Poet’s Platform Guest Post: Adrie Rose on Nine Syllables Press

This recurring column highlights the work and lives of our poets beyond their Perugia Press books, whether it be teaching or other creative professional pursuits, visual artistry, community involvements, activism, their reading suggestions, and/or their current writing projects, processes, and proclivities. The fifth installment is a guest post from Adrie Rose, who served as Perugia’s first intern in 2020 and is launching a new chapbook press, Nine Syllables Press, at Smith College.

The Birth of an Editor: Interning at perugia

As a poet, math is not my forte. So when Rebecca Olander asked me to compile the statistics for poetry prizes, I was not especially thrilled. I had no idea that those stats would fuel the beginning of a new poetry press at Smith College.

In the summer of 2020, I had the pleasure of being Perugia’s first ever intern. I was a junior at Smith College in the Ada Comstock Scholar Program for nontraditional age students, and through the poetry concentration and the Praxis Program, I had the opportunity to do a paid internship connected to poetry. I was so excited when Matt Donovan, the director of the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center at Smith College, connected me with Rebecca, editor/director of Perugia. One of my favorite books of poetry, Kettle Bottom, was a Perugia book. We met for the first time at a small café just as the pandemic was cresting towards us like a tsunami, and I appreciated her warmth and generosity of spirit immediately.

Perugia was in the process of creating a new website, and Rebecca’s projects for me included creating classroom guides for ten Perugia books, and gathering the statistics for how many women (versus men) had won major poetry prizes–the Pulitzer, the Nobel, National Book Critics Circle Award, and Poet Laureates of the U.S.

Like anyone who was raised female in this world, I knew that sexism and male domination existed. It was part of the reason I had chosen to attend Smith College, a historic women’s college. I expected the numbers on the literary prizes to be slanted towards men, but I was shocked when I began to tally the numbers. They still shock me every time I see them.

These figures have begun to shift in the last decade or so, with many recent awards going to women. But if you take away those recent awards, the stats are even more drastic. While I was counting these prizes, I discovered that a novelist friend of mine volunteers with VIDA, which tracks the number of women being published in over forty literary journals and periodicals. In their own words, “With our annual VIDA Count we offer up concrete data and assure women, nonbinary, and trans authors (and wayward editors) that the sloped playing field is not going unnoticed. Our literary community can only benefit from a range of voices.”

The birth of a press: Nine Syllables

All of these numbers and realities percolated in my mind as I entered my senior year at Smith College. The Boutelle-Day Poetry Center had received a generous endowment from Tammis Day, an alumna who was an Ada Comstock Scholar and a poetry lover, like myself. The gift from Tammis Day would be used for several specific projects, but some of the funding was simply earmarked for bringing more poetry into the community.

In the winter of 2021, I brought a slightly wild but very exciting idea (I thought) to the director of the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center (BDPC). Smith College should have its own chapbook press, based out of the BDPC, that would publish historically excluded voices, especially women, LGBTQIA++, and BIPOC poets. This press would give Smith students the opportunity for professional practice, participating in every step from reading submissions to designing a cover and interior for the chosen manuscript.

As I prepared to suggest this project to the BDPC, I discovered that none of the other historic women’s colleges had a press. Not a single one. This seemed like a huge omission, for institutions focused on uplifting and celebrating the voices, experiences, and contributions of women. While the statistics I compiled for Perugia were focused on prizes, it’s hard to win a prize if you’ve never been published. And, unfortunately, it remains less likely to get published at all, if you’re a woman.

Nine Syllables Press, named after a line from Smith alumna Sylvia Plath’s poem “Metaphors,” was created in the summer of 2021, and we will hold our first annual chapbook contest this summer. Our first release will also be this summer, with the anthology My Hand Holding Tight My Other Hand: Women Poets & the Body. It’s gratifying to come full circle from my work at Perugia Press to founding a press myself; I invite you to learn more about Nine Syllables and send your work our way.

Adrie Rose lives beside an orchard in western MA and is the editor of Nine Syllables Press and the Tammis Day Editorial Fellow at the Boutelle-Day Poetry Center at Smith College. She has two chapbooks forthcoming in 2023 with Gold Line Press and Porkbelly Press. She is a Poetry MFA student at Warren Wilson College. Her work has previously appeared in Nimrod, The Night Heron Barks, Underblong, Witness, the Ploughshares blog and more.