As National Poetry Month Ends, We Welcome A New Women’s Poetry Press

Word HotThe three mistresses of Headmistress Press, which launched four months ago to publish poetry by lesbians, sat down in cyberspace to talk about their poetic new venture.

Mary Meriam: What came over me? I’m not sure, but suddenly I wanted a press, and I wanted it now. So last December, I asked Jessica Mason McFadden if she wanted to start a press with me, and if she could think of a name.

Jessica Mason McFadden: I went to town, making a list of every name that I was led to by Wikipedia and by my own imaginative desire. I sent Mary a couple of ideas and she wasn’t thrilled. She teased me with the idea of calling it Jess Press, while I put together a longer list of crone, moon, goddess and musical-themed names. Headmistress Press was at the top of the list and it was the first one I thought of on my own, without “Wikinspiration.”

Meriam: I live deep in the country, a wilderness really, so getting books printed would be a problem. Jess lives in a small town—no book printer there either. We were two now, we had a name, but it looked like this press was going nowhere. Then I decided we needed another lesbian poet to come on board, and I thought of Risa Denenberg. Her town had a printer, but then it dawned on me that we could use CreateSpace, a print-on-demand publisher and subsidiary of Amazon.

Risa Denenberg: I never wanted to be an editor or run a press. But I totally wanted Mary to run a press. She is a fabulous poet, and I love her e-zine, Lavender Review. But she simply does not have good business sense. She kind of needed me. So here I am.

Meriam: And what a relief it is to have Risa and Jess on board. Risa provides business stability, Jess provides marketing pizzazz, and I got busy learning how to design and produce books on CreateSpace. We decided to begin by publishing chapbooks of lesbian poetry, and picked Word Hot as our first book. Six weeks later, our first book was born.

DenenbergThe manuscript submissions are tumbling in! It’s a real pleasure to be part of a press that embraces the work of lesbian poets. The project itself is really only possible because of publishing-on-demand and social networking technology. We didn’t have to raise funds or beg for grants in order to set up the business. With Mary’s software savvy we have already published a gorgeous perfect-bound volume of love poems. Of course, we’ll always operate on a shoestring, but I think we can actually send some Sapphic poems out into the world. Maybe even change the world a tiny bit. So much fabulous writing dies with the writer, or only gets published postmortem, it makes me cry. I’ve heard complaints that there is too much poetry being published online now, too many small presses, even that these publishing opportunities water down the talent field. That’s competitive (and might I say, male) hogwash. I read poetry constantly, and I only regret that I can’t read it all.

McFadden: I realize now more than ever that there is a real need for a press that focuses in an inclusive spirit exclusively on the disregarded and dismissed population of lesbian-identified poets. It’s hard to be a poet who writes honestly about her lesbian experience; often the work doesn’t fall neatly into any category: It’s too much of this or not enough of that. I love the idea of creating a space where too-much-of-this and not-enough-of-that fit in and shine.

Denenberg: We’ve met only in cyberspace. Is that amazing or what? I met Mary in an online poetry workshop, where she championed (and then published) a poem of mine. Love of poetry is the glue that has brought us together. And it seems to be working.


Mary Meriam advocates for the right of women to love each other in their poetry and art, and strives to give their work a place at the table. She writes about and publishes such work in the journal she founded, Lavender Review, at the press she cofounded, Headmistress Press, and at Ms. magazine, The Critical Flame, and The Gay & Lesbian Review. Her poetry collections, The Countess of Flatbroke, The Poet's Zodiac, The Lillian Trilogy, and Lady of the Moon, honor a cosmos of strong, creative women. Her latest collection, My Girl's Green Jacket, was published in 2018, and her poems have appeared recently in Poetry, Prelude, Subtropics, and The Poetry Review.