By noon the day after Barack Obama’s inauguration, Graywolf Press had accepted 176 preorders (the largest for 30 copies) for its chapbook edition of poet Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day,” a work commissioned for the event.
Maybe that number doesn’t knock you out, but the St. Paul-based publisher typically handles just a few catalog orders a week. “It’s been overwhelming to a small office like ours,” said Graywolf’s publicity director Mary Matze. “But an incredible honor. We were besides ourselves with joy.”
By Feb. 6, 100,000 copies of the commemorative edition, consisting of 28 pages printed on heavy stock with a silver stamp, will be available ($8 each). This is an unexpected boon for the financially strapped press, which has published four of Alexander’s books. Time to dust off the back catalog. Matze notes that Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of the Morning,” crafted for Bill Clinton’s inauguration, sold a million copies.
“This is the biggest audience a poet will ever have,” she says. George W. Bush declined to include poetry in his inauguration, but his tenure did yield one singularly elegiac artifact: Remember “Make the Pie Higher,” the poem made of Bush’s quotes?