Steve Luttrell marks his 30th year as editor of the Café Review. Photo by Derek Davis

The Café Review began humbly, as 16 mimeographed sheets of paper stapled together. The poets who gathered regularly at Woodfords Café in Portland wanted a printed outlet for their poetry, so Steve Luttrell made it happen, by whatever means necessary.

The production values of the Café Review have improved in 30 years. It’s now 80 pages of professionally typeset poetry, supplemented with color reproductions of original artwork. But it’s still a hardscrabble operation, fueled mostly by the enthusiasm of Luttrell and sustained by whatever means necessary.

“We depend on the kindness of strangers,” said Luttrell, the review’s founding editor, who is still at the helm. “And I have to say, this hasn’t been a solo effort all those years. It’s been much more than one person.”

On Monday night, Portland Mayor Ethan K. Strimling and the City Council recognized Luttrell with a proclamation honoring the 30th anniversary of the Café Review. The poetry and art journal published its first issue in 1989. It published monthly its first three years, then shifted to a quarterly publication.

The Café Review is what is known as a micro press. That means it’s smaller than a small press, with an annual budget of a paltry $5,000 or so. It has always operated with a much larger footprint, said Luttrell, who discussed the poetry journal’s evolution over a Narragansett beer at Bonobo in Portland’s West End.

In its 30 years, it has published 15 Pulitzer Prize-winning poets, as well as at least two poems by beat poet and activist Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who just turned 100 years old. It’s also distributed worldwide. At Ferlinghetti’s suggestion, Luttrell sends copies of each issue to Shakespeare and Company, a Paris bookstore famous in literary circles. That’s more about prestige than sales, Luttrell said.

“Every couple of years, they send us a check,” he said.

In the United States, it’s sold in bookstores in San Francisco, New York, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, as well as Portland and Brunswick. Luttrell sells a few hundred copies of each issue – the most recent ones for $12 apiece online. He estimates he and other editors read more than 1,000 poems a year and publish between 100 and 200. Every now and again, Luttrell dedicates issues to poets of a particular country. He’s done two issues focused on Irish and Canadian poets, and one each focusing on poets from England, Scotland and Iceland. This summer, he will dedicate an issue to Russian poets.

In the fall, he’s got an issue brewing called “Bringing it All Back Home” that will include only Maine poets.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary, Luttrell has invited former Maine resident and poet Bruce Holsapple to come home to Maine to read with him as part of the First Friday Art Walk in Portland on July 5. They will gather outside at the gardens of the Longfellow House for the reading.

Running a literary magazine “is an incredibly hard and mostly thankless task, so it’s amazing to me that the staff at the Café Review has been doing it for 30 years,” said former Portland poet laureate Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, who is also the associate director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. “They’ve published an astonishing list of poets – unknown geniuses, those just starting out, those whose words will be remembered as long as we have words and people to remember them, and everyone in between. Steve and all of the other editors have done this for so long not because anyone told them to or because it was easy, but because they believe in the power of poems.”

Luttrell started believing in the power of poems when he was in high school, inspired by the beat poets Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsburg. Through the Café Review, he turned his beliefs into action.

“We have brought the poetry of the world to Maine and the poetry of Maine to world,” he said.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: pphbkeyes

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: