“The book becomes the writer, but the book is the reader’s.” – the late William Corbett, poet and founder of Pressed Wafer
Pressed Wafer, a Brooklyn, NY publishing house, is closing its doors after 18 years. It’s founder Bill Corbett died in August of pancreatic cancer and the company cannot continue without its driving force. So, all its stock must be sold “to appease…lawyers, and accountants, the courts and the IRS,” explains a note to readers from Michael Russem of Pressed Wafer’s design and production departments.
Continues Russem: “To that end, all books published in 2017 or earlier are now available for 75 percent off the retail price. Visit pressedwafer.com to order more recent titles held in our warehouse. Or visit spdbooks.org and search Pressed Wafer to order new, old and rare titles directly from the distributor.”
I can tell you that there are some amazing things stored in the Pressed Wafer warehouse: Little Prayers, poems by the late Taylor Stoehr and Elizabeth Murphy; Lines from London Terrace, a collection of essays and addresses by Douglas Crase; Slouching Toward Utopia, a collection of essays by George Scialabba. And the wonderful All Prose, a collection of essays and reviews by Corbett, the last work published by the company he founded.
I can tell you that Little Prayers is a fine story of a friendship told in poems — it feels like reading music; Lines from London Terrace is so beautifully written that I found myself pulled into the book like I was pulled into a swift creek as a child.
I can tell you that you should buy every George Scialabba title. What Are Intellectuals Good For awakened in me a desire to learn that long had lain buried under the weight of work. The Modern Predicament, For the Republic and Low Dishonest Decades all are magnificent as is the aforementioned Slouching Toward Utopia. George is a gracious, kind, overly honest man. A pleasant, soft-spoken sort, who happens to be possessed of an intimidating intellect in command of magnificent prose.
And I would like to tell you that Bill Corbett, with whom I corresponded, was a kind, patient, intelligent man who loved his craft and was always willing to share. We went back and forth over a word – slather – that I had used in a poem until he was convinced that I knew enough about its use to have made the right decision. I am no poet — and I did not know about his illness — but he was encouraging and unrushed even though his time was shrinking as the cancer was growing.
Start at the end of All Prose with the enthralling essay entitled “Why You No Forget?.” Then move to the Introduction where Corbett, who wrote for “free” throughout his life quotes Samuel Johnson: “No Man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”
There are gems everywhere in the book, including this from Allen Ginsberg: 1926-1997: “Very few writers ever say what is on the minds of a good many people.” Also, this from On Reading: “Somewhere Nietzche writes about how as adults we seek to return to the concentration we had as children. Writing is one way of achieving that concentration and so is reading.”
And this from “A Talk”: “…when I am at work, am making a poem and so concentrated in that act, I have a sufficiency. The world of self and others that every day threatens to crash around my ears as it exults me be damned. I must attend to the poem at hand, and it is the pleasure in that act that, as much as anything else, keeps me writing poetry.”
I am grateful to Bill Corbett for the time he shared with me and especially for Pressed Wafer. Russem said it best in his note: “Bill just wanted to publish writers and artists he thought deserved an audience. And if a title was slow to sell, then he at least wanted the authors to have books they would be proud to hold and show off. The books are physical proof that someone cared and respected their work.”
Because of Bill Corbett — the “blockhead” who for 18 years published wonderful work at Pressed Wafer — this average, public school Alabama redneck’s life is better.