over 20 years Kitty Lewis has been the general manager of Brick Books (1975), a literary press that publishes poetry by new and established authors. In the interest of National Poetry Month, BF asked her a few questions about poetry, some career highlights, and a recent project that’s taking poetry to new places.
Stan Dragland wrote in an interview: “The focus on poetry was, at first, partly practical. In the first years, Stan and Don did almost everything. Stan typeset Ten Letters, though it was printed offset. Same with Peggy Dragisic’s From the Medley. After that, we had the typesetting done for us but still did paste-up. We couldn’t see doing all that hands-on through a novel. Later, it just seemed that poetry really needed the support.”
What are some professional highlights?
I enjoy working with all the authors and setting up promotion tours for them. I would have to say that there were 2 highlights for me:
The cross-Canada tour that I organized for Lorri Neilsen Glenn, then poet laureate of Halifax, and Agnes Walsh, then inaugural poet laureate of St. John’s, Newfoundland – they travelled to Edmonton, Yellowknife, Whitehorse, Salt Spring Island, Victoria, Regina, Saskatoon, Toronto and Ottawa and participated in readings with current and past poets laureate Alice Major, Ted Blodgett, Carla Funk, Glen Sorestad, Louise Halfe, Robert Currie, Pier Giorgio Di Cicco, Liz Zetlin and John B. Lee. I was able to accompany them to Edmonton, Yellowknife and Whitehorse.
Working with Randall Maggs to spread the word about his book Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems as far and wide as we possibly could. Night Work: The Sawchuk Poems is a hockey saga, wrapping the game’s story in the “intense, moody, contradictory” character of Terry Sawchuk, one of its greatest goalies. Randall launched the book at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 2008 where he had done a vast amount of research for this book that took him 10 years to write. We held a small press conference before the launch and received coverage in many sports sections in newspapers all across Canada including poems!! and many blog items followed for the next 2-1/2 years. Randall travelled all across Canada during that time. I wanted to have Randall read in the 5 cities where Terry Sawchuk played – Detroit, Toronto, Boston, New York and Los Angeles – and was able to do this [except New York]. I also arranged a northern trip to Edmonton, Yellowknife, and Whitehorse, finishing that trip in Vancouver and was able to accompany Randall. He also presented this book all across Canada – Victoria, This book won many awards, including the 2008 Winterset Award, the 2009 E.J. Pratt Poetry Prize and the Kobzar Literary Award in 2010 – the Kobzar Award recognizes a Canadian writer who most effectively presents a Ukrainian Canadian theme through poetry, drama, fiction, non-fiction or young people’s literature. I didn’t know much about hockey when we started but I did learn a few things along the way… It was a very interesting book to work on because it’s poetry about hockey and those two areas don’t often intersect. ** These two projects were made possible by support from the OMDC Book Fund through the Ontario Media Development Corporation.
Poetry is a hard sell. What’s Brick’s secret?
Well, we just keep on doing it. Stan and Don had a vision in the early days and we just continue.
Tell me a little about the poetry podcast archive: how it came to be and where you see it going.
We hired Julie Wilson, a social media expert, to give us some advice on increasing our profile; she came up with the idea of these podcasts and we were able to launch the project during our 35th anniversary year in 2011. Julie wrote in the press release, “Brick Books has set out to create the largest publisher-focused poetry performance archive in Canada and abroad.” Our podcasts now number 527 – a total of 607 poems and more coming all the time… Books represented include Lependu by Don McKay (1978) right up to A Walker in the City by Méira Cook (2011) and I have poems from another 10 books recorded and ready to upload. We have recorded about half of our authors so far and hope to record our full library; the remaining poets are spread across the country so the arrangements are a little tricky. So far there have been over 2,000 views on our YouTube channel – that’s very gratifying. I have been spreading the word to poets, poetry readers, students and their professors.