An Interview with Carl Adamshick, Publisher of Tavern Books

“A man said no person is educated who knows/only one language, for he cannot distinguish/between his thought and the English version,” Jack Gilbert wrote in “Foraging for Wood on the Mountain.”  But it is nearly inescapable for Americans to be monolingual, as our country is isolated by two oceans from most other languages.  If we are not lucky enough to be bilingual, the next best recourse for us as poets is to read poetry in translation.  A small press like Tavern Books is a wonderful resource for poetry hidden by distance and language that we do not know, poetry worth reading in editions worth keeping.  Poetry from other cultures widens our horizons and deepens our understanding of the human condition.

The mission statement on the Tavern Books web site says, “Tavern Books is a 503(c)(3) not-for-profit poetry publisher based in Portland, Oregon.  We exist to print, promote, and preserve works of literary vision, to foster a climate of cultural preservation, and to disseminate books in a way that benefits the reading public.”  All of Tavern’s Living Library titles are uniform in size and appearance, of high quality, a joy to hold and to read, and kept in print forever.  When one visits the Tavern offices on the second floor of Union Station in Portland, the first thing one notices is the shelves holding rows of Tavern titles.  All Tavern’s full-length collections are offset print rather than produced through digital short-run printing, e-books, or print-on-demand.

Tavern’s Living Library catalog “of innovative poets ranging from first-time authors and neglected masters to Pulitzer Prize winners and Nobel Laureates” includes collections translated from Greek, German, French, Polish, Spanish, Swedish, Arabic, Slovene, Hebrew, Italian, Welsh, Japanese, and Hungarian.  Poets include Yosa Buson, Tomas Transformer, Charles Simic, Rainer Maria Rilke, and William Stafford.

The Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series honoring the life and work of Greta Wrolstad (1981 – 2005) publishes works by women poets 40 years of age or younger (see web site for submission details).  This editor has read the 2015 selection, Emergency Brake, by Ruth Madievsky, and found the quality of her poetry to be as impressive as the quality of the book production.

The OPA Newsletter recently interviewed Tavern Books publisher and editor Carl Adamshick.  Here’s what we found out:


OPA:  Why does Tavern Books focus so much on translations?  Is it because no other small press does, or are there other considerations?


CA: Many presses focus on works in translation. I think Tavern Books probably publishes—50% of our catalog is translated—for the same reason as other presses and that is because it offers another voice, a bilingual book is a huge window into another culture.


OPA:  Why should an OPA member read a book of poetry in translation from another language?


CA: Because they should want to know how others live and feel. Because other than eating a culture’s food, reading a book is the quickest way to understand and empathize with others.



OPA:  How much does Tavern’s survival depend on sales and how much on donations?  Does Tavern Books receive funding from any government institution?  Any private foundation?


CA: It’s roughly a third. Sales. Donations. And Grants. Yes. We receive money from state and national organizations.


OPA:  Tavern’s commitment to the beauty and quality of its books is impressive.  Is offset printing a great deal more expensive than digital short-run printing?  The price of your books, handsome and durable as they are, seems quite reasonable – are they subsidized to keep the price down?


CA: We believe in the book as a physical object in the Tavern office. We do choose to spend a little bit more on printing for a book with a little more substance and beauty.


OPA:  Your website states that “Tavern Books publishes six full-length titles a year, roughly a book every six weeks.”  That seems like a pretty brisk pace.  How many people, aside from those at the printers, does it take to process a manuscript into a book, and how long does it take?  Do you always have several books in the pipeline at once, or do you put out one in six weeks and then start on the next one?


CA: Publishing is a juggling act. We work on multiple books at a time—sometimes intensely and other times lightly—but yes we publish a book basically every other month. There is always something to do! We have many helpers and volunteers.


OPA:  Have you ever had an edition of a book sell out and needed to do a second printing?


CA: Yes! And it is our pledge to keep things in-print!


OPA:  The Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series is open to female poets 40 years old and under.  What made you decide on these restrictions as to gender and age?


CA: The series is named after Greta Wrolstad. A poet who was in a fatal car crash during her graduate studies. We published a posthumous collection of her work—which is stunning. And in the course of compiling her work we kept talking about young, gifted writers that aren’t given a chance.



OPA:  All your submissions to the Wrolstad Series “are read solely by Tavern Book editors.”  Are you buried under a truckload of submissions?  Tell us something about the process of selecting whom to publish.


CA: Reading the manuscripts is an amazing part of the job. We read them in the office and have many conversations.


We encourage OPA’s female poets under 40 to look into submitting a collection to Tavern.  The press is also open to collections in translation.  Go to for details.

A visit to Tavern’s offices on the second floor of Union Station in Portland is a view into the small press world worth the effort.

2107 Fall Contest New Poets: Honorable Mentions and Judge’s Comments

Honorable mentions:

1st Honorable Mention: “Memorial Day” by Joanna Rose, Portland, OR

2nd Honorable Mention: “Fostering a Better World” by Jennifer Rood, Grants Pass, OR

3rd Honorable Mention: “After Midnight” by Stephanie Striffler, Portland, OR



Judge’s comments

I thought a lot about meaning as I read these poems. I thought about how language creates meaning, how humans create language, and how, despite how frail the letters words are made of, how inadequate the sounds of words are to represent the wide world, still meaning is made by one person who makes marks on a paper and understood by another person who looks at those marks with her eyes. It was a pleasure to read every poem entered and respond to the images, sounds and intent of each one.

We understand the world by naming the things in it. We make meaning of those names by arranging them on the page in beautiful patterns—thank you to all who did that work and entered it into this contest.

It is a daunting task to make a choice of the top six. If you entered this contest, you may be interested in how I managed the choice: I read through all the poems three times. The fourth time through, I made myself separate out the weakest half. Those poems were generally less ambitious or had multiple errors or flat language. I then read through the top favorites again and again, taking out the poems with logic problems or with too many linking verbs or overrun with adjectives, until I had eight remaining. Then I spent quite some time reading the remaining eight and making the impossible task of rating them—it’s an imperfect system, judging poems, and I worry my own taste influenced the final decisions. I do love inventiveness and imagination! If your poem is not a winner this time, please keep writing poems! Writing poems is a way of making meaning in the world, and as the world gets more complicated, we need more and more of us taking notes and making beauty out of disorder!

Lisa Allen Ortiz

2017 Fall Contest Winner: 3rd Place, New Poets

I Went to School Today


Salvador Dali was instructing, painfully, the concept

of relativity. “Everything is relative to something else…

this chair is relative to that corner. And the corner is relative

to the clock on the wall as well as the room down that hall.”

Einstein was sweeping up after the children’s lunch in the cafeteria.

The chemistry lab had been converted to a plant for recycled bubble

gum, so the kids could learn the importance of making tires.

I asked Dali something about black holes, and he told me,

“You must paint something like that with white; break it

into parts first.” So I drove home, prepared to apply

my new-found knowledge to the canvas of my life

in the suburbs. I parked the sedan in the driveway

and looked heavenward.


I see the sky is the color of your eyes before it rains but

after you’ve been crying. You meet me at the door, your heart

dripping on your sleeve. Furtively you look out the door, then

beckon me in. Your cheeks match the color of the rose I’m holding

out for you. I step over the threshold of a dream into my life. Inside,

the walls are the color of a peeled hardboiled egg, where the

yolk appears yellow just under the surface. I reach into my

pocket and find the ticket from the movie we saw last night—

now just a stub of time.


Judge’s comments

I thought a lot about meaning as I read these poems. I thought about how language creates meaning, how humans create language, and how, despite how frail the letters words are made of, how inadequate the sounds of words are to represent the wide world, still meaning is made by one person who makes marks on a paper and understood by another person who looks at those marks with her eyes. It was a pleasure to read every poem entered and respond to the images, sounds and intent of each one. “I Went to School Today” immediately unleashes meaning from its tether. The first line, and Salvador Dali is teaching relativity to a class of students. Later in the poem, the heart of the speaker’s lover drips on her sleeve—all imaginative language that opens the cloak of expectations and lets a wild nakedness out. That’s one way to create meaning!


James Merrill is a Salem poet who moved to Oregon to teach at Chemawa Indian School in 1999; he retired in 2014. He holds an MFA from the Naropa Institute (1992), where he received tutelage from Beat writers such as A. Ginsberg, G. Snyder, Wm. Burroughs. His most recent book is titled Blues Fall Down Like Rain, available from Amazon.