Koan Americana was published in 1992, when David Starkey was two years out of graduate school. Based in Bessemer, Alabama, Colonial Press was a two-person operation helmed by the late Bradley Twitty, who named the press after the insurance company for which he had worked his entire life. A generous enthusiast for the art of poetry, Mr. Twitty’s zeal for publishing young poets was not always matched by his ability to promote their work. He passed away not long after the publication of Koan Americana, which has since been included in Connecticut College’s American Poetry Archive, where it can be read online in full.
Decades later, I wrote this poem, a paen to Bradley Twitty:
I would not, after all, take home
the Yale Series of Younger Poets
award, nor would Farrar, Straus & Giroux
have the honor of welcoming a new voice
into print. Instead, Mr. Twitty,
whose tiny press I discovered
in Writer’s Market 1989,
would shepherd my grad school poems
into a world doing fine without them:
the one about cats in a Mexican prison,
and the one about raking leaves in the yard
of my rented house in Baton Rouge.
Tommy, a tutor in the writing center
of the obscure Southern college
where I’d found work, was “good
with computers” and designed
the simple cover. He also took
the author photograph: big glasses,
awkward smile, my chin nearly cut off.
Mr. Twitty asked how many copies
I wanted to buy. I told him I wanted
no part of a vanity press, but I bought
fifty of the inelegant things anyway.
No reviews. No distribution. I had always
hoped my poems would outlive me,
but apparently they’d been stillborn.
A year later, Mr. Twitty died.
A nephew called to say his uncle’s house
was spilling over with boxes of books
by young, unknown poets. Did I
want to buy mine before he threw them out?
Broke as usual, I declined. Thirty years later,
I still like some of those early poems—
the one about having afternoon tea
with Eudora Welty, and the one
set in the laundromat where my daughters
“dart after loose buttons and puffs
of lint,” and I “have nothing at all to give.”