Publish or Perish

Self-promoting poet and noted Faulkner collector Louis Daniel Brodsky tends to his legacy: shepherding his entire life's work into print

Either nothing thermal
Is stirring in the core of his brain's furnace
Or its trembling shafts and veins,
Connecting head to hands, are clogged.
-- Louis Daniel Brodsky

On a regular workday morning, Louis Daniel Brodsky arrives at Coco's restaurant on South Lindbergh Boulevard at about 6:30 a.m. He orders the usual: three egg whites, a bagel and decaf. Then, if he hasn't already done so, Brodsky unsheathes his Bic fine-point pen, opens his blue-covered ledger book and gets down to business. It is a daily accounting regimen that has more to do with the last stanza than with the bottom line.

Amid the din of diners, Brodsky's creative juices are having a hard time flowing. "You don't get an inspiration and jot it," he says. "That doesn't happen." After a 10-minute lull, he starts writing about not being able to write. Before long, Brodsky has transformed himself into a volcano, right there in the middle of Coco's. He takes the next hour or so to complete the poem. By the end verse, Brodsky has conjured up a mystical lava and buried himself in it, following the flow of a metaphor about a medieval Jewish cabalist and alluding to the destruction of ancient Pompeii along the way.

After smothering himself, in a matter of words, Brodsky drives over to his office at Le Chateau on Clayton Road in Frontenac and begins revising his draft into a final version with his editorial staff. Each revision is kept for future reference. It's all part of a normal workday in the life of poet Brodsky.

Brodsky is one of the most prolific poets in the history of American literature. Although much of his work has languished as a result of the neglect or rebuke of literary pundits, there is no debate over his single-minded dedication to his discipline. So far he's written nearly 40 books of verse. Moreover, at 58 years of age, he appears to be just now reaching his stride, meeting a self-imposed quota of one poem every 24 hours.

The first volume of Brodsky's complete poems, which Brodsky self-published in 1996, exceeds 600 pages and covers the years 1963-65. Vol. 2, due out next year, will contain another 800-900 poems written between 1967-1975. Brodsky expects to ultimately release 10-14 volumes. He wants to publish every poem he has ever written, and he's banking that his unsung efforts will eventually be validated.

"I have written over 5,500 poems since 1963," says Brodsky. Although the poet admits that some of his early verse is bad, he maintains that it warrants publication because it allows readers to see how the creative process evolves. "I'm assuming that someone, someday, will think enough of my work that they will be grateful to me and those of us here who have labored on this," he says. "If the future judges it to be significant, then it will have vindicated all of the time I have worked as a relatively anonymous poet."

The Faulkner Fetish
Aside from the sheer weight of his poetry, Brodsky holds another distinction: He owns the local nonprofit publishing company -- Time Being Press -- that distributes his works, as well as those of 17 other poets. The creation of his own publishing house -- a glorified vanity press, to some critics -- came after Brodsky had labored long as a lyrical journeyman.

After his graduation from Yale University in 1963, Brodsky earned back-to-back master's degrees in English and creative writing from Washington University and San Francisco State, respectively. Then, in 1968, when he was within 10 hours of receiving a doctorate, Brodsky left academia for a 17-year hitch as a manager at Biltwell Co. Inc., a then-family-owned trouser-manufacturing plant in Farmington, Mo. The work experience seems to have provided a crash course in class-consciousness for the young, classically schooled member of the bourgeoisie. Few fops frequented Farmington and fewer still the factory floor. For Brodsky, working in the pants factory, even in a managerial position, was akin to putting on brand-new britches.

"It was absolutely contrary to anything I had ever done," says Brodsky. "I wanted to know more about the kind of life that I had never been exposed to. I was assistant manager in a factory that employed 350 operators, all but 50 of whom were women. They sewed men's trousers."

During his stint at Biltwell, Brodsky married, raised a family and wrote poetry in his spare time. He also taught writing at a nearby community college and continued to collect the books of novelist William Faulkner, an obsession he developed at Yale. His bibliomania led him to collaborate on scholarly research with Robert Hamblin, an English professor at Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO). The two ended up co-writing a slew of bibliographic texts based on the Faulkner materials in Brodsky's collection, including a cache of unpublished screenplays.

Over a 25-year period, Brodsky built the most extensive privately held collection of Faulkner's works in the world, borrowing $300,000 from his father to do so. Foraging for Faulkner's fiction became Brodsky's fetishistic forte. For roughly 20 years, he collected and cataloged with unbounded passion. His fervor led him to visit Faulkner's hometown of Oxford, Miss., as many as 15 times a year. As a result, he wrote three books of Southern-influenced verse, A Mississippi Trilogy, and gained the acceptance of legendary leaders of the Southern literary movement, including the late Robert Penn Warren.

Next Page »