Poetry may be experiencing a small renaissance as publishers find readers eager to discover new and classic poetry with religious themes. While the majority of sales are through Amazon and other online vendors, some retailers are finding space on the shelves.
Many evangelical readers recognize the poetry of Luci Shaw and her books including Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation (Eerdmans, 2006) and Polishing the Petoskey Stone (Shaw Books, 2000). Her 15th collection of poems, Sea Glass, released with WordFarm in 2016. WordFarm also publishes the poetry of Jeanne Murray Walker, John Leax, Bryan D. Dietrich, and Erin Keane.
Small publishers such as Apocryphile Press have made a mark with collections such as Kiss the Earth When You Pray: The Father Zosima Poems (2016) by Robert Hudson, editor-at-large at Zondervan. The house also publishes Canadian Christian poet Antoinette Voute Roeder.
Catholic publishers such as Angelico Press are actively publishing poetry and have strong backlists in the genre. Angelico published City Under Siege: Sonnets and Other Verse by Mark Amorose in April, and keeps others such as Meditations in Times of Wonder by Michael Martin (2014) in print.
Ave Maria Press publishes a good number of meditations and devotionals, along with Sr. Joyce Rupp’s Prayer Seeds: A Gathering of Blessings, Reflections, and Poems for Spiritual Growth.
Hudson says that the key to broader poetry publishing is broader poetry purchasing. “Unless poetry makes at least a bit of money, no one is going to publish it,” he said. “You can buy a new book of poetry for the price of two Starbucks’ Frappuccinos—so when people tell me they love poetry, I tell them to give up two coffees a week and start buying living poets.”
John Mabry, publisher for Apocryphile, sees his poetry publishing as more ministry than business. “Collections like Hudson’s and others have to be published; these are important books,” he says.
Classic poetry is also a staple. Ignatius Press offers The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton: Collected Poetry, Part II and Part III (plus other volumes of Chesterton’s writings), while Angelico publishes Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Daniel Joseph Polikoff.
Apocryphile has found success with a new edition of Taliessin through Logros and The Region of the Summer Stars by Charles Williams, with introduction by Williams scholar Sorina Higgins (2016).
Poetry with a mystical bent, according to Mabry, does best for Apocryphile and is selling generally as well. Sufi poets in translation—Rumi, Hafiz, Yunus Emri—are popular “because they are so beautiful and profound and universal. When I find books that touch a similar nerve, I gravitate toward those,” he said, citing Hudson’s Father Zosima as an example.
“We need poetry to tell us who we are,” said Hudson, “to help us sort out who the true self is among all our dozens of false selves—because our false selves tell us lies just as the world does.”