Thursday, July 18, 2019

Robert Smyth and the Yellow Moon Press (2003)

\Robert Smyth


On a nondescript stretch of Somerville Avenue just outside Porter Square, there is an unexpected storefront. Yellow Moon Press. It is a veritable treasure trove of story, poetry books, CDs and tapes, that celebrate the oral tradition. In their catalog Yellow Moon describes itself as,"...committed to publishing materials from the various arts of the oral tradition. It is our goal to make available material that explores the oral tradition and breathes new life into it."This pleasingly eclectic small press and retail outlet has poetry titles by local poet, Elizabeth McKim to the more globally known Robert Bly and Ruth Stone.The books range from THE HUNGRY TIGRESS, that deals with Buddhist legends, to JOURNEY IN- AN ANTHOLOGY OF AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION POEMS AND HOW TO TELL THEM. Yellow Moon Press ( started publishing poetry in 1978, but gradually shifted to the spoken word and oral tradition. Since then Yellow Moon books are being used in courses in many schools around the country, and they have been a recipient of awards by such notable organizations as the AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION, and the AMERICAN BOOK ASSOCIATION. I talked with Robert Smyth, the founder of the Press, in his small store on a sunny morning in June.

DH: Tell me something about your background. How did you get into publishing and the retailing of books?

RS: My love of poetry started in my last years of high school, and continued to college. I went to Denison University out in Ohio. When I was there Denise Levertov (once a Somerville poet) came for a week. Robert Bly came for a number of years, and in my senior year I brought Allen Ginsberg in. Soon after I got out of college I started going to Robert Bly's annual conference, THE GREAT MOTHER AND THE NEW FATHER. That is where I was introduced to storytelling. I first did a small chap for a woman out in Washington state. Yellow Moon was founded in 1979. My idea was that I would do little books of poetry now and again, when I found something I really liked. I did not do it as my livelihood. I did it because I loved poetry. Our first book was printed in Union Square (Somerville), by an old leftist press whose name escapes me. I think I found it through Ed Hogan, who founded Somerville's ASPECT MAGAZINE. Ed taught me a lot about publishing.The storefront opened up three years ago. Before that I did it out of my house. When I first started Yellow Moon Press I worked at ROUNDER RECORDS, which at that time was in Somerville. Yellow Moon publishes books and cassettes of storytelling, poetry and music. We have 53 titles in print. We have books on poetry, folklore, collections of Buddhist legends; a range of stuff.

DH: Do you find that Somerville has a good atmosphere for your business?

RS: The location here at 689 Somerville Ave. has more foot traffic than I thought.

DH: Can you talk about some of the local storytellers and poets you have published?

RS: The first person that comes to mind is Doug Lipman. He lived in Somerville but now he lives in Atlanta. Doug has been a real part of the storytelling community for years .He is one of the first artists I did a storytelling tape with back in the late 80's. I was associated with a group, Storytellers In Concert, that Doug was a part of. They put on monthly concerts for adults. Doug was the founding member of that. We did four storytelling cassettes with him. We have also published Jennifer Justice, Maggie Purse, Elizabeth McKim (Body India), and other local people we worked with.

DH: Your wife Anna Warrock is a poet. How is it being a literary couple? Have you published your wife?

RS: We toyed with the idea. I was willing and glad to produce something for Anna. She feels that she wants to get a publisher who is someone other than her husband. She has won a number of awards for her poetry. I have to honor how she wants to do it. We do stuff together. I've helped her with getting her manuscripts ready to go. We are currently working on a reading series, Crossing Open Ground at the Brickbottom Studios. It is a mixture of poets, fiction writers, and storytellers. The first evening we had the Somerville storyteller, Peggy Melanson.

DH: You told me that you and Anna have coordinated Robert Bly's 28th Annual Conference on "The Great Mother and the New Father" Can you tell me how you became involved with Bly and the festival?

RS:I became acquainted with Robert Bly in the early 70's. I was struck by his charisma. The conference is an interdisciplinary arts festival. There was an art gallery at the festival with some tremendous paintings, photos and sculptures. The conference this year was focused on the confluence of Jewish, Islamic, and Spanish culture. The conference explored the masculine and feminine. It explored this through the arts.

DH: How hard is it to run a small press and an indie bookstore?

RS: I don't count on the bookstore as a primary source of income. I still do freelance work, audio production and tapes, and I also do book production. I just did a book design for Joe Armstrong, who lives in Davis Square. He studied with Pablo Casals in the 50's.Yellow Moon is a nonprofit Several books are used as course texts at colleges around the country. Lesley University extension uses our books. We also sell to storytelling festivals.

DH: Any future plans for the store and press?

RS: I am on a push to grow the press. I've just signed up with WORDS DISTRIBUTION, out in California. Distribution is the nut to crack.