Janet Holmes, a professor in the Department of Theatre, Film and Creative Writing, will be retiring at the end of the 2019-20 academic year. As a poet there, and previously with the Department of English, Holmes taught graduate and undergraduate workshops in poetry, courses in the New York School and Objectivist schools of poetry, seminars in the work of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, and a graduate course in small press editing and production.
That last course served as an editorial board for Boise State’s Ahsahta Press, which has been an all-poetry publisher at Boise State since 1974. Graduate students in the creative writing MFA program read the hundreds of submissions that came in to Ahsahta’s Sawtooth Poetry Prize contest each year and worked with an outside judge to select the winner of the annual $1,500 award. Founded in 1974 by Tom Trusky, the press initially focused on poetry of the American West, publishing, amongst others, David Baker, Wyn Cooper, Cynthia Hogue and Katharine Coles. In 1999 professor Holmes took over the job of editor, expanding the scope of the press and introducing the Sawtooth Poetry Prize for first books and a chapbook series. In addition to the prize-winning books, Holmes published more than one hundred volumes at Ahsahta, which is described as championing and promoting “surprising, relevant, and accessible experimental poetry that more commercially minded small presses avoid.” Ahsahta Press titles often appeared on the monthly best-seller lists of Small Press Distribution.
For the past twenty years, professor Holmes has overseen one of the most respected independent poetry presses in the country, garnering a national and international reputation. Ahsahta has been home to a wide range of extraordinary books, including many prize-winners such as Anne Boyer’s “Garments Against Women” (CLMP Firecracker Award, 2016), Vincent Toro’s “Stereo. Island. Mosaic” (Norma Farber First Book Award, 2017), Brian Teare’s “Pleasure” (Lambda Award for Gay Poetry, 2011) and most recently, Jonah Mixon-Webster’s “Stereo(TYPE),” which won the prestigious PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award last year.
With the retirement of Holmes, the university will be closing Ahsahta Press on June 30, 2019. The creative writing program will start a search this year for a one-year replacement professor while it reassesses the instruction needs and priorities of the MFA degree, and of the recently introduced three undergraduate degree programs, which are seeing rapidly increasing enrollments. Although the creative writing program is not in a position to continue operations of the press immediately after this year, all efforts to revive the press will be considered if and when it becomes possible.
Holmes has published five collections of poetry, including “The ms of my kin” (Shearsman) and “f2f” (University of Notre Dame). Her work has been discussed in MLA papers and panels on erasure poetics, explored in Emily Dickinson studies, and included in international anthologies of poetry. In 2018, her work was included in a gallery show of erasure poetics in New York City. She was a Fulbright Fellow in Budapest, Hungary, during the spring of 2015, and received fellowships for her writing from the Fondation Ledig-Rowholt (Switzerland) and Fundación Valparaíso (Spain), as well as the American residencies MacDowell Colony and Yaddo. Her work was twice collected in “The Best American Poetry” volumes.
The Boise State Creative Writing program and School of Arts would like to thank professor Holmes for the energy and vision she has dedicated to the MFA program and the press, and for the support she has given to poets and poetry, locally and nationally, for the last two decades.