This summer, Scribner will launch a new poetry program, publishing one original volume of poetry by a contemporary poet each season. The program will be spearheaded by Scribner editorial director Kathryn Belden, executive editor Chris Richards, and assistant editor Emily Polson. All three will acquire books for the program and plan to be “collaborative” in their editorial efforts.

Richards, who previously published poetry at FSG and Penguin Press, looks forward to drawing on his prior experience. “We all have different sensibilities, which will serve the list well,” he said. “The great poetry of our moment is various and multivocal, as it probably always has been, and combining our distinctive tastes will allow us to better approach the breadth of what’s being written today.”

Scribner has published a handful of poetry titles in the past, but this is its first attempt in a structured program. Belden and Richards noted several “poetry gems” on Scribner’s backlist, including volumes by William Butler Yeats and Edith Wharton, as well as Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, which was reissued last year, with a new cover and an introduction by Jesmyn Ward.

Scribner has also published the Best American Poetry series for more than 30 years. Edited by David Lehman and revolving guest editors (including Robert Hass, Tracy K. Smith, and Natasha Trethewey), it’s been called a “mainstay of the poetry publication world” by the Academy of American Poets.

The program’s inaugural title will be Bread and Circus, the second collection by Philadelphia poet laureate Airea D. Matthews, slated for May 30. In September, Scribner will publish Sam Sax’s Pig, as well as the 2023 edition of Best American Poetry, curated by Lehman and guest editor Elain Equi. Slated for February 2024 is Diana Khoi Nguyen’s Root Fractures. Also, in the “near future,” Scribner plans to publish Pleasure Principle, the debut collection by poet Madeleine Cravens, a mentee of Louise Glück and Shane McCrae.

By way of marketing and publicity, Scribner will release a chapbook featuring selections from Bread and Circus, Pig, and Root Fractures; host a launch event series in the summer with group readings as well as gatherings for media, booksellers, and the poetry community; and present programming at the 2024 AWP conference.

One of this program’s unique features is its open submission period, the pilot program of which will run during the month of August. Submissions will be read by Belden, Polson, and Richards, with support from other advisers on the Scribner team. Though final details will be announced later this spring, the team will read up to 300 collections and respond to all submissions by the end of 2023. The intention of the open submission period, Richards explained, is to “eliminate some of the hurdles that poets can experience when seeking a publisher.”

The trio dates the program’s inception to when, last year, Simon & Schuster CEO Jonathan Karp suggested that “someone at the company should publish poetry.” Belden said she found the mere suggestion “worthy of pause”: “the CEO of a Big Five publishing company wants to ensure poetry is published—how extraordinary!” She volunteered, and with the support of Karp and Scribner publisher Nan Graham, Scribner’s poetry program was born.

Before the team set to work, they researched how best to tailor the publishing process to poetry, presenting their findings to Scribner leadership. “We decided if we were going to publish poetry, we would need to educate ourselves and our colleagues about the ways that poetry is different than prose, from the design and production, to the more delicate process of editing and vigorous support through publication,” Belden recalled. “How do you price poetry? What’s the range of advances? What format, hardcover or paperback, is best for publication? Who are the few agents that represent poetry? How do you reach poets who are unrepresented? How do we effectively market and publicize poetry? How do we serve readers?”

Richards called the program “a labor of love,” but added that it also makes good business sense. “There’s no shortage of talent in American poetry, and no shortage of readers,” he added. “But there is a shortage of publishing opportunities.”